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Given to the Highlander by Amelia Smarts and Susannah Shannon – Sample

Chapter One

Starship Endeavor, sixty thousand lightyears from Earth, 4000 A.D.

Marisol Adams wiped her sweaty palms against her Lycra-clad thighs and shifted her weight in the metal chair. No matter how often she told herself there was no reason to worry, the fact remained that the next hour would determine the rest of her life. All her studying and preparation came down to this, the final interview to approve or deny her journey from the starship to Earth.

The intercom crackled her name. “Marisol.”

She rose and walked on stiff legs through the automatic metal doors to the interview room.

The three doctors she’d met in the previous interviews sat on one side of the long table. Across from them was a lone chair. As Marisol pulled it out, its legs screeched against the simulated linoleum.

Doctor Akai, the geneticist who shielded her sharp eyes behind thick glasses, was busy shuffling a pile of folders. She didn’t seem to notice that Marisol had joined them. Of the three doctors, Akai was the one who made Marisol the most nervous. Her questions in the last interview had been cryptic. At one point, she had glanced up from Marisol’s file and said, “Redheads are even rarer now than they were three hundred years ago.”

Marisol had touched her hair self-consciously and quipped a joke about redheads’ bad temper, to which Akai had merely narrowed her eyes. Marisol hadn’t known how to respond to Akai then, and she didn’t know how to greet her now.

Luckily, the archaeologist Doctor Jensen, whose graying hair did nothing to diminish his ruddy good looks, smiled at her and said, “Good afternoon, Marisol. Welcome to your final interview.”

She relaxed a little and sat down. She recalled how in the first interview, Jensen had been impressed with her knowledge of fishing technologies and predicting weather based on tidal activities.

“Thank you for seeing me again,” Marisol said to the panel, trying to sound confident. She reminded herself that she had studied for years to be an asset to the Polynesian colony. Of all the colonies, it was reported that the Polynesian colony was the fastest growing and was actively recruiting brides from Endeavor, making people like her who were well educated in oceanic food sources highly sought after. Marisol was also in the top one percent for health, and her parents were scientists who had spent their lives preparing her for life outside of the space station.

She dared to hope that this final interview was merely a technicality.

Doctor Garcia, the psychologist of the panel, cleared his throat. In the last interview, Marisol had made a point of expressing sadness at leaving her parents and the only home she had ever known. Wanting to sound as optimistic as she was realistic, she’d gone on to express her belief that repopulating Earth would be fulfilling.

But Garcia didn’t bring up the results from her psychological test. Instead, he said, “As you know, Marisol, the cataclysm on Earth in the year 3010 wiped out every human being who wasn’t in space.”

She nodded. “Yes, of course.” This was common knowledge. Everyone knew about the deadly contagion and a series of ten-point earthquakes that hit every fault line on Earth in 3010.

“Our ancestors came up with our edict,” Garcia continued. “Since no other planet conducive to human life has been found, it was determined that humans’ main hope of escaping extinction would be to return Earthside and repopulate it.”

Marisol nodded again, wondering why he thought it necessary to give a history lesson.

Garcia frowned down at his paperwork. “Our ancestors’ goal was to re-create lifestyles found in Earth’s historical records, and that remains our goal to this day. We believe that the simplest way to determine the best culture to promote human life and a healthy planet is to establish colonies that mimic life as it was centuries before the cataclysm happened. There’s some research indicating that the modern pollutant technology and humanity’s wanton use of resources led to the cataclysm.” He thumbed through some papers.

“Yes,” Marisol said. “Our ancestors set up historical colonies on Earthside that have been operating for generations. Their success is vital to the continuation of human life. The hope is that everyone on this space station can return to Earth someday.” She wanted to sound knowledgeable to the experts, but she feared she sounded a little bit like she was reading from her e-textbook.

Doctor Jensen interjected, “But we must be realistic. We may not all be able to return to Earth, so procreation on these colonies is of utmost importance to continuing human life.”

Marisol nodded, keeping a smile plastered on her face, but a niggling of suspicion entered her thoughts. Why was Doctor Garcia reminding her of the Colony Edict? And why was Doctor Jensen telling her the importance of procreation? Why weren’t they reviewing her knowledge of mollusks from the Pacific Ocean or quizzing her on the best way to measure the tide?

“Have you heard of the Scottish Highlander colony?” Jensen asked tentatively.

The question seemed to come from nowhere. Marisol hated to admit ignorance, but she shook her head. “No. My studies have pertained to the Polynesian colony. My understanding is that Polynesia is in need of brides—”

“Many colonies are in need of brides,” Doctor Akai cut in, her voice especially sharp in comparison to Jensen’s soft tenor.

Jensen looked a little nervous then, which made Marisol’s stomach drop. The archaeologist glanced from Marisol to Akai, and back to Marisol again. “I told Doctor Akai that your knowledge of oceanic food sources was second to none,” he said weakly.

Doctor Garcia added, “And there’s no doubt that you have the emotional resources to do well on a colony.”

An uncomfortable silence followed until Jensen elbowed Akai, who finally looked up and said tersely, “I voted no. We will not be sending you to the Polynesian colony.”

Marisol felt the smile leave her face. She had spent her twenty-one years of life preparing to get off this space station, to be able to have children, to drink water that wasn’t processed from urine. Her parents had used all of their resources to position her to be a sought-after bride, and she had failed. “But I don’t understand. Why not?” she stammered. “Why am I not considered fit for a colony?”

Akai replied, “We didn’t say you are unfit. We will send you to a colony. Just not that one.”

Some of her hope returned. “Oh?”

“You will go to Scotland, re-created to mimic life circa 1500 A.D., with a few adaptations,” Akai said, her voice ringing with finality.

“I don’t know anything about Scotland. What is it?” She could feel her heart picking up speed.

“It was a country,” Jensen explained. “It appears to be a place of great culture, music, community. And its coast touches the Atlantic Ocean.”

“But you said I know a lot about Polynesia. And the Pacific Ocean.” She was whining, and she wished she knew how to stop, but she didn’t want to go to this Scotland, a place she’d never heard of, where all her knowledge and abilities would likely be useless.

Akai straightened in her chair. “The Colony Edict states we are to re-create the time period, culture, and people of each colony to the best of our ability. The genes for red hair are far rarer than the ability to find fish in an ocean. You will breed and produce offspring genetically similar to those bred in 1500 Scotland.”

Marisol could hardly believe her ears. “So, never mind my studies, never mind all of my work… You want to use me to breed with a redheaded man.” Fury rose in her throat.

Doctors Jensen and Garcia rushed to assure her, saying something about how the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t thought to be much different from the Pacific, and that her skills would be valued.

Their reassurances mattered little when Dr. Akai continued blithely, “Your groom is blond. He merely has the genes for red hair.”

Marisol realized that lunging across the table and throttling the absentminded, diminutive geneticist would doom her hopes of becoming an Earthside bride. Forcing herself to calm down, she said “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect this. May I have some time to discuss this with my parents?”

Jensen looked apologetic. “You may have a few hours. There’s not much time left, since we’ve been arguing about this for days. My vote was for Polynesia.” He shot an annoyed look at Akai. “The shuttle will be leaving with brides in forty-eight hours.”

As Marisol pushed her chair out from the table, Dr. Akai held out a folder. “Read this.”

Marisol took it, then hurried down the dim corridors to the quarters she shared with her mother and father. Plopping down onto the narrow couch, she felt hot tears of frustration well in her eyes. Blinking them away furiously, she flipped through the folder Dr. Akai had handed her.

The first page was a photograph of a handsome man with dark blond hair that was tied back neatly. His jaw was square, his expression pleasant, and for the first time since she had entered the interview room, she thought that perhaps there was hope. She turned to the next page and began reading.

Lennox Ferguson, chosen groom for Marisol Adams, is the grandson of the founders of the Highland colony. He is intended to take over as the clan chieftain after his father’s death. He is hardworking, a skilled hunter, and a proven leader.

That sounded good. Her interest piqued, she continued.

The colony possesses horses, cattle, sheep, and other livestock. Much of the summer is spent harvesting and preparing food for the long winters. The location offers a wide variety of foodstuffs—game, vegetable crops, mushrooms, and fruit. The herds allow for a dairy component of the diet. Seafood is readily available from the sea and local lakes. The freshwater streams provide more than adequate water.

The Highland colony is a patriarchy.

She stopped abruptly. Wait, what? A patriarchy? Her spirts sank. Though she forced herself to continue, she dreaded what she would read next.

Marriages are monogamous, and affection between the spouses is considered ideal. Husbands are allowed to discipline their wives, although there are very specific limits. Spanking or strapping of the buttocks and upper thighs is the only allowed chastisement. Women are expected to submit to their own husbands, but not to men in general. They have voting rights within the colony and are able to serve in leadership positions.

Marisol threw the file as hard as she could. It hit the wall and the papers scattered.

Her mother entered their quarters with a look of expectation on her face. “Well?”

“No to Polynesia. They want me to go to some patriarchal backwater because they want babies with red hair!”

If Marisol had expected her mother to commiserate with her, she was disappointed. Her mother gathered up the papers and read through them quickly.

She crossed her arms over her chest and skulked down in the couch. “They think I am going to go to a wooded mountain to marry some lug-head who will beat me.”

Her mother was not as outraged as Marisol would have expected. “Human cultures are rarely entirely a patriarchy or a matriarchy. A smart girl like you will rise to the top wherever you are.”

Marisol sat up. It was baffling. Her parents had worked so hard to bring this plan into fruition, and her mother was suddenly content with her just being sent off to wherever the Scottish Highlands were. “When you were walking in here, did you happen to see my mother? Her name is Doctor Tiberia Adams, most famous for suggesting that people who studied soft sciences like sociology aren’t actual doctors…”

“Marisol Jane, listen to me.” She moved Marisol’s knees over so that she could sit beside her on the couch. “We do not have as much time here as they say. It is considered wisest not to scare everyone, but we have not been able to replicate more oxygen coils.”

“You’ve said that before, and you’ve always figured it out,” Marisol said.

“I will miss you every single second of the rest of my life, but by all the galaxies I will get you off of this garbage dump of a station.”

“I am not going to the Scottish Highlands.” Marisol crossed her arms even tighter against her chest.

Marisol’s stubbornness was reflected back by her mother. “Do you know what I see when I look at this?” she asked, gesturing with the stack of papers. Not waiting for an answer, she continued. “I see a wide variety of nutritious food, I see streams of clean water, I see you never ever having to send your daughter to a planet that you might never get the chance to see, just so that she doesn’t die of carbon dioxide poisoning despite your best efforts. If the cost of all of that is getting your backside smacked occasionally, I am prepared to pay it.”

“But that’s just it, you won’t be paying for it. I will.”

“All of the colonies are to some extent male-led. The first explorers were single men. No one knew what they would find down there, and it was considered wisest not to risk young healthy women. Once it was determined that Earth was habitable, they sent women so that families could establish the colonies. Marrying into one of those founding families offers you all sorts of advantages down there. Think about it. Brides are valuable. No one would ever mistreat you because it’s common sense not to. Frankly, there’s no choice to be made here. The Endeavor is going to fail and, when it does, by all the stars in this godforsaken galaxy, you will not be on it.”

Marisol moved closer and lay her head on her mother’s shoulder. “Mom, I don’t want to leave you.”

She heard her mother struggle to swallow the lump in her throat. “I love you too much to let you stay here,” Tiberia said. “We will send Coms as often as we can.”

“I’m not going,” Marisol said, without much fight.

Her mother didn’t respond. It was some time later that Marisol noticed that her mother’s hands were shaking.

“Mom?”

Her mother’s voice sounded desperate in a way Marisol had never heard before. “Please, please don’t make me live with the burden of knowing I could have gotten you off of the Endeavor and I didn’t.”

Sensing her mother’s pain, and after considering her limited options, Marisol finally sighed. “Fine, I’ll go. I’ll put my red hair to good use and marry Lennox Ferguson.”

Her mother stood and smiled weakly. Holding out her hand, she said, “Come, let’s go tell the selection panel that you are on board. There’s no time to waste.”

Since her studies had primarily been solitary, Marisol did not know most of the other brides who gathered for the information session the night before they were to head to Earth. No colony was getting more than one bride, but she was still jealous of the women who would at least have a single friend on the planet they were going to. Dr. Jensen rose to address them all.

“As you know, our ancestors began the enterprise of discovering if returning to live Earthside was possible. First some intrepid men went down, and then a few women. We now have thriving colonies all over the globe. You are the continuation of this ambition. Our goal is that within a few generations we will all be able to return to Earth. In order to determine the way of life most sustainable on our now fragile planet, we have set up colonies according to the guidelines that were followed by societies that once existed. You young ladies are each entering an entirely new way of life.”

Marisol looked around, wondering where all of her compatriots were going. Dr. Jensen showed a series of images from the planet. The women saw forests, waterfalls, and deserts. Since none of them had ever been off of the space station, it was overwhelming to imagine experiencing such things.

Marisol had a niggling feeling that their futures might not be quite as rosy as they were being told. She raised her hand. “No matter what, we can’t ever come back, can we?”

This question did not fit into the enthusiastic spirit that Dr. Jensen was trying to foster. His smile faltered slightly. “At this point, no. We have enough fuel to take brides to Earth and then have a nearly empty shuttle return to the station. But brides find their new lives to be fulfilling. We know this because of Coms.” He gave a reassuring smile to the circle of women.

Marisol wasn’t finished. “My packet mentioned that a wife can be spanked by her husband at the Highland colony.”

There was some concerned murmuring. She guessed that hers had not been the only file that contained this information.

Doctor Jensen was not thrilled with the question and the muttering that followed it. “Yes, it’s true. All the societies we’ve based the colonies on are male-led. The initial colonists were overwhelmingly men. However,” he fixed Marisol with a sharp look, “reading further in your file should have reassured you that abuse is never tolerated. No colony would permit a man to harm a bride. Morality aside, you are simply too valuable.”

Marisol wasn’t sure she found that comforting at all. She straightened her shoulders and swore to herself that she was one bride that was not going to be spanked. Not ever.

Doctor Jensen wrapped up his pep talk and began to distribute small data activators to each young woman.

The other brides moved to the Com lab, but Marisol joined her parents in her mother’s workspace. Tiberia had the same technology available to her, and it would allow them some privacy. Gripping her father’s hand, Marisol watched while her mother slid the data activator into the slot in the monitor. Initially only gray static filled the wall, but after a few seconds, an image materialized.

The man was tall and broad-shouldered. He gave a nervous smile. It was clear he was not used to appearing in a Com. His accent, a lilting Scottish brogue, was unlike anything Marisol was used to, but his low voice was easy to follow.

“I’m Lennox. The name Marisol is very pretty.” He pronounced it as if it were two distinct words—Mary Sole. He looked away and then back at the camera. “So are you. I am not the scholar you are. Life here isn’t like what it is up in the starship. But I’m not afraid of hard work, and I swear before the gods old and new that you won’t ever go hungry. I’d die to protect you and our children. I find I can laugh at most things and I get along well with everyone. I hope you—”

It was then that the Com grew fuzzy and disappeared. Marisol didn’t feel she had heard nearly enough. She had so many questions about life in Scotland that she wished could be answered before making it her permanent home.

“He’s certainly handsome,” her mother said.

Marisol couldn’t disagree, but she noted, “He mispronounced my name.”

Her father gave a good-natured shrug. “I wouldn’t anticipate a high volume of Spanish speakers in Scotland.”

“How does he even know what I look like?”

“The Com you did when you first applied,” her mother said. Marisol could barely remember. It seemed like a long time ago, though it had only been a few moon rotations.

In an attempt to put them all at ease, Marisol joked, “I suppose I can teach him how to say my name.”

The light laughter that followed was tense. They were all worried, but they also knew there was only one good choice, and that was for Marisol to become an Earthside bride.

Chapter Two

Marisol was allowed only one personal effect—a single envelope that could fit into the pocket of her jumpsuit. Marisol chose to take pictures of her parents. She would be given clothes when she reached the colony, so there was nothing else to pack.

She spent her last day walking with her father around his workspace. He was the botanist in charge of growing what meager fresh food the space station could offer. Since water and light were always at a premium, residents received a ration of sprouts. Only in her father’s workspace were there whole plants.

“I have always wanted to see a thistle,” he said. “Scotland was famous for its thistles. I am counting on you to see and touch one.”

She promised that she would and did her best not to cry. Spotting some pitiful-looking plants, she asked, “What did you do to those poor plants?”

“They need more calcium. See how their stems can’t support the weight of the plant? The cell walls are too weak. Calcium is one of those things we have a very hard time manufacturing here.”

“Brides to the shuttle bay!” came over the intercom.

Her mother was determined to be ‘business as usual.’ Marisol tried to go along with this, but intermittently felt her eyes fill with tears. At one point she stopped in the middle of the corridor and reached for her mother. “I will write to you often, I will tell you everything, and I will make you proud.”

Her mother’s chin began to wobble, but she got ahold of herself and kissed Marisol’s cheek. “I have no doubt.”

With that, Marisol Adams left the only world she had ever known. She found herself standing beside a woman who said she was on her way to a place called the Old West.

Suspended above them were dull metallic pods. A uniformed officer emerged carrying a ladder. Seeing the surprise of the young women, he smiled reassuringly. “Low tech, but she gets the job done.” He leaned the ladder against the closest pod labeled 57.0704° N, 3.6691° W. “Which of you is Marisol Adams?”

With her heart in her throat, Marisol stepped forward. She turned back to give her brief friend a smile and noticed then that the other woman’s wrists were manacled. A prisoner bride? Marisol had questions about that, but there was no time to get answers.

The officer addressed her. “All of the colonies expect marriage to be consummated on the wedding night. Hold out your arm, please, so I can remove your suppressor.”

Marisol did as she was told. With a hypodermic needle, the man removed the tiny capsule that had kept her sexual desires controlled. He dabbed a small drop of liquid bandage on it. “Up you go. Good luck, young lady. We are all counting on you.”

Climbing the ladder, she was relieved to see that the inside of the pod was padded and looked capable of hurtling her through space. It was very small inside; she had to sort of pivot on her knees at the entrance and drop back. As soon as she did so the pod molded itself to her. She was cradled in a semi-reclining position that was very comfortable.

The air in the pods must have contained something other than just oxygen, since Marisol fell deeply asleep almost immediately. She missed the magnificence of the velvet sky as the shuttle blasted her toward her future.

She was awoken by a metallic voice as her pod was ejected from the shuttle. “Ejection complete. Initializing free-fall,” the voice said.

Marisol could have done without the narration. She seemed to be spiraling downward. Just as she was sure that she would crash and die an ignoble death in a pile of rubble, the pod seemed to hover for a second.

“Parachute engaged successfully,” the voice clanged.

She landed, and all was still. Her stomach churned with queasiness, and though she had been taught it was normal to feel sick while adjusting to the altitude, that knowledge didn’t make it any easier to bear. She cracked her eyes open into slits to see a blanket of green grass a short step down from the pod. With effort, she moved herself forward until she stood at the edge.

She stepped out, but her burning eyes had miscalculated the depth, and she found herself falling onto the earth with a shriek. Her knees buckled, and she rolled over once before settling on her back, her face pointed upward in the direction of blinding light.

The shield of the pod slammed shut and with that it sped skyward out of her view. She was on Earth. Forever. Marisol raised a shaking hand to shield her eyes. “That… light. It is… everywhere,” she said weakly, but no one responded. She was completely alone.

Her throat was parched, and she felt desperately thirsty. She moved her head to the side and scanned the green hillside for an H2O processer before she realized with a start that she would find no such thing Earthside. She needed to search for a body of fresh water, but since her limbs felt as heavy as lead, she didn’t yet have the strength to sit up, let alone go exploring.

Caw, caw! High-pitched cries from above alerted her to the presence of two large black birds, flying and swooping. They settled on a lone tree several paces from her and seemed to regard her warily, much as she regarded them. She knew from her studies that birds were usually harmless, but their harsh cries certainly hadn’t sounded friendly.

She’d never seen so much green in her life, and never in the shade of the grass beneath her. She’d been told about nature’s beauty, and she was able to imagine that she might appreciate it someday. But today was not that day.

A small movement caught her attention from the corner of her eye. When she turned her head, she saw a wriggling creature she recognized as an earthworm, a creature that burrowed in the damp dirt and came to the surface after a rain.

Squinting her eyes, she saw something about it that perplexed her. The wriggling worm was covered in tiny red insects. With a start, she realized what was happening. Scores of ants were attacking the worm and eating it alive.

A cry escaped her lips as she turned her head away. The cruelty of nature, like the beauty, was something she’d only read about, and a cold fear skittered down her spine. She cursed herself as hot tears flooded her eyes, not because she felt any shame over crying, but because she knew she must conserve her own fluids in light of her thirst.

Despair blanketed her and her helplessness only seemed to grow the longer she lay there. She prayed for water, for help standing, for something kind to appear to her in the midst of the cruel unknowns. She longed for her mother’s voice with every fiber in her being.

Instead, she heard a deep voice exclaim, “Gods, lass, how long have you been lying there?”

She opened her eyes to see a massive man standing above her, blocking the sun completely from her view. She couldn’t make out his features in detail, but she could smell him, and her nostrils flared as she took in the unfamiliar scent. Everything on the starship smelled the same. There was no wind to move scents around and nothing new was ever introduced. Having no frame of reference by which to identify the smell, she couldn’t place it, but it was pleasant somehow. It exuded strength and warmth.

“You landed a good quarter mile from where you were supposed to,” he said. “Did the pod jostle you? Are you hurt?”

His queries caused some of her fear to quell, for they made him appear more friend than foe. She gave a quick shake of her head and parted her lips, managing to croak out, “I’m unhurt, but I don’t feel well. Are you with the Highland colony?”

“Not much else around here.” Strong hands clasped her arms. Without ceremony, he hauled her to her feet. When her knees buckled, he said, “Whoa there,” and wrapped his arm around her waist, supporting her with seemingly little effort.

She closed her eyes, feeling dizzy now that she was standing. A cold, smooth surface pressed against her lips. She opened her mouth and accepted the sweetest liquid she had ever tasted. Grabbing the flask, she lifted it and guzzled until her thirst was fully quenched.

Breathing heavily, she handed the flask back to him and smiled sheepishly. “That was water?”

He chuckled. “Aye.”

“I’ve never tasted anything so good.”

Her eyes had still not adjusted to the light to get a good look at the man, but she guessed him to be a farmer by the rough state of clothing he wore. She could make out that his corded forearms were deeply tanned, indicating he spent much of his time outdoors. His callused hands brushed against hers briefly, and a foreign jolt of excitement flitted over her skin. She wavered, feeling faint once again, and let out a groan.

The man swore an oath under his breath and half-walked, half-carried her to a stump. He set her upon it. “You’re as weak as a bird with one wing,” he muttered. “Wait here until you feel better, dove, and then I’ll carry you to the cottage where you were supposed to land.”

With strength she didn’t know she possessed, she reached out and grasped his shirtsleeve. “Do not leave me. I’m scared.”

“I won’t,” he said, covering her small hand with his markedly larger one. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“I saw…” she gulped, and her voice lowered to a whisper, “…an earthworm being eaten alive by ants.”

He observed her silently, making no attempt to console her over her recent trauma. She realized that perhaps to him a murdered earthworm was nothing serious. How could she explain to him that the very laws of Earth’s nature were foreign to her? The only creatures on the starship were human, and none of them ate each other. Water was something that could be accessed at the press of a button, even if it was foul-tasting compared to the water Earthside, so she’d never before experienced the intensity of thirst. The color of the ground, its uneven texture against her feet, and the way the air brushed against her skin, never stagnant, all were startling to her.

It was useless to try to explain. She was eager to go to the place she was meant to land, where she hoped to take shelter from the piercing sun.

“I’m ready to walk,” she said, standing slowly. She trudged forward a couple of paces without much trouble, but in her third step, her uncooperative knees buckled again.

That served to elicit an exasperated sigh from the hulking stranger as he caught her. The next thing she knew, she was being swept into his arms and dumped unceremoniously over one of his shoulders. Her face touched his shirt-covered back, giving her a heady whiff of his masculine scent.

“I told you, I can walk,” she said, trying to sound dignified from her very undignified position.

“Aye, I saw that,” he said sarcastically. “Well done.”

“Put me down, please. This is unnecessary.”

“Nay,” he responded, striding doggedly ahead. “You could have rested, but you made your choice. Another word, and I’ll smite your backside with the flat of my hand.”

She was surprised by his words, though not exceedingly so, given what she had read about the men of the Scottish Highlands. She quickly recalled, however, that she was not required to submit to any man but her husband, and no other man had a right to smack her backside. Satisfied that she was in the right, she said more firmly. “Set me down, farmer. Only my husband may punish me, and he is to be clan chieftain. He will be none too happy if I report that you manhandled his bride.”

“Silence, dove,” he said, and landed a solid swat against her bottom.

She jolted, but the smack didn’t hurt so much as shock her. Perhaps she had misunderstood the rules and she needed to review them again. “I won’t speak, if you prefer,” she said sullenly.

“Thank you kindly,” he said, and she thought she detected a hint of humor in his voice. The flat of his hand landed once again on her bottom, not hard, but it created a warmth that spread throughout her entire body.

She thought to herself that if this was what a spanking felt like, she didn’t at all mind it. It was pleasant and comforting, somehow, to be taken in hand by such a strong, capable man. She could only hope her husband would elicit the same sort of feeling in her.

A short time later, she heard voices. She was about to ask the man to set her down again because she didn’t want her first introduction to be from over the shoulder of a farmer.

He must have understood because he gently lowered her and waited until she steadied herself before letting her go. “See that cottage about fifty paces south?” He pointed in its direction.

“Yes.”

“That’s where the welcoming party is. Can you walk there without me?”

“I think I can,” she said, testing her legs. Her knees felt markedly stronger. She turned back to find the man watching her. “Thank you, farmer!” she called. “I am exceedingly grateful for your help.”

He dipped his head. “My pleasure, dove. Now make haste, you have friends in the cottage.”

She prayed he was right. If all the strangers she met that day were as kind as the farmer, she believed she could get used to this Scotland.

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