Enchanted by the Highlander is the fourth book in a charming and enchanting Scottish series that reimagines fairytales by Lecia Cornwall.
Gillian MacLeod is shy and quiet, the least likely of all her sisters to seek out excitement and adventure. But on a moonlit night at a masquerade ball, Gillian steals a kiss from a mysterious stranger, knowing she’ll never see him again.
John Erly, disowned by his noble English father, started a new life in Scotland. Most people are suspicious of the foreign mercenary and he does everything is his power to avoid romantic entanglements. But he can’t forget the bewitching beauty who kissed him in the dark, and stole his heart, even though he has no idea who she might be.
A year later, John is given the duty of escorting Gillian to her wedding and immediately recognizes her as the temptress he’s dreamed of for months. There’s not much he can do when she's promised to another man, but fate intervenes and this time, passion—and adventure—can’t be denied. Honor demands he stay away from the MacLeod’s enchanting daughter, but love has a very different ending in mind...
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About the Author
Lecia Cornwall is the author of Regency and Scottish romances, including Beauty and the Highland Beast and When a Laird Finds a Lass. Her books are known for their layered plots, humour, and intriguing characters. Lecia lives in Alberta, Canada with two adult children, four cats, a crazy chocolate Lab, the dozens of book characters who live in her head, and one very patient husband who endures it all with remarkable patience. Lecia is currently hard at work on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
He was late. John Erly spurred his horse harder, leaned low over the creature's neck and raced across the cliff top. The Virgin was already at anchor in the harbor below, and everyone was gathered to welcome the newly minted earl and his lovely countess.
There wasn't a Sinclair who'd admit it meant a thing, of course, but John knew they were proud their chief had been so honored — that they'd been so honored — by Queen Anne, a Stuart, and therefore a Scot and one of their own.
John wondered if Dair had seen the Earl of Clive in London, John's own father, the man who'd disowned his son without a farthing for his terrible sins. But that had been four years ago, and he had a different life now, here in Scotland. It wasn't the life he was born to, but it was his. He lived by his own rules, his own code of honor, free, and single. Not that there weren't women in his life, but he preferred the company of experienced women like Rhona Sinclair, a lusty widow with a taste for fun, or Effie Lyle, who was warm and welcoming, and did not expect marriage from him.
But it had been Elspeth Sinclair who'd made him late this morning, who wouldn't take no for an answer when he'd told her he had to leave her bed to meet Dair's ship. Once more had turned into twice before he'd left her well pleasured and exhausted with a promise that he'd be back. Eventually. He'd left his bow there, and he'd need to retrieve it at some point.
John galloped along the cliff path against the wind. In the bay below, Virgin's launches were already rowing ashore. He swore softly and wished he had time to go back to his own cottage and change his clothes. He looked like he'd slept in these. He grinned and kicked the horse again, coaxing more speed out of the beast.
When he reached top of the path that led to the beach, Fia was already there. She watched as John reined in and dismounted. He caught her hand and swept a low, elegant bow. "May I say how lovely you look, Countess Carrbry?"
She plucked her fingers out of his grip and stuck her nose in the air. "Your breeches are buttoned wrong, English John, and your shirt isn't laced. When was the last time you combed your hair?"
He did what he always did. He gave her his most charming grin — Countess or peasant lass, it never failed to melt the coldest female heart. Fia's sharp glare softened, and a dimple appeared in her cheek. "Slaightear," she murmured fondly. "Blaigeard — rogue, rascal."
He took her hand again and kissed the tips of her fingers with a laugh, denying none of it, and this time she gave his hand an affectionate squeeze.
"Who's this?" a gruff male voice asked.
John turned to see an older man standing behind Fia, wearing a MacLeod plaid. He looked John over with a deep scowl.
"Papa, this is John Erly," Fia said. "John, this is my father, Donal MacLeod, the Laird of Glen Iolair."
"The Sassenach," the Fearsome MacLeod grumbled. His eyes narrowed, and his hand went to the hilt of his dirk. The man certainly lived up to his fearsome nickname. He was tall, broad, and muscular despite the streaks of silver in his dark hair. John imagined facing him in battle — Donal MacLeod's enemies probably died of fright without his even having to draw his claymore, which was as famous as the man who wielded it.
Yet wee Fia took her father's arm and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek, and John watched the laird's iron glare melt like warm butter. "Now, Papa, John is Dair's very good friend, and the captain of our guards," she said. "He's the best swordsman I've ever seen."
Donal MacLeod looked at John again, but it was clear that his opinion hadn't budged.
"I had the honor of meeting one of your other daughters, Laird MacLeod," John said smoothly. "May I enquire after Mistress Meggie's health?"
The Highlander reddened and scowled. "My daughter is none of your —"
"Papa!" Fia said, shaking Donal's arm gently. "Meggie is well, John — or she was last time I heard from her. Papa brought me letters from all my sisters when we met in Edinburgh."
John tried a different smile, a polite one this time, with all the highborn, aristocratic charm of his youth behind it, but still the Fearsome MacLeod wasn't impressed.
Fia blushed and looked down at the people on the beach below. "Now where is Dair?"
John spotted Alasdair Og at once, by his height and his plaid. He was helping someone out of the launch, a slender woman. He grasped her waist and swung her out of the boat and onto the pebbled shore. The lass's skirts caught the wind, revealing shapely ankles, and her plaid blew back from her head. The breeze snatched the ribbon that bound her hair, and it flew out to sea and set free a cloud of glorious russet curls, nearly scarlet against the gray of the rocks and the sea.
John was too far away to see her face. But her body had a graceful delicacy of shape and height. Dair let her go once she had her balance back again.
"Who is the woman with —" John began, but both Fia and Donal rounded on him.
"That's my daughter," and "She's my sister," came out at the same moment, both voices sharp with identical warning: Stay away.
It felt as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. John had been at Carraig Brigh for almost four years. Folk were polite, sometimes almost friendly, but they never let him forget he was an outsider here. It didn't matter that he was Dair's friend and trusted captain, he was an Englishman, a Sassenach, a man cast out by his own kin for sins he didn't speak of. Despite his skills with a sword, or any kindness he might do, any noble deed, he'd never be good enough for men like Donal MacLeod.
John bowed again, crisply. "If you'll excuse me, I've duties to see to."
But he made the mistake of looking down over the cliff again. The lass was staring up at him now, her eyes wide, her face a pale oval against the swirling glory of her hair. He knew without even being close enough to see her features that she was beautiful. His chest tightened, and his mouth dried. He felt as if lightning had struck him, but the sky was clear. It was standing too close to the cliff top, he told himself. He hated the sea, hated ships, and even looking at the waves was enough to remind him of the last time he'd sailed, make him feel sick and regretful. He pushed the memory away. It was the sea, and only the sea, not the MacLeod's daughter, Fia's sister, the lass forbidden to the likes of him.
He turned and led the garron away. He caught up with some of the sailors, men he was acquainted with, and joked with them as if the snub didn't matter.
Gillian stood on the pebbled beach, still feeling the roll of the ship under the thin soles of her shoes. She shaded her eyes and looked up the steep path to where her father and sister waited and took note of the man standing next to Fia. The wind blew his fair hair, and the sun sparked on the stubble of his unshaven face, giving him a golden glow. He was tall, as tall as her father, but lean instead of broad, his legs long, clad in breeches and tall boots, not a kilt. She could tell — feel — that he was staring at her. The earth tilted in the oddest way.
She felt something stir in her breast, and her heart thumped. Then the ribbon in her hair broke free, and she lost sight of him in the wind-tossed cloud of her hair.
"Are ye steady, lass?" Alasdair Og asked kindly, his hand under her elbow. "It takes a few minutes to get your bearings on land after being in a ship."
The world righted itself again, and she felt the pebbles under her feet. She smelled the damp-earth-salt-scent of the cliff face. For a moment the stranger on the cliff stared down at her, his face in shadow now, his hair still sunlit. She leaned on Dair's arm and stared silently back at him, too shy to ask Dair the name of the man with her sister, yet unable to tear her gaze away. Then he turned and disappeared from view.
She caught her breath and let go of Dair. "Thank you. I'm well."
Her brother-in-law smiled. "Then let's go up, get ye settled. I'm sure Fia has a nice, quiet room already picked out for ye."
"He's Dair's captain, John Erly," Fia said when Gillian quietly asked the stranger's name as they rode up to the castle.
Gillian recalled Meggie mentioning him, calling him English John. What was it she'd said about him? That he was a Sassenach, but a handsome one. Meggie had doubted he had the cloven hooves or devil's horns that most Scots thought Englishmen possessed. In her sister's opinion, English John was well-mannered, chivalrous, and brave.
And Gillian's opinion — which she kept to herself — was that John Erly was the handsomest man she'd ever seen. When she saw him later that evening in the hall at supper, he seemed a cocksure, charming rogue, and he filled the room just by walking into it and stole all the air. She was not introduced to him. She was seated between her father and her sister, and she watched him from a distance. Men greeted him, and the women cast long looks of such smoldering, wicked suggestion in his direction, they made Gillian blush. He grinned at them and winked, and Gillian's heart did a slow roll in her breast, even though those looks weren't directed at her.
He did not so much as glance in her direction. Gillian had never felt quite this invisible. It was as if her chair stood empty, or she herself was of utterly no interest to him, even as a visitor and Fia's sister.
There was a place set for him at the table next to Dair, but he ate with the clansmen instead. Papa sat glaring at the Englishman as if he expected John Erly to leap to his feet and kill everyone in the room. The tension was so thick the weight of it was almost crushing — at least to Gillian. Fia scarcely seemed to notice. Her sister chattered happily about how good it was to be home, and the latest gossip she'd heard about local folk that Gillian didn't know. Gillian stopped listening and watched John Erly from under her lashes. She learned about people by watching and listening, since few folk made the effort to draw her into conversation. She noted that John had a ready grin and a quick wit when the men seated around him laughed often. The light gleamed on the gold of his hair as if he was burnished. He'd shaved for the meal and changed his clothes. He dressed as the clansmen did, in a linen shirt and a leather vest, but he wore boots and breeches instead of a kilt, which marked him as different. Did he have cloven hooves and a tail?
"Are you listening, Gilly?" Fia said, shaking her from her reverie. Caught staring, Gillian felt hot blood fill her cheeks. She smiled at her sister and took a sip of her wine. It was cold, clear, and sweet.
"I was telling you about one of the parties we attended in London — one of many, of course — but this was a masked ball." Fia cast a sideways look at their father, but he was busy scowling at English John. "Such parties are considered slightly wicked, even in England. All the lords and ladies in attendance were in disguise, wearing masks and costumes, and there was no way to know who you might be speaking to, or who was watching you." Fia grinned like a pirate. "It was great fun indeed. I thought we might have one at Carraig Brigh while you and Papa are here, to celebrate our new status. I intend to invite everyone we know — the captains of Dair's fleet, his city friends, all the lairds and chiefs of our allies."
Gillian scanned her sister's face. Was this another ploy to try to find her a husband? And yet, how could anyone choose a husband from a roomful of masked men?
"Do you think Papa would approve?" Fia asked.
"Approve of what?" Donal MacLeod asked.
"A masked ball, Papa," Fia said. "Everyone comes in disguise, unknown to their fellow guests until the unmasking at midnight."
Donal MacLeod frowned. "How will ye know who you're speaking to if everyone is wearing a disguise?"
Fia grinned. "That's the point. Folk say things when they're masked they wouldn't otherwise and show sides of themselves they usually keep hidden."
Gillian wondered just what kind of things people might be willing to reveal to strangers if they felt themselves anonymous. She glanced at English John again. To her surprise, he was staring at her.
Her breath caught in her throat as their eyes locked. He wasn't smiling now. His face was in shadow, and she wondered what he was thinking.
"Sounds dangerous to me. Ye might think ye're talking to a friend when it's your worst enemy listening to all your secrets," her father said.
"But they won't know you, either, Papa," Fia said.
"Then why would we talk at all if we're strangers?"
"But when you unmask, you might find you're friends," Fia tried.
"Or not," Donal grumbled.
Gillian was barely listening. She couldn't look away from John. She felt heat filling her face, and every nerve grew taut as the Englishman held her gaze. Usually, when someone met her eyes, Gillian looked away, but this time, she couldn't. She wished she were close enough to know what color the eyes were that stared into hers. It was impossible to tell across the hall by candlelight.
Her father and Fia were leaning across her, and Fia was still trying to explain the point of a masked ball to their father.
"Sometimes it's not about talking. Sometimes it's a look or a touch, and not knowing who might be behind the mask," Fia said.
Gillian watched John Erly raise his cup to his lips and drink, his eyes still holding hers, and she swallowed with him, her mouth watering.
"D'ye mean to tell me ye wouldn't know Dair no matter how canny the disguise he wore, or he wouldn't know ye?" her father asked Fia.
"Well, of course I would, but —"
"Then if ye know the ones ye know, and have no care about the ones ye don't, it makes no sense to go about in disguise," Donal said stubbornly.
"Oh, Papa," Fia said. "We shall have to find very clever costumes to fool you."
The sound of their voices drifted away, and Gillian was only aware of the sound of her own breath, the beating of her heart — and John Erly.
Then Fia nudged her and broke the spell. "You were a thousand miles away again — I've asked you twice what costume you might wear to my masked ball. What on earth are you thinking about?" She followed the direction of Gillian's gaze to John Erly and gave a little gasp of surprise. "Were you staring at English John?" she whispered, casting a quick glance at their father, but he'd turned to converse with Dair. Fia squeezed Gillian's arm. "Oh no, sweeting — John's not for you. He's a rogue of the worst sort."
"Is he unkind to women?" Gillian asked, surprised.
Fia's lips tightened. "No, worse — he's charming. There's not a lass at Carraig who hasn't had her head turned by English John. Flattery gets him everything, and he knows just what to say to win a lass's heart and her — Well, he isn't for novices, Gilly, and he certainly isn't for you. Stay away from him while you're here."
"But how did an Englishman come to be at Carraig Brigh, serving as captain of the guard?" Gillian asked, curious.
Fia sipped her wine. "He's the son of an English earl, but his father disowned him."
"Why?" Gillian asked.
Fia's eyes slid away. "Something about a lady, or a series of ladies, that's all I know. John was in gaol in England when the English captured Dair's ship, tortured Dair half to death, and murdered his cousin. If English John hadn't convinced the guards to let them both go, Dair would be dead." Fia regarded the Englishman with gratitude. "John brought him home, Gillian. He's as brave as a lion and a very fine swordsman." She blinked back a tear, then straightened her spine and gave Gillian a sharp look. "Don't mistake me. In many ways John is a wonderful man, just not in love. He'd make a dreadful husband, even if a lass could catch him. Many have tried. I've tried myself to find him a bride, but he'll have none of it. He likes widows, women with experience, the kind who want nothing more than —" Fia blushed. "Well, they don't want a husband."
"I see," Gillian said.
Fia frowned. "Do you? Then you'll take my advice and stay away from him." She patted Gillian's hand. "Don't worry — I'll invite lots of fine, eligible gentlemen to the ball, and you'll have a chance to meet them all. You will take advantage of the opportunity, won't you, Gilly? There'll be no need to feel shy if no one knows you."
Excerpted from "Enchanted By The Highlander"
Copyright © 2017 Lecia Cornwall.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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