Highlander’s Sinful Choice (Preview)

Chapter One

Phoebe awoke to a gentle tapping at the door. She sat up, forgetting for a moment where she was before the awful truth returned to her. The sun was streaming through the window, for she had fallen asleep without pulling across the curtains, the light falling upon the bed. She sat up, just as the tapping came again.

“I am locked in,” she called back, and she heard tutting from the other side, the jangling of keys and the turning of the lock.

A moment later, her mother entered the room, an angry expression upon her face, followed by the servant who had tried to help Phoebe escape who bore a tray with a bowl of porridge and jug of milk.

“Your father told me what happened,” her mother said, sitting down upon the bed and shaking her head.

“I will not marry this man, whoever he is,” Phoebe said, folding her arms as the servant placed the tray on a table next to the bed.

“You do not have a choice, Phoebe. I did not have a choice in whom I married; neither did your grandmother. We are noblewomen, Phoebe, and that comes at a cost,” her mother said.

Phoebe scowled at her, angry that her mother would take her father’s side against her. Usually, her mother could be counted upon to defend her against her father’s unpredictable moods, but now it seemed they were of one mind.

“Did you not love another? Have you ever truly loved?” Phoebe asked, and her mother sighed.

“What a terribly unfair thing to say, Phoebe. I love your father; it may have taken some years, but I do love him, and you will come to love the man you marry too, I assure you,” her mother said.

Phoebe looked at her, wondering if she were really telling the truth. She had always thought her mother the most beautiful woman in all the world, her long blonde hair falling lightly over her shoulders, her deep blue eyes and soft skin as radiant today as they had surely been upon the day of her wedding. Surely any man would wish to possess her, and there were many who said that Phoebe herself was just such a beauty. Why then should such beauty be forced to marry if not for true love?

“I doubt that very much. Who is he?” Phoebe asked, imagining some terrible English aristocrat, twice her age and whose only intention in marrying her would be to sire his descendancy, her usefulness outlived once a male heir had been produced.

“Your father will explain. But I simply wished to come and see that you were all right after your ordeal in the apple cart,” her mother said.

“I would be far better if I were on the way to Gretna Green with Renoir,” Phoebe replied.

“But I would be deeply upset, Phoebe. You did not think about my feelings in all this. I do not wish to lose my daughter in such a way. You did not even say goodbye,” her mother said, and Phoebe felt a pang of guilt pass through her.

“You would never have permitted me to leave,” she said, and her mother smiled.

“I may not have stopped you either, but at least we could have said goodbye. Never mind, your father will have his way, I assure you of that,” her mother said, and nodding to the servant, they left Phoebe to her breakfast.

She had taken only a spoonful of porridge when the sound of the key turning in the lock came again. Looking up, Phoebe found her father standing in the doorway, an angry expression upon his face.

“So, have you had time to think about what you have done?” he said, and Phoebe scowled at him.

“I have done nothing; that is the point, is it not? Had I done something, then I would have been in Gretna Green by now, married to the man I love,” she said, pushing the tray and sitting back upon the bed.

“And you would have caused more trouble than you could know,” her father replied, closing the door behind him. “Your marriage is arranged, Phoebe, and the man you are marrying would not take kindly to discovering that his bride had run away with a Frenchman.”

“He may take kindly to what he wishes, father, for I am adamant that I will not marry him, whoever he may be,” she replied, folding her arms defiantly.

“Insolent, girl. You will marry him and be happy. It is no choice of yours,” her father said.

“And who is this man? Or am I not to know his name until I stand at the altar with him?” she asked.

“His name is Diarmad, Laird of the Monecreiffes, a noble clan of the Scottish borders. He is a fine warrior, of a noble and honorable disposition. To marry him will bring along our border and strengthen the position of the crown. I have had word from his majesty that the marriage is a favorable one and thus, it shall proceed by his orders. Are you to defy the King?” her father asked, and Phoebe fell silent.


The road south across the border was a dangerous one, and Diarmad Moncreiffe rode cautiously, keeping a wary eye out for bandits or robbers. But he met no one on the road that day, he and his men enjoying a peaceful ride which took them into England, some thirty miles from their own lands in the lowlands of Scotland.

He was making for the manor house at Oxley, a two-day journey south and where he would, for the first time, meet the woman to whom he had been betrothed. The arrangements had been made some weeks ago when the Earl of Oxley had visited him to parle for his daughter’s hand at the request of the King. It was said that the crown believed a marriage across the border to be favorable to peace, and with so much danger surrounding them, Diarmad had readily agreed.

Now, he rode at the head of his men, eager to meet the girl to whom he was promised and whose father had assured him was a beauty of high regard. There had been no portrait of her, though. From the description, Diarmad had conjured up a picture of her in his mind, her flowing blonde hair and deep blue eyes an attractive proposition, one he looked forward to encountering the next day.

“I couldnae marry a woman I had never seen before,” his friend and cousin Stewart Monecreiffe said, as the two of them rode together up in front.

“And why is that?” Diarmad asked.

“What if ye daenae like her? What if her father has exaggerated her beauty, as surely a father is inclined to dae? She may be ugly as a pig,” he said, laughing and imitating the animal, much to Diarmad’s amusement.

“And she may be the most beautiful lass in all of England. Besides, I have nay choice,” Diarmad said.

“Because the crown demands it? Since when have we Scots been subject to the King’s rule from London?” Stewart asked, and Diarmad laughed.

“Since our own King James became King of England. Daenae forget that ‘tis a Scot who sits upon the English throne. He serves our interests well enough,” Diarmad said.

“And he would tell ye whom to marry and ye would jump to it,” Stewart replied, laughing and shaking his head.

“I am still convinced that she is a rare beauty and that very soon, Stewart, ye shall wish it were ye marryin’ her and nae me,” Diarmad replied.

They rode on for some hours more, until the last of the evening light faded, then made camp in a copse of trees some distance from the path. For much of the night, Diarmad lay awake, not through fear of attack, but for the curiosity of what was to come. He had never sought marriage, though he knew it was his duty to find a wife and produce an heir. What would this girl be like? Would Stewart be proven right? Only time would tell.


Chapter Two

“I have not been out of this room for a week,” Phoebe cried as her father unlocked the door and stood before her.

“For fear of apple carts, Phoebe. You cannot be trusted, and so here you have remained. But that will all change today, for Diarmad is due to arrive this afternoon, and you shall be ready to meet him,” he said.

“I shall stay in here,” she declared, and her father shook his head.

“Do not play games with me, Phoebe. You will greet him and be courteous to him. Remember, it is the King himself who bids this union, not only I. Though as your father, I command it. Now, I shall have clean clothes sent to you, and the women will come to bathe you. You shall be ready by noon to greet our guests when they arrive,” he said.

“He is bringing an entourage then?” Phoebe asked.

“As befits a Laird, besides, the road north is dangerous, and it would not do for the two of you to travel unaccompanied,” he said.

“Then, I am to return north with him?” Phoebe asked for she had not entirely grasped the magnanimity of what was about to transpire.

“You are to be his wife, Phoebe. Did you think you would remain here with a ring upon your finger and nothing else?” her father asked, shaking his head, before closing the door and locking it behind him.

Phoebe hurled an insult at the door, brushing tears from her eyes and throwing herself angrily back upon the bed. It was not fair. She hated her father, and she was desperate for news of Renoir, of whom she had heard nothing since the failed night of their planned elopement.

The women soon came to bathe and dress her, much to Phoebe’s annoyance, and she made the job as difficult as possible for them, splashing the water and refusing to have her hair washed so that much frustration was caused. But by noon she was ready, and her mother arrived just as she was dousing herself in lavender oil, the sweet fragrance filling the air.

“Are you ready, Phoebe?” her mother asked, and Phoebe nodded.

“But you must know I take no pleasure in this. I do not wish to marry this man, nor even to meet him,” she said, and her mother sighed.

“You will not even give him a chance to present himself? What harm can it do to meet him?” she said, and Phoebe scowled.

“The decision has been made. There is no choice; I may as well cover my face with a veil and go at once to the church so that the minister may read the service,” Phoebe said.

“I wish you were not so stubborn, Phoebe. Come now, I think I hear horses below,” her mother said, reaching out and taking Phoebe by the hand.

For the first time since her enforced captivity, Phoebe was led downstairs and out into the yard at the front of the house. The gates were open, and several men on horseback had just ridden through, dismounting and greeting her father, who stood with several of his men, in the regalia of his rank.

Phoebe watched the men with curiosity, wondering which one was Diarmad. There were ten of them in total, all handsomely built and attractive to the eye. But it was the one now speaking to her father who seemed the most likely to be the Laird himself, a tall man with black hair and beard, a thin scar running down his left cheek. She had to admit that he was not what she had expected, though that made her no less adamant against marrying him.

“What am I to do?” Phoebe whispered, turning to her mother.

“Your father will make the introductions. Go to him,” she said, and reluctantly, Phoebe stepped forward.

“Laird, I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Phoebe. She has been greatly looking forward to your arrival and eager to meet you,” Phoebe’s father said, eyeing her with a warning look, as Diarmad bowed.

“‘Tis a pleasure to meet ye, at last, I have heard much about ye, and now I know that it was nay exaggeration to say that ye are a fine lass to behold,” he said, as Phoebe blushed.

“I am … pleased to meet you,” she replied, holding out her hand to him and blushing, for she could not deny that he was an attractive man, a feeling she tried her best to dismiss immediately.

He brought it to his lips, looking up at her as he did so, a smile playing across his face.

“May I introduce my men? This is my cousin, Stewart, and these are the clansmen who will see us safely back to Scotland,” he said, extending his arm, as the other men bowed.

“Some refreshment, Laird? You have had a long and arduous journey. Your men can rest in the stables here, and there are quarters prepared for you in the house. We shall dine tonight at the King’s own expense, for he has sent a side of venison with his compliments, and already it is roasting for our enjoyment,” Phoebe’s father said, ushering the Laird inside.

Phoebe followed her mother, who glanced at her and smiled.

“Well, he is quite handsome, is he not?” her mother said.

“I will admit he is not a toothless, grey, old aristocrat as I had imagined him to be, but he is no Renoir,” Phoebe replied, and her mother sighed.

“You will grow to see him for the handsome man he is,” she said, and Phoebe made no reply.


Later that evening, a great fire was kindled in the dining hall, and candles were lit around the wall as the family prepared to make merry and welcome their Scottish guests. The Earl had invited many local noblemen not only to celebrate the marriage of his daughter but to toast a new era of peace and the King’s good health. Phoebe was seated next to Diarmad. Her father and mother hoping that the free-flowing wine and rich victuals might lead the two of them to shared conversation.

“The venison is excellent, is it nae, lass?” Diarmad said, slicing vigorously into the meat.

“It is, though I have tasted better,” Phoebe said, thinking back to the meals she had shared in secret with Renoir and of the food he had cooked for her in the days of their courtship.

“‘Tis rare that I taste venison. I hope ye daenae expect such luxury when ye travel north,” he said, laughing, and taking a drink from his wine goblet.

“Travel north? I have no intention of travelling north,” she said, and he looked at her in confusion.

“But we are to be married, lass and ‘tis as the Bible says, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, but the same is said of the lass for her husband. When we are married, we shall return to Scotland,” he said.

“And it does not concern you that you and I have never met until this day? What know you of my character? Of my mood and temper? What measure do you have of my humor, for good or ill?” she asked, and Diarmad laughed.

“Am I to take it that ye daenae wish to marry me and that ye consider it a punishment to dae so?” he asked, and Phoebe nodded.

“I have no wish to marry you. I will never love you, and I will be a bad wife to you. Of that, you can be certain,” she said, haughtily folding her arms and turning away from him, but Diarmad only waved his hand dismissively and returned to his venison.

“’Tis the King’s will that we marry, lass. There is nay choice in the matter. We are both young, of sound mind and body, perhaps in time, we shall become friends if nae lovers. Am I so bad as to be rejected with only the passing of an eye?” he said, turning to her.

Phoebe sighed. He appeared to be neither a bad man nor a cruel one, but she could simply not bring herself to accept that her love for Renoir was forbidden and that her chances of marrying him were gone. Here, next to her, was the man she was destined to marry, and with no choice in the matter, it was up to her to decide how best to respond. Should she hate him or embrace him? Either way seemed fraught with difficulty.

“The King has given us a heavy burden to bear,” she replied.

“The King wishes to see peace upon the borders of his kingdom. Our union is a fragile one, united only by crowns, rather than true patriotism. Our people are still very different, even if ‘tis the same King who is crowned at Scone and in the Palace of Westminster. Our marriage is to be a sign of that union, a symbol of peace. Dae ye nae think that to be a good thing?” he asked.

Phoebe had lived her life close to the Scottish border, and she knew the many dangers which surrounded her father’s manor. It was fortified for a reason, and there had been many times when she and her family had taken refuge behind its thick walls and sturdy gate. The reivers along the borders often mounted raids on lonely farms and outlying crofts, and reports of robbers and bandits were frequent. This was lawless country, kept in check only by men such as her father and the Laird, who sat at her right. To marry him would help bring peace, but it would not do so to her heart, which ached at the very thought.

“Peace at the expense of happiness? Am I to be a martyr to that cause?” she said, rising from the table.

She had no desire to remain a moment longer at the table, though she knew how rude she would appear by leaving. He was a pleasant enough man. She knew that he was only doing his duty, one that perhaps he regretted as much as she, but he was no Renoir. Phoebe had no further desire to remain in his presence, one she had never sought or courted.

“Phoebe, where do you think you are going?” her father said, calling out from the end of the table.

“I have a headache, father, may I be excused?” she said, and her father shook his head.

“No, you may not be excused, sit down and …” he began, but Diarmad raised his hand.

“She must nae stay on my account, sir. Please, allow her to take to her bed if that is what she wishes,” he said, and Phoebe’s father sighed.

“Very well, but you shall rise early tomorrow. We ride out to survey the land. I am sure you will wish to accompany the Laird,” he said, and knowing she had no choice, Phoebe nodded.

“I look forward to it,” Diarmad said as Phoebe left the dining hall.

Upstairs, having now been allowed to return to her own chambers, Phoebe sat upon her bed and wept. She could never love Diarmad, not while her mind was filled with thoughts of Renoir. He was pleasant, even charming, friendly, and courteous, but he was not her Frenchman, and she sank down upon the bed, her head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.


When morning came, Phoebe’s mind was still resolved against Diarmad. She was angry at her father for bringing him to Oxley Manor and for his arrogant assumption that she would wish to marry a man whom she had never met and had nothing in common with. Slowly, she dressed herself, glancing down into the yard, where already the horses were saddled for the ride out, the gates open, and several of the clansmen mounted and prepared.  Purposefully, Phoebe took her time in getting ready so that eventually there came an exasperated knocking at the door and the sound of her father’s voice calling her impatiently.

“Phoebe, you will have to miss your breakfast; the Laird is ready to ride out now. We are all waiting for you in the yard. Hurry now, else you make a spectacle of us all,” he called out.

Phoebe opened the door, scowling at her father and pushing past him, determined to show her displeasure in every aspect of his plans. She followed him downstairs, pausing at the entrance to the dining hall, from which wafted the pleasant smell of breakfast, her mother sitting at one end, a smile playing across her face.

“Enjoy your ride out, Phoebe,” she called, and Phoebe scowled.

Outside, Diarmad and several of his men awaited them. He bowed to her, a smile upon his face, and he held out his hand to help her onto her horse.

“I can manage well enough, thank you,” she replied, for Phoebe was an accomplished horsewoman, and she needed no help in mounting her stead.

“Phoebe,” her father said, glancing warningly at her, but Diarmad only laughed.

“I like a lass with spirit; we shall see if she rides as well as she mounts,” he said, leaping onto his own horse, which reared up on its hind legs and let out a loud whinny.

Phoebe scowled. This was the first time she had been permitted to leave the manor house since her failed attempt to escape, and her spirits were little cheered by the company of such men. She had rarely encountered Scots before, and she found them coarse and unappealing, Diarmad’s men shouting and laughing with one another, as they rode out through the gates. But Diarmad did not join them in their carousing, choosing instead to ride at Phoebe’s side as they followed her father out into the forest.

“Yer father’s estates are impressive,” he said, as the first sight of a deer was had, and Phoebe’s father charged off in pursuit of the hunt.

“Your own are no doubt equally so,” she replied, watching as the rest of the men followed on the chase.

“Glen Taetnire is a wild place. Its mountains high, its loch deep and the castle of my clan a lonely place, though nae without its charms,” he replied.

“And I am supposed to think of that as an attractive proposition,” she replied, thinking that Glen Taetnire sounded like the last place in the world she wished to be.

“Aye, but when the fires are lit, and songs are sung in the depths of winter ‘tis a homely place, or when the sun shines long into the summer nights, and there is dancin’ and music on the loch shore and swimmin’ out to the islands across the water then ‘tis nae so bad,” he replied.

“I have such comforts here,” she replied, not turning to him, the cries of the hunt now echoing from the forest before them.

“And ye will be mistress of that place, with all the privileges that the title entails. Ye will have yer freedoms well enough, lass,” he said.

Phoebe sighed and made no reply. She had no desire for such a life; she had lost the true freedom she desired, the freedom to marry Renoir, and live a life unhindered by the will and whim of her father, with his talk of duty and destiny. In Glen Taetnire, she would be as much a prisoner as she felt at Oxley, and no amount of talk to the contrary could convince her otherwise.

“A fine chase,” her father called out, as the men emerged from the trees a short while later.

“Was it?” Phoebe replied, feeling just like the hunted deer, who was now carried in triumph before her.

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