Her Highland Rogue
 

excerpt...

Shadows dappled the earth as the MacThomaidh entourage arrived at London’s Brentwood Estate. Duncan found it difficult to believe a fortnight had passed, though his backside assured him otherwise. He grumbled, "It seems I just began this journey from hell and we are here already." Riding abreast of his men, his eyes took in his betrothed’s home. "Bloody hell," he grumbled. "Those perfect trees probably took some poor servant a sennight to trim." He shot a look at his father. "Pretentious, as I imagine her to be. The last attribute He groaned. "I needs must relinquish my freedom to obtain this Englishwoman’s hefty dowry. Yet her family throws coin around as if they have an endless supply."

All he’d ever wanted was a woman to love much like his friend’s wife, Tory. She was charming, a healer, and a natural born storyteller. Everything a man would ever want. Well, she was a hellcat, but a man could overlook a few flaws for perfection in everything else.

He certainly never planned to wed a woman he never met. He knew nothing about his betrothed except her name—Catherine Gillingham. Even that sounded pretentious. Did she dread the marriage as much as he? Or was she so meek she did all bidding without question? Considering the English’s hatred of Scots, he couldn’t imagine her being pleased at the prospect. After living in such luxury, she’d find things different in the Highlands. She’d see no excess in his home.

Duncan stripped off his clothes and climbed into bed. He stretched his large frame and laced his hands behind his head, certain he’d have the last laugh. Now he could sleep.

Catherine Gillingham stared out her chamber window at white clouds floating in the clear blue sky. She listened as birds chirped happily. Such a beautiful day and yet it would be the worst day of her life. Her brother, Trevor, sat on her unmade bed. She knew he made an effort to cheer her, but his silence told her he could think of no comforting words.

Struggling to regain her poise, she turned to face him and wiped away tears.

"Trevor, what shall I do?"

He rose and came to her side, holding her securely in his embrace. "Shh, Cat." He carefully ran his hands over her long, dark brown hair, cascading down her back. Her lady’s maid Rowena had scattered seed pearls throughout and they shimmered with every movement. Trevor gently brushed back soft wisps of hair at the sides of her face, one stray lock coming loose on her forehead.

Fear of the unknown welled within her. "Oh Trev, I assumed Father would secure a good husband for me. Not be bartered off by Edward to some Scottish heathen in payment for Scotland’s loyalty." She sobbed, "Why can I not marry Marquess Pemberly? Have I aimed my sights too high? Jason cares for me."

Trevor said nothing, but stroked his hand over her back. She took his silence as agreement. "What about Lightsey? I overheard Jeremy ask Father for my hand."

"Overheard?" Trevor teased.

"Aye, I was…"

"Eavesdropping, as usual?"

"I do not eavesdrop, Trevor Gillingham. I glean facts," she huffed. "And the few I learned of this marriage make me wish to escape to a convent."

She buried her face in his shoulder.

"We have no choice, Cat. Edward decreed it."

"Blast the king!"

Trevor whipped his head around to search the doorway, his face drained of color. "Hush, Cat. The king has ears everywhere. You must watch what you say, for all our sakes."

Seeking comfort, Catherine flung her arms around her older brother’s neck and sobbed. "How shall I manage without you? You were the one constant in my life." She raised tear-filled eyes.

He held her, giving her no doubt he relinquished his role as protector reluctantly.

"You shall be fine," he said, his voice soothing, although she steeled herself against the words. "You can handle anything you set your mind to."

"What if…?" Words failed her. She tightened her grip around his neck. As a child, he’d protected her. He no longer lived at home, but she had only to send for him and he came. Their bond strong, she’d thought nothing would separate them. Until now.

When the priest asked for Catherine’s voice of consent, her eyes slipped sideways to appraise the angry man beside her. His stony silence seemed as eloquent as any bard’s tale. He wanted nothing to do with her.

He’d not joined them at supper the prior eve, so she’d still seen only his back and profile. His dark brown hair fell to his shoulders. When her father escorted her to the chapel’s outer steps, she’d noticed the man’s height and the breadth of his shoulders. He was large, taller than her father or brother. He wore a white linen shirt with a blue and green plaide revealing long, strong legs. His profile looked chiseled in rock, clearly revealing his anger.

She feared her knees might buckle. How could she bear the burden of her father’s expectations to wed as the king decreed? He’d been in Edward’s favor for years. Couldn’t he have changed the king’s mind? Was being granted a new title and another estate more important than his own daughter’s happiness? His sharp admonition ‘to make me proud’ echoed in her mind.

Her eyes sought her father’s, pleading for a final reprieve.

Shoulders stooped in defeat, Catherine turned back to face Brentwood’s priest. It felt like forever, yet mere moments had passed.

Her voice cracking, she barely whispered the words that would forever alter the course of her life. "I will."

The man beside her stood rigid as she gave her response. He exhaled loudly and said through clenched teeth, "Aye, I will."

The priest completed the holy message despite the palpable tension, then moved inside the chapel to offer communion and bless the marriage.

Catherine couldn’t believe the priest’s audacity when at ceremony’s end he smiled at Duncan and said, "You may give your bride the kiss of peace."

Duncan eyed the priest as if he’d lost his mind, then turned for the first time to face his lady wife.

Trying to keep his expression unreadable, his gaze traversed the length of her body, stopped at her breasts, her hips. Seal this unwanted union with a kiss to show the two families joined together with no ill feelings? He’d not do it. All he’d had to do was tell the priest he protested. The ceremony would have gone no further. He couldn’t do it. His clan needed him. Before he left home he’d decided not to stay with her after the wedding, wanting nothing to do with a woman his father selected. He planned to leave as soon as he took her to his home. He wouldn’t change his mind now.

He stood resolute—and unable to breathe—for he stared at one of the loveliest women he’d ever seen.

 

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This book was a winner in the following contests:

RIO Award of Excellence

Readers' Choice Award

Readers and Booksellers Best

Finalist - Published Laurie's
 

 

 

 

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