Nothing like taking a wrong turn to ruin a perfectly good vacation.
It seemed to sum up the story of her life. Everything was moving along, full steam ahead, and then—whammy—plowed straight into an iceberg, only to sink faster than the Titanic. Who was she kidding? Zoey didn’t even know who she was anymore. She had believed at one point that she had her life all figured out and, if she stuck with her grand master plan, then it would all work out.
Apparently, the rest of her life hadn’t received the memo.
Go on a solo trip to Scotland, they had said. It will clear your mind and help you figure out your next step, they had said. Forget all about the backstabbing little braggart and take a much needed vacation from your life. Have fun in the one place you have always wanted to visit, they had said.
Her best friend, Lucy, and sister, Ophelia, had convinced Zoey that what she needed more than submitting her resume to every agency in LA was to get out of Dodge until the dust from her imploded life had settled. Travel to the Highlands of Scotland in October and stay a week. Use her life savings to have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience another culture. That bright, sparking idea, which had appeared after three bottles of wine and enough chocolate to feed a small country, had careened her off the edge of civilization; of that she was certain. One little wrong turn and now she was so twisted around, she could be driving into the sea and not know it. Her hands were fixed on the wheel and they had started to spasm from holding it in a death grip as she attempted to keep the tiny, compact car on the narrow Highland road.
Snow billowed in great plumes of white as the wind rattled the rental car. The heater sputtered, barely keeping the windows ice-free. The sky was angry as it pounded snow, sleet, and wind down upon her. She could barely see ten feet beyond the hood in the near white-out conditions. Not only was Zoey driving on the left side of the road, which her mind screamed was incorrect, but she was in a foreign country, alone, and in one of the worst blizzards she had ever encountered. A Los Angeles native, Zoey was more familiar with smog, traffic, and triple digit heat waves than snow and ice. The road, if one could call the small, rutted pavement slick with half a foot of white stuff a road, was treacherous. Granted, in LA they did have rain, and mudslides, and earthquakes upon occasion—the thought of which instantly made her homesick.
What the hell had she been thinking?
When Ophelia and Lucy had helped her purchase her she-didn’t-know-who-she-was-anymore, my-life-just-imploded, all-expenses-paid trip to Scotland, it had never once occurred to Zoey, who navigated the shark-infested waters of business with a skill few ever achieved—at least until the smarmy Mark had gotten her fired—that she would have any difficulty finding her way around the small country.
The correct turn would have taken her to the Thistle Bed & Breakfast, a five star bed and breakfast nestled near the banks of Loch Mullardoch, in the hills adjacent to Glen Affric. Her plan had been to spend a week walking the glens and meadows, taking small day trips to some of the nearby historical sites. Simple. Easy. A time to allow her brain and body to relax and recover from all the toxic stress. Except the blasted road had split in three different directions, all with the same name, of course, because we wouldn’t want to make life easier for the tourists. So with a whispered prayer, Zoey had taken the street on the left, determined to make her life different. That had been two hours ago. The storm had struck thirty minutes after she’d made that fateful turn. It had moved in so fast and furiously that she had no idea whether she was headed in the right direction or not as she plowed ahead.
The path climbed. The little blue car fishtailed up the side of the mountain. Zoey prayed she would make it out of this one. How had her life come to this? No job, or potential of any type of employment in her chosen field, no relationship to speak of—she hadn’t even had sex with anything that wasn’t battery-powered in at least two years—and now she found herself driving in Scotland during a freak blizzard over slick roads, with nowhere to go but up. She couldn’t see enough to even attempt to turn the car around. The lane narrowed even further as she drove over a crest as it seemed to be carved into the mountain. Giant, dark gray monoliths crowded the terrain.
The wind blew snow in gusting winds, clearing just enough so she could discern the faint outline of a manor house, golden light from a window which was quickly blotted out. She drove toward the tiny beacon, a lifeline in the insanity that her life had become. The closer she got to the house, the more emerged from the snowy outlines. A stone wall encircled the premises, with a black gate made of what she assumed was iron. Since most of these places had been built well before there was a mega-hardware store in every town, a place like the manor up ahead had been built to last.
Fifty feet from the iron gate, the tiny blue rental car’s tires hit a patch of ice. Zoey lost control of the vehicle as it slid sideways. It slammed into a cluster of boulders on the hillside, and slid into a ditch. The car landed lopsided, nose-down. Her head thwacked against the door as it jolted to a halt.
She gingerly touched her left temple, felt a robin’s egg beginning to bloom. She tested the rest of her limbs and, other than a few sore muscles, everything moved like it should.
It was as if Zoey had some type of celestial bullseye strapped to her chest. She would have liked to know what deity she had pissed off so she could apologize. Rubbing her head, she was thankful that the seatbelt hadn’t broken or she would be in an even worse state. She unclasped the buckle.
Grabbing her phone, she attempted to dial for help. What the hell was the emergency code in Scotland, anyway? The useless piece of equipment beeped. No signal. Figures.
Okay, she needed a new plan. If she couldn’t call for aid, she’d have to leave the security the car provided and hope that the light she’d spied at the manor would be her salvation.
First task, leave the car. Second, find help. Third, fix her life. Fourth, get laid.
Zoey always did better with action plans and lists. It was what had made her excel in her now-defunct career.
She gripped the handle and pushed. The car door didn’t budge. Fighting the rising panic, she shoved against the car door with all her might. Stuck in a car in the Scottish Highlands, while a blizzard raged about, and with no way to call for help, she’d die of hypothermia. Anxiety speared her system, she fought the rising tide as it ebbed and flowed, her breath coming in short, sharp pants, like daggers in her chest. She hadn’t had a full blown attack in years.
Think; what was the next step?
The only way around her panic attacks was action. She had worked out a system with a therapist a few years back. She needed to find a way out of the car. If her driver side door wouldn’t open, she had to try the passenger side door. Her heart practically beat its own tune outside her chest. Zoey squeezed herself over the center console and tested the passenger side door, breathing a sigh of relief as it opened. The door’s momentum stopped after she’d cracked it open about an inch. One of those giant rocks was nudged against the exterior passenger side, keeping her prisoner.
Her blood pressure spiked, her heart hammered against her ribcage.
It seemed, as she surveyed the car, working to quell her unease as it settled like a lump in her belly, that her only way out was through the hatchback trunk. So be it. She couldn’t stay here and wait for help. She’d die if she did that, and she couldn’t leave Ophelia. Her sister needed her to get her act together too badly. She could only imagine the scene, Ophelia receiving news of her demise, far too similar to their parents.
Resolved to ignore the fear as it gnawed at her chest, Zoey moved into action. Grabbing her purse, she slid her phone in her back jeans pocket, and studied the best way to shimmy up and out of the car. Turning off the ignition, she stored the keys in her purse, and began climbing. The car was angled forty-five degrees or so at an incline, so she used the seats to help position her body and used them as a foothold as she scrambled up and over first the front seats, then the smaller back seat until she was squished up against the trunk window, grappling for space with her suitcase. She levered herself up with the skill of a contortionist as she gripped the back latch and forced it open.
Zoey sucked in a breath as a blast of frigid, snow-filled air billowed into the car. Pulling herself up and out of the car, she huffed. She pulled on the handle of her suitcase, and almost tumbled from her precarious perch. Dammit, she’d have to come back for her luggage. At this angle, her forty-five pound mega suitcase, filled with all of her travel essentials, would have to stay here. She could only hope that it survived the snowstorm, because there was no way she could heft it up and not do herself some serious damage. What good would it do her if she yanked it out of the trunk only to slip, fall, and get a concussion or worse? And once she jumped, there would be no way for her to close the hatchback.
Pulling herself up and over the door, she took a deep breath and let go.
The snow coating the road turned the ground into a slick, slushy puddled mess that most sane individuals would never attempt to land on. The moment she touched down, her feet slid out from under her. Gravity took care of the rest and she landed on her rear with a thwump.
Could this day really get any worse? She knew even thinking that was akin to the kiss of doom and practically begging the universe for more calamity. Snow blanketed her black pea coat. It soaked the pretty blue hat that she’d purchased at her favorite shop on the Magnolia strip in Burbank. White slush covered her jeans, wetness seeped in, freezing her lower extremities, and buried her black boots. She was a mess. Between the wind and the wet snow, every part of her body was chilled to the bone by the time she stood next to her rental car, rubbing her throbbing tailbone. The car was a disaster. The trunk door was propped open, waving in the wind, allowing all the snow inside. Her luggage would be ruined. Not to mention that she could kiss her deposit on the rental goodbye. Even the extra insurance she’d purchased might not cover all the damage she was sure there would be.
She glanced at the furious sky, certain she would find some mythical fairy, or god who had made her a target for destruction. What the hell was she supposed to do now?
After trying to get a signal on her phone again for a few of the longest and coldest minutes of her life, Zoey tossed the useless piece of equipment into an outside pocket in her purse. She strode further onto the winding road, looking up at the manor home. Surely someone would be there, and would let her use a phone to call a tow truck. Maybe let her wait by a warm fireplace with a hot cup of tea. The thought of anything hot and warm made her groan. She wanted that tea, dammit.
Trudging through the snow, she hastened as fast as her feet would carry her. If it weren’t for all the snow and ice on the slick roads, deepening by the minute, she would have run. As it was, her all-weather boots were not living up to their name as she wiped out for a third time in the snow. Snow had leaked under her coat, her hat and hair were a sopping mess, and she could no longer feel her thighs.
Her teeth were chattering by the time she stumbled through the—thankfully—open black gate to the manor. Beyond the gate entrance, the small road opened to a circular drive with a stone fountain in the center. She strode around it, awed by the manor up close, which looked more like an estate really. Ashen stone walls towered three stories up, with gilded windows and turrets. It was a place straight out of a storybook fantasy. Well, except for the hellish storm. That she could do without, she thought, as another gust of frigid air blasted her senses and her body went numb. She shuffled around the courtyard faster, hurrying for what had to be the front door. This place made her think of dashing lords, heroic men in kilts à la Robert the Bruce, and she could easily envision a celebrity or a titled lord emerging from the front door.
The first traces of apprehension swept over her now that she stood near hopeful salvation. The door was a heavy scrolled oak number, with a huge brass knocker in the form of a crest with three stars on a shield, and above it a knight’s helm with a stag’s head, which her befuddled brain didn’t recognize.
Holding the image of that roaring fire and hot tea in her mind, she alighted the dark stone stairs. She seized the brass knocker, her fingers all but frozen inside her gloves, and knocked on the heavy door. After a few minutes with no response, Zoey started banging incessantly against the wood using both her fist and the knocker.
“Hello,” she cried, as the wind kicked up and swept the sound from her. Not that anyone heard her as the wind howled with a ferocity that made her wonder if it would pick her up and sweep her to Oz. When no one answered as she stood there shivering, searching for a doorbell, colder than she had ever been in her life, she grew impatient, frustrated that the dreamt about hospitality wasn’t forthcoming. She finally spied a doorbell, coated with snow. Her body trembled so fiercely that her arm shook as she pressed the bell, and then she did something she normally would never do. She tried the door handle and when it turned with an audible groan, she opened the door to another person’s home and stepped inside. Closing the door behind her, she whimpered.
The warmth of the entryway enveloped her. Her body shook, she couldn’t feel most of her body, she was so cold. An impression of subtle wealth surrounded her. This wasn’t the gaudy Hollywood flash of new money she witnessed all over LA, but an understated grandeur as her feet sank into the large rug carpeting shiny, marble-looking floors. Cream-colored walls were lit by silver scrolled wall sconces lining them every few feet. She wobbled, standing in the foyer, dripping wet as the snow melted onto a rug that looked to be a true Persian, not one of those knockoffs found at the local superstore.
Her trepidation mounted and Zoey called out, “Hello, is anyone here?” Her teeth chattered as she glanced around the room. Soaking in the magnificence of the home, she wondered whether she had ever visited a finer one.
“Och, and look at ye, melting all over the Tang rug I might add.” The sound came from a deep, male voice which made her think of brandy and cigars as its owner descended the grand marble staircase. She shook her head, attempting to clear her mental freeze. It was a Tang and not a Persian? She never would have guessed that.
“How might I be of service?”
Zoey stared as the man descended, momentarily tongue-tied as a gorgeous male specimen approached. It was like she had died and gone to the Scottish Express with a man who had a likeness to what she imagined the old Highland raiders had looked like. His ginger hair was longer than was the usual fashion; curly, and shoulder length. It would make any other man appear feminine, but his hair style actually helped soften the hard angles of his face. He had startling jade eyes and a generous smile, framed by short, scruffy stubble a few shades darker than his hair. As he reached the bottom step, Zoey noticed how tall he was; the man had to be at least close to six and a half feet. His long legs ate up the remaining distance between them.
“Lass? Are you all right?” His voice rolled with a deep Scottish burr that made her toes curl. If only men in Los Angeles talked like this—she would never leave the city.
“N-n-n-no.” She shivered, feeling woozy, her vision wavering. “My car is stuck in a ditch down the hill a ways, and my cell phone can’t get a signal. I hoped you might have a phone I could use and a place where I could wait for a tow truck.”
“Och, an American lass?” The surprise was thick in his voice. “I’m sorry, but you won’t get old Robbie out in a storm such as this, I’m afraid.”
Disappointment crashed through Zoey. The entire contents of her suitcase were likely lost. The dream vacation to escape hell ended as she discovered that hell did indeed freeze over from time to time. Her vision faltered again as the day’s events caught up with her, and she swayed.
No, I have to push forward.
She lifted her hands up in an effort to catch herself on the way down. She fought valiantly, but her body no longer obeyed her command as she slid down.
A pair of strong arms saved her from hitting the ground and she stared into concerned jade eyes. “I’ve got you, lass.”
Declan hit ‘send’ in a reply email. The freak storm was going to keep a lot of people away from the club this weekend. Many of the club-goers who had stayed the previous night were hunkering down in private rooms on the dungeon level to wait out the weather. He didn’t mind the fact that attendance was down. It was always the same couples anyway, always the same women—most of whom he’d rather face a pit of vipers than get into bed with—not that he hadn’t dallied with them. And lately he had been finding it all rather boring. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had enjoyed the club, or a woman, other than for the perfunctory release that they offered.
“Declan? Pick up, man.” His butler and longtime friend Jared’s voice sounded over the intercom near his desk phone.
Declan was annoyed at the interruption; he had a conference call with London in less than an hour which he wasn’t prepared for, what with all the last minute cancellations. Pressing the intercom button, he said, “What? I told you I had to finish up.”
“I have an unconscious woman on my hands and your response is work,” Jared’s voice blasted him.
“Bloody hell, man. Where are you?” Declan stood, sliding his leather desk chair back. Only Jared would have a woman unconscious after his lusty attentions. He mentally went through the possibilities of whom Jared might have fucked unconscious. In his world, it happened when a sub went into what they termed ‘sub-space’.
“At the front door. Just get here quickly. Bloody woman is soaking the floor.” Jared disconnected the intercom with an oath that, under normal circumstances, would have made Declan grin. But why the hell was Jared bringing club business up to the front door instead of down on the lower level where it belonged? That was what Declan wanted to know. He left his office and took the elevator down to the main floor.
In the few minutes it took Declan to arrive, Jared had procured some towels and was kneeling next to her, wrapping a tiny frame within them. Why the hell did he need so many blankets, had he killed a woman in the throes of ecstasy? Declan wondered. He could barely see any limb or skin to indicate it was in fact a woman on the ground. He did, however, notice a rather large puddle by the front door, soaking his Tang dynasty rug.
“What the hell happened? I told you not to try out any of your tricks on the unschooled.” Declan couldn’t keep the fury out of his voice. This was unacceptable. Jared knew better. As one of the founding members of the club, Jared was the one who normally doled out punishment if a member acted incorrectly, not Declan, even though he owned the damn place.
“I already took her coat off her, but she’s soaked through.” Jared talked over him, not affected in the least by his tone. “And do you really think I would take advantage of a woman appearing on our doorstep in a storm like this? What kind of a prick do you think I am? For your information, I have done nothing but offer the lass my aid. Is it my fault she passed out minutes after she boldly walked into the house?”
“Where did she come from? And she just walked in, you didn’t let her in?” All Declan could discern through Jared’s rather odd swaddling job was long, midnight hair.
“I’m not really sure, and yes, she was a might eager, coming in before I arrived at the door. From what I could make of her story, it seems the lass wrecked her car on the road and couldn’t get a signal on her phone to call for help. She’s out cold, but her body is still shivering. I don’t know how long she was out in that storm but she might be suffering from hypothermia.”
“Christ,” Declan replied, thinking of the conference call that he was going to be late for now. “Give her to me. I’ll take her to my room, she needs to be out of those wet things and warm. Take care of this mess and bring some tea to my room,” he ordered, scooping up the shivering, swaddled woman into his arms. She was quite a handful with the mound of towels covering her form. He vaulted up the stairs almost two at a time with his bundle.
He nudged his bedroom door open, strode past his bed, and deposited her quivering form on a padded leather chair in the corner. He stripped out of his clothes efficiently and then unwrapped the blankets. As the layers were removed, he uncovered a stunning woman as he peeled the wet clothing from her body. She was lithe and supple in all the right places. High pert breasts—the creamy skin would overflow in his hands—wide curvy hips, all contrasted with her tiny form. He didn’t miss her pointy pink nipples, or the fact that her sex was denuded of hair. Scooping her up again, Declan deposited her into his bed. He slid in next to her, and settled himself with his back against the headboard before pulling her into his arms. He yanked the covers up around them and used his body heat to warm her body as it convulsed. He pulled her close until he was almost spooning her petite body in his upright position, sharing his body heat with her.
“What is going on?” Her voice sputtered as his hands rested beside her generous breasts.
“You’re suffering from possible mild hypothermia. I’m sharing body heat with you until you are sufficiently warm and out of any danger. Relax, lass, no harm will come to you.”
She made no move away from him as her body trembles decreased and the chill left her slight form. She really was a pleasant armful. He held her as her shivers ceased. Her body was all warm curves, and he felt himself respond at the feel of her lush ass pressed so near his cock; so much so that his dick twitched. The heavy globes of her breasts were smooshed against his arms, and she fit snugly against him. His little damsel in distress was tempting, to say the least.
She shifted from where he had her nuzzled against his chest and peered over her shoulder at him. Her cheeks flushed pink as she studied him, making him wonder what was happening in that brain of hers as she assessed the situation. Her face reminded him of the old Hollywood beauties, with big, mesmerizing hazel eyes that stared at him with an innocent desire filling their depths. She seemed surprised by her response to him, her pupils dilating. His Dom nature, the natural protective instinct roared to the forefront, needing to shield the unschooled miss, even from himself if need be. The little lass needed gentle care and possibly a doctor, not his lust, which she had awakened unknowingly with her trusting stare.
But, Christ, when was the last time he had held a woman who didn’t even realize that she was feeling arousal? Declan knew women. He knew how to make them scream and beg for release. He knew how to dominate, and discover exactly what made a certain woman go over the edge of passion. He enjoyed pushing them past their boundaries and many thanked him afterwards, trying to claim a permanent spot as his sub. Yet he wasn’t sure he’d ever had a woman—in his social circle or the club, most of whom were skilled enough courtesans—look like she wanted to take a bite out of him, her gaze trained on his mouth.
Her lips looked dewy soft, tempting him. He wondered how sweet she would taste. Never let it be said that he wasn’t a gentleman, but her unrestrained heat, combined with innocence, was stirring him in ways he had not experienced for some time. An obliging man, when she licked her plump lips in invitation, he couldn’t help but accommodate, sating his sudden urgent need to taste her.
He captured her lips, a gentle pressing, his tongue seeking entry as it traced her delectable mouth. At her startled gasp he plunged inside, opening her lips further with his tongue until their breath mingled. And then he seized possession of her mouth, which tasted of rich, sweet honey. Wanting more, his hands grasped her head as he took the kiss deeper. Taking long, deep gulps, he drank her surprised groans, feeling the pebbled hardness of her nipples pressed against his arms.
At the knock on his door, her body went from the most open and responsive woman of his acquaintance to stiffer than a fine Scots whiskey. He wanted more, wanted to explore the bounty her supple body had to offer. One taste had only whet his appetite, but now was not the time. Her rigid form would reject any advance he made.
“Come in,” he called out.
Jared opened the door, carrying a tray. “Here it is. Mrs. Stewart fixed some tea that should go a long way toward warming the lass up.”
Declan had an affinity for women, knew when to proceed and when to back off, and this little lass had gone from zero to hands-off in under a heartbeat. He refused to allow her to retreat. She still needed the heat his body could provide, regardless that he could feel the shame and confusion stiffening her body as she attempted to withdraw.
He tightened his embrace, placing his hand on the slight swell of her stomach, and she froze. “Lass, until we can be certain that you are not suffering hypothermia and your body is sufficiently warm, I won’t be letting you go, so you may as well make yourself comfortable.”
“Just set it on the nightstand,” he ordered Jared, who complied with a nod as he assessed the situation and left the room. Declan was certain she’d feel more comfortable with only one stranger present.
“Who are you? And where am I?” she panted, wrapping her arms around herself. He sensed the panic rising in her and wanted to calm her fears. Declan had never tasted one so innocent before, and a distinct desire to protect her emerged inside him.
“You’re all right, lass. You are in my home. I’m Declan McDougal. My butler, who you met at the front door, told me you had an accident on Mullardoch road, down the hill.”
“And we are naked in your bed because?” she asked, seeming to assess the situation and his home for the first time with wide-eyed wonder.
“Because I thought it was the fastest way to keep hypothermia from setting in. You were out cold and shivering, frozen nigh to the bone. I took care of you when you so obviously couldn’t care for yourself. Skin to skin contact was the best way without a doctor present.”
She blushed a most becoming shade of pink as she found the gumption to ask her next question. “I see. And kissing me, that was a way of warming me up, as well?”
He cupped her chin and waited until her hazel eyes met his. “When a beautiful lass invites me with desire in her eyes to kiss her, I oblige her.”
He wasn’t sorry he had kissed her. In fact, he wanted more, but now was not the time. He raised an eyebrow, studying her as the blush deepened. Would she flush this way with his cock buried in her pussy?
“Oh,” she said, her eyes darting around, some distress creeping back into her sultry goddess eyes. He’d no more harm her than he’d harm a child. She had nothing to fear from him or his house. Declan just had to convince her of that. He wondered what she would make of his Dungeon Fantasy Club.
“And you, lass? I haven’t had the pleasure of your name.”
“Right, sorry. I’m Zoey Mills. It’s nice to, ah, meet you.” She smiled shyly as the little wanton he’d met five minutes ago retreated behind a more reserved façade. He wondered which was the more natural persona. He’d place money that it was the latter.
“Since the introductions are out of the way, let’s get you into some dry clothes. Both of us.” He could actually move now that his erection had subsided a bit. It wasn’t gone entirely, but he’d have to wait to relieve himself until the little miss was out of sight.
Worrying her lower lip, Zoey murmured, “I don’t have any clothes with me. I did, but I couldn’t get my suitcase out of the rental car.”
“Not to worry, I’m sure I can find something appropriate for you. We will get it fixed.” He shifted her off his lap, extricating himself from the bed and her beguiling little body.
He heard Zoey’s gasp and glanced over his shoulder, her eyes wide as saucers and fixated on his body. He stifled a grin and wondered what was going on in that gorgeous head of hers. It pleased him that she found his appearance to her liking. It would also make her more comfortable, as he intended to seduce his little damsel.
“Thank you.” She hiked the blankets up to her chin as her gaze darted around the room, avoiding eye-contact with him. As if avoiding him would erase the fact that he had seen her charms, felt her dips and curves cradled against his flesh. Declan grinned. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been this interested in a lass.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have sex. He did. More than his fair share. He had started the Dungeon Fantasy Club just so he could satiate his lust and more exotic tastes. But he couldn’t remember the last time he had truly wanted a woman other than for mere physical release.
He wondered if she had the strength and fortitude to enter his world and thrive.