The Laird's Forbidden Lover
Farm lad Iain Munro knows his love affair with Tavish MacIntyre, future Laird of Creachann-Dubh, is dangerous—discovery could mean disgrace and death. But they’ve been in love since they were boys, and they’ve never been able to resist each other, dishonorable though it is to deceive their families.
Young men now, their sexual explorations have deepened and their love for each other has strengthened. But Iain’s father fears for his eldest son’s future, and Tavish faces dangers and duties of his own: his demanding mother would see him respectably wed, and his interfering sister knows too much—and has schemes of her own.
Facing a lifetime apart, Iain and Tavish must leave their childhoods behind for good as they choose between honor and love, innocence and happiness, and their vows before God and to each other.
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Iain Munro recognized the gelding tethered to the post outside the thatch-roofed stone cottage he called home. He knew it well, in fact. His jaw tightened at the sight of it, his heart beginning to race at the prospect of another confrontation. From inside the house, Iain could hear his father’s gruff voice answer a question Iain had missed, and another voice, higher, full of energy and enthusiasm, followed up with an inquiry.
“And the spring planting has gone well, Cousin Aonghus?”
“Aye,” his father rumbled. “We’re nigh done now, thank ye. And how fare Lady Morna and your sister? Did the winter finally see her wed?”
Iain listened at the door to Tavish’s rich chuckle. The sound of it made him ache with a desperate longing he’d thought perhaps the winter past would have helped him conquer. He’d craved the sound of that voice, but ah, Lord, how could he bear to face the same old argument again?
“The two questions are nearly one in the same. Aileen remains indifferent to any of the suitors who pay her interest, and Mum becomes more dismayed with each passing year. I suspect Aileen loves Creachann-Dubh far too much to be easily swayed to leave it.”
A voice behind him made Iain jump. “Has Cousin Tavish come?”
He spun to face his next-youngest brother with an irritated look and threw his hand up, gesturing to the sleek horse. “As ye can see.”
Lachlan snorted. At almost eighteen, he was taller and broader than Iain would ever be, and had acquired a swagger to go with his stature, as well as an assumption that his size meant he could push his brothers around. “And ye’re standin’ at the door eavesdropping? Hopin’ he might take ye back to market or to Creachann-Dubh again?”
Iain buried the urge to squirm beneath a withering look. “I was on my way inside.”
“Not sure what makes ye so special. He probably only does it out of pity for the way ye used to tag along at his heels like a pup when you were a lad.”
Before Iain could reply, the door opened, and Tavish emerged, Iain’s father following. Iain met Tavish’s gaze, trying to mask his uncertainty with a proud reserve. He would greet his cousin with the dignity befitting Aonghus Munro’s son, whatever quarrels he and Tavish might have between them.
“Cousin Tavish. What brings ye to see the Munros today?”
Tavish smirked, and Iain knew his father must have greeted Tavish with that same question. Now nineteen years old, he often heard the matrons from the village remarking that he grew more like his father with each passing year—quiet and withdrawn, with a steadfast blend of humility and pride.
Iain could think of far worse men to emulate.
“And a fair afternoon to ye, Cousin Iain!” Tavish smiled. If he bore any resentment over their quarrel or unease stemming from Iain’s reserve, his easygoing charm reflected none of it. But then, Tavish was never one to linger long on unpleasant matters. “I was out calling upon crofters this morning for my mother, and it brought me in your direction. I thought I’d stop and pay my respects to ye and your Da. And to ye as well, of course, Cousin Lachlan.”
“Thank ye, Cousin Tavish,” Lachie replied, affording Tavish far more courtesy than Iain had suspected him capable of.
Iain realized he wasn’t the only one who’d matured since the autumn. With twenty-two summers behind him now, Tavish wore his plaid with all the dignity befitting the future laird of Creachann-Dubh. It draped in immaculate folds across his shoulder, the linen shirt underneath pristine. His black hair, braided at the sides, hung loose past his shoulders, billowing when the breeze swept past the cottage. The sight of him made Iain squirm, aware of his faded kilt, his dingy, rough-spun shirt, the ragged condition of his red hair. Iain dropped his gaze to the sod beneath his feet. Seeing Tavish had never done that to him before. He’d felt many things over the years looking at his distant cousin, but never inferior.
But then, Tavish had never seemed so lordly before. Now, he looked every bit the young laird, a man born to inspire, to lead. Of all the people in Glen Noe, only Iain—and perhaps Tavish’s twin sister—knew how unsuited his cousin actually was to that particular role.
And Iain . . . Iain looked like a boy born to till the earth and herd the kine.
“Ye’ve come more than half a day’s ride to pay your respects?” Lachlan pressed. “Have ye more work ye need help with at Creachann-Dubh, then? My brother’s nae been fit for company since the harvest last year, but I’d be happy to come help!”
Tavish’s merriment seemed to fade somewhat as his eyes slid to meet Iain’s, who didn’t dare look back too long.
“I thought I’d invite Cousin Iain to go hunting with me. Perhaps that might ease his melancholy?”
Iain flushed and stared wide-eyed at his cousin. His father’s shrewd gaze took in Tavish’s horse, and he gave a thoughtful hum. “Huntin’ might be a fair bit of a trial to ye today, young Tavish. Ye seem to have come all this way and forgotten your bow.”
Tavish’s teeth flashed, and his regard remained fixed on Iain. Searching. Or perhaps pleading. “I thought I’d take my cousin back to Creachann-Dubh with me. We’ll have supper there tonight and set out on the hunt tomorrow. I’ll return him in two or three days, four at the most, if that’s agreeable?”
Iain’s father scratched at his stubble. “Well, the plantin’ is done, and there’ll be naught to reap anytime soon. I suppose his younger brothers can handle his chores for a few days. He has my leave to go”—his inscrutable gaze turned to Iain as Lachie began to sputter in jealous indignation—“if he wills it.”
Iain nodded, trapped. If he didn’t go, everyone would want to know why. And that was a matter he could never explain. “Aye, sir.”
“Four days then, lad, and not a sunrise more. There’s work to be done, and ye’ll be makin’ it up to your brothers, to be sure. Off ye go, then.”
Iain nodded again, his eyes lowered to avoid both Tavish’s expectant gaze and his father’s. “Thank ye, sir.”
He dodged inside to cram his only other shirt into a sack, jerking the drawstring closed. With his dagger already sheathed on his belt, he would need for nothing more while he was a guest at Creachann-Dubh.
When he emerged, Tavish reached down from his horse to grasp his forearm, pulling him up. Iain laid a cautious hand on Tavish’s waist for balance, trying to touch his cousin as little as possible, before Tavish wheeled the horse around. But then Iain had to grip tighter, for Tavish called a farewell to Aonghus and Lachlan and set off at a near gallop.
When they were out of sight of the farm, Iain relaxed enough to let his agitation show. His jaw tightened and his eyes bored holes into Tavish’s broad back. He tried to keep his seat without holding too tightly to Tavish, gripping handfuls of his shirt instead, and nearly getting himself toppled from the horse for his trouble. No doubt Tavish, scoundrel that he was, had set such a rapid pace a’purpose.
“Are ye nae happy to see me, cousin?” Tavish asked, his voice full of sly mischief. His eyes twinkled as he glanced quickly back over his shoulder.
“I dinnae ken what ye were thinking, comin’ all this way for me after what we said at the Harvest Festival.”
Tavish slowed the horse to a quieter pace, and Iain heard him sigh.
“Do ye honestly wish I’d not come? Are ye truly determint never to see me again? I’d thought after the winter, ye might—”
“Might what? Change my mind? Ye know I’m a man of my word. I cannae help but see ye, cousin, but it’s the how of it that troubles me.” Iain tried to move back on the horse, away from Tavish’s body, but it was a losing battle. The small space available to sit and the damned nag’s gait conspired to keep him clinging to Tavish.
“Well, if that’s the way of it, there’s naught to be done now, and I apologize for that. I’ll return ye on the morrow and I’ll nae trouble ye with my presence again, if ye truly wish it so.”
It was the note of sorrow in Tavish’s usually cheerful voice that unraveled the last of Iain’s consternation. Ah, his sweet Tavish. So open and eager. Despite everything, Iain was glad to be with him once more, as Tavish had no doubt known he would be.
“Nay,” Iain relented. “I dinnae wish that.”
Almost against his will, his hand on Tavish’s waist splayed open. He felt the ripple of muscles as Tavish moved easily with the horse. The wool of Tavish’s plaid rubbed Iain’s face and the wind blew Tavish’s dark hair back, mingling their locks together. Tavish took the reins in one hand and covered Iain’s with the other, pulling it around himself. Their fingers laced together, and Tavish squeezed tightly. The verdant hills and rocky crags of Glen Noe sped by as silent awareness settled between them and the press of their bodies brought familiarity back.
It would be so much easier if only Iain could lie. If he could tell Tavish he never wished to see him again. If he could be cruel and convince Tavish he wanted nothing to do with him. But Iain was trapped by his own honesty. There was naught to be done, then, but accept the matter as it stood.
He laid his head against Tavish’s back and wrapped both arms around Tavish, listening to the resonant drumming of his heartbeat under the rhythmic clopping of the horse’s hooves. Relief flooded through him, so profound he wanted to weep with it, or shout, or dance beneath the leaden sky. He’d spent the winter with his own doubts undermining the resolve he’d made in the autumn. No matter how desperately aware he was that they shouldn’t do what they were doing, the thought of never seeing Tavish again had nigh done him in.
Equally unbearable had been the possibility that Tavish might not even want him again after what Iain had declared. But Tavish’s hand led Iain’s lower, to where his thighs parted to grip the horse. His fingers urged Iain’s to curl around the flesh rising stiff beneath his plaid, and Iain knew his fears had been false.
They reached a patch of woods, and Tavish guided the gelding off the road and into the thicket. Iain slid down as soon as Tavish brought their horse to a rest, waiting as Tavish dismounted and wrapped the reins around a branch.
Then Tavish turned, quickly, trapped Iain against a tree, and kissed him hard.
Iain was well and truly dazed before Tavish drew back. He stared at Tavish with half-lidded eyes, yearning for more.
Tavish watched him with hawk-like focus, his hand drifting lower. Finding the response he no doubt sought, Tavish grinned in wicked satisfaction.
“Have ye missed me after all, then, wee Iain?”
[A] warm, romantic story with engaging heroes and a lot of sweetness. [i] definitely recommend this one . . .
Good story. Good characters. Well written.
[A] sweet love story that will have you rooting for these two soul mates.
[A]n enjoyable (and quick) read . . .
[A] sweet story with enough twists and turns to keep historical fans intrigued . . . [I]f you are a fan of period romance, give this a read.