the highland laird's bride
Publication: June 2016 by Harlequin Historical
At the gates of a Scottish keep...
Lioslath of Clan Fergusson has defended her clan and her orphaned siblings against countless enemies. So when Laird Colquhoun, the man responsible for the death of her father, arrives at the gates of her crumbling keep, she’ll fight him all the way!
It’s soon clear Bram’s famed tactics of seduction and negotiation won’t work on this guarded, beautiful woman. But when the sparks between them turn to passion, and they’re forced to wed, Bram must do whatever it takes to win over his new bride…
'Emotional,romantic, all of the adjectives that a reader wants to see withina romance novel.' -- Romancing the Book
Scotland — 1296
‘You were expecting me.’
Lioslath of Clan Fergusson stopped pacing the darkness of her bedroom and adjusted the knife in her hand. From years of training, she knew simply on the utterance of his four words where Bram, Laird Colquhoun, stood in the room, and the precise location of his beating heart.
She knew it, even though her back was to him and she’d been caught pacing. Defenceless. Or so he thought.
The laird was right; she had been expecting him. Expecting him as one views a storm on the horizon. Ever since he and his clansmen, like black clouds, crested a nearby hill. Since he alerted her young brothers, who raced to the keep, giving them precious moments to lock the gates. All the while the storm of Laird Colquhoun and his clansmen gathered strength and lined up outside the keep with arrows and swords like lightning about to strike.
But they hadn’t struck. And it had been almost a month. Which meant weeks of her climbing the haphazardly rebuilt platform to look over the gates; weeks of hearing the Colquhoun men below her even before she climbed the rickety steps.
It had been almost a month, and still they didn’t strike. Although she barred the gates, though the villagers shunned him, Laird Colquhoun hadn’t struck like the harshest of Scottish storms. Rather, he and his clansmen enclosed the keep. Surrounded, she felt choked by his stormy presence, suffocated by the battering wait.
But this morning, she knew the wait was over when she spied the carefully placed food at the outside entrance of the secret passage. Her captor had discovered her tunnel. She knew, despite the fact she locked the gates, the storm would get inside.
When he hadn’t come during the day, Lioslath expected Bram of Clan Colquhoun this night. She was no fool.
But she hadn’t been expecting his voice. Deep, melodious, a tenor that sent an immediate awareness skittering up the backs of her legs and wrapping warmth around her centre.
So she didn’t immediately turn to see him, even though a man was in her bedroom. Forbidden and unwanted. She didn’t pretend maidenly outrage as she had carefully planned, to provide a necessary distraction and give her an advantage before her attack.
It was his voice. It was...unexpected.
It didn’t fit here, in the dark, in the intimacy of her bedroom. It didn’t fit with what she’d seen of him so far.
Arrogant, proud, superior, Bram rode through her broken village to her weather-worn gates thinking himself a welcome benefactor with his carts of overstocked gifts. Or worse, as laird of the keep bestowing treasures to his people.
Since Laird Colquhoun began the siege, he’d been an abrasive force, from his vibrant red hair to the length of his strides as he walked amongst his men. His voice booming orders; his demands to open the gates. His constant laughter. Everything about him she instinctively rejected.
But not now.
Now his voice reverberated with some power, some seductive tone she’d never heard before. She felt his voice. And it shouldn’t have felt like this. Not to her. She calmed her wavering heart.
Never to her.
Allowing the cool night air into her lungs, she turned and immediately wished she stood elsewhere.
The full moon cast light through the window and holes in the roof, but his back was to the light and Bram remained in darkness.
She knew the darkness would give his voice an advantage. She adjusted the knife, careful to keep it close and ready. Her plan might have changed, but not her intent. Bram of Clan Colquhoun was expected, but he was not wanted. He had arrived too late for that.
‘Get out,’ she said, without menace. Dog hid in a corner. She needed not to alert him to her tumultuous feelings; she needed to remain calm and keep to their routine. For years they’d hunted together. Dog knew what the knife in her hand meant: for him to lie in wait for her signal—and surprise their prey. ‘Get out of my room and away from the keep. Weren’t the closed gates and the hurtled dung enough deterrent? Leave, Laird Colquhoun. You never should have come.’
* * *
Bram could only stare.
Weeks of being barred entrance to the keep of Clan Fergusson, of wasting time while determining the layout of the keep and the village. Of glimpsing the woman who, without schedule, would appear at the top of the gates. Visible, but never near enough to truly see her.
But now, as shafts of moonlight illuminated her form, he did see her. It was as if the night created another star. One brighter than those poised in the sky above this tiny room.
He glanced around. A single bed, a small table at the opposite wall. Something large, like a trunk, in the dark corner nearest her. A simple room and too meagre for her beauty, but at least they were alone.
‘You were expecting me,’ Bram repeated, now realising the meaning of finding this woman fully dressed and pacing. ‘You received my gift this morning. You observed us today. You knew I was coming.’
‘The deer and vegetables by the entrance,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know if you would take them.’
She frowned, a darkness marring her eyes.
He knew she’d been stealing their food for the past week. Until yesterday, he hadn’t known how. When he discovered the tunnel, he knew he had to let her know his intentions. So this morning, he placed the food at the entrance. He only meant it as part of his negotiations.
But now he knew, instantly, he failed.
‘You didn’t want to take them,’ he answered for her. He was a master at diplomacy, but his gift hadn’t softened her towards him. She locked the gates against him and his clansmen. The food was only a reminder.
‘Why aren’t you leaving?’ she said instead.
Because what he came to do wasn’t done. He had to be here. Tonight. While he’d been waiting for the gates to open, danger came to his clan. His duty as laird necessitated he end this stalemate, but it wasn’t duty he thought of now.
Lioslath’s short black hair curled and spiked defiantly. It highlighted her sharp cheekbones and softly angled chin. Her skin was pale in the moonlight, and it emphasised the size and brightness of her eyes. And the colour...
They were blue, intense and startling against the blackness of her hair and thick eyelashes. It was as if under her finely arched brows shone the brightest of summer skies.
In the moonlight, he couldn’t fully see the outline of her body, but he didn’t need to now. Every time she stood on the platform, the wind plastered her paltry clothing to curves that made beggars of men. Including himself.
His reaction to her wasn’t in the plan he and his brothers devised: for him to make amends to the Fergussons, to wait out the winter and to hide from a certain English king.
A complicated plan made simple by the fact that all of it could be done on Fergusson land and that Lioslath needed to know only one of those reasons for his being here. The one he explained in the letter he wrote last April. To remedy the wrongs that had been done to her clan and family by lending aid and comfort to the Fergussons’ orphaned children.
After all, he’d tried to ally the Colquhoun clan with theirs, when he had married his sister Gaira to Fergussons’ laird and Lioslath’s father. When Gaira had refused such a marriage and fled to their sister at Doonhill, Lioslath’s father had been killed.
Unfortunately, the Battle of Dunbar had delayed Bram’s arrival by summer. It would soon be winter, and his intent to help this clan would prove more difficult. Yet he was here now.
Here, now, and in her room. It had been a simple act to arrive here by a cleverly hidden passage. He’d been surprised the tunnel led to under her bedroom. When he found her here, he’d been pleased. After the political and personal turmoil of the past year, his brothers’ fateful arrival and portentous messages, he needed something to be simple.
But there was nothing simple about Lioslath. A woman who was created as if the moon and sun deemed her beauty worthy of them both. Had he known the quality, the sheer magnificence of her beauty, he would have breached the weak defences a fortnight ago. Any man would have.
He cursed himself at his use of reasonable diplomacy. The food he tried offering failed because he’d been laying siege to a decrepit keep instead of laying siege to the beautiful female inside.
Suddenly, everything became clear to him on how easy it would be to get her cooperation. And he needed her cooperation if his plan to remain here for the winter were to work.
‘You want me to leave? After all, we need to…negotiate. This is your first meeting with Laird Colquhoun,’ he said. Self-assured, he knew who he was, what his power meant to any lass. ‘You couldn’t desire this to be so brief.’
She was beautiful and probably used to men and flirting. He’d been a fool to stay outside the gates. A fool thinking not to frighten the children and families with force. All he had to do was to coax, to flirt, to please.
‘Brief? I desire—’ she put emphasis on the word ‘—for it not to happen at all.’
He liked the word ‘desire’ coming from her mouth. He liked the shape of her full lower lip, the deep dip on her upper one. Her lips were shaped like a bow, as if an angel had pressed its fingers there to keep a secret.
‘But it has.’ He shrugged, pretending a nonchalance his body didn’t feel. ‘I’m here to get past our introduction. You are Lioslath, after all,’ he murmured. ‘The eldest daughter?’ He’d introduced himself when he came to the gates, but she hadn’t. Maybe some sense of propriety was needed, even here, in her bedroom.
In her bedroom, where she stood waiting for him. His anticipation tightened. Maybe she knew this game as well as he.
Her frown increased. ‘You came to this room not knowing who I am?’
Satisfaction coursed through him. She did know the game. She was coyly, if not suggestively, asking him to guess who she was. Flirting would be easier than he thought.
‘I know exactly who you are.’ He stepped towards her as she held still. The room was small; it wouldn’t take much to be right against her. ‘The lass I will soon kiss.’
Her lips parted as her brows drew in. She shook her head once as if answering a question inside.
Did she think he wouldn’t kiss her? Then she didn’t know him very well. Another regret for his delay. She would soon learn that he kept his word.
‘I am not fond of jests,’ she said. ‘Nor those who try my patience.’
She stepped outside the shafts of light and he felt the loss of vision. He might be within the gates now, but she continued to bar him with her sparring words. A game she clearly played well.
But it was late, and although he was known for his game playing, he knew when to steal forward, especially when he had the advantage. She was a woman, after all. He always knew how to get his way with women. She would be no different.
‘Come now, enough of this game,’ he said. ‘It is night and we are alone. Isn’t there something else you’d rather play?’
Lioslath didn’t understand this man.
At first she blamed the lateness of the night, the way his voice seemed to reach into her. Blamed her continual hunger and thirst for her addled mind. She knew she was addled, because when he mentioned game, her mouth watered with the wanting of succulent meat. But that wasn’t the type of game he meant.
‘I never play games.’ She found the very word offensive.
He waved and she followed the gesture. His hands were finely tapered, with a strength and eloquence that was as unexpected as his voice.
‘Come, I’ve seen this ploy before,’ he said. ‘In the past, it has made the reward sweet. But we have waited long enough, love. Trust that my willingness to participate in this game you play could not be any truer.’
Was this man flirting with her? Since childhood, and until only recently, she’d been ignored. She slept in stable lofts and no man flirted with her. Ever. They wouldn’t dare.
No, it couldn’t be flirting. It was merely his abrasive ease with words, with manners, with everything. A man who thought himself charming as he used words like ‘lass’ and ‘love’.
He didn’t charm her, yet he didn’t seem to be leaving. She had a choice to make. The knife or Dog? It was late, a knife would make a mess she’d have to clean and she needed her sleep.
‘You need to leave now,’ she ordered.
With a wave of her hand, Dog rose. Bram’s eyes widened, not with fear, but with surprise.
‘That’s a dog? I thought it was a trunk.’ His grin changed. ‘Hardly welcoming having a—is that a wolf?—in your room, since you were expecting me.’
He took his eyes off Dog, which was foolish, or arrogant.
It didn’t matter. His time with her was over. It had gone on too long. She blamed her hunger, his voice, the fine movement of his hands. She blamed him for everything. It was time to remind him of it.
‘Aye, I was expecting you,’ she said, with as much scorn as she could paint the words. ‘Expecting as one does a plague, or a pestilence. And I welcome you just as much.’ She shifted her stance, getting ready to throw the dagger. ‘You need to leave. I’ve warned you.’
‘We haven’t begun, Lioslath. Why would I leave?’
He was arrogant. Vibrant. Too full of life. She made another signal and Dog, with a noise deep in his throat, came to her heels.
The sound always raised the hairs on her neck and she had no doubt it did the same to Bram. But he did not take his eyes from hers, did not see Dog as a threat, and so he forced her hand.
‘You need to leave because I was expecting you, Bram, Laird of Colquhoun.’ Lioslath stepped into the light, lifted the dagger, made sure it glinted so he’d know what she intended. ‘But I do not think you were expecting me.’