**Must be at least 18 years old to read this excerpt**
Scotland, present day
“I’m in hell,” Erin Shultz muttered between chattering teeth. Frozen hell!
“Concentrate, Erin!” Sam, the creative director of the photo shoot called, his voice carried away by the icy Highland wind whipping off the Atlantic and across the castle’s roof.
Didn’t he know it was damned hard to concentrate on edgy poses when one’s nipples were in danger of freezing and falling off? The thin silk dress, studded with millions of sequins, didn’t do a thing to deflect the wind.
“We’re looking for ethereal but sexy,” Kincaid, the fashion designer and client, reminded her. “Mythical but earthy. Pretend you’re a mermaid.”
A mermaid? On top of a castle? That made a lot of sense.
Determined to get a great photo even if it killed her, Erin focused on her stiff facial muscles. Move, damn you!
Three more blinding flashes.
“That’s a wrap!” Sam waved.
Erin dashed inside the castle, grabbed her coat from the female assistant, and wrapped her shivering body within the heavy wool. “Thank you. I have to find some heat.”
“Kincaid isn’t impressed by your photos, Erin.” Sam’s voice echoed from behind her.
Her stomach dropped as she spun to face him. “He loved my look before. I thought those last few shots were great.”
Sam’s hard gray eyes and tight ponytail made his expression appear more severe than usual. “We’re scheduling a re-shoot for tomorrow. Something isn’t translating into the pictures this time. Are you distracted? What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.” Why did he bother asking? He didn’t care about her financial problems. “I’m simply not used to working in such extreme cold,” Erin said. And the world was indeed a cold place.
Sam patted her back. “Do better tomorrow.”
She nodded and watched him walk away. Her eyes burned and her throat ached. How could I screw up so badly?
She descended the narrow spiral stairs to a corridor. Spying a lit fireplace in a bedroom where a photo shoot had taken place earlier, she slipped inside. Holding her hands out to the fire, she absorbed the divine heat and scanned her surroundings. Nothing in the room was modern, from the ancient, velvet-draped bed to the chests and candlesticks.
Sam and Kincaid strode by the room, footsteps echoing. “If her photos are topnotch tomorrow, I’ll still want her to walk in my runway show in Glasgow,” Kincaid said in his highbrow British accent. “If not, I’ll have to find another blonde…” Their voices grew distant, then a door slammed.
Nausea latched onto Erin’s already empty stomach. What am I doing wrong? Maybe she was over-thinking it. She needed this job and many others to help get her finances back on track and pay for medical school. She’d lost most of her savings in the damned stock market. She’d always invested wisely, as her financial advisors suggested, but she may as well have gambled away her life savings in Vegas. Her dream of becoming a doctor was even further away than it had been five years ago when she’d been “discovered” by a top agent and decided to take a few years off from school.
And now the problem with her photos. This seemed minor, but it could have far-reaching repercussions.
If she didn’t get to the van soon, she’d have to hike a half mile in four-inch heels and chilling winds. Striding toward the door, she accidentally kicked something with her toe—a piece of metal—and it clattered a few inches. She bent and picked up a tarnished brass key. It appeared ancient and felt warm to the touch.
Heat and happiness spread through her. Energy buzzed along her nerves.
Strange. Erin clasped the key within both palms. The feeling intensified.
Erin jumped. A gray-haired matron, broom in hand, stood in the room’s entrance. A nametag on her shirt read Louise.
“Are you enjoying your visit to Farspag Tower?” she asked in a strong Scottish accent.
“Yes, thank you. I found this on the floor.” Erin relinquished the key and the icy chill and anxiety almost overwhelmed her.
“That old thing? Take it if you wish.” When Louise placed the key back into Erin’s hand, the astounding positive feelings returned.
“Wow.” This tiny piece of metal was better than a double espresso or an anti-depressant. Anticipation filled her, and she was unable to hold back a smile. “This isn’t a valuable antique?”
Louise shrugged. “I’ve never seen it before. Perhaps ’tis the key to your future.”
An eerie thrill raced through Erin. She didn’t know whether to run away or laugh.
“’Tis yours, dearie. Enjoy. And come back to visit us sometime.” Louise patted Erin’s hand, then shuffled to the far corner and started sweeping.
“Thank you.” Erin slipped the key into her coat pocket and hurried down the narrow stairs to catch up with the photographer and his crew.
In the dim light of the high-ceilinged great hall, her heel caught in a gap in the stone floor. Her heart in her throat, she grabbed for the ancient oak table, hit her shin on one of the benches and bit back a curse. All she needed was a massive bruise to add to her troubles. She yanked her shoe from the crevice, slid it on, and sprinted for the door. The pain in her shin disappeared faster than she could’ve imagined. Had the key caused this?
Maybe it would also bring her good luck at tomorrow’s shoot. She hardly noticed the biting wind as she raced across the stone-paved car park and climbed into the van. A feeling of warmth and well-being enveloped her.
“Why are you smiling?” Fellow model Britnee sneered as Erin settled into her seat. “Sam said you’re going to have to bring it tomorrow or you’re out.”
“I will.” Erin smiled wider, because the key made her feel that good, even with her nemesis taunting her.
“Maybe it’s time to retire. Or go catalog,” Britnee said.
Oh, the arrogance of teenagers. “Bite me.”
Ten minutes later, Erin arrived at the reception for Kincaid in the small pub on the ground floor of their inn at Dunmory Village. Would she have to face him and his disapproval again? Maybe she would skip it. But the delicious scents of steak and roasted potatoes lured her in and made her stomach growl. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She placed a few appetizers on a tiny plate.
She craned her neck, searching the room for her friend Katie, but couldn’t find her.
Erin sneezed and one miniature meat bridie tumbled to the tartan carpet. “Oh no. I can’t get sick,” she muttered, pressing a napkin to her tickling nose. She swallowed and pain seared across her throat. “Dammit!”
“Something wrong, Ms. Schultz?” Kincaid asked, approaching.
“No. Sorry.” He might cancel everything and hire another blonde if he thought she was sick. “I’ll do much better tomorrow… with my pictures, I mean.”
“I certainly hope so,” he said, lifting a brow before sauntering away.
An ache of dread filled her stomach, and she felt like that ugly, gangly teenager again. The one dubbed alien giraffe by all the cool kids, while her mom was dying of cancer.
Hoping to find a dark corner to hide in, she turned and smashed into a tall man wearing a lot of plaid and carrying a pint of ale.
“Och!” He stared down at his ale-drenched traditional kilt and ivory linen shirt. Bits of flaky bridie crust clung to his plaid sash.
“Oh, no!” Could her day get any worse?
He glared at her. Déjà vu immobilized her. She’d seen him before, but where? A fellow model? He certainly could be a model with those dark, exotic eyes, high cheekbones, and sleek-muscled physique. He looked like he’d stepped straight off a runway in Milan or Paris.
“I’m sorry. I’ll pay for cleaning—” She pressed the napkin to her nose just as a sneeze erupted. “Excuse me.”
“Ne’er mind!” The kilted guy stomped off. He didn’t even offer a bless you.
Fine. She couldn’t help that she was sick. A fit of coughing took hold. And if he was too arrogant to accept her apology, then screw him. She hated egotistical men, even if one happened to be a walking erotic dream.
She sneezed twice more.
What was she doing at a party? She ditched her empty plate and slipped up the narrow staircase to the small room she shared with her friend and fellow model, Katie.
“Why weren’t you at the party?” Erin asked, closing the door. “Still getting ready?”
Katie ran a brush through her long black hair. “Yes, for a date. I just finished packing. We leave for Glasgow tomorrow, remember?”
“Yes. You have a date?”
Katie grinned, her too-cute dimples showing. “I met a guy. He’s taking me to a pub tonight to hear live music. It’s a kickoff to the Celtic Festival that begins tomorrow.”
“He doesn’t by chance wear a kilt, does he?”
“He’s Scottish, so he probably will wear one. Most people will be in costume.”
Figured. Not that she ever wanted to see the impatient jerk again. But for the first time, Erin found she envied Katie’s long, silky black hair, hollow cheeks and perfect eighteen-year-old skin. Being twenty-four in the modeling world was becoming difficult. She was ready to get on with the next chapter of her life and follow her true dream. She’d made a vow to herself and her mom. She’d simply thought modeling would be a fast way to gain financial stability.
Erin dug out a bag of chocolate-covered almonds and slumped in a chair. “I have to redo my shots in the morning. If they look like crap, I’m fired.”
Katie’s mouth dropped open. “Why? What happened?”
Erin chewed a mouthful of nuts and swallowed. “My expression was wrong, or something. Kincaid wasn’t happy.”
“Kincaid is an ass!” Katie said.
“I know, but he’s an important ass.”
“He’s only one designer. If he fires you, there are thousands of others who would book you in a heartbeat.”
“You’re so sweet. Thank you.” She loved Katie for her pep talks, but it would take more to get her over this hurdle. “Achoo!” She grabbed a tissue. “Oh yeah, and on top of that, I’m coming down with a cold or flu. I almost froze solid out there in the wind.” Katie had been fortunate enough to pose inside by the fireplace.
“I know what would help.” Katie pointed to the mini bar.
“A hot toddy, as my grandma used to say. She would put lemon and honey in it, but everyone knows what the active ingredient is.” She held up a miniature bottle of amber-colored liquid.
“Scotch?” Erin grimaced. “Not my thing.”
Katie removed the lid and handed it to her. “Trust me. If anything can fight off a cold by morning, this would be it.”
“Why not? I’m desperate.” Erin downed a swallow. It scorched her sore throat and she almost choked. Coughing, she grabbed a bottle of water and drank half of it. “Yuck! That doesn’t go well with chocolate-covered almonds.” She squinted at the whisky label through watery eyes. Farspag Tower, it read just below a picture of the castle where she’d spent a miserable day.
“You’ll think it has magic in it.” Katie grinned. “Drink all three little bottles. It’s not that much.”
“Clearly an acquired taste.” She forced down another sip. “Ugh!” At least she’d sleep. By the time Katie left fifteen minutes later, Erin had polished away two mini bottles of Scotch and started on the third.
I will get better. I will get better. She lay on the bed feeling as if she were floating. Heat flowed through her veins like lava and her coat felt sweltering. She struggled out of it and flung it to the chair. The mysterious brass key fell from the pocket. Clutching it to her, Erin again tested its effect. It took away her anxiety and made her feel happy. Nice.
After finishing off the third bottle, she fell into bed. The covers were cozy and her pillow soft. She exhaled a contented sigh. She’d forgotten to take off her dress, but was too sleepy now to move.
Images swirled in her mind. A man materialized. A tall man with black hair and wicked dark eyes—the one who’d been in the pub. “Leave me alone. I don’t date or dream about male models. Especially arrogant ones.” She’d had enough of those types five years ago.
Torches flickered on the walls of the dim room. Torches? Wait a minute. This wasn’t her room.
“Dream… just a dream,” she whispered.
The hottie moved toward her and his kilt fell off. “Whoa.” Such a muscle-chiseled body. Yes, he had to be a model who worked out two hours a day and ate no fat. “Not interested,” she mumbled. But that didn’t help. A part of her refused to listen, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him. This guy was different, his gaze more intense and focused, as if she were someone important to him.
“You’ve got the wrong woman, Highlander.”
Slowly, he climbed onto the bed and lay down next to her, his warm breath tickling her ear. Chills skittered down her neck. It had been a long time since she’d been in bed with a man. A year or more?
“I don’t have time for this,” she whispered.
“I’ll make it worth your while, lass.” What an accent he had, thickly Scottish. Glancing down, she saw something equally thick. She hadn’t seen an erection that big in… ever.
“You’ve been eating your oat cakes, I see.” Her words came out slurred. She really shouldn’t have drunk three bottles of Scotch on an almost empty stomach.
He murmured something in a language she didn’t understand, then kissed her ear, her cheek. His lips were hot and tempting.
“Go away. I’m sick. I have to sleep and recover. I have a hard day tomorrow.” She shook her head, blinked, and he disappeared. Yes, she was in her room again with the red glow of the digital clock showing just past nine p.m. A few seconds later, the wicked Scot returned.
“’Tis only a dream and willna disrupt your sleep.” His deep voice and accent could seduce the granny panties off a nun.
She deserved a fantastic dream, didn’t she? To make up for the past year of celibacy. And a horrid day.
“Aye, you do,” he murmured.
She found herself being sucked in by his hypnotic chocolate gaze. “Don’t read my mind. You’re only a figment of my imagination and you’ll do what I say.”
“Indeed?” Smiling, he slid his fingers into her hair, pressed his lips against hers and teased her mouth with seductive flicks of his skilled tongue. Each brush spiked unfamiliar arousal through her deprived body and held her enthralled. She had forgotten how sharp, breathless and controlling desire could be. Holding onto his muscled arms, she tugged him closer, inhaled his musky scent. All scrumptious male.
Who are you? Her voice would no longer work, but did it matter anyway? He was a dream—nothing more. His kisses delved deeper, became more erotic, and need ached inside her. He made her ravenous.
Sliding his searing hand down her suddenly naked body, over her hip and along her thigh, he touched her just the way she wanted. The slow, light strokes set her skin on fire like the whisky burning in her veins.
Dare she go after what she wanted? She ran her fingers down his chest and hard, rippled abs.
He purred. “Aye, lass, touch me.”
“Are you real?” she whispered.
“What do you think?” He curled her hand around his rigid cock, springing upward toward his navel. His hand guiding hers, he urged her to squeeze and stroke slowly up and down. Wow, he felt amazing. Sleek and powerful. Like someone she wanted to crawl all over and munch on. She gently nipped at his jaw, the rough stubble scratching her lips.
Growling, he slipped a hand between her thighs and moved upward to cup his palm against her mound. His fingertip dipped into her wetness, finding her clit to fondle and taunt.
“Oh!” Pleasure spiraled outward and her legs fell apart wide.
“Is that good, princess?” he asked.
He kissed and nibbled at her neck while he busied his fingers in ever bolder and tempting ways, spreading her sex lips, caressing her wet clit in maddening circles. She thrust her hips toward his hand, seeking penetration. He slid a finger into her and she cried out.
“Yes, more,” she moaned.
He removed his finger. And disappeared.
“Don’t stop.” She gasped. “Where are you?”
A loud pop sounded and pain shot through her head. “Ouch!” What had the bastard done to her?
Holding her head between her palms, she shivered, her eyes tracking back and forth as the pain evaporated. Icy cold surrounded her. Now she lay on something hard, rough and wet. A rock? The full moon gleamed over a dark ocean and waves crashed below, spraying chilling salt water over her. Freezing wind whipped at her hair.
What the hell?
Scoundrel in a Kilt, Secrets Volume 30 Desires Unleashed published by Red Sage Publishing copyright 2011 Nicole North