The Highlander’s Vixen (Preview)


Scotland, 1633

“Ye will nae win tonight, lad,” James MacDougall said to his son Blair and ruffled his already messy hair.

Every evening, in the dim light of two little candles and burning ashes in the fireplace, they played cards on a weathered wooden table in the center of their modest cabin. At the table, there were just two chairs, and other than a couple of beds in the other corner and a few kitchen utensils close to the hearth, there was not much else. It was all they had in the world.

“Ye dae ken that I am now old enough tae win at cards, Da? I am nae longer a child.” Blair grinned, playing his next move and winning the trick to his father’s surprise.

“Aye, I suppose so, fourteen winters now and all. Ye’ll be a man soon.” James straightened up, looking down at the cards lying in a pile in the center.

He spread a weather-beaten hand next to them on the table, and the motion drew Blair’s eye. His father’s hand had seen much work back in the day, including casting iron, melting metal, and completing a steady stream of orders. But, the small village’s blacksmith shop was now in decline.

“Am I nae a man now?” Blair asked, waiting for his father to play a card.

James looked up at him after he laid down a three of spades and tilted his head to the side. Blair was nearly his father’s exact image, only younger, and many in the village mentioned it whenever they saw them together. He had nothing of his young, beautiful mother in him who’d had red hair and green eyes. He missed her more than anything else in the world.

“Soon, lad. Ye will ken it once ye become a man. A power will come over ye, and ye will dae somethin’ ye never thought possible before then. Ye will ken when it comes.”

Blair frowned. What does he mean by this? What would come over him? How could he possibly do something he never thought possible? Yet, he smiled and played his card pointedly, knowing his victory was just around the corner. However, his father seemed so distracted that evening, as he had many evenings in the past few months, that he didn’t notice his son’s move.

Every so often, he caught his father looking to the doorway, albeit the late hour.

“Are ye waitin’ for someone, Da?” Blair finally asked once they finished the game, and James hardly seemed to notice that he’d lost.

He stood to his feet with a slight groan. “Nay, nay. Just tired, lad.”

His father was not old, yet he’d seemed to age in the past few months. New lines had formed at the corner of his brown eyes, and a little gray had sprouted in his blond hair.

“I am for bed. I should nae have kept ye up so late, son, for ye’ll be helpin’ me in the morn.”

“Right, Da,” Blair put the cards away as James stoked the fire.

Just then, the night’s heavy silence was broken by a loud bang on the door. Blair, his gut twisting with fear, turned to face his father, who had grown pale and stared blankly at the wood.

“Hide, son, go,” he whispered, pointing to the broken wardrobe where they kept their clothing. “In there. I will deal with this. Just dinnae come out, whatever happens!”

Blair was stunned; he’d never seen his father like this, so… afraid. He obeyed without hesitation, but after being locked within the wardrobe, he also became angry. Finley, the Highlands’ most ruthless creditor, the man without a face, had sent his men after his father. He was certain it was them. Blair had sensed his father desperation, but why take money from such a brute?

He trembled as he heard the group burst into the house once his father opened the door, and he leaned forward to look through the small crack in the wardrobe.

“MacDougall,” a man said, smiling at his father with his blackened teeth. “It seems that ye are a man who cannae pay his debts. It’s a pity, aye?”

Blair trembled in terror at the sound of this voice sounding like a snake slithering. The black-toothed man, undoubtedly the leader, stepped forward as his father started to move backward. Four more people crammed into the cabin with them, making it appear even smaller than before. They were all bearded, had chilly eyes, and greasy hair.

“The business is bad of late, lads. Surely yer boss understands such a thing,” Blair’s father said, his voice trembling. “I can give ye almost all, but I need more time for the last few coins.”

“Well, speakin’ of which,” the leader said, pulling out a dirk and running a finger along its edge, “we will double the debt because it is a few days late.”

“Nay! Dinnae dae that!” James cried, only to have all five gazes snap to him, and the black-toothed man reared back and hit his fist into Blair’s father’s jaw, sending him to the ground.
The man spat in his face and said, “We can dae whatever we like. I am nae the one who asked for a loan of money. We are given orders, and we are given the freedom tae handle them as we please. Are we nae, lads?”

“Aye,” they said in unison, chuckling a little as Blair’s father tried to stand up again.

“I just need a little more time if ye want the debt tae be doubled. But I swear tae ye, ye will get all that ye need.”

The man nodded, showing his black teeth once more and still caressing his knife. “I dinnae believe in the promises of men such as yerself, MacDougall. A man who has nae paid his debts in some time is nae a man tae be trusted.”

Blair watched as the man walked around his father, stroking the knife along James’ arm while the others watched, their hands crossed and wicked grins on their faces.

They enjoy this.

Blair could hear himself breathing so loud that he put a hand over his mouth to quiet it, clutching the dirk at his side with his other arm.

“Aye, but it will be different now. There are plans—” his father began, but the men just laughed.

“Is it nae the same with all the men, lads? They are always beggin’ for mercy when it was Finley who gave them mercy in the first place and money when they most needed it.” The man stood behind James, gripping his shoulders as he spoke. “Ye have a son, dae ye nae, MacDougall? Children are useful, especially sons. They could pay off debts, work hard, and be of use while their fathers die as useless pigs.” He kicked the back of his father’s legs until his knees bent, and he knelt on the ground.

Blair sucked in a breath. His heart resounded like titanic footsteps in his ears, but he could not tear his eyes away. Frozen to the spot, he felt as though time slowed, marching on only bit by bit, like the beating of a slow drum towards doom. Doom. The air stunk with it.

“Nay, please. Me son has nothin’ tae dae with me debts. I will handle them meself.”

“I think the time for that has passed,” the black-toothed man said from above him. “What dae ye think, lads?”

“Aye, true enough, Sean. Ye handle him.” Another man nodded, and Sean, the leader, chuckled.

“Ye heard them, MacDougall,” Sean said.

Blair saw the glint of the knife in the candlelight and its slow movement towards his father. He also saw his father turn to the wardrobe. He knew very well that it did not close properly, and the crack was enough to see through. He caught Blair’s eye, and he shook his head. It was then that Sean struck, pulling the knife along his father’s neck, cutting his throat.

A scream built up inside Blair, but it did not come out as he watched his father get thrown to the ground, forever silenced. Blair’s every muscle tensed, his heart ached, and the press of tears pushed behind his eyes. Sean wiped his blade before he sheathed it as if it was the easiest thing he’d just done in the world.

“Search the house then, lads. See if there is anythin’ of value he merely did nae wish tae share with us.” The men began to move, and Blair, unable to think of anything else, burst out of the wardrobe in a flash, thrusting his dagger into the first man he found.

They would pay for this death, for the end of his family. The man screamed, and then collapsed to the ground. Blair’s strength pulsed through his body as he thrashed and struck, stabbed, and cut. The men’s cries filled the cabin, but he didn’t hear them. Only his father’s silence could be heard, and it was louder than anything else.

Finally, he found himself panting, his knife at his side, staring at what he’d done. The men were all bleeding and still on the ground. He blinked once, twice, wondering if it was all a dream. It was not.

Tears welled up in his eyes, but he knew he couldn’t stay for long. He hunched over his father’s body, sobbing uncontrollably until the ringing in his ears subsided. When he stood up again, he knew he had to leave. Blair had only made things worse.

“A power will come over ye, and ye will dae somethin’ ye never thought possible before then. Ye will ken when it comes.”

Blair knew.

Chapter One

Laggan, Scotland, 1649, Fourteen years later
Clan MacPherson Lands

“Ada, ye will drive me tae distraction, lass! Where have ye been? Ye were meant tae eat with me an hour ago,” Graeme MacPherson said from the head of the table from his laird’s position.

Angrily, Ada sat down next to him, and she picked up her glass of wine. It was already filled, and the place had been set, waiting for her. She took a long sip and stared back at her father. At nineteen years old, she was ready to be free of her father’s control. Making him wait for her at dinnertime was the least of what she wanted to do.

“I was readin’ in the library,” she said innocently and began to eat.

“Nay, ye bloody well were nae. The men could nae find ye again. Ye will drive Blair mad, so ye will.” Graeme drank his wine angrily as well, and she let out a breath as she chewed her food.

Making Blair angry was something, at least.

It might ruffle a feather in that perfect composure of his.

Blair MacDougall had been frustrating her ever since he started working as her guard. He was always infuriatingly calm, no matter what she did to try and rile him up.

“Fine then. I was readin’ near the library in one of the secret passages. What does it matter? It is nae as if I went outside of the castle, yer worst fear.” She rolled her eyes. “I was safe, Father, and that is all that matters tae ye. Nae only that, but I thought ye would feel safer now that the old Laird Grant is dead. There is nae one left who wishes tae harm us.”

Laird Grant, whose castle resided a few hours away, was an old rival of her father’s. He had fallen in love with Ada’s aunt many years ago and proposed marriage, but her aunt had refused him. In his anger and jealousy, he took it out on her and killed her. Then, in another act of revenge, he’d attempted to kidnap Ada and Ella, but failed. Since then, her father had kept them hidden and protected them beyond what was necessary, all to avoid that happening again. But only a few months before, her old guard and now brother-in-law, Cameron Hay, had killed Grant in a fight when he’d tried to take Ella away again. Yet her father still did not believe that the danger was gone.

She and her father had had this conversation a thousand times, and each time, Ada seemed to get nowhere. She thought things would be better once her sister Ella had gotten married to Cameron, who turned out to be Laird Grant’s heir. But no. He was still as protective as ever, even if he was a bit gentler and more loving these days.

“There is always one who wishes tae harm a beautiful young lass like yerself, Ada. If only ye would listen tae me, allow me tae teach ye of the ways of the world since ye dinnae ken of them yerself.”

She gripped her fork so tightly her knuckles turned white. “And why dae ye think I dinnae ken of the world, Father? I could learn a few things if ye would allow me the normal freedom that comes with being a laird’s daughter. I ken that Ella and Cameron dinnae plan tae keep their child indoors for the rest of her days, if she turns out tae be a girl.”

“Ha!” her father laughed, tearing into his piece of bread as he spoke. “Cameron will see the light once he becomes a father himself. There is nae greater fear than losin’ yer child.”

“Father, if only ye could see that I am ready for the world. I am ready tae experience things and make friends, to feel as though I have me own life and nae one contained inside of these stone walls.”

She took in the dim gray stone of her family’s castle. A fire was crackling in the hearth, and the food in front of her was plentiful and tasty. Her father did not harm her, and she was free to learn whatever she wanted, reading whatever she could find in the library that piqued her interest. Home was supposed to be a safe haven where one could feel loved, protected, and cared for. And, while all of that was true, her home, her safe haven, felt more like a prison. She desired more than anything to see more of the world beyond those walls.

Now that Ella is married, he will perhaps allow me tae visit her on me own.

“Perhaps it is time that ye too get married,” her father grumbled between bites, and Ada sighed.

He did not listen to her heart, and she wondered why he was hardened against her now after so recently losing Ella to marriage.

Ada said nothing, and they finished their meal in silence until Graeme dismissed her. “Ye will go straight tae yer room, lass,” he said. “That is yer punishment for disappearin’ today. Angus will take ye.”

She nodded in defeat, leaving her father behind without so much as a good night, and she met the older guard outside the main hall door. She reserved a smile for him, however. Ever since she and Ella were little, he had always been kind to her, along with Darren, who often watched them as well. But now that it was just her in the castle, she no longer needed to be two guards.

She was alone.

“Off tae bed now, lass?”

“Aye, Angus,” she said, walking alongside him.

As they went up the steps, Ada was lost in thought. She twisted a finger around her ginger hair, hanging loose as usual. It was one of the small, perhaps ridiculous, ways she tried to experience a little freedom for herself. But she was at a loss.

Outside her door, she bid Angus goodnight and went inside to sit by her crackling fire. Picking up the stolen whiskey she usually absconded with from her father’s study, Ada poured herself a glass. The nights were lonely now without her sister by her side. She was happy for Ella and her newfound happiness with her husband. But still, something was missing in her own life. Without her sister, she had no confidante, no true friend. Her father’s forced isolation meant she was on her own.

I will make me escape one day, just as I told Ella before.

But she’d hesitated after her sister’s marriage, hopeful that her father had changed. However, now she knew that it would still be the same until she began to fight back. Taking a sip, Ada started to make her plans.


Why did I agree tae this job?

Blair had asked himself that nearly every day, multiple times a day, since Ella and Cameron had married and he’d been asked to return to MacPherson Castle to serve as Ada’s guard until she married. He had been Cameron’s man-at-arms, but he and Ella thought this would be best. He’d returned a few months before, and it’d been one crazy day after another. Ada MacPherson couldn’t sit still and follow orders. She made his job a hell of an ordeal.

And that particular instance was no exception. He was standing beneath the tree in the castle courtyard, watching Ada strain to reach a kitten. He hadn’t arrived in time before she made the decision to climb the tree and stop her. Whenever the guard changed, the lass always found a way to do something risky. Damn it!

“What in God’s name are ye doin’, Lady Ada?” he called and turned when he saw a group of young children hurry into the courtyard.

“See? I told ye the lady was up there tryin’ tae get our kitten!” one of them cried.
Blair rolled his eyes and rubbed a frustrated hand over his face.

“I am tryin’ tae help a poor creature in need of assistance,” Ada called back, turning to look at him through the branches. Her long ginger hair was hanging over her shoulders, and even though she pinned him with an angry glare, he was struck with just how lovely she was.

Ada is always lovely. There is never a time when she is nae, even when she is acting so foolish.

He sighed, trying to talk some sense into himself. Thinking about Ada as a woman did him little good. She was his duty, and he needed to be able to fulfill said duty without such unsettling thoughts about how bonny she was.

“Ye ken that ye could come and help me with this, Blair,” she accused, “instead of just watchin’ me, since ye think me so frail and unable tae handle me own affairs.”

“Ye are nae able, Lady Ada,” he began, but he paused when he saw the interested looks on the children’s faces. “Ye may fall, and then where will we be?”

“I have climbed trees before!” she yelled as she strained for the kitten, but it meowed and crawled back further onto another branch.

“Ye can dae it, me lady!” one little girl with hair of gold cried, and the rest of them clapped their hands in encouragement. “It is me kitten, sir, and she told me she’d help.” The lass stood beside him, looking up at Ada with awe.

He understood the look entirely, even though Ada’s reckless actions would soon be the death of him. Despite his anger at what she was doing, he couldn’t help but smile, just a little.

She was a conundrum. She liked to act spiky, constantly snapping back or teasing, trying to get away with things. But at the same time, she had a heart of gold. She’d do anything for her sister, and now, she was risking her life to help a silly kitten down from a tree to make one of the little girls happy.

“Almost there!” Ada had moved to another branch, and Blair’s heart flipped as he saw it was too weak to hold her.

He stepped forward as she reached out for the small white cat. “Be careful!” he cried, his sudden outburst surprising her.

Her scream pierced through him as the branch broke, and then so many things happened at once. Blair raced forward, pushing the children out of the way so that they wouldn’t get hit as Ada fell from the tree. He made it just in time, his arms outstretched to catch her before she reached the ground.

“Shite!” he cursed as they both fell to the grass, and the cat hissed, scratching Blair’s face before scampering off.

The children dashed after it, not before thanking her, and then it was just them in the courtyard, breathing heavily. His arms remained tight around her, holding her firmly as his heartbeat slowed. Her hair tickled his face, and he swallowed, trying to ignore the sensation of relishing her proximity.

“Lady Ada, are ye all right?” he asked.

“I am well,” she groaned, trying to wriggle free of his grasp. “I wish ye would call me Ada, though. Lady Ada is far too formal. I call ye Blair, after all.”

He sat up and aided her in standing, brushing dirt from his clothes as he did so. Blair’s eyes moved anxiously over her body, assessing her as she straightened her skirts and removed the leaves from her hair and dress.

“Are ye sure ye’re all right?”

“Aye,” she said, but he could see her hands shaking.

He yearned to reach out for her, to pull her close and comfort her, to smell her scent, which always drove him mad. It reminded me of meadow flowers, something wild, earthy, and pure. It encompassed everything she was. To avoid the temptation, he took a step back and wrapped his hands around his back. It would not end well for either of them.

“Good,” he said, then replacing his calm tone with one of slightly veiled rage, he asked, “Then why in the bloody hell dae ye keep tryin’ tae kill me, woman?”

Chapter Two

It wasn’t just the fall that had Ada’s heart racing a mile a minute and her lungs filling up with hard, fast breaths. It was Blair and how close they’d just been. He hadn’t let go after they’d first fallen, and she’d savored the feel of his hard chest against her for a few seconds. It had been bliss to hear his rapid heartbeat and the sound of his breath. Until he spoke and ruined the moment, that is.

Now, he was looking at her with jaw-clenching fury, and she stood a little taller, annoyed that even when he was frustrating her, he aroused a desire within her that was never quenched.

“Kill ye?” She scoffed and put her hands on her hips. “If I meant tae kill ye, I would have done it a long time ago. Ye can believe that,” she said, stepping a bit closer.

It was the first time in a long time that she saw him show some emotion. He was like a brick wall, in more ways than one. Blair MacDougall was essentially a tall wall of muscle. From his jawline to his calf, he was muscled all over. She did not have to see underneath his clothes to know what she would find there. His uniform stretched tightly over his body, and whenever he’d held her close during one of the many times he’d saved her, she could feel just how hard and unyielding his body was.

With his close-cut blond hair and brown eyes, Blair was handsome too, and even though he was often serious, there was a softness to his gaze at times. He was kind, even though he might not wish anyone to know it.

Blair rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, Ada, I ken now why yer father continues tae keep ye locked up inside this bloody place even though Laird Grant is now dead at Cameron’s hand. Ye are irresponsible and reckless and for nae reason.”

Anger flooded her along with the other heat that filled her whenever he was near. “I was helpin’ that little girl and savin’ the poor creature!” She pointed at the door to the courtyard. “Dae ye think that is irresponsible or reckless?”

“When it is goin’ tae endanger yer life, then aye,” he said back to her in a low tone, his eyes sparkling with fire. “Ye dinnae seem tae consider others. There is yer father who worries about ye constantly, and then there is me, set tae watch ye, and ye continue tae dae these dangerous things that could hurt us both. This is now the third time in our acquaintance that I have had tae catch ye, lass. How many more times must there be before ye realize that what ye are doin’ is dangerous?”

They were standing close, and she wanted to be angry, to feel completely enraged. She wanted her fury to take control of everything, but her body still reacted to him. Why couldn’t Blair see she was a prisoner there? She wanted nothing more than to be free, and her reckless actions were her way of gaining some freedom while also trying to avoid the boredom that came with her confinement. There was also the fact that she was a little clumsy, but that was unimportant.

“I dinnae see why I need tae have a guard any longer, now that Laird Grant is dead. There is nae danger now, and yet I am forced tae be constantly watched like a child with a nanny.” Blair bristled at that. “And if ye had nae scared me, I would nae have fallen this time. Ye had tae go and yell at me, and then I fell. I nearly had the kitten in me hands!”

She noticed then a red line across his cheek, and she blushed, realizing that the kitten had done it. But she would never apologize for that. Never in a thousand years would she apologize to this ridiculous man.

The cat appeared in the courtyard again, and pushing away from Blair, Ada went to it, brushing by him as she did. She tingled with the realization that his hand had touched her skirts. As she cooed and knelt to pick up the kitten, she thought about how much she’d wanted Blair to touch her ever since they’d first known each other. She thought she’d encouraged him with her light flirtations, but Blair was having none of it.

Every night the man guards me inside me bedroom, and nothin’! It is as if I repulse him, or he thinks of me only as a child.

“All ye can think about is that kitten at a time like this? Dae ye nae even wish tae apologize?” he asked from behind her.

Angrily, Ada spun around with the kitten in her hands. “What should I apologize for? Ye did nae have tae come and find me. Ye are nae required tae dae anythin’!”

“It is me job, Lady Ada, tae protect ye!”

She noticed how he used her title again, even though he had forgotten it before. The little girl returned to the courtyard, and smiling, Ada dropped the kitten into her arms.

“Keep him safe now, lass,” she chirped while Blair stood angrily at her back.

When the little girl darted off, Ada straightened and turned to give him a piece of her mind but her father’s angry voice boomed outside the courtyard.

“Ada! Come here, now! Me study.”

She could hear his angry footsteps as he walked away, and she followed him without looking at Blair, who was looking smug, no doubt.

What day is complete without another scolding from Father?

Inside the study, her father was pacing, but when she opened the door, he paused and stared at her with his sharp blue eyes.

“Why must I hear about yer reckless acts from the servants? Ye fell again from a tree, and Blair had tae catch ye once more? This is the third time ye’ve fallen, lass, and only because ye refuse tae listen tae reason!”

“I did nae realize that climbin’ things was against the rules in the castle,” she said stiffly, shutting the door behind her.

“Nay, I suppose nae, but clearly, ye are nae skilled at it, and Blair has been there every time tae make sure that ye dinnae hurt yerself.”

She swallowed, clutching her hands behind her back.

Dae nae think kindly of the man. He was only doin’ his job. It is nae as if cares whether or nae I really hurt meself.

A tiny voice inside her told her that wasn’t true, but it was far better to think of Blair in a bad light than to think of him in the way she really wanted to.

“Then, ye have nothin’ tae worry about, Father. Yer praised soldier has done his duty yet again. He has saved me, and now we can move on with our lives.”

“Nay, we cannae, Ada,” her father said, rubbing a hand through his red hair before he sat down and picking up a piece of paper. “Sit here,” he said, pointing to the chair across from the desk.

Ada’s belly filled with nerves as she noted his serious tone. Slowly, she took her seat and wondered why he’d always treated Ella with more kindness. Even when her sister had done something he disliked, he hardly ever screamed at her.

It is because he hates me for what I did tae Mother.

Ada’s thoughts wandered to the past as her father spoke about responsibility and not acting like a child. She remembered overhearing a conversation between him and his sister, Isla. She would never forget it.

“Maura would never have gotten ill if she hadn’t had Ada, Isla. Ye ken that’s true.”

“How can ye say such a thing about yer own child?” Isla had said in return. “Is she nae precious?”

Ada remembered sinking back against the wall when her father stood.

“She is, of course she is, yet Maura was precious tae me—me only wife, the love of me heart. And now she’s gone. The lasses now have nay mother. We should nae have had another child. It was too much for her.”

Ada had put a hand over her mouth to keep her sobs quiet, and then she’d left, unable to listen to any of it anymore. She’d only been eight at the time, and ever since then, she’d noticed her father’s behavior towards her. He was always angry, no matter what she did. She knew that he was punishing her forever, and now that her sister, his favorite, was gone, it would only get worse.

“Are ye even listenin’ tae me, lass?” her father boomed, his forehead crinkled as he paused to stare at her angrily.

“Aye, Father, I am listenin’,” she lied, standing a little taller.

She could never let him see the way the past had hurt her. For she was the one who’d killed her mother, his wife, and nothing could fix that. And in his mind, she would always be the baby who did that.

“I dinnae see how ye can expect tae live on yer own or run a household on yer own when ye act so irresponsibly! Climbin’ a tree when ye could have nearly broken yer neck! And ye hurt Blair besides.”

Och, precious Blair. Me father cares more for him than he does for me. Blair has never disappointed him.

“When are ye goin’ tae grow up, Ada?” he cried, pounding a fist into the desk.

Ada’s eyes fluttered to the papers he’d been holding, where his fist had hit. What were they for?

“I am grown up, Father. This is what grown women wish tae dae: be free. Men dinnae understand because they wish tae trap us forever and keep us compliant for their benefit.” She crossed her arms and turned her face to the side. Shockingly, her father sighed instead of coming back with another angry outburst.

“It is enough now, Ada. I have done me best with ye both. I have tried tae keep ye safe and tae love ye as I could, but it is time now that I let ye go. I can dae this nae longer.”

She turned to face him, her heart in her throat. But she didn’t see what she hoped to see on his face. His expression did not hold favorable promise.

“What dae ye mean?” she asked, a cold prickle of fear tingling on the back of her neck.

“Ye will marry.” He stood, not meeting her eyes. “I made this decision weeks ago. Yer betrothed will be here in a few hours. It was goin’ tae be a surprise, but I think it best that ye ken about it in case ye’re plannin’ tae dae anything stupid.” He shot her with his glare. “Marriage is the best thing for ye, Ada, for I can nae longer look after ye.”

Ada gasped, and as she rose, she felt every muscle in her body tense. She was ready to fight. And yet the shock had robbed her of the vehemence she wanted to instill into her tone.

“It was just the same with Ella,” she said, trying her best to hold the tears back. “Ye could nae let us be as we wished, and so ye forced her tae marry, actin’ as if we are just problems that ye need tae rid yerself of.”
Before she allowed him to respond, she turned to rush out the door, slamming it behind her. Tears were running down her cheeks before she made it back to her room, and she barely heard the usual footsteps racing after her.

I am getting married.


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

The Wrong Highland Bride (Preview)


He watched the beautiful woman beside him as she opened her mouth to speak her vows.

“Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone…”

She was perfect to look at, a stunning highland lass with blonde chestnut hair that caught in the low light of the candles all around them. Her skin was silky and flushed from nervousness. Any laird alive would be pleased to stand in his place. He watched her mouth form the words of the holy vow, but the sound of it flowed over him without staying, as smooth as water.

“I give ye my body, that we two may be one…”

He knew he should feel something, that he should be caught in the holy mystery of this moment. Yet… he felt nothing.

“I give ye my spirit, ’til our life shall be done…”

He couldn’t bear the thought of this lovely lady, whose eyes reminded him of summer cornflowers, for whom he couldn’t muster even a smidgeon of desire.

Instead, his gaze drifted over her shoulder, snagging on the face of the bridal maid who stood behind her. For a moment, his breath stuttered in his chest. Her eyes were a striking blue, like the deep waters of a loch on the sunniest of days. He longed to dive into them, to plumb their depths, believing that somehow her eyes would take him away from this moment and release him from the terror he felt climbing inside him.

“Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone…”

Her face was taut with an expression he couldn’t quite read, but then he could never completely read her face. Even now she was still a mystery, she stymied him at every turn. When he looked at her, all he could think of was how beautiful she was. She had the kind of beauty that inspired utter reverence as if she were the holy mother filling him with fear, want, and awe. It was right, he thought dazedly, to look at her in the little Kirk, surrounded by the holy glow of the candles, looking like a fearsome and wonderful angel.

“Laird Murray? Didnae ye hear me?”

A voice drew him back to the present. The priest looked at him significantly, and his future wife, with an expectant expression.

“Yer vow,” his brother reminded him, nudging him on the shoulder. It was a shock to realize he was still standing upon the altar, and not simply someplace else with the beautiful woman he so admired. He remembered that now he must speak. It was his duty to speak; his clan depended upon it, the safety of the blue-eyed maiden depended upon it.

“Forgive me, father,” his voice suddenly hoarse. “Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone…”

His voice trailed away as once again his eyes settled upon the maid’s face. She frowned slightly as if he were a frustrating puzzle or an opponent she could not quite size up. He felt exposed in that annoyed, combative glance, with her strong eyes and powerful will—a will he could not break but wanted to test. Oh, how he wanted to test it for all his days!

“My laird?” the priest prompted him, but he found he could not speak. All he could do was stare into her eyes. Was it his imagination, or did he notice glassiness in those pupils, as if they were filled with tears? The Laird of Clan Murray, albeit the most fearsome warrior of the highlands and Robert de Brus’ most powerful friend, was terrified at that moment. He found himself praying to the heavens, unable to form coherent sentences.

Oh, lady of light and all the saints above, help me. Can I marry her sister and live with myself? What shall I do?

When he looked into her eyes he knew.

Chapter One

Three days earlier.

“He wants me to do what now?” Scott exclaimed, slamming the missive down upon the great oak desk.

“Marry,” Magnus smiled, leaning back in his chair in the study. “Aye, ye cannae be too surprised about it, brother.”

“I cannae?” Scott raised his eyebrows and glared at his younger brother.

“The MacNabs need to be stopped, and the Menzies need the lend of your mighty strength,” Magnus shrugged in that typical way he always had. He smirked and waggled his eyebrows at Scott. “If ye didnae want to be thought of as the mighty right hand of Robert de Brus, then ye shouldnae have spent so much time in battle.”

“Battle is where I am useful,” Scott said staunchly, staring down at the hastily penned missive from his dearest friend in the Great Cause, Robert. When Robert had asked Clan Murray to join his cause, Scott hadn’t a second thought about it. He had gone into battle with his dirk ready and his axe swinging, but he had never imagined that Robert would find more use for him than just the throes of war. Scott wrinkled his nose distastefully. “This is… politics.”

“Aye, that it is,” Magnus nodded sagely. “John Balliol is a lucky man to have the support of the MacNabs. Ye ken how fearsome they can be.”

“Aye, I ken,” Scott muttered, remembering how he had faced Laird MacNab in battle the year before. He was not a warrior to be underestimated.

“And ye will ken how Laird Menzies didnae have sons,” Magnus continued. “Only lasses.”

Scott winced.

“Lasses willnae be enough to deal with MacNab,” he said quietly.

“Aye, which is where ye come in,” Magnus grinned, leaning forward. “Menzies has supported Robert’s claim to the throne since he was a lad. They kent him that long, ye see. For MacNab to start attacking their wee farms is a clearer attack on Robert as I never did see.”

“Ye think it’s Balliol behind it?” Scott asked shrewdly. “That he tries to discredit Robert’s claim by removing his supporters?”

Magnus spread his hands wide. “I cannae think why else Robert would suggest marrying ye to a Menzies lass.”

“Aye,” Scott leaned back in his great chair and sighed heavily. “I suppose ye must be right.”

“Aye, dinnae look so shocked, brother mine!” Magnus laughed. “’Tis kent to happen from time to time.”

Scott smiled knowingly. Of course, Magnus was right—he was the one of the three Murray brothers who had a head for politics. He was the one who advised Robert de Brus on how best to marshal political support, for which Robert was the hammer, fighting the opposition on the battlefield. Between them, they had established Clan Murray as one of the fiercest and most politically powerful in the Highlands. It did not mean they were invincible, though.

“It says here it is to be Alba,” Scott frowned at the paper. “Which one is she?”

“The older, the finer one,” Magnus said. “Delicate wee thing, pretty as if made from bone china.”

Scott remembered her and flinched.

“And he thinks such a lass will be suitable for me?” Scott exclaimed, gesturing at his massive physique. “I’d break the wee thing!”

“Aye, such a lass might be more suited for Tate,” Magnus smirked. Tate was the youngest of the Murray brothers. Taken to travel, they had not seen him at Castle Murray in over a year. “But the poor lad isnae the laird here.”

“I may be now,” Scott warned Magnus. “But we both ken who will be one day.”

Magnus’ face filled with thunder. “Ye cannae say such things,” he said furiously, eyes flashing. “Isnae for mysel, brother! Is for yer bairns, for yer son!”

“I have nae son.” Scott’s voice was harsher than usual. “I willnae ever have a son.”

Magnus looked at him pityingly for a long moment. “He was a bonny lad,” Magnus said softly. “God rest him.”

Scott could not accept his brother’s pity and quickly turned away, staring into the fire as he thought about all he had lost. His beautiful wife, Fenella, so ripe and lovely with child, then their stillborn boy and his wife dead in their marriage bed—his future ripped away in one fell swoop. He had kissed her cold forehead and every one of his dear son’s tiny blue toes before burying them both with his heart and vowing never to take another wife.

“Never again,” Scott said, his voice ragged with emotion. “I cannae do that to another lass, brother.”

“Ye didnae do a thing,” Magnus leaned forward, his eyes earnest. “It was the will of God, brother, nae one else’s.”

Scott wished he could believe him, but the guilt of their deaths weighed heavily upon him. Scott knew it could only be his fault. After all, if he had not been so hungry and greedy for an heir, a son to raise up as a warrior like himself and to take the mantle of Clan Murray when he was gone, then Fenella would have lived.

“’Twas my greed,” Scott said slowly. “’Twas my sin that killed them both.”

Magnus opened his mouth to argue but at that moment a scout appeared, hasting into the study and breathing heavily.

“Laird, there are commotions on the border,” the scout gasped. “Menzies and MacNabs!”

“Shall we send someone?” Magnus asked.

“Dinnae bother, brother,” Scott said, standing up and reaching for his axe. “I am in the mood for battle.”

“Holy mother, save us all,” Magnus muttered, reaching for his own helmet.


“But Da, I dinnae want to marry him!”

Evelyn rummaged through the trunk at the bottom of her and her sister Alba’s bed, looking for her bonnet. She moved with the utmost discretion, afraid of disturbing the fight going on between Alba and her father in the next room, but every move she made seemed amplified against the stone walls of Fort Menzies.

“Alba, my hen, it isnae as if we have a choice!” her father said, his exasperation almost tangible through the closed door. “We cannae protect ourselves alone, ye ken that?”

Evelyn winced. She longed to protect her family, to be the one who could defend them, but she was a woman. No matter how strong her skills with a blade or a bow, or how fast she could ride, no one would ever consider her a worthy protector of her home and her loved ones. Which is why she was forced to do what she intended.

Carefully, she pulled the bonnet cap from the trunk and piled her hair up inside it. With her hair hidden away and a tartan scarf pulled across her face, dressed in the same short trousers with a great cloak of plaid wrapped around her and the belt with her dirk slung about her waist, she could pass well enough for a young warrior of her clan. It was the only thing she could really do to offer protection to her family, even if it meant breaking the rules in ways that were decidedly not allowed.

“But he’s a beast, Da!” Alba exclaimed in the other room. “Laird Scott Murray isnae a man, he’s an animal!”

“On the field that may be true, hen, but he is made of man, I can assure ye, like none else!”

“What of the rumors?” Alba demanded. “They say he killed his own wife!”

“Now hush!” her father commanded loudly. “How can ye repeat such twitterings, lass? That he is strong and fierce is good enough for me! Ye ken we have need of such a lad around here.”

Again, Evelyn flinched and rolled her eyes. If only her father could see all the ways she was trying and succeeding to be just as good as any man would have been.

“I willnae do it,” Alba said staunchly.

“Ye will do what is asked of ye without complaint,” her father snapped in return. “I cannae rely on anyone else, can I? Nae laird in his good sense will marry yer sister!”

“She isnae so bad,” Alba protested, and Evelyn’s heart warmed to her sister’s defence of her.

“Nae so bad?” Her father laughed in frustration. “My hen, yer sister cannae be controlled by any man, and I willnae have the clans of Scotland telling far and wide that Laird Menzies has raised a bairn nae fit for good company! Ye ken the shame that would come!”

Evelyn only scowled at that as she cinched the belt around her waist. She hated how often her father brought up the shame she would bring the family with her wayward ideas, her dislike of tradition, and her desire to fight, lead, and ride. She simply wanted to be loved and appreciated by her family whilst doing her best to keep them safe.

“Evelyn is nae shame to ye, Da,” Alba said quietly. “She loves ye dearly, ye ken?”

Evelyn took a great shuddering breath and felt tears prick behind her eyes. Despite the fact that she and Alba could not be more different, Alba always stood by her side against her father.

“Aye, I do,” Laira Menzies sighed heavily. “I only wish yer mother were alive. She would ken what to do with the lass.”

Evelyn’s heart clenched at the sadness in her father’s tone, and she took a few steadying breaths, feeling her own melancholy threatening to overtake her.

Her dear mother had died in a village skirmish on their border when both girls were still young. She had given her life to protect them, and both Evelyn and Alba had nightmares about it, even to the present day. When Evelyn closed her eyes, she could sometimes see it—the fires in the village, the loud clash of swords, and Alba’s screams. In different ways, they had dealt with the loss of their mother in such a violent manner. Whilst Alba had diverted her fears and worries into caring for Evelyn and raising her, the latter had diverted her own anxiety into learning how to fight. She wanted to ensure that she would never, ever be in such a position again. She would never be defenseless and she would never let anything happen to her family, not ever again.

“I dinnae understand why she cannae be more like ye,” her father continued. Evelyn started at the pain of it. No matter how many times she’d heard this sentiment for most of her life, it never hurt as much as when her father spoke it.

“Evie tries, Da,” Alba said earnestly. “She was always going to be what she is now.”

Alba was everything an eldest daughter should be; she was beautiful, elegant, and mannerly whilst still being homey and kind. She had slipped perfectly into the role of Lady of Fort Menzies in their mother’s absence. She ran her father’s household, and all their tenants and clanspeople loved her dearly. Evelyn could never inspire that kind of devotion. She was far too fond of riding in the woods instead of making soap with the clanswomen. Yet, despite Alba’s daily frustration with Evelyn’s lack of interest in womanly pursuits, she always protected her from their father’s disappointment.

“Aye, I ken,” he sighed heavily. “Which is why, my hen, you cannae say ye shall nae marry Laird Murray. It must be, for the good of the family.”

For the good of the family. That had been her father’s motto her entire life. He always saw Evelyn as the daughter who cared nothing for the good of the family, even though she risked her life regularly for them all—not that he knew of it.

“I must go, hen, look after yer sister,” her father called out. “There’s been an attack on our borders, and I must ride out with the men.”

Quietly, Evelyn picked up her own shield, an old one from a soldier friend of her father’s, wincing as it clanked heavily against the trunk. She heard the conversation stop in the next room.

“Is Evelyn in there?” her father asked, and with silent footsteps, Evelyn flung open the door and raced to the stables. She hid in the back, stowing her shield underneath some hay until her father came down and mounted his stallion.

“The MacNabs have nae place on our land!” he bellowed to the clansmen. “We ride!”

They shouted their assent as they saddled up and Evelyn quickly snuck in at the back, mounting her own horse, her face well-hidden. Evelyn reflected as they set off on how ironic it was that her father had always thought she didn’t care enough about the family, and yet here she was, ready to fight and die alongside him.

As the wind whipped around her, Evelyn thought about the secret she kept buried deep beneath her shield, and her hidden face, that whilst she was a lass made for war there was nothing she hoped for more in life than a family of her own. Yet, it was true; who would want to marry and love a lass who had dreams beyond the confines of a castle?

Evelyn told herself not to think of it and instead turned her mind to battle.

Chapter Two

“Who is that?” Scott shouted to Magnus over the heat of battle. MacNab’s soldiers hadn’t been ready for the arrival of Laird Murray and his men; a few had turned tail and run as soon as they saw the Murray brothers dismounting, their eyes full of fire and rage. Laird Menzies’ men were holding their own fair enough, but there was a small lad on the edge of the field of battle near the wooded croft whose skill with a blade put them all to shame.

“I dinnae ken!” Magnus yelled back, turning his blood-flecked face toward the lad. The young man was wrapped up in a tartan scarf, and Scott wondered if he had some kind of deformity that forced him to cover himself. “He might need some help!”

Scott saw that the lad had taken on a MacNab soldier who was about four times his size and, despite his skill, the lad could never hope to defeat such a giant. Scott ran forward with a battle cry, lunging between the giant and the lad, forcing him back against one of the trees in the small woods, quickly disarming him and slamming his own forehead against the head of the soldier, quickly knocking him out. Scott gritted his teeth against the pain before turning to look for the lad, hoping to ensure the young man was alright, but he was met with a sword swinging at his face.

“Jesu!” Scott exclaimed, quickly raising his axe to push the lad back. “What are ye doing, lad? Are ye nae fighting for the Menzies?”

The lad simply stared at him and began fighting him with such nimble quickness that Scott was almost cut down by his sword. Scott was able to hit the boy around the head with the hilt of his sword with only a quick duck and roll, which the young lad had clearly not expected given Scott’s height and weight, and he crumpled to the ground. Scott stood over him, panting heavily and staring in awe at the unconscious lad. Nobody had fought him so fiercely in a long time, not since his own father had trained him in battle. Who on earth is this lad?

“What happened?” Magnus ran up, out of breath.

“The lad near skewered me!” Scott exclaimed, kicking the boy’s sword away, just in case.

“Is that so?” Magnus looked down at him in astonishment. “One of Menzies’ lads, is he nae?”

“Perhaps he has a grudge,” Scott shrugged, rubbing the blood off his forehead.

“Or perhaps he is nae too fond of yer potential wedding,” Magnus frowned thoughtfully. “Or he could be a wee assassin.”

“Dinnae be fooled by his size, brother,” Scott said sternly. “He’s plenty fast, and skilled.”

“Well then, best we bring the lad back tae camp,” Magnus said. “Question him. Work out if he’s just a wee lad with an affection for the lady Alba, or something worse.”

“Aye,” Scott said, watching as Magnus slung the lad over his shoulders and then looked at Scott in amazement. “He dinnae weigh a thing!”

“Well, all the easier tae ride with,” Scott said practically. “Let us be away.”

As they rode the short way back to camp, Scott wondered about the slight boy who was laid astride Magnus’ horse. Where had he learned his skill? Why would Laird Menzies have kept such a warrior a secret? And if the boy wasn’t one of Laird Menzies’ men, why was he on the field of battle, and why was he so angry with Scott? Could it be as Magnus suspected, that the lad was enamored with the young lass he was expected to wed? Scott could see the boy struggling against Magnus’ hold by the time they arrived at the quick camp their men had set up on the edge of Murray land.

“As wriggly as a sprat in a net!” Magnus called, tossing the lad over his shoulder, and striding toward the old barn where the men had built a fire. “Got something to hide!”

Scott groaned inwardly and followed his brother, turning to glare at his men.

“Dinnae bother us,” he said sternly, stepping inside and closing the rickety door beside him. Shafts of moonlight illuminated the barn floor and Magnus dropped the lad on it. He instantly scuttled back until he hit a beam, his eyes sharp and full of fire. Even now, Scott could see the lad was calculating how to get out. He’s nae ordinary lad, that’s for sure.

“What is yer name?” Magnus asked, folding his arms, but the boy remained silent.

“Are ye deformed?” Scott asked abruptly, gesturing to the scarf wrapped tightly around the young man’s face, only revealing his sharp blue eyes. The lad simply glared back at him. Scott felt his patience snap and he reached to tug the scarf away from the boy’s face. “Well, if ye willnae tell us—”

“Nae!” the lad exclaimed, and those small sharp hands gripped Scott’s wrists, scrabbling at him, but Scott was stronger. In a minute he had stepped back holding not only the lad’s face scarf, but his bonnet too. Scott stared down in amazement.

“Holy lady in heaven,” Magnus whispered. “’Tis a lass.”

Scott stared at her. Her chestnut locks curled around her head, her bare face was sharp and guarded. She was beautiful, too, as she glared up at them, breathing heavily like a fox caught in a trap.

“Ye almost killed me!” Scott exclaimed at the lass. “Yer a lass and ye—who in hell are ye?”

The eyes didn’t change despite the unveiling; her blue eyes were so sharp they reminded him of dark early morning skies, lit with the same fire and repulsion as they had been when she nearly ran him through with her sword.

“A lass,” Magnus repeated, shaking his head. “Well, Menzies would never let a lass fight his cause.”

“A spy then,” Scott said grimly. “Or an assassin.”

“A poor assassin,” Magnus said. “Ye are still alive.”

“Was a close thing,” Scott muttered, kneeling to stare at the lass. “Come lass, ye must ken we cannae harm ye now. Tell us who ye are.”

She said nothing, merely raised her chin, staring contemptuously.

“We could make ye talk,” Magnus said sternly.

“Aye,” Scott said, quickly realising the progress of Magnus’ thoughts. Of course, they would never intend to harm a lass, but she didn’t need to know that. A few threats here and there wouldn’t hurt. “I could give ye to my men. See what they make of ye.”

He expected her eyes to show fear, but they didn’t. Instead, her hand flashed to her belt, and suddenly she was on her feet, a dirk in her hand.

“Let me go,” she said. Scott was astounded to hear her voice. She didn’t sound like the other lasses he’d met, whose voices were soft and tender to match their lovely features. This woman’s voice was sharp and fierce as if she was used to issuing orders.

“Now, now,” Magnus said quickly, spreading his hands in a conciliatory gesture, deliberately giving Scott time to circle to the right and when her eyes darted to Magnus’ hands, he sprang forward to grasp her wrist, twisting it upward and releasing the dirk. He expected her to cry out and fall back again, but instead, a firm kick met his knee, as if she intended to engage him hand-to-hand.

“Ye wee minx!” Scott growled, steadying himself and quickly kicking her feet out from under her in retaliation, dropping her to the floor and stepping back. “How dare ye!”

“Let me go!” the lass shouted, glaring up at him from the floor. He felt a growing exasperation with her boldness and commanding nature.

“Lasses dinnae scream at me like harpies,” Scott said coldly, towering over her.

“Aye?” the lass returned, raising one amber eyebrow. “Didnae get a good look at ye, did they?”

Magnus snorted with laughter behind him while Scott growled.

“Quiet yer tongue!” he demanded, stepping closer, expecting her to recoil. “Or I shall take it from ye!”

“I’d like to see ye try!” she scowled back. “Ye great brute!”

Scott looked down at her, trying to ignore the feelings that were building up in his chest. Scott stood over six feet tall, was broad and strong, and was well aware of his reputation both on and off the battlefield. He was used to lasses looking at him with fear and intrigue, not glaring up at him with fire in their eyes like her. He could not help it. His lower regions tingled with unsettling, untimely desire.

“Brother,” Magnus pulled him away from her, dropping his voice to a low tone. “Seduce the lass.”

“Ye cannot be in earnest,” Scott hissed at his brother. “She is more monster than lass!”

“Oh, aye, I’m sure,” Magnus rolled his eyes and looked his brother up and down, clearly seeing the way Scott’s body betrayed him against his will.

“’Tis only the heat of battle,” Scott said gruffly.

“Aye, for sure,” Magnus smirked. “But she may still be armed.”

“And ye wish me to unclothe the lass?” Scott exclaimed, mentally denying that the thought of her unrobed in his bed inflamed him entirely.

“I wish ye to do what ye can,” Magnus said, his gaze hardening. “We need tae ken who she is. There has nary been a lass who willnae lie with you, brother. Put it to good use.”

Scott scowled at his brother, clapping him on the shoulder as the latter turned to exit the barn, leaving them alone. Scott rubbed a hand over his face and stared up at the ceiling. He was not the type of man who would take a lass against her will; he had never been that kind of man. Magnus was right; he never struggled to find a bonny lass to warm his bed on a cold night, but this was different. This was a lass who seemed she would sooner die than lie with him.

Scott sighed. He turned back to look at her. She glared at him and yet her eyes were watchful. If she had been a wild dog, her hackles would have been raised. Perhaps that is how to approach her, Scott thought, as if she were a wild horse.

Violence would only get him kicked in the shins and it was clear that was exactly what this soldier lass expected. He would have to try tenderness. Scott slowly unbuckled his belt, his weapons still attached and dropped it outside the door along with her own dirk. He closed the door and showed her his empty hands.

“What are ye doing?” she asked, sounding wary for the first time since she had spoken.

“I am unarmed,” he said simply, walking at a slow pace as he would approach a nervous mare.

“Then ye are a fool,” she scorned, but there was a deep furrow between her brows as if his behavior was entirely beyond her understanding.

“Perhaps,” he said calmly. He stood about a foot away from where she sat on the floor, still wreathed in her cloak. Magnus was right; she may still be armed, and he might still be at great risk from her. He needed to find a way to check, but he knew if he forced her she would fight like a rabid dog. “Will ye nae stand up and face me?”

It was the right decision. The lass scowled but immediately stood to her feet.

“I faced ye on the field of battle, and I’ll face ye here!” she spat, eyeing him. Scott slowly lifted his hand but held it away, determined not to force his touch. The lass is like a wild horse, he told himself firmly. Be gentle, slow, and keep your hands visible, he told himself.

“Will ye dare to let me touch ye?” Scott said quietly.

“Why would I?” she asked with narrowed eyes.

“I have shown ye I am unarmed,” he said quietly. Her eyes widened at his gentle tone. “Will ye not show me the same grace?”

She stared at him for a long moment and then nodded, her chin outthrust stubbornly.

“Alright,” she said. “Ye can touch me, little good may it do ye.”

Scott nodded and slowly extended his hand to the belt at her waist, worn like all soldiers over her cloak and trousers. He slowly unbuckled it and tossed it aside, knowing from its weight that it held no other weapons. It was a strangely alluring act, this gentle undressing of a lass who had been so vicious. He could tell from her incessantly watchful stare that she thought of it as nothing more than a standoff between two soldiers—a way of showing her worth and mettle. Yet, as she sought to prove herself masculine, he could not help but see all that was feminine about her. Slowly, making sure she could see his hands, he raised his fingers to the brooch at her shoulder, unclipping it so the cloak that covered her fell loose to the ground.

There she was, suddenly more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before. Desire thrummed through him. He wondered distantly if he would ever feel this kind of desire again once he was married to the Menzies lass. He wondered what would happen if he moved his fingers to gently cup the odd lass’s cheek and kiss her with all the intensity of his want. Would she kick him as she had done before? Would she melt into his touch, or would she pull his hair, curse him, and scream like a banshee?

“What?” she demanded, her voice wavering slightly. Scott noticed she had not flinched from his touch where his hand rested on her exposed collarbone. Perhaps she was trying to prove herself, or perhaps it was something else.

“Ye are… strange,” he whispered, “in yer man’s shirt and trews.”

“Yer nae the first man tae call me strange,” she struggled to maintain her scornful tone, but never removed herself from his touch. Her blue eyes never left his face. “So, I am unarmed. Are ye satisfied?”

Scott found he could not stop staring at her lips. Her defiance was like wine in his blood, making him dizzy with want, and suddenly he could no longer control himself. Whatever she might do, he was willing to risk. His want had taken over his mind and he could not turn back.

“Nae,” he whispered, leaning forward to capture her lips with his.


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

The Laird’s Reluctant Bride (Preview)


The year is 1301. Scotland is embroiled in a war of independence against the English. It’s been five years since the exile of Toom Tabard, the Scottish king; three since the rebels’ defeat in the Battle of Falkirk under Wallace; nearly one since the resignation of Robert the Bruce, heir to the throne, as Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn, has just followed in his wake.

King Edward I is painting the Lowlands red with blood, and the magnates are scrambling to keep the country undivided under his thumb. The prospect of civil war grows with each day that passes, casting a long shadow over the country and its people.

The dream of an independent united Scotland lives on in Robert the Bruce, but he cannot act alone. Cooperation among the Highlanders is of the essence. First, they need to agree to peace amongst themselves. A summit in Fifeshire has been called in his name, inviting clans from far and wide to put an end to their quarrels and form new productive alliances.

Many lairds are in attendance, along with their numerous beautiful daughters. Their agendas are even more plentiful, for where one man sees a chance for peace, another sees opportunity, gain, wealth, and power at any cost.



1301, The Herbride Sea

Sometime before dawn.

By the time Ivy came to consciousness, her wrists were so raw from the ropes that bound her to the mizzenmast she no longer cared about the cold. Her trust in the elements was misplaced and she knew it—the air was biting that night, and people had died of frost for less. Her breath came out in uneven puffs of air, clearer than the smoke rising from the torches dotting the deck of her father’s cog.

At least he had posted a guard to watch over her, as any merchant might do with their chattel. The man with the clinking hauberk had yet to turn around. Ivy watched through wet tendrils of hair as he stalked the stern, stopping only to cast a long look at the horizonless sea between the Isle of Skye and the mainland. Ivy’s gaze drifted to the unreadable stars overhead. There was no telling how long it would be until they reached Glasgow and then Fifeshire where her buyer and new master awaited.

Raucous laughter sounded from the hold, and Ivy flinched, startled. Her head knocked painfully against the mast and she hissed involuntarily, drawing the attention of the guard. The deck creaked beneath him as he turned around, a hand hovering over the hilt of his short sword.

“Has my father forbidden ye from speaking to me?” she rasped, squinting against the darkness. She wriggled forward as far as her bindings would allow, and the exercise roused her fear. “He’ll have words for ye and more if I die afore we reach our journey’s end. I’ll make certain I do die if ye dinnae speak.”

Ivy swore she could hear the guard grind his teeth as he stood frozen. “I have my orders,” he muttered after a while, turning his back to her.

She swallowed hard, and her throat burned. “Orders to kill me or to hold yer tongue? It matters not; ye’ve broken yer vow to him now,” she noted. “I beg of ye, listen to me.”

“What is it ye want?”

“I want—” She cut herself off with an involuntary whimper. She most wanted to go home, but she would settle for being out of the cold and changed into a dry smock and kirtle. “Why cannae I travel below with the rest of ye? I want a meal. I want water. I want to nae be treated like any other prisoner.”

“Ye’ll find freedom aplenty ashore.”

The man took a deep breath and turned to face her. In the torchlight, he revealed himself to be a stranger. Before the fighting, Ivy had known most of her father’s men by name. Now their names were long forgotten, turned into freemen and freemen’s sons who wore the faces of knights. This one was younger than most, no older than four and ten.

“I ken my da’s heart—his good heart—and I ken he didnae ask for me to suffer,” she lied. “Please, untie me and I willnae say a word to any man about it. I only mean to walk a bit, and look, and wait.”

The boy’s face frowned in hesitation, but his eyes were heavy with fright. She knew that expression from the looking glass, and she especially knew what it meant.

Slowly, he shook his head. “I cannae do that, me lady,” he whispered, “but I can ask about a meal for ye,” he added more begrudgingly.

It was something at least. “Do it,” she said softly, trying not to scare him, “and ye will be the kindest man to have ever lived. I kent ye to be of gentle nature.”

Sparing one last look at the sea, the boy turned on his heel and marched toward the bow.

Sagging against the mast, Ivy felt the first tears run down her cheek. Staring straight ahead, she rubbed her wrists together behind the mast, testing the rope’s slack. Whoever had tied the knot did not intend for her to flee for they knew she would try. For what reason she could not fathom; there was little she could do. She had no weapon and could not wield one if she tried. And certainly there was nowhere to run but into the sea.

Into the sea…” she breathed, and her eyes rounded in dread, but also in sudden realization.

All was quiet on deck; the boatswain likely gone to eat. The guard had dipped into the hold and faded from view. There were no other ships as far as the eye could see, but her hands kept working against the rope anyway. Her knees grazed painfully against the boards beneath her as she struggled, her heart hammering in her chest. If she could only slip through this net, there would be a chance—perhaps not for life, but certainly for freedom.

She forced the base of her palm into the knot and whimpered at the thought of facing the bitter end.

There was a reason she had denied the nunnery despite her mother’s urging. There was a reason she had dreamed of peace in a lifetime of war. Ivy MacLeod believed she was meant for greater things, the greatest things in fact, and it was better her dreams die with her than she without them.

Her hand slipped free of the ropes all of a sudden, ripping the skin from her thumb and forefinger.

She let out a cry of both relief and pain, and promptly bit her lip. God’s teeth, nothing had hurt worse in her life. She dared not look down at her hand. The fire racing up her arm was proof enough of her victory. Her other hand carefully slipped the loop; she was free.

Her knees buckled beneath her as she tried to stand, and she fell forward onto her chest, grazing her chin against the deck, providing one more scar to layer over the others she was accumulating. Darting her gaze upward, she was relieved to see that nothing had moved at the other end of the cog—not the guards, nor God.

The sails whipped menacingly against the wind above her. A squall was brewing, or perhaps something worse. If she didn’t act soon, they would drag her down into the hold to weather the storm and she would come out of it an unwilling married woman.

Wiping the blood from her chin, she pressed herself against the mizzenmast. Her hand curled around it, leaving blood ingrained in the wood. They would find it in the morning, but she would be long gone. She had to be gone.

With uneven steps, she staggered her way to the stern. The waters were dark and inviting below, reflecting the heavy light of the moon. Had the sea always seemed so pleasant a canvas? If so, she could not remember but sent up a prayer of gratitude at its invitation.

Perhaps she could swim to safety. Perhaps she would die. She did not spend time considering her options; she simply sought freedom.
Hoisting a leg over the side of the ship, her heart lurched in her chest. Her long ashen hair blew westward, but she planned to jump to the east toward the sun.

Her desperation and misery had been born in fire. With water, she would smother it for good.

The last thing she saw before she jumped from the ship into the sea were her father’s colors flying above her in the inky sky.

Chapter One

1301, Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye
Eight hours earlier.

The fire roared in the fireplace, and Ivy was transfixed by its flames lapping against the stone. She had despised the keep when they first took up residence within it, so different it was from the MacLeod croft of her girlhood. Gone was the burn at the bottom of the farmlands where the children would bathe. Gone were the fields of heather where she watched the knights riding through the glen. Gone were her mother and brother too, who had been born there, and who had died there in the fire set by Comyn’s allies while her father was away.

There was not a moment’s peace to be had in Dunvegan. The gates to the keep were forever open to more cavaliers, more tinkers, more magnates—more bloodshed. She thought how strange it was that she would now trade forever and a day for one more night in this noise-plagued burgh.

Her attendants flitted in and out of the room packing her trunks, and she directed them absently. She had no care for her garments, no care for anything at all but the fire to warm her. So, when they asked where she was going and what she thought best to take with her, she offered them the same answer she had been giving them all afternoon.

“Father has said nae a thing to me about my new home, only that it is far from here on the mainland and safe.” She knew at least one of those things to have been a lie: there was nowhere safe in Scotland anymore.

With a gentle sigh, she rose from the edge of her canopied bed and walked toward the hearth. There, she plucked a small sculpture from the mantle, a wooden carving in the shape of a wolf. Her brother had been no fine craftsman before his death, but Ivy smiled affectionately as she ran her thumb over the uneven notches in the walnut.

“Seems more a cow to my eye,” she remarked upon receiving it some six years ago, “though I suppose I should thank ye for the thought.”

“Braw, Da will be pleased,” her brother had replied, “to ken ye have manners, and because a cow is more fitting for a MacLeod lass—especially ye, sister.”

Ivy hadn’t asked what he had meant, and she suspected it was for the best. The sweetness of her memories was all she had left of Peter.

“Och, and this cow,” she grumbled under her breath.

One of the girls looked up at her with curious, rounded eyes, and Ivy dismissed her with a smile. “I shall take this with me,” she said, handing the girl the sculpted figure. “Wrap it safely in a wimple as I should despise for it to break.” She nodded to the other girls and made her way back to the bed. “Whatever ye cannae pack ye may keep for yersels, but dinnae wear anything of mine before Sir Gavin, or trouble will find ye.”

The girls gleefully returned to their work. By the time they were done and the sun had ticked to the west, someone rapped on the door. Ivy didn’t bother turning around. She knew who it would be, and the fire needed stoking.

One by one the girls shot to their feet and bowed, leaving Ivy’s packed trunks behind them. The room was so still she could hear the song of the blackcap warblers outside. Her father’s call was not nearly as sweet as theirs when he decided to speak.

“Out,” he ordered, and Ivy’s maids were quick to comply.

Her father shut the door behind them, and its whine made Ivy’s skin prickle with gooseflesh. Still, she sat patiently waiting for him on the edge of her bed, having averted her eyes from the flames to the soft linen of her gown. Any sudden movement in his presence could spell her ruin.

Her father prowled toward her slowly, walking the length of her bed and coming to loom over her. Like a veritable animal, his every step was calculated and measured, every intake of breath filled with purpose. She supposed that was how he’d survived as Comyn’s prisoner for all those years at Falkirk and more. It didn’t mean she admired him, and it certainly didn’t mean she liked speaking with him. She stifled a smile at the thought that it was a chore she would not have to suffer for much longer.

He pinched the edge of her veil and slowly ran the fabric between his thumb and forefinger. As he observed her, she only allowed herself to look at his thick hairy fingers. There was muck under his nails, though she knew it was more likely dried blood, and she wondered to whom it belonged. But all questions pertaining to her father were best left unanswered.

“Ye will take this off when we land and plait yer hair like the Highland lasses,” he said coolly.

Ivy clenched her jaw and nodded. There was no point in telling her father that she didn’t know how to plait her hair. His order wasn’t about plaits anyway; it was about making his daughter look desirable. For whom, she did not know.

With a weary grunt, her father kneeled before her. Ivy almost thought she was dreaming. Her father had kneeled for no man but their exiled king and Robert the Bruce; never for a woman.

Looking into his countenance, her eyes welled with tears. Her father looked so much like Peter with his strong nose and brow, only war-hardened and two decades older, poisoned by his own cruelty. His eyes were completely different from Peter’s because they were so much like her own, an amber shade and utterly distrusting even as he looked his own flesh and blood in the face.

“My bairn,” he sighed, cupping her face with his hands like she was not a woman of nine and ten but a girl of seven, “look into yer father’s eyes and see yerself as he sees ye.” For the first time in what felt like years, his lips curled into a smile. “Ye are reborn this day, daughter of mine. As a woman, as a daughter of Scotland and a MacLeod, do ye feel the hands of change as I feel them wrap around us?”

He placed a heavy hand on her shoulder, and she wanted desperately to shrug it off. To her, it was known as a great instrument of pain. Instead, she leveled her gaze at her father and bit her lip.

“I desire to ken where ye are taking me, Father.”

His fingers dug into her skin, but his face showed none of his typical disdain. He had grown too apt at hiding it over the years before he lost his temper, but Ivy knew. She always knew. Rocking back on the heels of his boots, her father stood up straight. His aketon was quilted with scarlet linen, and all she could see was red before her, a bad omen that portended ill.

“Ye ken we are at war, bairn.” He waited for an answer as though he doubted it, and she nodded to appease him. “Robert the Bruce has seen fit to bestow upon us—upon ye—the greatest of honors. An invitation, bairn. There’s to be a clansmeet in Fife, where the greatest warriors over the country will convene to do what is right.”

Ivy’s face dipped into a frown before she could temper it. “And what is right, Father?” she asked only to hear him speak it aloud.

He seized her chin with his thumb and forefinger, angling her head so as to look up at him. “To unite as one, Ivy, and pave the way for freedom as Robert sees it. He wishes the clans to meet and follow him into war. He wishes it, and we will make it so.” He thumbed her bottom lip. “I will play my part on the battlefield, and ye will play yers by selecting a husband worthy of ye.”

It took all of one second for Ivy’s stomach to turn over on itself. She had forever known this day would come. There had been a time she had dreamed of marriage because it meant escaping her father’s clutches for good. But the way he presented this “honor” from Robert the Bruce, it did not sound like a dream, nor like freedom.

She was a pawn in his games, and this was his final move.

She bit back the bile in her throat and closed her eyes. “Ye’re selling me off to the highest bidder,” she whispered, unable to voice the full truth of the matter. There is a price on my maidenhead, and ye wish to see who will vie for it the most. “Is there nae price too high to please yer would-be king?”

The flat of his hand came quick and hard against her cheek. She reeled back, clutching her face with her own hand, but it did nothing to soothe the physical pain or the hurt within her.

Her father tittered and ripped the veil from her head. “I would trade a thousand daughters to please him; never doubt that.” He stalked over to the hearth and cast the cloth in the fire. “Dinnae call me yer enemy, bairn—nae when I toil night and day for yer happiness. In Fife, ye’ll have yer pick of the strongest, richest men in all of Scotland. There are worse fates for a woman yer age to marry into a clan of power, and ye ken ‘tis true.”

“I ken naething at all.” She bit her lip to stop from breaking. “Naw—I spoke a lie. I ken one thing: I willnae be married to a man I dinnae ken! That I dinnae trust!”

Ivy scurried back pre-emptively on the bed, but her father didn’t move. She wished with all her heart that she could understand him, or God willing, anticipate his next blow. It was a mistake to challenge him, but he knew it, too. He had made the mistake of striking her across the face one too many times, and the burgh always fell pregnant with rumors of his tyranny toward her in the aftermath of his lashings. He had learned eventually and spared her the rod, taking his anger out on Ivy’s favored servants instead.

She cast a rueful look toward the door where her attendants were most certainly listening in. If he meant to send her away, there would be no one to save them from her father’s wrath in her stead.

When she looked around, her father had turned his back to her, his fingers curled so strongly around the lip of the mantle they had turned white. “Even on this day of hope, ye speak my world into darkness. I pray for ye. Truly, I do.” He pushed himself away from the fire and stormed to the door muttering, “Be ready by sundown.”

If he had cast her one last look, Ivy might have had the good sense to show up at the front of the keep with her effects later that day and say nothing more.

“And I pray for ye, Father,” she shot back, stopping him in his tracks. As quietly as she could, she slid off the bed. If her father heard her, he did not stir. “With the Lord as my witness, I pray ye dinnae regret playing these games of blood and power when Scotland is won and find yerself in an empty keep, with only yer glory for companionship.”

Before the storm of her father’s anger came always a great stretch of silence. In those moments of quiet, Ivy reached into herself, seeking purchase on any strength she had hidden away for safekeeping. After years of violence, that pool was near empty. There was nothing to hold back her pain as her father covered the distance across the room and propelled her back against her waiting trunks.

Her hip collided with the stone floor, sending a sharp jolt up her side, but the pain was nothing compared to the visceral fear she felt as her father grabbed her by the neckline of her dress and yanked her off the floor.

Sir Gavin may have said something before beating her. Or maybe he didn’t. Ivy’s only memories were of birdsong and her fire.

Chapter Two

1301, just off the coast of the Ilse of Mull
The following day.

By the time Blaine’s men had earned their sea legs, they were halfway through their journey to the mainland. He supposed their ineptitude at sailing was partly his fault. His lairdship was far from landlocked, and there were numerous reasons for the recent sea voyages. However, up until three years ago, Blaine was busy fighting Wallace’s war, and the state of MacKinnon’s men had been his father’s burden to bear. Frankly, he was more comfortable with a pike in his hand than he was anywhere else in the world—especially ruling over the men he had once called friends.

Sweeping a glance over the waters, Blaine sheathed the skene he’d been polishing. The day was bright, the weather was fair, and his siblings were quiet for the most part—something for which he was grateful. His sister had charmed the crew out of their superstitions as they broke fast, and his brother had busied himself by assailing them with questions that were arguably more invasive.

When at last Errol reared his ugly head from below deck, Blaine whistled for him to join him by the stern.

Huffing and puffing, Errol came up beside him. “Ach, there’s no land for miles! Are ye certain ye’re not playing some wee trick on me, brother? Luring me out onto open waters so ye can be rid of me for good? I’ll have ye ken, I cannae swim.”

Blaine wrestled with a smile. He didn’t like indulging his brother’s antics at the best of times, but the deck of a ship was hardly the place for a fight. “’Twould be a mighty poor trick, dinnae ye think?” he said, “Trapping mysel with ye, and nowhere to hide?” He leaned over and clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Och, will ye nae wipe that look off yer face? The journey to Fife willnae pass quicker with a jester aboard, I promise ye that.”

Errol hopped away, laughing. He was outfitted like a true warrior before they had taken to the sea, but he had quickly done away with his armor and now paraded about in his chausses, boots, and tunic. Despite his four-and-twenty years on earth he often had all the manners and wisdom of a rock.

“What? Dinnae ye think mighty Bruce can take a joke? Naw, ye’ll be glad to have me by yer side when we meet him.”

“I have met him. Ye ken this.”

“Aye, but ye weren’t a laird then. Ye were a—”

“Aye, what was I?” Blaine interjected, scowling.

Errol smirked, his green eyes glinting. “Naething, brother. Ye were naething at all.”

Blaine looked over his shoulder to make sure the crew was busy. The last thing he needed was for them to think he was as mad as his brother. When he was certain the coast was clear, he cracked a smile and grabbed Errol by the scruff of his shirt.

“I’ll cast ye overboard, ye slippery sod,” he warned laughingly. “Dinnae ye think I willnae because we’re blood.”

“I’d like to see ye try, ye lump,” Errol shot back, twisting himself out of his brother’s hold. He beamed as he straightened himself. “If ye’ve made up yer mind about putting me out of my misery, will ye nae tell me where it is we’re headed? Dead men are particularly braw at keeping all sorts of secrets.”

Blaine leaned back against the ship, crossing his arms over his chest. “Ye ken we’re sailing to Glasgow and then to Fifeshire.”

“I ken where and I ken to whom, but I dinnae ken why.”

Blaine ran a hand over his face. It had taken no small amount of subterfuge and strife to keep the truth from his meddling siblings. As far as Errol knew, they were meeting Bruce and his allies on the mainland to discuss troops. That was part of it, of course. Blaine had one of the finest armies in all of Scotland under his belt, and Robert the Bruce had made clear his intention about recruiting them to the cause. However, there was more to this clansmeet than anyone dared speak, and it involved all of Blaine’s least favorite things. And chief among them: politicking.

Just as Blaine had resolved himself to speak, his sister climbed up from the hold and caught his eye. Hannah’s blonde hair lifted in the wind, and her milky skin dappled in the sun. She looked so much like their mother, even at six and ten with the bloom of youth upon her. She would meet just as grizzly an end if Blaine was not careful in the coming days. Because while Bruce had said he wanted a united Scotland, what he meant was in part that he was looking for wives for his allies. Blaine would watch the whole country burn before he sold his sister off to a man unworthy of her, and so without her knowledge, he planned to drop her off with the nuns in Glasgow.

Shooting Errol a look telling him to keep quiet, he waved his sister over to them. “Good morn to ye, sister,” he said, cupping the back of her head and pressing a kiss to her forehead. When she pulled back, Blaine worried that his guilt was written all over his face and Hannah would see it and know, but Errol was quick to distract her.

“Ye dinnae ever greet me like that,” he teased, feigning disappointment.

Blaine thought to reply and appease him, but something in the water caught his eye instead. Narrowing his gaze over his sister’s shining head, he tried to discern what it was as it bobbed and weaved between the waves. It seemed too strange a color for driftwood, too limp, too… bodily in nature.

“’Tis because he favors me over ye. And who can blame him?” Hannah heaved a sigh and leaned over the side of the ship. “Ye’re too old, as well. Those years between us make all the difference in how insufferable ye are, ye ken.”

“Aye. I look at ye and I ken.”

“Och, I never could have guessed how boring sailing is. If naething else, I thank ye for this most revealing experience, Blaine. And ye ken what’s more boring than sailing?” she lamented.

“Blaine?” Errol suggested with a twinkle in his eye.

“Sailors,” she bantered.

“Will ye nae both be quiet for a moment?” Blaine ordered, racing up to the stern to get a better view. “I could have sworn…” His fingers curled around the gunwale, seeking purchase against the rocking of the vessel. Suddenly, the sun hit the object of his curiosity at just the right angle, and there was no mistaking what he saw next: a pallid face washed over by water, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. There was nothing he could discern beyond that—nothing he needed to either.

There was a body in the water.

Like two eager pups, his siblings followed after him. Blaine knew only from the pattering of their feet.

“Do ye think he’s seen something?” Errol asked Hannah.

“I think he thinks he has,” Hannah answered. She leaned forward over the side of the boat, and Blaine quickly put an arm out to stop her from falling. “Look!” she cried. “I see it! I do! ‘Tis a woman,” she gasped. “There’s a woman in the water!”

“Ye’re fibbing,” Blaine said, but he had thought much the same himself. He clucked his tongue and turned his sister around by the shoulders, remembering himself. “Ye shouldnae look, Hannah! Get down in the hold with the others—”

“Ach, poor lassie must have drowned.” Errol sighed.

“Errol, dinnae say that!” Hannah snapped back. She whipped back around, slippery as an eel, dirtying her gown against the sea-stained wood of the bulwark. “Och, ye must help her, brother! Willnae ye help her? Please!”

Blaine shook his head, looking out over the waters. “Ye dinnae ken ‘tis a woman. More like ‘tis the body of a fallen fighter, and we cannae say for whom the wretch took up arms.” Blaine steeled himself as the body came back into view, drifting closer to their ship with each ripple of the waves. “I willnae have a man’s blood on my hands—nae corpse will drag us into war.”

“’Tis nae right to leave her at the mercy of the sea—or him. I dinnae care!” Hannah whimpered, turning back to look for the body. “If ye had died in battle and been chucked in the sea,” she added, uncharacteristically forlorn, “God’s teeth, brother! I pray someone would have fished ye out and brought ye home.”

Blaine had spent a lifetime fending off the most ruthless attackers, but he was powerless to resist his sister’s pouty plea. Clenching his jaw, he hissed his defeat, and his siblings cheered in nervous approval.

“Ye shouldnae take the Lord’s name in vain,” he muttered, divesting himself of his belt, boots, and weapons, his skene and broadsword clattering against the deck. “Learn fast ‘afore we reach the nunnery, or they willnae let me take ye home.” He shrugged off his hauberk and his aketon came with it. All at once, the only thing standing between Blaine and the sea was his fear. “God’s blood…” he whispered.

Hannah was good enough not to call him a hypocrite.

“Be kind enough nae to drown, brother,” Errol muttered as Blaine paced the deck, looking for a point of entry. “I love our clan. Really, I do, but nae enough to rule over it.”

The waves lapped against the side of the ship like hounds hungry for their dinner. The clear, gray-blue color of the waters was misleading, and Blaine knew it all too well. The sea would be colder than the air, and if he was not careful he would lose his life to it and more.

Blaine looked out over the sea, then back at his anxious siblings. He could command one of his men to jump in after the body and they would do it willingly, but it would not be right. A few of his guards were beginning to approach, but he held them off with the palm of his hand.

This was something he should do on his own—if not to prove himself a hero and gladden his sister, then to make his father proud. Too long had he ruled over his family’s clan with all the involvement of a stranger. If the castaway revealed herself to be Blaine’s death, at least he would die with a clear conscience.

Sucking in his breath, he climbed over the bulwark and took pause. He waited just long enough for the sea to calm a tick before launching himself off the gunwale and into the waves below.

The first thing he felt—the first thing and the last—was the biting slap of the water against his skin. For a moment, nothing existed in the world but that pain. It wreathed around him, with the water pressing down on him, keeping him trapped beneath the waves like the cruelest siren call.

It was cold but it was blissful. There was nothing to hear, nothing else to feel, no enemies in hiding, only one that he could fight. He needed to fight or he would lose the battle and die, along with the castaway.

He snapped his eyes open beneath the water, and they stung, but a rush of feeling gave him the courage to glance at the filtered sunlight and swim upwards. For the second time, he broke through the water’s iron plate. As he did, relieved roars erupted from the boat, but he could barely hear them over the sharp intake of his breath. He hadn’t the time to look back, not while his body was on fire with cold. It was enough to know they knew he was alive.

The sun was too bright above him, and he could not remember whether it had always been that way. Blaine pushed his arms out before him, and with all his might, he swam toward the crowning head of the fallen soldier—whoever they were. Within moments, he adapted to the dance of the sea, swimming not against the tide but with it. A head of dark hair called to him like a beacon, dipping above and then beneath the waves with every inhale of breath he took.

However, the sea was not a kind mistress that day. When he was close enough to see the body properly, so close he thought to reach out and touch it, it slipped beneath the waves so swiftly it was as though it had never existed.

Throwing his head back in disbelief, Blaine dared to look back at his siblings on the side of the boat. He could not make out their faces—he could see nothing but their twin heads of blond hair, so much like his own—but he knew that if he did not act quickly, one or the other would be foolish enough to jump in after him. Focused to the exclusion of everything else around him, Blaine thrust his body beneath the waves again, adjusting himself to its sweet cold imprisonment.

That was when he saw her.

Hannah had been right. The castaway was a woman, and she was floating beneath the sea like she belonged there and always had. She looked peaceful with her delicate white face, paler still than the white of her smock—her long, ashen hair floated like a halo around her. She might as well have been an angel, he thought, reaching a hand toward her. She appeared to radiate all the divine power of one and may God smite him for thinking it.

In that watery cage alone with her, he felt oddly at peace. Perhaps he could stay with her forever beneath the sea, and that peace would stretch on as long as their bodies remained there.

He let out the last of his breath, as though trying to speak with her to ask her to stay when panic set in. There was nothing more tethering him to life but his terror. From the looks of things, the woman had stopped breathing entirely. Steeling himself, he swam nearer to her and gathered her in his arms. With the last of his strength, he propelled them toward the surface of the water, holding her against his chest like a sleeping babe he dared not wake.

When he reached the surface, the world crashed upon him in a cacophony of sound. The waves were deafening, the sun was blinding, and whatever peace he had found was sundered, split in two. The only thing left to do was survive.

“Survive,” he pled, not knowing to whom he prayed, but knowing it sounded desperately sincere. “Survive this with me.”

The swim back to the boat felt like torture, but he made it. There had never been a sweeter sound than the clatter of the ladder down the side of the boat and into the water. Hoisting the woman over his shoulder, Blaine climbed up the side of the ship, only stopping for breath once he reached the very top, at which point he fell to his knees. The woman tumbled over his shoulder and onto the deck, her clothes pooling around her.

“Brother!” he heard Hannah’s cry of relief. She pushed past his guards with a groan and knelt before him. “I cannae believe ye did that!” she whimpered as she threw her arms out to hold him.

Blaine put a hand up to stop her and looked up at his men. “Prepare a clean pallet for her and tell the captain to make haste for Glasgow,” he ordered. He dipped his head to catch his breath before scuttling over to the woman.

“Ye were right, sister,” he muttered, before dragging the soaked woman up by the arms and pounding her on the back to bring up the water she’d swallowed. He pushed against her back and turned her head, relieved to see her expel seawater. He pumped until no more was seen, and then he collapsed beside her, exhausted but sucking in great gulps of clean salt air.

The only weapon he had in his armory was hope, and it had carried the day.


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Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

The Deceived Highland Bride (Preview)

Chapter One

Laggan, Scotland, August 1648, Clan MacPherson Lands
Ghàidheal Tavern

Alice McTavish was no well-bred lady, and that was the way Cameron Hay preferred it. With vigor and glee, she wrapped her thighs around his waist, and he held her tight against the wall of the back room of his tavern, thrusting hard. When they first started, she’d looked into his eyes, then pulled him in for a kiss, but as his efforts grew more frenzied she leaned her head back, crying out his name at each advance of his hips.

She grew so loud that he clamped a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. As Alice came quickly, trembling around him, she bit on his fingers trying her best to hold onto him. A few more deep thrusts and he was finished too, pulling out quickly and spilling into his hand. Every time with her was fast and pleasurable. She landed on her feet, and he reached out a hand to steady her as she pushed her rumpled skirts down in place around her.

Brushing a strand of blonde hair from her sweat-covered brow, Alice beamed at him, revealing a row of strong white teeth. She was a bonnie lass to be sure. There were many men keen for her attentions, knowing her willingness to offer them.

“Cameron, lad, it is always so good with ye,” she said fighting to draw sufficient breath. She gave him a cheeky grin while he wiped away the evidence of their coupling, tying his trews securely again.

“Aye,” he agreed, uncomfortable with the aftermath of such things, and not knowing what more to say.

He only wanted quick fun, as did many of the women he slept with, just flesh on flesh like animals enjoying what God had given them—and then they were off. There was usually no conversation or at least not much, and they each got what they wanted until the next time.

When he was fixed up, Alice stood up on her tiptoes and pulled him close. She wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and pressed a wet kiss on his cheek, which sent a shiver down his spine—only, it was not out of pleasure this time, but a strong need to just run toward the door and disappear.

“Let me stay a while, Cameron. Let me stay this time.”

“Nae a chance, Alice, and ye ken it.” He gently pulled out of her grasp and stepped back, but not before bending down to press a kiss on her cheek, not wanting to insult her. “I dinnae want another encounter with yer husband like the last time.” He pointed to his still-swollen darkening eye. “Best tae keep things secret here, where nae one kens about yer whereabouts.”

“But why’d ye risk it? Asking me tae come here taenight after what happened the last time?” she countered.

He pulled on his jacket and watched as Alice’s expression change to slightly sullen. No, this would not do at all. That was why he had liaisons with married women; they had homes and lives to return to and did not think to cling to him as a true partner or lover. He had his reasons for asking her, and he was sure as hell not going to tell her.

“I think ye ken, Alice. Same reasons as ye. I couldnae stop meself from enjoying yer sweetness once more,” he pressed his swollen lips, still red from her bites, to hers for a mere second. “Now, go on. I will see ye again soon. I have work tae get back tae.”

She sighed and nodded, “Fine then, Cameron. Suit yerself. Until the next time.” Alice left out the back way, still adjusting her skirts, and slammed the door a little harder than usual.

There we go again… Cameron rolled his blue eyes, pushing up his jacket sleeves over strong forearms, and left through a door leading to his tavern, Ghàidheal, or Highlander. He wore no colors, even though his tavern stood at the border between Grant and MacPherson land. He preferred to stay out of the politics of land and battles, and even though his best friends were guards and soldiers, for him it made no difference.

Fighting for one’s life, even though Cameron was an exceptional swordsman who won battles with ease, was far less appealing to him than a life of pleasure and merriment. And with his towering muscular frame and winning smile, those two things came easily.

He stood behind the long wooden counter and returned to his work as if he’d been there the whole time, taking a wet cloth and running it down the length of the wood. His long blond hair was tied in a knot at the base of his neck. Easier that way with all the vigorous work he’d been doing of late.

The two friends working with him, Seamus and Julia, were busy taking care of the many customers so there was spilled ale for Cameron to wipe away. The tavern was full, and it always made him swell with pride when he saw everyone having a merry time.

‘Tis mine. All this, at last.

As he looked out at his successful venture, his hand brushed across the golden brooch pinned to his loose white shirt, unbuttoned at the throat. It was a rounded oval with gold filagree around the outside. If he looked closely, he could see the faint outline of an engraved Scottish thistle across the middle.

He was never without it, and he touched it to remind himself where he’d come from, even if the past was still shrouded in mystery. It had been found on him when he was but a babe left on the doorstep of the healer’s hut. Taken in by the kind old woman, he’d never known the story of his past. All he had was this one golden brooch, and it was the only clue he had to finding out the truth one day. But that day would not be today.

“Och, there he is!” a familiar voice called, and he looked over to see three of his friends sitting around a low, circular table by the large stone hearth.

He grinned, glad to have a little distraction that night after Alice’s little scene. Tossing the cloth aside, he strode up to them, bringing a chair next to the men and leaned his arms on the strong wood of the tabletop.

“Well, lads, it seems ye three are havin’ a right party. Good timin’ too. I expected ye a bit later, though.”

“We couldnae wait tae have our last drink with ye, Cameron, ‘afore we’re off tae battle.” Rory McKinnon, his hair as red as carrots, winked at him. “Besides, ye’ve got a bet tae win.” He pulled out a bag of coins from his coat pocket and plopped it on the table, pushing it across to Cameron.

Cameron chuckled, tapping at the bag and loving the feel of good hard coin under his fingertips. It meant he would not go hungry. “What’s this for, then?” he asked with a cheeky lift of the brow.

“Och, ye ken!” Alistair, Rory’s twin brother chuckled. “We saw Alice McTavish comin’ in through the back to yer rooms, lad. I cannae believe ye slept with her again, after what happened naught but two days ago! Thought ye werenae desperate for another hit tae yer eye. But I suppose ye couldnae resist the bet and earning some good coin.” Alistair and Rory laughed heartily before drinking from their tankards of ale.

Cameron, smiling, turned to face his best friend, Blair MacDougall, who sat directly across from him with his arms crossed and his dark brown eyes frosty. People often thought Blair and Cameron were twins, both with the same blond hair and bright smiles. But Blair was a few inches shorter than Cameron, his hair cropped closer to his head, serving him well as a laird’s guard.

But even though many a lass could not decide which handsome lad to flirt with between the two of them, right then none of them would have chosen Blair, who looked so frustrated with his best friend that he was stabbing daggers with his gaze.

“Yer ale looks like it’s untouched, Blair,” Cameron said, a tinge of uncertainty in his tone.

Blair was the only person in the world whose good opinion he sought or even cared about. If he was upset with him, then Cameron knew it was for a good reason. Right now, he did not wish to really know what it was about, yet he could hazard a guess.

“So it is,” Blair returned with a nod, turning away from him.

Frowning, Cameron turned to his other friends. “Aye, I didnae want the trouble, but ye ken me. I dinnae make a bet I am nae sure tae win. I asked her tae meet me and there she was, nae needing a second invitation.”

He picked up the bag of coins, tossed it up in his hand and then stuffed it into his pocket. “Now, let me get me own ale and join ye lads.” He stood and asked for Julia behind the bar to fill in for him. “How are things here taenight, lass?” he asked her.

Julia smiled, her golden curls bouncing as she moved. She was nearly sixteen, and he knew he’d have to start watching the men in the tavern to make sure they kept their hands to themselves. She and her twin brother Seamus had been working at his tavern for two years since he’d found them on their own, practically starving to death. There was less than ten years between them, but when he’d seen them outside on the edge of the woods, their bodies thin and drawn, clothes tattered and Julia bruised and beaten, he’d felt like a righteous father. He had been given a chance when the old healer had taken him in, and he’d seen the chance to help Julia and Seamus in turn. They’d become his good friends, his confidantes, even though his fatherly protective instinct toward them still stood strong in his heart.

“Just fine, Cameron. Ye dinnae have tae worry about me, ye ken,” she said, pushing a full, frothy tankard into his strong hands.

“That’s good, Julia. But ye ken I always will.” He winked at her and then sat down with his friends again, a mug finally in his hands.

“I think the worst part about goin’ tae this blasted battle at Preston is leavin’ ye two, and nae bein’ able tae make any more bets,” Alistair said, scrunching up his nose.

“Aye, true enough,” Rory echoed. “Blair could’ve come with us tae the battle, but he chose tae remain guard at MacPherson Castle this time. Bloody good fighter he is, and what a waste.”

Blair remained silent still.

Cameron leaned back in his chair on two legs and eyed his friend. “Go on, what is it, then?” he asked Blair. “Ye are nae kent tae keep yer ale in its tankard, especially when it’s fresh.”

Rory and Alistair chuckled, and Rory said, “Och, he’s been a bit sour since we saw the lass go intae yer room. Ye ken him and his madness…”

“Och, is that it?” Cameron asked not leaving Blair’s gaze for even a second.

His best friend leaned forward, his hands wrapping around his tankard. “I think we should give up this foolish betting. ‘Tis nae the way of good men, betting on whether or nae a lad will sleep with a lass. ‘Tis nae right, Cameron.”

Cameron crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. He’d heard all this before. Bloody nonsense it was. He had no interest in a wife or a family. He wanted only pleasure and to run his tavern as he saw fit. And tae find out who me parents were. But that was a different issue entirely.

He stared at his friend. “Come now, Blair. Ye have been tryin’ tae convince me of this for years, but ye willnae dae it, nae matter how many times we discuss it. I have nae need of a wife, only lovers, and the lovers I take are only interested in just that.”

He guiltily thought of Alice, who had begun to look at him in a different way that night, hoping for more. He lifted a brow at Blair, waiting for a reply.

“But ye could just settle down with a good woman, a lass ye would love, and everythin’ would come right in yer life. I ken it, Cameron. Ye would have everythin’ ye ever wanted,” Blair replied, the frostiness gone from his eyes.

“Good lord, what is this shite he speaks of?” Rory asked, laughing loudly.

“But look at ye, Blair. Ye are constantly telling me about how I should dae it, when ye have nae even done it yerself. Why dae ye nae find yerself a good woman, since ye have always wanted a life like that?” Cameron challenged.

“I will. One day.” Blair looked around between them. “Too many wars tae be fought, but I stayed back this time. Ye all think me mad, but I want tae find her. Tae find the lass who will fill me heart and mind, make me want tae be a good husband.”

“Bloody hell,” Alistair said, polishing off his ale and waving down Julia for another.

“So, does that mean ye will finally come and work here at the tavern with me? As partners? Then ye will have the time and lack of danger tae get that family ye want with a sweet and meek lass to look after ye,” Cameron said, shaking his head. “I have nae idea why ye never agreed before, as I have asked ye more than once.”

“Nae. It is nae yet time,” Blair said stubbornly. “Working at the castle is good money. And I need more money if I am tae be a proper provider for me family.”

“Fine then. Suit yerself.” Cameron threw up his arms and took a drink. “I say we talk of other things, since we cannae agree on the subject.”

“Aye!” Rory said, lifting his tankard in the air while Julia brought Alistair a fresh one.

It took a few seconds, but Blair followed suit, and the four of them touched tankards as Alistair began to tell a tale. But after about two minutes, it was cut short when Cameron heard Julia calling to him from the side of the bar. He stood and excused himself before running up to his young friend.

Grabbing her shoulders, his heart flipped in his chest. “Are ye hurt? What’s wrong, lass?”

To his surprise, she shook her head, worry possessing her eyes, “Cameron, there is trouble out in the alley. Two men are attacking two young ladies. Will ye help, please? Seamus has gone, but I ken he’ll be killed if he tries anything, the idiot!”

Cameron took her hand, stroked it, and they exited the tavern through the back door into the alley.


An hour earlier.

“Be quick!” Ada MacPherson told her sister Ella as she came into the room already wearing her black cloak, hood up over her head. “What are ye daeing?”

“Calm down,” Ella whispered, pulling on her own cloak and tying the strings so it covered the golden brooch pinned near to her heart. Ella loved it so much she could never bear to take it off. Many years before as a young girl she’d taken a shine to it, having seen it in her Aunt Anne’s room. Her aunt had been kind enough to let her have it, and after her tragic death, Ella wore it in memory of her who had become like a mother in the absence of her own. The brooch was smooth except for the gold filagree and the engraving of a Scottish thistle.

“I am almost ready. Besides, we should nae talk so much; someone will hear us!” Ada narrowed her brown eyes at her sister in frustration.

Ella smirked, tapping a finger to her smiling lips before she pulled the hood over her plaited red hair. Together, they moved quietly out of the room and down the hall of MacPherson Castle, a home and also their prison for far too long. At least she had not been alone; she had Ada, both her sister and best friend, and the two of them nearly alike in appearance with the same bright long red hair. Yet while Ada’s eyes were a dark brown, Ella’s were the color of a loch on a sunny day.

Her heart fluttering, Ella reached over to grab her sister’s hand. When she turned, Ada gave her an encouraging nod, assuring her that they were doing what they must do. Since they could not find freedom and were not granted much by their father, Laird Graeme MacPherson, then they would seize it. And tonight was the night.

They had planned and waited long enough to taste a bit of the outside world for once. As they stepped closer to the doors at the end of their passageway, Ella found she was much hungrier for freedom than she’d realized. Pulling her hood back, she stood tall, and pushing Ada a bit to the side, she opened the double doors so that Ada was hidden behind the one of them. As expected, she spied their personal guards standing just outside the door.

“Angus, Darren, would ye help me? I was goin’ tae dae it meself, but then I realized I wouldnae be able tae carry it.”

“What is it, Me Lady? We would be happy tae help,” Darren said, bowing his head a little, his hands folded in front of him, sword at his side.

The guards looked like twins, with matching brown mops of curls on their heads and a serious expression on their faces. They were attractive enough, but they were her father’s age. Her father, terrified of what might happen to them, thought having young men watch his daughters was far too dangerous.

“Ada is nae well.” The lie she practiced came easily to her lips. “Could ye fetch a pail of water or two and leave them here just inside the door? I need tae help her wash, and I dinnae wish the servants tae come, in case they fall ill, too.”

“Aye, of course. We will go right away.” Angus bowed, and together he and Darren turned to go.

As planned, Ella shut the doors behind them and waited, her breathing loud in the silent space as she and Ada stared at each other. Though they were close, they could not have been more different, for Ada enjoyed the excitement of adventures and reckless plans, while Ella did not. She was more rigid, more responsible, and found herself in need to organize everything before taking part in any sort of “adventure.” It had taken time for her to work up the courage to go through with this tonight’s foolhardy plan.

“Now!” Ada said, and Ella quickly opened the door again, and they slipped out into the main upper hall, silently closing it behind them. This would be the first time they’d ventured out on their own in so many years she’d lost count. Grabbing Ada’s hand, Ella pulled her down the passageway until they reached an alcove with a secret door. Opening it, they rushed down the stone steps and into the darkness of the tunnel.

The one thing their father, Laird MacPherson, never planned on was that imprisoning his daughters meant that their whole world consisted of the castle. That they knew its every crack, every turn, every stone. There were more secret passageways throughout the old structure that Ella was certain even her faither didn’t know about them all. Hand in hand, they hurried down the familiar tunnel in the dark until they felt the draft of sweet night air on their cheeks.

“So close!” Ella breathed.

“I cannae believe it. Dinnae lose yer courage now, sister,” Ada warned.

It had taken years for them to gain the courage to escape. And when one of them gained it, the other would falter, and they would be right back where they started. Mostly it was Ella whose courage waned. But now she could taste what she desired in the air.


If only for a night. If only for a few hours. They would go to the village tavern and see what the world had to offer. It would be one night of freedom, and no one would ever have to know they escaped.

She slowed her gait until her hands brushed against the rough oak of the door. “Here we are,” Ella whispered. She worked at the metal bolt on the door, and together they pushed it, heaving a little until it strained open. A rush of air hit their faces, their skin pinking in the cool of the night, and they grinned at each other.

“Hurry. We must put a small stone in the door to keep it open. We cannae open it from the outside otherwise,” Ella said, having made thoughtful and careful plans over the past weeks, walking by the door many times.

“Aye.” Ada reached down to pick up the stone she’d collected for that purpose, pushing it between the door and the jamb. It was thin enough not to be recognized at first look, and when the heavy door laid against it, she stood. To be safe, she pulled against the door, relieved when it easily moved outward.

“Ready?” she asked, turning to Ella.

“Aye. I have never been more so.”

They put up their hoods, and hurried away into the night, hoping their dark cloaks would shield them from the watchmen and the torchlights. At least the woods were close enough to the castle so they only had a small stretch of green to cross before they were well-hidden amongst the dark trees. She paused only once to turn back for a moment to look at the castle and to take a deep breath.

“Finally, Ada. It is our time.”


Chapter Two

Ella giggled as they held hands, running swiftly down the path toward the village, and finally seeing the lights and the outline of buildings as they got close.

“The tavern, remember? That has tae be our first stop. Marcia kens how full of men it is,” Ella said, her eyes flashing, and Ada laughed.

“My older, responsible sister is talking tae me of men? I cannae believe it.”

“Aye. It is time we spoke tae someone else besides Faither, the servants and guards.” Ella ground her teeth together.

“Aye, and I wish tae fall in love and talk tae as many men as possible taenight.”

Ella paused. “Dinnae be too wild, Ada. We dinnae ken the men we go tae see.” Ella’s excitement was mixed with fear, but Ada had far more wildness about her.

The reason Ella had feared to leave before was because she wasn’t sure what Ada might do if set free. But it was time for them both to enjoy themselves a little, even if it was only for a few hours.

She’d tried years ago to persuade her father that the kidnapping of their youth had not been successful, that it had simply been an unusual accident, and that they could move on. But alas, he kept them locked up as if they were caged birds he wanted to keep from growing up and experiencing life.

It made her furious, and each day the anger worsened, but now she would forget about that. She wanted to enjoy this time with her sister. It might be the last breath of freedom she would have before she was eventually married, if her father ever let her do even that.

The tavern drew near, the closest building to the castle, and she could see the wooden sign hanging above the door, a lantern hanging next to it.

“Ghàidheal,” Ella breathed, tears in her eyes. “I feel as if this is another land we’ve traveled to. That nae one will ever be able tae find us again.”

She closed her eyes, and Ada squeezed her arm. “Aye, and we’ve only traveled naught but a few minutes.”

They could still see the castle in the distance in all its torchlit guarded glory, yet she looked back at the tavern to make sure it was real. Winding her arm through Ada’s, she nodded.

“Are ye ready? Shall we go?”


They were just about to take a step forward when they turned at the sound of crunching twigs from behind them.

“Nae, stay with us a while, lassies,” one of two men walking behind them said.

Both of them were dark-haired with scruffy beards and dark clothes. She could tell they were drunk by the way they stumbled, but when they got close to Ada and Ella, they smiled. Ella’s heart raced, and she gripped Ada’s hand.

Never before had she spoken to a strange man. But looking into their dark eyes and watching their yellow, leering smiles, she felt something was wrong. Her heart told her so as it pumped wildly against her ribs.

“Come, Ada. Nae, thank ye, gentleman, we will be on our way now.” She turned away, clutching Ada’s hand, and the two of them dashed toward the tavern, but the men were too fast. She felt herself pulled back by her cloak until she was flat against the man’s chest. She struggled against him, her lungs filling with screams, as a thick, calloused hand covered her mouth.

With stale breath, the man whispered in her air. “Dinnae scream, or I shall have tae hurt ye bad. But if ye cooperate, all will be well and over in a few.”

He chuckled, and she grimaced, knowing but not truly knowing what he meant. He moved her along down a narrow alley, unable to see but hear Ada’s struggle behind her with the other man. He leaned down to gather up her heavy skirts, pushing her against the wall, his breath rank and rough.

“Och, just a young one, so it is. Perfect.” His grip on her mouth loosened but only a little.

“Stop it, ye dobber,” said the other man who held Ada. “Dinnae touch her, Kenn. All the laird wanted was tae bring them tae him alive.”

“Aye, so he did.” Ella squirmed when Kenn groped her bosom with such strength she heard the material of her cloak tear apart, but this only made him hold her tighter. “I am nae goin’ tae kill her. But he didnae say that we couldnae have a little fun.”

The other man cursed, and Ella wished he’d try again to convince Kenn to stop, but he didn’t. She looked at him with pleading eyes, and it was then she noticed the colors the men wore. Under the lamplight, she could tell the shades were those of Clan Grant, and her heart fell. Could this be another attempt at kidnapping? Again?

The laird of that clan had attempted years ago to take them, but she’d never learned why. Only that her father had been so terrified of it happening again that he’d trapped his only two children in the castle, never letting them out. But this was more than a kidnapping, as she felt the man’s cold hands on her thigh trying to push her gown away.

His rough fingers found the warmth of her leg, and his firm squeeze made her feel nausea building in her throat.

She bucked against him, trying to fight his arm away, and she could hear Ada’s muffled scream. Was this what her father had hoped to protect her from? Being raped by a stranger in a dark alley?

“Oy!” a voice called, and she turned quickly to see a lad with rough brown hair, pointing at the two men. He was young, though, maybe sixteen, and her heart faltered as the brief hope she’d had of escape fizzled out.

“Get away from those lasses!” the boy cried, fury written on his face.

Och, he’s going tae get himself killed!

For the time being, the men’s movements had been halted. Ella could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she prayed for help, hoping that these men would be damned for what they were about to do. The man holding her tightened his calloused fingers around her neck.

Her eyes blurred as she felt the heavy pressure to her throat. No air. No air was getting into her lungs. She bucked and kicked.

“What are ye goin’ tae dae about it, lad? Ye are just a boy,” the man laughed.

“But nae me,” a deeper voice thundered, and Ella saw a tall shape looming over her kidnappers.

Instantly, she was freed with a curse, and she spluttered and coughed, backing against the wall, fighting to breathe.

“Ella!” Ada cried, running to stand next to her, having also been suddenly released.

They watched as their rescuer started with the first man. As the first fists flew, Kenn groaned, and he quickly fell to the ground after one hit to the jaw.

“Have sense, lad!” the other man called, lifting his hands in the air, but the tall, fearsome savior of theirs did not stop. He hit the other one as if he couldn’t care less that the man held up his blade while madness was written in his eyes.

Ella watched in awe the two men groan in pain as they were pummeled into the ground once more. In a flash, she could see the fierce highlander pull out a dagger and hold it to her assailant’s neck.

“If I ever see yer face around here, it’ll be yer blood on me blade. I dinnae care whose men ye are. Now get the hell away!”

The attackers scrambled to their feet, cursing even as blood spouted from their lips.

They ran off, and Ella averted her eyes, never wanting to look upon them again. She put a hand to her chest and felt for the broach. Her cloak had been yanked away in the attack, but the brooch was still pinned close to her heart, and she closed her eyes, thanking God they were safe. Her clothes had been ripped, and she wrapped her arms about herself to cover her breasts, which were threatening to show. She shivered.

A young blonde woman emerged from the tavern, holding out two cloaks, and the large man took one up. “Here ye are, lass,” he said, his voice quiet and comforting. He took the large cloak and put it over her shoulders. She quickly covered up her torn bodice. Then, with a breath, she gained the courage to look up at their savior for the first time and met his eyes.

When she saw those two orbs of blue, the first words that came to mind were, avenging angel.


Cameron held out a hand, “Are ye all right, lasses?” he asked, his eyes moving between them.

Only the first one he looked at, the one with long red hair that had been tied back, nodded. She was still breathless, her lips parted, and she clung tightly to the cloak he’d just given her. He helped the other lass put on her cloak as well, and she looked equally afraid, her brow furrowed with shock.

“Aye, sir. Thank ye,” the first woman swallowed, finding he could not look away from her.

Such beauty.

Cameron cleared his throat, trying to ignore the very big distraction that had fallen into his arms, especially when she had just been through such a terrible ordeal. Yet he couldn’t help but glance at the full bosom showing through her ripped bodice.

I’m an animal, for God’s sake; she was almost taken against her will.

“Come, come inside,” he said, trying to push lustful thoughts to the back of his mind, including the maidenly anatomy revealed before him, and the redhead’s distressed moans in his ears.

He gripped her elbow while Seamus hurried to help the other, who was obviously younger. Inside, the crowd continued as merrily as before, completely unaware of what happened outside. He was glad for that. He didn’t like the idea of the women getting further attention directed at them. And with a face like that, the first one was sure to glean attention wherever she went.

“Sit here, lasses.” Cameron and Seamus helped the young women inside to tall chairs which stood along the wooden bar, sticky with spilled ale.

The crowd seemed to have doubled in size since he’d been gone. He allowed himself to relax, knowing the throng of patrons would give the two women a bit of privacy and anonymity without being stared at as they entered the room. He was grateful for that, knowing that the lasses—especially the beautiful one he’d rescued—undoubtedly drew attention, both unwanted and wanted, wherever they went.

“What are your names?” he asked.

“Ella,” the blue-eyed one said, still trembling. “And this is me sister, Ada.”

“Well,” Cameron smiled his most reassuring smile. “Welcome to my tavern. Give me just a moment, and I will bring ye both food and drink.”

He left them and found Rory, Alistair, and Blair waiting, watching him with puzzled looks.

“What was it, then?” Rory asked.

“A couple of bastards trying tae rape two lasses. They’re shaking from the scare, but I am certain a bit of food and drink will help,” he explained, flexing his aching hands after the pounding they’d taken.

He’d hit men’s jaws before, but never before had he had to jump to attention so quickly. He’d often considered how Julia had been harmed before coming to live with him, and he wished he could have pummeled that man’s jaw as well.

Blair pulled his ale towards him. “What did ye dae?”

“Hit them, threatened them. They had Grant’s colors—his guards most probably. Have nae idea how or why they suddenly decided to choose these two lasses to hurt.”

Blair looked grim. “Grant is nae a good man, so it is nae surprise that his men are nae either. They’ll take any lass that crosses their path.”

Rory chuckled. “And what of Laird MacPherson? Exactly because of events like this the man is worried about every little thing, keepin’ his daughters so locked away for years. I might do the same if I have a lass someday. Damn, I’d kill those bastards.”

Cameron had heard that the MacPherson laird was a fearful sort, and he’d pitied the girls, but tonight was a perfect example of what the laird feared: the world was a dangerous place for lovely ladies alone.

“I dinnae want me tavern littered with dead bodies, or else I would have considered killin’ them meself.” He rubbed a hand over his face and behind his neck, glancing back at Ella speaking to her sister. But the din of the crowd quickly covered them again, and he turned back to his friends.

“Jesus, but the one is bonnie, I wish ye could see her,” he told them. “It would be a danger for her tae ever set foot outside her home.”

“Och, let me check, then; maybe she’ll need some comfort,” Alistair chuckled and tried to get up his chair only to be pushed down roughly by Cameron.

“Dinnae ye dare bother them; they’ve had enough unwanted attention taenigh, ye arse. She’s too bonnie for ye anyway.”

“Do ye mean tae make a new bet, lad?” Alistair chuckled.

“Bloody hell, the lass has just been attacked!” Blair finally spared them a word, leaning forward.

Cameron didn’t answer, but grinned at Alistair. “Aye, she will be me next catch, I think.” He stood tall, brimming with confidence. He’d rescued her; she was his.

He had become very used to the way he affected women, and now that he’d saved her, he was sure she would fall to his charms soon enough, easier than ever. He was her savior, after all. Blair shook his head, huffing out a sigh while Rory and Alistair just laughed.

“I’ll see ye lads a bit later. Got tae treat the lasses tae some food and drink now. Calm their nerves, ye ken.”

Cameron turned away, his friends still chuckling, and he moved behind the bar. “Good lad, Seamus,” he said to his young friend, tousling his hair. “But we’ll wait until ye are a bit bigger ‘afore ye go out alone on a rescue, ye understand?”

“Aye, Cameron.” He gave a guilty abashed grin. “I am sorry I couldnae dae much. I was afraid too.” Seamus twisted his fingers anxiously like he did every time he was fretting about something. “Will ye teach me how tae fight, Cameron?”

“Aye, of course. I have already taught ye much about fightin’, but the fear needs tae be overcome.” He lowered his voice, and with a smile whispered, “But those lasses are grateful tae ye,” he nodded his head to them, and Seamus blushed, making Cameron laugh. “Bring food for the two of them, would ye, please?”

He left Seamus and moved to stand by Ada and Ella, leaning his elbows on the wood. His hair was mussed from the fight, and a length of it hung over one shoulder. He folded his hands and looked between the two girls. “What will ye take tae drink, lasses?”

“Anything ye recommend,” the one called Ada said, giving him a bright eager look. She seemed to have recovered more easily than her sister.

He chuckled, glad they were settling already. But not quite on the right woman, however. Ella continued to watch him with wariness. It was amusing. No woman, especially not one who had just been rescued by him, had ever looked at him with suspicion. It made her all the more intriguing.

“We dinnae need anything tae drink, sir. In fact, it is best if we return home as soon as we can.”

“With lads like that about? Nae, stay a while. Yer food is comin’, like I said. It will warm ye, take away yer tremors.” He turned around and poured them both a glass of whiskey, serving it with another smile. “Here ye are; best in the Highlands, so they say.”

Ada brought it to her lips, but Ella reached out to stop her a second before the liquid caressed her lips. “Ada! Dinnae drink that. We dinnae ken the man; we have barely just been saved from an attack! Nor dae we even ken the man’s name! And he has a swollen black eye already, as if he fights often.”

Ada put the glass down, pinning her sister with a glare. “Why must ye always chafe, Ella?”

“Aye, Ella, why must ye dae that?” Cameron echoed, a teasing glint in his eyes, amused that she’d noticed the swollen black eye despite her fresh ordeal.

My, but she was a beauty. Her eyes, blue as a loch on a cold day, were now staring right back at him fearlessly. Her lips were full and pink, and freckles smattered over her perfect pale skin. She had fixed her tangled hair, its smooth ginger tresses now tied high and away, its length brushing against her shoulders, not unlike his.

She straightened, staring him down. “Ye could easily have put anything in that glass. Ye might try tae poison us, take us away and dae what those men were planning.” She narrowed her eyes at him, and he laughed, putting a hand to his chest as he felt the rumble of mirth roll through him.

“Then why should I care if other men touch ye if I was going tae dae a thing like that? Why would I save ye and then hurt ye meself? That doesnae make any sense, lass.”

She crossed her arms, and her gown shifted a little. The cloak that had covered the torn bodice slid away from her shoulder, and he started when instead of her firm bosom he saw a brooch. It was golden, just as his was, with the same filagree, the same engraving sparkling back at him.

Where on God’s green earth did that come from?

There were many more questions he wished to ask, but he could not fire them at her now. When he looked up at her, she was still angry, piercing him with an icy blue stare.

“It doesnae matter. Men clearly dinnae think, or else they wouldnae be so dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” he grinned, pouring himself a glass of whiskey too and gulping it down pointedly. “Ye can see it is safe enough. Besides, lass,” he said, leaning closer across the bar until he heard her breath catch, “I dinnae need a sedative tae get a woman intae bed. Usually, they come of their own accord begging me tae bring them pleasure. Simple enough. Och, and me name is Cameron, by the way. Cameron Hay.”

Ella gasped. He saw a flash of movement, and seconds later his face dripped with whiskey.

“Best in the Highlands,” she said sweetly before grabbing her sister and rushing from tavern as fast as they could go.


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Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

The Veiled Wish of a Highland Bride (Preview)


August 1731

He is coming for me…

Mia lay in bed, frozen. She was paralyzed, visited by the same unwanted guest every night, a friend she called terror. It was a demon on its own.

It hadn’t always been this way. Mia had once been a happy child who did not flinch at the thought of darkness. The nightmares began at the same time as he had changed. Her little body trembled, and her eyes darted around the room, trying to dispel the tortuous images that were mercilessly infiltrating her innocent mind.

“Nae! I beg ye, nae,” she muttered as tears streamed down her face from the corners of her eyes. Her back was flush with the hard bed in the corner of her room. Turning a deaf ear to her pleas, ignoring her as though she wasn’t there, the man in her dream continued to hit the woman behind her eyes. Again. And again.

Mia was certain that if he didn’t stop soon the woman would be nothing more than a bloodied sack of bones, but he didn’t seem to care. The woman’s screams pierced through the confines of her dream and into her reality.

Perhaps if I ignore them, the screams will leave me be, she thought, but the more she fought to ignore them the louder they became.

Finally, she opened her eyes. Before attempting to get out of bed, she flexed her hands in the darkness. It usually took more than a few minutes for her dreams to unshackle her. She clutched her throbbing head—now that she was awake, the screams were even louder.

Mia was used to this. She knew where the sound was coming from, but she did not want to go and investigate. Try as she might, she could never fall back asleep. When her father lost his temper, the onslaught could — and would — go on for hours.

Slowly, Mia dragged her feet off the bed, pushing away the sheepskin that served to shield her from the cold, recalling her mother tucking it around her before retiring for the night with a smile on her face.

Mia stood beside the bed for a moment, staring at the brick walls of her room, then the wooden roofing overhead. Sometimes, when the screaming started, she counted the bricks until all she could hear was numbers. Knowing her counting would not help her now, she sighed and walked toward the door. It had been left ajar, so she could hear her parents’ voices more clearly.

“Useless, fallow-wombed woman!” her father shouted, stomping his foot on the ground. Mia felt the floor shake beneath her.

Her father had always had a temper, but it had only gotten worse with her mother’s inability — or unwillingness as he called it — to produce a son. Even at the age of ten, Mia understood how important it was to have an heir. A girl was not fit to inherit anything, her father had said, not even a name.

“I feed ye! I clothe ye! I keep yer house warm!” her father cried again. “The least ye can do is birth me a worthy bairn — a boy! Ach, what do ye do but speak to me without respect? What do ye do but drink and whine? Maybe ye’ve been killing all my boys with yer drinking.”

The pounding had stopped now and all Mia could hear were the sobs of her mother. The little girl stood clinging to the door, unsure whether she should try and intervene or if it was safer to stay away. Her mother always warned her to protect herself first.

The decision was made for her as her father stormed out of the room past Mia and into his study. Fortunately, he had not noticed her in the darkness.

There was no telling what her father would do on nights like these. Conrad Steward was an impossible man, her mother had said, a brute. Sometimes he took his anger out on his daughter. Sometimes he said nothing at all. Mia didn’t want to find out what he would have in store for her tonight.

As soon as she heard his study door slam shut, she scrambled over to her mother’s chambers. She worried, just like in her dream, that her mother would be laying bloodied on the floor.

What she saw instead took her by surprise. Her mother was standing straight, a fiery look of determination on her face as she stuffed her belongings in a little cloth bag, her left eye swollen shut.

“Maither? Mam?”

“Mia… Oh, Mia, my little bairn… Mammy cannae stand it nae more,” her mother, Maeve, said through her sobs, stumbling as she pulled Mia into an embrace. Maeve smelled like ale and sick again, which made Mia’s stomach turn.

Mia despised it when her mother drowned her sorrows in drink, as it frustrated her father even more. She could feel her mother’s ribs as Maeve held her tightly. This woman, who she could barely recognize anymore, looked frail in the silvery moonlight. It swept across her gaunt cheeks, across the dark eye that Conrad had just given her.

She pulled away from Mia, giving her a peck on the forehead. Her round eyes bore into her daughter’s face like she was trying to memorize every inch of it. That was all Mia could remember before her mother climbed out the window without saying another word.

Mia was too scared to stop her. Perhaps if she hadn’t been, she would have pleaded with her mother to say something; she would have implored her mother not to leave her alone with her father. She knew what it looked like when someone was leaving for good, but she couldn’t quite believe it—her mother abandoned her.

The girl stood there, staring at the window, shaking and trying to decide whether to follow her out into the wilderness.

At first, Mia did not hear his footsteps in the hallway. Stuck in a trance, she let out a little sob. When she heard them at last, she looked for somewhere to hide.

He was coming. If he could no longer torment his wife, who would suffer his anger next?

The footsteps and curses grew louder. Mia stepped back tentatively. With each step, she hoped to free herself from the man who sought to destroy her and find sanctuary in the arms of the woman who had just left her at his mercy.

Mia shut her eyes, covering her face with her hands.

There was nowhere left to run.


Chapter One

Murray Castle, 1746

In the warped wooden mirror opposite her bed, Mia stared unflinchingly at herself. She shifted the sleeve of her nightgown off her shoulder, trying to imitate the seductive women she had studied in taverns. She needed all the help she could get.

Her predicament was made worse by the scars that marred her skin. One of the deepest was a gash on her knee that she had gotten when she fell from her horse as a child. She hoped the darkness would hide her imperfections from her husband, Bram, the Laird of Clan Murray, but there was no hiding that one.

Mia was not deterred. This had to be the night. She had been married to the Laird for almost a year, but still she was as virginal as the day she had stepped foot into the keep. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, hoping that her gently waved hair and long bare neck would be enough for him to desire her. The sheer night chemise would do the rest of the work.

Turning her head from side to side, hoping her scars were mostly hidden beneath her nightgown, she reached for her dressing gown and started to make her way out of her chambers. Trying to keep her back straight, she swung her hips as she had seen some of the noble wives do.

She sighed, feeling ridiculous. Perhaps she should have asked her maids for assistance. She had sent them away earlier that evening, confident that this night would be different from every other.

Mia stood in front of the door to her husband’s chambers — chambers that should have been theirs to share — and adjusted her posture. She gathered enough courage to knock on the door. Despite being the lady of the house, she wasn’t allowed access to his room.

Before she had a chance to change her mind and turn back, she rapped on the door, turned the doorknob and walked in.

“Who’s there?” Bram grunted in the dimly lit room.

Mia could hardly make out a thing. Suddenly, she heard a high-pitched shriek from where she presumed her husband’s bed to be. The occupants of the room — of the bed — had seen her before she could see them. Both of them.

“Why do ye bother me so, Mia?” her husband rasped, getting out of the bed where he had been laying, his dark hair falling into his eyes. She could smell the alcohol on the air between them, but her eyes were fixed on the woman in the bed. She recognized her as one of the maids who worked in the keep.

The maid that had so willingly warmed her matrimonial bed was now clutching her clothes to her chest and dashing out of the room. Bram, on the other hand, stood proudly bare before Mia, challenging her.

This was not the first time he had taken other women, she knew, but this was the first time she had caught him. The keep was pregnant with rumors of her husband’s affairs, but Mia had always ignored them. Of course, it was true. How else does a man service his loins when he refuses to touch his wife?

She looked away from him, staring at the door, but promptly snapped back to attention when Bram spoke again.

“For God’s sake, Mia… What are ye doing here? Ye didnae even give me a chance to finish, and I for sure will nae finish with ye,” he argued, not even stopping to catch his breath. “I have told ye over and over again that I need my privacy, but still ye come barging into my room, disturbing my moments o’ peace. I cannae even begin to find ye desirable with that sort o’ behavior. How can I want ye when I cannae stand ye?”

Mia realized she had been slouching, her shoulders heavy with disappointment. She felt her bravery retreat. It was clear that she would never be enough. For her husband. For her father. For anyone.

“Ye walk like a man. Ye have the scars of a man. Ye act like a man, and I cannae desire such a lady. Leave now, before ye do something we both regret.”

Mia stood there, unable to move. Her heart thundered so frantically that she worried it would leap out of her chest. She was humiliated but awestruck by the body that stood before her. Although he was much older than she was, her husband was still in his prime. His muscles were bulging beneath his skin; his jawline was defined and strong, his face unmarred by age. Mia didn’t love him. She never had, not in the way the poets spoke of love and burning desire, but she did believe she was failing as a wife if she could not make her husband desire her.

Further irritated by her refusal to move, Bram’s dark eyes bored into hers. “What did I say? Get out o’ my damned room, Mia! Remember what I told ye at our wedding? If nae for the good o’ my clan, I’d nae have married ye nor any other lass. Dinnae make me regret my kindness to them and to ye. Leave me be or I will throw ye out myself!”

Mia scowled to mask the disappointment she felt. All the promise of the night washed away at once. She walked out of her husband’s chambers as gracefully as she could, clenching her fists.

This was all her father’s fault. With no son to call his heir, he had spent her entire childhood treating her like she was a boy — teaching her how to hunt, how to ride. Even now, as a grown married woman, sparring was still her favorite pastime.

She knew giving up was not an option. She refused to live in a loveless marriage like her parents or be forced to escape from the window of her own home like her mother. She would win Bram over. Of that, she was sure. She just had to figure out how.

Mia kept thinking as she made her way down the stairs, when excited chatter interrupted her pitiful musing.

“The ball,” she heard, making out the voices. “Tis the largest, most beautiful celebration in all o’ the Highlands, and I cannae wait,” the first maid said excitedly.

The maids huddled together beneath the staircase she was descending but she couldn’t understand most of what was said since they spoke in a mix of Gaelic and English. It didn’t really matter. She didn’t care about balls anyway.

“The most handsome lairds are going to be there,” another maid replied. “If only one of them could take me to be his bride, I’d be the happiest lassie alive!”

The last maid, who had been quiet, finally broke her silence. “Well, there is a load of preparations to be performed with the Lady of this keep paying nae attention to such matters.” The maid sighed. “She would rather spend her time sparring in the fields,” she whispered.

“Och, dinnae bother about her,” said the first girl. “There are going to be many ladies in attendance too. Perhaps she will learn a thing or two about being a lady from them.”
The three girls giggled under the stairs, scuttling away before long. They had been right about one thing: Mia would much rather spend her time in the fields. She continued down the stairs and headed out of the keep.


“Aye, aye, lassies! Exactly like that,” Archie groaned, sandwiched between two women. In tandem, they worked their way between his muscled legs.

Archie looked between them, their eyes twinkling and their cheeks flushed. There was nothing quite like a Highland girl. They were the most desirable of the bunch.

To his dismay, his enjoyment was cut short by a loud knock on the door. The knocking didn’t stop until Archie heard his war chief, Lennox, speak up.

“Och, nae again, my laird!” Lennox said, opening the door without invitation. “Cannae ye wait just a while longer before ye indulge yourself in such pleasures?”

Archie rose from the bed, dismissing the two red-haired women with a wave of his hand. They sashayed out of the room, not bothering to cover themselves. Archie noticed how one of them — God above, he couldn’t remember her name — eyed Lennox as she walked out. He debated encouraging him to run after her—it was the least he could do for his best friend.

Archie could hear the pitter-patter of their naked feet against the floorboards as they left. Lennox settled by the door, almost knocking one of the shields from its rack. Archie had a penchant for battle memorabilia. The walls of his chamber were decorated with claymores and dirks. A wide armchair was perched in the corner of the room, with shelves of fortified wine and spirits stacked above it. Archie ambled over to it, fastening his britches.

“These wenches ye entertain do ye nae good,” Lennox said. “Ye need to find yerself a fair lady to settle down with.” Lennox fixed his gaze on Archibald’s left arm and let out a breath. “Ach, with that gash on yer arm, I dinnae ken how ye handle them anyway.”

Archie picked up his plaid and wrapped himself with it. He grabbed a bottle from the shelf and poured them both a glass of whiskey. He walked over to Lennox and patted him on the shoulder, handing him a tumbler.

“Ye worry too much, my friend,” Archie said. “They dinnae call me the Highland Wolf for naething, ye ken. I belong to the ladies and the sweet pleasures they give me,” he grinned.

Scoffing, Lennox chose to ignore him. Instead, he turned his attention to the rattling window behind the bed, rain and wind crashing against its panes.

“Be that as it may, Wolf, I have news,” Lennox started tentatively. His long hair glittered in the light from the fire. “Yer brother, Dallas, was seen near the lands by Balbaire, and—”

“I have nae brother,” Archie interrupted him fiercely. His smile vanished.

“Ach, Archie—”

“I want to hear naething of it, Lennox. Dallas can do as he pleases.”

“As ye wish, my laird” Lennox sighed, “but I implore ye to go easy with the lasses. We dinnae need wee bastards running amok, Archie.”

“We dinnae need miserable soldiers either. Ye ken we should nae have been so easily crushed at Culloden, Lennox. The Jacobites have to be stronger, mightier—nae to mention that I dare nae refuse myself any pleasure I desire, knowing full well I almost lost my life in that battle.”

“Have ye considered that, perhaps, a single woman would give ye just as much pleasure? A single lass like a wife?”

Archie laughed. It wasn’t as though he had never considered marriage. However, the idea didn’t appeal to him. “Nae, my friend. I would soon grow bored and weary of her, I ken it. I would rather have any beauty I please than be bound to one lass for the rest of my life.” Moving to lay back in bed, Archie continued. “Tell me something. Have ye received any news that will lift my spirits, or are ye here simply to hound me all day long?”

“Well, the invitation to the Murray annual ball arrived this morning. We should be leaving nae later than dawn on the morrow.”

“Och, now that I like to hear! A distraction is just what I need. Are the horses ready for the journey? There is nae reason to wait for dawn where lassies are concerned,” Archie quipped, crossing his arms behind his head.

Heaving another sigh, Lennox left the room to make the final preparations for their travel. And despite his friend’s protestation, the Laird was convinced he heard the man chuckle down the hall.


Swords clattered all around as Mia and Clyde sparred behind the castle. The sound of battle was enough to wash away her shame from the previous night. She planted her bare feet firmly in the grass as Clyde’s sparring sword came down on her shoulder.

“Got ya, lassie!” he exclaimed, filling the air with his carefree laughter. “Ye can pretend it is nae so, but ye are still a lady,” he added with the singsong voice that never failed to amuse her.

“Clyde. Och, Clyde… Ye ken for a fact that ye are going to be beaten by a woman for the umpteenth time one way or another. These fighting words will nae protect ye forever,” Mia mocked. Today would be like every other day. She would best her husband’s younger brother before sundown.

Clyde had been her only friend at the keep since her wedding a year ago. The man was different than his older brother, who stalked around the castle like a quiet tyrant. Clyde was genial, always doing something, his hazel eyes glittering with mischief. His good humor had nothing to do with his age. Mia was only two years older than him, but she looked twice as glum, and he was twice as tall.

“What is that look on yer face? Is my brother really that awful to ye?” Clyde asked, attempting to knock her sword out of her hands. “So awful that ye choose to come and spar with me? Something ye swore to me that ye would never do again, by the way. What was it ye said the day before last? ‘It is time I stopped acting like a lad.’”

Mia scoffed. Aside from Clyde, the whole clan thought that she and Bram were the perfect match—noble, beautiful and powerful. It couldn’t have been further from the truth, and at least Clyde was brave enough to say it.

“Och, well, what can I do? It is the only way I can chase my worries out of my stubborn mind, ye ken.” She pulled back, deflecting a slash of Clyde’s wooden sword. “Still, I blame nae one but my wretched father, nae even yer brother. He was nae the one that sold me like a cow. At least my father had the sense to arm me with a sword. And a bow. Ach, I bet that I am a better horse rider than ye too.”

“Then it is also yer father’s fault that ye are so bonnie,” her partner replied with a smirk.

“Yer brother certainly doesnae think so.” She sighed. “For the life o’ me, I cannae imagine how those noble ladies do it—sitting all day in their cottages or chambers, embroidering and gossiping. They always have an air o’ agreeance about them. I could nae stand it. Yet a part of me yearns to give it all away… to feel wanted and appreciated and nae to be stuck in a marriage without love.”

“Perhaps if ye truly loved someone it would make ye want to be a lady for him.”

Mia said nothing. Even to Clyde, she could not admit that she had been trying to be more ladylike, to fall in love and be loved in return. To no avail.

“My lady!” a maid cried suddenly. She ran down the hill at the bottom of which Clyde and Mia stood, clutching her bonnet.

As she got to them, looking white as a sheet, Mia feared the girl would faint.

“The guests,” the girl gulped, clutching her stomach, “they are arriving tomorrow. Word has arrived that they are just over the mountains near Ben Nevis. The rooms are nae ready yet, my lady!”

The maid looked over her shoulder, and Mia regarded her curiously. She recognized her before long as the girl she had caught with her husband.

Mia swallowed down her anger. Most of these women had lived and worked in the keep their entire lives. They were loyal to the Laird now that they were grown, and if the Laird called for him to share his bed they could hardly refuse. With the way the girl refused to look at her, Mia knew she remembered the evening too. However, the maid’s shame did not soothe Mia’s pride.

“Take me to the guest rooms,” Mia said as she handed Clyde her sword, waiting for the maid to lead the way. “Let me see how much work still has to be done.”


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