Authors: Victoria Roberts
Thank you for purchasing this eBook
At Sourcebooks we believe one thing:
BOOKS CHANGE LIVES
We would love to invite you to receive exclusive rewards. Sign up now for VIP savings, bonus content, early access to new ideas we're developing, and sneak peeks at our hottest titles!
Copyright Â© 2015 by Victoria Roberts
Cover and internal design Â© 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover art by Jon Paul Ferrara
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systemsâexcept in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviewsâwithout permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
eBook version 1.0
To Michelle Spak, my beautiful sister, who knows the true meaning of family. I love you because you're my sister, and I laugh because God knows there's nothing you can do about it.
Suspense is worse than disappointment.
Sutherland, Scottish Highlands, 1610
“Scotland. The land of barbarian fools, and now my sister is among them,” said Lady Grace Walsingham.
“What is done is done, my dear. There's nothing you can do now except offer your felicitations and place a smile on that beautiful face of yours. If you'll pray excuse me, I'll take my leave to consort with the enemy. May I suggest you do the same? We cannot be rude to our gracious hosts.”
If Lord Daniel Casterbrook wasn't her betrothed, she would've chided him right where he stood. He pulled her close to his side, more than likely to prevent her from fleeing, and they walked together into the crowd. Unlike the tall and disheveled kilted men, Daniel sported a pair of tan breeches and wore a slashed doublet with paned sleeves. His tall boots turned over at the top, and his brown hair was pulled back into a lovelock that hung over his shoulder. His shoulders weren't nearly as wide as those of the other men in attendance, but his features were so perfect that he was almost too beautiful for a man.
As Daniel stopped and huddled with Uncle Walter in deep conversation, boisterous sounds of laughter filled the air. But Grace couldn't have been more miserable as she pulled the laced bodice of her emerald gown away from her damp skin. The heat was so unbearable that sweat was dripping between her breasts and down her back. She gazed around the room filled with men, women, and flowing ale and wondered if her sister had gone mad.
Kilts, daggers, and men in the throes of battleâthat's what she tried to overlook while standing in the great hall of her brother-in-law's home. Granted, the kilts and daggers belonged to the Sutherland clan, but she couldn't understand why her sister hadn't taken down those dreadful tapestries before her wedding day. Why would someone want to display the ghastly scene of warriors on the battlefield, especially on such a celebratory occasion? That was not something she would permit on the day of her own wedding, but her sister was blissfully happy, and Grace supposed that was all that mattered.
When the men paid her no heed, Grace turned and left them. She could take a hint that she wasn't wanted. She stepped around the bagpiper, placing her hands briefly over her ears to shield them from the dreadful performance. The kilted man tapped his foot while he played the ungodly instrument, which sounded a great deal like pigs in the midst of being slaughtered. If his actions were any indication, he clearly thought he was engaged in some kind of lovely Scottish melody. She didn't want to tell him that the music, if she could even call it that, had given her a headache as big as London.
God, she felt like she was drowning in a sea of Sutherlands. She said a silent prayer of thanks when the bagpiper finally ceased his incessant piping. Her head was pounding. She thought perhaps she could make an early escape to her chamber, but then a raised voice stopped her in her tracks. Although the man was rarely comprehensible, she'd recognize his voice anywhere.
“He is such an arse. Ye do know when he tells the tale, he was naught but a mighty fine warrior. Anyone who knows him recognizes the truth. I donna even think he remembered to grab his sword before he cowered and ran away like a dog with his tail between his legs.”
The men around him laughed in response, and Grace chided herself because she couldn't resist a peek. When her eyes met Fagan Murray, the captain of Laird Sutherland's guard, for some unknown reason, her heart started hammering in her chest and she found it difficult to perform the simplest of tasksâlike breathing.
The captain's dark hair hung well below his shoulders, and he had a smile that grated on her nerves. Although he had the craggy look of an unfinished sculpture, he exuded masculinity in a way that unsettled her. He wore a kilt of green, black, blue, white, and orange, the Sutherland tartan. When the man caught her staring, his eyes twinkled, and a smile played on his lips.
Grace averted her eyes. The rogue made her feel like he always knew her thoughts, and she couldn't stand that about him. She jumped when a familiar female voice spoke beside her.
“My apologies. I didn't mean to startle you. I'm so glad you decided to stay with us for a while.”
Grace waved her sister off. “Ravenna, you have done so much for our family. Postponing my wedding was the least I could do. Furthermore, this will be a big transition for Elizabeth and Kat. Living in the Scottish Highlands will be a lot different than they're used to. And I cannot lie; I will miss you all so terribly. Before I go, I want to see my sisters settled into their new home, and I'd really like to spend some time with all of you before I become Lady Casterbrook. There's plenty of time for that later.” She bumped her sister in the arm with her elbow. “Truth be told, I'm counting on you to tell me all the secrets about married life, Lady Sutherland. Although I had grown rather fond of Lady Ravenna Walsinghamâor even âMistress Denny'âI do find your new name suits you quite well.”
Ravenna shook her head. “I'd rather not be reminded about âMistress Denny.' But how could I forget that you were the one who traveled from Edinburgh and gave my true identity away? Everything turned out for the best, but I certainly hope you've learned a valuable lesson from your careless actions.”
“Rest assured, Lady Sutherland. Now that I know you're a spy for the Crown, I will never be so foolish as to place you in harm's way again.”
“Lower your voice. And I told youâ¦ I've retired from service.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “So you and Uncle Walter continue to say, but how does one simply
? Are you ever really done trying to protect our king and country? Who knows? Perhaps Uncle Walter will give me my first assignment when I go back to England. With your instruction, I'm more than ready.”
“Grace,” Ravenna said with impatience, “we never agreed that you'd take my place.”
“I think what you mean to say is that
Ravenna rubbed her hand over her brow. “It takes far more than a handful of my words and guidance to be ready to work for the Crown. And you're getting married in a few months. What about Daniel?”
“What about him? He'll never find out. I never knew you worked for the king either.”
“Yes, and look what good that did me,” her sister snapped. “Do we have to have this discussion right now, especially on my wedding day?”
“You do look beautiful.”
Ravenna's smooth ivory skin glowed. Her red hair dangled over her shoulders in loose waves that hung down her back. She wore a light-blue wedding gown, and her skirts were split and tied back to reveal the gold silk brocade beneath.
“I have to ask you this again. Are you sure you want to stay at the manor house and remain in England? I know Uncle Walter will watch over you, butâ”
“Oh, I'm quite certain. I'll only live there until Daniel and I wed.” Grace didn't miss how her sister had quickly changed the direction of the conversation. Looking around the great hall at Ravenna's new family only further confirmed that Grace's decision was the right one. “I know your husband's familyâ¦er, clan, suits you, but this life is not for me. My home is in England, and frankly, I want to be around people I can clearly understand.”
A deep voice interrupted the conversation.
“Are ye keeping my wife all to yourself? 'Tis time to give her up for a wee bit, lass.”
“Pardon?” asked Grace.
Laird Ruairi Sutherland was definitely not a man Grace would like to encounter in a dark alley in London in the middle of the night. Her sister's head only reached the middle of the massive man's chest. His brown hair had traces of red and was fairly straight. He had a powerful set of shoulders and looked like a bloody mercenary, as though he could kill someone with only a stare. In Grace's humble opinion, Ravenna was more elegant and graceful when she was with the brawny Highland laird. Grace had a difficult time understanding why her sister couldn't have found a more suitable mate in England, but she had to admit that Ravenna looked quite content.
When her brother-in-law lowered his head and devoured her sister's mouth, Grace didn't mind taking her leave to find a solitary wall on the other side of the great hall. That was until someone found her and she realized she should've sought her chamber after all.
“'Twas a bonny day for a wedding, but ye donna look as though ye're enjoying yourself. Why is that?”
She lifted her eyes to find the captain of Laird Sutherland's guard and couldn't stay the sigh that escaped her. Fagan Murray, kilted barbarian and Scottish miscreant, stood before her with a gaze that was sharp and assessing. The man was just as big and imposing as Laird Sutherland. The way he stood there and continued to gape at her, Grace supposed he was waiting for a response. She held her head high because she didn't feel like giving the brute the time of day.
“What is amiss,
?” He spoke slowly, and she knew he mocked her. “Do ye nae understand my words?”
“Oh, I heard you. I want to know what you called me.”
“The name suits ye. I called ye âprincess.'”
“Don't call me that.” She looked around nervously in the hope that someone would rescue her from this
, and that was a term she used very loosely because he was certainly no gentleman.
His smile broadened when he realized he'd unnerved her, which irked her even more. If she was going to stay in Scotland for the next few weeks, she couldn't let this Highlander get the best of her. Grace carefully masked her expression because most of the time the rogue saw right through her nervousness and used her weakness to his advantage.
She spoke lightly and cast him a tight smile. “You know, Mister Murray, I seem to remember my fist fitting perfectly into your eye. If you don't want me to blacken your other one, I suggest you leave off. Please let me know if you need me to speak more slowly because I want to make sure my words are understood perfectly.”
* * *
When Lady Grace had shown up out of nowhere, insisting Ravenna was a ladyânot governess “Mistress Denny” as Ravenna had claimed to beâwhat the hell was he supposed to have done? He was the captain of Ruairi's guard, for God's sake. What did the English chit think? That she could make such a declaration and he'd simply turn his cheek? She was a daft lass if she'd thought as much.
He continued to study Princess Grace, who stood there with her oval face pointing daintily in the air. Her brownish-gold hair was pulled up on the top of her head, and loose tendrils softened her face. He knew not to be fooled by the suggestion of supple curves beneath her emerald dress. She was a temptress but had a bite that could bring a man to his knees. She was nothing but trouble. The lass had a smug look on her face, like she knew she'd gotten the best of him, but it would take a lot more than the words of some English wench to tear down his stone walls.
“Och, your words were perfectly clear,
.” He lowered his voice, barely speaking above a whisper. “But truth be told, I've seen ye watching me, staring. Your eyes tell me what ye are thinking.” When she stiffened, he leaned in closer. “I think ye wonder what lies beneath my kilt. If ye ask me nicely, mayhap I'll show ye. But ye'll have to say please.”
Grace's face reddened as he knew it would. As she huffed and walked away from him with her chin still pointed in the air, Fagan couldn't stay his smile. He rather enjoyed her discomfiture and found perverse pleasure in ruffling her English feathers. When he felt a tug on his sleeve, he looked down.
“Fagan, ye must help me. Kat is following me everywhere.”
“Torquil, she's nae used to having a lad around. She only wants to get to know ye.” With his reddish-brown hair, green eyes, and pale skin, the boy was the picture of Ruairi.
“Aye, well, I didnae ask to have so many lasses about. Why couldnae I be blessed with lads? 'Tis so unfair.”
Fagan placed his hand on the boy's shoulder. “Your father talked to ye about this. Ye know Elizabeth and Katherine will live here. This is now their home, too.”
“I know, but could ye at least tell Kat to stop following me everywhere? Why are lasses so annoying?”
Fagan smirked. “Believe it or nae, lad, there will come a time when ye will enjoy the company of a lass.” When the boy looked at him as though he had three heads, Fagan chuckled.
“That will ne'er happen.”
No sooner were the words out of Torquil's mouth than the wee lass came up behind him, her golden curls bouncing with each step. The lad spun on his heel and was gone before Kat had a chance to catch up.
“Where did Torquil go?”
Fagan bent down and looked into her bonny blue eyes. “He's truly glad that ye're here, lassie, but ye might want to leave him be for a wee bit. Ye see, Torquil's nae used to having so many lasses around. Why donna ye give him some time to get to know ye?”
He knew she was thinking about his words by the expression on her face, and then her eyes lit up. “That's a great idea. I'll go and talk with him so he gets to know me better.” Before he could stop her, Kat's blue dress wound around her small frame as she turned to track Torquil down, just like a little spy for the Crown.
Although Ruairi had told Fagan that Ravenna was no longer a spy for the English, Fagan still had his doubts. He'd be sure to watch Ruairi's back to make certain Ravenna didn't stab it in the middle of the night. When he looked over at the couple, he knew his suspicions were misplaced. Even though he hated to admit it, Laird Ruairi Sutherland had fallen in love with an English lass. Truth be told, Fagan knew the woman felt the same way about his friend. A blind fool couldn't miss the way the two of them looked at each other.
As Fagan turned, Torquil ran out of the great hall with Kat and Angus nipping at his heels. Even the black wolf was taking a liking to all the lasses underfoot. Fagan was always ready to protect and defend Ruairi against their fiercest enemy, but no one could have readied him for the day when their home was invaded by the fairer sex.