A betrothal. A betrayal. A love threatened by treachery.
Laird Callum MacLean vowed to marry Maggie MacDonnell. But when his father’s apparent suicide makes him Laird of his clan, Callum must unmask his father’s killer before bringing Maggie into his dangerous new home.
Maggie’s home isn’t any safer. When Callum fails to return, Maggie does what any resourceful Highland lass would do. She escapes—and finds herself toe-to-toe with Callum, who’s determined to fulfill his promise. Maggie can’t bring herself to trust him with her heart again. But with a traitor still at large, they must rely on each other in every way, or their clans—and their love—will be destroyed.
Callum tied the mare’s reins to his stallion’s, then circled the fire and crouched in front of her.
“The horse is yours, Maggie, and the supplies. I willna stop you if you decide to leave, but I will send a guard with you—five men. They will see you safely to your brother.”
Instead of feeling grateful, disappointment crashed through her. What was wrong with her? She pinned a smile on her face, hoping he read it as a sign of thanks. She opened her mouth to tell him she’d leave immediately, but he waylaid her with a raised hand.
“Nay, I have more to say. Let me finish, please.”
She closed her mouth and nodded. Her heart beat faster. That flutter returned in her chest. When he grasped her hand and held it in his, palm to palm, her throat tightened.
“Maggie, when I left you before, I meant to return in the spring. ’Twas my true intent to marry you, I swear it. I could hardly wait to make you my wife. But…things changed after my father died that winter. I kept thinking I would fix it by the next spring or next summer, until suddenly, three years had passed and I’d barely written, let alone come to see you.”
“Why didn’t you come?” She had to squeeze the words past the lump in her throat.
“I knew I wouldnae be able to leave if I did.”
She frowned, her anger boiling up all over again. “And why would you want to? I was of age.”
“’Twas not the right time.”
“And now is? When I’ve decided to leave? When I no longer trust you?”
“’Tis not ideal, I know—”
“Aye, you have that right.”
He clenched his jaw, and his chest rose as he breathed deeply. “We both have secrets. You don’t want to talk about yours, and I canna talk about mine. Not yet. I’m sorry, lass. But…if you can, I’d ask you to put that behind you. I told you I’d help you get to Edinburgh, to wherever John is, but there’s another option. I doona want you to leave. Father Lundie is riding with me. He’ll marry us, Maggie. Now.”
She gasped. Married? Now? “But…but…”
He lifted her hand and squeezed tight. “Stop thinking of the past and everything that stands in our way. Just think of the present. With me. You’re frightened of something, and this will give you protection. Not just mine, but my foster brothers’ and Gregor MacLeod’s too. We’ll help you with Ross and whatever else it is you’re running from.”
“So you’ll marry me to protect me? That’s all?”
“Nay. I’ll marry you because I want you. As my wife, as my lover, as the mother of my children. I will create a safe and happy home for you. You doona need to leave the Highlands, and I promise ne’er to leave you again.”
She stared at him, barely able to catch her breath. Then he wrapped a strong hand around the nape of her neck under her hair and pulled her toward him. “Please,” he said before pressing his lips to hers.
They’d kissed before, and she’d never forgotten the feel of him against her mouth. But the reality of him was so much better than her memories.
His lips were soft, warm. He didn’t push or thrust his tongue inside; instead, he gently caressed it against the seam of her mouth. She shivered, a gasp echoing through her and parting her lips. He waited a moment, as if to make sure she wouldn’t shove him away, then stroked through the opening just far enough to touch her tongue, to play lazily against it.
She felt scorched from the inside at the contact. Heat built heavily between her legs and in her breasts. She wanted his hands on her, squeezing, like he’d done before.
She’d only just leaned into him, needing contact down the length of her, when a shrill whistle sounded in the distance—or it seemed far away to her passion-drugged body.
“Callum!” Gavin yelled just as Callum set her away from him and stood up.
She blinked and looked around to see the men, including Gavin, running for their horses, weapons drawn. Then Callum grabbed her hand, tugged her up and over to the other side of the fire where their horses stood together. Aristotle had his ears forward and eyes on Gavin. The mare stamped and whinnied nervously at all the sudden noise and activity.
“Someone’s coming?” she asked, her breath coming in short bursts.
“Aye,” Callum said as he practically tossed her on the mare before mounting his horse. “A lot of someones. Do you have your daggers?”
“I always have my daggers.”
“Of course you do. Smart lass.”
“Callum, if they’re MacDonnells, doona trust them. They’ve come for me, and if I have to go—”
“You’re not going with them.”
She didn’t answer, wishing it were that simple. He tugged her mount closer and looked directly into her eyes.
“You are not going with them, Maggie. If you do, we all go. Gavin and I are lairds of strong clans, allied to even stronger clans. If Ross thinks—”
“’Tis not Ross coming for me. It’s Irvin,” she blurted out.
He frowned. “Your mother’s cousin?”
“Aye, and Eleanor’s brother.”
“I remember. I did not like the way he watched you at Ross’s wedding. He’s sly.”
“Like a fox.”
He squeezed her hand, a muscle jumping in his cheek. “And I left you there with him all this time. I’m so sorry.”
She squeezed back. Fear for him tightened her throat. “I doona want you hurt. If anyone’s going to put a dagger in your heart, it’ll be me.”
He puffed out a laugh. “I’d welcome it.”
“Nay, you wouldnae. If I were mad enough to stab you, I’d make it hurt.”
About the Author
Alyson McLayne is a mom of twins and an award-winning writer of contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance. She’s also a dog lover and cat servant with a serious stash of dark chocolate. After getting her degree in theater at the University of Alberta, she promptly moved to the west coast where she worked in film for several years and met her prop master husband.
Her self-published works in contemporary romance include her Santa Barbara Billionaire Bachelor series: How To Catch A Bride, How To Claim An Heiress, and How To Outplay A Player. How To Catch A Bride (formerly The Fabrizio Bride) was recently nominated for a RONE award.