Chosen by a Highland Beast (Preview)

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MacLaren Castle, two weeks earlier

Dust rose in the air as Cathleen’s feet stomped. She had left the healer’s quarters in a rush, neglecting her work after she heard two servants talk about the troops training for war and making her way to the training grounds to demand explanations instead.

There couldn’t be a war. Such a decision would be madness.

When she made it there, heart lurching in her chest at the sight of the army training, she spotted her sister waving her arms wildly as she spoke to Fergus, the clan’s Captain. The closer she got to them, the clearer Bonnie’s voice became as she shouted at Fergus, her brown eyes wild with rage, strands of chestnut hair falling off the careful updo she was sporting and floating around her head like a mane.

“If ye ken what is best fer ye, ye will explain this right the now, Fergus,” Bonnie said, jabbing a finger in his wide chest. The man looked down at her, unimpressed by her efforts, though Cathleen never once saw him try to argue. When her sister was like this, no one could oppose her. “What is the meanin’ o’ this? Why are they trainin’?”

Fergus let out a weary sigh, a hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Ye should speak with the laird,” he said. “I’m sure he will explain everythin’. The orders came from him.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes at the mention of the laird, as she always did. Both she and Cathleen were opposed to Laird MacLaren, who had taken the lairdship only a year prior, after the death of their parents. Faolan was far from the laird their clan deserved, the sisters knew. But what could they do? Their parents hadn’t produced an heir and neither of them was married yet, so their cousin had taken over. They had no choice but to put up with Faolan until one of them wedded as according to their father’s will.

“So ye’ve said.” Bonnie took another step forward, closing the distance between her and Fergus, though he was quick to take a step back. For such a large man, he certainly seemed disturbed by Bonnie’s sudden proximity. “But Laird MacLaren,” she said, all but spitting out the name in contempt, “doesnae wish tae talk tae me or me sister. He doesnae talk tae us about such things.”

“Perhaps because it isnae yer place,” said Fergus.

It was immediately apparent to everyone around him that it was the wrong thing to say. Everyone came to a halt, save for Bonnie, who seemed prepared to throw herself into a fight against him simply to get rid of her rage.

Hurriedly, Cathleen stepped between them. This, too, was madness. Nothing good could come out of this argument, and no one else was going to put a stop to it.

“Bonnie, let us speak with the laird,” she said calmly, trying to block her view of Fergus. It did little to help, not only because Cathleen’s body was hardly enough to cover half of him, but also because Bonnie was like a dog with a bone, refusing to let go of this. “Surely, if we ask him, he will tell us.”

For a few moments, it seemed as though Bonnie would demand to have Fergus’ head, but in the end she relented. With one last disgusted look at the man, she turned around and stalked away. Cathleen following close behind.

“If I hear one more person callin’ that man the laird…” said Bonnie, her voice trailing off with a furious growl. “I’ve had enough. He doesnae deserve the title. He has done naething but bring misfortune tae this clan.”

Cathleen could hardly disagree. Ever since Faolan had taken on the role of laird, he had been cruel and thirsty for power, doing anything he could to gain the council’s approval in the hopes that he would remain the laird of the clan even if one of the sisters married. It wouldn’t be easy to get him to give up the position, Cathleen knew, even if his role as laird was supposed to be only temporary.

As Cathleen followed Bonnie, she soon realized they were walking to the laird’s study. Bonnie didn’t even bother knocking on the door before she shoved it open, nostrils flaring at the sight of Faolan sitting at their father’s desk.

Cathleen and Bonnie had spent countless hours in that study, surrounded by their father’s books, the old furniture passed down from one generation to the next, the heavy tapestries that hung from the walls. As children, they would sit by the fire as their father worked, content to spend the time by his side. Sometimes he would read to them, when he had the time. Other times, their mother would join them and the four of them would play games for hours.

It was odd, seeing Faolan where their father should be sitting. Even a year after his death, he was a palpable presence in the room, living on through their memories and all the items that had once belonged to him.

“Have ye forgotten how tae knock?” Faolan asked, raising an eyebrow at the two of them as they entered the room. Unlike their father, who had been a lithe, regal man, Faolan seemed to take up a big part of the desk, towering over everything around him. He looked like a man bred for war. “Or have ye forgotten this is me study?”

Next to Faolan stood Ronald, his most trusted advisor, and it was clear to Cathleen that they had interrupted a very serious conversation between them. On the desk laid several papers scattered about, and though Cathleen couldn’t read them from such a distance, she didn’t even need to look at them to know they were battle plans.

“What is the meanin’ o’ this?” Bonnie demanded. “Fergus willnae tell me why the army is trainin’ like they’re about tae go tae war. Is this what ye’re plannin’?”

Faolan only stared at the two of them in silence for several moments. Cathleen glanced between him and her sister, trying to gauge who would give in first. Knowing her sister, she wasn’t going to back down until she had the explanations she wanted.

“Bonnie, if ye would be so kind as tae leave us fer now,” said Faolan with the kind of politeness that everyone around him knew was nothing but a facade. “I would like tae speak tae Cathleen alone.”

“That doesnae answer me questions,” said Bonnie. “An’ anythin’ ye have tae say tae me sister, ye can say tae me, as well. I’m nae leavin’.”

“I will explain everythin’ tae ye in due time,” Faolan insisted. “Leave us now.”

Bonnie’s anger flared at the dismissive tone of Faolan’s words. She took a step forward, but Cathleen placed a gentle hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“It’s alright, Bonnie,” she assured her. “I will find ye soon.”

This was a way for Cathleen to try and figure out what was going on. Perhaps without Bonnie there, Faolan would be lulled into a false sense of security and he would reveal his plan to her. It was Bonnie that everyone feared in that castle, Bonnie who could make men crumble with nothing but her words and a scathing look. Cathleen wasn’t as feared—or as spirited as her older sister.

Perhaps it had something to do with her being the younger one. Bonnie seemed to have a fire burning inside her that Cathleen hadn’t yet managed to ignite, but her docile character also had its perks.

Hesitantly, Bonnie dragged her gaze away from Faolan, but she still didn’t move. “Are ye certain?” she asked Cathleen.

Nodding, Cathleen, steered her to the door. “I’ll be fine. An’ I will speak with ye later,” she said quietly. They exchanged one final look of solidarity before Bonnie left and Cathleen closed the door, turning to look at her cousin.

Every time their gazes met, she couldn’t help the revulsion that welled up inside her. She knew for certain that if he ever had the chance, he would do anything in his power to get rid of her, Bonnie, and anyone else who stood in his way.

“Sit,” Faolan said, gesturing at the empty chair across from him. Cathleen perched herself on the edge of the chair, her gaze falling on Ronald.

“I thought ye wished tae speak tae me alone,” Cathleen reminded him. “Shouldnae Ronald also leave?”

“He can stay,” said Faolan. “He already kens what I wish tae tell ye.”

“But me sister cannae ken?”

“She will,” said Faolan. “Like I said, in due time.”

Cathleen wasn’t going to get a better answer than that, she knew. With a sigh, she opened her arms wide as if to ask Faolan to continue. The sooner he had told her everything he had to say, the sooner she could go to Bonnie and report everything to her.

“We have a plan tae attack Clan Drummond,” said Faolan. The attack itself wasn’t a surprise to Cathleen, but the target was. Why would Faolan want to attack a clan as powerful as the Drummonds?

“The Drummond Clan?” she asked, eyes widening. “But they have men. They have support.”

“Aye, that is true,” said Faolan. “They have the support o’ the Murrays an’ the Hays. An’ that is precisely why they will make a good target.”

It didn’t take long for Cathleen to connect things in her head. Faolan wanted to get as many lands and as much power as he could, as quickly as he could. He would need it to sway the council, to show them he would be the best choice for the position of the laird even if Cathleen and Bonnie married.

It would be a very big reward for him if he managed to achieve his goal, but the plan was too risky. Cathleen didn’t think it was wise, waging wars against not one, but three powerful clans, all of them connected by the unbreakable bonds of marriage. They were not simply allies; they were a family. If Faolan attacked one of them, the other two would surely come to the rescue.

“This is madness,” Cathleen said, alarmed by the sudden reveal of his plans. “Why would ye risk so many o’ our men? Why would ye risk our clan? If ye fail, there will nae longer be a MacLaren Clan, dae ye nae see that? They will kill us all. An’ it’s more likely ye will lose than win.”

“If we attack,” Ronald said. “But if the plan we have succeeds, then there is a good chance we will win.”

“The plan?” asked Cathleen. She already didn’t like the way that sounded, even if neither Faolan nor Ronald had said anything about it yet. “What is this great plan, then?”

“Well… I will need yer help fer it,” said Faolan, leaning closer over his desk. “I need ye tae find a way tae enter Castle Drummond. Perhaps ye could tell them ye are a healer. Once ye’re there, ye will gather all the information ye can an’ then ye will help me capture Laird Drummond’s wife. Once we have her, we will have leverage. They will have nae choice but tae engage.”

Cathleen stared at Faolan, her mouth hanging open in shock. She couldn’t believe her own ears. Had her cousin truly suggested that she should help him hurt an innocent woman? How could she do that and maintain a clear conscience?

How could she do that at all? She wasn’t trained for any of this. She could hardly lie.

“Ye must be mad if ye think I will dae somethin’ like that fer ye,” she spat, gaze hardening as she looked at him. “I willnae be part o’ yer plans, nor will I support them. In fact, I will tell the council precisely what I think about yer plans.”

Surely, the council would understand just how dangerous and senseless it was to lead such an attack on three powerful clans. They weren’t blinded by Faolan. In the time he had been the laird of the clan, he had achieved nothing of note, nothing that set him apart from his predecessors. The only thing that made him different was the cruelty that accompanied his ambition, and no one in the clan save for his closest people valued that.

“Very well,” said Faolan. “I cannae force ye tae dae this if ye dinnae wish tae.”

Cathleen frowned. It couldn’t be so easy to convince him, she thought—it never was. She had expected him to insist, to try to sway her, but he did none of those things. He must have been hiding something from her. It couldn’t be explained in a different way.

“O’ course,” he continued, leaning back in his seat with a sickening smile, “if ye dinnae agree, I will have nae choice but tae wed Bonnie. I, personally, am in nay rush to marry but if it must be, then I shall. An’ then the clan will be mine regardless.”

A chill ran down Cathleen’s spine, as though she had been doused with a bucket of cold water. She should have expected something like this from Faolan. He would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, even if it meant condemning Bonnie to a life by his side as his wife.

Cathleen couldn’t allow that. She had to do anything she could to save her sister from such a fate, even if it meant putting her life in danger by going to Castle Drummond.

Even if it meant putting another woman’s life in danger.

I have nae choice. Perhaps I can find a way out o’ this but I must agree tae his plans at least for now.

Cathleen’s lips curled into a snarl, fingers digging into the armrests of the chair where she sat. Rage coursed like venom through her veins, and she didn’t yet trust herself to speak without her voice wavering.

“So?” asked Faolan. “What will ye choose? Yer sister or a lassie ye have never even met?”

“I’ll dae it,” said Cathleen, her voice barely a whisper.

“I thought ye might choose that,” said Faolan with a pleased smile. He had Cathleen right where he wanted her. She was unable to say no. She was unable to do anything but what he asked of her as long as he threatened to force her sister into an unwanted marriage.

Bonnie would suffer by his side, that much was certain. She would wither and slowly disappear, leaving nothing but a shell of her former self behind.

Cathleen couldn’t allow that.

“But I will take Bonnie with me,” she said, glaring at Faolan and Ronald. “I dinnae trust ye tae be here alone with her. She will come with me.”

Faolan only gave a small, uninterested shrug. “I dinnae care what ye dae, as long as ye bring me the results I want. If ye wish tae take her with ye, then so be it. If anythin’, it will finally be quiet here. But dinnae do anythin’ stupid just because I’m nae there tae watch. I will find out.”

Cathleen had nothing to say to Faolan. He had finally revealed everything about himself. He had shown Cathleen just how vile a man he was, and she didn’t want to spend another moment near him.

Silently, she stood and left the room, banging the door shut behind her. Her stomach turned itself into knots at the thought of what she would have to do, but she swallowed down the bile that rose up her throat. She had to be strong now.

If not for herself, then for Bonnie.

Chapter One

Present Day, near Drummond Castle

The town was busy, as usual, the market filled with people who perused the stalls. Cathleen and Bonnie had been there for a few days already, formulating their plan and waiting for the right moment to attack, and the day had finally come.

Cathleen both dreaded it and wanted to finish her task as soon as possible. The sooner she was done with all this, the sooner she could stop worrying about the consequences—not only the ones she would have to face, but also the ones others would face. Guilt flooded her every waking moment at the thought that she would do something so cruel to an innocent person. It didn’t help that in the days they had spent in the town, everyone around them had raved about Laird Drummond, praising him not only as a good laird, but also as a man.

Everyone loved their leader, it seemed. They had nothing bad to say about him and that only served to worsen Cathleen’s guilt. Had he been as cruel as Faolan, then perhaps it would have been easier to convince herself that what she was doing was for the best. As it was, the thought of hurting those people she didn’t even know was enough to make her crumble every night in secret, when Bonnie was asleep.

She had no choice but to go through with the plan. She knew that, and yet every day she was closer to telling Bonnie the whole truth and simply taking her out of that town, somewhere where the two of them could be together, away from Faolan and his threats.

But how could she leave her people behind? How could she leave the clan in Faolan’s hands when she knew what he planned to do?

Such a war as Faolan wanted to wage would spell the end of her people.

Bonnie’s hands trembled where they were wrapped around the bow tightly, as though loosening her grip for even a moment would mean that she would lose her courage to do this. Cathleen wrapped her own hands over them, giving her a reassuring squeeze and a weak smile, though she was certain they did little to calm her sister. Behind the cover of the tall bushes near the market, they were hidden from any prying eyes, but Cathleen kept her voice in a low whisper to be safe.

“Ye can dae this,” Cathleen said. “Everythin’ will be fine.”

“What if I injure him too much?” Bonnie asked, horrified at the mere prospect of causing too much damage. “What if… what if I kill him? What if my aim is bad?”

“Yer aim has never been bad,” Cathleen reminded her. Bonnie was the best archer in their clan. She had always been talented with a bow and arrow, her aim landing true ever since she was a child. There was no way she would miss now.

Unless her hands keep tremblin’ like this.

Cathleen had to keep her sister calm. Anything else could turn into a disaster for them and for Laird Drummond.

“Ye have practiced fer this,” she said. “Ye only have tae graze his arm or his leg. Trust yerself, Bonnie. If there is anyone who can dae this, it’s ye.”

Bonnie nodded, though her thoughts seemed to be far away, her gaze distant. Cathleen’s grip on her hands tightened, bringing her to the present, and when Bonnie’s eyes met hers once more, they were finally clear.

“Ye can dae this,” she insisted, as she pressed a kiss to her cheek and let go. “Focus on the man with the silver mask.”

Giving another nod, Bonnie assumed her position, preparing to string an arrow. If the information they had received was correct, then Laird Drummond would soon come to the town. He visited once every month, they had found out, to ensure the townspeople were content and had everything they needed, which only strengthened his popularity amongst his clan.

It had been easy to learn things about the man. The townsfolk was eager to talk about him, singing his praises, and no one had suspected two young women like Cathleen and Bonnie. Cathleen had to admit that Faolan’s plan to send her had been clever—had he sent a scout, perhaps it would have been far more difficult to get what he wanted.

Glancing over her shoulder at her sister one last time, Cathleen snuck out of the bushes and mingled with the crowd that milled about the market. She hadn’t dared to tell Bonnie the whole truth. She knew from the moment Faolan gave her the two options that if Bonnie found out, she would choose to marry him simply so that she could put an end to the war before it could even begin, but Cathleen couldn’t allow that. She couldn’t let her sister sacrifice herself like that.

Instead, Cathleen had said that Faolan had threatened to force a wedding upon her. Naturally, the moment Bonnie had heard that, she had sworn to keep Cathleen from such a terrible fate, no matter what it would take.

And all of that had brought them here now, to this town, the two of them waiting for Laird Drummond to show up so they could injure him, in the hopes that after Cathleen used her skills as a healer to help him, she could convince him to allow her to work at the castle as a healer. It was not only risky, but there was also no guarantee that it would work. Cathleen had heard the locals talk about the healer of Drummond Castle and how she was currently too far with child to work, but that didn’t mean the laird would give the position to her so easily.

It didn’t take long for a man to capture Cathleen’s attention. She had no doubts he was Laird Drummond, as he was sporting his usual silver mask, which hid half of his face. Some said he was terribly disfigured while others spun tall tales about him, claiming that he didn’t want anyone to know what he truly looked like or that he had other men who looked like him doing his bidding. Cathleen paid little attention to those stories, though. Whatever it was, it didn’t change her objective.

As soon as the laird showed up, people flocked to him like moths to a flame, attracted by his warm and kind nature. Not for the first time ever since they had put this plan in motion, a wave of nausea washed over Cathleen at the thought that she was going to put such kind people in danger. It was true that the bulk of the blame lay with Faolan, but that didn’t absolve her or Bonnie of responsibility.

Casually, Cathleen inched closer, pretending to browse the goods the sellers had on display. She had to be near when Bonnie’s arrow hit the man, so she could be the first to offer her assistance, in case there was someone else there who was knowledgeable on the craft of healing.

She was gazing absently at a piece of lace when screams erupted around her. When she looked over her shoulder and saw the panicked eyes of the crowd, she knew Bonnie had finished her task. Quickly, she banished the smile that threatened to spread over her lips and rushed to the laird’s aid, pushing through the crowd.

Chapter Two

It was an unusually warm day in the town even for summer, the sun shining brightly over the town. Macauley cursed under his breath with every drop of sweat that coated his brow as he and Kian navigated the streets, their horses left at the local inn at Kian’s insistence.

He liked to walk, he said.

Well, he can walk. I like tae ride.

He could hardly bring his horse in the middle of the market on such a busy day, of course, since the stalls and the crowds took up so much space. Though Macauley usually enjoyed visiting the town with Kian and talking to the locals, this day seemed to have started on a very wrong note for him.

“After this, I’m goin’ tae the inn an’ I’m drinkin’ a nice cup o’ ale,” he told Kian as he wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Next to him, his friend was perfectly put-together, not a strand of hair out of place.

Perhaps it comes with bein’ the laird. He always magically looks perfect.

Macauley couldn’t help but resent him for it, just a little.

“An’ I will join ye,” said Kian, giving him a pat on the back. As they walked, he stopped a few times to talk to the locals, exchanging pleasantries and listening to their concerns while Macauley stood by his side, mentally noting any issues they would have to resolve at a later time.

It was his favorite part of the job. Being Laird Drummond’s advisor came with many perks, but what he loved most was that he could help people. He could listen to them, he could solve their problems, he could take care of his clan.

He could do what he did best.

“Macauley,” Kian said suddenly, pulling him out of his thoughts. He tilted his head to the side with an odd rise of his eyebrows, and Macauley followed the direction he was pointing at to see a young woman smiling at him.

Quickly, he averted his gaze.

“Is she nae tae yer tastes?” Kian asked, laughing at his reaction.

“She’s bonnie,” said Macauley with a small shrug.

“But nae bonnie enough?”

“She’s very bonnie, Kian.”

“I dinnae understand,” Kian said as the two of them resumed their walk through the market. “There are so many lasses who adore ye. They would dae anythin’ fer ye an’ ye dinnae desire any o’ them. How can that be?”

“They are all too proper,” Macauley said simply. It was the truth. It wouldn’t feel right to deceive them, to make them think that he was interested in something more than a night with them. He didn’t have it in him to lie to a woman like that just so that he could bed her. “Ye ken I have nae desire tae wed. I have nae need fer heirs, so I’m nae obligated tae find a wife. An’ all these lasses want marriage.”

“Ye’ll find the right one, eventually,” Kian insisted, like he had many times, the last time no more than a couple of weeks before. However, Macauley very much doubted that. He had never had any interest in marriage and he didn’t think that was ever going to change.

“If ye say so, me laird,” he said, his tone dripping with sarcasm at the title. “Well, I will go tae the healer’s cottage an’ speak with her if ye wish tae speak tae the townsfolk. I will see if she kens anyone else who can take her place while she recovers.”

“Very well,” said Kian. “Shall we meet at the inn once we are finished here?”

Macauley didn’t have the chance to respond before he heard the tell-tale swish of a flying arrow. Before he could think better about what he was doing, he jumped in front of Kian, shielding him from it, his instincts taking over.

Pain blossomed over his arm where the arrow hit. He didn’t need to look down to know it had lodged itself in his arm. Only a few inches to the side and he would have been a dead man.

“Macauley!” Kian’s voice rang through the market as he grabbed him, while in turn, Macauley grabbed his arm. Blood soaked his tunic, dripping unbridled down his arm, and soon the earth seemed to move under his feet.

It was the shock and the pain, he told himself. It was only because it had been so sudden. He couldn’t have possibly lost so much blood already that he was feeling the effects of it.

The crowd gathered closer as more and more people realized what had happened, closing in on him and Kian. But that was the opposite of what Macauley needed in that moment. That arrow had come from somewhere and he needed to figure out who had shot it.

“Stay back!” he called, though the townsfolk hardly heard him over the turmoil. Their voices and their rushing footsteps drowned out his command—one they wouldn’t follow, since they weren’t his men. They were only people, confused and worried and scared there was an enemy among them. “Kian, ye must hide. This wasnae meant fer me. It was meant fer ye.”

“There is nae one there,” Kian said, though he couldn’t possibly know that. There were many places one could use to hide in the town, and for all either of them knew, their attacker could still be there, lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike once more.

Perhaps the next time, they wouldn’t miss.

“Kian, listen tae me,” Macauley said urgently. Even as the pain worsened now that the initial shock had subsided, his mind was getting clearer, as well. He could think logically once more. He could do his job. “It’s dangerous here. We must leave.”

“We cannae leave if we dinnae find who did this,” Kian insisted.

“That is a task fer another day.”

Macauley’s main objective now was to get Kian somewhere safe, somewhere away from arrows and swords and people who wished to hurt him. Everything else could wait. Surely, whoever had shot the arrow had been aiming for Kian only. They had no reason to kill any of the townspeople.

As he regained his strength, Macauley began to tug Kian away, but Kian was too stubborn to move. Then, before he could take a single step, the crowd parted as a young woman pushed her way through, shouting.

“I am a healer!” she said. “Let me through!”

“Well… isnae that lucky?” Kian asked, gripping Macauley’s shoulders tightly as though he still feared he would collapse from the injury. It was silly, Macauley thought. Kian had seen him in battle and he hadn’t been as concerned, but perhaps the abruptness of it all had gotten to him, too.

Macauley gazed at the woman, at her long, brown hair, the blue eyes that shone under the sunlight. Perhaps it was the blood loss, but in that moment, he couldn’t help but think that she looked like an angel.

“Aye,” he said. “Very lucky.”

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

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

  • A captivating start to a page turning adventure! I’m excited to see how the two sisters’ plan will come to fruition! Let’s hear it for the boys!

  • Enchanting start. Hopefully love will come into play and the truth will be told. Macauley’s heart will be stolen

  • I love trying to figure out what is going to happen, which way the plot is headed. The book has piqued my interest. I am looking forward to finding out when the rest of the book is released.

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