Lady Makenna Maclaren Brodie is on the run from her clan for the death of her husband and laird. Even though she is innocent, she and her maid run to the only safe place she knows...and right into the arms of the handsome French lord she'd met a year ago. But another man in her life is the last thing she wants or needs.
An unapologetic rake, Lord Julien Leclerc is focused on one thing—expanding his empire and increasing his fortune. Everything else is a distraction, including women. However, when the widowed Makenna arrives on his doorstep in the Highlands, all bets are off.
She wants nothing to do with men. He's sworn off all women. But with danger looming, the only safe haven may be each other's arms.
Each book in the Tartans&Titans series is STANDALONE:
* Sweet Home Highlander
* A Lord for the Lass
* What a Scot Wants
About the Author
Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the award-winning author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.
Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com
Read an Excerpt
Makenna Maclaren Brodie stared at the iron bars to her cell, her heart like stone in her throat. She stood accused of murdering her husband, the laird, who'd been found dead with a dagger lodged in between his ribs. She wrapped her trembling hands in her skirts and tried to quell her anxiety. She hadn't done it, not that she wasn't grateful the foul bastard was dead. He'd been an awful husband and she hoped he never found peace for all the sins he'd committed. But to be wrongly accused with no defense — the topaz-hilted dagger had been hers, gifted to her by her brother Niall several years before — struck fear into her heart.
She had no allies. No one to call friend. Her family was several days' ride away, and there was no one in the whole of Clan Brodie she trusted. Nobody except Tildy, her longtime maid. Makenna stared at the woman now, crouched beyond the cell, her petite face drawn. She'd brought bread and cheese for her, and Makenna was grateful. In addition to being imprisoned for two days, she'd been starved of food and water.
"What are the people saying, Tildy?" she asked, her mouth crammed full and her stomach gurgling loudly.
"That ye killed him." The maid's eyes were huge in her face. Tildy was a full-grown woman, and though Makenna wasn't sure of her actual age, her petite size made her think of a child. "That they found him naked, milady. In yer bed."
"His bed," Makenna corrected.
They hadn't slept as husband and wife in years, not since Graeme had discovered that she was barren. No, he'd filled his bed with countless other women. It could have been any one of them who'd killed him. He wasn't known for treating his playthings well. Makenna shivered. She knew from experience how cruel he could be, and if she'd had the means to escape, she would have killed him herself. But she was a wife, and wives had no rights. Not in Scotland. Not in England. Not anywhere. She'd been his property to do with as he wished. And he had.
"They dunnae care about that, milady," Tildy said. "'Twas yer dirk."
"Anyone could have stolen it from my chamber," she said. "They've nae proof."
"They dunnae need proof. The new laird is adamant that ye must be tried and convicted, if found guilty."
Makenna's heart sank. The new laird was Graeme's cousin, Colin. A worse bastard if there ever was one. Colin had idolized Graeme and hated him at the same time. It was an odd relationship, but Colin coveted everything his cousin had. Including his wife. He'd cornered Makenna more than once during visits to the keep, his hands groping her person without permission. He'd made his slavering interest clear, and she had found herself avoiding him whenever possible. And now, he was laird. She had to escape. If she stayed, there was no question that he would force himself on her, and God knew what other horrors he'd have in mind.
"Tildy, is there anyone ye trust who can help us?"
She shook her head, a tear trickling down her pale cheek. "They all fear the Brodie too much, milady."
"Dunnae cry, lass," Makenna said, though she felt her own eyes burn as well. "The truth will prevail."
"Ye didnae kill him."
"I ken, and we will hold fast to that. Now go, Tildy, before ye are discovered, and find yerself in here with me." She reached through the bars and squeezed Tildy's hand. "Thank ye for the food."
"Ye're welcome. I wish I could do more."
"Ye've done more than anyone could ask."
After Tildy crept away, Makenna wrapped the remainder of her food and tucked the bundle into a pocket in her skirts. Who knew if and when she would be freed? Or when Tildy would be able to sneak her more to eat. She wouldn't put it past Colin to leave her to starve in order to wear her spirit down, but she'd endured much worse over the past nine years, and she would not bend now. Determined to conserve her strength, she lay on the straw pallet and stared up at the dank ceiling. The cellars of the keep were cold and musty, the ghosts of those who had died down here tied to the stones. They did not scare her. Only the living did.
Makenna slept. She was awakened by a noise, at first the soft murmur of a woman, and then the clanging of keys in the gate.
"Quick, my lady."
It wasn't Tildy. The woman's voice was husky, rough with a cough. Makenna blinked and rose, her limbs aching from being cramped in the same position on the uncomfortable straw. The woman wore a heavily hooded cloak from head to toe. It was clear she didn't want to be recognized. Her hands were pale and slender, a plain rose-gold band with a small topaz on her middle finger. Makenna recognized her brother Niall's exquisite work. He owned the cairngorm mines on Tarbendale, an estate adjoining Maclaren, her family's seat, and had a lucrative Scottish topaz business. The woman was no servant then.
"Who are ye?" Makenna asked, her heart racing at the sight of the opened cell door.
The woman hesitated, keeping her head lowered, muffling a wet cough with one hand. Was she ill? "A friend. I have two horses waiting, and I've sent a stableboy for yer maid. Will she come?"
Makenna swallowed a sob of relief.
"She willnae stay here, but I will give her the choice," she answered. Other than Tildy, Makenna possessed no friends on Brodie lands. It was how Graeme had always wanted it; for her to be lonely and isolated. She held back a moment, wary of what was happening. "Why are ye doing this?"
"Ye dunnae deserve to be here. Any one of us would have killed him gladly."
The woman gasped as if she'd said too much, and Makenna understood. Her benefactor had been one of Graeme's lovers. It didn't reduce the list of possibilities much. Graeme hadn't been particular. He'd bedded anyone who'd caught his fancy — maids, tavern wenches, nobles. He'd flaunted them in front of Makenna, thinking he was doing her some great hurt, when she'd been only grateful that she wasn't the one enduring his attentions. When he'd come to her bed when they'd first married, Graeme had been a selfish lover, and early on, she'd learned exactly what kind of man he was.
Makenna followed the cloaked lady in silence, longing to know who to thank for her freedom, but also knowing the woman would not part with a name. Too many lived in fear on Brodie lands. She understood that more than anyone. Even now, as they hustled to the side of the stables shrouded in shadow, Makenna felt that fear nipping at her like invisible teeth. She was not out of danger yet.
Under cover of a low-lit crescent moon, she spotted a wild-eyed Tildy standing beside the horses, two hastily packed bags in hand. One of them wasn't even tied closed, with what looked like several of Makenna's gowns stuffed haphazardly inside and flowing out over the top. Tildy looked like she'd been dragged out of bed but was relieved to see her mistress. Makenna sent her a reassuring smile, watching as the young stableboy tied the bags on the horses.
"Tildy? Do ye want to leave or stay?" she asked in a low voice.
The maid hesitated, her eyes lifting to the keep where the laird slept, and Makenna felt a beat of worry. This was Tildy's home. She could not force her to leave if it wasn't her wish, and if they were caught escaping, Tildy would be punished for her disloyalty. Or worse. Makenna was ready to tell her to stay and protect herself when grim resolve replaced the trepidation on the maid's face. "Aye, 'tis for the best."
"Do ye have somewhere to go?" the woman asked in a low voice, thrusting a bundle into Makenna's hands. "Dunnae tell me. There's some more food for ye. Sorry it isnae more."
"Ye've been more than generous," she said. "I owe ye my life."
The woman bowed her head, coughing again. "Ye'd have done the same for any of us. Ye've been a true beacon of hope, my lady. For many Brodie clanswomen. More than ye ken."
Tildy made a strangled noise, one that sounded like a snort of disgust or disbelief. The maid had always distrusted most of the Brodie women, and for good reason. She'd shielded Makenna from most of the nastier gossip, though some of it had slipped through. Makenna blinked in surprise. She'd thought she had no allies, and here was this woman, this stranger, telling her that she'd brought hope to others. Tears sprang to her eyes. "I've done nothing."
"Thank ye," Makenna told the other lady quietly, her heart aching and so full of astonished gratitude. "I'm forever in yer debt. Should ye ever need anything and I can repay ye, dunnae hesitate to find me. I can send word when we are safe."
"Good luck, my lady."
Makenna mounted her horse as Tildy did the same, and they rode out toward the wood. The more cover the better. Makenna looked over her shoulder once they crossed the tree line, but all she could see were shadows in the darkness. Thanking her rescuer again, they rode through the trees, though the weight on her chest did not dissipate the farther they got from the village. How long until she was discovered missing? Her escape still seemed almost too good to be true, and she'd learned the hard way that what was too good to be true often was. Could it be a trap? The woman had seemed sincere, but Makenna had been burned before. Trust was something she gave sparingly at Brodie, if at all. She supposed she'd know if and when Colin's men intercepted them on the borders of Brodie land.
"Where are we going, milady?" Tildy's whisper made her jump. "To Maclaren?"
"Nae. That's too far, and Colin will send men there."
Makenna dragged in a breath. There was only one place she could go. One place Colin would never think of. Duncraigh Castle was no more than a half day's ride, if she remembered correctly. With any luck, no one would be there but a few local caretakers, and she'd be able to rest and formulate a plan. One that allowed her and Tildy to get to safety. The keep's current owner would be far away from Scotland.
Lord Julien Leclerc would be happily ensconced in his Parisian home, where he'd been for the better part of the last year. A chord of emotion struck low in her breast at the thought of him, but Makenna ignored it. Lord Leclerc belonged firmly on the Continent. A libertine and an unapologetic flirt, he'd been as out of place in Scotland as an ewe would be in a ballroom. But he'd also been the only man in an age to make her smile. She'd spared the French lord many thoughts over the past year, some less charitable than others. He'd goaded her beyond belief, a number of his comments contributing to some of the worse months of her life with Graeme, but she did not blame him. Her actions were her own.
And he'd been right in the end — she'd lost the core of herself somewhere along the way, and it was in part because of him that she been able to find it. A deep part of her heart would always think of him with fond gratitude.
"I have a place in mind," she told Tildy as their mounts cantered through the dark wood. With any luck, Julien would never learn they had been there.
* * *
"Mon Dieu, how much did you bring, Maman?"
Lord Julien Leclerc stared at his mother and scrubbed his fingers across his brow, wincing at the clatter of what sounded like a herd of stampeding elephants. When he'd brought his mother from Paris, he had not expected to ship her entire entourage of servants, along with enough furnishings to outfit a dozen castles.
"You said the castle was empty, chÃ©ri," she said. "One needs the comforts of home, after all."
"And pray tell, why would I have need of a formal dining table with service for thirty? It's a dreary Scottish keep, and we have no suitable neighbors to speak of. Unless you intend to invite the Earl of Pirates and his band of merry criminals to dinner."
"Hush, Jules, Maxim is a wonderful man."
His longtime business partner had a soft spot for his mother, given they were somewhat close in age, and he was one of Julien's friends who happened to own an estate less than a half-day's ride away, but that didn't mean he trusted the man. Julien didn't trust anyone. Maxim was a private turned privateer turned honest ship merchant turned earl, though the honest part was a bit of a stretch. But Julien's mother had decided to take the wastrel under her wing ever since he'd rescued her son from a gang of thugs on the streets of Paris when Julien was a boy.
"You would love him even if he were a stray off the street."
"Of course I should. He saved your life, dear, and for that, I will cherish him forever."
Julien had long suspected that his mother adored Maxim for other reasons, but it was not his place to speculate. Or judge. His mother was a grown woman with her own mind. If she sought out companionship, who was he to deny her? As long as Maxim didn't hurt her, Julien chose to turn a very blind eye to their not-so-secret friendship.
Lady Haverille shot him a benign smile, one that warmed Julien's heart. God, he'd missed seeing those smiles. She'd showed more spirit on the journey here, the sea air doing wonders for her pallid complexion and her constitution. And once they'd arrived on the shores of Scotland, her disposition had only improved. He'd been right to remove her from the crowded city of Paris where she'd withered for the past eighteen months. No, the clean country air was exactly what she needed, and Duncraigh Castle was just the place for her to recover.
Another crash from the vicinity of the front salon made him flinch.
Good God, are the footmen trying to destroy the place?
He fought the urge to disappear into his chamber with a bottle of Maclaren whisky. A housewarming gift from Aisla Maclaren, his best friend and former fiancée, who had married the love of her life almost a year ago. Julien should have stayed in France instead of returning to the Highlands, but the place had gotten its hooks into him, although his French soul would never admit that to anyone. The richness of the land and the beauty of the wide-open spaces, rolling hills, and glistening lochs had charmed him completely.
Not that he was a farmer. Far from it. But it was a start and he'd gotten his hands dirty before. How hard could it be? He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and watched as his mother directed her servants with the efficacy of a seasoned diplomat. At the very least, it would look like a French chÃ¢teau on the inside. And she would be happy, which was all that mattered. Though in truth, if he'd known how rundown the place was, he might have considered another item of the duke's as collateral.
Quaint and charming, his mother had called it when she'd arrived. Julien had wanted to laugh. That had been the opposite of his preferred words, interspersed with some choice oaths that the Duke of Craig might have pulled a good one over him. His lips flattened with dark humor. The castle was far from a dump. It wasn't as if he and his mother weren't intimately familiar with hardship. They'd lived and slept in much worse, including a one-room flat in Montmartre that had housed more rats than people. But squalor and poverty were parts of his past, and he intended to keep them both firmly rooted there.
Julien entered his nearby study and walked to the window. He looked out upon the sprawling landscape with the ocean glittering in the distance. Located on the western edge of Scotland, the grounds were overgrown and the stone walls of the castle needed repair in places, but its raw beauty was undeniable.
A diamond in the rough.
It was one of Julien's rare gifts — an ability to see what a thing could become. He'd made a large part of his fortune taking such risks, purchasing property and investments that others shied away from, only to make massive gains. His friends in Paris claimed with some envy that he had the golden touch. Julien didn't. He simply had a good eye for risk and return, and he also did not let anything steer him from his goals.
No wife to distract him. No children to burden him.
And women, he used as his needs required, and allowed himself to be used in return. Marriage was never part of the discussion, only pleasure by mutual consent. A vision of a flame-haired woman with gleaming eyes the color of sapphires filled his mind. She was the one who had gotten away. Although one could argue he'd never really had her in the first place. She'd belonged to another. Julien pushed the image of her from his head. Makenna Maclaren was a part of his past, too.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Lord for the Lass"
Copyright © 2018 Amalie Howard and Angie Frazier.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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