Stealing the Highlander’s Bride (Preview)


Springtime 1440

“Och, ye didnae see him. He was red-faced with temper one minute, shaking, and the next he went pale as fresh milk. Then he orders me off, and taeday he didnae come down fer breakfast.” Blake Sinclair lifted his head from the makeshift grassy pillow he’d been reclining against, and scowled at the stem of heather he was toying with. He tugged at it in a distracted manner while he tried to ignore his companion’s muffled giggles.

At fourteen summers, nearly fifteen, he’d grown several inches over the past year. He’d enjoyed the extra height, right until his voice had cracked for the first time, sending muffled laughter through everyone listening. And now Reyna Gregor – his childhood friend and the girl he’d slowly fallen in love with over the past few seasons – was laughing at him too, despite the seriousness of the situation he was trying to relate.

Finally, Reyna managed to stifle her laughter, and toppled over lazily to rest her head against his shoulder. “I’m sorry… I dinnae mean tae laugh at ye. But ye cannae think ye’re the cause fer yer faither feeling poorly. Surely ye’ve fought afore.”

“O’ course we have. But never about something like this. About foolish things, like the time I tried tae sneak intae the training yard, five summers ago.” The heather came free of the dirt, and Blake scowled at it, before reaching for another piece.

“Ye mean like the argument ye had with him about riding, after we first met? After ye lost control o’ one o’ his best horses?”

“‘Twas me first-time riding someat other than a half-grown yearling or an elderly training gelding. And I was only eight summers at the time. I did the best I could.”

“Ye let the horse out o’ the main courtyard though, and dinnae pretend it was any sort o’ accident.”

That was true. Blake grimaced. That event wasn’t one he was proud of. He’d wound up holding on for dear life as his horse raced over the moors and fields in an uncontrolled gallop. On the other hand, that wild ride had dropped him at Reyna’s feet, in every sense of the phrase. He’d fallen off right in front of where she’d been picking herbs, and the friendship that had grown from that first meeting gave his next words the ring of sincerity.

“That might be the truth, but I cannae regret it, nae matter how much o’ a scolding me faither gave me when I finally got home.” He sighed and sat up, leaving the heather stems for a handful of flowers that he had made a halfhearted effort at weaving into a flower crown before he resumed absentmindedly shredding them. “Ye’re right that we’ve had our share o’ quarrels, and mayhap I’m tae hot-headed and reckless, as he says, but this wasnae the same. He was angrier, and nae just because o’ some daft thing I did. He was saying me actions were jeopardizing the whole o’ the Sinclair clan, and nae just meself. Tae say naething o’ setting a bad example by me actions. Among other things.”

“And how was this different? What was he referring tae if he wasnae simply angered over something foolhardy ye did?”

“We were arguing about ye.” Blake felt his ears heat and avoided looking at her. “He found out I’d been sneaking out tae meet with ye, and ye ken how he feels about any sort o’ speech between our clans.”

Reyna scowled. “Aye. I ken he and me faither are nae on speaking terms since me grandfaither passed away. Though me faither willnae say what it is that caused the rift between them. All he’ll say is that Leith Sinclair insulted him and refused tae take it back.”

Blake grimaced. He’d heard something similar when he was younger, but after last night’s argument, he suspected he knew the real reason the clans were at an armed truce with each other. “Aye. He didnae ken I was meeting ye, but somehow he found out, and he was right furious. Confronted me at supper, in front o’ the entire clan, including the Elders. Said I was defying a direct order, and if I didnae stop seeing ye, there’d be consequences.”

Reyna gave him a sideways look. “And still, here ye are.”

“O’ course I am.” Blake returned her stare with an indignant one of his own, barely even noticing how his voice cracked again. “I’ll nae let any man tell me what friends tae have.” He flushed again.

“And that’s all I am tae ye?” She gave him a look that made him wince. “Just yer friend?”

“Ye ken it’s more than that. Otherwise, I wouldnae be set on defying him when he tries tae convince me tae speak tae lasses from other clans. He’s been wanting me tae secure the clan a strong alliance and has been talking marriage proposals. I said he could try tae plan a marriage and pick a lass fer me if he liked, but he might as well ken now that I’ll choose who I want tae wed, whether he agrees or nae. I’ll nae spend me life with someone I cannae care fer, especially when me heart’s given tae ye already.”

Reyna’s eyes were wide, slightly pleading as they met his. “Ye want me? Truly? Ye really care fer me enough tae defy yer faither, and mayhap mine?”

“O’ course I dae. Ye should ken that, since it’s ye I’m sitting with, and nae one else.” His father, Leith, had been adamant that Reyna Gregor’s clan was neither wealthy enough or powerful enough to be an appropriate match for the heir to the Sinclair clan, but he wasn’t going to tell Reyna that. It would be far too insulting. “I told him tae dip his head in a loch if he thought he was going tae stop me from seeing ye as I liked.” He flushed a deeper red. “I mean…”

“I kent what ye meant, ye daft idiot.” Reyna retorted. “And at least ye have a choice about it. Ye’re nae a girl.”

Her sharp tone dragged his eyes from the heather to her. “Is there something wrong, Reyna? Has someone said someat tae ye?” He’d always thought she’d be safe, given that she had a brother who was heir to the clan.

“Me faither’s talking about marrying me off tae some laird or laird’s son, as soon as he finds one he approves o’, claiming as kinfolk. I’ve seen messages with the Murray Clan seal on them, and I dinnae trust what he’s thinking in regard tae them.” She shivered. “I’ve heard word he’s looking fer a wife, but nae a woman will have him because he has a beastly temper. The fact that he’s sending letters tae me faither, despite the ill-will between them…”

“Doesnae mean a thing, save that he might be as mad as he is bad-tempered.” Blake scowled, even as he wrapped his arm around her to comfort her. “The Murray-Gregor feud’s been going on fer centuries, and it’s a blood feud tae. Yer faither would never consider giving ye away tae him, nae matter how Laird Murray tried tae convince him it was a way tae end the enmity between yer clans. He kens as well as I dae, better mayhap, that old Laird Oran’s as like tae murder ye as marry ye. And ye and I both ken he loves ye tae much tae risk it, even if Laird Murray offered him a thousand years o’ peace, most o’ their lands, and all the gold in the Murray clan coffers.” He kissed her forehead. “Besides, Clan Gregor may nae be the biggest, but yer strong enough tae stand yer ground, and yer braither’s nae a weakling. Clan Gregor will be standing strong long after Oran Murray and his temper are dust on the Highlands.”

Reyna laughed a little at his vehement declaration. “I ken that. And I’ve said as much tae me faither whenever he brings up marrying me tae another clan tae strengthen our borders, but he likes tae hear arguments from me as much as yer faither likes tae hear them from ye. I’ve told him I’m tae young as well, that if me braither isnae old enough tae be a warrior, then I’m tae young tae be a wife. He didnae like that either.” Reyna looked as if she’d swallowed a thistle.

The sight of her indignation filled Blake with mixed feelings of protectiveness, anger on her behalf, and a sense of affection. He grinned and reached out to wrap an arm around her shoulders. “Och, well, even if ye happen tae get sent off tae Clan Murray, I’ll be more than happy tae come get ye.” He smirked at the flowers and heather that Reyna had slowly been accumulating in a basket at her side. “After all what would I dae without me little witch tae offer me tinctures and tisanes and teas fer everything that might be ailing me?”

“I’m nae a witch.” Reyna huffed the words in exasperation, but she was smiling. “’Tis only medicine and herbs, like the wise women and the healers gather.”

Blake chuckled, his own mood easing. “I ken, I ken. But it willnae change the way I think o’ ye.” He dug into a pouch on his belt. “But never mind that. Ye’ve given me so many flowers and herbs, I thought it might be proper tae give ye one in return.”

“Nae that heather ye’ve been mangling, I hope?” Reyna eyed him.

Blake shook his head, and took one of her hands, pressing the object he’d fished out of his belt into her hand. “It’s nae. It’s nae a flower ye can put in a medicine, but it willnae wilt or go bad, either.”

Reyna studied the thin metal flower, suspended from a thin leather cord. “’Tis pretty. Where did ye find it?”

Blake flushed again and looked away from her bright expression. “Och, well, I had some time tae meself, and I started watching the village blacksmith. When he caught me watching, he offered tae teach me someat o’ the basics – said it was a good skill tae have, fer an emergency shoeing on the road, if naught else.”

“A horseshoe nail isnae a flower.” Her voice sounded amused.

“One thing led tae another… I have a bit o’ skill, and the blacksmith had some spare bits o’ metal lying about… and I wanted tae make ye something”

“It’s beautiful.” She lifted it and slipped the leather cord over her neck with a brilliant smile. “And I like it all the better now that I ken ye made it fer me.”

“It’s a promise, as well as a gift. I’ll dae me best tae change me faither’s mind and get his blessing. Tae court ye if I cannae convince him o’ more. I promise, I’ll make sure we’re both safe, and free tae marry as we like.”

Reyna’s eyes shone like stars as she leaned against his shoulder. “Ye give me yer word?”

“Me word as a Sinclair.”

Anything else he might have said, or any reply she might have made, was interrupted by the sound of hooves approaching rapidly. They were coming from the direction of Sinclair lands, following the same path Blake had ridden hours before.

Blake rolled to his feet, one hand on is dagger as the rider came into sight and splashed across the rill that divided their meadow from the main Sinclair lands. Reyna came to her feet beside him.

The rider came closer, and Blake relaxed a little as he recognized his cousin Hutch. “Och. Nae need tae fret. ‘Tis only me cousin.”

Hutch rode up, and Blake felt a slow, churning feeling of unease begin to creep through him. Hutch’s face was grim and pale, and his horse showed signs of hard riding. He was also carrying saddle bags, more than he could possibly have needed. “Blake. I’ve been looking everywhere fer ye. If I didnae ken ye liked tae meet yer lass here, I’d never have thought tae come this way, or this far.”

“Aye. But if ye kent that, ye might ken I wouldnae want tae be found.”

Hutch shook his head. “And I’d nae come looking, but ye’re needed back at Sinclair Castle. Yer faither collapsed.”

The temperature of the meadow seemed to fall, as if he’d been doused in icy water. “What are ye…?”

Hutch frowned. “I cannae say more than that. I only ken ye need tae come with me.”

He couldn’t think. Couldn’t move. It didn’t make sense. He’d known his father was unwell, but collapsing? Their argument couldn’t have upset him that much.

Suddenly, small hands slammed into his shoulders and shoved him toward his horse, which was grazing nearby. “Get back tae yer family, ye great lout. Ye’re needed.” Reyna stared at him with sharp eyes. She turned and darted away, toward her own horse, before he could say anything.

At least she’d managed to shock him out of his frozen state. Blake sprang after her and caught her arm. “Reyna, wait!” She swung around. “I dinnae ken what’s wrong, but…”

He took a deep breath, then bent to kiss her lightly. “Come back tae this spot, this same time taemorrow..” With another quick, chaste kiss, Blake darted away, to where Hutch was waiting impatiently.

Blake swung into the saddle of his own horse. He waited just long enough to see Reyna’s bay mare disappear on the far side of the meadow before he turned away and nudged it into a trot beside his cousin. “Does the healer have any idea what happened? Is Faither ill? Will he be getting better? When?”

“He willnae be getting better.” Hutch waited until they’d entered a stand of trees by the road, then abruptly nudged his horse forward, and swung it around to block Blake’s.

Blake pulled his horse to a stop in surprise. “What are ye saying?”

Hutch shook his head. “I didnae want tae say anything in front o’ the lass, but yer faither didnae just collapse. He’s dead. By the time the maid found him, it was tae late. He’d passed on.”

Blake reeled in the saddle. “Me faither’s dead…”

“Aye, and I wish that were all o’ it. Or even the first o’ it.” Hutch reached out to grab his arm. “I’m sorry, Blake, but the healer said he’d been poisoned. And mayhap the last dose wasnae the first.”

The cold feeling came back, fierce and sharp like ice in his gut and his bowels. “Poisoned? With what?”

“I didnae stay around long enough tae hear. Blake… I… I wish I didnae have tae be the one tae tell ye this, but…” Hutch’s face twisted. “Och, cousin, I’m truly sorry, but the truth o’ the matter is, they’re after thinking ye were the one that poisoned him.”

The ice turned into a sword, lancing through his heart, and for a moment he could hear nothing save a roaring storm in his ears. He forced it back and held onto the saddle and reins with hands that were white-knuckled from the strain. “What? Ye cannae be serious.”

“I wish I werenae. But there’s the truth o’ it. After yer fight last night, there’s folk saying ye were angered with his refusal tae let ye see yer lass, and tired o’ being the heir instead o’ the laird. They’re saying ye were hoping nae one would realize. I’ve even heard folk saying they’re surprised it didnae happen sooner, the way ye’ve always seemed tae be close one moment and fighting the next. And since ye’ve nae been seen since this morn, there’s folk saying ye always planned on being away and pretending tae ken naething o’ the matter, or worse, that ye’re a coward who decided tae flee afore ye had tae face justice.”

Breakfast and lunch both threatened to reappear. Blake swallowed hard. “I have tae go back, tae explain tae the Elders, tae yer faither… I have tae tell them the truth.”

Hutch shook him once, then twice. “Think, Blake. What proof have ye o’ yer claims? Ye’re kent tae spend time with a girl who’s always after mixing teas and the like. Ye were fighting with the laird last night, and ye nearly came tae blows with the man. And ye’re the heir. With yer faither passed away, ‘tis down tae ye and me faither tae tae’ the mantle o’ the laird. And ye can guess what me faither thinks about the whole matter. His temper’s up, and he’s fair out fer blood. Ye really think it willnae be yers, with the way things look right now?”

His own uncle thought he’d killed his father. He swallowed hard. “What o’ me maither?”

Hutch shook his head. “Dinnae ken. So far as I heard, she’s tae far in shock and mourning tae speak one way or the other.”

He didn’t want to believe anyone could think such things of him. And yet, he had argued with his father in full view of the clan the night before. And anyone who knew Reyna would know she had an interest in herbs of all kinds. It was also no secret that her father and his had argued and had a hostile truce that was just short of feuding. Or that his father disapproved of his relationship with Reyna.

With a sick, sinking feeling, Blake realized what Hutch had truly come out to tell him. The clan believed he’d murdered his own father. Not only that, they thought he’d killed his own laird. If he went home, he’d face the Clan Elders, and his uncle, with little or no way to convince them of his innocence. After all, they could say he’d left the castle that morning to try and avoid suspicion by being elsewhere.

Kin-killing was a crime that carried a sentence of banishment, at best, unless the person who died was known to be a danger to the clan or close family. Killing a laird though, was something that could see you put to the sword unless the laird was a proven problem for the clan, or he was killed in a feud or an honor duel. Poisoning though, would be considered dishonorable and cowardly, even in the best of circumstances.

Putting all those together… Blake felt his stomach lurch and he came perilously close to throwing up again. “If I go back, they’ll put me tae death. With nay proof I didnae dae it, they’ll find me guilty likely as nae, and nae even the Fair Folk could keep me head attached tae me neck. I’m nae even sure an act o’ God could dae it.”

“I ken. And I’m sorry fer ye. I believe ye’re innocent, Blake, but one lad’s word willnae count fer much. Especially since I came tae find ye and warn ye, instead o’ telling the clan guards where I thought ye were.” Hutch dismounted and went to rummage behind a tree. He emerged with extra packs that bulged with clothing, a heavy-looking purse, and Blake’s weapons.

Blake shuddered, and tried to think as he took the things Hutch handed to him and set them in their proper places with practiced precision. “What dae I dae?” He suddenly felt much younger than his fourteen years. “What can I dae?”

Hutch reached up and tugged free two of the saddle packs slung across his horse’s hindquarters. He passed them over, and Blake took them with shaking hands. He tried to stop the tremors passing through him, but he could barely breathe, let alone exert any sort of control over his limbs.

Hutch’s next words fell like blows from a warrior in the training yard. “Ye need tae leave. Go somewhere, anywhere but back tae Sinclair Castle. Write me when ye find a place, and I’ll stay in touch with ye. I’ll look fer proof that ye didnae dae this, and once I’ve found it, ye can come home again.”

His choices were to be executed or banished, and that was no choice at all. Dead, he’d never get a chance to prove his innocence, or regain his honor.

If proof were easy tae find, they’d nae think I was the killer in the first place. And Hutch isnae much older than me. He won’t be able tae dae much or stand up against the elders. It might be years afore I can come home. And even then, it willnae be the same. Me faither is dead.

He wanted to curl up and cry until he had no more tears left. He wanted to throw up more than he had when he’d snuck a bottle of his father’s mead during the Harvest fest the year before.

Neither of those were options. Hutch was right. He needed to get far away from the Sinclair clan, before someone else came after him. The next member of the clan who found him might not be as sympathetic as Hutch.

He swallowed hard and forced his emotions down. “Ye’re right. I need tae be gone. And the sooner I take tae the road, the farther gone I’ll be when the rest o’ the clan comes looking fer me.” He hesitated. “Will ye tell me maither, please, that it’s nae true? Tell her… convince her if ye can, that I didnae kill me faither? And tell her I’ll come back as soon as I can prove the truth o’ it.”

“Ye ken I will.” Hutch nodded. “And I’ll look after her like me own.”

He gave Hutch a quick, hard clasp of the arm, which his cousin returned. “Thank ye fer that, and fer coming tae find me, fer believing in me, and fer helping me get tae safety.”

“Ye’re welcome. Be safe, cousin.” After a last, lingering look, Hutch released him and turned his horse back toward Sinclair Castle.

Blake watched until his cousin was out of sight, then resolutely turned his own horse in the opposite direction. As much as it broke his heart, he couldn’t afford to linger.

And he couldn’t take the chance of going to see Reyna, not even to tell her what had happened. Not even to keep his word. Someone would surely look for him there, and it would be worse for the both of them if he was anywhere within the Gregor lands when they came looking.

Blake gave a soft, bitter laugh. How ironic that he’d given his word as a Sinclair to come back for her. He was no longer a Sinclair and did not even have the meager satisfaction of being able to keep the last promise he had made as a member of his birth clan.

He was on his own, with nothing save his grief and his regrets to follow him into exile.

Chapter One

Springtime, 1450

Ten years later

Reyna Gregor stared at the meadow, one hand tangled in the worn leather cord about her neck as she watched the heather sway in the light spring breeze that danced through the moorland grasses. For years, this place had been her refuge, and a place where she’d made some of her happiest memories. After today, she might never see it again.

When Blake had disappeared, and they’d received word that he’d been exiled, she’d come to the meadow every day for a year, until she could no longer ignore the bitter truth. Blake Sinclair was gone, in every sense of the word, and he would never come back.

Her hand tensed around the flower. The cord dug into her neck as she tugged. She imagined the cord breaking, imagined the frayed strands and the weathered metal flower flying through the air to disappear forever among the heather.

“Reyna. There ye are.”

Reyna stuffed the necklace under top of her dress, dropped her hand, and turned to see her sister-by-marriage, Tessa, wading through the long, thick grass. Tessa’s movement was somewhat hampered by the soft rounding of her belly, evidence of the child she carried within. For a moment, she was tempted to reach out and help Tessa to her side, but she knew from experience that her brother’s wife was an independent woman. Instead, she settled for a worried look. “Should ye be riding in yer condition?”

Tessa made her way to Reyna’s side with a heavy grace that Reyna envied. “I’m well enough. ‘Tis early days yet, and the healer says the babe and I are fair healthy enough.”

Tessa’s gaze drifted over the meadow. “I was wondering where ye might have gone. I should have kent ye’d be here, though I dinnae ken why, as ye left yer herb-gathering basket at home. I thought ye’d stopped coming here years ago.”

“I ken. But I only wanted tae come tae enjoy the peace, afore I have tae leave fer Murray Keep.”

Tessa nodded. “I understand. Though I dae wish ye’d choose a meadow closer tae the castle tae find yer peace.”

Reyna offered her sister-by-marriage an apologetic smile. “Aye. I ken full well ye’re nae the only one who’s exasperated by me habit o’ coming out here. But…” She trailed off.

“But it’s where yer memories o’ Blake Sinclair are, and ye have the same questions I dae about what happened tae the lad.”

Reyna nodded, glad Tessa understood. She’d tried to explain her feelings more than once to her brother and her father. Neither of them had ever listened. Not since the message from Clan Sinclair saying that the former laird was dead, his son had abandoned the clan and been declared an exile for his shameful behavior. That was all she’d been told, and all she’d ever been able to learn. Even after ten years, she still had no idea why Blake had been exiled, or how his father had died.

She had no idea where Blake had gone. And even less idea why he had never come to see her, never even sent word about what had happened. She’d sent a request for more information to the cousin who’d come to the meadow the last day she’d seen him, but she’d never received a response.

And now, it no longer mattered. In a few short hours, she’d be on her way to her new betrothed. She’d never have another chance to find out what had happened to the boy she’d once admired. The boy she loved.

“Reyna?” Tessa’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Sorry. I’m coming.” Reyna turned away from the meadow. “I was just saying farewell tae some old memories. The last o’ me childhood, I suppose.”

Tessa’s expression turned regretful, and her arm curled around to cradle the swell of her belly. “I’m fair sorry, Reyna… I ken ye never wanted tae marry someone like Laird Oran Murray.”

“I didnae. And I dinnae even still. But it doesnae matter, does it? I’ve kent since I was a child that he was after marriage tae get himself an heir, since he has nay sons. I just didnae think he’d ever be daft enough tae try and claim me hand, with the feud between our clans, or that he’d stoop tae such cowardly measures tae get what he wants.”

To her surprise and regret, she saw tears beginning to slide down Tessa’s face. She hurried to wrap an arm around her sister-by-marriage to offer her comfort. “Dinnae fret. I’ll be well enough, and I’ve had plenty o’ time tae come tae terms with it. Besides, I’d dae fair worse than get married tae a man I dinnae love tae see Finlay back at me faither’s side, and yers.”

She reached out and laid a gentle hand above Tessa’s. The child was too small yet to move much, but Reyna imagined she could sense the life growing inside her brother’s wife anyway. “Yer bairn needs a faither, ye need yer husband, and me faither needs his heir. ‘Tis well worth a wedding, even tae Laird Oran Murray, tae get him back.”

Nearly a season ago, Oran Murray’s men had ambushed and kidnapped her brother and taken him hostage. With her father’s only heir in his dungeon, Laird Murray had informed her father that he’d only trade Finlay for the chance of an heir of his own, and a marriage alliance to bring an end to the feud between the clans.

Tessa’s brow furrowed, then she spat out a curse that would have made some of the soldiers Reyna knew flush to hear. “Laird Oran Murray’s a craven, cowardly, dishonorable wretch o’ a man, too foul and twisted tae even be called a bastard. And I hate that he managed tae take Finlay prisoner tae force yer faither tae agree tae this.”

Reyna laughed, but she couldn’t help but wonder if Tessa’s anger was coming from more than missing her husband and worrying over her bairn. She took a deep breath. “Laird Oran’s man has arrived?”

Tessa nodded, her expression going soft with regret. “Aye. Arrived just afore I came tae get ye.”

“Then ‘tis best tae nae keep the man waiting.” Reyna helped Tessa into the saddle of her horse, then swung up into the seat of her own. Her bags were already packed and waiting back at Gregor Keep. No doubt her father would have them in the front hall and prepared for loading onto the horses.

She could only hope that whoever Laird Murray had sent to collect her wasn’t too much of a brute.


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

  • Super story starter, Juliana! I can’t wait to see where Blake landed, for these past 10 years. Poor Rayna’s fate doesn’t look promising … for the moment!

    • Thank you so much my dear, I am so glad I was able to capture your attention! I hope you enjoyed the book! Porr Reyna, she has a lot on her plate but I am sure Blake will help her haha

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