Taming the Heiress

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Authors: Susan King
greet them politely. He crossed the beach to where dry sand met damp.
    A breeze fluttered the MacNeill girl's hair, blew her skirt back against her, revealing her womanly shape—long slender legs, graceful hips, taut body, firm breasts. Lust panged through him—and Dougal knew he should not have come down to meet her. She was honey-bright and lovely, too much so, and he wanted her with a surprising quake of the spirit, recalling the power of shared kisses—
    But then the memory of a stinging slap and the apology he owed her for years ago made him stop. That rather awkward matter between them could not be addressed here, not now.
    She sensed his hesitation and turned quickly, walking to the water's edge, and he understood her rejection of him. He would be cautious, then; it would take time to clear the matter between them.
    The little fair-haired boy, dressed in short dark trousers and a linen shirt, padded barefoot over the sands toward him. "Hello! Are you Mr. Stoo-ar?" he called.
    "Stewart, aye, lad. Who might you be, young sir?"
    "Iain MacNeill, I am." He puffed out his chest and pointed to himself. "Fergus MacNeill is my foster father, and he is a fisherman. Did you come here to go swimming or to catch a fish?" His English was good for such a small Hebridean. Dougal smiled. He was no expert with children, knowing few of them personally, but he thought this one to be five or six years old, and a fine, fair, healthy child with wide, remarkably green eyes. And a fearless creature, too, for this was surely the one Margaret had plucked from the rock. And here he was with her again.
    Dougal bent to shake the boy's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Master MacNeill. I came out to find Clachan Mor, hoping to see the lady who lives there."
    "I know her! She is my cousin. She owns all this, every bit of it." He spread his arms wide.
    Cousin! So the baroness was related to some of the islanders, and that was what brought her here? Or perhaps the boy used the term to mean a loyal bond. "Soon enough she will come back to Clachan Mor," Dougal said.
    "Aye, she's here," Iain said. He gestured vaguely behind him with his closed fist. Then he opened his fingers to reveal a periwinkle. "I found a shell. See?"
    "Quite nice. The lady is here? Where?" Dougal asked, surprised when the boy pointed toward the water. Margaret MacNeill splashed barefoot in the surf, her back turned to him. Norrie's wife and old mother were close by too. The fourth lady, the wader, had gone out a bit farther.
    So that was the baroness. "The one in the water?"
    "In the water, aye," Iain answered, distracted as he poked in the sand with his fingers. "I have other winkles, too. I found them this morning. Come see. I have a whole bucket of them. Crabs too. Some are alive," he added, nodding.
    "I want to see them. Is she the lady with the big hat?"
    Iain glanced around. "That's Berry."
    "Baroness?" Dougal stood then, hearing Iain's name called as Norrie's wife, Thora, hurried forward to take the child by the shoulder. The very elderly lady, Mother Elga, followed, moving fairly quickly and sturdily given her age.
    "Iain, do not bother the man," Thora said. "Greetings, Mr. Stewart."
    "Good day, Mrs. MacNeill. And Mrs. MacNeill." He nodded to them. The older one, tiny, wrinkled, swathed in a plaid shawl, stared at him intensely.
    "Mr. Stoo-ar," that one said, her voice tremulous, "left your great black rock, did you?"
    "Aye. Fine day for a stroll," he said, wondering why she ogled him so.
    "It is," Thora said. "Come, Iain. We'll go down to the water. The way you like—the way I would carry your grandfather Norrie out to his boat when we were young, eh?" She bent so that Iain could clamber onto her back. Then she straightened, hefting the child and grabbing his legs.
    Dougal smiled. "Bringing the fisherman out to the boat?" He had seen the curious way that some of the fishermen's wives carried their husbands out to their boats so that they would not wet their boots and trousers

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