Sleeping with her Highland Enemy (Preview)


Jacobite Rising, 1715

“Caelan!” Duncan roared at the sight of his friend’s body hitting the ground. Storming forward, his broadsword carved a path through the English soldiers bearing down on him. He itched, more than anything, to reach the gloating commander. He stood over the body of Caelan, not only his ally but one of Clan Campbell’s greatest warriors. Now his blood tainted the earth.

Around them, several bodies gave up the fight and hugged the ground, bearing different fatal wounds. Screams of varying degrees pierced the air. Caelan’s chest trembled to produce his last breath.

“Move!” Duncan bellowed at a fellow warrior who lurched to block his path in order to protect his friend. Seeing the blistering fury in Duncan’s charcoal eyes, he fled.

As all wars, this war filled Duncan with anger. Ironically, it started in a pursuit of peace and the restoration of King James. His sword had become an extension of his hands since the start of the Jacobite Rebellion. Blaedy greedy English. If only they would stick to their lands. But no, they had to invade Clan Campbell’s lands. They were Clan Hay’s biggest allies and there was no way Duncan, the heir of Laird Hay himself, would stand by and watch their massacre. He would rather die than let the English scum encroach on what was rightfully theirs. Today, it was Clan Campbell, tomorrow it might be his own.

He arrived at the clearing, where only two soldiers stood, with Caelan’s twitching body at their feet. With the English commander in his sight, Duncan slashed his sword e, eliminating the man’s last protection. Just as he prepared to cover the space between them, another Englishman, pierced a sword into the commander’s back.

Absolute shock washed over the man’s paling face as blood spurted from his mouth. Duncan glanced left and right, but there was no one else to witness the atrocity. Frozen in disbelief, he watched the commander fall to one knee. With effort, the wounded man turned to see the grinning face of his attacker, who laughed in his face. Duncan blinked to be certain that the other attacker was indeed part of the English troops. His gaze fell on what was sticking out of the commander’s back. It was a sgian dubh, and its handle bore a distinct lion’s head crest.

Distaste, bitter as bile, rose within Duncan’s mouth. If there was one thing he despised more than the English, it was disloyalty. Briefly, he contemplated running after the worm who’d just murdered his commander. It would be a way to avenge Caelan’s death too. But as he took the first step, a hand gripped the tail of his kilt. Duncan peered down at the man he’d planned to kill just a few minutes prior. The one who’d murdered his comrade. Unreasonable pity suffused his heart. They had collided in a few battles and, despite being English, Dankworth was a man who fought with honor. Duncan had seen the travesty brought to some clans by the English, women and children left destitute. When this commander was involved, there was nothing of the sort. If his men acted beyond his wishes, they were considered war criminals and executed for harming civilians. The man did not deserve such a pitiful end.

As though he’d applied the last of his strength in drawing Duncan’s attention, his grip loosened, and he started to fall back. Duncan rushed to catch him before he hit the ground. Commander’s bloodshot eyes roved wildly, his mouth opening and closing. The words he was attempting to form got lost in the blood rushing down his jaw.

“’Tis all over now,” Duncan said in gruff tones. He swept his helmet off his head, shaking loose his ginger curls. It was his last respect to the honorable soldier. “Rest.” Duncan’s chest twisted with hate and pity.

The man shook his head and for just a second, something blazed in his eyes. Duncan decided to quit being the fool. He was the enemy. His betrayal by his fellow soldier was a problem in their ranks, not Duncan’s. Still, he couldn’t get his hands to release their hold on his shoulders. Nor could he tear his gaze away from the agony reflected in his suffering face.

Commander John’s lips moved faster, so that Duncan had to abandon his prickling conscience and lean closer.

“G…G…” he sputtered.

“Aye, good night,” Duncan completed though it was high noon.

“Gr…Grace…” the man spat, determination warring with his fading expression.

I dinnae think ye deserve grace, Duncan bit his inner lip from saying the words out loud. Instead, he nodded, bring his ear even closer to the weak lips. “Aye, grace.”

“Danger… help. Please.”

A whoosh of air blasted Duncan’s cheek and he knew, the commander had just exhaled for the last time. A cry rose from his left. He looked to see a hurdle of English soldiers, rushing to his side. In a last gesture of kindness and respect to another fighter, Duncan pressed his hands across the man’s open eyes, wishing him peace. He grabbed the hilt of his broadsword.

However, the commander’s weak grasp tugged at Duncan’s leg once more. But there was no time. Although the soldiers were upon him, his wound was severe. He would not survive it.

“Commander!” One of the men screamed, brandishing his weapon at Duncan. His cry was echoed by the others. “You killed him! You fucking brute!” Looking left and right, Duncan realized that he was indeed alone at this clearing. His comrades were in the thick of the battle. He took several steps back, held up his sword and widened his stance.

Aye, tis a war, Duncan thought, flashing an arrogant, come-hither grin at him. Still, it was dishonorable at best to claim a victory he didn’t earn.

He struck down the closest soldier, and two others in quick succession. “Him? nae!” None of them listened, as he’d expected. “However, I willnae hesitate to end ye all!” The old man’s dying words fled Duncan’s mind as he braved each attack with the anger exploding at his core.

Duncan fought his way out of their midst and rejoined with his warriors much later, but his mind stayed with the commander and his dying words. From a soldier, it could not be mere blathering. Grace… Duncan muttered a while after, as he rounded the number of survivals. Who is Grace?

Chapter One

Dankworth Residence

Two weeks after

“You’re my Grace. Granted by God, to be cherished and loved forever.”

Grace crushed her face into her pillow, drowning it in tears. Her body quivered as those words resounded in her head. Her father’s face, his wide beloved smile, his ever-welcoming arms, his kind voice, his everything.

Scarlett fever was not enough to tear her family apart. It grabbed her mother’s life when she was a mere five years old. A babe left in the care of her father. She could still recall her father’s grief for months. And as Grace grew, she knew why. It had not been easy for her parents to conceive her. When she finally came, everyone thought, surely, the mother could not carry her to term.

Her health had been frail but somehow, Grace was brought into the world. The whispers urging her father to take an illegitimate mistress died. The ones laughing at her mother, quenched. For five years, their little family blossomed. After that, her father stood tall beside her, like an infallible tree guiding her through life.

Only now, he was gone.

Her heart craved his presence, just once more. That one time, she would… what? What could she have possibly done? She had no premonition, other than the persistent dread pounding in her heart. When she saw him off, it was like always, with tears blurring her vision and a prayer on her lips.

“Did you hear me?!” Grace screamed at her ceiling. “Didn’t you hear? Didn’t you hear God? I wanted him back safe!” She shouted, her voice hoarse.

Her maid knocked, but Grace refused to pay mind to her concerned enquiries. She would stay ensconced in her bedchambers, until another messenger arrived. Until the news changed. Until her father’s benevolent voice and warm heart suffused the house with happiness once more.

The maid knocked again. Grace swiped a hand over her face and drew a deep breath. It did nothing to calm her nerves but at least, her heart had stopped thundering. She swallowed a lump gathered in her throat and called, “Come in, Mary.”

She was seated when Mary poked her head in. Trepidation clouded her expression. Everyone treated her like glass ready to break and she couldn’t blame them. She struggled to rein in the storm.

“It is fine,” she said softly.

“I… I could tell the gentlemen that you’re resting. They would not object.”

“No, I have put this off for as long as I can. It is time to face my responsibilities.”

Mary’s eyes clouded and Grace couldn’t bear to look at her. Otherwise, her own tears would come as an unceasing torrential downfall. Mary had come to live with them when she was five, around the same time Grace’s mother had passed. She knew the woman understood her loss more than anyone else. Grace inhaled and placed her palms on the flat surface of the dresser. “I would like a single braid please.”

“Certainly. May I wash your face first?”

Grace gazed at her pale face. Her lips were without color, dark circles surrounded her eyes, her nose was tinged red. The only light in her dark brown eyes came from the lamp, otherwise, they were dull, bloodshot, and lifeless. She was in no mood to face Owen or Ethan. But her father would have wanted her to be strong.

About twenty minutes later, Grace met the men in the main hall. She was draped in a simple black dress, black gloves and a dark veil shielding half her face. Her thick dark hair had been tugged into a single braid down her back.

They rose as she entered. Mr. Williams, her Gaelic teacher, was also present and her eyes warmed as they flickered toward him. Pain reflected in his drooping eyes. Having lost a best friend, the oldest friend he had, made him just as hollow as Grace. He tilted his head, opening his arms to her. Stifling a sob, Grace went to him and hugged him for a shorter time than she liked. Cut short by Owen’s loud cough.

“How are you, my dear?” Mr. Williams asked in a hushed voice.

Grace couldn’t force her lips to rise in a smile. She nodded then looked toward Owen just as a serving girl entered. Owen had one of those faces one forgot very quickly, if not for his nasty attitude, which made him memorable in the longer run. Nasty toward those he considered below his station. Grace supposed it was down to his own lack of confidence.

To the serving girl, he barked, “leave the room. We will call when you are needed.”

She looked to Grace and she gave a slight nod. With a small smile, the girl walked back to the kitchen. Ethan cleared his throat as Grace took the single chair opposite them, which faced the window. It was her father’s favorite. Several nights had been spent within the confines of these cushions, his voice right next to her eyes as he read adventurous stories to her.

Now, she basked in his scent, using that to calm her as Ethan opened his mouth to speak. He was not a bad fellow. Those transparent blue eyes, coal-dark hair and wide shoulders distinguished him among other gentlemen, especially in contrast to Owen’s big nose and black eyes. The women swooned in the presence of the tiny mole above Ethan’s upper lips, composing little poems about kissing it away. In addition, he was her father’s most trusted confidant and second-in-command. A position he had risen to in less than three years.

“Have you been well?” Ethan asked.


“Of course not, Mr. Smith,” Williams said lightly. He’d always liked Ethan, for reasons best known to him. “I think you should proceed to the agenda of the evening.”

“And I think you should know your place,” Owen pranced to Ethan’s needless defense. It was his primary job, other than being a social nuisance, which included bedding as many women as he could.

“Gentlemen, please.” Grace said, curiosity prickling her ears. “I will call for tea…”

“I would prefer something stronger,” Owen interrupted. Grace rang the little bell by her side and the same serving girl reappeared. She repeated the order and when she left, she asked about this agenda.

“No, I just want to know how you are carrying on, dear,” Ethan said softly. Grace’s eyebrows rose. Never had he spoken to her with such an informal affection. Could it be that with the loss of her father, came the disrespect of his subordinates?

“I am well,” she lied.

Ethan took something wrapped in black cloth by his side. Grace frowned at it, then at him. He cleared his voice and rubbed his palms down his legs. “There is no good way to say this.” He slid out the long object and placed it on the table. Slower than a snail, he unwrapped it. Grace stifled her shock as she gazed upon a sharp blade.

Its blade bore caked, brownish blood. The hilt had the face of a lion carved into it. Her breathing became fast as her lungs sought for fast-diminishing air. She blinked rapidly, fighting with everything in her, to hold back tears. That was her father’s blood. On the weapon that’d taken his life.

Ethan cleared his voice once more, waving a hand at the sword while Williams rose to stand by her side. She had requested to see it, yet she could not force herself from the chair to touch it.

“This is a sgian dubh, a Scottish adaga. We found it next to him. I saw your dad at the clearing with another Scottish warrior and I called for reinforcements, but it was too late.”

Grace feels like her breathing stopped for a second. Ethan spoke again.

“However, we recognize the man that was closest to him at the time. He dressed in the colors of clan Hay and the weapon has a lion symbol. During battle, he was the one commanding the Scots and, since we heard that the Laird of the clan himself has been sick for a while now, the man is probably his son.”

Grace clenched her fists in her lap, thinking of that man. The vile person who’d deprived her of her father.

“You should remember that it is war,” Williams said, noticing her clenched fists. Grace disagreed. It was her father, and the person who murdered him did not deserve to share the air with her.

“I found him… we found him… just before…” Ethan paused, closed his eyes and inhaled, in a show to gather his feelings. “Anyway, even in his last moment, he was thinking about you.”

Grace allowed a trembling smile as a single tear slid past her defenses. “Thank you.”

Ethan smiled at her, and Grace could sense that his mood was improving.

“I have another thing to tell you Grace. Good news that will hopefully make you feel better. Of course, I was preparing something more romantic but, due to the circumstances, I believe it is best to let you know. Last time I came to visit your father here before the battle, I asked for your hand and… and he said yes.” her eyes flew to his face.

“What?!” Grace blurted, foregoing all of her training. “That is impossible.” Ethan shrank back as though he’d been slapped. He never thought he would receive such a fervent rejection. She glanced at Williams, wanting to hear that it was a lie. Williams placed a hand on her shoulder for a moment.

“He speaks the truth,” he said quietly.

Grace gripped the arms of the chair, waves of shock rippling through her. “No. My father would never make such arrangements without telling me. He…” She knew he must have had a will, every soldier did. But she knew nothing of its content.

“He would have told you, eventually. While he had his will prepared, Commander was an incredible soldier, so his death was a shock to us.” Owen spoke quickly, his words falling over each other.

“I’ve had enough of this, gentlemen.” Grace said, attempting to get out of her seat.

“Ethan please,” Owen said. “Caution your fiancée before she does something regrettable. You know how women are”

Fiancée? Was it already decided?

Grace had the mind to damn them all to eternity. Only the face of her father helped curb her annoyance. She should have known one of these men would swoop in to take her inheritance. The fact that it was Ethan, however, was beyond disappointing. She had expected more from the man who fought by her father’s side.

She leveled Owen with an icy gaze. “Mr. Owen. I am not a horse to be cautioned by a man. You will speak to me with the decorum I deserve.”

He turned red. In the midst of his tantrum, the serving girl arrived with the drinks. Her eyes flared on seeing the sword. Wordlessly, she placed the tray beside it and walked out. At her departure, Ethan unfolded a piece of paper from his coat pocket.

“This is a document signed by your father, the day I asked for your hand. In it, he declares that it would be a perfect arrangement to have you as my wife. But I want you to know, Miss Dankworth, even without these stipulations, I will make it my priority to see that you are happy and without a single worry.”

Grace made a sudden grab for the paper, “Let me see that.”

Owen slapped down Ethan’s hand, narrowly missing hers, before she could collect it. “Ethan would not lie to you. Have you not known him long enough?”

Grace opened her mouth to rebuke strongly, etiquette be damned. This was her future in discourse. However, it seemed Ethan noted her escalating temper and signaled his lackey to wait outside. Grumbling, Owen grabbed a glass of whisky and did as he was asked. Calmer now, Ethan walked to her and passed the paper.

There it was. Her father’s sloped handwriting and his crescent moon seal. This was not a horrible nightmare she dreamed up in her despair. She looked from one man to the other, her chest rising and falling fast. Whenever she had thought about marriage, she had imagined it to be with a man who made her heart race. Someone whose presence alone wrought a smile from her lips. Someone who she would care deeply for, and who would feel the same. She wanted love, in its purest form and this arrangement robbed her of that privilege.

Ethan, who was almost twice her age, was not in that category. Although he had always had great conduct, both with her father and with her. She had no doubt that he would make some woman happy. But not her.

“It has just been a few days since my father’s burial. I cannot marry you nor do I have the strength to discuss the implications.”

“I understand, Grace, if I may use your name. However, you are aware of the perilous times. I am only allowed a handful of days to mourn the Commander before I am called back to the station. I am afraid we have to proceed quickly. As you know, soldiers cannot predict the length of their lives.”

Grace’s vision swam. “How many days?” her voice came out quieter than the storm clashing in her head.

“Two days.”

Grace made an involuntary sound that was a cross between a squeak and a laugh. She lurched from the chair. “Please, help yourselves. My head… is aching.”

She fled the room. Halfway to her own chamber, she veered towards her father’s study. It would be hard for her to confront the place where he had spent much time, but the situation was dire. Grace locked the door behind her, afraid that she might be seen by Mr. Williams or Ethan. She had to confirm the facts on her own.

Grace knew that her father’s testament was hidden in a locked drawer, since he had told her about it in case she ever needed it. At the time, Grace had not liked the way her father talked about his death, but she could see now that he had just been looking out for her. The key was hidden inside her father’s favorite book, the one he read to her before bed.

Grace’s heart sank as she read the will. In it, her father made it clear that his fortune and properties would be passed on to Grace’s husband after his death, emphasizing the need for her to marry soon so she would be taken care of. In case he died before the marriage, her inheritance would be administered by a man of his utmost trust, Mr. Williams. Grace knew about the will, but she never would have thought he had harbored such plans. She felt trapped by the situation and even worse knowing she would never be able to discuss it with her father. Grace forced herself not to cry again because she had to think clearly. She had to come up with a plan of her own.

In her room, Grace made a beeline to the chest of clothing in the corner, then the wardrobe. Her mind refused to fully understand what had just transpired among her and Ethan. Her father had loved her more than anyone else in the world, of that, she was beyond certain. So she could not understand why he would agree to give her hand in marriage without telling her.

With everything happening, a wedding was the least of her concerns. The killer pervaded her mind, leaving room for little else. Her father should have trusted her capabilities instead of giving her away in such a manner.

Weren’t her knees scraped and her hands calloused from all the training she had received from him? He taught her to be independent, to fight with a sword, ride hard and fast, and more than anything to have her own damned mind. He cherished every single breath she took. Her father’s doting was the very reason why she had to avenge his death. Grace was determined. She would devise a plan that would help her escape the wedding to find the killer.

The sky outside her window had gone dark by the time her attire was complete. She wore a white blouse with puffed sleeves and a wide neckline, a plaid corset, flaring out to a full blue skirt. Her hair was brushed out and cascaded down her back, in luxurious waves.

At a glance, she resembled a highlander lass. From all the books she’d read, blending into their culture would be… well it would have to be like a second skin, which was rather impossible. But she would do her best to fit in, until she found that bastard. Under the dark sky, Grace picked her way through the familiar grounds. As her feet led her toward the stables, Grace’s heart bled. Despite her conviction regarding this forlorn mission, she wept in silence for the home she was deserting.

She hoped her father would understand and forgive if he could see her. At the stables, she reached into her pocket, finding the carrot she’d hidden there. She fed her horse Minnie while keeping a look out for the stablemaster. At this time, he was usually passed out drunk, but one of the hands could come. After Minnie had chewed the last piece, Grace hurried to saddle her. She also hid the money she’d managed to pilfer.

She led her from the stall. Once the fresh air hit her face, a voice floated in with it. “Where are you going?”

Grace jumped, her spirit nearly fleeing from her body in fright. Ensuring that her bag was hidden atop Minnie, she turned to Harris. In the reflection of a full moon, his usual warm smile was missing. She’d grown up without biological siblings, but thanks to Harris she had never felt the absence.

How many times had she and Harris, Mr. William’s son, snuck around enjoying a fun childhood, playing outside with the horses? They had grown up like siblings and yet, she could not count on his help this time.

“Oh bollocks! Harris, you gave me a good fright. Out for a ride, what else? Why are you skulking about? B-back from the station already?”

“My father was worried you’d do something rash.” He looked at her horse, then her odd dress. “Appears he was right.”

“Well, he’s wrong. Did he tell you about the will? I’m to be married to Mr. Smith,” she rushed on without waiting for his reply. “I just need some air. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Concern flickered in his gaze, “I could come with you.”

“Please,” Grace scoffed, waving her arm. “I have a steadier hand than you. I’m fine. Be back before you know it.” She stepped on the saddle and heaved herself up to the seat.

“I just let you think that you have a steadier hand than mine.” He cocked his head to the side, scanning her appearance closely. “Grace, what are you wearing then?” Exasperation filling his voice.

Grace reddened. He might really follow and in turn foil her plans. “My father just died. I don’t want pitying glances and attention. This perfectly conceals who I am.” She forced a jolly tone. “Don’t you think?” She jiggled her shoulders. A hesitant smile lifted Harris’s thin lips. He took a step back.

He nodded once, “In that case, I will wait here until your return. Please don’t be late or I would be forced to follow you.”

Relief flooded Grace as she took a last glance at her dearest friend. She flashed a smile then gave Minnie a light kick. She rode hard into the field separating her home from the road. In a few minutes, it was swallowed by the woods surrounding it. She had one goal. To avenge her father’s death.


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  • Whew, Juliana! You captured my attention! I can’t wait to see what adventures will follow Grace, on her journey!

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