Her enemy highlander
Publication: 1 September 2015 by Harlequin Historical
In the wilds of Scotland...
Impulsive Mairead Buchanan’s only goal is to track down the man responsible for her brother’s death. Until a shameful encounter with Caird of enemy clan Colquhoun proves a distraction she can’t ignore...
Nothing could prepare Mairead for the path she’s thrown onto when the secrets of a jeweled dagger are revealed and she finds herself kidnapped by this sexy highlander! With Mairead’s recklessness a perfect foil to Caird’s cool command, can these two enemies set their clans’ differences aside and surrender to the desire that rages between them?
Mairead Buchanan tried to calm her heart and failed. She didn’t even know why she tried. She knew it wasn’t possible. It had been pounding like this for over a fortnight and now it was only worse. Inside her thumping heart, grief clawed sharp.
But she didn’t have time for grief, didn’t have time to be reasonable, or to think. She was about to break; she just needed to do.
This nightmare had to end. And here, tonight, where she stood observing the shadows of a disreputable inn and freezing in the night’s damp cold, it would.
The candles on the inn’s ground floor were finally extinguished. The windows were black; the main shutters were closed. Not even a woman laughing in the distance marred the soft rustling of the night breeze. It was late; it was time.
Yet even now she fought what she had to do. Even now, she wanted to shake herself, to run in circles like a madwoman trying to escape what she had seen, what she had done. What she could not ever repair. Her brother, Ailbert, collapsing to the ground. His eyes going vacant, losing their sight. She clenched her eyes shut. Grief clawed. She clawed back.
It wouldn’t do to think of Ailbert now. Her anger or her pain. She must still her heart and retrieve what was stolen from him. It was the only way to save her family from Ailbert’s recklessness. If she didn’t retrieve the priceless dagger, the laird would certainly punish her family.
Scotland was being ravaged by war and conflict. Her mother and sisters would never survive the humiliation or the certain banishment from the clan. Without the clan, there was nothing to protect them from the English. They had nowhere else to go. No other family to turn to.
For her family’s sake, she followed Ailbert’s murderer to the inn. The man had actually paid for a room. Had probably eaten his fill and was now sleeping soundly. Ordinary actions her brother would never do again. Fury swamped Mairead’s grief and she welcomed it. Grief and desperation consumed her, but only anger would get her through this night.
Looking over her shoulder and into the gloom of the evening, she took a big breath. There was no one behind her and she had had enough of waiting.
Silencing her breath, she opened the door and let herself in. It was darker than she imagined; the shadows blanketed furniture and walls. It was unnaturally quiet and she concentrated on the sounds she could hear. The hammering of her heart, the air as it left her body, the creak of the boards as the night wind buffeted the old building.
Swiftly and nimbly, she weaved through the benches and trestles on her way to the stairs. She wasn’t certain which room the murderer occupied, but she’d give herself no more than an hour to search the rooms for the stolen dagger. Any more time and travellers would be likely to stir.
She had to have—no, needed that dagger. She’d lie and steal if she had to. She’d even go into strangers’ rooms and risk her life. The dagger’s large handle was made of finely decorated polished silver and was inset with two rubies. If she could sell it, like Ailbert had intended, the debt he’d incurred could be repaid. Everything would not be lost by his reckless gambling and then, only then, could she grieve.
Walking down the small hallway, she stopped at the first door and eased the heavy iron latch open, only to find the room empty. Gently closing the door, she peered over her shoulder. She was alone.
Mairead crept to the next room and winced as the door clicked loudly. A narrow window on the opposite wall provided the light needed to illuminate an occupied bed.
From the size and shape of the lump, it looked to be a man. Her brother’s murderer was large and this man looked large, but she couldn’t tell whether the bed linens gave him the breadth or if it was the man himself.
Reminding herself she needed the bed occupied, she released her breath and entered the room. Clothes were strewn over a stool at the foot of the bed. A pair of boots sat nearby. Perhaps the dagger was here. Grateful that the floorboards did not squeak, she knelt on the floor.
The dim embers in the fireplace provided little light, but the unshuttered window gave plenty. His clothing consisted of a cloak, braies, dark leggings, a whitish tunic, boots and a pouch.
The man in the bed was naked.
The bed creaked as the man shifted and gave out a heavy breath. Mairead tensed, ready to run, until he stilled.
Her heart wasn’t so accommodating and continued to hammer in her chest. Trying to steady her nerves, she continued her search, but her fingers trembled as she felt along his boots. There was no dagger placed deep in the feet. Careful of the attached belt, she pulled the pouch off the stool and on to her lap. A slight jangle of coins made her jump, but the man remained still. The bed linens continued to rise and fall with each steady breath.
Not bothering to open the pouch, she felt along the fine leather. No dagger. She felt the tunic, the braies and the thin leather leggings. Nothing. That left the cloak.
Gathering it in both hands, she was instantly aware of the fine soft wool. Never having felt such a cloth before she reveled in its feel as she pulled on the immense amount of fabric. The stool upended, and she made a grab for it. Too late. It fell with a dull thud to the floor. The man’s deep breathing stopped abruptly.
His rough voice commanded the little room. She didn’t answer. Maybe it was too dark for him to see. Maybe if she didn’t make a noise he’d go back to sleep.
The man rose in a half incline. Though she willed her body to remain still, slight tremors began in her legs and arms. If possible, her breathing grew louder.
The bed linens did not make him look large. He was large. His chest was bare of any ornament. She could not see the texture of his skin, but could see the ripples and curves of deeply embedded muscles coursing from his wide shoulders down his arms. His long loose hair gave his dark face a wild and untamed look. The rest of him was partially concealed by the bed linens, but not the glint of steel he held in his hand. This was a man who slept with weapons.
‘If you...think I cannot see you, you forget you sit within the light of the window.’
This was not the murderer. His voice was too calmly masculine, too reverberating, too...slurred. He was drunk!
Relief skittered through her. Thinking only of slow responses from a drunken man, she leapt for the door.
Her eyes did not register the blade flying past her arm. But she heard the sharp slice it made in the oak door, mere inches from her outstretched hand.
Mairead’s hand froze along with the rest of her body. But her eyes blinked rapidly as she tried to focus and comprehend.
Had he thrown a dagger towards her? She peered closer. It was only a small boot blade, and not the dagger she wanted.
What kind of man slept with a small blade and a sword in his bed? Her hand could have been cut, or worse, sliced in two!
She whirled around. ‘How could you throw a dagger at me?’
‘You’re a woman?’
‘Ach, of course I’m a woman. Even in this dim light you must see I’m wearing a gown!’
He made a noise, somewhere between a huff and a groan, as he shoved the linens away and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
He was not just a large man, he was huge. He carried his sword loosely at his side. She didn’t care about his sword. She cared about his nakedness walking towards her.
‘Who are you?’ he demanded.
The dim light wasn’t going to hide him much longer. She could not only see the size and shape of him, but also—
He was magnificent. Just stunning. It was as if he reinterpreted everything she’d ever known about the opposite sex. There wasn’t a Buchanan man built like him. She didn’t even know men were made like this.
She couldn’t tell the colour of his hair or eyes, but the light did not hide the hard slant of sharp cheekbones, the bold line of a straight nose. And lips beautifully curved, shaped full underneath.
Her eyes didn’t want to blink. Her chest felt light and constricted at the same time. Her breath came in short gasps. Was she going to actually giggle?
He walked nearer. He was naked. Utterly naked.
Revealed to her were the defined curves of powerful shoulders and arms, the very masculine breadth of his chest, the fluid movement of muscles tapering slightly to a rippled stomach.
She should have turned away, but she couldn’t. Maybe it was the darkness making her bold. Maybe it was her impulsiveness, a trait her mother lamented, stopping any maidenly blushing. Or maybe she looked because she couldn’t help herself. Aye, that was it.
Her eyes dropped lower.
Her mouth became dry, her lips parched. Fearing her mouth hung open, she licked her lips, only to feel the moisture evaporate like all the thoughts in her head. Her legs suddenly felt like tall reeds of grass swaying in the wind. Try as she might, she could not lock her knees.
He growled, low, almost a purr except for the fact it was so masculine. So predatory. She didn’t know how to interpret the sound and couldn’t seem to look to his eyes for any help.
“Do you like what you see?’ He set the sword against the bed. Her eyes thankfully followed the movement. But averting her eyes did not give her balance and she looked back up.
“I like what I see.’ His eyes were too intense, too penetrating and held her immobile. ‘I like what I see very much.’