Highlander Laird Evan MacNeil cannot believe Mistress Katie Sterling just shows up at the MacDuff castle with this faded piece of parchment laying claim to the lands he just legally inherited. Not that he really wants to be here in the lowlands, but he has responsibilities to his clan and the exasperating Katie has uprooted the remnants of her father’s clan and moved them across the country to live here. There’s no way he can leave to go back home now.
Katie has nowhere else to go and she refuses to bow down to the arrogant yet undeniably handsome Highlander. She’s had enough with men trying to control her and she is quite capable of handling herself.
Now that Evan must spar with a beautiful lass for the rights to the lands, he will fight to the end. This battle is nothing like the ones his ancestors fought with crossbows and boiling oil. They never wanted to bed the enemy.
Fife County, Scottish Lowlands, Autumn, 1818
Mistress Katie Stirling, the only daughter of the Right Honorable Lord Stirling of Stirlingshire, studied the worn map she carried from her home on the trek to the MacDuff castle in Fife. The paper was dark, the writing faded, and it had been folded and refolded so many times that she feared it would fall apart.
“Is that it, miss?” Meggie, Katie’s maid and close friend, pointed off into the distance. In the haze, which had not yet been burned off by the morning sun, a large castle, like a child’s fairy tale, rose from the mist in the hills of Fife. All that was needed was a flame-blowing, foul-breathed dragon to complete the scene.READ MORE
“I believe so.” At least, Katie hoped it was. She was worn out, hungry, and ready to claim the very land below her feet if it meant she could end this blasted journey. A journey to assert her rights to land stolen from her family. Land that should have been passed down to her through her mother, Aileen MacDuff Stirling.
“We’re so close,” Meggie moaned. “Why did the cart have to lose a wheel now?”
“There would have been no good time for the cart to lose a wheel. And I dinnae believe ’tis lost but broken.” Annoyed and frustrated, she snapped at her maid and was immediately ashamed.
At the woman’s sharp intake of breath, Katie apologized, “I apologize, Meggie, I should not take out my frustration on ye.”
Meggie mumbled something that Katie didn’t hear. At the moment, she was more concerned with getting the broken wheel fixed so that they might at least make it to the castle. She, Meggie, her brother Gavin, and two of her household’s strongest men, Angus and Colum, had traveled from Stirlingshire to Fife. She’d left instructions with the housekeeper and stable master at Stirling Manor for the rest of her household and any tenants who wanted to join them to start out a week after they had left. She hoped that would give her enough time to assess the place and make it ready. Who knew what condition it was in with the last Laird MacDuff dead this past year?
Katie climbed from the cart and walked around the vehicle, examining the damage done to the back wheel. She squatted down. It was cracked down the center and would fall completely apart if they tried moving it forward. “Angus, what do ye make of this?”
The man vaulted from his horse and joined her. “Cracked down the middle, mistress.”
She sighed. The two men, who were twins, were strong, and she trusted them with her life, which was necessary when traveling a distance, but neither was overly bright. She’d chosen them to accompany her, Gavin, and Meggie on the trip to keep down the number of people who would need food and a place to sleep on the road. With just the five of them, they could make better time and be able to prepare the castle for the arrival of the rest of what was left of her clan. “I see that. Do ye have any idea how we can fix it?”
He smiled and nodded. “Aye. I ken how to fix it.”
Katie rose and dusted her hands off. “Excellent. Go ahead and fix it, then.”
He glanced at her from his position at her feet. “But we dinnae have the right parts.”
She dropped her head in her hands. She would not scream. She would not curse the man. She would not beat her fists against the side of the cart. It had been a long, arduous journey, and she was almost there. She would take a deep breath and…
Her head snapped up at the sound of horses approaching. They hadn’t seen many travelers along the road since they’d left home. A farmer here and there, a few people off to visit relatives, families returning from shopping in one of the small villages they had passed, but overall, the roads had been quiet. She was grateful for that, since they could have been set upon by brigands at any time. Travel in these times, with the Clearances underway—and so many families displaced and desperate—could be dangerous.
Two men burst from the mist, their horses squealing as the riders yanked on the reins to bring the animals to a stop before they crashed into their group. “What the hell are ye doing in the middle of the road?” the largest one said. He glowered at her from underneath deep-red furrowed brows as he tried to bring his horse under control.
Katie was so shaken by their abrupt appearance that before her heart had a chance to slow down, she shouted, “What the hell are ye doing racing through the mist like that?”
The man glowered at her. “’Tis a road. A place where ye move along, not where ye stop to chat or have yer meal.”
The beats in her heart changed from fear to anger. She fisted her hands at her waist. “How dare ye?” She waved her hand toward her cart and the other travelers. “Does it look to you as if we’re having a meal? Do ye see a blanket spread out with cheese and bottles of wine and warm bread? Are ye too high up there on yer mighty horse to notice we have a broken wheel?”
“Then ye pull off to the side, not just stop right there. We could have killed ye.”
“Evan, calm down,” the other man said. “Let’s see if we can help the lass.”
Evan ran his hand down his face. “Aye, Alasdair, you are right.” He nodded to her. “I apologize, mistress. I’m afraid ye startled me.” He took a deep breath. “Can we help ye?”
She wanted nothing more than to tell them to be on their way, but with neither Colum nor Angus able to fix the wheel, ’twas best to allow these two to help. Drawing on her dignity, she raised her chin. “Aye. As a matter of fact, we could use some help. Our wheel is cracked, and I’m afraid my men dinnae have the proper tools to fix it.”
Evan turned to Alasdair. “The lads can’t fix a broken wheel?” He burst out laughing, and the other one soon joined in.
“They dinnae have the ‘proper’ tools,” Alasdair added. They bent their large bodies over as they continued to roar with laughter.
Colum and Angus looked at each other and shrugged. They apparently didn’t realize they’d just been insulted. She was ready to give these strangers the rough side of her tongue. Whatever was wrong with them? Had she encountered two lackwits? She failed to see what was so amusing about their dilemma. “I dinnae see what is so funny about a broken wheel, sir.”
“Laird, to ye, mistress,” the one he’d called Alasdair said as he wiped the tears from his eyes. He nodded toward his companion. “Ye are speaking to Laird Evan MacNeil of Argyll.” This one was not quite as big as Laird Evan MacNeil of Argyll, but the similarity in their features and coloring marked them as relatives. Perhaps even brothers.
She waved her hand in the air. “I dinnae really care, I only want to ken if you can help us.”
The laird slid from his horse and walked toward her, his size encouraging her to back up as he approached. Goodness, the man was large. As he got closer, his shoulders blocked out the view of the entire area behind him. All she could see was his massive chest.
He was ruggedly handsome. A strong chin, full lips, green eyes the color of the Scottish hills, and a well-trimmed beard of dark red. His hair hung to his shoulders in curls, giving him the look of warriors past. Any moment, she expected him to bellow and wave his broadsword around.
Although the edict against the wearing of traditional Scottish kilts had been lifted, these men wore buckskin trews, linen shirts, and a tartan fastened across their chests. This laird who stopped directly in front of her also carried two dirks in his leather belt and a sporran in front of him that she was sure held a pistol or two, with ammunition. When he turned back to his companion, she caught a glimpse of the imagined broadsword strapped to his back. ’Twas like something out of a history book.
This, however, was not the time to admire the man or ruminate on times past. She needed help now. He had offered, and she must be on her way. However, she backed up again, giving herself room to breathe. “Thank ye for yer assistance, laird.”
“That’s better, lass.” He grinned, his blue eyes full of laughter and teasing. “’Tis not a pleasant thing to have a wee lass shouting at ye on the road.”
It was as if he’d patted her on the head like a bairn. She swallowed the retort she had ready. He would fix her wagon wheel, she would thank them, and they would be on their way. She would make her way to the MacDuff castle and never have to see Laird Evan MacNeil again.
Evan squatted down and examined the wheel. He looked toward the other man. “Toss me the rope.”
“How will a rope help?” Katie had squatted alongside him, wondering what this man saw that her own men hadn’t seen.
“I’ll tie the rope several times around the wheel to keep it from falling apart. If ye travel slowly, it will get ye to the next village. ’Tis only about a mile past the castle. There ye can get a replacement and soon be on yer way.”
Katie sighed with relief. “Oh, that’s wonderful because we’re only going as far as the castle.”
Evan rested one knee on the soft ground, shifted to place his wrist on his bent knee, and looked at her. “The MacDuff castle?”
He glanced up at his companion, who shrugged. “And what business do ye have there?”
Although ’twas no concern of his, she decided to continue with her amicable mood to get the wagon wheel fixed and this blasted journey over with. “’Tis mine. I am the owner.”
Evan frowned. “What is yours?”
She sighed. “The castle.”
He raised his brows. “The MacDuff castle?”
Bloody hell, the man was as dense as a forest. She hated cursing, even to herself, but this conversation was becoming tiresome. “Aye. The MacDuff castle.”
Evan looked over at the other man again, who leaned forward on his horse, a puzzled expression on his face. “Who are ye, lass, that you say the MacDuff castle is yers?”
A sense of uneasiness trickled through her. She had been certain the MacDuff castle had been abandoned. She’d sent a few of her people to investigate after she’d heard the last MacDuff had died, and his daughter had left the country to marry an English nobleman.
They had reported back to her that the place was empty except for a few servants, and when he’d spoken with them, they hadn’t received any word on who the new owner was. With her proof of ownership—she was determined that it was proof—she’d decided to move her household and what was left of her clan to Fife.
Surely no one would have inherited the place. MacDuff was not known for his hospitality, and as far as she knew, there was no family, except his daughter.
Her own home had been crumbling around her ears for years, with her father taking no interest in the place since her mother had died, and the Clearances making it hard to grow enough food to feed a family on land that was slowly being taken over for sheep farming.
Despite the fluttering in her stomach, she drew herself up. “I am Mistress Katie Stirling of Stirlingshire.”
He continued to study her. “And ye claim to own MacDuff castle?”
Her unease grew, but she forged ahead. “Aye. I dinnae ken how many times I need to say it to ye. Are ye daft?”
Evan’s eyes narrowed. “Nay, mistress. Not daft, just confused.”
Katie’s mouth dried up, and her breathing increased. “Confused how?” The words barely made it past her lips.
“Confused, lass, because I am the owner of MacDuff castle.”COLLAPSE
Jaime, Goodreads wrote:
This was a fast-paced, swoon-worthy read, that I found I did not want to put down! The story was fresh, original and exciting with characters that are realistic and likable. It is everything you could want in a rousing romp through the pages of a historical romance and more!
Petula, Goodreads wrote:
Highlander romance? YES PLEASE!! Callie Hutton knows how to weave a masterful tale that’s for sure — add in a sexy Scot and we have perfection.
The clash of two strong characters, both with the welfare of their clans to consider will cause storm clouds. Chaos reigns throughout the castle. Lots of fun and a little danger for everyone.