A Highland Laird who needs a proper wife...
And a desire neither can resist.
Athena Trappes thinks she’s in love…until she discovers the scoundrel only wanted her as his bit on the side. Enraged, she does what any spirited Englishwoman would do: set fire to his belongings, incur his dangerous wrath, and flee—immediately. With nowhere else to turn, she seeks freedom in the wilds of Scotland.
Highland Laird Symon Grant lost his wife years ago, and it’s his duty to find another. Athena is not exactly what the clan has in mind for him, but Symon’s heart burns with unexpected passion for the woman who would risk everything to be free.
Between a Highlander and a Hard Place is available October 30th! Enjoy this excerpt!
The difficulty with escaping was a person needed a place to go. Athena discovered the truth of her dilemma once she spied her uncle’s home. The moon was rising, but the night was still bitter. The sturdy wool dress she had lamented wasn’t pretty enough was now her dearest friend, for it kept her from shivering.
At least as far as the chill in the night went.
Inside her heart, there was ice forming.
What a fool I was.
And now, her lack of judgment was going to destroy everything. Galwell would do as he promised, she had little doubt. It felt as though his shell had cracked, allowing her to see what manner of foul creature he truly was. Well, she would not allow him to claim a victory over her. But how? Nobles controlled the world. His blue blood would be seen as more honest than her word. The sin of her parents would be taken as a stain against her account of what had happened.
He could accuse her of thievery. Have her flogged or any other manner of horrible fates. Yet there was nowhere else to go.
“Athena?” The door suddenly opened wide, the light from within illuminating her. “Thank Christ! I have been near to death with worry.” Henry was pulling her inside, even as she tried to fend him off. She didn’t really want to. No, he was her family, the man who called her his own when others had advised him to abandon her to an orphan’s lot.
“Tell me true,” he demanded once the door was shut and the warm glow of the candles on the table surrounded her.
Sweet Christ, she had not given enough thanks for how wonderful her home was. The world beyond the door was crueler than she might ever have imagined.
“Athena.” There was a subtle reprimand in her uncle’s voice.
Her memory rushed in with vivid recollection of Galwell’s threats. “I must leave.”
Henry’s forehead furrowed.
“I must,” she insisted. “Oh, Uncle, I have made a grave misjudgment of character.”
Henry held up a hand. His fingertips were marked with scars from years of toil at his trade. She fought back nausea as she recalled how Galwell had promised to destroy it all in his quest to have her submission.
“Tell me everything. We shall find a solution.”
“I must leave,” she muttered, suddenly losing the strength to stand. She lowered herself onto one of the benches at the table. A place she had so often enjoyed the company of her family. Now it was empty, and she faced the knowledge that she could not be there at dawn when they came down to break their fast.
“Galwell…came upon me as I was leaving service…in his carriage…”
Henry had always been a man able to keep his thoughts hidden. Tonight she witnessed him fighting for control of his temper. It flashed in his eyes as he tapped the tabletop with his fist.
“I shall have to leave…” And yet she had no idea where to go. “Galwell will ruin you.”
“Aye, he’s a black-hearted man and no mistake.”
Her uncle stood, pacing about the kitchen. He stopped as he came to some sort of decision. Athena stood, ready to face whatever he might say as her due for loving unwisely.
“We need time,” Henry said. “I am not a man without friends, but it will require planning to ensure Galwell cannot destroy us. As a noble, his word will be listened to first and with more weight. I will have to make inquiries discreetly, for not many will go against Galwell’s blood. At least publicly. Behind closed doors is another matter entirely.”
There was a commotion on the street, the sound of boots stamping against the cobblestones as men approached.
“The priest hole,” Henry whispered.
He didn’t wait but grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward a side of the hearth. There he ran his fingers along a stone until he found the small indentation where he could open a hidden door. She had to turn sideways to fit into the hollowed-out section of the wall. Her uncle closed it, locking her behind the wall of the common room.
It was dark, but she’d often played in the space as a child. She drew in a deep breath and slid down farther, to where she could see into the kitchen through tiny places where the plaster had been removed so a hidden priest might see out.
Someone pounded on the door.
“What’s all this?” her uncle asked gruffly. “Is that my niece at last? I’m sick with worry.”
“We are here for Athena Trappes.”
Through the peepholes, Athena saw the constables with their white staffs. All along the street, doors opened as the neighbors came to investigate why the sheriff had sent the constables out into the night.
Every honest man was expected to show he was not harboring a criminal by opening his door wide.
“And you come to me?” Henry demanded. “Why?”
It wasn’t a lie. Athena realized Henry was a man who was bound by his honor. She bit her lip as her insides churned. Tonight her fate would be decided.
“Baron Scrope’s son has accused her of setting fire to his London home.”
There was a shifting among those watching in the streets. Fire was a grave crime because it might spread so easily in the tight confines of the city.
“You say my niece was with Galwell?” Henry demanded again. “Before he finished the contracts with me? He has offered for my niece and then takes her to his home? I will have satisfaction!”
“So will the sheriff,” the captain of the constables said. “You shall—”
Henry interrupted the man. “You will return to the sheriff and demand to know why Galwell Scrope took my niece to his home when he had sworn to finish negotiating contracts with me, as he pledged his word of honor to do. What manner of a man is noble by birth and yet not honest in his dealing with a common man such as myself? He stood in my home and vowed to wed Athena! It is well known on this street! If my niece set a fire, she was likely attempting to escape from a man who is dishonorable at his core. Did he attempt to make her his whore?”
Now there was a mumbling among those watching, good men who had indeed heard Galwell say he would wed her. The constable captain was uncertain. He looked between Henry and the crowd moving closer.
“I will put the question to the sheriff.”
The constables turned and marched away. Henry nodded to a few of his neighbors before firmly shutting the door.
She wanted to be relieved. But her worry only grew as she recognized just how much power Galwell wielded.
“Stay in there, Athena. I shall return.”
Her uncle was gone a moment later, slipping out of the back door.
It left her alone with her thoughts.
Her heart was torn. Oh, she understood she owed not a single tear to Galwell, not after what he had done and threatened to do.
And yet her dreams were a pile of rubble at her feet, her world upside down, and even hope seemed beyond her grasp as she felt as though she was turning as hard and cold as the stones she was pressed against.
Perhaps that was for the best.
It truly was.
She would never love again, for men were vile creatures. They declared themselves so many things, and beneath it all was naught but the craving to use women to satisfy their lust.