To Deceive a Highlander

He married the wrong sister. . . or did he?

Laird Haydon Sutherland has made up his mind. 'Tis time to marry and he has offered marriage to Lady Elsbeth Johnstone, a quiet, demure lass who will never cause him a day of worry.

Lady Ainslee Johnstone, Elsbeth's feisty, stubborn twin will not allow the marriage to take place. The arrogant, fierce Sutherland will destroy her sweet sister, so they switch places on the wedding day.

Let the battles begin…

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Just over the Scottish Lowlands border
Late Winter, 1653

“Nay, Da, I will not stand next to my sister and have some barbarian look us over as if we are horses to be sold.” Lady Ainslee Johnstone crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her father.

Her da, Laird of Clan Johnstone of Lochwood Tower, waved the missive he held in his hand. “Ye will do as I tell ye, and that is the end of the discussion. I told ye it would be soon. I just received a missive that the Sutherland is arriving in a few days, and he intends to leave here with a betrothal.” He pointed his finger in his two daughters’ faces. “And leave here with a betrothal he will! ‘Tis time for ye both to find husbands and get out from under me feet.”

“Is he to take the two of us to wife, then?” Ainslee smirked and ignored her sister, Elsbeth’s nudge.

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‘Twas always hard for her to hold her tongue, and Elsbeth was ever the one who reminded her when she’d said too much. Ainslee hadn't learned over the years just how far her da could be pushed, so her sister’s painful reminder told her now ‘twas best to keep her mouth closed.

“I’ll no’ be taking sass from ye, lassie. Now be off with ye. I expect ye both to present yerselves in a gentle manner, and no’ be shaming the Johnstone name.” He gestured toward the staircase leading up to the bedchambers. “Go prepare yerselves to meet the laird. I expect ye to give him a warm welcome with decent meals and well-prepared bedchambers.”

Arm-in-arm, the sisters left their father to his ale and headed to the bedchamber they shared. Although there was plenty of room in the castle for them to have their own chambers, they’d chosen to share their space since they’d quit the nursery.

Once they reached their bedchamber, Ainslee flopped on the bed and regarded her identical twin sister. At twenty years, they had ne’er spent more than several hours apart their entire lives. Even that was hard on them since Mam had insisted they sleep apart when at six years Ainslee had suffered a lung disease. Elsbeth had cried so hard Mam had to let her sleep on a pallet on the floor until Ainslee recovered.

“What say ye about this Sutherland Laird?” Ainslee shifted onto her side and propped up her head on her raised hand. “I’m sure he’s a brute, and I canna imagine one of us married and living away from Lochwood Tower.”

Elsbeth blew out a deep breath and sat next to her sister on the bed. “’Tis what troubles me. The few people I spoke to about the mon paint a picture of a large, loud, overbearing sort.” She began to nibble on her fingernail until Ainslee slapped her hand away. “Stop.”

Elsbeth considered her sister with tears in her eyes. “I doona want either of us to marry him.”

Ainslee grasped her hand. “Aye. I agree. I had always hoped Da would let us marry someone here, so we could stay together.”

“Ye ken that would ne’er happen. Marriages for lairds' daughters are made for alliances. The Sutherland is a powerful man, and I’m sure Da is honored to have the laird casting his eyes in our direction.”

“Pfft! ‘Tis tired I am of hearing about the honor of his attendance.” Ainslee rose and walked to the window, smiling at the vision that greeted her. Even though the sky was gray, she loved the sight of Clan Johnstone lands. Hills rose and fell as far as she could see, with small cottages and robust farms dotting the land, carts rumbling over the drawbridge full of crofters and merchants with an abundance of goods ready to sell for the day. She glanced to the other side of the keep. Men's swords clashing in the lists, training. Always training.

She turned back and leaned against the window. “If we make ourselves as unappealing as possible, perhaps The Sutherland will decide he doesn’t want one of us for a bride after all.”

“Ainslee, ye heard Da. If we do anything to disgrace him, ‘twill no’ go well for us.” Elsbeth drew circles on the bed cover with her fingernail. “I hear the Sutherland is quite good to look at.”

“Ach! And as an overbearing, arrogant blicker, ‘tis sure I am he will want his wife to fall all o’er herself at his looks and bow to his every command.”

“He is the Laird of Sutherland and both the law and the Church, say what we must do. Bow to his command, that is.”

“No’ for me. I will bow to no mon.” Ainslee stabbed her chest with her thumb. “When I wed, I intend to be a partner, no’ a submissive, cowering wife.”

Elsbeth smiled at her sister. “As much as I doona want to marry the laird, I hope he passes over ye, or I fear there will be trouble.”

 

Despite the brave words to her sister, Ainslee fought the knots in her stomach when Da sent for her and Elsbeth three days after his announcement of the imminent arrival of the Sutherland. The mon and his contingent had arrived and awaited her and Elsbeth in the great hall.

Earlier, she’d watched from the window as the group rode across the drawbridge, ten riders bearing The Sutherland clan’s banner. It had not been difficult to pick out the Sutherland himself. Riding straight-backed in the saddle, he sat at least half a foot above the rest of the men, except for one other who almost reached his height.

Arrogance radiated from every pore in his body. He held his head high and stared straight ahead. She shivered and pulled back from the window, afraid he would look up and spot her staring at him like some lovesick fool.

“Ainslee, are you ready? Da will be stomping up here to drag us down soon.” Elsbeth paced, her hands clenched together, her face pale. She stopped and placed her hands on her belly. “I worry that I will disgrace us all by emptying my stomach at the mon’s feet.”

“Calm yerself, sister. ‘Tis only a mon.” Her words didn’t provide any more comfort to herself than they did her sister, from the look on the poor girl’s face.

“Aye, a mon who Da promised will leave here with a betrothal.”

Ainslee moved to the looking glass Da had brought back from his trip to London a few years before. The image of a pretty lass looked back. Her teeth were white and straight, her cheeks rosy, her eyes a deep green in a heart-shaped face. She had her mam’s dark red, curly hair and pure white skin. ‘Twas too bad she wasn’t hunch-backed, with a mole on her nose, and whiskers on her chin.

She backed up and took a deep breath. “Let us go meet this laird who thinks to separate us.” Ainslee wrapped her arm around Elsbeth’s waist and together, as they’d been since before birth, they walked down the stone steps to their doom.

All the men stood as she and Elsbeth entered the great hall. They both hesitated as they took in the Sutherland men. Tall, broad, powerful. Not one of them was shorter than Da, who Ainslee thought was the tallest mon in the world.

“Come, come, lasses.” Da waved at them from across the hall. Two men who resembled each other enough to be brothers stood on either side of him. Both men studied them carefully.

So, this is the time we are to be looked over as if we were horses to be sold. Should I open my mouth so he can inspect my teeth?

The one she was certain was the laird stared at her feet as his eyes made his way up her body until she had the urge to stick out her tongue when he got to her face. “’Tis it pleasin’ to you, Laird? Do I have enough limbs to suit ye?”

Da sucked in a breath, closed his eyes, and shook his head. Ainslee expected the Sutherland to either storm from the hall or bellow at the top of his lungs. Instead, the demented mon roared with laughter. “Ye must be the feisty twin.”

Not happy at being laughed at, Ainslee crossed her arms under her breasts. Once she saw the laird’s eyes light up as he studied the rise of her flesh above her neckline, she dropped her arms. Randy oaf!

Da stepped closer to her and Elsbeth. “Laird, may I present to you my daughters, Lady Ainslee Johnstone and Lady Elsbeth Johnstone. Lasses, this is the Earl of Sutherland, Laird Haydon Sutherland of Clan Sutherland, who has honored us with his presence.”

Ainslee didn’t need to look at Da to know anger flashed in his eyes. She felt the tension radiating from him and would have to do some soothing to calm him. Both she and Elsbeth dipped a curtsy. “Welcome, Laird,” they said in unison. Elsbeth offered a warm smile. Ainslee wanted to pinch her.

The Sutherland turned to the mon next to him. “May I present my brother, Conall Sutherland.”

The brother seemed much more pleasant than the laird. He smiled at them, and although he also eyed them up and down, his eyes held a bit of mirth. “’Tis a pleasure to make the acquaintance of such lovely lasses. 'Tis hard to tell ye apart.”

As Elsbeth generally became tongue-tied when speaking with anyone she hadn’t known for years, Ainslee swallowed the lump of anger in her throat and offered a tight smile to the laird. “May I offer refreshments to you and your men, Laird?”

“Aye. That would be fine, lass.”

She grabbed Elsbeth’s hand. “Come, sister, let us seek refreshments for The Sutherland and his men.”

Once they were out of earshot, Elsbeth turned on Ainslee. “You should not have said that about yer limbs. Da is angrier than I have ever seen him.”

Ainslee sighed. “I know. It just came out without even thinking about it.” She dragged her farther from the great hall. “Did you see the way he was staring at us? It was humiliating. I felt like a swine at the marketplace. I kept waiting for him to squeeze my arm to see if there was enough flesh on it.”

“Nay. I dinna notice because I ne’er looked in his eyes. I find him too frightening. I’ve ne’er seen a mon so big. He’s like a giant.” Elsbeth shuddered.

“Aye, a pompous giant. ‘Twas obvious from the man’s demeanor that he thought much of himself.”

They entered the kitchen, drawn to the smell of fresh bread and Cook’s famous scones. “I doona think a few scones will satisfy the beast. Ye better send out a whole suckling.”

“I saw the size of the mon. This will hold them until supper.” Cook shoved a tray at Ainslee loaded with scones, bread, fresh butter, cheese, cold meat, and fruit.

“Ye should have sent for one of the kitchen maids to bring it to ye, since yer job is to catch the eye of the laird.” Cook’s belly shook with laughter.

Ainslee scowled and stomped out of the kitchen. Elsbeth ran to keep up with her. “Slow down, I can hardly catch up to you.”

She turned to Elsbeth. “I have to move fast. This tray is blasted heavy.” She turned back and ran smack into a wall. A warm, muscular wall. The tray slammed into the laird’s belly, but he never uttered a sound. He must have been made of iron.

Once she recovered herself, she scowled at him. “What are ye doing here?”

His brows rose at her tone. “I came to help.” He grabbed the tray from her hands. “Ye shouldn’t be carrying this. Where are yer servants?”

Ainslee raised her chin. “I can carry a tray without assistance, Laird.” She refused to use the term ‘my laird’ because he wasn’t, and he would never be if she had anything to say about it.

One raised eyebrow this time was his only response. How did he do that? He turned and strode away from them, his long legs eating up the distance to the great hall. They would need to run as if in a race to catch up with him.

“Ye and the laird doona seem to get along verra well.” Elsbeth stood with Ainslee as they watched the mon disappear into the great hall.

“Aye. Which means he’ll cast his eye in yer direction. Ye must do something to turn him away from ye as well. Then he can go plague some other clan with his annoying presence and search for a wife.”

They began their walk back to the great hall. “Why do ye dislike him so? I’ve ne’er seen you so annoyed with a mon. You usually have the lads all falling at yer feet, even with yer feisty ways.”

Ainslee sighed. “I doona ken. He just brings shivers to me and makes me angry with his arrogant way.”

It confused her, also, why the mon riled her. The resentment that his visit might separate her and Elsbeth for the first time in their lives was surely there, but something else, as well. He was certainly a handsome mon. His muscles matched his height, his shoulders so vast he blocked out the entire path to the great hall when she stood in front of him. His presence swamped her, urging her to step back to take in a full breath.

The laird’s deep blue eyes seemed to bore right into her, as if he could read her thoughts. Wavy black-as-night hair loose on his shoulders, a broad forehead, firm jaw, and full lips would make most lasses swoon. Not her. Not ever her. Her job was to drive the mon away to leave them in peace.

With determined steps, they joined the men in the great hall.

“Ah, here they are.” Da glared at the two of them.

Ainslee and Elsbeth took seats. Ainslee placed her hands on her lap, took on a demure manner and cast her eyes down. ‘Twas easier to stay out of trouble if she dinna have to look at the mon.

“Lass, how many summers have ye seen?” The laird's smooth, deep voice rolled over her like warm honey. The shivers returned. Ainslee ignored the question, since Elsbeth could answer that.

When the silence grew, Elsbeth poked Ainslee in the ribs with her elbow.

“Ouch!” She glared at her sister.

“The laird asked you a question,” Elsbeth whispered.

“You can answer for both of us,” she whispered back.

Da’s loud cough brought a sigh to Ainslee. Why was the mon picking on her? Surely, he would ne’er consider her for a bride. She raised her chin and stared the arrogant mon in the face. “My sister and I have seen twenty summers.”

More annoying that his presence was his grin. The dratted mon was enjoying vexing her.

Conall finally spoke, breaking the tension. “I believe after that excellent repast, my brother and I would welcome a tour of yer fine keep, Laird.” He gulped the rest of his ale and set the cup on the table.

“Aye, ‘tis a wonderful idea. Daughters, I would ye accompany us on our tour.” Da smiled warmly, but Ainslee saw the command in his eyes and inwardly groaned.

“Aye, Da.”

The five of them rose and headed out the main door, Laird Sutherland walking between Da and Conall, with Elsbeth and Ainslee following, their arms linked.

As soon as they hit the air, Da began his discourse on all the wondrous parts of the castle. As he pointed out various buildings, her spirits immediately lifted with the sight of the crofters and merchants selling goods. From when she'd been a small girl, she loved wandering the bailey, deeply inhaling the enticing smell of the meat pies, scones, and oatcakes the bakers sold.

She had always been drawn to the tinkers who offered skeins of wool thread. There were several who rotated during the year. They purchased spun wool from other villages and sold it at the keeps they visited. Sometimes they offered herbs that did not grow in their gardens and were generally hard to find in the Lowlands.

Ainslee wandered from their group and stopped at a crofter the keep saw a few times a year. She fingered a lovely piece of lace that would look wonderful on one of her gowns. Engrossed in viewing the various patterns the crofter had, she stiffened when the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.

She didn’t need to turn to know The Laird of Sutherland stood behind her. “Ah, here ye are lass. I thought we lost ye.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Sonia N., Goodreads wrote:

Wonderfully written with attention to details, great narrative and I loved this couple so much!

Margaret Watkins, Goodreads wrote:

Romantic, witty, and entertaining, I enjoyed the romance between the Laird and his bride, who switched places with her twin sister to protect her from Haydon's autocratic nature. Realizing he's been duped, Haydon goes ahead with the wedding anyway, probably having already worked out that marriage with Ainslee will be far more interesting than with Elsbeth. When Haydon lays down the rules of the keep for Ainslee, the battle lines are drawn and as expected, Ainslee argues, defies, and fights him at every turn. However, there is one place where they are completely compatible, and that is in the marriage bed. It is only when disaster strikes that matters come to a head and Haydon is forced to choose between a partnership with his wife and possible estrangement. Fortunately, Haydon's brother has a far better understanding of what is at play, but whether or not Haydon will take his sage advice is another matter altogether. This novel, fortunately, comes to a happy conclusion as the warring couple finally recognizes their need for one another.

Kat Green, Goodreads wrote:

...it's a great twin swap story. He married the wrong twin, wanted the meek twin but got the fiery one. Once he found out, the war was on. Naturally, there is a fine line between love and hate. Moving between the two emotions, the couple became a prime example of what you want is not always what you need.