Highlander’s Secret Desire (Preview)

Chapter 1

The world had ended only a few weeks ago, and Heloise MacAskill was expected to live on as though nothing had happened. She was expected to forgive.

The rain poured down, turning her chestnut locks black with moisture. The sky was dark, and she knew the rain would soon turn into a full-blown storm, yet she didn’t want to go back inside. Her eyes were wet, filled with tears masked by the downpour. She stood there, allowing the water to cover her like an icy cold blanket, hoping that perhaps the creatures of the faerie myths she loved as a child would take pity on her and come to take her away.


Nay. Dinnae interrupt me, nae now, nae yet. She ignored her brother calling for her by her childhood nickname. Let me be here a moment longer, where none of this is real.

“Ellie!? Can ye hear me? Can ye please look at me? Yer giving me a right fright standing there like ye are.”

“I’m fine, Van,” she said, the lie sounding hollow even as she spoke the words. How could she be fine? How could anything ever be fine again?

She sighed deeply, turning away from the enveloping rain to face her brother. At only ten and four, Evander was a tall, gangly boy, already much taller than Ellie. They looked alike—dark hair and sharp features they’d taken from their mother. Evander, though, had large grey eyes, where Heloise’s were green.

I see Father’s eyes every time I look at Van. Does he ken that?

It was a knife through the heart when she looked into the poor boy’s eyes, but she forced herself to smile at him anyway. None of this was his fault. No, the blame was squarely on the shoulders of their mother.

“I mean it, Van. I’m fine,” she repeated as Van continued to look at her as if she had grown an extra head. “Grand, even.”

He didn’t look remotely convinced. He folded his arms and said, “Then ye’ll come inside and away from this awful place? We hae guests ye ken.”

Ellie nodded, she knew there were visitors at the keep, but she barely cared. Besides, the kirkyard wasn’t awful. Since the funeral, since her father was taken from her and left her alone in a cold, empty world, the kirkyard was the only place that gave her any warmth. Evander didn’t seem able to feel it as she did, and for that, she pitied him.

Because it was expected of her, and she did not want to cause Van any more distress. She followed her brother back along the winding path that led to a castle that had once been her home. Of course, she still lived there, but it no longer felt like the warm home she longed for with her father gone. She glanced at her brother. The boy was expected to be a Laird now.

He isnae ready. Mother needs to get over her own pain and see that. He needs her to help him.

Ellie loved Evander. She wanted to see him succeed as laird, yet despite how much she adored him, she couldn’t stay in the empty, broken shell of her family home. She had to come up with a plan. She could travel to Edinburgh, perhaps change her name and accent and find work as a governess or in a seamstress shop. She was half bad with a needle. She could change her appearance and blend in with the common folk. She could be far away from the pain of home. She was not needed. She smiled at her own ingenuity. Yes, she would do quite well on her own. Perhaps if she was able to squirrel away some provisions, she could be ready to leave in less than a fortnight. She had some coin stashed away in her trunks. She allowed a small smile through her pain; perhaps all was not lost. A future was revealing itself in her imaginings. Though she followed Evander, it was only a matter of time until Ellie escaped for good.


“And where have ye been that ye come storming in here like a drowned rat?” shouted Lady Sara MacAskill. Ellie fought the urge to cover her ears as she and Van entered the room. Mother’s voice had lost all of its calm and sweetness since Father’s death. Her grief had overwhelmed her entirely. Or her guilt, Ellie thought. “It’s a good thing ye were wearing black. God only kens what ye’d be showing to the public if ye’d not been in yer mourning dress.”

It’s a good thing I’m wearing black, is it? A good thing that I’m in mourning?

That hadn’t been what her mother meant, of course. Ellie knew she was being unfair. Ellie had promised Evander that she’d be gentler with their mother, even if it meant accepting unjust shouting and compliments given with the back of her hand. After all, the two women had been close once. Before her father had fallen upon his own sword, Ellie had loved her mother above all other women.

Oh, the official story had been illness, but the family knew the truth. The man had been tired of life, too much to even care about what it would do to his children if he escaped it.

“Mother, she was visiting Father,” Evander said quietly. He was a sweet boy, too gentle for the world into which he’d been born. He was trying to make peace, to make his mother give his sister a moment to breathe. Ellie loved him for trying.

Oh, it was the wrong thing to say, but he tried.

Visiting your father?” Lady MacAskill shrieked. Her green eyes– Heloise’s green eyes—stared directly at her daughter, and Ellie could see pure fury. “Ye went to the kirkyard? Again? I thought I forbid it!”

“I’m a woman grown, Mother,” Ellie explained, trying to keep calm for the sake of Evander. Ellie was trying, but her mother was stoking her anger. “Ye cannae keep me from me Father.”

“Ye spend all yer time at that grave,” Lady MacAskill accused. “In th’ rain no less. Look at ye, ye look like a sopped moppet.”

Before Ellie could think not to take her mother’s bait, she snapped back. “Well, I wouldnae have to visit his grave if it wasnae—”

Ellie opened her mouth to try to apologize, but she found she couldn’t, not now that she was inside. The reason she spent so much time in the rain, though nobody else seemed to understand it, was simple. The ice-cold torrent was the only thing strong enough to temper the raging fire inside her.

“If it wasnae what, Heloise?” her mother demanded. “Say it.”

“Perhaps if me father had a wife who respected or cared about him at all, he wouldnae have done what he did,” Ellie said in a whispered snarl. “Perhaps I’d still have a living father if ye—” She stopped herself, but it was too late. Her mother blanched, and Evander looked terribly upset.

“Ellie, please,” Evander begged. “Please stop. Ye ken that this never ends well, nae for any of us. Please dinnae—”

“Nay, go on!” Lady MacAskill insisted. Her hands on her hips and her eyes too narrow for Ellie to think Van was wrong. “Tell me exactly what ye think of me, daughter. Tell me how terrible ye think I am.”

“Me father is dead because ye couldnae stop yerself from doing what ye did,” Ellie hissed. “I heard ye. I heard ye telling him the truth. Two days later, he was gone. How can ye even try to claim it was nae yer fault?”

Tears welled in Evander’s eyes, but Lady MacAskill’s gaze grew cold.

“Ye never loved him,” Ellie continued, unable to stop now that her rant had begun. She did not yell, but her tone was biting, and her anger intense. A flame had been burning in the locked chest of her soul, waiting to be unleashed, and now that she opened the latch, there was no holding it back. “Ye never cared about him at all. He tried so hard, and—”

She reeled back as her mother slapped her hard across the cheek, the shock of the violence ringing throughout the stone hallway. Ellie fell to her knees as Evander cried out.

Ellie looked up at her mother, brushing aside her brother’s attempt to help her stand. The older woman’s green eyes were wide with surprise and dare she hope, regret, then as quick as it appeared, the look vanished, and Lady MacAskill hardened. “Dae nae speak to yer mother in such a way,” she chastised. “Dae nae act like ye ken anything of love.”

“I ken what it is, unlike you,” Ellie said, glaring at her mother. “Never strike me again,” she warned. Even as she said the words, she was unsure how she would follow through on any threat against the woman who gave her life.

Evander stepped forward. “She’s upset, Ellie. She didnae mean to…”

Ellie held up a hand to stop her brother from lending their mother an excuse for her behavior. She regretted nothing she said, and she suspected the same was true of her mother. There were some actions one could not simply apologize away. All Ellie wanted was to leave the corridor. She could not stay, especially not when treacherous, angry tears were prickling at the corners of her eyes. She could not allow her mother to see her cry. And so, she turned on her heel and marched out of the hall, breaking into a run as she approached the large doors that separated the main living space from the Great Hall. Evander called out, but nobody actively tried to stop her.

Good. I dinnae ken what I would have done if they did.


The hidden stone alcove where Ellie hid now had always brought her peace. She’d discovered it in one of the little-used hallways in the keep when she was but a child. It was carved out behind a tapestry and had become her salvation. She had spent hours over the years hiding away from everyone there, bringing soft pillows, books, and even sometimes snacks. It was the perfect quiet place—her own private salvation. No one else knew of it as far as she could tell except for her and Evander. They used it to communicate with each other, leaving notes and spending time in the small space playing games and reading. Her heart could be content in the alcove. Even now, as she tried to calm her anger, she was able to lose track of time. It was the only place that she could go to escape.

It’s a wonder the fire in me blood doesnae ignite the tapestry.

The alcove had served her well over the years. She’d never even told her father, Laird Irving MacAskill, about her secret place. She’d told him everything else, more than most daughters would tell their fathers. Now at two and twenty, she missed him more than ever, knowing she had lost the opportunity to share her secret place with him.

She sat behind the tapestry, curled into her pillows, trying very hard to calm herself. Her mother was so infuriating! How could the woman act as though none of this was her fault? Ellie had been so close to her father, and the fact that Lady MacAskill was the reason he was gone, she could never forgive.

Ellie had hidden to calm down, yet she found her temper raging even further every time she circled back to her mother. She touched her cheek. The slap hadn’t hurt, not really. If Ellie hadn’t been so blinded by hurt and anger, she might have considered that she’d deserved it.

Ellie let out a long, low sigh. At least their guests hadn’t witnessed the fight with her mother. Laird Lachlan Sinclair had been one of the few from the nearby clans who had bothered to travel out all this way to give the grieving family some comfort. Ellie was grateful to him for that, though she wished he had come alone. Not that she would expect a laird to travel without his men and a small entourage. It was their custom, after all. Still, he brought that infuriating nephew of his. That, Ellie thought, was a bit too much.

She huffed. Thinking of Aidam Sinclair always put her in a bad mood. Sure enough, he had a strong jaw dusted with a neat beard that showed off his brilliant smile. He was a handsome lad with long hair touched enough by the sun to shine like spun gold and blue eyes that reminded anyone who looked into them of sea spray on a clear Spring morning. He could steal the heart of anyone at a glance—and he knew it. Ellie had barely been able to get a maid to help her dress since Laird Sinclair and his nephew had arrived, each of them too busy paying company to that silly boy! She would always think of him as such.

And yet he’s at least four years me senior. Would that he behaved that way.

Ellie shook her head again, telling herself that it wasn’t Aidam’s fault. His uncle had raised him, she knew, and never really learned how to behave like a man. He was selfish, spoiled, and traipsed through existence as if the pain and grief of the real world mattered naught to him at all. Everything to Aidam held humor. Even Ellie knew that kind of caprice was irresponsible and dangerous. They had practically grown up together. It seemed Sinclair, and Aidam along with him, were always at the MacAskill keep. When she was younger, Aidam’s behavior hadn’t bothered her so much. She actually found his japery amusing under normal circumstances, and his silly flirting could have even been considered somewhat appealing. But now…

Well, it was easier to be angry than sad. Her irritation with Aidam served as a distraction from the vortex of feelings surrounding her mother and the agony of losing her father. Perhaps he even knew that, and that was why—

The tapestry rustled and pulled aside. She jumped as a handsome face appeared before her.

“Ellie?” Aidam asked, sounding amused. “Whatever are ye doing back here?”

“Talk of the Devil, and he’s presently at yer elbow,” she muttered to herself before addressing her interloper. “Ye should not address me so familiar,” She chastised. Not sure if she liked the sound of her nickname coming from him. “How did ye even find me? Go away, Aidam.”

He raised one thick blond eyebrow. “Now, Lady Heloise.” He emphasized her Christian name with a smirk worthy of naught else than a smack of her hand. “That isnae verra fair. Am I being ordered tae leave or answer yer question? God kens, I’m nae quite able to do both.”

She growled. This was not a distraction she needed. Allowing deep distaste to color her voice, she answered, “Tell me how ye found me and then leave.”

Aidam folded his arms. “Yer dreekit,” he said, referring to how she’d been soaked by the rain. “Ye’ve been dripping water since ye came inside. I went to check on yer mother, and she told me ye’d fled in anger. I simply followed yer trail to make sure ye were all right.”

Ellie cursed under her breath. “All right, ye’ve found me, and clearly I’m fine. Now go away,” she insisted. “And forget ye ever saw this place.”

Aidam grinned. Damnation, but he was as smug as he was handsome. Although not ladylike at all, Ellie idly wondered what it would be like to punch him.

Or kiss him.

She started. Where had that thought come from? It was a purely physical thought, of course. Kissing should be the last thing on her mind. It unsettled her to know her mind was capable of such a thought. She really was a grieving mess. Were she to return to herself at all, she knew she must leave this place as soon as possible. Yes, that was what her mind was telling her with such errant thoughts. She needed to put distance between herself at the Highland keep; escaping her emotions would be the best and fastest way to put herself to rights.

“Ye ken,” he said. “There’s room in there for two.”Aidam was still watching her, and his expression made clear he somehow knew exactly where her thoughts were traveling.

She scowled, looking away. “I dinnae want yer company,” she said shortly. “I barely tolerate ye as it is. Yer uncle is the only reason I bother.”

Lachlan Sinclair was a kindly man, fatherly, honest, and comfort in these days when her own father was so cruelly taken from her. Would that Lachlan had passed any of that onto his nephew, and they’d all be better for it.

Aidam tutted, not easily deterred. “Come now,” he teased. “Ye call that being a good hostess? Move yerself over and let me in.”

He always talked to her in the same teasing tone since they were both wee bairns. In another world, one where she was less broken and angry, it would have made her smile. She might even have been able to return his trite banter.

But I lost me smile. Only the fire still lives.

“Take it, then,” she said, pushing past him as she climbed out of the alcove. “I’ll go elsewhere.”

He blinked at her in surprise. “Ellie, wait,” he said. “I’m only trying to be friendly. I’m sorry if I genuinely upset ye. I just thought—”

“I dinnae need yer help, Aidam Sinclair. Yer’s or anyone else’s!” She half-shouted, instantly embarrassed by her own misplaced rage. Ignoring the tender look in Aidam’s eye, she stormed along the corridor away from him, toward one of the side doors. She did not need or want his pity. He could save the looks for the maids who clamored for his attention and leave her to herself.

Ellie would rather go back out into the rain than show Aidam her grief and weakness. She’d go back to her father and enjoy the silence, away from traitorous mothers, concerned little brothers, and confusing handsome lads and their teasing.

Let the rain pour atop her head and quench her fire, if only for a moment. Until she was able to escape, what else could she do?

Chapter Two

Aidam had never been one for dealing well with the tempestuous emotions of women. Oh, he loved them, of course—they were beautiful creatures, unknowable and incomparable in their wonder. He could spend hours upon days looking upon their bonny faces and running his hands through their soft locks. Indeed, most women thought him handsome, but they never seemed to know that they blessed him with their presence rather than the other way around. Yet, he still felt adrift at sea with no anchor or mooring when it came to the way women showed their emotions.

That wasn’t to say all women were the same, far from it. Some were kindly. Some were cruel. Some were loving, some bitter, some funny, some boring, and others were something other entirely. He’d met and briefly courted many women in his six and twenty years. People called Aidam fickle, but that wasn’t true at all—he was far from that. In his own way, he cared for each and every woman who granted him her time. It was never love—but he never led them to expect love. Each woman who stepped out with him was fully aware that his intentions were not marriage or children. Love was for men ready to settle, and Aidam was not that. How could he, when there were so many women out there so interesting?

There always seemed to be a woman or two on his arm, but none of them, not one, was anything like Lady Heloise. More like a boat at sea bein’ attacked by stormy waves, he thought as he watched Ellie tear off in the direction of the kitchens.

Lady Heloise MacAskill—always Ellie to him—was becoming a problem. He’d known her for many years, and their relationship had always involved teasing and patter. He’d never tried to court her, knowing the lashing he’d receive from her tongue if he attempted any of the sweet talk and light flirting that worked so well for him with the ladies. It was hard for him to remember a time when Ellie wasn’t in his shadow, but when he was first starting to look at girls as more than girls but women, she was young, too young to consider in such a light, a friend was all—one whom his uncle seemed to encourage visits with as often as possible.

That had changed since she turned ten and eight. He’d barely seen her in the four years since. When he’d heard the news about poor Laird MacAskill, though, he’d instantly demanded he be allowed to accompany his uncle to pay respects to the widow and children left behind.

Evander is half a man, where he was nay but a child the last time I saw him, and Ellie…well, I barely recognize her at all.

Aidam watched where she’d fled down the hallway. He wasn’t offended by her dismissal. She’d always been blunt and a wee bit capricious. It was reassuring; at least, some things about her hadn’t changed.

“Stubborn chit, I seen th’ way ye looked to me the day I arrived!” he exclaimed to the hallway, knowing he wouldn’t say it to her face. “She kens she needs me help!”

She’d always been pretty enough, he supposed, but when he saw her as a fully grown woman, things shifted. Her long hair, sharp green eyes, and body that curved gently under her simple black mourning dresses— Aidam longed to touch her in a way, less than friendly immediately, yet he also saw his youthful friend in need and wanted to be the one she chose to lean on.  The desire to hold and comfort her became overwhelming. He’d quashed it, of course. Even he was not so crass as to flirt with a woman in mourning. So, he’d treated her like he used to—the friend he thought she needed most at the moment. She was hurt, angry, and confused, but sometimes when he made just the right stupid joke, the hopeful glimmer of a smile shone in her eyes. A small return to the girl he knew. That made him proud. He wanted to break through her walls, chip away at her anger until he found more of that girl she had been.

Aidam leaned against the cool stone wall and expelled an exasperated breath. He had tried, but he couldn’t get her out of his mind. It wasn’t love, of course, but how long had it been since he wanted any woman as much as Ellie? There was a fire right below the surface, ready to harm or to help as it needed—a burning passion that he’d never seen so present in another person, let alone a woman. The week so far had not been without incident between them. Had he not known better, he would guess she sought him out more than once, then thinking better of the impulse, pretended that she hadn’t done any such thing. Then there were the rare times he caught her as she smiled, remembering her father or talking with her Evander.

Aye. She’s trouble.

Aidam sighed and turned to walk away. She obviously wanted to be alone. He’d go and find Evander instead. Better to spend the time with a member of the MacAskill family that wanted his company. It was easy to be around Evander. He adored Aidam. While Aidam wasn’t particularly fond of being looked to as a hero, at least Evander was someone he knew he could help without the nagging need and desire eating away at his mind.


Ellie again found herself standing out in the rain before her father’s headstone, feeling a little daft. The rain had calmed her, yes—but it had also washed away any façade of anger protecting her from her own embarrassment. Her mother deserved all the censure she doled out, to be sure, but Ellie was too old to be running outside in the rain.

“Och, Father,” she sighed, running her hand along his name emblazoned on the rock. No moss grew yet, of course, but she imagined that in a few years, the cracked and weathering in the stone would be filled with a lovely, friendly green. “What am I to do without ye? Van isnae ready to be a Laird, and Mother…”

Mother. I miss when I could love her. I miss when I thought she was a better person.

“Lady Heloise?”

For a moment, muffled in the fuzzing of the rain, she mistook the deep voice for that of her father. She looked up half in fear and half in hope. It couldn’t be. She held a tight breath before relaxing into an exhale. It was not her father returned from the grave, but rather Laird Lachlan Sinclair, come to find her.

“Did Aidam tell ye where I was?” she asked, forcing a faint smile.

The Laird nodded. The rain had started to lessen a bit, but Ellie found she didn’t mind. In truth, there was something about Lachlan that reminded her of her father and given everything that occurred already this day. It was a comforting feeling. “I understand how hard it is to lose one who ye love,” he said. “I once loved a lass with all me heart, only to have her cruelly torn away.”

“Jemina’s mother?” Ellie asked, referring to Sinclair’s seventeen-year-old daughter. The young woman had not accompanied her father and cousin, presumably because someone needed to stay behind in the castle while the Laird was gone. Ellie did not remember much about the girl, even though Aidam had been around often when they were young. Jemina and Evander were both younger and not often permitted to travel between the clans for their own safety. Even in peacetime, there were dangers about in travel. As far as Ellie knew, Sinclair’s marriage had been arranged—but then, so had the marriage of her own parents, and they loved each other.

Or I thought they did.

She dipped her head into her hands. How had the world gone so wrong in such a short amount of time? The Laird didn’t answer her question. Instead, he smiled wistfully and said, “Ye ken, Heloise, it’s been ten years since me wife left this world. That’s a long time for a man to be alone.”

Ellie nodded absently, still staring at her father’s grave. “I’ve never been in love,” she told him. “If I’m honest, I dinnae think I ever will be. Love, in my experience, tends to be more damaging than rewarding.”

Just ask my accursed mother.

Lachlan nodded thoughtfully, and Ellie took the opportunity to look at him. He was an old friend of her parents, she knew. She imagined he’d been just as handsome as his nephew when he was young, if not more so. His hair had been brown once, but now it was a sharp, steely grey. His eyes were dark, and his beard thick, still showing strands of that long ago brown. He still had the look of a braw, strong man, only a hair out of his prime. There was no reason he could not marry again, she thought. There must be a plethora of ladies in their own prime that would love to give the old Laird companionship in his later years. Some men, she knew, even married younger maids to secure their heirs. Not that she wished for anything to be taken from Aidam, but the Laird may wish for a son of his own still. He really did remind Ellie of her father. In some ways, it was comforting to be around him. Since her father’s death, she had longed for a strong presence to guide her.

“Heloise, may I ask ye a question?” Lachlan asked after they’d both stood at the grave for a few minutes longer. The rain was disappearing quickly as the clouds cleared from the sky.

“Of course, my laird,” she said.

“Lachlan,” he corrected. He smiled and said, “Am I right in assuming that ye no longer wish to live here in Castle MacAskill?”

Ellie swallowed. Had she been that obvious about it? She felt herself blush slightly but then steeled herself and nodded. If she were going to follow through with her plan, she might need help. Having the kind old Laird in her corner may prove helpful. She could trust him, right? “I…aye,” she admitted. “Aye, I want to be gone. Every day here now is…more and more difficult.”

Lachlan nodded thoughtfully. “I think I may have a solution.”

Ellie looked at him curiously. Could he possibly have a better idea than her own? “I’m listening, my lai—” He stopped her with a look, and she quickly corrected. “…er, Lachlan.”

“I propose,” Lachlan said, scratching just under his beard in thought. “That ye and I are wed.”

Ellie stood in complete silence for some moments. Had she heard correctly? She was young enough to be his daughter. There is no way he could be serious in his proposal, could he? “Pardon me, my laird, but did I hear ye rightly? Ye wish to be wed? To me?”

“Me daughter, Jemina; she’s practically a woman now. She needs a stepmother to help her become a Lady,” Sinclair mused. “And I ken that, outside of yer grief, ye’re an expert in the field of nobility. And, well…beyond that, Heloise, ye’re a true beauty. Ye ken that, aye?”

Ellie raised an eyebrow, taken aback. Beauty? What in the world was this? Instead, she focused on the other part of what he’d said. “A…stepmother? Laird Sinclair, I’m only five years her senior,” Ellie protested.

Sinclair waved a dismissive hand. “Ahh, I told ye tae call me Lachlan. It doesnae matter,” he said. “She’ll take to ye better because ye’re young. And there are selfish reasons, as well. I’m an old man. I need some company in me twilight years.”

“Ye arenae even fifty yet,” Ellie protested, mostly because she felt like she should. “That’s hardly old, nae compared to some. Me own mother’s mother has already entered her eighth decade, and she’s doing grand.”

Lachlan smiled, but Ellie thought she saw an unfamiliar edge in his jaw at the gesture. Surely, he could not be angry at her refusal. It was a preposterous idea.

“Then I suppose me age willnae be a deterrent,” he said. “Heloise, I ken what it’s like to be mournful. Let me help ye out of it.”

Ellie paused.

“Ye and I will be joined, and I’ll take care of ye,” Sinclair continued, “Ye’ll nae longer need to worry about…family discord.”

Ellie nodded slowly, processing the Laird’s proposal. It came from nowhere. She searched her mind for any indication that she may have encouraged the Laird in any way or given any indication that a proposal was something she was agreeable to. “I…wasnae expecting this,” she confessed. Marriage? To Laird Sinclair? She had already committed to not marrying for love. Yet, it felt wrong. She could not name precisely why, but she knew marrying Laird Sinclair was not the answer she was looking for. She would do better on her own. Nay, she could not accept. “It’s a very kind offer. And I’m very flattered. I could certainly do worse by a husband than yerself. But…”

“Ahh lass, mayhap I wasnae clear. The matter has already been decided. Yer mother and I have made an arrangement. This discussion was only a courtesy to ye lass. Ye will be me bride. I was only asking tae be kind. I’ll be the luckiest man alive to have a beautiful young wife like ye,” Sinclair replied, taking her hand in his. It felt strange there.

“We leave on in three days’ time.”

Ellie’s head spun. Whatever was happening was happening too fast for her to process or understand. This had to be a nightmare.


Aidam heard shouting coming from the keep’s morning rooms and rushed in to investigate. Sure enough, he caught the tail end of the argument. Leaning against the door to the room, he could not help but hear the discussion between Ellie and her mother.

“Ye will marry Lachlan Sinclair, ye foolish girl. Ye dinnae have the choices for yer life that ye think,” shrieked Lady MacAskill, her rage acting to smother something else—was it pain? Ellie marry his uncle? What of this? Aidam had heard nothing of the kind. As far as he knew, his uncle was sworn never to marry again. Certainly not to Ellie; she was more than half his age. He…he was old enough to be her father. Surely, Aidam misunderstood.

“I ken ye hated me, Mother, but I didnae think ye’d force me in tae a marriage I didnae want,” Ellie said in a voice of deadly quiet. “It’s cruel. Father would—” Suddenly, there was a crash against the doors loud enough for Aidam to jump back and brace himself. As the door flew open, shards of glass clattered to the floor. He didn’t know who threw the vase, but it didn’t matter as Aidam watched Ellie storm out of her mother’s rooms, expression darker than he had ever seen.

He knew that she was going to turn her sharp temper on him for approaching, but he wanted to make sure that she was all right. He felt it his duty, even if she insisted that they had not been friends.

“Heloise!” he called, running after her. “Ellie, wait!”

She turned, frowning, then outwardly sighed as she saw him—her only response to seeing him these days—Aidam did not let it bother him.

He took a moment to gauge her appearance. She was visibly upset. Black circles of exhaustion ringed her eyes, drawing notice to their swollen appearance. Her hair was still a little damp, tied in a tight bun on top of her head, but she’d changed into another black dress and even adorned the required mourning cap. Aidam had always thought black a dour color, but especially so on Ellie. It drew away from the sparkle of her fair skin, washing her out, aging her beyond her two and twenty years.

“What do ye want?” she asked. “I’m nae in the mood for yer incompetent flirtations, lad.”

Lad? I’m four years older than ye are. And there’s naught incompetent about—

He was getting distracted—as no doubt, she’d intended. “I overheard yer conversation.”

“Ah, so ye’re an eavesdropper as well,” she said, folding her arms, terribly unimpressed. “The list of yer flaws only seems to grow longer an’ longer.”

Aidam ignored her comments. He would give her leave of her senses based on what he just heard. “What’s this I hear about ye bein’ set tae marry my uncle?” he asked. “Surely, I misheard.”

Her cheeks reddened a little, but she drew herself up to her full height and looked him proudly in the eye. “Ye didnae,” she said, no emotion betrayed in her voice. “Laird Sinclair proposed to me, and I accepted his proposal. We’ll be wed by the year’s end.”

Aidam stared at her. She cocked an eyebrow, challenging him to say something. He knew she was lying. She did not smile. She did not flinch. He heard her fight back against her mother. He had to agree. His uncle was too old. She had expressed no interest in being wed, especially not to his uncle. There was no way this was Ellie’s choice. Something else was brewing, Aidam felt it in his gut, and his gut was rarely wrong. After a moment, Aidam burst into raucous laughter.

It started small, but it grew in his stomach, threatening to overwhelm him.

She put her hands on her hips. “I’m serious, Aidam,” she said, sounding a little offended by his amusement. “We’re gonnae be married.”

“Och, ye must ken how silly that sounds,” Aidam replied, shaking his head. “Ye cannae want to marry a man as old as yer own father. That’s nonsense.”

Ellie raised one eyebrow. “Nonsense, is it? To find a man who’ll look after me and take me away from this place? Nay, I think not. I’m gonnae marry yer uncle, and there’s naught that anyone can say or do about it.” Tears threatened behind her gaze, but she did not waiver. Och, she was stubborn. Why wouldn’t she tell him the truth? Did she not trust him? Had they not known each other long enough for her to seek him out if she needed help. Her mother was clearly arranging this farce for some reason. He heard as much. Was his uncle doing the same? It was unlike the man to force a woman. Aidam would not allow any lass, especially Heloise, to be taken advantage of in such a way.

Aidam shook his head and grabbed her by the arm, pulling her to follow him. She came without argument, allowing him to pull her into a side room. They needed privacy. Once the door was closed behind him, she looked at him straight on.

“I’ll protest it,” he said, folding his arms. His laughter was gone now, replaced by a boiling irritation. “I’ll stop this farce before it can start.”

“Why do ye care so much anyway?” she demanded.

Why do I care so much? He should tell her the truth. Everything he knew to be wrong about the idea of it. There was something else as well. Something that stirred inside him at the thought of her marrying his uncle. It did not sit well. Yet, he could not put a name on it. He shook his head again, hand still tight on her arm. If she would not tell him the truth, perhaps he could get it out of her another way. Ellie was prideful, if nothing else. Perhaps he could challenge her sense of self. That would turn that fire against him, he knew. But it would also force some honesty out of her.

“Clan Sinclair is my family. Jemina is more than my cousin. She is practically my sister, and Sinclair raised me. He’s a second father. I willnae sit back and allow some immature wee lassie who cannae handle her emotions to join my family on a whim—and in a position of power, as well, Och nay!” Aidam exclaimed. His words may have been said to draw the truth out, but his annoyance was real, which surprised him.

Ellie’s scowl deepened. “Immature wee lassie, is it? Is that how ye see me?”

Nay, of course, it isnae. Ye’re more woman than any I’ve ever met.

“Well, how else am I tae see ye?” he replied, letting the irritation leak into his voice. “With yer ridiculous ideas of marriage. Ha! Yer father must be rolling in his grave.”

His head reared back as her hand came into contact with his cheek. “Dinnae even act like ye ken what me father would want,” she said dangerously. He rubbed his face, perhaps he went a bit too far, but he saw the fire dance in her eyes, the defiance against his words. Her face flush awash with a torrent of emotion.

Aidam had her, and he would not give up. Come on, lass. Tell me th’ truth. He couldn’t see this marriage happen. He simply couldn’t.“And ye? Ye’re telling me a lass like ye wants me uncle?” he pressed on. “Ye’re saying—”

“A lass like me? What does that mean? Dinnae presume to tell me what I want, either, Aidam Sinclair!” she snapped. “I dinnae ken who ye think ye are, but I—”

Aidam stared at her in exasperation. No longer hearing the protests, she continued to lob at him. He would not allow this marriage to happen. It was madness. She was driving him mad. With a sigh, he reached out and closed the distance between them. She stopped yelling just long enough for him to take her face between his hands, then dipping his head, he let his lips do what his words could not and shut her up.

He’d be lying if he said that he hadn’t dreamt of the moment he would finally kiss Ellie, though, in his fantasies, it had gone rather differently. He could taste her outrage on her lips. Her hands went to his chest. Aidam prepared himself to be pushed away. He had no excuse for kissing her, but instead, he found himself delighted as her hands curled in his shirt as she pulled him closer.

Aidam tangled a hand in her hair, responding to her enthusiasm with a deep surge of victory, and below it, an even deeper burst of passion. She pulled him closer, her mouth soft, yielding, parting for him to probe her with his tongue, as he willingly deepened the kiss. She was not as skilled as some of the women he had kissed, but her passion was unlike anything he had been prepared for. He could not get enough of her. She tasted sweet and clean. He thought, familiar like vanilla and fresh rain. Her body pressed against his, fitting tightly against him in agonizing perfection. The curve of her soft, supple breasts pressed against the hard heat of his chest. He moaned as he delved deeper still, trying to enjoy her, but losing himself to the need to devour her.

She wants me. His mind sang with the realization. She wants me like I want her!

His body grew impatient. His own passionate urges were taking control of any rational thought. She was soft. Too soft. She was yielding, too yielding. Gad above, it was only a kiss, yet it felt to Aidam as if they were melting into each other. The desire to tear off her dress and have her bare skin pressed against his own was overwhelming. He needed to feel more of her. She gave a slight mew, and he pressed his hard body into hers. She arched her back ever so slightly, bringing herself even closer to him, and Aidam knew that, despite his reluctance, that meant it was time to stop. He softened their kiss and pulled back.

She stared at him, mouth swollen, green eyes clear, and shocked. She must have felt the electricity between them as he did. God above, she was beautiful. More than beautiful. Her cheeks were flushed, sending a rosy pink glow through her perfect skin, and her chest heaved, her breasts rising and falling with every breath, noticeable even tucked away under that horrid mourning dress. He wanted to cup her face and bring her lips to his own again, but he resisted.

“Ye kissed me,” she said after a moment. “Ye…Aidam…”

“Ye kissed me back,” he said. His voice was hoarser than he would have liked, and so he tried again. “Ye kissed me back,” he said, managing something closer to smugness. “I kent it.”

Her eyes widened, and she looked at him with confusion. “What…?”

“I kent that ye wanted me,” he said, then forced himself to shrug and sound aloof. “Or, nae even me. Ye want young men, excitement, daring meetings in secret rooms. Ye’re not ready to be a bride.”

Ellie’s pretty blush turned into something a deeper red, her soft expression hardening as she realized what he was saying. “That’s what this was about?” she asked in a near-whisper.

Aidam suddenly felt an absurd rush of guilt. He shook it off. Why should he feel anything other than ebbing passion for a bonny lass? He had nothing to feel guilty about. “Aye. For yer own good. Ye’re nae—”

“Ye’re a villain,” she spat. She didn’t shout or cry. Instead, something close to hurt flashed behind her eyes, and her voice was soft—deadly soft. Aidam tried to push down the need to explain further. She turned and walked toward the door.

“Ellie,” he said.

She ignored him, opening the door and leaving.

Aidam watched her go, then sighed. He had proven his point. He had been right. He had, in his own way, managed to help a friend.

So why, then, did he feel so guilty?

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

  • WOW!!! I didn’t want the chapters to end. It promises to be an extremely captivating read! Can’t wait to read the whole story.

  • Sounds intriguing.
    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the story.
    I like looking at the guy on the cover🤫

  • The only way to describe the start to this book is tempestuous! The characters create conflicting emotions which draw you into their story immediately. I can’t wait to continue reading the romantic trials and tribulations of Ellie and Aidam’s ordeal; and, hopefully, their happy ever after.

  • Wow! My heart is racing! What a captivating lead-in to Aidam and Ellie’s story! Can’t wait to see what’s ahead for these two hard-headed star-crossed characters. Super start, Ms. Wight.

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