In Love with a Highland Outlaw (Preview)

Chapter One

Troy staggered across the thick, overgrown floor of the forest with one sole focus: staying alive. As the son of a Laird, he had grown up with the hefty weight of many responsibilities thrust onto his shoulders. It was a role that he had been born into, a role that had underlined everything he did. One day he was to lead the Macleod clan, and he wanted to do his father proud. But at that moment, staggering blindly through the undergrowth, there were no castle walls to protect him, and none of his father’s men had been able to get to him in time to help him. All he could do was flee and pray that his father and brother were right behind him as he did so.

Troy grunted, trying his best to remember the many years of training that should have equipped him for such an attack. But he felt like a stag caught out on the glen after dawn, left exposed for the hunters to find.

The trees around him swayed, appearing to bend and meander like water, lurching as though gripped by an invisible wind. He pushed through the densely packed columns of bark, the harsh surface callous against his hands, but also occasionally sticky from leaking sap.

Troy groaned. He stared at his hand which rested on the nearest tree, but the more he focused on it, the more he saw multiple hands. He shook his head, knowing that if he didn’t get help soon, he was going to lose consciousness.

Instead of letting himself panic, he tried to focus on keeping one hand pressed to the wound at his side. It wasn’t as sticky as the trees, but the consistency of blood was unmistakable. His white cotton shirt was saturated down his side. It gaped in the wake of being slashed by a blade, exposing his bare skin to the cool air of the forest. Troy continued pressing his hand to the cut skin, wincing at the contact on the sensitive area. He knew it was for the best to maintain pressure on the wound, though. The scarlet pouring out of him was thick and warm, Troy’s head spun as he staggered to the side. In his disorientated state, he wasn’t sure if it was his body turning, or the world around him.

“Troy! Run!” It was his father’s voice he heard, shouting from behind him. Troy turned to see that both his father, Andrew, and his brother were struggling after him, clutching their own wounds. Sweat was falling into his eyes as he stared at the scene before him. His father and brother were slowly catching up to him, but then Troy saw the two men behind them.

“Run!” He managed to force the word out. His voice was hoarse, like fingernails being scratched on stone.

His brother Douglas was slightly ahead of his father. Propelled forward with the aid of his youthful years still on his side, the strength and stamina in his body prevailed over that of his father’s. Douglas’ cheeks were pinched pink from the cold as well as the strain of running for so long. Troy could hear both of them gasping for air as they ran. Their eyes were wide, their movements desperate. His father was close to giving up. His eyes were closed for longer periods of time as he ran and the gap between him and Douglas was opening up with each step they took.

“Come on!” Troy was calling to them both desperately. He was urging them with his own body to run faster. “Please, they’re nearly upon ye!”

“Ye cannae stand and fight, Troy!” Douglas grunted after him. “Ye have to run too!”

“Aye, but I will nae leave ye!” Troy could hear the panic in his weak voice as his body struggled.

Standing still certainly felt better than running, but the pain in his side was still throbbing.

The men were still in pursuit. Determination filled their bright eyes and their bodies were neither fatigued nor injured. They were catching up.

“Run!” Douglas was pleading with him as they neared where Troy stood.

But it was too late. He heard the sound before they both went down. Troy watched helplessly with wide eyes as his father and brother fell slowly into the overgrowth, shining blades sticking out of both their backs.

“Nay!” It took Troy a moment to realize that he was the one shouting out for them. The cries which rang out around the forest were coming from him. But all he felt was blinding pain. He was sinking to his knees, his legs unable to hold him up as the men continued to advance.

Their sights were now fixed on Troy, the only one still alive. He no longer cared for his own life. Grief was sinking into his heart like a heavy stone falling to the bed of a river. Somehow, he could barely even feel the wound in his side now.

His entire life was beginning to fall away from him. Breathing was becoming difficult, and his face was covered with both tears and sweat. His heart, although broken, was still thumping mercilessly, but it felt as though it could give out at any moment. Troy groaned, his body becoming heavy. Each moment that passed was another moment where it felt even harder to get up. He was shaking, but he couldn’t control it.

His mind flew to the people of his father’s clan. What would become of them if any of the townspeople survived this attack? Would anyone be left to tell the truth of what had happened to them? History was always twisted by those who survived. Perhaps someone would let the truth be known to his people after he was gone.

The men were right in front of him, snarling and smirking at him as he pushed himself up to his knees. He was swaying as the trees had done in his vision, his eyes almost unseeing as two shadows stood over him.

“Please,” he found himself whispering, even though he knew that begging would do him no good. The wound at his side throbbed and dark curls of hair were clinging to the sweat on his brow, but Troy didn’t have the energy to push them away.

“Be prepared to join yer family,” one of the men said, chuckling mirthlessly. They were both unarmed, their blades still sticking out of the Laird and Troy’s brother. Troy felt sick at the thought of his family lying face down dead in the mud.

The men were coming at him with their fists. Knuckles found flesh, pounding against his head and body. Pain erupted within Troy. His entire body was on fire and he was slowly losing consciousness. The eternal darkness felt like a balm compared to what he had been through, and he looked forward to submerging himself in nothingness.

But he had always been taught to go down fighting, and even with no witness, he wanted a noble death. He lifted his arm, uncaring for the muscles that screamed in protest, and threw a weak punch at the nearest man. It connected with his side and caused the man to howl in pain, but it wasn’t enough.

In an instant, both men were back on him and using even more force. Troy knew at that moment that they were much stronger than he, that they would beat him regardless of him putting up a small fight.

His face was pushed to each side, his eyes closing up from the impact of severe punches. A knee found his chin, knocking his head back and causing Troy to see stars. The forest around him grew darker and he knew that it wasn’t because of the light. The two men continued until Troy put his hands out and fell fully to the dirty ground. The smell of earth was a blessing to him, a smell that he loved, but now that scent was marred by blood and dirt. Troy grunted as the blows kept coming. He knew that the only way it would end was if they believed him dead. He closed his eyes and let his body still, holding his already weak breath. It was terrifying to feign death when he was almost standing on its doorstep, but Troy had no other plan. No other option that could save him.

The pain cracked through his ribs, but Troy remained still. Another kick to his head sent his body sprawling, but still he made no movement of his own. Playing dead was cowardly, but at that moment, cowardice might be only thing that would keep his heart beating.

“He’s nae moving anymore,” one of the men remarked. “We’re just beating a lump.”

Another of them came over to him, leaning close to see if he was breathing. Troy held his breath and put every effort into staying still and silent.

“Aye, he’s gone,” the man said grimly.

“Come on then, let’s go,” the other said. Troy listened to two pairs of footsteps walking away. Everything hurt; it hurt to breathe, it hurt to simply exist, even just closing his eyes for one final time.

The men had left a dead man alive unknowingly, and Troy vowed that if the harsh conditions of the forest didn’t finish him off, he would get his revenge.

Chapter 2

Lorraine watched intently as the old lady stirred a large pot. Her green eyes were fixed on the movement of the wooden spoon. The concoction inside the pot was spreading the blissful scent of lavender around the healer’s house.

It was dark inside the house, but Lorraine always enjoyed the shadows that danced on the wall, avoiding the licking flames of the fire. She let her eyes fall onto the various books that littered the table in front of Skylar. She knew that the old healer could easily spend hours poring over the words and recipes.

Lorraine let her hands scan over the spines of three different books, her eyes flitting over the letters printed onto them. She was deciding which book to next devour, but the sound of Skylar tutting her stopped her in her tracks.

“Ye ken that yer father will nae approve,” Skylar said, shaking her head.

“Well, he is nae here,” Lorraine said. “And I can do what I want.” For Lorraine, the healer’s house was a daily escape. When her father wasn’t paying too much attention to her whereabouts, she would discretely leave the castle to get a few hours out in the fresh air of their clan lands. Lorraine would visit the healer and feel as though she had traveled to another world entirely. A world filled with wisdom, healing, and knowledge, where she could revel in her passions without her feeling ashamed of them. Her father would often make comments and berate her for reading books. But Skylar welcomed such activities, and so Lorraine felt drawn to the peculiar house near the border.

“Ye are certainly a force tae be reckoned with!” The older woman’s wrinkled skin was pinched as she smiled at Lorraine’s response.

“My mother did nae teach me before her death for it to go to waste,” Lorraine said with narrowed eyes. Her heart had never quite been as full since her mother passed, and reading was just one of the ways that she could honor her memory.

“Raine, she didnae die for ye to run around with yer skirts creased and yer shoes off,” Skylar pointed out.

Lorraine shrugged off the comment, not caring about the healer’s remarks about her appearance. It wasn’t something that was ever high up on her priorities, and Lorraine heard enough complaints from her father about how she looked and conducted herself.

“Aye, I ken,” Lorraine said with a huff of frustration. “But she never asked me to be someone I was nae. I could run about like this all day and as long as I was clean for dinner, she had no complaints.”

“And that is why yer father would argue with her so much,” Skylar reminded her with a slight chuckle.

“He just has different ideas on how I should behave,” Lorraine grumbled.

“He wants ye to behave like the daughter of a Laird.”

“And I dinnae want to, I want to be myself,” Lorraine said firmly. “If ye could hear how loud my father gets when he yells at me for conducting myself like this, I think ye would save yer breath on trying to tell me such things.”

She laughed to herself, wondering when people would finally realize that she wasn’t like other noble girls. She didn’t care about her appearance; she wanted to be outside, running around, not worrying about the state of her skirts. She habitually walked around the castle with creased skirts that were always littered with tears at the bottom, the material snagging on twigs and catching around corners. Her red hair flowed like a wild river, strewn with tangles and knots that would force her maids to strain themselves when attempting to brush through it. “Is he still trying to find ye a husband?” Skylar asked without looking up from what she was doing.

“Aye, but he is nae going to get anywhere so long as I am around.” Lorraine couldn’t keep the pride out of her voice. The suitors that came to her clan were invited by her father, and they weren’t men that Lorraine would ever choose for herself. They could be too young or too old, too rude or too quiet, and she was still never given a choice as to whether she even wanted to be introduced to them.

“Ye cause him such trouble,” the old healer chuckled.

“Aye, but it’s only because he tries to get me to do so many things that I dinnae want to do.”

“Ye will have to marry eventually.”

“And I will, but I will follow my mother’s wish too. She wanted me to marry a man I love.”
Skylar glanced up at her while cocking an eyebrow in amusement. “And who will love a noblewoman who runs around barefoot?”

Lorraine had left her boots by the front door, enjoying the feeling of the cool stones beneath her bare feet. It caused a shiver to pass through her, and she moved closer to the small fire that the healer was working from.

“None of the men that my father invites to the castle, that’s what I’m counting on,” Lorraine explained with a rather determined look on her face. “He kens that I can read, but it displeases him,” Lorraine continued, her eyes flicking over the words on the page before her. “He kens that I leave the castle most days and roam about outdoors, but that displeases him too.”

Skylar continued her stirring, focusing heavily on the consistency of the mixture. Lorraine knew that she was probably boring Skylar half to death with her endless complaints about her father.

The old woman had heard it all before. But Lorraine could watch the healer work for hours without boring herself. The various herbs and flowers freshly picked from the forest nearby could create tinctures and mixtures that possessed the power of healing. Lorraine found it incredible that the leaves and flowers she passed most days could do such things. You just had to have the knowledge to know how to unlock their powers.

“Ye should still be getting back soon. Ye ken that yer father will be even angrier if ye arrive back after dark,” Skylar said eventually.

The healer was staring at her with eyes that had long since been glazed over by time, their pigment faded to a dull grey. Lorraine had been told that the old woman’s eyes were once the kind of deep green that could be found in the depths of the forest. She wondered if there was anyone still alive who had ever seen them or if the healer had outlived all those who knew her when she was young. Lorraine knew that it was a part of life, but she wished that she could have seen the healer in her prime; a young and radiant woman with the power to heal those around her sounded rather magical.

“I’ll be back tomorrow morning,” Lorraine said, closing the book in front of her. She had carefully folded the corner of the page she’d been on with two pale fingers so that she could pick up where she had left off from the next day.

“Would ye be able to get some flowers for me in the morning?” Skylar asked, her gaze focused on counting the number of droplets she was letting fall into the mixture. Lorraine had realized long ago that making a potion was a form of juggling – though much more advanced than the kind of juggling the court fool could manage. The potion-maker had to be accurate with measurements as well as skilled at crushing up the herbs and flowers properly and knowing the right order to put the ingredients into the pot. Lorraine greatly admired the healer; she had always been focused on her own passions and destiny, never worrying about pleasing other people.

“Aye, which flowers?” Lorraine asked, before opening the old wooden door to leave the house.

“Foxglove and Bog Myrtle,” Skylar said. “But if you see any Gorse too, that could be helpful, I ken it’s nae in season so dinnae worry if nae.”

Lorraine nodded. “Aye, I will do my best.”

“Thank ye, child. Now run along and leave my name out of yer mouth if ye encounter yer father!” Skylar called after her as she closed the door behind her.

The healer’s house was a short ride from the castle, but because it was close to the clan’s border, her father didn’t like her to venture there too often. Yet, Lorraine liked the adventure and the risk of being out in the wild; trees and overgrowth surrounded her as she mounted her horse and headed back toward the main road back to the castle of Clan Mackenzie.

The afternoon was drawing to a close, grey clouds merging into darker grey clouds in
the west, and as she rode faster, Lorraine sensed that a strong wind was picking up. The morning dew was still settled on the grass like an enemy besieging their land; it hadn’t managed to thaw since the bank of clouds across the sky had failed to offer up any sun throughout the day.

Lorraine suppressed a shudder as she pulled her dirty cloak closer around her neck, the ends of it spattered by mud from her many riding trips.

By the time she reached the castle, Lorraine was tired from the day spent outdoors. Her cheeks were cold and the idea of sitting by the fire in her chambers was incredibly enticing. She felt fulfilled from her day of reading in Skylar’s house and gathering flowers for her. Lorraine was accustomed to roaming through the forest on her own. She wasn’t scared, as her father’s clan lands were much safer than those lands further afield. She never encountered any strangers, and she never expected to either.

She was sure, though, that if her father knew the extent of where she roamed alone, he would lock her in her chambers like a lonely princess in a far-off land until she had learned her lesson.

She rode through the main gates of the castle. The courtyard was busy enough that her entrance wasn’t noticed by too many people. Lorraine quickly spotted the begrudging stable hand who would help her daily by readying her horse for her. He was a rather skinny and small boy who wore a frown more often than not, but she tipped him well to be discreet in his work. Lorraine smiled as she handed him the reins of her horse, a noble beast who had never done her wrong.

“Thank ye,” she said, then turned to glance around in search of the one man she hoped she wouldn’t see. Her eyes moved up the dark stone walls of the castle, which loomed over the hill like the leader of a stone army, the towns around it all loyal to its call. Her father was standing on one of the lookout posts, but he wasn’t alone.

Lorraine froze as she stared up at the Laird. Her father’s hair was greying and the skin around his eyes and lips had cracked many years ago, the darkness of the hour pronouncing such wrinkles. But her father wasn’t the one she was concerned about; it was the man at his side who worried her.

She stepped to the side slightly so that she was out of their view, but her eyes remained trained on the two men above her. The man by her father’s side was certainly older than her, his own greys beginning to dapple in his dark hair.

Lorraine knew in an instant what it would be about.

Her father was determined to marry her off, and he had become obsessed with finding her a husband as soon as possible. He claimed that it would be the best thing for the clan if she were to create a union with another nearby clan.

Lorraine was no stranger to duty; it was something that had been taught to her since she could talk. But the thought of marrying a man she didn’t love was not appealing to her. Before her mother had died, she had urged Lorraine to marry a man who caused her heart to flutter. But with each day that passed, Lorraine grew less and less sure that she would find such a man.

She had been thwarting his plans each time a new suitor came to the clan, and this man would be no exception. Lorraine quickly started into the castle, heading straight up the winding stone staircase to where her father was located with the latest suitor. Her lungs burned as she took the stairs two at a time, her cheeks turning pink and long, red hair falling in her face.

Lorraine stood in the doorway, while the two men surveyed the bustling courtyard below with their backs to her. She inched closer, turning back to make sure that no servants would catch her eavesdropping, then strained her ears to listen to their conversation.

“I do believe that the bond this marriage would form between Clan Mackenzie and Clan Sinclair would be very advantageous,” her father was saying.

“Aye, I do believe that it would be,” the man agreed with him, turning his head slightly to smile in the Laird’s direction. “Our clan has many different trade routes, some of which I do believe ye aren’t able to access from up here.”
Trade routes.

Lorraine knew that it was her duty. Her father had told her many times before, but that still didn’t make it any easier for her. She was to be married to a man because of the advantages it would bring in trade for the clan. Lorraine had no problem admitting that she was stubborn, but she just couldn’t see herself ever growing to love the man in front of her. She couldn’t stop the way that her face scrunched up. Her green eyes narrowed and Lorraine could no longer hold herself back.

“Father,” Lorraine said, stepping out from the doorway and onto the small lookout area of the castle. Both men jumped slightly at the sound of her voice as they turned around to see her.

Lorraine smiled, knowing from the two expressions that met her that her appearance alone would work. But she decided to fully commit to the role that she was trying to enact for them

“Ah, Alan, please allow me to introduce ye to my daughter,” her father was forced to say rather reluctantly.

She smiled widely – almost unpleasantly – exposing her teeth to him while bowing slightly, letting loose strands of her hair fall in front of her face.

Lorraine straightened up to see the disgust that the man, Alan, could no longer hide in his expression.

“Lorraine, this is Alan. his father is Laird Sinclair, and he is next in line for the lairdship,” her father said while shooting her a look of warning.

“It’s nice to meet ye,” Lorraine said, thickening her accent ever so slightly. She could see the disapproval in her father’s face, but that was only a sign that spurred her on.

“Ye are…the Laird’s daughter?” Alan asked while narrowing his eyes at her in confusion.

Lorraine had to stifle a laugh, knowing that her plan was working. “Aye, of course!” she said while raising her voice suddenly to catch him by surprise.

As she spoke, Lorraine saw his eye twitch and his head shake slightly. Alan was poised as though ready to run in an instant. She scratched the side of her scalp just for emphasis, trying to seem as wild as she thought she could get away with.

“I…” Alan swallowed thickly as he glanced between Lorraine and her father.
She caught the Laird giving her another look of disapproval as she simply smiled in response.

“I will have to speak with my father,” Alan said hesitantly. “I feel that there have been some…miscommunications.”

“What?” the Laird asked, as his dark eyes widened.

Lorraine pushed her hair out of her eyes, tugging at her dress to show some of the more prominent rips in the material.

“If ye would both excuse me, I must retire to my chambers now,” Lorraine said while continuing to smile. But before she could leave, Alan pushed past her and started for the stairs.

“Come back!!” her father called after him as he headed for the stairs too, but not before Lorraine caught the flash of anger in his eyes.

She stepped back out into the fresh air, watching as the two men emerged into the courtyard below. Her father was calling after Alan, a man who Lorraine knew would no longer consider her as a potential wife. She couldn’t help but chuckle as the man stumbled while grabbing for the reins of his horse. His manservant was clearly confused by Alan’s sudden need to leave but said nothing as he too started to mount his own horse. Her father stopped calling to him, and Lorraine knew that he wouldn’t want to cause too much of a scene in front of his people.

Her laughter continued until the dark eyes of her father, bursting at the seams with anger, found hers once more. She stopped quickly when she saw the fury in them, knowing that he would shout like thunder if he reached her.

“Don’t go anywhere!” he shouted up to her. But Lorraine was already turning and dashing back into the castle. She had to get to her chambers before he could catch her. She could laugh all she liked, but she knew that, in the end, her father had the power to ruin her life if he wanted to, taking away every ounce of freedom and happiness she had ever known.

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

  • I can’t wait to read to read more. Lorraine’s feisty but strong character is refreshing! Very intriguing!!

  • What an exciting beginning to Troy and Lorraine’s adventures! Can’t wait for the fireworks to ignite for these two 😉 Wonderful words, Ms. Wight!

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