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Claimed by the Laird (Scottish Brides Series #3) [NOOK Book]

Overview


He will expose her as the criminal he seeks, or seduce her as the woman he desires? 

An old maid?that's all Lady Christina McMorlan, daughter to the Duke of Forres, is to society now that she's past thirty. She hosts her father's parties and cares for her siblings, knowing she'll never have her own home and family. She has no time to pine, however. By night, she's The Lady, head of a notorious whiskey-smuggling gang that supports her impoverished clan. They're always one ...

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Claimed by the Laird (Scottish Brides Series #3)

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Overview


He will expose her as the criminal he seeks, or seduce her as the woman he desires… 

An old maid—that's all Lady Christina McMorlan, daughter to the Duke of Forres, is to society now that she's past thirty. She hosts her father's parties and cares for her siblings, knowing she'll never have her own home and family. She has no time to pine, however. By night, she's The Lady, head of a notorious whiskey-smuggling gang that supports her impoverished clan. They're always one step ahead of the revenue man—until Lucas Black shows up. 

Rejecting his title and the proper society that disparaged his mother, Lucas earns his living running a successful gambling house. He's also a spy, charged with bringing down the Forres Gang. He thinks The Lady's just a bored society spinster. She thinks he's a lost child playing at rebellion. And when the truth comes out, it's not just their love on the line….


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Cornick gives the Regency historical a deliciously fresh twist." -Booklist on Whisper of Scandal

"A rising star of the Regency arena." -Publishers Weekly

"Nicola Cornick creates a glittering, sensual world of historical romance that I never want to leave." -Anna Campbell, author of Untouched

"Witty banter, lively action and sizzling passion."
-Library Journal on The Undoing of a Lady

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460336670
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 7/29/2014
  • Series: Scottish Brides Series , #3
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 35,239
  • File size: 321 KB

Meet the Author


USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.


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Read an Excerpt


Ardnamurchan, Scottish Highlands, May 1817

It was not the way Lucas was meant to die, blindfolded, tied up, on his knees in a smugglers' cave, with the pungent smell of rotting fish in his nose and the roar of the sea in his ears as it crashed onto the rocks several hundred feet below.

One minute he had been strolling along the cliffs in the evening twilight to stretch his legs after an interminable journey from Edinburgh, the next this nightmare of ambush and capture. He had heard that the Highlands in May were very pleasant, but he had been mistaken in that. The Highlands in May was no place to be if there was a knife at your throat.

He had been careless. The thought made him angry. Lord Sidmouth would be so proud of him, he thought savagely. His spy caught by the very men he had come to investigate. But he had been tired and the last thing he had been expecting was to stumble on the whisky smugglers moving their cargo. He wondered if this was why Peter had died. He wondered if his brother, too, had seen something he should not, had stumbled disastrously into a situation he could not control. The irony would be if he discovered the truth so quickly, so easily, and then did not live to prove it.

The smugglers were arguing. Their Scots accents were so thick Lucas found it hard to understand some of them, but the general thrust of the conversation was not in the least difficult to follow.

"I say we throw him over the cliff, no questions asked."

"I say we let him go. He's seen nothing—"

"It's too dangerous. He could be a spy. I say he dies."

"And I say we wait for the lady. She will know what to do."

There was a short, angry pause.

"I told you not to send for her." The first man swore. "Damn it to hell, you know what she will say."

"She doesn't like unnecessary bloodshed." The second man sounded as though he was quoting. Lucas could not help but wonder if the shedding of his blood would nevertheless be deemed necessary.

Lucas kept silent. He was cold, wet, tired to his bones and starving hungry.

Who was the lady? Some ruffian as brutal as her trade?

Sidmouth had briefed him on the illegal Highland whisky trade. The government in London demanded that every Highlander who distilled whisky should pay tax on it. The Highlanders declined. The government sent excise officers to hunt the smugglers down, which was no doubt why this gang suspected him of being a spy. Which he was. A very incompetent one.

Damnation.

Lucas remembered the whisky he had tasted on the back streets of Edinburgh. They called it the Uisge Beatha in Gaelic, the water of life, but he had thought it was rougher than a badger's backside.

A faint drift of a salt-laden breeze stirred the noisome press of air in the cave, and the smugglers fell silent. It was a wary silence. Lucas felt the hair on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle. He found he was holding his breath.

The air shifted as someone walked past him. The lady. She had arrived. Lucas had heard no footsteps. Nor could he see anything from behind the blindfold. The material was thick and coarse. He was wrapped in darkness. Yet he could feel her presence. She was close.

He tried to rise to his feet and immediately one of the smugglers placed an ungentle hand on his shoulder and forced him back down on his knees.

"Evening, ma'am." The tone of the men's voices had changed. There was respect in their muttered greeting and a note of caution. Lucas realized that they were on their guard. They could not predict her reactions. And in their uncertainty lay his hope. Suddenly the moment was on a knife's edge between life and death.

"Gentlemen."

Lucas's heart was beating violently against his ribs. All his senses were straining. One word from her and he would be dead. A knife between the ribs, quick, lethal. He fought back the suffocating fear that beat down on his mind. He had nothing in particular to live for, but no particular wish to die, either.

He sensed the lady was very close to him now. He could hear the shift and slip of a material that sounded rich and fine, like silk or velvet, and then he caught the most elusive of scents, a fragrance of bluebells—very sweet, very innocent. The incongruity of it almost made him smile. The infamous leader of a band of criminal renegades and she smelled of spring flowers.

Someone kicked him hard in the ribs, and the thought disintegrated in a blaze of pain. Lucas toppled onto his side under the force of the blow. They were crowding in on him now like a pack of wolves. He could sense their malevolence. There was another blow, and then another. He twisted and rolled in a vain attempt to avoid them, hampered by his bound wrists, blinded, utterly at their mercy. He was too proud to beg a pack of ruffians to spare his life. Perhaps that was a weakness that would kill him but he did not care.

"Stop."

It only took the one word from her to halt them. She spoke sharply and with such an edge of authority that they all fell back. For a moment Lucas could focus on nothing but the hot flare of pain in his ribs. Then as it dulled to an ache, he drew in a labored breath.

"Here…"

She was helping him to sit; his back was against the wall of the cave. It was cold and damp, but the solid rock helped to steady him. Her touch was gentle but firm. He sensed she was between him and the men, shielding him, protecting him. He felt a wave of shame that he could not defend himself and a fierce, hot tug of emotion toward her that he did not understand.

The silence in the cave was absolute, but the atmosphere still simmered with violence. Lucas could feel it in every cell of his body. He could sense, too, some ripple of feeling in her that belied her confidence.

Fear? No. She was not afraid of these braggarts and bullies.

Revulsion.

Lucas's heart bounded. Extraordinary as it was, he sensed in her a hatred of brutality.

The smugglers' words made sense now. This was why the more bloodthirsty amongst them had not wanted her to know of his capture.

They were afraid she would save him.

He felt as close to her as though he could read her thoughts, closer, as though he shared the sensations and emotions that drove her.

He had never felt like this before. He hated the intimacy of the feeling and he hated that he did not understand why he felt it. Most of all he hated his own powerlessness.

"Begging your pardon, ma'am." One of the men sounded abashed, like a naughty schoolboy, but there was rebellion beneath his brusque apology.

"We caught him on the track above the bothy. He was following us—"

"Spying," one of the others put in.

"We need to get rid of him." There was a rumble of agreement.

"Over the cliff," the first man said. "Now."

"Is that so?" Unlike the men, her voice held no trace of a Scots accent. It was low and smooth, as rich and soothing as honey. She truly was a lady born and bred.

"Stand back." There was a rustle of skirts as she shifted beside him. Lucas could not rise as he was once again pinned by the large boot of one of the men, which was lodged in his aching ribs. The boot pressed harder and he sucked in his breath on another wave of pain.

"If you could restrain your tendency toward violence, please." She sounded weary now but the boot eased its pressure a little.

Her hand was beneath Lucas's chin. He imagined she was turning his face to the light. She wore no gloves; her skin was soft and her fingers felt gentle against the roughness of his stubble. For a moment they brushed his cheek in a sweet caress. Lucas felt a shiver down his spine of something that was not fear. He fought it back angrily. His life was on the line and all he could think about was her touch.

Get hold of yourself, Lucas.

"What sort of a spy would be caught so easily?" There was mockery in her voice.

"A bad one," one of the men said dourly.

"Or an innocent traveler," the woman said. Her tone was sharp. Her hand fell. Lucas sensed she was sitting back on her heels.

"Innocent or not, the sea is the place for him," the man growled. He seemed to be the spokesman. The others were content to let him talk. "It's the only thing to do, ma'am."

"Nonsense." She sounded angry now. "Our quarrel is not with the likes of him and you know it."

"And you know he's a danger to us." The man was curt. "We've no choice." He was standing his ground and the others supported him. Lucas could smell their stubbornness and their fear. It was in the air and on their unwashed bodies as they pressed closer. They wanted him dead.

He knew the woman could feel it, too. One false step and they would both be in trouble. It was extraordinary to sense with absolute certainty that she was on his side.

"No one will know," the man said. "Who's to miss him?"

"Only he can tell us that." Her voice betrayed no feelings, nothing of the quick, careful calculation Lucas could sense behind the words. "Perhaps it's time to learn a little more about him." Her hand touched Lucas's arm, conveying a warning even as her tone warmed into mockery again. "What's your name, handsome?"

"Lucas," he said. He was aware that as repartee went it was far from sparkling.

One of the men laughed. "We could spoil his pretty face. That would teach him a lesson."

"Don't you dare," the woman said. Her voice was light. "I need something nice to look at around here." Her words were dismissive, as though he counted for nothing. Lucas hated being treated so casually, but he could see how clever she was. She made him seem unimportant, no threat.

"What's your other name?" she said.

Lucas cleared his throat. "Lucas Ross, ma'am," he said. "At your service." It was only half a lie.

"Your speech is as pretty as your looks." Her voice was cool. "What are you doing in Kilmory, Lucas Ross?"

"I'm after a job," Lucas said. "At the castle. Footman. I've come from Edinburgh."

"Fancy city manners," one of the smugglers said, and it was not a compliment.

"I want to be a butler one day," Lucas said.

"Let us hope you live long enough to achieve your ambition." The lady sounded dry. "Where are you staying?"

"At the inn in the village," Lucas said. "I booked a room and ordered supper. The landlord will notice if I don't return."

"Tom McArdle won't give us any trouble." Another of the smugglers spoke this time. "Very likely he'll dispose of your belongings for us. Where do you think he gets his whisky from, laddie?"

The others gave a low rumble of laughter. They were closing in again now, going for the kill. Lucas knew he had not made a strong enough case to be allowed to live. There would be no loving wife to miss him, no parents and no siblings. He should have invented a few and told an affecting story of how they depended on him. His lips twisted into a bitter parody of a smile.

"We're wasting time." One of the men hauled him to his feet.

"Wait." The woman spoke again, the sharpness of authority back in her voice. "You are too hasty, my friend. Another body around here will bring the gaugers back down on us faster than a sniff of the peat-reek, and the dragoons with them. Have you forgotten that it is only a six-month since the last time?"

Another body.

Lucas felt his blood run cold. She was speaking of Peter.

The silence prickled with tension. Lucas waited, all his muscles wound up tight. He heard the shift and mutter of the men all around him.

"That was nothing to do with us." The leader sounded defiant. "We know nothing of it."

"Whether it was your doing or not," the woman said patiently, "two bodies draw unwanted attention. Do you understand me? Besides, if Mr. Ross here has applied to work at the castle, too many people will know who he is. We cannot take the risk."

"Be damned to it." The man's patience was exhausted. "I say he dies and the others stand with me. We can get rid of the body so they'll never find it."

"Enough!" Lucas heard her move, heard the unmistakable click of a pistol being cocked, heard the intake of breath as the men froze into immobility. He felt a shiver of fear, for her, not for himself. Absurd, extraordinary, but the bond between them seemed tighter still.

"You are dangerous fools," she said. She still spoke quietly, but with an undertone of iron. "Do you really want to take this risk? Do you want to throw away all your profits because of some poor benighted city boy who gets lost in the Highlands? Think again, my friends, before it is too late."

Once again Lucas found himself holding his breath. Violence bred violence, and she was taking a terrible risk to save his life. There were at least four of them. They could overpower her easily enough. One bullet was all she had to stand between him and death.

Time spun out. He felt each second pass.

Then everything changed. Lucas felt it first in the uneasy shift and shuffle of the smugglers' feet, then in the muttered words he could not catch, then finally in the easing of the tension. It was the money, he thought, as much as the show of force, that had changed their minds.

"She's right." One of the men spoke grudgingly. "Think how much we made on the last few barrels. We don't want the gaugers sniffing around again…"

There was a mutter of agreement, surly, resigned. Someone sighed as though the denial of his right to mete out a violent death was particularly disappointing.
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  • Posted September 2, 2014

    The third book in the Scottish Brides series by Nicola Cornick i

    The third book in the Scottish Brides series by Nicola Cornick is my favorite.
    When I first started reading historical romance in 2011, British author Cornick was one of the first authors who captured my interest with her passionate stories and her fiery heroines in her Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Since then, I’ve been slowly reading her backlist. This is her newest series, set in Scotland and, while very entertaining and well written, the first two were not as exciting as that first series. Except for this one. I loved it.
    Lucas is on the hunt for the killer of his youngest brother. He is from a titled family but has rejected his title and lands since his own family rejected him as a bastard. As such, “he loathed the aristocracy with their opulent lifestyle and their sense of entitlement.” He finds employment as a servant at Kilmory Castle where he has already met the lady of the house, Lady Christina MacMorlan. She is involved in whisky smuggling to aid the people of her estate when he runs afoul of them. She saves him from being killed and they form an instant attraction.
    “She loved doing the unexpected because her days were governed by the expected.”
    Lady Christina is the older daughter of an eccentric and selfish duke, who is more interested in his hobbies than in his own estate or his family. In his own way, he reminds me of Mr. Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s Emma.  She sacrificed her own happiness in marriage for the sake of her family and the welfare of her people, but she is a strong women of passion. Lucas quickly recognizes this. He also wants to take care of her since no one has ever done so. For years, she has presented a cool and ladylike outward appearance, but she hides great pain and Cornick portrays this very well.
    “Automatically she tidied her hair and smoothed her gown for a second time, taking comfort from the repeated movements, the habit of tidying herself and presenting a calm face to the world.”
    The sexual tension between Christina and Lucas is searing throughout this lovely story. We see Christina’s torn loyalties between maintaining propriety and giving in to passion and Lucas’ struggle with honor as a gentleman and the duty to discover the truth about his brother’s death.
    “The only people who did not know were her own family, and that was because they knew nothing about who she really was and cared less.”
    I like that Lucas is about six years younger than Christina. Monica Burns and Amara Royce are two other historical romance authors I love who boldly tell the happy endings of older heroines.
    “She barely knew this man, but it felt as though he could see right through her to all the secrets she kept hidden, all her deepest thoughts and feelings.”
    Christina is a kind woman who cares for others no matter what. This endears, astounds, and fascinates Lucas.
    “At each turn he suspected her and at each turn she repaid that suspicion with generosity of spirit.”
    Characters from the first two books in the series make an appearance here but it is not necessary to have read those books to appreciate this love story. 
    A thrilling and touching romance.

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