Forced into marriage by their king in order to stop years of inter-clan feuding, Sorcha Campbell and Malcolm MacGregor are each determined to drive the other away. Malcolm knows he can never trust his new shrewish wife, despite the fact that everything he observes seems to prove that she's not only trustworthy, but utterly perfect for him. Sorcha knows she can never let her guard down around the man she believes betrayed her father, yet the longer she's with him, the more she discovers he is nothing like she was led to believe. They'll have to fight their way through past prejudices and their own determination to destroy their union in order to gain their perfect HEA in this Taming of the Shrew meets How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days tale.
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
How to Lose a Highlander
The MacGregor Lairds
By Michelle McLean, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Michelle McLean
All rights reserved.
Sorcha Campbell hurried down the corridor toward the music hall, the ringlets gathered by her ears bouncing madly in her haste. She was late again. Her father would scold her for certain. The faint sounds of laughter and tuning instruments made her quicken her pace. King Charles II himself would be attending tonight's masquerade ball, and Sorcha was supposed to be making a good impression.
Her father had been summoned to the Palace of Whitehall in London a fortnight ago in response to his petition for aid against the MacGregors. That clan had been a thorn in the side of the Campbells for centuries. But lately the raids had been intolerable. And it seemed as though the king would finally listen to her father's complaints, in particular against the nearest neighbor to her father's estates, Malcolm MacGregor, Laird of Glenlyon.
While her father was certain the king would side with the Campbells, he had still wished for Sorcha to be present to aid in whatever way possible. In other words, to draw the king's eye and hopefully, his favor. Charles liked pretty and vivacious women. Sorcha didn't care for being paraded about like some strumpet. However, if a few well-timed smiles could help her family, it was a small enough thing to ask. As long as that was all her father expected of her. She wouldn't play the whore. Not even to the king to help her family.
But she supposed a little flirting was harmless enough. She'd lived at court with her mother and then her mother's kin her whole life, except for those horrible years when Oliver Cromwell, the so-called Lord Protector, had ruled. However, since Charles Stewart had regained his throne, she hadn't been much in the king's presence. Which meant she'd be fresh enough to distract him.
Sorcha turned the corner and ran straight into the solid wall of someone's chest.
"Oh!" she said, nearly falling backward.
A hand reached out and grabbed her arm before she went down. "My apologies, lass. I didna see you there."
"It's all right, no harm was done," she said, more concerned that her ornate costume had sustained no damage. She patted her headdress, assuring that the jeweled and gold filigree peacock head mask was still in place, its matching plumage still gathered becomingly at her crown.
She glanced up into the amused eyes of a huge brute of a man dressed in a rich coat and vest, a pleated kilt in place of the usual silk breeches. Her eyes widened at his bare knees and muscular calves and she couldn't help but wonder what was hidden by the draped cloth of his kilt. More of the same hardened muscles as the rest of him, she was sure. His face was almost entirely covered by an elaborate mask that resembled the gaping open mouth of a lion. Only his eyes, lips, and chin were visible. And his eyes ... the color of warm amber that gave his mask a haunting realness that made her step back.
Judging by his speech and dress, the man was a Scot. And a warrior from the look of him. She'd spent so much time at court of late she'd grown used to the softer courtiers who frequented the palace, rather than the sturdy, battle-hardened men of the country of her birth. Perhaps she should have insisted upon more visits to her father's lands in Scotland. She'd never had any real desire to do so in the past and hadn't strayed far past Edinburgh when her father did insist upon her presence.
She liked living at court. It was like living in a city within a city, always surrounded by throngs of people from every walk of life; from the servants who waited on them to the nobles she'd grown up with, to the foreign diplomats with their exotic eccentricities. Where else would she be able to walk the halls and meet such an array of exciting people? Just the other day she'd run into an outlandish noble from the Orient; the court's master painter from Holland who had just finishing a portrait of the queen and was on his way to paint the king's chief mistress; and a courtier who had recently returned from France, overflowing with ideas on new fashions.
Court life was exhilarating and surreal. She enjoyed the balls, and parties, fancy gowns and gaiety that abounded, especially since the king's return. But, for the first time, she realized she might have been hasty in her assumption that there was nothing worth missing in Scotland.
She dredged up her most brilliant smile and took care to look the man right in the eyes.
"I believe I'm the one who owes you an apology, sir. I'm afraid I was in a hurry and wasn't watching where I was going."
"Apology accepted," he said, bending over her hand to place a kiss on its back.
Those eyes watched hers, as if he waited for her to yank her hand from his. She stood steady while he kissed her hand, her mouth opening a bit to suck in a breath of air when his lips lingered. If he expected her to flutter her fan and swoon at his feet, he'd be sorely disappointed. She was a Campbell. A slightly out of place one, but she still had her father's fiery blood running through her veins. She had no fear of anything, and certainly not of a man who was taking more liberties with his courtly greeting than he should. She'd been the focus of far more brazen attentions. Though never from anyone half so appealing.
Two ladies sauntered by, and Sorcha noted with interest that they took care to give the gentleman a wide berth.
"I'm afraid some of the ladies here at court dinna find me much to their liking. Perhaps I offend their sensibilities," he said, releasing her hand.
Sorcha waved them off. "Silly fools, the lot of them. Most of them find anyone from farther north than York terrifying. My mother was English and spent most of her life here, and I have scarce traveled from court, except during those dreadful years when our king was in exile. And for someone of your ... imposing stature," she said, looking him over from the top of the deep red, unpowdered, and unwigged hair flowing out from behind the mask, to the tip of the boots he wore, instead of the small heels favored by most of the men at court, "well, perhaps your presence merely overwhelms them."
The man laughed softly, the low rumbling sound emanating from his chest like the purr of a cat. "Aye, I suppose. Though it doesna seem to have that effect on you," he said, giving her an appraising look of his own.
She smiled. "I was born in Scotland and have spent a fair amount of time around men such as you."
"Is that so?" His eyes widened behind the mask, and the blush she'd been trying to contain stole into her cheeks.
"Well, perhaps not quite like you."
"And I've never had the pleasure of meeting a lady quite so lovely," he said, his gaze roaming over her.
She tried to keep her composure, though a man looking upon her with such obvious appreciation was an experience she enjoyed more than she expected. Oh, he was not the first man to gaze at her with lustful intentions. She'd certainly had her fair share of lecherous looks. But the quiet smolder burning in his eyes sent a tingle through her body, unlike anything she'd ever felt before.
Strains of music floated down the hall to them and Sorcha gasped. "I must go!"
"May I escort ye to the ball, my beautiful peacock?"
Sorcha hesitated. Her father wouldn't be pleased to see her on the arm of another man when she was supposed to be charming the king. Especially as he hadn't been introduced to her and she had no idea who he was. Though, that was half the fun of a masquerade ball. Being strange and mysterious was not only allowed but encouraged. And besides, what better way to get the king's attention than to be seen with another man? Especially, one as striking as the man before her. One could hardly help but notice him. And men were so prone to jealousy. Or at least a strong desire to mark their territory. How could the king help but want to discover the identity of the jeweled peacock who'd entered the ball on the arm of a towering lion? That would make her father happy.
She took his arm and smiled up at him. "That would be most welcome."
* * *
Malcolm MacGregor tucked the woman's soft hand into the crook of his arm and led her toward the ballroom. He hadn't been looking forward to tonight's revelries. Truth be told, he was heartily sick of court and wanted nothing more than to return home. But he, laird of Glenlyon, had been summoned by his king to hopefully put the Campbell matter to rest once and for all. The traitorous clan had been doing their level best to roust his kin from their lands for as long as anyone could remember. But lately, their attacks had been more open, more brazen. And more destructive.
They'd destroyed a village only a fortnight before, burning it to the ground, stealing many of the cattle and livestock they'd found in the fields nearby, and had made off with two young women. The women had been recovered, thankfully, before too much damage could occur, and Malcolm had brought at least a few of the culprits to court with him. They were currently rotting in the dungeons until he could present his case to Charles. The miscreants would provide proof that the Campbells were the instigators of the feud between the clans. Old Angus Campbell wouldn't be able to argue his way out of this one, not with Campbell men who'd been caught in the act in Malcolm's custody.
The ball was merely another obstacle forcing him to wait an additional day to see the king. He wouldn't have attended at all, but he was sure Campbell would be there and he couldn't give the man an opportunity to poison the king more than he already had. But, now, perhaps the night would prove diverting.
He found he enjoyed the bit of anonymity the masked ball afforded him. The MacGregors had not been welcome at court for longer than most could remember. At least not under the name of MacGregor. The king's reversal of the laws against the clan and use of the clan name were still new enough that people had not yet grown used to the sight of an actual MacGregor wandering freely about the palace. He'd grown heartily sick of the looks and whispers. And glad he needn't endure them from the lady he'd so fortuitously run into.
The woman at his side was lovely, the blue of her gown and the jewels in her mask setting off the deep sapphire of her eyes. Her form pleased him as well. Her dress hung on her becomingly, framing her ample bosom nicely, instead of making it appear as though she were an over-risen loaf of bread stuffed into a baking pan. Though not so thin that she looked as though a stiff breeze could blow her away. She'd obviously spent most of her life coddled indoors, but there was still a sturdiness to her that many of the court's women lacked. Except, the last time he'd commented on a woman's sturdiness, he'd received a palm to his face, so that thought he'd keep to himself.
He brought them around to a side door. She looked up at him in question and he winked at her. "Best if we sneak in the back as we are most certainly late. The king has already arrived." He gestured to the bedecked figure of the king sitting on a dais above the dancers.
"Good thinking," she murmured. "That means my father is also here, most likely wondering where I am. And not very patiently, I'd wager."
"As ye're likely already in a spot of trouble, shall we give him the slip a mite longer?" He gave her a wicked grin which made her laugh, a delightful trill that brought a smile to his lips.
"Might as well," she agreed. "If I'm to be reprimanded, I might as well have a bit of fun for the trouble."
They slipped in among the crowd, milling around the revelers.
"Dance with me," he said, as the musicians began another song. He whisked her onto the floor, not waiting for her response. She lined up with the other dancers, the smile playing about her lips sending his heart into a staccato beat.
"I don't think I've ever met anyone like you," she said when the dance brought them together.
"No?" he asked, letting his thumb caress the back of her hand until the steps of the dance required him to move away.
A few more spins and they were face-to-face again. "No. You're ... larger than life."
He chuckled, the sound almost rusty in his throat. There had not been many moments of laughter in his life, lately. "Aye, well, I suppose I am a wee bigger than average."
He glanced around at their company. He towered over the women, of course. But few men matched his height, even in the heeled shoes that were the rage of current fashion.
She laughed again and gripped his hand as the dance led them forward a few steps. "That's not what I meant."
The dance spun them away from each other, and then the music ended, and they bowed.
"What did ye mean?" he asked, taking her hand again.
Her gaze dropped from his and focused a few inches lower, on his lips, he thought. She wet her own, and the sight of her tongue darting over her full, kissable lips had his belly tightening against the sudden burst of desire.
Then her attention was drawn to someone behind him, and her face paled slightly.
"My father," she murmured.
Malcolm didn't look back to see who the man was. He simply tucked her hand back on his arm and led her off the dance floor, blending into the crowd once again. Though she'd been right about one thing ... he was a big beast of a man and staying hidden wasn't the easiest task. Another large room adjacent to the one they'd departed had been set up as a refreshment area, with tables of delectable treats and drinks — and several small curtained alcoves perfect for losing oneself in.
He whisked her into one before she could protest.
"I think ye'll be safe from fearsome fathers in here, my lady," he said.
"Thank you. I was about to suggest it."
He glanced at her in surprise, and she boldly met his gaze. "Well now, if ye're in the habit of suggesting that strange men spirit ye away into secluded alcoves, perhaps your father has reason to fear."
She shrugged and looked up at him from beneath thick, dark lashes. "Perhaps."
"Is this something ye do often?" he asked, finding he didn't like the idea of her hiding away with other men. A ridiculous feeling, as he'd only just met her and hadn't even seen her face yet, let alone gotten to know her well enough to warrant a little jealousy. Nevertheless, there it was. He stepped closer. She didn't back away.
"No. I'm usually very well behaved."
"Hmm." He reached out and traced the outline of her mask.
"Mayhap hiding your identity is giving ye courage where ye had none."
She squared her shoulders. "I have always been courageous, my lord. I've simply been more ... cautious, you could say."
She shrugged and the movement caused her gown to dip tantalizingly low. He bit his lip to keep from groaning and trailed a hand up her arm.
"Now, I'm looking for a little adventure," she said. "I'm tired of being cautious."
"Well, you're ambitious, I'll give ye that. Most women would start with something small. A brisk walk in the garden. Or serving chocolate at tea time instead of tea." He mock gasped, and she chuckled. Not a giggle as he'd expected, but a husky, throaty laugh that reached out and squeezed all the air from his lungs. This was no green girl he flirted with. Oh, she was inexperienced, for sure. But she wasn't a child, either.
"Do you find ambition attractive in a woman, my lord?"
"I think it depends on the person. Woman or man, ambition can be a great strength to be admired, or a weakness to be despised."
"And in me? Do you find me attractive?" She took a step closer. Only inches separated them now. Mere wisps of air that he could cross without any effort. She was almost in his arms already. He only had to reach out ... and take her.
His heart punched his chest. This brazen little lassie had no idea what she was doing to him. Perhaps he should enlighten her.
He traced her full bottom lip with his thumb. "I think ye already ken that I do."
Before he could talk himself out of it, he pulled her close and leaned down to taste her delectable mouth. He brushed his lips lightly across hers, gauging her reaction. She rose to her tip toes and kissed him back, pressing her lips firmly to his.
Within moments, he had her pressed against the wall of the alcove, their arms wrapped around each other, lips moving and tasting until they were both breathless.
"My lady," a voice hissed from the other side of the curtain. "My lady!"
The woman in his arms jerked back, her eyes dazed and bright with passion. She blinked a few times, and then her eyes widened, and she flicked back the corner of the curtain.
"Berta, what is it?"
"Your father, my lady. He's asking for you. I don't think I can stall him anymore."
She nodded and waved her maid off before turning back to him. "I'm afraid I need to leave, my lord." She stepped out of the alcove before he could respond. "I thank you for the adventure."
She gave him a brilliant grin and a wave and then was gone, leaving him laughing but alone in the alcove.
Excerpted from How to Lose a Highlander by Michelle McLean, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2017 Michelle McLean. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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