Forbidden Highland Affair (Preview)

Chapter 1

Kieran’s heart pounded in his chest; one wrong move, and it would all be for nothing. He held his finger to his lips, ensuring that the men with him knew not to make a sound.

Bailey, Kieran’s closest friend, was crouched beside him in the underbrush while his sister Tilly sat low on his other side. While Bailey was no fighter, Tilly most certainly was. She could hold her own against most of Kieran’s men. She wasn’t the biggest woman he’d ever known, but she somehow had a strength in her that frightened a lot of his men. She was known for rushing headlong into any battle without a care for her own life. She was greatly admired by both the men and women of the clan for her fearlessness and fighting skills. Kieran chalked it up to the MacBride blood that flowed through their veins, the blood of the fiercest warriors known to Scotland.

The forest was magnificent this time of year. The sun sparkled through the tiny gaps in the leaves of the trees, so high above them it made Kieran dizzy just looking up at them. Every shade of green surrounded them – from the emerald of newly grown moss to the citrine of new leaves on the trees to the deepest forest green that was almost gray throughout the forest. Spring was most certainly a beautiful time of the year in Kyle of Lochlass, and with all the rainfall, it promised to be especially magnificent this year.

Kieran readied himself, notching his arrow to his bow, lining his sight up with his target. He exhaled slowly, quietly, and let the arrow fly.

The boar squealed in pain as his men let their own arrows find their mark in the creature’s back and belly. The boar went down with a heavy thud as his men cheered for their victory over defeating the boar.

“Well done, Laird,” Bailey laughed, clapping him on the shoulder, “We’ll be feastin’ tonight.”

“Aye, we will,” Kieran said, his red hair glinting in the sun.

Tilly laughed, “Like ye even got a shot in there, Bailey.” Kieran sighed internally at the crestfallen look on Bailey’s face. He knew that Tilly had only said it in jest, but Bailey was a sensitive soul. Tilly seemed to forget that far too often, even if she cared deeply about him. She had a way of sounding much brusquer than she meant to; she rubbed Bailey’s arm in silent apology. Kieran couldn’t ignore how the man’s face lit up instantly at the contact. He could do nothing but shake his head. This was not a situation he wanted to get involved in.

“Quiet,” Kieran called out, just loudly enough for his men to hear him, as his attention was drawn away from the conversation by a rustling in the underbrush that had nothing to do with his men or the boar.

“Get yersels back here,” he called out to his men, as a group of foreign men became visible, walking through the forest, making no effort to conceal themselves. Kieran’s men regrouped closer to him, laying their hands on their weapons while trying to look as nonchalant as possible. It wasn’t often that they ran across strangers out in these woods – everyone knew they belonged to the Laird Kieran and his clan.

The men came into sight, standing opposite Kieran and his men in a loosely ranked formation. They far outnumbered his group; they had only gone out for a small hunting excursion and hadn’t expected any trouble.

Kieran chewed the inside of his lip. Not all strangers were enemies, but not all of them were friendly either. If it came down to it, his men were outnumbered and would struggle to hold their line. He knew he had to avoid any potential altercation as much as he possibly could.

“I see yer unmarked, but ye look like soldiers. Where are ye from?” Kieran called out to them.

The strangers shuffled around a bit before one stepped forward, seeming to be the captain of the group. He shrugged as he moved closer, a sneer on his face as he answered Kieran.

“Like we’d tell the likes of you. You’re nothing more than a bunch of uncouth heathens, running around like ladies in your skirts and long hair. Your women are more manly than you are,” the captain said, looking Tilly up and down, not disguising the brazen lust in his eyes.

They were Englishmen. Kieran tensed up immediately; Englishmen only seemed to bring trouble with them. Their comments were unappreciated, and the man knew it…  He could feel Tilly bristling at the captain’s stare, drawing her sword out of its sheath slightly. The man raised his eyebrow, chuckling at his sister’s subtle threat. Kieran held out his hand slightly, stilling hers on her sword.

“Oh, no need to be like that, miss. It’s really a compliment. I’m sure I could show you a better time than any of your fellows here ever could.”

“You’ll mind yer manners, or I’ll cut yer tongue out for ye.” Tilly crossed her arms over her chest. She tossed her long, copper hair over her shoulder, shrugging in indifference at his last comment.

Kieran swore under his breath. Tilly had a bad habit of being unable to keep her thoughts to herself; she said what she thought. Even as a child, she had been that way, and no matter how many problems it caused, Kieran sometimes felt she purposely refused to change her attitude. Here he was, hoping to avoid issues, but she wasn’t helping. And while Kieran couldn’t blame her, considering he wanted nothing more than to wipe the smug look off the man’s face, this was not the occasion to provoke these men.

The English had been causing havoc in Scotland for decades upon decades. They were constantly infringing on lands that didn’t belong to them, acting like they had every right to be there. Kieran felt the anger rising in his chest. His heartbeat roared in his ears, his pulse quickening with each and every beat. He clenched and unclenched his hands at his side; this was his land, his clan’s land. It had been passed down through generations of MacBrides; they had been the Lairds in this region for time immemorial. This land belonged to the Scottish; Kieran would be damned if he allowed the English to take it from his clan.

Kieran had fought in many a war, many a battle. At the age of twenty-eight, he feared no warrior; he feared no war; he was a warrior through and through. He was a burly, strong man, a strong leader. His men followed him into battle without question. But he knew that here, today, he could well lose his men to these Englishmen. It was not a battle he wanted to go into.

Kieran forced himself to breathe deeply in an attempt to calm his rage down enough to deal with the situation as calmly as possible. Replying in the haze of his rising temper would only worsen the situation.

“Yer trespassin’ on my land an’ I dinnae tak’ kindly tae those who dae this without my consent,” Kieran replied when he felt sufficiently calmer, crossing his arms across his broad chest, puffing it out to make himself look bigger, more imposing.

“Ah, well, in that case, I guess we’d better be moving along, Laird,” the man said, the group of men with him chuckling behind him as he too crossed his arms across his chest.

“Yer sarcasm is no’ appreciated, sir,” Kieran stood his ground, feet planted firmly.

“My apologies indeed. I mean no disrespect, Laird Hoity-Toity,” the man raised his eyebrows, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Ye best leave my land if ye wish tae keep yer life an’ those o’ yer men,” Kieran’s grip on his anger was slipping with every second that passed.

“What happened to that great Scottish hospitality I’ve heard so much about? Aren’t you supposed to invite any visitors to your lands for a meal, ale, and a resting place before they go on their way?”

A couple of Kieran’s men growled low in their throats behind him; they, too, were losing their patience. Kieran held up his hand, silencing his men, not bothering to turn around. They knew full well what he was implying.

“Aye, we dae have such a rule. For our fella brothers an’ sisters; no’ for the likes o’ ye,” Kieran watched the Englishmen beginning to move slowly for their weapons, hands inching towards their scabbards.

“What a shame. I really expected a better welcome from the Laird who will soon be bending his knee to an English Lord.”

“Over my dead body,” Kieran snarled, his anger no longer in check, “Ye best start movin’, afore I mak’ ye. There isnae a reason to shed blood here for no good reason, eh?”

The man smiled, nodded, and without preamble, drew his sword. His fellow soldiers did the same thing, rushing forward across the clearing, ignoring the dead boar in their way, bloodlust raging in their eyes.

Kieran shook his head; these Englishmen had come here looking for a fight. Between Tilly’s reaction and his own, they had led themselves straight to the slaughter. He found himself regretting every word he’d said. He would lose good men – good soldiers – because of his own arrogance and refusal to even attempt being diplomatic.

His men shouted their war cry as they rushed forward, weapons in their hands, the spirit and fight of the Scottish Highlands in their hearts. They may not have been afraid of this battle, but Kieran knew it would be a waste of lives that he would have to bear the responsibility of.

With a heavy heart, Kieran swung his sword through the air, singing its sweet notes as it met the English leader’s sword in the air. All around him, his men were engaged in combat with the English; they were sorely outnumbered as more soldiers entered the clearing from within the woods where they had been hiding.

Kieran swore out loud, cursing their deception, as he parried his opponent’s next blow to his left arm. He met the blade with his, pushing the man’s sword away with brute force, before moving his feet backward, balancing on the back leg as he cut down with his sword. The blade hit home in the man’s throat, between his shoulder and neck. He fell to his knees instantly, blood gushing out of the wound. His eyes closed as his body collapsed to the ground, his face ashen gray from the loss of blood.

One down, Kieran thought to himself.

The sound of battle echoed around him – swords clashing against swords, the howls of the injured and dying, the battle cries his men continued to shout, the sound of bones crunching beneath blades. All of it reminded Kieran of every battle he had ever fought in, every nauseating thing he had ever seen and endured. He had survived them all.

The copper tang on the air was overpowering. If Kieran had been focusing on anything other than his next opponent, he might well have gagged at the smell. For now, he couldn’t risk even looking around him. He wouldn’t. He refused to see how many of his men had already been felled by the English dogs around them.

He rushed the two men who had decided to become his next targets. He swung his sword from above his head, bringing the cutting edge down across the first man’s throat, severing his artery. The man went down like their leader had, gone in seconds.

The second ran at Kieran, sword blazing through the air, as Kieran met the edge of the sword with the hand guard of his own. He pushed the sword away from him, but the Englishman was too quick. He swung his sword back around, causing Kieran to jump out of the way, spinning around as he did.

It wasn’t fast enough; he felt the sharp sting of his opponent’s blade as it dug into his left shoulder. Pain lanced through his arm as he completed his turn, sword point low. He knew it was only a superficial cut, but the pain was undeniable. There was no time to cradle the arm or press something to the wound to staunch the blood flow. He had no choice but to carry on. Kieran ran at the Englishman, his reaction too slow, his blade too high in the air to block Kieran’s blow to his gut.

The Englishman bent over double, his sword dropping from his hand as blood spurted from his mouth.

Kieran barely stopped to make sure the man was dead before turning to find another to face. He could only be grateful that the English bore no shields. He and his men hadn’t been prepared for a fight; most of them had come with only their long swords and dirks. They wore no armor, no helmets, no shields. Only their pride of steel carried them through this.

He turned, only to see Bailey, who was cornered by two brutes double his size, trying to fight his way out. Bailey wasn’t a warrior by any stretch of the imagination; he was a slight man, taken more to the scholarly side of life than fighting with weapons. He wouldn’t survive their attack for much longer; they were pushing him further and further towards the tree line behind him.

“Bailey, move,” Kieran shouted as he ran towards his friend, dodging others engaged in their own fights for their lives.

The ground was littered with bodies, the stench of blood and gore overwhelming. Too many of the bodies had braided hair, thick beards, his clan’s tartan colors clipped to their clothing.

The smell of smoke reached Kieran, who disregarded it as nothing of importance.

He watched as one of the brutes rammed his sword through Bailey’s abdomen, a grin of pleasure and hatred splitting his face. Kieran swung his blade from behind the two men – they had been too focused on Bailey to notice Kieran running towards them. His sword made the most beautiful song as it sliced through the air, splitting the man’s skull. Before the second man could turn around, Kieran’s sword was singing again as he swung it around, aimed at the man’s gut. The blow was deadly; without armor to protect his stomach, he stood no chance of surviving. He stared at Kieran, eyes wide, as he fell to his knees.

“Tha’s what ye get for attacking my men,” Kieran grated out through clenched teeth to no one in particular.

He turned to Bailey, whose face was devoid of color, his hands clutching at the wound in his side.

A new sound resonated through the clearing. It was no longer the screams of the injured and dying but screams of terror instead. Smoke billowed across the clearing, and the sound of crackling and snapping wood became prominent. Kieran looked around him where he knelt at Bailey’s side.

The forest was on fire.

The Englishmen had retreated, a few stragglers disengaging from their individual battles, taking off in a westerly direction, away from the Scotsmen – and the fire.

“Tilly?” Kieran cried out, trying to find his sister in all the commotion.

“I’m here,” she coughed, staggering towards him, her eyes wide, darting all around her. She was covered in blood, but thankfully most of it seemed to be someone else’s.

“Oh, thank the Gods,” Kieran sighed, “We need tae get out o’ here, now, Tilly.”

“I cannae believe this – I’m so sorry, Kieran,” she whispered, her hands trembling at her sides. She seemed to have dropped her sword somewhere along the way, her entire body beginning to shake like a leaf in the winds on the plains of their homeland.

“It isnae your fault, Tilly,” Kieran said, moving to lift Bailey off the ground where he was slumped over, groaning in pain.

“I didnae mean tae cause all o’ this,” she sobbed slightly, eyes brimming with tears.

“There’s no time for tha’ now, lass. Help me get Bailey up.”

Tilly seemed to snap out of her shock for a moment as she grabbed Bailey’s legs to help Kieran hoist him over his shoulder.

Kieran carried Bailey with ease, shouting for his men to escape, and began to run back towards the castle, Tilly and his men in tow, the fire hot on their heels.


Lady Vivien Stone sat at her window seat, gazing out at the Highlands surrounding her new home. She breathed in deeply; there was a freshness to this air that London most certainly lacked. There was a wild beauty to this place, another bonus above London. Vivien had never left England before; this was all so new to her. The vivid greens of the rolling hills, the stark contrast of a gray sky against it, all of it painted the most breath-taking image she had ever seen.

The hills and valleys rolled off into the distant horizon, patches of trees dotted here and there, while a large forest rested just outside the manor’s walls.

Vivien couldn’t deny that this new opportunity both terrified and excited her. The Highlands were known to be a dangerous place – the Scots were not known for being peaceful creatures. Vivien wondered if she’d ever get used to so much empty, beautiful space around her. She was used to the constant noise, hustle and bustle of the city life she had grown up in back in London. A part of her thought she’d never get used to such silence and peace.

A knock at the door startled Vivien. Her husband of less than a year, Lord Reginald Stone, entered the room. He greeted her gruffly, his expression one of a sour distaste as he looked her up and down.

Vivien’s heart dropped to the bottom of her stomach like an anchor, weighing her down and breaking her spirit further.

“Vivien,” he said, by way of a greeting.

“M’lord,” she replied, bowing her head slightly. She took him in – Reginald was a tall, slender man. He kept his black hair slicked back, the oiliness as off-putting to Vivien as his cruelty with words. He kept his mustache trimmed and oiled, perfectly highlighting his thin, vicious lips. He was more than twenty years her senior, and he made sure she never forgot that.

Reginald frequently reminded her that though she had been called a beauty more than once in her lifetime, that she was, in fact, quite plain, and those men had called her that simply to gain favor with her very wealthy family. Vivien had never been a vain woman, but she had come to believe him since her marriage to Reginald.

She stood in front of him, her hands clasped in front of her, waiting patiently for him to tell her why he was there or what he wanted from her.

“I came to see you, though I really don’t know why,” he hiccuped, “I must have gotten lost in this godforsaken maze of a castle. Heaven only knows how I ended up here. This is the last place I want to be.”

“I am sorry to hear that, husband,” Vivien murmured, unsure of what she should say; the stench of wine on his breath reached her even as she stood a few feet away from him. Vivien had found that she always said the wrong thing, no matter what she did. Reginald always seemed to find fault with her.

“I hate this place; it’s dismal and dreary,” he said, as he began to walk towards the very window she had been looking out of.

“I like it here, my Lord,” she said, turning to follow him with her eyes, as he stared out of the window at the mist that was spreading outside, covering the hills and valleys in an ethereal cloud of glittering diamonds. It began to drizzle as he stared out at the scene before him, a look of distaste evident in the set of his mouth. He rolled his eyes as he turned back to face her.

“Well, isn’t that a good thing,” he sneered, shaking his head in disgust, “There’s nothing to do here, no one to converse with. Other than you, but heaven knows that’s torture all of its own. I should have left you back in London and spared myself the pain of seeing your long face daily. I would probably enjoy myself much more on my own.” He sighed dramatically.

Vivien’s hands fisted at her sides, her nails digging into her palms. She knew that this was the way Reginald was, she supposed all marriages were like this, but she could barely keep her back straight after more than a year of this abuse.

“What a ghastly place this is. This godforsaken place should be razed to the ground, along with every single heathen Scotsman to be born in this hell hole. Look out that window. It’s dreary, miserable. They have the worst weather I’ve ever seen, the worst wine I’ve ever tasted. And dear God, if they don’t have the worst manners I’ve ever come across, then only a pig could do worse.”

Vivien lowered her head. Once again, she had said the wrong thing, as she always seemed to.

“I do hope this place grows on you, husband. I think you could be happy here,” she said it so tentatively it sounded more like a question than a statement. It seemed to infuriate Reginald even further.

“Oh, happy, you say? What womanly ponderings you have.” He threw his hands in the air, hiccuping again. “Happiness is for peasants and royalty. Not for nobility, Vivien. The sooner you make peace with that, the better.”

Vivien flinched visibly, tears welling in her eyes, “Yes, Lord. Of course, a foolish thing for me to say.”

Reginald harrumphed before turning his back on her again.

“Bring me wine,” he demanded, his tone cold and cruel.

Vivien rushed to her sideboard to pour him a measure of the best wine she had in her rooms, handing it over to him. He didn’t bother to look at her, let alone thank her, as he continued to stare out of the window.

“What a travesty this is. I really thought I’d get that posting in London. But no, Lord Hastings paid off every council member he possibly could; now I’m stuck here with these uneducated heathens and their horrifyingly bad weather. What a tragedy. No matter, I will get us out of here eventually. Hastings has made a lifelong enemy of me. He will pay for it.”

“Yes, my husband,” Vivien said, for lack of anything else to say. She knew little of the politics of London – Reginald wasn’t one to explain a “man’s business” to her, and she wasn’t going to push to find out what was happening either.

All Vivien knew was that Reginald and Hastings had been on opposing sides of some new law the council had been debating. As the loser, Reginald had been assigned to the Highlands – to hold the Scots at bay while the English made plans to invade and take the Highlands for themselves.

“I’m going to bed,” Reginald hiccuped, as he walked out of the door. Vivien sighed her relief the moment the latch clicked back into place behind him. One more night of no torture, she thanked God as she walked to her own bed, blissfully free of her husband’s presence.

Chapter Two

Kieran ran as fast as he could, Bailey wrapped in his arms as tightly as he could manage. Bailey’s face was gray, but he was conscious and pressing against the wound in his side. He cried out in pain every now and then, but for the most part, he kept his teeth gritted against it.

Kieran and his men finally made it back to the castle; he dropped Bailey off at the clan’s healer’s cabin, letting him know he’d be back shortly to check on him.

He found his sister pacing in her rooms, wringing her hands as tears streaked silently down her face.

“Och, Tilly, I’m so sorry ye had tae see tha’,” Kieran gathered her in his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder; his tunic was soon damp with her tears. He held her until she stopped shaking, then held her out at arm’s length to give her a once-over.

“Are ye hurt?”

“Nae,” she replied, “I’m perfectly safe, bu’ they stole my necklace, Kieran. The one Mam gave me ‘afore she passed on. I dinnae ken wha’ they want with it. It’s o’ no value tae them. It’s only made o’ silver. It’s all I had left o’ her.” Tilly sniffed, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

“Never ye mind, Tilly. I’m going tae ge’ to the bottom o’ this. I’m going tae find out who is responsible for attackin’ our people. An’ I will mak’ them pay, I promise ye tha.’”

“I ken ye will, Kieran, bu’ what good will it dae? The damage is done; so many o’ the men are dead.”

“How many?” Kieran asked, realizing he hadn’t even taken stock of how many of his men had made it out of the forest alive. There just hadn’t been time. All he knew was that fewer had left than those who had gone in with him in the first place.

Tilly shook her head, her grief muting her for a moment.

“At least seven,” she sighed heavily.

Kieran swore long and loudly, causing his sister to pale at his choice of words. Realizing he was still in her company, he cut his ranting short and turned to her.

“Ay, I’m sorry for tha’ Tilly. I went with a dozen men. I cannae believe we lost so many. I cannae believe it. An’ with Bailey hurt… Lord kens, I wish I could change things.’

“Have ye been tae see Bailey yet?” Tilly asked.

“Nae, no’ yet.”

“Was he badly injured?” Tilly sniffed.

“Aye, he took a blow to the left side o’ his belly. I’m going tae check on him now; I left him with the healer.”

“I cannae bear the thought o’ losing him, Kieran. He’s a good person, a good friend. He has tae mak’ it. We lost too much today.”

“We did, but I will ge’ tae the bottom of this, that I promise ye.” Kieran fisted his hands at his side. “The healer will dae everythin’ in his power tae keep Bailey alive. I’ll need tae see all the families o’ the dead. But I just cannae face it.”

“Ye can do it. Ye shouldn’t have tae, but I know ye will, regardless. I need tae see Bailey too. I’ll go later after he’s rested.” Tilly sighed and walked over to the door that led to her private bedchambers.

“I hope ye dinnae mind, brother, but I’m far too tired an’ defeated tae stay awake. I don’ think I’ll get that screamin’ out o’ my head, never mind the smell out o’ me nose.” Tilly stood with her hand on the door handle, waiting for Kieran’s dismissal.

“Indeed, aye, sleep lass. I’ll go check on Bailey an’ the families.” Kieran nodded, wishing he could swap places with his own sister for a moment.


Vivien woke with a start in the middle of the night to find Reginald standing over her where she lay in her own bed. The stench of wine permeated through his pores, assaulting her senses. Vivien wished she could close her eyes and open them again to find it was just a figment of her imagination.

“Vivien,” he warbled her name.

She scrunched her nose; the odor of sour wine on his breath was too much for her to handle. This was no bad dream; he really was standing in her room in nothing but his nightgown. She sighed inwardly, afraid of what he may well want from her now.

“Husband, are you ill?” she asked softly.

“No, no, I’m perfectly well, perfectly well,” he slurred his way through his words.

Vivien waited with bated breath; Reginald hadn’t come to visit her because he missed her embrace, that much she knew.

“Do you know,” he began, hiccuping slightly, “That I was once the most desired bachelor of them all?”

“Yes, Lord,” Vivien nodded.

“And do you know I was a prolific lover? Everyone knew. I had every widow from London to Leeds knocking on my door, all begging to be held in my embrace, even if it was just for one night.”He glared at Vivien. It would have been slightly more intimidating if he hadn’t been slurring and hiccuping his way through it, Vivien thought.

“Of course, my Lord, you were much sought after,” she agreed.

“But then you came along –” he hiccuped again, “and now look. Married a year, and we haven’t even consummated our union.”

Vivien hung her head in shame; this was a topic she had been broken over from the day they had gotten married. She was an utter failure, and she had no idea what to do about it.

Reginald reached out, running her hair through his fingers, marveling at it as if it was the first time he had seen her hair loose. Vivien had always thought that if she had one redeeming feature, it was her hair – long, thick, and wavy, it was as dark as the raven’s wing and settled across her shoulders, reaching her mid-back.

But if there was one thing her husband had made clear to her, it was that he found her unattractive in every way imaginable. She was too short for him, far from curvy enough, and her company was sorely lacking. He always told her to stop being such a fool when she tried to engage in conversation with him. No matter what the topic was, it wasn’t good enough – she was nothing more than a total bore with no knowledge of any worth. He blamed her entirely for the lack of consummation of their marriage, always reminding her that she was less than average-looking; he hated everything about her except for her very large dowry and estate.

She was a mistake to him from start to finish, she thought to herself.

Vivien nodded mutely, preferring not to say anything.

“Broken,” Reginald muttered under his breath. He looked back at her, scrunching his eyes up as he tried to focus on her face. “You’re broken,” he sneered.

“I’m sorry, Lord,” she murmured.

“Sorry helps nothing when a wife can’t please her husband,” he ranted. Vivien flinched; she had been called broken more times than she could count in the last year. She was starting to believe he was right.

“I can’t believe I got saddled with a pathetic pony. If it weren’t for the wealth you bring me, I swear I’d kick you to the curb given half a second,” Reginald continued, hiccuping his way through his outburst, eyes struggling to focus on anything for longer than a few seconds at a time.

Vivien closed her eyes for a brief second; she’d heard it all before. All the different ways Reginald could call her broken had been used already; all the ways he could make her feel small had been abused frequently; all the ways he could strip her down to nothing had shredded her spirit a long time ago.

She feared she’d never be with child – never bring an heir to her husband, her family, her name. Reginald had control over her wealth, but it would never be his if he didn’t father a son on her; instead, it would pass to her closest male relative upon her death. Being unable to consummate their marriage was weighing heavily on him; that much Vivien knew. It was wrong of her, Vivien thought, but she truly hoped they never did consummate their marriage. The thought of raising a child with Reginald made her sick to her stomach.

“Maybe covering your head with a sack would help? Then I wouldn’t have to look at your face, and we could get this thing done,” he sighed, wobbling slightly where he stood. He placed his hand out against the bedpost, keeping himself as upright as he possibly could in the state he was in. Vivien couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious; regardless, he would do what he wanted to, he always did.

Vivien kept her eyes on him, refusing to feel fear or dread. He was her husband; she was supposed to love him and welcome his touch. The very thought had goosebumps flashing across her skin, but she knew it was inevitable as a married couple.

“Right, well, move, damn you. Make room. Let’s try this thing again, though I swear it’s a waste of time and effort. Looking at you makes me sick. But maybe you’ll get it right this time. Hah!” Reginald’s laughter was as sarcastic as Vivien had ever heard it.

Vivien felt her heart drop to her stomach; the only thing she despised more than Reginald was a drunk Reginald groping at her in the middle of the night. She moved over and held her breath as Reginald took his position above her. The stench of alcohol was so overpowering she had to keep herself from gagging. She barely managed it, trying her best to breathe through her mouth.

This became a problem when Reginald attempted to kiss her – leaving wet, sloppy attempts in his wake. He gave up on that idea quickly; Vivien didn’t even try to respond in kind. She was merely thankful he wasn’t pushing the matter of kissing her; she really would be sick if he had.

There was some fumbling around as Reginald fiddled with his nightgown, breathing heavily in Vivien’s ear. She tried again to breathe through her mouth, closing her eyes tightly as if that alone could turn this nightmare into nothing more than that.

She wished, not for the first time in her life, that she had an older brother, a younger brother, any form of brother. As an only child, with a vast estate left to her, she had had no choice in who she married.

When she had come of age, she had avoided entering society for as long as she could. But with her father’s ailing health, she was forced to endure the torture of London society by the time she turned twenty. Reginald’s third wife had recently passed away, leaving him heirless yet again. Vivien had prayed, night after night, that she would not have to marry the bachelor nearly twice her age.

Her prayers and hopes had been in vain.

Instead of being allowed to marry a decent lord closer to her own age, who might possibly have loved her, been good to her, or even just tolerated her, she was foisted off on the antique that was Reginald Stone.

Her father felt she was safest in the hands of a well-to-do Lord who had been around long enough to know better than the young wolves, whose arrogance often led them astray. Vivien surmised that some sort of deal had been struck between the old men – something that had forced her into this loveless, pitiful excuse for a marriage.

Just more than a year and a half later, she and Reginald had concluded their nuptials, just in time for her father to see her wedded – and in his mind – bedded, before he left this mortal realm and his daughter behind, unprotected.

Reginald began to curse above her, his face now inches from hers as he held himself up on his forearms. His legs straight out between hers, nightgown still firmly in place.

“My Lord?” she whispered, fear coiling around her stomach like a snake around its prey.

“You’re useless, damned-well useless, woman,” he spat, his face right up against hers, “You can’t even do the most basic of a woman’s duties correctly. What a waste of space you are.”

He rolled off her, wheezing at the effort as he tried to stand up. He leaned against the bedpost, eyes focusing on hers, holding her gaze, refusing to let up.

“What a damned disappointment you are. I will never gain an heir off a useless broodmare such as you. You took a virile stud of a man –” Reginald poked himself in the chest, “and turned him into a gelding!”

“I’m so sorry, Husband. I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. I would fix it instantly if I could,” Vivien repeated the words by rote.

“You are cold and ugly. It’s no surprise you can’t stir desire in my loins. Wish that I could change the past and be rid of the curse you’ve brought to me,” Reginald continued, ignoring Vivien.

She was tired of being useless. But there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn’t very well ask the kitchen maids what she was doing wrong; the Lady of the house surely had to know everything about everything. She felt like a failure – she knew next to nothing about the marital act. She only knew that she was the reason they had failed to consummate their marriage, no matter how many times they tried.

Vivien hung her head in shame. Once again, she had failed in her wifely duties.

She could only breathe again when Reginald had left her rooms, slamming the door shut behind him.


The sun was rising by the time Kieran was finished visiting the families of the men they’d lost that afternoon. Tendrils of pink and orange stretched across the sky, breaking through the gray cloud cover. It was the type of sunrise poets sang about, Kieran thought sourly to himself. He was in no mood for beauty or happiness, not when seven of his closest companions were dead, and he was the one looked to for blame and answers.

The Laird had one last stop to make before he could even think of laying his body on his bed in an attempt to rest.

Kieran stopped outside the healer’s cabin, breathing deeply, his hands trembling.

He could only hope for good news. He – his clan – had lost enough this last day.

He opened the door slowly, hoping not to disturb any sleeping patients. It was dim inside the cabin; the fire had been banked for the night. Only three bodies were lying on pallets on the ground. The one nearest him was the clan’s healer; the other two could only be Bailey and one of the other men who had been wounded during the attack.

Kieran’s face burned red hot in shame at the sight of his friend lying dead still on a pallet, his skin pale and clammy. The guilt gnawed at his bones like acid. But Bailey was breathing. His chest rose and fell, and though he murmured sounds of pain, he seemed peaceful enough.

The healer woke up while Kieran was standing over Bailey, thanking his lucky stars that his friend had survived.

The old maid made her way to him, each bone in her body creaking as she moved after lying still for so long. She came to stand beside him, staring down at Bailey herself.

“How is he?” Kieran asked quietly.

“He’ll pull through, Laird,” she replied, “He’s been hurt badly, an’ it’ll tak’ a while tae recover, but so long as tha’ wound doesn’t tak’ an infection, he’ll be jus’ fine.’

“Yer sure?”

The healer raised her eyebrows at Kieran, pursing her lips.

“I was there the day ye were born – an’ I’ll probably be there the day ye die, Laird. I’ve seen more wounds than ye can imagine, watched more men die than ye should ever hope tae see.” She fixed Kieran with a stern stare. “An’ I’m tellin’ ye, he’ll pull through. Ye jus’ leave it tae me an’ him. He’ll never be the same, mind ye. He’ll never breathe the way he did ‘afore, but he’ll be breathin’. That’s all that matters, ey?”

“Aye, that’s all that matters. Thank you for lookin’ after him. And yer other patient? The young lad they pulled out o’ the fire today?” Kieran peered at the young boy; he too was breathing deeply but much more heavily labored than Bailey. He had been stuck in the woods and sustained some burns to his extremities. Kieran could only imagine the pain the poor child had endured. But to see him sleeping peacefully, he knew the healer must have dosed him with something stronger than just a bit of ale.

“Ah, him,” she clucked,  “He may or may no’ be strong enough tae get through this. It’s a difficult thing; it is a burn. It can go wrong in seconds, or it can be fine the next day. Only time will tell with this one, I’m afraid.”

“Tha’s some hope at least, then,” Kieran sighed, “Keep me up to date, will ye? I’ll come see Bailey again when he’s awake. I jus’ needed to set me mind at ease ‘afore I go find mysel some rest.”

The healer nodded, turning to her ministrations to her two patients while Kieran left the cabin as quietly as he could.

Kieran was no scholar, but the warrior in him knew something was off about that fire. Someone had started it intentionally; someone had sent those men out to attack his men. He would get to the bottom of it, one way or the other.

Need to finish reading this one

  • This is going to be a great book to read. It has all your usual ingredients, exciting people, great detail about the scenery and weather ,action and romance. It could not get any better!

  • Loved first 2 chapters. Setting up the story perfectly. I’m already loving Vivien and Kieren.

  • exciting from the beginning with characters jumping out with memorable personalities that make you want to know them better.

  • Very intriguing beginning. Two very different characters. Looking forward to how they come together.

  • Hatred and greed can make people into ugly monsters. This romantic story is off to a great start with interesting and intriguing characters. Look forward to the release date.

  • Kieran needs a soulmate who will love him unconditionally. Viviene deserves a chance for real love. I’ll cross my fingers and hope for love! Excellent start to an exciting tale.

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