When Lady Elizabet Harding’s family is targeted by the notorious Highland Highwayman, she finds herself wounded and an unwelcome guest of the charming outlaw who’d ruined her reputation earlier that day. Elizabet only wants to get even for her family’s downfall, but the more time she spends with the scoundrel, the more complicated her feelings become.
By day, Laird John MacGregor graces the court of Charles II. By night, he exacts revenge on his enemies – one of whom is betrothed to the fiery heiress who has, quite literally, fallen into his arms. The daughter of one enemy and promised to another, Elizabet should be the last person John wants. Yet even as she exasperates him, she is all he has ever desired for himself. When her life is put in danger, he will do anything necessary to protect the women he never expected to love…even if it means they cannot be together.
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
Northern England, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1667
Lady Elizabet Harding gripped the reins of her horse tighter, blood thundering in her ears as the nervous animal twitched beneath her.
"It's all right, girl. It's only a bit of thunder. It will pass. We'll be home soon enough ... as long as we keep moving." She tried to keep her voice calm and soothing. A difficult task, with several hundred pounds of horse, tense and ready to bolt beneath her.
She had no one to blame but herself, of course, for insisting on riding out with a storm looming — without a groom. She'd desperately needed the escape, though. While she normally enjoyed visiting friends in the country, especially so far north where they were completely away from all the bustle of the court in London, it also meant more frequent attention from her parents. If she had to listen to her mother drone on about her duty to her family one more time, or hear Lord Dawsey go on about how the family was on the brink of ruin, thanks to that dreadful Highland Highwayman who was terrorizing the roads, she'd go mad.
Elizabet had heard the stories. That the Highland Highwayman was a regular Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and returning his gains to the poor. If it were true, she stood firmly on the highwayman's side. Frankly, the fact that the highwayman and his band of rogues had intercepted no less than three of the wagons carrying the rents from her father's estates didn't make half the dent in their fortunes as Lord Dawsey's own vices. Besides, she'd seen her father's tenants. They could use all the coin they could get.
Still, she could understand the strain it put on her father. Though that didn't mean she wanted to be sold off to the highest bidder in order to replenish her family's fortunes. Her mother, either oblivious of Elizabet's distress or simply uncaring, refused to quit harping on the matter. And so Elizabet now sat on a terrified horse, pelted by rain, and in danger of being struck by lightning or thrown from the poor animal when it bolted.
"Easy, girl," she said, patting the mare's neck.
Unfortunately, a peal of thunder rolled through, burying her words in a cacophony of booming rumbles.
The mare jumped, shooting forward so rapidly it yanked the slippery, wet reins from Elizabet's hands. She buried them instead in the horse's mane and held on for dear life. The terrified animal was beyond hearing her now.
The horse bolted straight for the shelter of the trees, which might not have been a horrible idea except for the branches that lashed at Elizabet's body. A particularly tenacious branch whipped out and snagged her hair, ripping it from its pins. She buried her face in her arms the best she could and debated the merits of jumping. Surely, doing so would cause less damage than being pummeled to death by the prickly trees.
The voice echoed faintly through the woods, growing stronger as it repeated.
The steady pounding of hooves against the ground joined the sound of her own horse, and Elizabet risked a glance up.
Through the wet and tangled curtain of her hair, she could see only the blur of a man astride a great black stallion as he pulled alongside her and reached for the reins. The trees kept getting in the way, thwarting his attempts and causing him to veer off. Finally, he brought his horse as close to hers as possible and reached over again. His arms wrapped around her waist and he deftly pulled her to his horse, settling her across his kilted lap.
She uttered a startled squeak and held onto him for dear life.
"Whoa, whoa there," he said, reining in his own horse.
"Thank you," Elizabet said. She vaguely wondered if there was some formal etiquette involved in thanking a strange man for saving one's life from a runaway horse, but promptly decided she didn't care.
"My pleasure, lass," he said.
A Scot for sure, though the kilted plaid he wore instead of breeches had betrayed that fact before he'd uttered a word. "You're a long way from home," she said, intrigued at the mysterious man who still held her close.
She shoved her hair out of her face, happy to be safe and sound and in the arms of ...
She shrieked and tried to scramble away, but there was nowhere to go. The man held her tightly, probably a good thing, else she'd have toppled from the horse. Though that might have been better than remaining in the grasp of a highwayman.
"Easy, lass. I'll no' hurt ye," he said, talking to her like he would a skittish colt.
He might have done better to address the horse. Her caterwauling and thrashing about spooked the animal, and they were off again.
"Hold still, ye daft wee loon! Ye'll see both our necks broken!"
"Then let me go!" she yelled, trying to shove him away, though he was somehow managing to maintain his hold on her while keeping them both astride. The horse, however, didn't care for the skirmish taking place on his back and reared up. Elizbet found herself crushed between the highwayman and the horse's neck as the former tightened his grip to keep them both from falling.
She stopped struggling. More because she didn't wish to break a bone falling from the massive horse than because she trusted the masked man who held her. The brief reprieve allowed the highwayman to settle the horse long enough for them to slide off its back.
She darted away but he lunged, blocking her escape. She moved back, keeping the horse between them.
"What do you want?" she asked, reaching out to touch the stallion. The last thing she wanted was to be gut-kicked by a startled animal.
The man gazed at her with a pair of eyes the color of robin's eggs. Eyes that seemed kind and crinkled at the corners with a smile when he spoke. Eyes she'd trust ... if they weren't shadowed by a mask.
"I wanted only to keep ye from breaking that lovely neck of yours. And that's a fine way to thank a man for saving yer life. Screeching so to wake the dead, and right in my ear. 'Tis a wonder I'm not deaf."
She slowly made her way to the left, but he tracked her every movement. "Fine. Thank you. You may go now."
He shook his head with a growing grin. "Nay, lass. I'll no' go and leave ye alone in the forest with a storm raging. No matter what ye may think of my company. Now. Will ye get back on the horse or do ye want me to throw ye across it like a sack of flour? Ye canna stay out here or ye'll catch yer death."
She glared at him, but with the rain continuing to pelt down and bolts of lightning still striking at terrifyingly regular intervals, she had little choice but to stop fighting. Her lack of say in the matter made her bite her lip in frustration.
"Very well. I'll ride," she said, through gritted teeth.
He bowed and then grasped her around the waist, hoisting her onto the stallion's back before she had half a second to rethink her answer. He mounted behind her and wrapped his arms around her once again. She held her body stiff for the first while, but maintaining that position while swaying on a horse proved more difficult than she anticipated. After a few more minutes, she gave in and slumped against him.
"Bit of an odd day for a ride, aye?"
The comment startled a laugh out of her. "Yes, well, the weather was fine when I set out. And I didn't expect to venture quite this far."
"Aye, well horses do tend to have a mind of their own on occasion."
Elizabet frowned, worry for her mare rippling through her. "Will she be all right?"
"Och, aye. They ken where to go when the weather is foul. More than I can say for a few runaway lassies."
She glared at him and he laughed, the deep sound reverberating through his chest and into her own. She found herself leaning into it, wanting to soak up the mirth emanating from this man. Her own life sported a sad lack of happy people. Then she remembered the good-humored man holding her was a masked outlaw, and she returned to her rigid position.
He steered his horse through the trees until they reached a rock outcrop with an overhanging ledge large enough for them to fit beneath.
"Well. It's no' much as far as shelter goes. But it'll keep the rain off ye, at least."
She said nothing, though she was grateful for the shelter. Thanking a criminal seemed the wrong thing to do. Even if he had saved her sorry skin and had been nothing but a gentleman. So far.
She still shivered from the cold, but at least the rocks blocked the worst of the wind and offered the vast improvement of keeping the rain from blowing in her face.
He dismounted, reached his arms up for her, and she allowed him to help her down. He held her slightly longer than strictly necessary and stared at her, searching her face.
"Ye've a few scratches on yer cheek," he said, pulling a soft handkerchief from his vest and lightly brushing it across her skin.
She jerked away but he persisted. "They must be cleansed unless ye wish for them to become inflamed. Maybe scar. 'Twould be a shame to mar such beauty."
The compliment sent a warm flutter through her belly. The threat of a scar held her steady, though his ministrations stung a bit. He must be the Highland Highwayman. Gallant, charming, and handsome, as far as could be told with his face and hair mostly covered by a hat, kerchief, and mask. But a thief, nonetheless. A lawless criminal who would probably relieve her of any valuables she possessed as payment for saving her life.
Still, she couldn't help the sheer exhilaration streaking through her. To meet the notorious highwayman in person. The tales of his charm were certainly true. Her heart thundered beneath her rib cage as he dabbed at her cheek. No other man in her life would have treated her with such gentleness and care, tenderly wiping at her cuts and scrapes. No other person at all, really. Despite her suspicion of his intentions — the man was an outlaw, after all — a sense of gratitude, and longing, filled her.
"Thank you," she said, taking the handkerchief from him and holding it to her cheek. She belatedly realized she still stood in the circle of his arms and moved back a few steps. His lips twitched in amusement.
"I'll see what can be done about a fire."
She nodded and took the horse's reins, leading him farther under the rock ledge. With her back to the rock and the horse in front of her, she was protected from the worst of the wind. She wrapped her cloak tighter about her and watched the man search the area for the driest wood he could find.
He worked for several minutes with the flint and steel and bit of char cloth he'd dug from his sporran and before too long had a small fire going with a stack of slightly damp wood he'd found in the underbrush. He motioned her over.
"Come warm yerself."
She went eagerly, though she kept a safe distance between them when she sat, holding her chilled hands out to the subtle heat thrown off by the flames.
"You are handy to have in an emergency, aren't you?" she said.
He gave her a crooked grin and a little bow in return. "I do what I can, my lady."
She watched him move about the fire, gathering twigs to make it larger, and tried to think of a solution to her current situation. Lost in the forest with a mysterious and dangerous man. Though never, in all the stories she'd heard of the Highland Highwayman, had there been talk of him mistreating a woman. Oh, he'd stolen with alacrity and left his victims poorer. But not harmed. And many of the women who he'd come in contact with had been quite taken with him. Elizabet could see why. He'd become something of a romantic legend, even though face-to-face the real man did inspire more fear than she'd imagined. Though, she was honest enough to admit to herself, that the danger surrounding him was part of the appeal.
But as he had been nothing but chivalrous with her, and had, in fact, saved her from certain injury, if not death, perhaps it would be safe to let her guard down. A little. Maybe even enjoy the only adventure she'd be likely to experience before she returned home and was forced into some loveless, miserable marriage.
Her rescuer sat close beside her and held out his raised arm, his plaid draped across it.
"Yer teeth are chattering so furiously I'm afraid they may crack," he said with a slight smile.
His eyebrow quirked up in question, and she nodded slowly. She should refuse, she knew. But her blood felt as though it were turning to ice. If he did mean her harm, at least she'd die warm.
He wrapped an arm about her shoulders, his plaid draped over both of them. She settled against him with a sigh. How a man could be so warm, she didn't know. He seemed to have a personal fire burning in his breast. She couldn't help but gravitate toward it. The heat from the fire and the warmth of the man beside her created quite comfortable surroundings, despite her damp clothing.
"I apologize for my forwardness," he said, holding her a bit closer.
She glanced up at him through her lashes, wondering what her best friend, Lady Alice Chivers, would be doing under similar circumstances. Probably charming him until he fell under her spell. A world-class flirt, Alice had made no secret of her admiration for the dashing highwayman. Elizabet, on the other hand, spent her time hiding from possible suitors, not trying to draw them in. Her flirtatious skills had withered and rusted from misuse. Not that she should be using them in such a situation, anyway.
"No apologies necessary, sir. It is thanks to my poor judgment you are stuck out here in the storm with a sodden lady and a grumpy horse." She nodded her head at the animal who blew an annoyed burst of breath at them.
The man laughed. "Nay, dinna worry on his account, my lady. He's a sullen old fool, to be sure, but he'll be set to rights soon enough. In the meantime, we are both at yer service."
"That's very gallant of you."
"Aye, it is," he said, sounding surprised.
That startled a laugh out of her and she slapped a hand over her mouth. But a sudden, burning sting had her hissing in pain.
The highwayman frowned in concern and took her hand in his. "Looks as though the reins have torn yer hand a bit. Did ye no' have gloves?"
"I did, but they must have fallen off."
He nodded. "It's no' so bad, though I'm sure it feels so." He jumped up and rummaged in his saddlebags, returning with a couple strips of linen and a waterskin.
Her eyes widened. "You do travel prepared, don't you?"
He shrugged. "Ye never ken when ye might be needing the odd bandage or two. It's always good to be prepared."
He took her hand and poured a bit of the cool water over the reddened stripe across her palm, then set to work gently dabbing it dry and wrapping it up. "Ye'll be wanting to get a bit of salve for that once ye get back to the manor."
Her gaze shot up, her heart pounding with a burst of unease. "How is it you know where I am staying?"
"Barrington Manor is the only house around here that might be host to one such as yerself," he said, making a small adjustment to the bandage on her hand. "Ye're far too grand a lady to be from any of the villages."
"Oh," she said, embarrassed at her fear and his assessment of her.
"There ye are." He patted her hand but didn't release it.
"Thank you," she said, leaving her hand where it was.
"My pleasure, my lady."
She stared up into his eyes, long enough that the world narrowed until nothing else remained. Warmth spread through her from where his hands gently held hers, and her corset suddenly felt too tight. She'd never been so affected by a man before. Whether due to the circumstances or merely him, she didn't know. Or care. She knew only that the man intrigued her. Despite the discomfort and possible danger, she found being in his company ... exhilarating. Perhaps it would last a few hours longer.
Eventually, she would be missed, if she wasn't already. Certainly, the last thing she wanted was another lecture from her mother on the correct behavior expected from a lady. Or from her father on the importance of maintaining proper appearances at all times and how she would never find a husband to rescue the family from their impending doom. Her parents' approved list of pastimes did not include sitting cuddled up beside a notorious highwayman.
She should return before she caused more trouble. "I haven't seen any lightning in a while. I suppose it's safe enough to return now."
"Aye," he said, still staring deep into her eyes, her hand cradled in his. "I suppose it is."
But he didn't release her hand or make any move to stand. Instead, he wrapped his hand more firmly about hers, slowly drawing it to his chest, and her with it. He brushed a damp ringlet from her forehead.
Excerpted from "How to Ensnare a Highlander"
Copyright © 2018 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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