She is as elegant as any aristocrat, sweet and naughty as a beloved child, and ferocious as a tiger.
Cairistine Donohue had run away from Scotland to the Colonies to avoid an unbearable future. Now back in England her employment is unexpectedly terminated, leaving her alone with little coin and no prospects. Returning home is not an option. Faced with a life full of hard choices or starvation, Cairis gratefully accepts the position of companion to Lady Ashton.
Cullen Black O’Leary dominates the seas, his business, and the lassies. Returning to England to survey his new estate, Cullen seeks his escort, Cairistine Donohue. He finds her trying to escape him with her red hair flowing and sweet sassy mouth telling him off. He has to take her as his own.
But Cairis’s dark secrets are revealed, threatening to ruin her and destroy their hope for a future. Can she do what her Black Laird requires to secure their future – his way?
Publisher’s Note: This steamy historical romance contains elements of power exchange.
Cairistine Margaret Donahue looked hard at Lady Rosemary Ashton, her employer and closest friend as she processed Rosemary’s demand.
“We have to leave tonight. I am ever so weary of Edward’s mother and need out,” Lady Rosemary announced.
“But I cannot leave. I have to wait for our new laird, Cullen O’Leary.”
Cairis listened as Rosemary told her she was leaving no matter what anyone said. Cairis could understand Rosemary being upset at her mother-in-law. That woman was a bitter pill to swallow, but an intelligent woman would learn to get over her in-laws if tolerance meant she could have a man as enamored with them as Lord Ashton was with his wife. Besides, Rosemary was with child and that made everything different. At least his lordship’s adoration was what both she and Rosemary’s cousin, Lady Annalise Thayer had tried to convince her of, with little success.
“Oh yes, the man they call the Black Laird. He is Edward’s partner in America, you know. I don’t know if it is his real name or what people call him. I believe I have gone completely off men. Leave him word on how to get to your estate in Scotland. Well, I guess it’s his estate now. Better yet, send him to my husband and they will find the bloody place together.”
“Aye, the laird’s name is Cullen Blacach O’Leary, Black in English. Black Laird makes perfect sense now but no matter the circumstance, I cannot leave the man to wander the country alone trying to find his property over the border, even if you have turned sour on men,” Cairis told Rosemary.
“If you were my true friend, you would. Besides, I cannot go on the boat without a companion. I have learned that lesson the hard way. When Edward found out last time…” Rosemary allowed the rest of the sentence to lay heavy in the room, uncompleted. “Besides, you are my employee.”
“Aye, but not as much your employee, Rosemary, as Lord Ashton’s and I dinnae think he’ll be thanking me and paying me for my efforts.”
Rosemary giggled before she sobered again. “Well, not with money, anyway. Of that I am sure.”
Both women sobered. They knew exactly what Lord Ashton would do with his impetuous wife and her accomplice once he found them and there was no doubt he would find them.
Cairistine’s bottom quivered as though that vulnerable part could feel the angry hand leaving its mark on her own arse as well it would if she helped her friend board that ship.
Rosemary sat on her bed and succumbed to a short cry before pulling herself together again. Adding a heavy dose of cajoling to her voice, Rosemary continued.
Cairis cringed when she heard it.
“I don’t have a choice. You can find him in America or he can find his own way to Scotland. Edward says the Laird O’Leary has an uncanny business sense. Let him use that ability to find where he needs to go. Don’t you see, you have to come with me, Cairis.”
Tears filled her eyes again and bled through her voice, but Rosemary seemed to power them back. The tears were building behind Cairis’s own eyes. How was she going to get them out of this mess? She almost wished Lord Ashton would find them or that even the Black Laird, who was due any time, would miraculously appear from America. Possibly angels from bloody thin air. If that happened she wouldn’t have to go through with this whole fiasco. Maybe she should refuse.
A shipping magnate, Lord Ashton had partnered with Cullen Black O’Leary. After changes in his Lordship’s life, namely the mantle of the family title and the need for more control on the English side of their shipping business, the laird had agreed to handle things on the American side of the ocean alone. Lord Ashton found Rosemary on the return ship where Cairis also met her. Ashton married Rosemary and now the silly girl was showing her immaturity by ignoring the fact that her husband loved her to distraction, simply because she found herself in a jam, well, a few of them.
“I think the name had something to do with his temper when men crossed him,” said Rosemary.
“O’Leary? Och, well it points to his tough Scottish roots and wild Irish blood, I imagine.”
“Edward once said that when women cross him he tends to bring out the tawse. That’s a leather strap of sorts.” Rosemary affected a shiver of distaste. “And unlike Edward, he looks for women who want him to use it. Who would be so foolish?”
“Yes, I am acquainted with a tawse.” Cairis mumbled before turning away. She wondered if the clenching in her nether regions and her deepest belly meant she was one of those foolish women. No, she was an intelligent, sensible girl as she was taught to be, and craving the taste of leather was neither sensible nor intelligent.
“Mmm, not from experience I presume?” Rosemary’s tone had grown inquisitive and Cairis was not going to satisfy her curiosity by informing her that many a Scottish child, and most wives, had tasted its fiery tongue because of insolence or naughtiness.
“What we need to discuss is how to get out of this predicament.”
Several hours had passed and many conversations later, Rosemary and Cairistine were sitting in the room on board ship. Rosemary had been crying for the greater part of two hours by the time the door was opened forcefully, and the women looked up to see Lord Ashton in the entrance.
Cullen O’Leary waited on a young woman as he decided whether or not he liked being back on English soil. It was familiar, anyway. He remembered the short conversation he had with his partner just prior to taking up this vigil. He had been standing at the entrance to the shipping offices of Ashton-O’Leary having immediately disembarked one of his company ships when he heard a familiar voice and turned towards it.
He thought of how he found himself standing on this dock rather than eating a hot meal and preparing to enter an even hotter cunny. Nearly a year had gone since he had apprised himself of the moist heat of a woman beneath him. Why, he couldn’t say, but there was a weariness that had come over him when he thought of bedding another female he had no intentions of keeping for a second night. Was he like Ashton: ready for a change? Possibly, but on a more permanent basis, absolutely not.
Cullen was glad to be off the ship. The trip from America was longer than he’d remembered. As he glanced around the dock in search of a hack he spied a familiar face.
“Ashton. How did you know to meet me? I was in route to your home to find Cairistine Donahue.” He looked at his friend’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m on a mission. What ship did you come in on?”
Ashton jabbed the air impatiently, pointing in the direction of the harbor. “What is that ship coming back to dock?” Ashton’s words were hard and urgent.
“The Regina, though it should be on its way out. Again, I ask, what is wrong?”
“My wife is on that ship and it is returning. I must take that as a sign.” He turned to race out of the office. “Come with me, my friend. We have much to catch up on. I believe I have a young woman who is waiting to meet you who is on the Regina and I most certainly have my woman waiting for me. I assure you Cairis isn’t nearly as naughty as mine but with the right man, who knows how she will develop. Today, however, she is going to receive a taste of my wrath for being on that ship with my disobedient wife.”
In confusion, he had followed Ashton who seemed hell-bent to meet the ship that should be sailing to America but was now returning. The dock workers advised them that the weather had shifted with a significant storm right offshore.
“It’s possible, milords, that the weather turned too disagreeable, forcing them to turn back. If that is true, it means we aren’t sure they’re going to be able to get out this evening due to the timing and the shifting of the tides.”
“Of course,” said Cullen O’Leary, “safety is paramount.
The dockworker nodded and turned to Lord Ashton, the owner. “I’m sorry, milord, but it might have to wait till the next high tide, and that is hours away.”
“Perfect,” replied Ashton to the confused crewman. “Introduce yourself to the workers, Cullen. I will send Cairis out to you, but she is my wife’s companion and you must be kind to her if you must bring her to task. Rosemary adores her and I am indebted to her. Miss Donahue was waiting on you and had I inquired sooner, I would have known you would be arriving on this ship or the next but with Rosemary driving me mad with worry and emotion, I did not attend to some of the less pressing details of life.”
“How is it that Cairistine is with you?”
“That, my friend, is a long story but I warn you to beware of women, even Scottish women.”
“Aye, I know that to be true. Tell me, how am I to know this Cairistine?”
Ashton looked at his friend. “You will know her for who she is, an intelligent Scottish woman with an air of entitled determination. I will send her out to look for you once I arrive on board and find Rosemary. Your job is to stay here and look for a bubbly lass, about mid-twenties, self-assured, stands about to your shoulder I’d say, and cushion where it should be. Her hair is like red mahogany that has the hint of honeysuckle and she has a brogue you won’t miss.
“Go to my home with her and don’t let her deny you. She is familiar with how I make my displeasure known to her mistress. Unfortunately, this afternoon, my mother has arrived, unannounced, to Ashton Hall. You have my permission to ignore her until I can deal with her. And by all that is holy, keep Cairistine away from her. She would likely try, successfully, to rip mother’s head off.”
Cullen Black-O’Leary had not intended to return to his Irish homeland or his mother’s Scottish family on any permanent basis until he got the letter from his distant relatives by marriage. A cousin on his mother’s side had no direct or indirect heirs until the line fell to Cullen. He had not heard his name until the letter came. Cullen was a man of wealth on his father’s Irish side. They held one of too few Irish lordships, but his brother would be the owner of that title when the time came. When the lairdship came to him on his mother’s Scottish side, it was quite unexpected.
Since he had no sweetheart in America to return to, and the new Canadian-American partner installed nicely, he thought he might check the estate out. Perchance find an adventurous wife. He knew he wasn’t ready now, but if the right woman came along, he wasn’t averse to exploring the possibilities. He’d like a son or two to share his fortune with and a daughter to dote over but he had no thoughts of reproducing the large number of children his father had sired.
Cullen was a well-educated man and an excellent judge of character with a strong head for business. It is why he and Lord Edward Ashton got on so well. They were both of the same ilk. The difference was their presence. Ashton looked the aristocratic part where Cullen looked like his nickname, the Black Laird. He was well over six feet with a muscled build. He had worked hard to create a body that would intimidate their crewmen. It was important to keep the upper hand. His voice was usually tolerant and even jovial but when he was angry, the Black Laird appeared.
As Cullen stood on the dock for quite a bit of time, he became concerned, his mind creating wild scenarios. Where was the lassie? Did she find herself in trouble? He hadn’t been in London for five years and he wondered if there were additional dangers of which he was, as yet, unaware. Was something wrong with Ashton’s wife?
Cullen paced up and down the long pier and finally decided to climb the gangplank far enough to see a distance across the docks. Maybe he missed her when she disembarked. As his scan of the wharfs reached the coach staging area, a red-headed woman progressed quickly toward the line of conveyances.
Deciding it must be his lass, Cullen descended the ramp as quickly as able behind others and sprinted to the woman who was now addressing a driver. People naturally moved out of his way and not for the first time, he was thankful for his size. His tied-back hair added to his wild untamed persona. As he got closer, he heard her declare her destination. It was Cairistine Donahue, her hair, brogue and hurried manner gave her away. The little lass was asking for a skelping and he was exactly the man to give it to her.
The lass was indeed a Celtic beauty but he had needs that a sweet young girl could not satisfy no matter how deliciously spicy her attitude. The children this woman would birth and then raise would be worthy of his seed. He shifted his stance hoping to relieve the pressure of his bulging cock and finding little relief. She might have been in her middle twenties, but her rounded facial cheeks gave her a more juvenile look. Beautiful.
Cairis cringed when her eyes fell on Lord Ashton. He was not happy. After quickly surveying the room and its contents, he spoke.
“Cairis, you must go ashore. The ship came back to avoid a storm that is moving in quickly. Lucky for both of you, I might add. Cullen O’Leary, my partner and your new laird is here now, having come in on an earlier ship and is on the dock waiting for you. You will know him easily. He looks the part of a large Celt. Go home and have dinner served at your pleasure. We shall be along directly.”
“But milord,” Cairis began.
Lord Ashton stared hard at her. “Do as I say, Cairistine. Find O’Leary and stay with him. I’ll have this,” he threw his arm in the air to indicate the trunks and baggage, “delivered home.”
Cairis wanted to say a great many other things as she looked over at Rosemary. She wanted to tell his lordship that Rosemary was with child. She wanted to say that she didn’t want to meet the laird for she feared he would want her to follow him to Scotland. She wanted to say she wasn’t safe in her homeland and the laird would not be able to protect her. And she wanted to say that she couldn’t imagine a life without Rosemary in it, and she hoped that that didn’t end today.
She wanted to say that Rosemary was fortunate to have a husband who loved her enough to take her to task when she did incredibly daft things. She wanted to say that she wanted a husband with as strong a character as his Lordship. And finally she wanted to say she was sorry for the ill care of his most precious possession. But she said none of these things.
Instead, Cairis kissed Rosemary, grabbed her handbag, and raced out of the room. As she waited to pass from the corridor, she heard a smattering of the conversation that went on inside.
“Cairis can be a wise woman when she wants to be. You both need a thrashing and rest assured you will both be sitting gingerly by the time this whole event is over.”
Cairistine heard her dearest friend’s too haughty reply. “My Lord Ashton, I will not leave this ship. Cairis tried to stop me, but I did not veer from my chosen path.”
“Ah, then you will understand that I shall not stray from mine.”
There was a squeal inside the room and Cairistine hurried topside. She experienced a tremor of something that was far from fear at the thought of being taken in hand as she was sure Rosemary was at this moment. Was that wrong? Rosemary assured her friend that her thoughts were perfectly understandable. The way submission heated her own blood was one of the things that drew Rosemary to Lord Ashton, his ability to take charge of a situation when she no longer had control of it.
Cairis knew that Cullen Black O’Leary was a friend and partner of her employer. She shook in the worry that brought her concerning the family’s new laird and the safety of her arse. Would he think his duty included taking her to task for accompanying Rosemary? A thrill deep in her core shot through Caris when Rosemary spoke of Lord Ashton taking charge, though she certainly did not want to subject herself to the same type of treatment. She ignored the tremor and the increased slipperiness in her lady bits as she hurried up the steps.
Cairis was a practical woman as many Scots were. She’d learned early to see things clearly, assess the situation accurately, and act accordingly. For lord and lady it might be perfectly acceptable to play at things because you had the wealth and position, but in Cairis’s world reality was much more somber than that. She had the access to wealth, but the price was too dear for her to ever contemplate returning home.
Maybe that’s why she enjoyed Rosemary so much. At times, when she was with her lord, there was a childlike quality about her and there was no shame when she exhibited those qualities. If Cairis were to think back, she believed that Rosemary was careful not to share that behavior around visitors. And except for Lady Thayer, who was privy to all manner of things with Rosemary and indeed Cairis herself, Cairis didn’t believe another person knew. She wondered if that was Rosemary’s choice or her lordship’s.
But that was Rosemary’s situation and Rosemary’s life not her own. Cairis’s life, for the foreseeable future, would involve Cullen Black O’Leary, the Black Laird. Deciding to meet her new laird later was better, she told herself. They could be introduced in a more private setting, with others in the room. She watched the crew go up and down the gangplank carrying items. She perused the passengers preparing to disembark. Believing she was well hidden, she hurried behind a group of workers, amidst a small group of passengers as they descended the walkway. She passed the man she was positive was the Black Laird as he waited to board. Her belly seized with the sheer size of the man and the presence he exuded. This was her chance and she carefully took advantage of it.
As she eased past him, she almost lost her nerve. She was about to step out of the grouping when she gasped at his demeanor. His face was set with an aggravated expression that appeared to be carved out of granite. Her face heated and her whole body seemed to clench in worry and something else. Did he know why she and Lady Ashton were there? Did he know she should have done a better job of keeping his partner’s wife out of trouble? Aye, his body language said he did and he was not any happier than Lord Ashton.
The difference was Lord Ashton loved his wife and the Black Laird didn’t know her at all. The chance of his showing her any compassion was slight. His displeasure would be meted out without mercy. Cairis stayed her course and made it to the main docks to catch one of the carriages lined up hoping for a passenger.
“Ashton House on Mayfair,” she instructed the driver as he jumped down to assist her into the carriage. Sighing with some small bit of relief, she still felt an undeniable nervousness. That feeling continued even though she would not have to go home with the Black Laird. She forced her tense shoulders to relax as her heart’s quick beat ratcheted up further when she remembered her employer’s instructions. She was defying him, and she knew how her lordship dealt with disobedience. Cairis did not dare look back to see if the laird noticed she was taking a long time to disembark fearing, however irrationally, that he would see her at that moment gaining entrance to the carriage.
Raising her hand to grab onto the door of the coach, she shrieked when a deep, Scottish brogue growled in her ear.
“Och, lassie, if you enjoy sitting in a carriage rather than standing you would do well to apologize sweetly and let me take over.”
She melted. She didn’t know if it was the familiar lilt to the words, the purely male scent overtaking her, or the hot words themselves but there was no doubt she was affected. She shivered when he placed his hand on her waist.
Turning to look her new laird in the face, she couldn’t stop her sudden intake of breath at his sheer presence. His face was paternally stern. She hadn’t seen that look since she was a wee girl. It had not come from her father, who didn’t discipline himself or his children, but it was her uncle’s look. She wondered if the distant cousin in front of her was from that line for the look was too similar to be a coincidence. Rodney Campbell was her favorite relative because she believed he cared for her by demanding her best. He was quick to chastise and quick to show affection.
The man standing in front of her was surely the same. He was a force to be reckoned with and she had no doubt that if he should take her to task, she would feel the effects for hours, if not the whole day. She said nothing. She had underestimated him. Her tummy lurched. She found all she could do was stare into the darkest sapphire blue eyes she had ever seen. The deep pools drew her into their intensity. The sounds of the dockworkers, the chattering passengers embarking and disembarking the carriages, and even the sooty smell of the chimneys faded away in his presence.
“Did ye not hear me, lass? Are ye ill?”
His too warm hand caressed her cheek. His voice shook her from her state of captivity and she answered with a touch of ill-advised insolence.
“Aye, I heard you, but I’m nae sure I’m ready to be taking orders from the likes of you.” She marveled at her boldness even though proud she’d stood her ground. The rest of her body did not agree.
She watched as the laird easily commandeered the carriage, her carriage. He spoke as he waved the coachman back to his seat up top and slid his hand to the nape of her neck and squeezed not painfully but firmly. She had no doubt who was in charge of the carriage, the conversation, and her.
“I like a strong woman, but I enjoy an intelligent one as well. Your brains should be telling ye to say, ‘Yes, Laird,’ and let me take over.” He stood for another moment as he waited for her decision.
He was beautiful in his ruggedness. She tried to hide her strong reaction to the man. He was obviously well bred, but a man of his own choosing. He was quite tall. She thought he might even be taller than Lord Thayer or Lord Ashton and those men had a presence. He was noticeably more bulky than either of the English gentlemen but in muscle not middle girth.
His sparkling eyes were almost laughing at her. There were bits of red in his beard which stood in sharp contrast to the rest of his whiskers which were dark. Even covered with facial hair, she could see the firm jaw as he waited on her, his thumb strumming her neck absently.
Lord Ashton had been right, Cullen Black O’Leary did look Celt, and suddenly, Cairis was thankful he was not related by more than marriage and distantly at that, or her body’s response would be shameful. She’d honestly never had a reaction to a man in this way before which took her by surprise. The response confused her but she couldn’t say the feeling was unpleasant.
Cullen had stepped back after speaking into her ear, but after her cheeky response he stepped closer again. Now he was wrapping his arm around her waist causing her to freeze in place. It was scandalous in America or here on the docks. He again spoke close to her ear. His hot breath blew over her forcefully, causing her to shiver for a second time.
“You see, lass, the problem with you attempting to get into the carriage without me is that I am positive you were instructed differently.”
“No, I was told to go home and have dinner at my discretion.” Cairis was confident that the laird had no idea what Lord Ashton had told her on the ship.
“Och, so if I stayed here and waited or boarded the ship and asked Lord Ashton what he had ordered you to do, it would not have included me at all. Am I correct?” His voice had dropped even lower, if possible. “Think carefully lass, for this is the only time you will be allowed to attempt to disregard or disobey either Lord Ashton or myself without an immediate hot arse.” He added, “No matter where you are when you are naughty, you will lift your own skirts and take position for a spanking you will not soon forget. I advise you to pick your words carefully.”
Cairis shivered again only this time she moaned a sensual response and the laird grinned. While the man in front of her was obviously less refined than Lord Ashton, he had no difficulty getting his point across. But bloody bollocks, he was ungentlemanly to find such satisfaction in the way he made her feel. She stood taller, pulling in her belly and pushing out her bosom. He grinned even larger.
“And if you insist on refusing my company now, I shall redden your arse to outshine your hair. I may still do it.”
It must have been his strong Celt background that attracted her to him, but his accommodating demeanor was non-existent. That same Celt ancestry encouraged her to be defiant. She stood silent.
His tone had gentled, but sounded like a nudging parent who was growing impatient and becoming less accommodating. She remembered her uncle’s actions at this point and her buttocks clenched and the skin covering them crawled in anticipation. She had the conflicting and yet compelling urge to obey that tone and do his bidding. She stared into his face, rugged with a scar near his left eye. His thick lashes brushed the imperfection when he blinked. Dark hair, rich and full, fell down his neck and teased the collar of his white shirt with full billowing sleeves.
He chuckled. “Have you looked your fill? Can we go now, lassie? I’m hungry and need sustenance.” He looked around. “And we are gathering quite a bit of interest.”
Cairis nodded, embarrassed for having been called out in her rude preoccupation with him, but her early training put her back on track again. She straightened her back stiffer, squared her shoulders, and dared not look around them while running her hand down her skirt as though to put it back into proper order.
“So why are we standing about here then? Ye’ll not be getting food on the docks that won’t rot your insides.”
She put her hand out for assistance and he obliged with another smile. Cairis found herself turned around and with his hands on her waist, she was lifted into the carriage. Her kid-leather covered feet were planted firmly inside the conveyance and she was shuffled further inside to allow for Cullen to enter and close the door.
Once he’d climbed the steps and settled next to her, Cullen knocked on the roof of the carriage. Cairis stood to move to the seat opposite the laird. At precisely that moment, the coach lurched, tossing Cairis forward. Before she could fall, the laird grabbed her around the waist and pulled her tight to him. She screeched and a loud slap echoed inside the small compartment as her hand connected with his face.
“Och, my little lass, are you asking for a skelping?” Before she could utter a sound in response, he had her flipped over his hard thighs, her skirts raised.
“Stop it, you uncouth monster! Cease I say.” Her booted foot satisfactorily connected with his muscled calf, extracting a grunt from her captor. She continued to kick her legs until he trapped them under his own muscular thigh, ending her freedom.
“Possibly, but you do try the patience of man and beast. You need this, and I intend to give you what you are begging for. We both know you are. Never doubt that I am a man of my word. The only thing is for you to tell me when you have had enough.”
His hand pounded out a steady beat on her nates that remained covered with her chemise, though the scrap of material provided little protection. The modesty it ensured was a relief until the first strike. The immediate shock of ache and heat took her breath away but she was determined he would not win. She stoically endured the smacks.
“You are a shameful Scotsman,” she declared, beginning to pant.
“Aye, I should have done this the moment I found you trying to sneak away. But I’ll put it all to rights now.”
Flames engulfed her arse, going deep into her core. Bottom or bonnwas the word she had grown up with but arse sounded harder and this hurt. How could her precious Rosemary declare she needed this, nae, craved it? She was disillusioned. That was the problem. But Cairis was not. She needed to think, but it was so bloody hard when she was over the thick and meaty thighs of the Black Laird. He was aptly named.
Cairis twisted the best she was able as he continued the onslaught of hand to bonnie cheek action. She didn’t even know if her chemise was in place or not but she thought likely it was not as he now had moved down to her more sensitive upper thighs and flanks. Fast, firm, and steady came the swats. Cairis, after a few long moments of gritting her teeth and producing less than ladylike grunts, began to beg. Her fight all but gone as the heat began to crawl into the vary marrow of her bones.
“My laird, I’m sorry. I’m ashamed of my behavior. Please forgive me and let me up.” Her voice was strained even to her own ears as she panted and groaned her dismay. She would say anything to stop his assault.
“The words are good, lass. You’re getting there but it sounds as though you have yet to truly feel repentant. I believe honest remorse won’t be long, though.”
Her anger flew out of her mouth. “Unhand me you brute, you beast. You are no gentleman. You’re a behemoth. I will have you horsewhipped.”
“Finally,” he sighed loudly as he swatted her bottom with vigor, “we are getting somewhere. Let the vile out lass, all of it. Spew the filth and then we will finish it and begin anew.”
Appalled she had given in, Cairis suddenly closed her mouth, determined to endure the punishment. This man would not break her and when she spoke again to Lord Ashton, she would reveal the beast his partner truly was. She was certain that his lordship would not approve. As she settled in with her reinforced resolve, she cried out in remembrance. Lord Ashton smacked the bottom of his beloved in punishment without restraint. He would not think anything askance. In her despair, she heard her captor speak, his voice firm but gentle.
“Your arse is a fair bit heated, Cairis, my love. Say your apologies or I’ll have to bring out the tawse. I would hate to introduce you to the strap the first day we meet. Besides, it would involve stopping the carriage which would announce to the driver if no other that you would be getting a proper skelping.”
She clamped her mouth shut but she wished she had not made such a huge stand. She could have ended the torment to her arse. Her lower cheeks were indeed burning hot with a terrible fire. The delivery had slowed but at this juncture, each strike was painful even if he had lessened the impact on her tender skin. She thought she might be able to breathe through it.
“My wee lass, you are a stubborn one.”
She heard his dramatic sigh.
“Maybe this will get your attention.”
Her vision of the seats tilted. The movement of his leg changed her position as she now faced his boot. She grabbed onto his calf for she feared she would fall. The pain rose as he slapped the delicate skin between her bottom cheeks and her thighs with a dedication she would have appreciated if it weren’t amid her loathing of the same act. She could feel the tears coming but she valiantly tried to hold them back.
After a third hard slap Cullen said, “Cairistine Donahue, let go darlin’. I know you’re angry about the skelping but ye’ll do yerself a real harm if you hold your ire in. Now, these are going to hurt.”
Said as though the present smacks did not, she thought. But when his broad hand next met her bottom it was clear the Black Laird did not lie. Her dam burst and she cried for what seemed an eternity. Time actually held no meaning until she had cried herself clean. When her tears had subsided, she realized where she was and who was cuddling her. Sometime during her tears, she had found her way into the big Scotsman’s arms and cuddled deep into his chest as he cradled her. He was crooning some nonsensical words that she heard despite her crying.
She wasn’t sobbing because of the pain, although that had brought on the downpour. She cried for her great loss of her home and the need to let go of her façade for a while. Her father was gone and she wanted a protector again. He hadn’t been the kindest of fathers, but whose was? He was great and grand and kept all the evils away but not really a da. Since her protector’s death, she’d been alone, exposed, and vulnerable until she met the mountain of a man who was Cullen Blacoch (Black) O’Leary, the Scotish-Irish laird. Who would have thought the man had such a gentle side to him?
The Black Laird didn’t seem horrible at that moment. He had created a safe haven for her in one meeting. Embarrassed and awkward, her upper cheeks glowed hot to surely match her lower ones. She didn’t want to, but Cairis was sure she should move. She tried to slide off his lap, but the laird wasn’t allowing it. She didn’t push hard. She hissed when she moved her chafed rear across his rough breeches. Clicking his tongue, he lifted her arse to resettle her without further abrading.
“I know your bottom hurts but you are a stubborn one, love. Here lass,” he said as he produced a handkerchief. “Dry your eyes. We will eventually discuss all that has gone on to put you in such a state but for now, I’m glad you could relieve some of the pressure and the sorrow.”
“I am perfectly capable of…” she spied the look on the man’s face and stopped mid-sentence. No use igniting his ire again so soon. “Thank you, milord.”
“I prefer laird.”
“Ah, but you do own a title and therefore are a lord.”
“I shall have to break you of the habit of arguing with every word out of my mouth, lass.”
She sniffed and sighed before continuing magnanimously. “But I will call you laird if you like. I hear you are called the Black Laird.”
“Should I take warning in the name?”
“Aye,” she repeated quietly.
As they approached home, Cairis could feel the embarrassment and the accompanying need to regain control. The discomfiture and the irritation that came with her submission grew stronger the closer the carriage drew to their destination. She slid out of his lap angrily and onto the cushion next to him. The laird allowed it, much to her confused chagrin. As they pulled onto Grosvenor Street in the Mayfair district, she knew they would soon pass the square which held Ashton House. Cairis wanted to place a distance between them again.
She attempted to make her voice cold. “You shall not do that again, Cullen O’Leary.”
He chuckled, thereby setting loose her anger even further.
“Abusing my body is not a laughing matter, sir. I expect to be treated with respect and dignity, none of which includes striking my derrière.” Cairistine straightened her back stiffly and tried to look condescendingly at the laird, but found the effort quite difficult since he sat considerably taller than she.
“It is good to know ye’ll not be naughty or disobey me again. I’m not sure I can believe it but I appreciate the effort.”
“No, you do not. I dinnae ken how you are to find a wife with the distasteful habits you have.”
“And I dinnae ken why you think I am looking for a wife.”
She looked outside as the carriage stopped and seeing the front door of her current residence, she stood quickly. Cairis felt his hands on her waist once again but she didn’t respond as last time. A heat of embarrassment infused her face replacing the anger for a second. He was quite liberal with his touch and damn her body—it responded. As she twisted from Cullen’s grasp the carriage jerk at that moment and simultaneous to the door being opened by his lordship’s footman.
Cairis, eager to escape her traveling companion, to nurse her wounded pride and throbbing bottom, leapt from the carriage. Her glee at acquiring her freedom was snatched away as her dress grew taut. The skirt had caught on something and she held her breath waiting for the sound of rent material, but the sound did not come.
Thankfully, the footman caught her and she righted herself. Turning back, she encountered the disapproving face of the laird close to hers.
“Some gentleman you are, sir,” she said, her voice as haughty as possible.
“The footman was in a better position than I. You were not supposed to jump out before I could exit the carriage first and well you know it. That was an impetuous and ill-disciplined thing to do. I see many more reenactments of the carriage ride in your future, lass.”
This time there was no humor in his face or his tone, however he didn’t appear angry either. Resigned was how he looked. Resigned and possibly accepting, but there was something else she couldn’t define. Well, she was neither resigned nor accepting of his interference in her life and he would soon know it.
“I doubt a recurrence will happen, sir, and certainly not with you as the disciplinarian.” Before she could turn away, he grabbed her hand firmly, giving the appearance of assistance as Cairis walked up the entryway steps.
“A gentleman would have tried to help.” She hissed as she tried unsuccessfully to disengage her fingers from his grasp.
Leaning in closer to Cairistine, Cullen replied. “Possibly, lass, but a man who wants to teach a lesson, would wait and see how much of the lesson was taught on its own. Your own particular foolishness is what caused your trouble. I’m helping you now.”
“Some help,” she murmured as she endeavored to pull her hand from his. Her efforts were again, unsuccessful.
“We need to go for another carriage ride very soon, lass.” As they crossed the threshold, Cullen released her hand as he introduced himself and gave the butler the information Ashton had given him without skipping a beat.
“I’m going to my room to freshen up,” announced Cairis as she continued to walk.
“Aye, that is a good idea, lass. I wouldn’t find that amiss myself. The journey has been long.”
She stopped and turned to speak to Mr. and Mrs. Stuart, her training as mistress of her own household did not allow her to keep his lordship’s guest wanting.
“This is the Black Laird, his lordship’s partner. There is a room ready for him.”
As the housekeeper took their guest to his room, Cairis walked away without a backward glance. She was feeling quite satisfied having introduced him in an unsavory way. Cullen’s chuckle could be heard following her up the staircase, much to her chagrin.
Cullen sat in the library where he hoped to relax with a glass or two of good Scotch whiskey while he waited for Ashton and dinner. Helping himself to the first glass of amber nectar, he walked to the double doors to peruse the garden. The night was dark but he could see the light from the windows splashing onto the vegetation leaving a shadowy glow in places.
He thought of Cairistine and the way his loins had been burning since the moment he laid eyes on her. Watching the sullen faced woman sitting across from him in the carriage had made his hand itch as they approached their destination. To distract himself, for he couldn’t take her to task again even if her moodiness was inviting the swats, he thought of what he would like to do to this luscious woman and he wondered if he dared to pursue her.
They weren’t related by more than marriage. He could have her if he put the charm on. He smiled. The only female to take his interest in many a month was this fair Cairistine with her red hair escaping its coiffure while trying to evade him on the docks. He had already spanked her incredible arse which was a curse and a blessing. He had continued to stay aroused from that moment to this. The fact that a Gaelic woman’s temper could be as fiery as her hair had been an old wives tale to him until today. Her scent was sweet, but her bite was sharp.
This fellow countrywoman was indeed beautiful, but her tongue could cut like a knife and he had always thought himself to find a quiet gentler woman. Perhaps a demure American or French woman. Someone who would submit to his desires without resistance, but since meeting Cairis, he knew he had been all wrong in his expectations of satisfaction. Cairistine Donahue heated his blood and ignited a fire in his loins.
A heavy wooden door slammed into a stone wall making that familiar thud that spoke to uncontrolled temper. Edward had said his mother was in residence. He hoped that she was not the culprit but imagined she was. To be raised by a woman with such a temper could not have been pleasant, but he imagined Ashton’s father may have enjoyed it. Cullen himself was finding he enjoyed the bite of a feisty woman. A woman like Cairistine would be a challenge he would eagerly take on.
Cullen decided to leave another to address the bad manners of the slammed door as he heard the disruption again. Instead he turned to sit in a roomy leather chair and stretch out his long legs. The bath had been incredibly relaxing and dressed in clean clothes and with whiskey in hand, his mind wandered back to Cairistine Donahue. Yes, the lass had spunk and a temper equal to her deeply flaming hair, but there was something else about her. There was something that drew him to her, a quality he could not identify that encouraged his protection and correction. She exhilarated him and called on him to claim her.
The one thing he did not see in Cairis was that childlike manner that he enjoyed in his women. Not at first. But after the spanking, she had kept her fierceness, but in words only. She had cuddled into him as a kitten into its litter. The problem was he had only found the quality openly accepted in quite young women. Enjoying forays into being a little lady was an attribute that he required in a forever wife. As Cairis was proving, she may have all of the other characteristics that he desired, but accepting that wee lass in her was probably not in her makeup. He damned his luck for he had long decided if he were to take a wife she would have to be many things but one of them was accepting his love of being the da at times.
She had kicked him and her lip protruded slightly when she discovered he was going to have his way regardless of her desires when getting into the carriage. She had folded her arms defiantly, not unlike other women. Yet he was able to still her quick temper with a quelling look of his own and she dropped her eyes, adorable in her submission. But was it enough? Surely the lass knew what Ashton and Rosemary enjoyed for he was positive his friend and partner would not marry unless those pleasures were part of their life together. He wondered if he could entice Cairis to experiment. He would take special note of her behaviors and pray there was his wee lassie in there somewhere, begging to be let out and nurtured.
Cullen was yanked from his reverie by another loud thud against the wall. He was sure the destruction was not an accident. Maybe he should check that all was well. Standing, he tossed the last of the whiskey into his mouth and set his glass down before taking three strides to the door. His hand was on the knob when a woman screeched. Cairistine. Cullen would lay odds that it was Cairis who screamed, for he had already memorized the quality of her voice. His body was immediately on alert. Yanking open the library door, he was down the hallway before he could think another thought.
Entering the room, Cullen found Cairis standing in the center, hair escaping her chignon, breast heaving with her irritation, and fists on hips. She was the consummate Scottish warrior woman. Looking around, Cullen could not see what the danger was but he did spy a woman about the age of his own mother with fire in her eyes on the other side of the room.
“What the bloody hell is going on here?” He wanted to protect Cairis and scold her at the same time. Running a shipping business was easier than keeping this wee one out of trouble.
“Stay out of this, laird.” She had dismissed him as nothing but an annoying interruption.
Cullen smiled. He loved hearing her call him that. “Aye, but you’re a bit loud, lass. A man has nae chance to enjoy his pre-dinner drink with his lass tearing the house down in the next room.”
The older woman spoke loudly. “Exactly what we need, another barbarian to infiltrate this family. Isn’t the insult enough that my son has to live with that American? Must we now endure the Scots as well?”
Cairis started towards the mean-mouthed woman and Cullen hurried to grab her about the waist, pulling her stiffened body into him as she began to spew her angry response. “You hateful old woman, don’t you dare say a word against my Rosemary. She is worth ten of you… you… shriveled up piece of—”
Cullen swung her around to face him sporting his best retribution face. God she was lovely in her anger but he had to put a stop to this now. The woman was surely Ashton’s mother and although he had told Cullen to ignore her, he wasn’t sure his partner would be amiable to Cairis for showing her such disrespect.
His voice was dark with warning as he spoke to Cairistine. “This woman is Lord Ashton’s mother and while she is abusive and rude to you, it is never well-chosen to return the attack. He would likely not approve and I certainly don’t.”
“Nae, he tells her off.” Cairis’s voice was hard and angry. “She won’t say those things about my mistress and friend. ‘Tis nae right and certainly not in her own home.”
“Aye, but it’s his mother, lass. He’s meant to address the behavior, but you cannot.” Cairis heard another string of derogatory things said by the dowager Lady Ashton. Cairistine turned from Cullen and yelled a response like a fish wife on the docks. “No lady should speak like that, Cairistine Donahue. My lady will show some level of civility at all times.” His voice dropped again, for her ears only. “Unless she is in my bed,” his meaning was clear but she didn’t respond. He paused and upped the stakes. “I will take the tawse to you if another word of disrespect passes your lips, lass. Heed me well.”
She looked intently into his face and grunted.
“Not allowed,” He growled back. “You think I am uncouth but this is unacceptable behavior from my Scottish lass and I promise to show my displeasure in a fashion that will bring you discomfort in a multitude of ways.”
“But it’s not fair that she is allowed her filth, but I am not permitted to respond in the same way,” came her angry reply.
“Aye lass, it isn’t fair, but ‘tis the way it is going to be.” Cullen watched her cross her arms over her ample bosom and give a little growl. “Tawse, Cari, remember that, used long and hard.”
She whimpered and he bit his cheek to stop from laughing. She would be mortified to see how much of a wee lass she was right now, but there was thankfully no doubt that she was. He firmed his voice. “Enough.” She stopped her tantrum and he pulled her into his arms. “Come on, lass, let the anger go. I promise to let your Lord Ashton know the circumstances.”
“But I want to—”
“What the blue devil is going on here?”