Authors: B. J. Scott
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Highlands, #Medieval Romance, #Warrior, #Scotland, #Highlanders, #Scottish Highlands, #Highlander, #Love Story, #Romance, #Scottish Highlander, #Scottish Medieval Romance, #Scots, #Medieval Scotland, #Scottish, #Scotland Highlands, #Highland, #Warriors, #Highland Warriors, #Scotland Highland
Table of Contents
HER HIGHLANDER’S PROMISE
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
BY B.J. SCOTT
THE FRASER BROTHERS TRILOGY
HER HIGHLANDER’S PROMISE
Cover Design by Christy Caughie
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
As always, this book is dedicated
to my wonderful husband Steve
for his never-ending support and love.
To Makenzie, James, and Wyatt.
Never be afraid to follow your dreams.
To my mom and the rest of my family and friends
for their continued support and encouragement.
With so many people to thank, I never know where to begin. While an author may write the story, they do so with the patience, love and support of family and friends. Spouses and partners who eat more than their share of take out, bring you a cup of tea during a writing marathon in the wee hours of the morning, offer a hug of support when writer’s block strikes, ignore a messy house, and understand when you can’t spend as much time with them as you’d like, play an intricate roll. As do a strong editorial staff, dedicated publisher, and fellow authors who are always ready to listen to new ideas, lend their support, and share in the ups and downs faced by an author. Let’s not forget the readers. Without you, there would be no need for books.
Thanks you, Steve, my husband, soul mate, and knight in shining armor. Without you by my side, I would never have realized my dreams. To my family, friends, and fellow authors, thanks for the love and support.
To my friend and wonderful editor, Violetta Rand. Thank you for keeping me motivated. Your skills as an author and editor have helped to make this book the best it can be.
To my readers and the members of my Clan Scott street team. Your support is what makes writing worthwhile.
Last but not least, I want to thank Debby Gilbert and the staff at Soul Mate Publishing, for believing in me enough to offer me my first contract three years ago, and for your continued faith in my books.
Scottish Highlands 1320
Laurel MacClay wrapped a plaid
around her shoulders, but the thin woolen shawl proved ineffective against the biting wind. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she watched the shroud-covered body being lowered into a freshly dug grave.
“Nay, dinna put him in the cold ground,” she sobbed and lunged forward, but a hand planted firmly on her shoulder halted her attempt to intervene.
“Stand fast, lass. You are the MacClay’s daughter and will conduct yourself as such. Chiefs from the most powerful clans in the Scottish Highlands have come to pay homage to your da, and I willna have you disgrace the clan or his memory,” Murray, her father’s cousin, growled in her ear.
A man of his word, Brandon MacClay never broke his promises. Until now. When her mother died, her father vowed he’d always be there to protect her. She refused to believe he was dead. It had to be a cruel jest.
A fearless patriot, he and his three older brothers fought beside William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in Scotland’s bid for independence. Only her father had survived. No matter how bleak the odds, he remained a man of conviction and would never surrender without a fight. Not yet two score, and still a virile man, succumbing to the mysterious ailment that ravaged his body did not seem a fitting end for such a noble warrior.
Her father’s cousin stood at her side, a scowl on his face, his nails digging into her flesh. He and his family had fallen on hard times, and Da had taken them in until they could make other arrangements. They never left. When struck by the unexplained illness, his death eminent, her father named Murray, his closest living relative, her guardian. She’d barely seen ten summers and was not yet old enough to reside alone, or to assume her place as his heir and lairdess of Thistledown Castle.
Neither a tall or robust man, her father’s fur-trimmed wool cloak hung on Murray like a grain sack. But he insisted on wearing the garment. A jewel-encrusted sword—a symbol of power carried for more than three centuries by the MacClay lairds—hung at his hip.
Laurel swallowed against the growing lump in her throat. Fighting back another torrent of tears and the swell of emotion squeezing her chest, she stared at the sea of sympathetic faces. So many had come to pay their respects.
The internment concluded, and as the priest recited his final prayer over the grave, the mourners filed by, offering their condolences. Laurel glanced from one person to the next, but none was familiar.
A brawny warrior stalked toward her with four lads in tow. “I’m John Cameron, laird of Clan Cameron, and these are my sons. Your father and I fought in many battles together. He was a brave man, and I considered him my friend. I’m verra sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you for coming,” Laurel said as she bobbed a curtsy. “My father would be honored.”
“My name is Blair. If you need anything, I am forever at your service, m’lady.” The youngest, a lad of about thirteen summers, stepped forward.
Tall and extremely well-muscled for his age, with sky-blue eyes and finely chiseled features, she found him quite handsome. His silky hair, the color of a raven’s wing, hung loosely about his shoulders, an errant lock falling across his brow when he bowed before her. He winked as he straightened, and a mischievous grin tugged at the corner of his lips.
What felt like a bevy of butterflies bombarded her stomach, and her heart fluttered wildly against her ribs. Until now, she considered lads a nuisance, but there was something different about Blair Cameron and the way he looked at her. Heat rose in cheeks, her chest tightened, and catching a breath became increasingly more difficult.
“Laurel, come anon!” When the screeching voice of Deirdre MacClay, her cousin’s wife, echoed across the kirkyard, all heads turned in her direction. “You’re a selfish, willful lass, not to mention ungrateful. You’ve kept us waiting long enough, and your cousin Murray grows impatient,” she grumbled.
Deidre forcefully grabbed Laurel by the upper arm as she continued her tirade in a voice that was not meant to be overheard. “I dinna know how your parents ever put up with you. However, your obstinacy is something a few good lashings will tame. Come now, or you can walk back to the castle alone.”
Laurel winced as Deirdre tightened her grasp. “Please, I need but a minute.”
“You’ll come now.” Her cousin-by-marriage’s face reddened and contorted with anger.
“Remove your hand, Madame.” John clasped Deirdre’s fist, then pried her bony fingers from Laurel’s arm. “You’re hurting the lass. Can’t you see that she is having a difficult time saying goodbye? Mayhap you could find it in your frosty heart to grant her a little more time.”
Deirdre’s back stiffened as she glared at him. “How dare you touch and speak to me in such a manner! The lass is none of your concern, and I dinna need your counsel. We’ve given her more than enough time. My son, Allan, doesna handle the cold weather well, and I want to get him home before the snow flies and he catches a cold. Not that I must answer to you or anyone else,” she hissed. “Brandon MacClay is dead and buried. Like it or not, Laurel is now our responsibility, and I refuse to caudle her the way her parents did. She will learn her place, to do as told, and be prompt about it.” She reached for Laurel again, only to have John step between them.
Aside from her father, few people had the nerve to stand up to Deirdre. Not a woman one would call yielding or compassionate, she did not like to be given orders by anyone. Even her husband cowered before her. While she dressed like royalty and had married well, putting on heirs obviously did not impress or fool Laird Cameron.
The daughter of a merchant, she was a lanky woman with squinty gray eyes, muddy brown hair, sunken cheeks, a large, aquiline nose, and harsh, angular features. It was no secret that she once had designs on Brandon MacClay. Rumor was, she’d always resented the fact that he paid her no mind and married Laurel’s mother instead.
Behind her back, most likened Deidre to a cross between a spitting cat and a pit viper. However, Murray adored the woman and would do anything to please her, ignoring the fact that she married him in order to get back at Brandon. Given Highlanders’ strong beliefs in superstition, magic, and mythical creatures from the netherworld, the rumors she was a witch, and that those who crossed her disappeared or died, deterred most from confronting her.
“The lass just lost her father and needs time to grieve. If you are in such an unholy hurry to go home, I will personally escort her to the castle when she is ready to leave.” John’s dark eyes narrowed and his brows furrowed.
“She’ll do no such thing,” Deidre snapped. “Traveling unescorted with men she doesna know is indecent and willna be permitted.”
“I appreciate your kind offer, Laird Cameron, but dinna wish to cause a problem.” Laurel peered up at Deirdre’s sour face and curtsied. “I will do as you wish and accompany you.”
“About time you came to your senses and realized where your next meal is coming from.” Deirdre clasped Laurel’s wrist and dragged her across the yard.
This time John didn’t interfere.
As they reached the gate, Laurel yanked free of Deirdre’s grasp, turned to face Blair, and waved.
Deidre quickly recaptured Laurel’s hand and hauled her toward the horses. “I’ll not have you associating with lads as ill-bred and ill-mannered as that. From this day on, you will speak to no one unless I grant my permission. Is that understood?”
“He seemed verra nice. Not at all like any of the lads from the village. His da is a respected laird and a friend of my father.” Laurel sighed and glanced over her shoulder at the grave. There was no reasoning with Deirdre.
“I’ll take none of your backtalk. And be forewarned, if you defy me again, I vow you’ll regret it.”
When Deirdre raised her hand in the air, Laurel squeezed her eyes shut. Her pulse pounded in her ears and her breath caught.
When her parents were alive, they never believed in striking a bairn, and Laurel didn’t give them cause to question their decision. However, over the last two days, Deirdre had threatened, more than once, to beat her into submission if she did not learn to mind.
Something told her that if she gave her cousin any grief, she’d follow through on those threats. Her life was about to change in many ways. Since she was still a bairn, and had no one to intervene on her behalf, she saw no option but to comply, to bide her time until she turned eighteen and assumed her position as lairdess of Clan MacClay. A spirited lass, remaining complacent was not going to be an easy task, but necessary if she wished to honor a promise made to her father on his deathbed. His one final request was that she honor Murray and do him proud.
Laurel stiffened and braced for the blow, but the backhanded slap never came. She raised her lashes, shocked to see Murray holding his wife’s wrist and whispering in her ear. While Laurel would like to think her cousin was defending her, that wasn’t the case. If anything, she’d wager he was concerned about the mourners’ reaction to the act of cruelty on such a solemn occasion. She had no doubt that he’d allow Deirdre to carry out any punishment she saw fit in the privacy of the keep.
Murray glared at Laurel. “Best you mind your manners and mount your palfrey. You’ve dallied long enough.”
“She’ll never learn to obey, so you’re wasting your breath. When we get back to the castle, I will give her a much-deserved lesson in humility,” Deirdre said, then redirected her attention to Laurel. “Do as Murray says and get on your horse. I want to see Allan home before he catches a chill. He has a delicate constitution, and if he gets ill, you’ll be to blame.” Deirdre stomped toward the cart where her son waited, a heavy fur swaddled around his slender body.
A gust of frigid north wind blew across the kirkyard and snow started to fall. Laurel shivered, her teeth chattering. She watched as Murray helped Deirdre into the cart, wrapped a length of woolen fabric around her shoulders, then placed a pelt over her lap. Her heart sank and she choked back a sob of despair. Never in her life had she felt so alone.
“Wait,” Blair shouted as he dashed across the yard, reaching Laurel before she mounted her palfrey. Bending at the waist, he sucked in a deep breath, and before she could react, he clasped her hand.
Certain that her
mount blocked most of Deirdre’s and Murray’s views, Laurel did not withdraw her hand. However, her surprise was difficult to mask when he placed a silver ring on her palm, then quickly closed her fist around it.
“This may seem sudden, but I would like you to accept this ring of intent. It belonged to my mam. We will meet again, Laurel MacClay. I promise. When I am old enough, I wish to court you proper. Say that you’ll wait for me and marry no other,” he whispered in her ear.
“I’m touched and honored, but I canna accept this. We’ve only just met, and I am sure you will forget all about me once you leave for home,” she said, then tried to give him back the ring, but he refused to accept.
“Keep it. Please. I willna forget you, Laurel, and swear I will honor my pledge.” He thumped his fist over his heart.
“Scat! Go back to your father.” Deidre waved her hand in Blair’s direction. “Laurel, mount up. Now.”
“Aye, I come anon,” Laurel answered. “I will hold you to your promise, Blair Cameron.” She kissed his cheek before climbing on her horse.