Claiming the Highlander's Heart (Townsend Series #4)

Claiming the Highlander's Heart (Townsend Series #4)

by Lily Maxton

NOOK Book(eBook)

$3.99
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640636309
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 07/09/2018
Series: Townsend Series , #4
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 260
Sales rank: 120,002
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Lily Maxton grew up in the Midwest, reading, writing, and daydreaming amidst corn fields. After graduating with a degree in English, she decided to put her natural inclinations to good use and embark on a career as a writer.

When she’s not working on a new story, she likes to tour old houses, add to her tea stash, and think of reasons to avoid housework.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Highlands, Scotland

1816

Georgina Townsend was lost in memory when the front wheel of the cart jolted over a particularly vicious dip, which was why she didn't meet the rough terrain with her usual aplomb. Instead, she lurched forward, gripping the side to keep herself from toppling off the seat.

"Are you all right?" her sister-in-law, Annabel, asked.

"Of course." She was used to the worst of the Highland roads. Ahead of them, the land dipped and swelled beneath a broad gray sky. The wind that stung their eyes and cheeks brought with it a hint of salt from the sea and peat from Highland fires. And Llynmore Castle, her brother's country seat, loomed above them like a dark sentinel on the lonely moors.

It was bleak and fierce and wild. It was something straight out of a Gothic novel. And most of all, it was home. Georgina felt the pit of tension in her stomach unfurl, relax.

Her sister-in-law was silent, and when she turned to glance at Annabel, she saw worry in her eyes. With a pang, Georgina realized she wasn't speaking of the rough terrain.

"You've been quiet since we left Glasgow."

Her brother Theo glanced away from the reins and then at Georgina with raised eyebrows, as if he'd only just noticed that she had indeed been rather quiet. She loved her brother, but he wasn't always the most observant sort when it came to fickle things like emotions.

"You look peaked," he said bluntly. "Are you ill?"

"Tired from the journey, I suppose." The lie rolled from her tongue easily. She was tired, but that wasn't why she was quiet.

She'd gone to see a physician when she was in Glasgow — supposedly one of the best in Scotland, who was known for being forward thinking. She hadn't been prepared for what he'd told her.

Oh, she was fine. For the most part. She could live a long, healthy life with her condition, he'd assured her. It was just ... the shape of her life had changed. And it was odd, because she hadn't even realized she'd seen her life as a certain shape. She hadn't realized there were things she might have wanted until the possibility of them was gone.

She had thought she was happy. What else did she need? She had her siblings and Llynmore Castle and all the open land and air she could ask for. She was free.

But maybe some part of her had envisioned something different. She was young yet. How she felt now wasn't how she might feel in five years, in ten.

Her musings were cut short when the cart rolled to a stop. From the passage to the inner courtyard, a child of about two hobbled toward them with her arms outstretched, her green eyes wide and her dark hair unruly. On her heels was a harried-looking maid.

Annabel leaped down from the cart and was moving as soon as her feet hit the ground. She lifted the girl, who giggled delightedly, and swung her around and around. Annabel's answering laughter was as light as air. Georgina watched them, a twinge of something unnamable deep in her stomach. It was not quite envy and not quite sorrow.

This was the first time Annabel and Theo had been away from their daughter, and they'd both fretted endlessly. She imagined they would wait until Maria was older before they traveled again, so they could take her with them.

Once the girl was set down, her eyes lighted on Georgina. She couldn't say her full name yet, and had christened her "Gee" instead. Georgina knelt down to sweep her into a hug; she burrowed her face against the top of Maria's head and breathed in her sweet-smelling hair.

"I missed you, too," she murmured.

Georgina looked up just as Annabel's aunt Frances emerged from the castle at a more sedate pace. She could tell as soon as she looked at the older woman's pinched face that something was wrong.

"What is it?" she asked, straightening.

Frances stopped, all eyes on her. She tucked a strand of gray hair behind her ear. "Ten of the sheep have gone missing —" She paused, corrected herself. "Were stolen."

"Stolen?" Theo echoed. There had been rumors in the past few months of Highland outlaws, stealing livestock from some of the larger estates. But they'd thought they were only that — rumors. "How do you know?"

"On the same night, someone broke into the castle while everyone was asleep." Theo and Annabel's faces went pale. "No one was harmed," Frances assured them. "We didn't even realize they'd been there until after. They must have went through quickly, but they made off with some of the silver and some jewelry — "

Georgina was already moving through the inner courtyard, past the gnarled tree at the center, pushing open the castle doors. She ran up the spiral stairway and stopped, breathing heavily, at the threshold of her bedchamber.

From here, nothing looked disturbed, and she could almost imagine that no one had been in this, her private sanctuary, that no one had gone through her belongings. But then she stepped toward the small oak stand by her bed, and her breath hitched in her lungs.

Normally, a music box rested there. Tortoiseshell with silver trim. When the internal mechanism was wound and then released, it played a soft, slow, haunting tune. Altogether, it was a nice piece — a simple design of good material and a fairly intricate melody — but that wasn't why the loss of it threatened to cleave her chest in two.

When she'd been ill as a child, when she'd been so far gone she could barely think, she remembered her mother winding the box for her, remembered that slow, pretty song. Her mother had given it to her later, when Georgina was better. She'd told Georgina to keep it for her. To protect it.

Her mother had been gone many years now. But Georgina had kept the music box safe, right by her bed, in a place where she could reach out and touch it to be assured it was still there. She'd kept it like she might keep and protect a fragile piece of her own heart.

And it had been taken from her. Like her mother. Like some vision of a future that was now dark forever.

Panic flooded her chest, so cold and so heavy.

At Georgina's side, her hand curled into a tight fist. Her heart was beating too fast, but the bite of nails against her palm braced her. She took three deep breaths, and eventually panic hardened to anger, and anger ... well, that, she could use. Anger she could sharpen and hone like a weapon. It could be turned into purpose.

Anger was far, far better than helplessness.

Before she could falter, before she could second-guess herself, she strode to the wardrobe and began tearing through her clothes, looking for things that would hold up against the Highland weather. Two pistols with gleaming, dark wood handles and brass barrels glinted from beneath a pile of stockings. They were a gift from Aunt Frances, who'd learned to shoot at some point during her brief acting career, from an actor she'd carried out a minor flirtation with (a dalliance which, by Frances's account, had been even briefer than her acting career). Frances had, in turn, shown Annabel how to load and fire a gun, and Georgina, too, when she'd expressed an interest.

Georgina took the pistols, in addition to the clothes, relieved that the bandits hadn't noticed them.

First, she would talk to some of Theo's tenants — they trusted her, and no doubt they'd heard the rumors about the outlaws and the stolen livestock. They might even be able to point her in the right direction.

She would leave a note for Theo and Annabel, telling them she was traveling by stagecoach to visit her sister, Eleanor, in Edinburgh, and then she'd have to send a note to Eleanor so her sister wouldn't be taken by surprise if Theo mentioned it in a letter. No doubt Theo would be livid about Georgina traveling alone, but she'd deal with that when she returned.

She couldn't tell him the real reason, of course.

And maybe it was stupid. Maybe it was reckless. But at the moment, with grief and resolve mingling to a potent brew, it only felt necessary.

She was going to find the thieves.

She would find them, and she would take back what was hers.

CHAPTER 2

If anyone had asked Malcolm Stewart what he was, he wouldn't have said an outlaw; he would have said a king.

A king of bandits, a little island, stolen sheep, smuggled goods, and a few motley cattle. But in Mal's opinion, the size of one's kingdom didn't matter as much as the devotion behind it, and he had devotion, if any man ever did.

Some kings measured their worth in riches and land. Mal measured his worth in sheep stolen, in successful operations, in nights spent under the trees and the stars, in the number of Highlanders he'd paid with his ill-gotten earnings.

"Did you cheat?" he heard Lachlan ask Ewan.

"No."

"But you never win!"

Ewan grunted as Lachlan elbowed him.

"Can we get back to the game?" Andrew looked on dispassionately, apparently bored with the other men's antics.

They were playing cards, while Mal sat a little apart from the three of them. It was a clear, still night, and the fire crackled.

He studied his men for a moment. He'd found them all, or they'd come to him, like strays. And then, before Mal really knew how it happened, he wasn't alone anymore. Instead of a solitary outlaw, he'd become the leader of outlaws, responsible for their safety, for their lives.

It wasn't a responsibility he'd asked for, but it wasn't one he took lightly, either.

Lachlan threw his cards down, ignoring Ewan and Andrew's protests, and lowered himself down on the fallen log beside Mal. "Are you still thinking about the last raid?"

"Aye," he said.

"It's fine," Lachlan said. "We'll do better next time."

But it didn't really have anything to do with them. Rumors of their exploits had been spreading, and their targets were more alert. Warier. Every raid became more dangerous, no matter what precautions Mal and his men took.

He didn't know how many next times there would be. For his men, at least. He didn't care so much about his own fate — death had stopped scaring him a long time ago.

"Ewan tripped," Lachlan pointed out.

And he'd nearly been caught, because the shepherd they'd targeted had had extra men with him.

"Ewan isn't the problem."

Lachlan was silent for a moment. "What are we going to do, then?"

"A bigger raid," Mal said. "A final one, hopefully."

If they could make enough, his men could take the money and settle down somewhere. They could have lives. Maybe even families.

They could have everything Mal didn't.

Mal stared into the fire, into the writhing orange and yellow flame, thinking about what he'd do once his men were settled, when, on his other side, Laddie's ears perked up and his tail thumped against the ground.

It was the only warning Mal had that someone was approaching. While Laddie was excellent at herding sheep, he liked people too much to be a good guard dog.

A few seconds after Laddie directed his attention past the fire, a woman materialized.

Materialized seemed an odd word to attribute to a flesh-and-blood person, but it was the best word Mal could think of. One moment he and his group were alone, and the next, she was there, as if she'd been drawn from the night itself, composed of shadow and peat smoke and the distant music of late-night revels.

She emerged from the darkness, silent as a ghost, solemn as the grave. She approached slowly, and then stopped and stood a few feet away, preternaturally still, lit by fire.

For a second, Mal blinked, thinking he might be hallucinating. But he blinked again, and she remained. He didn't see a boat, but she must have come in one and hidden it under the brush somewhere.

She was below average in height, above average in curves, wearing a blue dress with a plaid shawl wrapped around her shoulders and pinned at her throat with a brooch. Messy, dark hair framed a lovely oval face. Even from a distance, he could see that pockmark scars dotted her cheeks, but that telltale sign of an illness didn't make her seem fragile. Her eyes, pale and direct, were too fierce for that, her stance too unyielding.

She looked ... she looked like a dream come to life. A dream he hadn't even known he'd had.

"I'd like to join you." She spoke with a lilting Scottish brogue, light and musical.

Ewan, who wasn't aware they'd been approached, toppled clean off his rock perch, scattering cards and swearing like a sailor. Ewan, who was fairly oblivious to ... basically everything, was the worst watchman of the group, but he was a kindhearted lad. Lachlan and Andrew stared at the woman, and then Andrew laughed — a loud, booming sound.

"Join us? A slip of a girl like you?" Andrew asked.

Mal leaned back, eyeing her. She wasn't a slip of a girl at all, but she also didn't look like the sort of girl who'd been raised for hard labor and keeping company with ruffians.

"I've heard about you — rumor is, someone's been stealing sheep all across the Highlands."

"And you think that's us?" Malcolm finally spoke.

"Aye."

"Why do you think so?"

"I just do."

Mal nearly smiled. Not a girl to give away her secrets easily, then.

"Why do you want to join us?"

"I could use the money."

"There are easier ways for a woman to make money," Lachlan said, leering at her while he made a lewd gesture with his hand.

Mal silently leaned forward, took a stick from the fire, and pressed the still- glowing end into the back of Lachlan's hand.

For an instant, the only sound was the hiss of burning flesh and then Lachlan's screech split the air. He scuttled backward, clutching at his hand.

"You need to learn a little respect, Lachlan," Mal said idly. "That's no way to speak to a woman."

While Mal suspected there was more to Lachlan than his brash facade, he could be volatile and a little too loudmouthed. Mal had quickly learned that the only thing that really kept Lachlan polite was the threat of pain.

Mal looked back at the girl, who, in her widened eyes, finally showed a trace of fear.

It was probably for the best, but Mal felt a twinge of something — disappointment, regret?

Before he could cipher it out, she'd straightened, chin tilted defiantly.

"I can shoot," she said, no trace of shakiness in her voice. "I brought my own pistol. I can play the cittern, too, if you like music."

He'd noticed the leather instrument case slung over her shoulder. Mal did like music, though he liked the fiddle best of all.

Against his better judgment, he was intrigued by this woman who played the cittern and could shoot a pistol and walked into a camp of thieves as though it was no great concern. She had a quality about her — audacity, that was it. Mal admired audacity, and this woman knew how it was done.

Of course there was a very, very fine line between being brazen and being reckless. Lachlan was reckless, and they certainly didn't need another Lachlan.

But, provided she was an asset and not a vulnerability, adding one more to their number wasn't a bad idea if they were planning a larger raid.

He pushed himself up. "We are thieves, ye ken? What's to stop me from simply taking your pistol and your cittern and selling them for a nice little profit?"

He watched her closely, carefully. He looked for fear, and she showed none. If she was afraid of him, she hid it well. And that was when she moved the bag aside to reveal that she already held a pistol in her hand. The hammer was cocked, and it had been aimed at him the entire time they'd been talking.

Lachlan hissed. He heard Ewan gasp.

Mal almost laughed. "All right, lass. Show me how well you can shoot." He picked up a stale oatcake from a basket near the fire and tossed it up, up.

She didn't even hesitate. She aimed and pulled the trigger; the flint sparked, a flash in the night, and, a second later, the oatcake exploded in the air, raining down in uneven clumps.

Malcolm whistled. "Impressive. Though you've left yourself unprotected with that display. It's not the sort of oversight I want one of my own to make."

She stared at him a moment, and then her lips curved. Something about that smirk, all sharp-angled self-assurance, shot heat straight through his veins. She plunged her hand into the bag. "Did I say pistol? I meant pistols, plural." She calmly retrieved a second loaded pistol from the bag and arched one shapely eyebrow. "You were saying?"

For a moment, Mal simply stared.

And then he grinned — it felt like he hadn't smiled quite so broadly in weeks.

"I was saying, welcome to our little isle."

* * *

Georgina didn't know how long she could stay with the outlaws. Even if Theo and Annabel believed the note she'd left, her plan would still fall apart if it dragged on for too many weeks. Theo's suspicious nature would rear its head at some point ... and once that happened, it wouldn't take him long to put the pieces together — the burglary, the music box, Georgina's hasty trip.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Claiming the Highlander's Heart"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Lily Maxton.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Claiming the Highlander's Heart 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Historical_Romance_Lover More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Georgina and Mal's story! I have loved Georgina since the series began and was so excited to see how she got her HEA! When her home is broken into, Georgina is determined to get her music box back. Without her family knowing, she sneaks off and finds the group of outlaws. She works her way into the group and so that she can learn what was done to her precious keepsake. She didn't count on being attracted to the leader of the group. Mal blames the Highland lords for the loss of his family, so he makes it his duty to fight against them to get some small amount of satisfaction. When Georgiana joins his group, he thinks she is of the same class and shares his distain for the the upper class. He quickly falls for her and later learns that Georgiana is part of the class he despises. Will this change how he feels about her? I really enjoyed this final book in the Townsends series. My only disappointment with this book is that since it is the last book in the series (at least I assume, since all the siblings have found their HEA), I would have liked to revisit all of the couples (we did get to see Annabel and Theo) and see where they are now. I am, however, very excited to see what Maxton comes up with next!
georgia1 More than 1 year ago
A definite twist and a different storyline that kept my interest. Almost reckless at times, Georgina Townsend is not your typical heroine. When a group of Highland outlaws steals her treasured music box that was her late mother's, she sets out on an intriguing journey. Disguising herself as a Highland lass ahe wiggles her way into joining the group so she can get back her precious possession. Of course she does not count on Malcolm Steward, the handsome leader of the group, becoming so enticing. A take on the Robin Hood tale, the story weaves through some interesting times and growing emotions between the two. Will Malcolm find out who she really is or will Georgina tell him? Read to find out what happens with these two seemingly mismatched couple and know you will smile at the end. Lori Dykes