Lady Alice Chivers is done being controlled by her family. On the run from an arranged and unwanted marriage, what she really needs in order to escape is a strong Highlander. And she’s pretty sure she’s found him. Only Philip MacGregor insists on sending her back to her pampered life… so she’ll just have to blackmail him instead.
Seems simple enough, until they accidentally get married.
Philip is cautious, in control, and in way over his head with his unexpected wife. She’s intense, spontaneous, and can’t follow an order to save her life. Oh, and he might be falling for her. However, her distractions are putting everyone in danger. Now he must somehow undo the damage before his friends pay with their lives.
Each book in the MacGregor Lairds series is STANDALONE:
* How to Lose a Highlander
* How to Ensnare a Highlander
* How to Blackmail a Highlander
* How to Forgive a Highlander
About the Author
Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and loves history, romance and spending her time combining the two in her novels.
When Michelle's not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, and three very spoiled cats. She also writes contemporary romance as Kira Archer.
Read an Excerpt
Lady Alice Chivers twirled across the dance floor, rather bemused at how she could be so ecstatically happy and so full of despair at the same time. She was in her element. Surrounded by lovely men, clad in a stunning new gown that showed off all her best assets, with a gaggle of her best friends giggling in the background as she flirted with her many suitors. The music swelled louder with each swish of her skirts, and for a moment she wished she hadn't had her maid lace her up quite so tight. Drawing a breath grew more and more difficult with each turn.
But she wanted to look her best tonight. For her last hurrah. Reginald Nash, the eighth Earl of Woolsmere, had proposed, and her excited parents had immediately accepted. The engagement would be announced soon. But tonight ... tonight was hers. She was still young, and officially unattached, and she was going to enjoy herself.
She smiled at the man who held her. James — or perhaps it was John ... or Jasper — gazed down at her and squeezed her hand tighter. They spun, and Alice caught her mother's disapproving gaze. She fought down the bubble of unease that threatened to erupt. It was a simple dance. Harmless. Perfectly acceptable. And she was enjoying every second of it.
After all, it would probably be the last time she would experience a handsome young man's arms about her. The sensation of his breath on her skin as he leaned down to talk to her. She wished she could rip the gloves from their fingers so just once she might feel his skin against her own. Perhaps they could steal into an alcove and share a forbidden kiss.
She'd like to know the touch of a virile young gentleman. Once in her life. Before she was shackled to the decrepit, flatulent, and likely murderous lord her parents had chosen for her to wed.
The words she'd shared with her best friend, Lady Elizabet Dawsey, when she'd been in the same situation, came back to haunt her. She'd told Elizabet that she'd be lucky to marry an old man. After all, the older he was, the more likely it was that he'd leave her an independent widow all the sooner. A little more difficult to be excited about that prospect, however, when she was the one facing marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather. One who'd already buried three wives much younger than he. Not only was the possibility of a happy marriage nonexistent, the likelihood she'd outlive her husband was questionable. At least if the gossips could be believed. And no matter what her mother said, the gossips were rarely wrong.
Another spin brought her mother into focus again, but Alice paid her no mind. She pressed herself a little closer to her partner, surprised at her own boldness, and focused solely on the deep, chocolate brown eyes that gazed into hers.
"You have a most curious expression on that pretty face of yours, my lady," he said. "Might I inquire as to its meaning?"
Alice smiled at him. "I was wishing that this dance might go on forever."
His hand pressed her closer. "I wish the same thing."
But already the music was drawing to a close. A final twirl, a promenade, and they bowed, slightly breathless and all smiles.
"Perhaps I could call on you tomorrow?" he asked.
She sighed. "That would be lovely, but I'm afraid it won't be possible. My mother has arranged a prior engagement."
The music came to an end, and Alice reluctantly released him. Their hands lingered together for the briefest moment, unnoticed by anyone. Or so Alice thought. In her absorption, she hadn't noticed that they'd stopped right in front of her mother. By the expression on her face, Alice's mother hadn't missed anything that had passed between her daughter and her dance partner.
Alice clasped her hands together and kept her gaze on the floor while her mother addressed them.
"Mr. Sinclair. How good to see you. I hadn't realized you were acquainted with my daughter."
"Good evening, Lady Morely," he said, giving her a gallant bow. "I hadn't been before this evening. Something I'm glad was remedied. She is delightful."
He smiled at her, and Alice tried to return the expression, though the sour turn of her mother's lips made that difficult.
"Yes," her mother agreed. "She's had quite the Season. No less than three proposals."
Mr. Sinclair's — Jeremy? Jason? — smile faded slightly. "I am not surprised at all. I'm sure any gentleman would be proud to have Lady Alice on his arm."
"Indeed." Her mother nodded and leaned in as if she were about to impart some great secret. "In fact, we will be making an announcement very soon. We're thrilled, of course."
He shot a surprised look at Alice, who tried not to flinch against the sudden spike of guilt, and then he gave her mother a tight smile. "I can well imagine. My lady ..." He turned and gave Alice a rigid bow with another toward her mother. "It's been a pleasure."
Alice watched him until he was out of sight. Then she risked a glance at her mother. And wished she hadn't.
"I'll speak to you later," Lady Morely said with a snap of her fan. "But for now, someone else would like a moment of your attention."
She nodded toward where Woolsmere stood with a few of his decrepit cronies, and Alice's stomach sank as his thin lips stretched over his yellowed teeth. Her mother linked her arm through Alice's and leaned in to whisper. But much to Alice's surprise, instead of the admonishment for her behavior that Alice expected, her mother's voice was soft and almost sympathetic.
"He's wealthy, well connected, and will elevate you further than we ever dreamed," her mother whispered to her behind her fan. "Smile and bear it, my child. Like we all must do."
Before Alice could say anything else, they'd reached Woolsmere, and her mother deposited her and then gracefully drifted toward her guests.
"My lord," Alice said, gritting her teeth and dropping into a quick bob. "I trust you are enjoying your evening."
"Indeed," Woolsmere said, taking her elbow in a painful grip and leading her out of earshot of the other guests. "Though I'm not enjoying myself nearly as much as you seem to be, my dear."
Alice's gaze shot to his, and he leered down at her. "No matter," he muttered, his foul breath wafting over her face. He leaned in even closer, and she steeled herself to keep from cringing away. "There's no harm in enjoying yourself a bit, I suppose. As long as you restrict it to a public dance or two." His eyes roved over her body. "After all, soon enough I'll be the one enjoying the pleasures of your flesh. I can be generous for one last night. Once this ripe body of yours is swelling with my child you won't have time for such frivolous concerns. Best to get them out of your system now. Once we are wed, you'll become accustomed to a quieter life in the country."
Alice drew in a strangled breath through her pinched nostrils but couldn't stop a retort from leaving her lips. "And what if I prove to be as barren as your other wives?" she asked, refusing to flinch when he glared at her.
He tightened his grip on her arm until she sucked in a pained breath. Then he shrugged. "You aren't the only field where I can plow my seed. Merely the cheapest bought." He nodded with a falsely magnanimous smile at where her mother stood watching them.
Alice jerked her arm out of his grasp but before she could give in to her emotions and punch the old goat in the throat as he so richly deserved, her sister Mary flounced to her side, her ringlets bobbing over her ears.
"Alice, there you are! My lord, would you mind terribly if I stole my sister away?"
"Of course not, my dear," Woolsmere said, aiming that sickly false grin at her. "I'll have her all to myself soon enough."
Mary giggled, though Alice could tell it was forced, and quickly led her away from her soon-to-be-betrothed.
Their mother frowned at them and subtly jerked her head back in Woolsmere's direction. But there was no way Alice was subjecting herself to him again, now that she'd escaped. She took Mary's hand, thrust her chin in the air, and marched off in the opposite direction of Woolsmere and her mother.
"Ah, you'll pay for that," Mary said once they'd found a quiet corner.
Alice sighed. "I'm already paying for it. They can't punish me more than they already have."
"Marriage to one of the richest men at court is hardly a punishment."
"I heartily disagree. And so do you, or you wouldn't have rescued me."
Mary snorted. "I rather think I was rescuing Woolsmere, going by the look on your face when I intervened."
Alice laughed and gave her sister a quick hug. "Yes, well, perhaps you rescued us both."
"I would think you'd be happy. He's wealthy and well-connected, and marrying him will make you a countess. Isn't that what you always wanted?"
Alice frowned. "Once, perhaps. But I suppose I never considered the price I'd have to pay to get it. My dreams never included being a broodmare to a controlling lecher who makes my skin crawl."
Mary's exasperated sigh was not without sympathy. "Men marry to get heirs. You can't truly be surprised that you'd be expected to provide one."
"Of course not. But ..." Alice's eyes darted around the room to make sure no one stood too close, and she leaned toward her sister. "None of his previous wives were able to give him a child. Perhaps the problem does not lie with the women he married. And then they each died within a few years of marrying him. Seems a convenient way to rid himself of a wife, for perhaps his failing."
Her sister frowned at that and whispered, "You think he murdered his wives for failing to provide him with an heir?"
"All I know is that Woolsmere buried his last three wives in the country almost the moment he married them. Both figuratively and literally. None of them were seen at court again once they were wed."
"Perhaps he prefers the quiet country life."
Alice shook her head. "He may say that. But Rose told me one of the stable boys at Woolsmere's estate heard from one of the upstairs maids that he made his wives follow a strict set of rules and even locked them in their chambers at night to ensure they couldn't run away. They say there were horrible rows over the lack of an heir. And each of his wives died mysteriously."
Her sister scoffed. "Those are naught but mean-spirited tales. If there was any truth to any of it, surely something would have been done."
"They are not tales. They are eyewitness accounts."
Mary's lips pursed at that, but she didn't argue. "You shouldn't be gossiping with your maid and the other servants."
"Why not? They see and know everything."
"You truly believe he murdered his wives?"
"I'm saying it seems suspicious, is all. For three women to all die so young, not in childbirth ... And just now, Woolsmere implied I'd be easily replaced."
She was silent for a moment, but then Mary shook her head. "Mother and Father would never marry you off to a man they suspected might harm you. They might be ambitious, but they do care for us. The tales about Woolsmere's previous wives are merely that. Tales."
"Well, I'd rather not be proven right and be the fourth wife he buries. Difficult to say I told you so from my grave."
Mary narrowed her eyes. "Well, murderous deviant or not, even if you weren't practically engaged, flirting with every man in attendance probably isn't the wisest course of action."
Alice shrugged. "I've done nothing wrong. I merely danced with him. And a few others."
"A few?" her sister said, laughing.
Alice couldn't help smiling. "There is certainly no law against that. Besides, she is the one who insisted we come tonight."
"True. Though I don't think she'll see it that way. I doubt she expected you to chase after every unmarried man in the room."
Alice feigned bravado. "I have precious few days of freedom left. I shall do with them as I please."
"It might not be as bad as all that. There's no need to be quite so dramatic."
Alice raised a brow. "Again, I disagree. There is every need."
"If any of the tales about how Woolsmere treated his wives were true, surely someone would have tried to help."
"Who could do anything? There's no proof he murdered any of them, damning circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, and he's well within his husbandly rights to treat his wives as horribly as he pleases."
"Well, that doesn't mean he'll be horrible to you."
"Um hmm," Alice murmured, one eyebrow cocked.
Mary gave her a quick hug. "Either way, ruining your reputation now won't help matters at all. So, behave."
She gave her a little wave and flounced off in search of more entertaining company.
Alice tried to keep the grimace from her face as she scanned the crowd. She longed for her best friend with an aching sadness. She and Elizabet had been as close as she and Mary, closer even, and while it warmed Alice's heart to know that Elizabet was happy, she felt the loss of her keenly.
Then again, she didn't know for certain that Elizabet was happy. She was with her love, so Alice assumed ... hoped. But she had been gone nearly a year with no word. The more time that passed, the more fear crept in — perhaps all had not gone well with her friend's escape. She'd run off with John MacGregor, otherwise known as the notorious Highland Highwayman, when he'd been exiled from England, so Alice certainly had cause for concern. But John loved Elizabet more than anything in the world, and Elizabet felt the same about him. He'd already nearly perished once to keep Elizabet safe. Alice prayed they were healthy and happy together ... somewhere.
She took a breath of the suddenly stifling air in the ballroom and fanned herself with a touch more vigor. A slight breeze from the open French doors beckoned her. But she got no farther than the monstrous potted plants that guarded the doorways before someone's arm shot out and hauled her into the secluded recess behind the plant, a hand firmly clamped over her mouth.CHAPTER 2
Alice struggled, driving an elbow into the rock-solid chest she was held against. It drew a muffled oof from her large captor but didn't loosen his grip. Her small heel grinding into his boot resulted in a satisfying grunt of pain, but again, no freedom.
"Be still, ye wee wildcat," his deep voice rumbled in her ear. "I've a message for ye from the Lady Elizabet."
At that, Alice struggled again, not to get away, but in overwhelming excitement.
The arm around her waist tightened. "Be still," he said again. "I'll release ye if ye promise not to make a sound, aye?"
She nodded as hard as she could with his hand engulfing most of her face.
His hands slid slowly away, and she turned in his arms before he'd fully released her.
"Do ye remember me?"
"I don't ..." She squinted at him, and then her heart jumped in her chest. "Yes! You're John's kinsman? I saw you when you came to Bess's house, when you brought her word of him."
"Aye," he said with a pleased smile. "Philip MacGregor, my lady."
"You have a message from Bess? Truly?"
He nodded and pulled the sealed letter from his coat pocket. She seized it and held it to her chest for a moment before looking back up at him with a grin so wide it hurt her cheeks.
"Thank you," she said. She jumped at him, throwing her arms about his neck so she could press a hard, fast kiss to his mouth.
He pulled away but kept his arms about her, glancing at her with something akin to horrified shock. Though a small smile tugged at his lips.
"Ye're welcome, my lady."
Her happiness was somewhat eclipsed by the feel of his strong arms about her, and she took him in fully. His coat, vest, and breeches were tasteful enough, if a bit out of fashion and threadbare. And with that accent, she'd half expected to see a kilt swirling about his legs rather than the tightly fitting breeches. Though a kilt would have stood out among her parents' guests and judging from the way he hid behind the potted plants on the terrace, being noticed wasn't what he was after.
Probably a wise choice, because there would be no escaping notice, no matter what he wore. His broad arms and chest suggested a man who was more used to physical labor than gracing soirees and tea parties, but his face ... The strong, chiseled features framed by dark, nearly black hair, were handsome on their own merit. Disturbingly so. But his startlingly blue eyes sent a fine tremor through her that had nothing to do with fear. She could gaze at his face forever.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How to Blackmail a Highlander"
Copyright © 2019 Michelle McLean.
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.
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