Highland Flame, the fourth book in Mary Wine's Highland Weddings series, is out now!
NEWLY MINTED LAIRD SEEKS WIFE, PREFERABLY RICH
Laird Diocail Gordon has just inherited his uncle’s run down castle and rag-tag clan. He knows the sorry sight of the castle would send any woman running, but is determined to find a wife to help return his home to its former glory.
Widowed lady Jane Stanley is determined to return to England, even if she has to tromp through the Scottish Highlands on foot to get there. Her travels lead her straight into the midst of a troop of dangerous Highland warriors. The mysterious, brawny laird forbids his men to harm her, and the spark between them is immediate. The only way Diocail can keep her safe is to take her home with him, but will the miserable state of his clan douse her newly ignited Highland flame?
Enjoy this excerpt from Highland Flame!
The man in front of her was huge. She’d rarely seen his match. He was a mountain of pure muscle with bulky shoulders and wrists she doubted she could close her hand around. He was dressed in a kilt and doublet, but he had the sleeves of it open and hooked behind his back, his shirtsleeves pushed up to bare his forearms as though he didn’t feel the chill of the night air.
She, on the other hand, was shivering as the cold licked her skin and cut through her smock.
“I suppose it does nae,” he answered her, tilting his head to one side as he contemplated her. He kept his attention on her face, resisting the urge to look down her body. Most of his men didn’t afford her the same respect.
What do you expect, Jane? You are nearly naked.
And starving. But Fate had delivered her here when she least expected it, so she wouldn’t allow herself to crumble beneath the weight of her circumstances.
One dilemma at a time.
“Thank you for your assistance.” She drew in a deep breath and started to walk back toward the thicket.
“Stay where ye are, woman.”
If she hadn’t realized he was in command of the group of men before, the tone of his voice would have driven that fact home. He was accustomed to being obeyed. When he turned his head slightly, she caught sight of his bonnet. Three feathers were secured to the side of it, all of them raised. She’d been in Scotland long enough to know they were the mark of a laird.
“As you have noted, I have naught, so I cannot repay you except with my gratitude.” She spoke evenly and with the poise that living beneath her stepmother’s iron rule had bred in her. “I have a great deal of ground to cover and must be on my way.”
“Where are ye going like that?” the man next to her demanded.
A quick look toward him, and she noticed that one of his feathers was raised. That made him a captain of some sort.
“Back to England and my father’s house,” she answered, trying not to sound as defeated by that prospect as she felt. There was no alternative, so no use dreading what had to be. “Since I am widowed.”
The men ringing her suddenly nodded, some of them muttering that her situation made sense. Their stances eased now that they could understand her appearance. The harsh truth was that more than one woman had been turned out in her shift when her husband was no longer alive to protect her from his family. Such was the fate of many a bride who wed against the wishes of the groom’s family. Without children or contract or powerful relatives, everything she had might be claimed as dowry and kept while she was discarded.
Tossed into the gutter…
She started to step around the man in front of her, and he shook his head. “I told ye to stay where ye are, lass.”
He was tempering his tone now, making her feel very much like a mare being gentled. His words set off a shiver down her spine. There was something so very strong about him. It was more than his muscle; it was the way he watched her, the set of his jaw as he contemplated her.
“And I have told you I must be on my way.” A man such as he was understood strength, so she would meet his determination measure for measure. “Excuse me.”
She made it a few steps past him, just enough for her to feel a breath of relief moving through her, before he swept her right off her feet. She gasped and choked as he tossed her up and over his shoulder. But her face nearly caught fire with shame when he slapped one of his hands down on her bottom to keep her in place as he walked back toward their camp.
He was dumping her onto the ground before she finished protesting. At the last moment, he controlled her descent and she landed with only a jolt instead of the hard impact she’d been expecting. She ended up looking up at him from where he’d deposited her on her backside.
“Ye’ll be staying with us, mistress. Best set yer mind to it, for I’ve no wish to fight with ye.”
“I will do no such thing.” She stood up but stepped back when one of her knees tried to collapse. She pushed her foot into the ground to steady herself and faced off with her tormentor. “You have no right to lay hands on me.”
“I am Diocail Gordon.” He didn’t move back an inch, which meant they were a single step from one another, and she had to tip her head back to maintain eye contact with him. “And ye are on me land.”
“Which I will be most happy to leave,” she insisted firmly.
“The last thing I need is an Englishwoman raped on me land,” he answered her. “I do nae know who yer husband was, but it’s a good thing the man is dead because I’m of the mind to break his fool neck for wedding ye and leaving ye in such circumstances.”
His words shamed her with how kind they truly were, although gallant was more fitting once she thought it through. He was rough and hardened and so completely suited to his environment that she found herself admiring him. However, the observation drove home how very far from home she was.
“Your intentions due you much credit, Sir Diocail,” she said sweetly. “Yet I cannot stay in this company.”
“I am no knight. Ye’re in the Highlands, lass, and I am sorry to say I can nae afford ye any better circumstances than being in the company of me men. For the moment, it will be better than yon thicket and the men who have grudges against the English. Which they will have few reservations against settling at yer expense.”
His captain slid up close to her, making her shift away from him. He offered her a harassed look before tossing something at her. She caught it, simply out of reflex, trembling when she realized it was a thick traveling cloak.
The scratchy wool was more dear than the finest silk. She was shaking with the anticipation of being wrapped inside it.
Diocail nodded in approval toward his man. “Put that on and sit down, mistress. I’ll decide how to deal with ye in the morning. For now, me men and I are going to enjoy our supper. Kindly do nae make it necessary for one of us to hand-feed ye like a babe because we have to tie ye up so we can enjoy our meal.”
“You would not dare,” Jane exclaimed.
She realized her error immediately. This man lived for challenges.
Diocail Gordon’s lips twitched, curling up on one side into what might have been a grin if there was anything remotely attractive about the motion. No, it was menacing and too full of promise for her to dismiss. She wanted to think she might argue but knew without a doubt it was a useless fight that would cost her the advantage of being free.
And they were going to feed her and warm her.
Beggars simply couldn’t be choosers.
Well, better a beggar than a whore.
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