It’s hardly the type of wedding Fiona MacLean dreamed of. No family, no guests, just a groom who’s been dragged—literally—to the altar. But if marriage to Black Jack Kincaid, the handsome wastrel she’d sworn never to see again, will avert a bloody war between their clans, so be it. Surely she can share his bed without losing her heart…
Known throughout Scotland and London as a wild rogue, Jack is accustomed to waking in dire situations, but…married? Long ago, he and Fiona reveled in a youthful passion. Now, the fiery, sensual lass is his once more. And though their marriage is in name only, Jack is determined to win her forever—body and soul…
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The MacLeans are an ancient family, long of grace and fair of face. 'Tis a pity they know their own worth, fer it makes 'em difficult to bargain with. Shrewd they are; 'tis rare they come out on the bottom side of any bargain. Yer own pa says he'd rather be bit by a sheep than dicker with a MacLean.
Old Woman Nora of Loch Lomond to her three wee granddaughters one cold night
April 9, 1807
Gretna Green, Scotland
April 9, 1807
Fiona MacLean forced herself to smile. "Father MacCanney, we've come to be married."
The heavyset priest looked uncertainly from Fiona to the groom and then back. "B-but -- he's not -- I canna -- "
"Yes you can, Father," Fiona said in her calmest voice, her hands fiercely fisted in the strings of her reticule.
Come hell or high water, she was about to end the longest, most drawn-out, and most foolish feud in all Scotland. And thereby lose her freedom, her carefully planned future, and perhaps even a bit of her heart.
The thought made her stomach sink lower. But this marriage was necessary if she wished to keep her brothers safe from their own foolish tempers. It's the only way. I cannot waver.
"Fiona, lass," Father MacCanney said in an exasperated voice, "he's not fit to be a groom!"
"All the more reason for me to marry the fool." At the priest's blink of surprise, she quickly added, "'Tis a known fact that a good woman can turn even the most contrary, rotten, stubborn ne'er-do-well into a responsible man."
The priest glanced uneasily at her prospective groom. "Aye, but -- "
"Have no fear for me, Father. I know he's no prize, but he's the one I want."
"Fiona, I know the lad might benefit from the match. 'Tis just -- "
"I know," she said, sighing bravely. "He's a philanderer who's been with every woman from the North Sea to the fleshpots of London."
The priest flushed at the mention of fleshpots. "Yes, yes. So everyone knows, but -- "
"He is also a complete wastrel who has made no effort to embrace a useful life. I know he's not the best choice of groom, but -- "
"He's not even conscious!" the priest burst out. "He canna even say his own name!"
Fiona glanced down to where her man, Hamish, had dropped her groom on the cold flagstone at her feet. Muddy rivulets dripped onto the church floor from Kincaid's clothing. "I was afraid that was your problem." Even unconscious, Jack was a royal pain. Some things never changed.
"Lassie, ye canna drag an unconscious man to the altar."
"Because -- because 'tis just not done, that's why!"
The priest eyed Hamish with suspicion. Fiona's massive guard stood silently behind her as he'd done since she was a child. A large sword hung at his side, three primed pistols were stuck into his wide leather belt, his bushy red beard bristled, and his fierce gaze pinned them all in place.
"How did the lad come to be unconscious and muddy?" Father MacCanney asked pointedly.
Fiona hated to lie. She really did. But the less the priest knew, the safer he'd be from retribution from her brothers. Torn in pain at the loss of their youngest brother, they raged through Castle MacLean, fists lifted to the sky, fury pouring from them.
The curse of the MacLeans had flowed then. Rain and thunder had flooded from the skies for days, threatening those who lived in the village below Castle MacLean. The river had already been swollen from early spring rains, and the danger of flooding was imminent.
Fiona could not let that happen. And she knew how to stop the feud. First, she'd had to find Jack Kincaid. Thank goodness Hamish had heard rumors of his dalliance with some woman in nearby Stirling; it was simple to find the wastrel then.
She could only hope that the rest of her plan would follow so easily. Somehow, she greatly doubted she'd be so blessed. She shrugged and said with as much cheerful indifference as she could muster, "We found him."
"In the road. His horse must have bolted."
The priest did not look convinced. "How did the lad get so wet?" He eyed her with deep suspicion. "There's not been any rain in this part of Scotland in over three weeks."
Fiona had to distract him. "Hamish, can you awaken the lout? Father MacCanney will not marry us unless he's conscious."
Hamish grunted, then bent over, grabbed the unconscious Jack Kincaid by the hair, and lifted his head.
Fiona's gaze fell on his face, and her heart leapt. Even splashed with mud, his dark red hair plastered flat from the rain, Jack Kincaid was painfully handsome. Fine, firmly cut features with a strong jaw and masculine nose, deep auburn hair, and, had they been open, the blue, blue eyes of an angel.
But angel he was not.
In the distance, a faint rumble of thunder caused the priest to look toward the open windows. Outside, bright sunshine warmed the stone walls, nary a cloud in the blue sky.
Fiona's gaze remained on Kincaid. It took all of her moral strength not to kick him -- just a little -- while he was so conveniently at her feet.
Since that dark day fifteen years ago when she'd discovered Jack Kincaid's true nature, she'd kept her emotions and thoughts about him locked away. She'd thought they'd died, but apparently some anger and resentment remained.
Still grasping Jack's hair, Hamish shook his head, then looked at Fiona. "The jackass is not awakening."
"I can see that." Fiona sighed. "Let him be."
Hamish dropped his burden, ignoring the thud that made the priest wince.
Relief filled Father MacCanney's face. "Ye can't marry him, then."
"Yes, I can," Fiona said firmly. "He will awaken soon."
The priest sighed. "Ye are the most stubborn lass I ever met."
"Only when I must be. You cannot deny that 'twill be good for the lout to be in the care of a strong woman."
"No," Father MacCanney said in a constricted voice. "I canna deny that."
"I'll put up with neither drinking nor carousing. He will also be made to attend church regularly. Whether he knows it or not, Jack's wild days are over."
Something like pity flickered over the priest's face. "You canna make a person change, lassie. They have to want to change."
"Then I shall make him want to change."
The priest took her gloved hand in his. "Why do you wish to embark on this madness, lassie?"
"'Tis the only way to stop the feud. Callum's death must be the last," she said in a hard voice.
The priest's eyes had filled with tears. "I mourn your brother, too, lass."
"You cannot mourn Callum more than I. And as if his death is not enough to bear, my older brothers are calling out for vengeance. If someone does not stop this nonsense now -- " Her voice broke.
Callum, beautiful Callum. Her youngest brother, with his quicksilver grin and equally fast flashes of temper, was now lying six feet under, a stone marker the only reminder of his life. And all because of an idiotic feud that began hundreds of years ago.
The MacLeans and the Kincaids had been fighting for so long that no one remembered the true cause of their hatred. Now, because of Callum's stupid refusal to let a silly insult from a Kincaid slide, things had come to a head. Callum had pushed the argument, pushed the fight. And paid the price with his life.
One blow, the edge of the stone hearth...and that was it. Callum was dead, and the banked fires of the age-old feud had erupted into flames.
The priest pressed her hand. "I've heard that the Kincaids feel Callum's death was not their fault. That perhaps someone else -- "
"Please, Father. Do not."
The priest looked at her face. She knew what he was seeing: the circles under her eyes, the paleness of her skin, the tremor of her lips as she fought desperately to keep her tears at bay.
"Father," she said softly, "my brothers blame Eric Kincaid for Callum's death. Nothing I say can cool their thirst for vengeance. But if I marry Jack, he and his kin will be a part of our family. My brothers will be forced to let go of their plans." Her determined gaze locked with the priest's. "I will not lose another brother." Anger surged through her, raw and furious.
Outside, the ominous rumble of thunder darkened the otherwise clear day. Hamish nodded, as if agreeing with an unspoken thought. Father MacCanney, meanwhile, paled.
The priest was silent a long moment, and Fiona could see he was on the verge of agreeing. He just needed a little push.
"Besides, Father, if I make this sacrifice and marry to end the feud, it might break the curse."
Father MacCanney swallowed noisily and pulled his hand from her grasp. "Hsst, lass! I'll have none of that curse talk in this holy place."
That was because he believed it. According to the old tales, a white witch, disgusted with Fiona's great-grandfather's temper and self-serving ways, had declared that from then on, every member of the MacLean family would be given tenuous control over something as tempestuous as they were -- the weather.
Whenever a MacLean lost his or her temper, lightning caused thatched houses to catch afire and made the ground tremble. Hail tore away the leaves of every tree and greenery within sight. Floods roared through the valley, ruining harvests, washing away homes and, sometimes, people.
When the people of the village saw clouds gathering at Castle MacLean on the hill, they huddled in their houses in fear.
Fiona closed her eyes. They were her people. Hers. Just as Callum had been her brother. She could not fail in this. If she did not defuse the situation, her brothers' fury would unthinkingly destroy everything.
The only way to break the curse was for every member of a generation to perform a "deed of great good." So far, no generation had succeeded. Perhaps this would count as Fiona's deed.
Fiona looked at the priest from beneath her lashes. "The curse has been proven time and again, Father."
The priest shook his head. "I feel fer yer family, lass. But this mad idea -- "
Desperate, Fiona pressed her hands over her stomach. My last hope. "Father, I have no choice. Kincaid has to marry me."
Father MacCanney's eyes widened. "Blessed saints above, ye can't mean -- ye haven't -- ye didn't -- "
"Aye. I am with child."
The priest whipped out a handkerchief and mopped his brow. "Dear me! Dear me! That changes everything, it does. I'll not have a bastard born in my parish."
Fiona threw her arms about the priest's neck. "Oh, thank you, Father! I knew I could count on you."
He returned the hug, sighing. "Ye'd just find another if I didna assist ye, anyway."
"I wouldn't wish anyone else to marry me, Father." Of course, she'd never thought to marry this way at all. She'd thought that someday, she'd meet a bonny man who would fall deeply in love with her, and they'd have a lovely wedding here in the church, surrounded by flowers and her family. None of that would happen now.
Sadness for what she'd never have pressed on her heart, but she resolutely pushed the feeling aside. "Father MacCanney, this is the right thing. It will be a new beginning for us all."
The priest sighed again, then turned to Hamish. "At least bring the lad to his feet. No man should marry from the dirt on the floor."
"Thank you, Father," Fiona said again. "You won't be sorry."
"'Tis not me who might be sorry for this day's work, lassie."
Fiona hoped he was wrong.
Hamish prodded the fallen man with his huge boot. "Perhaps I should dunk his head in some water." He turned to gaze at the cistern.
Father MacCanney gasped. "That is holy water!"
"I dinna think God would mind. Besides, 'tis his wedding day and -- "
"No," Father MacCanney said firmly. He pursed his lips. "Perhaps a wee dram would stir the man."
"Hamish," Fiona reproved. "We must all sacrifice."
"Ye ask a lot," Hamish growled. He reached into his coat and pulled out a flask. Reluctantly, he opened it, tilted back Kincaid's head, and poured a bit into the man's mouth.
Kincaid sputtered, but he didn't push the flask away. Still half-conscious, he reached up and grabbed at it, then poured it into his mouth.
"Damn ye!" Hamish yanked away the flask. "Ye drank half me whiskey!" The Scotsman grabbed Kincaid's jacket collar and hauled him up, looking ready to punch him.
"Thank you, Hamish," Fiona said swiftly, moving to stand beside Kincaid.
Kincaid blinked, then looked around woozily. "This is...church? I've never before dreamed I was in a church."
Fiona slipped an arm through his, trying to steady him. He slumped against her, his masculine scent of sandalwood and musk enveloping her. She immediately had a memory of another time, long ago, of hot hands and hot desires, the desperate ache of wanting --
Outside, thunder rumbled again over the sun-drenched garden.
Father MacCanney seemed to have trouble swallowing. Hamish sent Fiona a hard look.
She blushed, then cleared her throat. "Kincaid, you are indeed in a church. You are here to marry me."
"Marry?" He looked down at her, and she was struck by the vividness of his gaze, the brilliant blue of Loch Lomond.
She felt herself drawn into that gaze, pulled in, sinking as if into a pool of heated water.
A faint smile curved his lips. "Fiona MacLean." The words tickled her ear, smoky and seductive.
To her utter dismay, a low heat simmered at his nearness, building with a rapidity that made her gasp. The thunder rumbled louder, and a stir of heated wind sent the flowers bobbing, the grass rippling.
Fiona clenched her hands into fists, forcing her heart to resume a steady beat. She could not let herself lose control. She'd known the dangers of this errand. Jack Kincaid had this effect on every woman. Every woman. None is special, she reminded herself.
Her passions cooled at the thought. "Kincaid, stand alert," she said in a brisk tone. "We've important things to do this day."
His gaze flickered over her face, lingering on her eyes, her lips. He lowered his face until his whiskey-scented breath warmed her ear and cheek. "Tell me, love, if I marry you in this dream, will I win my way back into your bed?"
Her breath caught, and she whispered back, "Yes, you will be welcome into my bed. This is a real marriage, though we do not care for each other."
"Speak for yourself."
She raised her eyes to his, her heart strangely still. "What...what do you mean?"
"I mean I do care for you. I lust at the thought of touching you, of -- "
"That is not caring." Why had she thought he'd meant anything else? If her time with Jack had taught her anything, it was that he was not capable of caring. Not really. "We can discuss all of this later. Right now, we must marry."
His gaze drifted over her face again, resting on her lips. A slow, seductive smile curved his mouth. "I will marry you, Fiona MacLean, and bed you well, as is meant to be. That is indeed the stuff of dreams."
She whispered furiously, "Jack, this is serious. If we marry, we can end the feud."
She blinked. "The one between our families."
"Oh. That feud. I'd worry about that myself, if I weren't already dead and dreaming." He slung his arm over her shoulder. "What the hell! Do your worst, Father," he said grandly. "It's just a dream."
Father MacCanney met Fiona's gaze. "Are ye sure, lass?" he asked again.
Outside, the wind was dying a bit, though the heavy taste of rain and the unmistakable scent of lilac filled the air.
Fiona took a deep breath. In a few moments, she would be married. Married to a man who would shortly be sober and furious at the events she'd forced upon him. Married to the man who had long ago betrayed her. A man who would betray her again, if she were foolish enough to give him a chance.
She straightened her shoulders. There would be no more chances.
"Yes, Father," she said in a steady voice. "I am ready."
Copyright © 2007 by Karen Hawkins