Highlander’s Dark Temptation (Preview)

Chapter 1

“You cannot make me do it!” Laura’s voice echoed back off the study walls.

“You will not raise your voice to me, child,” her father followed her around the room. She tried to escape him and put the study desk between them, knowing well the feel of his anger from her childhood. He had never been afraid to strike her in reprimand. “We have guests. Do you wish the entire ball to hear you behaving so insolently?”

“Maybe I do wish it? What would you say to that?” She came to a stop on the other side of the desk as he stopped too. “If I disgrace our family’s reputation enough with my ‘insolence’, as you call it, perhaps this wedding will not happen.”

“This wedding is happening no matter how great your objections are!” His voice was filled with menace as he slammed his hands down on the desk. She jumped back away from the desk, nearly colliding with a nearby armchair in her desperation to escape Sir Hamilton.

“You would do this to me? I am your daughter,” she scrambled around the armchair as her father pursued her, his face turning redder with each exchanged shout between them.

“I am your father, and you will obey me,” he grabbed hold of her skirt, pulling her back before she could escape.

“No! Let me go!”

“You will make this alliance, you will make this marriage,” he adjusted his hold, taking hold of her arms and shaking her, “with this connection, our family will be noble! Do you think I would sacrifice that just because you have no liking for the man? You act as though he is the devil himself!” Laura knew her father was an ambitious man. Though he possessed a good fortune, they had no noble connections. If Laura were to marry the Earl, their family would be connected with a noble bloodline.

“If you make me marry such a man, then you are worse than the devil—ahh!”

He struck her across the cheek, releasing her arm and delivering such a firm blow that she staggered back away from him, clutching her face. She collided with the armchair and used it to hold herself up as she trembled.

“Learn from this, Laura. The Earl will not want an outspoken wife. He will care for it no more than I care for an outspoken daughter,” he snapped the words in her direction before turning away from her.

She winced at the words, knowing few gentlemen she had ever met liked her wish to speak her mind. Her mother had been the same as her, always wishing to speak her mind but fearing doing so. The day her mother had died, her father had not even visited her. Claiming he had already heard enough words from his wife for his lifetime.

“I will not —”

“That is enough, Laura!” he shouted, tossing the words over his shoulder as he returned to the door. “Our guests are still in the ballroom, dancing, making merry, and waiting for our return to celebrate with us. We will join them.”

“How do you expect me to ‘make merry’ now?” She looked up to him, still clutching her cheek. The pain was stinging from where he had left a handprint on her cheek. “I will never be happy again now.”

“Do not be dramatic, child,” he scoffed as he crossed the room again, returning to her side. “Now, I am ordering you to return to the ballroom.” Laura refused to move. She stayed exactly where she was, holding onto the chair and her cheek. “Do I need to administer punishment again to make you move?”

She scrambled away before he could lay another hand on her. She put the desk between them once more, deciding quickly on her actions. If he came near her again, she would fight back. She would not be hurt by him anymore. She would grab anything near to hand, the inkwell from the desk, the nearby books, or even the parchment weight, anything to prevent him from striking her.

“Insolent child, just like your mother,” he spat the words out as he turned away from her. “She tried to avoid doing her duty too. Clean yourself up,” he gestured to her with a frantic wave of his hand. “Put something on that cheek to hide the red mark and join me in the ballroom. If you are not there in ten minutes, believe me, Laura, you will regret it.”

Laura flicked her head away from him, looking to the mirror above the fireplace nearby. From her attempted escape around the room, some of her brown locks had fallen out of her updo, and her pale skin was mottled red from his strike.

“Do I have your agreement?”

Laura wanted to shout and rail at him that she had no inclination to follow his instruction to return to the ball, let alone his instruction to marry Lord Moore, but she knew she had little choice.

“Yes,” she replied simply, watching in the mirror as he walked back toward the door.

“Good,” he flung open the door, disappeared through, and shut it loudly behind him. As it clattered in the frame, Laura jumped once more at the sharp sound. She closed her eyes for a few minutes, trying to stop the tears that were threatening to fall.

I cannot do this. I cannot marry him. This future cannot be mine!

She opened her eyes to see her reflection in the mirror, tracing the blue eyes, petite features, and brown hair. She was so similar to her mother in many ways. The thought brought something to her mind… Her governess had once told her of her mother’s attempt to leave Sir Hamilton’s house. She had tried to escape in the dead of night with Laura in her arms and the governess with her, but they had been caught before they could leave London and forced to return home.

Perhaps I should be even more like my mother!

Her governess, Miss Ava Buchanan, had retired to Scotland two years ago.

What if I could escape my father’s house after all? Do what my mother always wanted to!

She pushed away from the mirror and began to pace up and down the room, trying to reset her hair as a plan formed in her mind. She could run away and escape her betrothal. Her father would surely never follow her all the way to Scotland. There she could live a different life entirely, one where she was her own master! She could go into service, it would be hard, but it was infinitely preferable to a future married to Lord Moore. Or a future where she had to face the continued beatings from her father.

She turned back to the mirror, seeing the red mark on her cheek. The sight of it only made her more determined.

“Very well, father,” she muttered under her breath. “I will pretend to agree with this betrothal, but only to fool you.” She walked toward the door, preparing to return to her chamber to reset her makeup. “Then I will take my leave of you. For good!”


The next night as Laura returned to her chamber, she was extra careful to lock the door. She had been awake for most of the night before, considering her plan. She had wavered a few times. After all, she had never known a life where she was not beside her father! Yet now…she would do anything to be away from him. In the end, any hesitation she felt was overruled.

I have to escape.

The reason her mother’s attempt to flee had not worked was that she had tried to leave the house dressed as she always was. In a carriage she owned, her mother had made no attempt to hide her identity as they crossed London. It had therefore been easy enough for Sir Hamilton to trace her escape and bring her home.

I will not make the same mistake.

Laura had retired early for the evening, claiming to her father that she had a headache after all the excitement from the ball the night before. He had barely acknowledged her words. He was much more focused on preparing her dowry for her marriage to the Earl.

As the lock of the door clicked into place, she turned into the room, her movements hurried and frenzied as she lit some candles to keep her company. With the room bathed in amber light, she looked under the bed and pulled out the pack she had secretly placed there earlier that day. She opened the pack on the bed, revealing all the things she would need to escape: a bundle of food, a waterskin of beer, and a servant boy’s uniform.

She held up the shirt and breeches to her body and turned to the mirror, examining the fit. She had taken the clothes from the laundry room in the morning. Being so small, she had to take a boy’s clothes. A man’s would have been far too big.

“This could work,” she muttered to herself, smiling with excitement. Laura dropped the clothes back on the bed and turned to the mirror.

If I am to transform myself into a boy, there is much that must change!

She started to work on her hair. Collecting small scissors from her toilette table, she cut away at the long locks until they just reached her chin. With the strands so short, she tied them into a small bun at the back of her head. Next, she turned to her face and hurried to remove the makeup. Her features were still petite, and though she did not believe herself to be a great beauty, her features were pretty enough that it would be difficult to persuade others she was a boy. She pulled a cap out of a drawer, one she had taken from the stable boy that had been distracted with the horses earlier that day. Pulling the cap down over her head, it hid her features enough to make the illusion a little more real.

Now darkness had completely fallen outside, she would have to make her escape. The sooner she could leave, the more hours concealed in the darkness she would have to run from the house.

She undressed quickly and bound her breasts with a strip of linen from her cupboard. Though slight in figure, she had slim curves, and they would need to be hidden if she were to be convincing. With her breasts bound, she took a small purse out of her dresser full of money and hid the purse between her breasts. At least there, no one could steal from her! She dressed in the boy’s clothes, pulling the cap low as she finished her work.

She stared in the mirror for some time, shifting between her feet with nerves. Staring into the mirror with her blue eyes darting back and forth, she had to accept there was not much that was masculine about her… she would have to hope that people would think her merely a young boy and feminine in appearance. She had seen enough feminine men in her life, those dandies who were almost as slight in the figure as she was.

Perhaps this could work.

If she were caught, she feared what the punishment could be. Her father would probably beat her, but what punishment her husband-to-be would think of was frightening. With all the rumors that circled about that man, she didn’t doubt it would be something horrific. Something in the bedchamber…she shivered with fear from the idea.

It was worth a try at the very least. She had nothing to lose.

She placed the food bundle in a leather satchel bag and turned back to her writing desk, placed in the corner of her chamber. Inside the top drawer, she found her last letter from her governess. In the corner of the parchment was Ava’s address, in the heart of Scotland in Inverness.

It will be quite a journey.

She smiled at the idea and hid the letter in her satchel before turning to the door. On the wall next to the door was a painting of her mother. She placed a kiss on her hand and turned her palm to the painted cheek of her mother.

“Wish me luck.”

Chapter Two

Laura had been wandering the streets for some time before she had to accept that she was lost. She had planned to head to the coaching inn. From there, she could catch the stagecoach and make her way slowly up the country toward Scotland. The stagecoach could take her as far as Edinburgh, and from there, she could traverse the open countryside toward Inverness.

Yet the dark streets looked so different at night, and she had grown more and more nervous with each passing group of strangers. She had never been out so late by herself before. She passed through the streets of Covent Garden and was startled to see the number of courtesans and ladies of the night that wandered the street. More than one approached her to her alarm, but she ran quickly away, with her eyes darting between groups of ruffians and drunkards that could not walk the streets in a straight line.

As she reached the other side of Covent Garden, she had to accept she had no idea of which way to go to find the coaching inn. She swallowed all her pride when she saw a young man smoking a pipe, standing a little apart from a drunkard group outside an alehouse.

“Excuse me,” she affected a deep voice. Her tone was already husky, but she took on an extra depth. “Could you tell me the way to the coaching inn, please?”

“That way,” the man pointed down the road. “Second turn on your left.” His eyes returned to her, and she saw them widen on her. “Hurry lad, before anyone notices you here.”

“Why?” She stepped back in surprise.

“Young boy like yourself, easy target,” he took a long drag on his pipe and blew out the smoke. It billowed in the air around Laura’s face, making her stumble even further back.

Was that a threat!?

For the briefest of moments, she was pleased to see she had passed for a boy, but the threat in his words hit her quickly. She hurried away, feeling the darkness of his meaning practically crawl inside her and leave her trembling. She walked quickly down the street, looking back once to see the man talking to one of his friends and gesturing down the road in her direction with his pipe.

I am no easy target.

Despite the words, she felt fear growing anyway. She glanced down at her body, being so slight, she would hardly be able to put up much of a fight if it came to it.

She followed the man’s instructions, but before she took the second left, she glanced back another time. Her breath hitched to see the young man and his friends were now walking down the streets, their eyes trained on her position.

Laura ran before she could think too much about it. All she knew was that she had to put as much distance between her and the men as quickly as possible. Running without a skirt and in flat leather boots, she found remarkably easy, compared to the heavy dresses and heels she used to wear, but little good it did. As she kept looking back over her shoulder, cold realization struck.

They are gaining ground!


“Here? I am nae certain, Dearg,” Erskine shook his head as his gaze scanned the coaching inn before him, his dark red hair bounced across his forehead with the movement. They were so close to Covent Garden, he did not doubt that some of their party would probably take advantage of visiting the courtesans whilst they took their rest overnight, but that was not what troubled Erskine. In Covent Garden, the number of ruffians and thieves was too high to count. He did not like putting his group in such jeopardy.

“Aye, it is for one night only. What wrong could it do?” His younger brother, Dearg, laughed and clapped him on the back as they handed their horses to the stable. “Ye need to lighten up, brother. Nothin’ will happen to us tonight.”

“I am nae so sure of that,” Erskine patted his steed’s neck as the horse whinnied beside him. He was as reluctant to hand the horse over to the stable as he was to stay at the coaching inn. He had heard tales of such stables selling the horses at night and then running before the owners could return.

“Be cheerful, in the name of the wee man!”

Aye, I will be happy once we are far from London.

Erskine thought his brother could be a fool at times. If it were not for Erskine’s strategic thinking and quick work with his fists, Dearg would have come to a sticky end at the hands of a thief a long time ago. As it was, Erskine was always looking over his shoulder, and his quick temper had earned him the label ‘brute’ on more than one occasion. He hardly cared; he was sure it was the reason they were both still alive. As sons of a Scottish Laird, they were desirable targets for thieves and swindlers.

“Let go of the horse already,” Dearg took the steed from his hands and passed the reins to the stable boy. “All will be well,” Dearg was still smiling, making his freckled cheeks crease. “We are all still here, are we nae?” He turned Erskine with his shoulder to face the rest of their party that were all standing outside of the coaching inn door.

There were three other men with them: Camden, Aiden, and Tam. They had travelled down together for Erskine to discuss business of his father, Laird McCullum, with parliament. Now the Jacobite Rebellions had finished for good, such trips would become more and more necessary, but it did not mean Erskine trusted the ill-feeling between the Scots and the English to be concluded so easily.

As Erskine considered this idea, he saw Tam step away from the others, his expression altogether darker than it had been a moment ago.

“Tam, what is wrong?” Erskine was instantly alert.

“Take a look,” Tam pointed down the street behind Erskine. “It seems the Scottish are nae the only ones that thieves like to target.”

Erskine followed his friend’s gaze down the road. There was a young lad sprinting down the center of the cobbled street. Behind him at a little distance were a group of four young men, chasing him down.


Laura had never known fear like this. She could hear the footsteps behind her and the catcalls too. They were teasing her, laughing at her size, shouting that she could not outrun them. Just as the sign of the coaching inn came into view in the moonlight, she felt a pair of hands take hold of her, jerking her backward.

“Let go!” she roared, adopting the deep voice again, but it did little use. Suddenly, the ruffians closed in around her. There were four of them. She was tossed from one set of hands to another, their arms binding hers down at her side so that she could not push them away. The stench was overwhelming: a mixture of ale and the aftereffects of visiting a privy.

“What money you got then, eh?” A voice drawled as a face appeared in front of her, bright red from intake of drink. His breath stank of ale as he reached into her satchel.

She had brought so few things with her, and she could not bear the thought of such a man touching the letter from her governess. With her body being held by the person behind her, practically holding her off the ground, she used it as leverage. She reared back and kicked out with both feet, her boots struck against the stinking man’s stomach, winding him and making him fall back.

“Ha! Spirited for such a small lad, isn’t he?” One of the drunkards laughed as he approached her.

She tried to kick out again, but the fourth thief grabbed her legs, trying to hold them down.

“Come on, hand over your cash, boy, and we’ll be on our way,” the man behind her said in her ear. She tried to recoil away from his mouth being so close to her skin, but she could not get far.

She felt a hand slip into her pocket. She toyed with the idea of handing over her money, thinking it could save her life, but she had only change in her pockets, as the purse with most of her cash had been hidden in the linen binding around her breasts, and she was hardly going to confess to that or let them look beneath her shirt.

Then they will know I am no boy at all!

Her mind flashed with all sorts of fears—terrified that if they discovered she was a woman, they could do far worse to her than just steal from her… The grasp of the thief’s arms around her suddenly felt more constricting, and she tussled against them.

“Let go of me!” she roared again. She kicked out, this time freeing her legs and managing to make contact with one of the ruffian’s chins. It sent him stumbling back and clutching his face.

The thief behind her adjusted his hold. Just as she thought she would have the opportunity to escape, she felt something sharp placed at her throat. She held perfectly still as the cold touch of a blade met the crease of her throat.

“Do not move again,” the man spat the words in her ear. She could feel the spittle running down her neck, but she could not pull away from him with the blade pressed so threateningly against her. “Money now or die.”

Is this really how I am to meet my death? From a thief in the street!

“Release the lad.” A firm voice joined the cacophony of catcalls.

Laura’s eyes darted around, but all she could see were the two thieves she had wounded, one clutching his stomach and the other holding onto his bleeding chin, and the third hesitating, shifting between his feet.

“You would not do it,” the man entrapping her said, turning his head away from her. The movement allowed her enough freedom to turn her face to the side.

Beside them stood a tall man, dressed in trews, shirt, waistcoat, and a dark jacket. He towered over the man holding onto her. In his hand was a flintlock pistol, with the silver barrel gleaming in the moonlight trained on the man behind her.

“I wouldnae be so certain about that,” the man smiled full of threat with a thick Scottish accent. He lowered the pistol and shot at the ground by their feet.

The man jumped, releasing her enough to stumble away. She staggered on her feet, barely aware as she felt the Scottish stranger take her arm and heave her behind him. Then, he reared forward, with one hard strike, he thumped the man in the nose. The thief reeled backward for a second, then fell to the ground, trying to scramble away on his back.

Laura lifted her eyes to see there were other Scottish travelers around her, four other men who were now joining the fray. They each set upon one of the thieves, scaring them enough to make the ruffians retreat down the road.

“Bloody Scots!” The man who had held the blade at Laura’s throat threw the insult in the air. At the words, the Scottish man who had torn her away from his grasp strode forward threateningly, as though he would deliver another blow, but it seemed to do enough.

The thief ran back down the street, on the coattails of his friends.

“What was that about?” One of the Scottish travelers turned to the one that had pulled her free.

“I told ye, Dearg,” he shook his head. “This is nae a safe place to be.”

“Aye, aye, very well,” Dearg admitted, holding his hands up in surrender. Whereas Dearg had an amiable countenance with bright red hair and blue eyes, the man he was talking to had dark red hair and a much sterner manner. “I was hardly expectin’ this though, was I?”

“Thieves descendin’ on a young boy? Why would ye? Any decent human bein’ wouldnae think of it, but we are nae in a decent place now,” the man turned, and his eyes found Laura as he replaced the flintlock pistol in his belt. She was startled by the strength of his green gaze. He stepped toward her, with those green eyes darting up and down her for a second. “Ye all right there, laddie?”

Laura swallowed as she considered the question. Her clothes were ruffled by the encounter, and her body was shaken, but she was not injured. One of her hands went from the strap of her satchel bag to the place on her neck where the blade had been held at her throat, but she had suffered only a graze.

“I am fine, thank you for…” she trailed off and gestured at the road where the thieves had disappeared.

“Ye shouldnae be out here by yerself,” the Scottish traveler walked toward her.

Laura knew that at such close distance, she should be pulling her hat lower, trying to hide her eyes for fear of discovery that she was a girl, but she found she could not. She could not help looking out boldly from the hat brim to stare at the stranger’s face.

I have never seen anyone like him before.

With a square and angular jaw, he had sharp features that could make his anger plain as day, though they had softened now, and Laura was dazed by the handsomeness in those features, in particular the green eyes that were still looking over her.

“Aye, easy target,” another one of the Scottish travelers moved to her side. This one was shorter than the others, with fair hair tied into a ponytail at the back of his head. “Placed yerself in danger.”

Laura flinched at the words, hating the insinuation she could not look after herself, despite what had happened moments before.

“I was heading for the coaching inn,” she gestured to the building behind them, speaking with a harsh tone. “I hardly expected such a thing to happen, did I?”

“A little foolish,” the handsome Scot remarked though a smirk teased his lips as he said it. She flicked her eyes back toward him, disarmed momentarily from finding an immediate retort as she gazed at his features again.

“Perhaps, but I would rather live my life believing in the good of strangers rather than the bad.”

“Still sounds foolish to me,” his smile was growing greater now.

“And what of yourselves?” She pointed to them. “You are strangers to me too, yet you would do me the kindness of helping me out.”

“Aye, very well, I take yer point,” the handsome Scot admitted. “Ye best get inside, laddie before any more thieves come this way.”

“You are staying here too?” she asked in surprise as the Scot took hold of her shoulder and turned her toward the building.


The group filtered in through the door, with Laura and the handsome Scot trailing at the back.

“Will you tell me your name?” She could see her words were met with surprise as he hovered in the doorway. “I wish to know who I am indebted to.”

“Erskine,” he replied. “And yers?”

“Billie,” the word came out quickly. It was the name of one of the servants in her father’s employment and the first name that came to mind.

“Very well, ye best get inside, Billie, ye’re shakin’,” he pointed down at her hands. She balled them into fists as she tried to stop the trembling. “I’ll buy ye a drink. Ale should put a stop to that shakin’.”

Laura found herself nodding and following him inside, more than happy to follow the handsome Scot.

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

  • “Billie” is lucky to have met her savior. It’ll be a fine adventure of wonder for Laura to see the world through Erskine’s “eyes”. Great hook to start with their tale, Ms. Wight!

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