A commander in the McTiernay clan, Dugan is known far and wide for his skills with a sword—and his skills in seduction. His rugged countenance and arrogant swagger are a lethal combination for the women who try to tame him and fail. Until a mysterious firebrand tempts him with her wicked ways . . .
All Adanel MackBaythe knows about her Highland lover is that he is a McTiernay soldier—and a means of escaping her cruel father. But Dugan is a not a man to be toyed with. His distrust of Adanel’s motives will put a distance between them that can’t be breached. Yet when their secret trysts are discovered—sparking a war between clans—a lust for vengeance will drive Dugan back into her arms, where he will embark on his greatest battle: for her heart . . .
Praise for Michele Sinclair
“Eminently swoonable…This lengthy excursion into the Highlands contains enough plaid tossing, claymore brandishing, castle-bound conniving, and erotic adventures to keep Sinclair’s audience dreaming of kilts for weeks.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW on Never Kiss a Highlander
“A Highland frolic staring a feisty heroine and a hero with brains and braw…great fun.”
—Bookpage on Never Kiss a Highlander
“Steamy … packs the erotic punch of its predecessors.”
—Publishers Weekly on The Most Eligible Highlander in Scotland
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April 1317, Loch Coire Fionnaraich
"Now that is a man," Adanel murmured to herself, brushing a stray lock of her wet, unruly, embarrassingly red hair out of her eyes to get a better look.
Sitting astride his horse, the handsome figure had light brown hair, a strong jawline, and an upper body that would make even the most devout nun go weak in the knees. Whoever this mystery man was, he was as close to visual perfection as Adanel had ever seen. Her large dark brown eyes widened as he stretched his arms high over his head and then out and behind his back. The effort pulled his léine tightly across his chest, leaving no doubt to what it hid — corded muscles, beckoning deliciousness, and most of all trouble. For that was what she would be in if he were to discover her in her current undressed status.
Adanel took one last look at the tempting morsel across the little loch and was about to surreptitiously return to the shore where she had hidden her clothes, quickly slip them on, and sneak back the way she came when a glint of silver caught her eye. A very large sword.
Adanel bit back a groan. Of course, he would not simply be a well-built farmer out for a curious stroll. The Lord's sense of humor would not be satisfied if he were only a scrumptious temptation for her to fantasize about at night. No, the man was a saighdear. Her one weakness.
"A soldier? Not fair, God," Adanel whispered. And then with a little more bite, she added, "If I get caught staring, it's your fault for bringing him here, let alone creating such an attraction." Besides, she thought to herself, any Highlander who could wield that large weapon and fill out his léine the way this man did deserved to be ogled.
She had been around would-be soldiers all her life for most of the men in her father's army did look the part. They were large, brawny, and trounced around carrying scary-looking swords and halberds, but she had spied on them during one of the rare times they had mustered together to train with the handful of mercenaries her father had hired. The sight only proved what she had suspected. They were just large men who could do little more than wave their weapons around in a showy but uncoordinated fashion.
The man across from her, however, was nothing like the ones in her father's army. He had not even touched his sword, yet Adanel suspected that when he did, it was not to boast or to pretend he knew what he was doing. It was to shed blood. Sword, dagger, halberd, or poleax — whatever this man used, he would be deadly.
She had nothing definitive to substantiate her guess, but Adanel's instincts all screamed that she was right. There was something in the way he sat in his saddle, gripped his reins, and studied the area around him. He reminded her of the mercenaries her father often hired. Like them, this saighdear was in complete control of his every move. Even the simple stretching of his arms was unconsciously calculated. Such control was perfected only after years of practice, honed and engraved into even the smallest and inconsequential of actions.
Adanel watched spellbound as he adjusted his seat and then swung his leg over to slide off his horse. Without thought, she rested her cheek upon a nearby, partially submerged boulder and sighed. The soldier, whoever he was, was not just incredibly good looking, he was tall — even for a Highlander. She wondered just where her own lanky form would come up to him. His chin? His shoulder? Probably the latter. She could just imagine fitting perfectly against his warmth as he held her tightly to his side.
It had been a long time since she had been held by a man, but that did not mean she had completely forgotten what it was like. Nothing was better at making her long-legged, curvy body feel feminine and attractive than lying against something large and hard. And next to that man ... Adanel blew out the breath she had been holding. Lying next to him she would feel practically dainty. Unfortunately, that was something she would never know. Lord, why did he have to be the best-looking soldier she had seen in years? Perhaps ever.
Movement across the loch snapped her thoughts from daydreams back to reality. The soldier was bringing his horse closer to the water ... and therefore closer to her. Worse, she was unable to see where he was going without revealing her current position. Adanel knew she should take the opportunity to sneak away to the shoreline on her side of the loch, but instead she stretched her neck, hoping to continue her gawking.
Nestled high within the Torridon hills next to a massive cliff, the saddle-shaped loch was very small compared to most in the region. One end of the shoreline was comprised of near vertical cliffs from a decades-old landslide, making the water inaccessible as well as frigid from being constantly shaded from the sun's warmth. Only the northern tip of the loch, which was divided into two sections, was free of debris and accessible to trespassing swimmers and mysterious soldiers. On the side Adanel had traversed to access the loch, varying-sized boulders were scattered along the water's edge. Swimming approximately twenty horse lengths directly across the very large boulder Adanel was crouching behind, one could reach the small loch's only other accessible shoreline. That stretch contained fewer rocks and multiple large patches of grass. Until now, Adanel had no idea there was even a path up to the loch via that side. She had thought her narrow, rocky route up to the hidden loch was the only one, but obviously, there was another, much larger path that could accommodate a horse rather than the difficult one she climbed up every week.
Adanel froze when the man suddenly turned and stared intently in her direction as if he could sense he was not alone. The only way he could see her was if he knew exactly where to look, and while he was looking in her direction, it was not directly at her.
Forcing herself to relax, Adanel ducked back down and glanced over her shoulder to see if he might be spying her clothes. Had she left them in the open where he could see them? Adanel did not think so. She had been coming to the loch whenever possible for over a year now, and after one unfortunate afternoon where a bird's waste found her bliaut while she had been swimming, Adanel had been careful to fold all her garments and store them safely under a small ledge. Unfortunately, while that blocked a bird's view of them, it might not from an observer across the loch. As silently as possible, Adanel swam back a couple feet, being careful to remain in the shadow of the boulder so she could check. Upon seeing nothing but gray jagged rocks being lapped by the water, she relaxed and slowly released the breath she had been holding before returning back to the boulder. As far as she could tell, she had left nothing near the shore to indicate another presence. So why did he continue to look her way? A ripple of the water? Was there a shadow she did not realize she was casting?
Tension rose in her again as her mind raced. It only eased when the Highlander shifted his gaze to study the rest of his surroundings. Adanel lay her forehead on the boulder and chastised herself for reading into things and leaping to conclusions instead of just enjoying the view.
She craned her neck once more to take a final look. Now that he was off his horse and standing on the water's edge, he was close enough to make out many more details. Murt, the man was fine. He had chiseled cheekbones, a strong shaven chin, and thick hair that was too dark to be blond and yet too light to be truly brown. He was too far to actually see the color of his eyes, but with his bone structure, Adanel knew he also had to have dreamy eyes and deep dimples that could snatch a woman's free will with just a glimmer of a smile. But even if she was wrong, he would still remain delectably attractive. Who could resist those powerful arms and large hands? Strong, capable, and without a doubt deadly. If only she had fallen for such a man six years ago. If she had, maybe Daniel would still be alive and she would no longer be living under the tyranny of her father.
With fisted hands on his hips, the Highlander stared at the water. His body was taut as if he sensed something there and needed to be ready to leap into battle. A woman under this man's protection would never have to worry for her safety. And if Adanel were any other woman with any other father she might have called out on the chance he was single and seeking a wife. But she had already been forced to watch one man die for her. She refused to see another.
Daniel had been all things sweet and good, and Adanel had believed him to be her one and only true love. But unlike the Highlander across the loch whose brutal strength could be seen even at a distance, Daniel had looked like what he was — a young, naive, hopeful merchant. She had fallen in love with his easy smile, and his trusting spirit had captured her heart the first time they had met. But what had amazed her the most was that she had captured his. Never did Adanel dream her father would not approve of them marrying. She had honestly believed he would not care or notice her absence. She certainly had no concept of just what her father was capable of to ensure not only that she and Daniel were never together, but that she never dared to fall in love again.
The horse neighed. Taking one last long look at her side of the loch, the man pivoted and walked over to his mount, but instead of getting back on, he pulled free his water bag. Returning to the shore, he knelt down to refill the leather bag. Afterward, he would no doubt disappear the same way he came.
Adanel bit her bottom lip. Don't leave, she silently implored. Just linger for a few more minutes before you vanish, never to be seen again. She hoped she was wrong, but it was unlikely.
With the exception of the cold winter months, she had been coming to this loch almost every week for nearly a year and not once had she seen anyone or even anything in the area that hinted someone had visited during her absence. The loch's guaranteed solitude was the main reason Adanel came. Constantly surrounded by the noise and stink of grungy dock workers, harbor men, licentious seamen, and overconfident want-to-be soldiers, she needed a weekly reprieve, and this secluded spot gave her the strength to endure another six more days. And while she coveted the peace and privacy the loch typically provided, this Highlander was a feast for any woman's eyes and Adanel was going to enjoy every second of looking at him before he disappeared.
After filling the bag, the soldier put back his waterskin and then, instead of remounting, he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath and held it. His chest expanded and Adanel had the urge to run her fingers across every bulge, from his arms, to his chest, to what she had no doubt were perfect abs, and then on to what was under his tartan. Crinkling her brow, Adanel studied the dark plaid of greens and blues that was accented with bright colors of gold, red, and burgundy.
"Mo chreach," she grumbled under her breath. The soldier was a McTiernay. She should not be surprised; after all she was on McTiernay lands ... though just barely. However, multiple nomadic families had made these hills their home and only a handful called themselves McTiernays.
A few years back, the majority of the locals who had been left clanless after years of fighting the English had banded together under McTiernay rule. Most had left this area to live closer to the protection of the closest McTiernay castle, Fàire Creachann, nestled on the edge of Loch Torridon. A few, however, had pledged their allegiance to the McTiernays, who had elected to continue making their living among these hills. Then there was the small handful who had outright declined to move or live under anyone's rule, which included the McTiernays'. The area was technically McTiernay land, but as long as they created no harm, the powerful clan's laird had let them be. Such generosity would not be extended to her. She was a Mackbaythe, the McTiernays' northern neighbor and enemy.
Her father had made his disgust clear when Cole McTiernay had been named laird of the area. Having lived his entire life in the region and already a laird, he thought he should have been the one to be placed in charge. Rumor was that he had not even been considered or even invited to the talks. As a result, her father had made sure only animosity was shared between their two clans. The last thing she needed was to get caught swimming in the nude on McTiernay lands.
Adanel did not fear the McTiernay soldier; she feared her father. Just the thought of what he might do made her cringe — especially if this Highlander saw her and got the notion to take her back himself. Devoid of any emotion that may have been perceived as kind, her father controlled everything of his with a ruthless, maniacal fist, and her younger brother Eògan longed to prove he was just like him.
It's time, saighdear, Adanel silently urged with a sigh. Get back on your horse and go back to wherever you came from. Forget this small slice of heaven. I need it far more than you.
Adanel had discovered the rocky path to the loch a little over a year ago during one of her weekly rides. The escape it afforded was only temporary, but she had grown to need these few hours away from her father and his enjoyment of the misery he liked to create on those around him.
Faden, her uncle and primary guard, had been quite agitated the day they had crossed onto McTiernay lands, but Adanel had felt compelled to ride as hard as she could and had not cared about borders and the potential acrimony her presence could cause. She had just needed to feel free from the confines of her life for a little and the lands belonging to her clan were too small to provide that sense of freedom. Besides, practically no one lived out this way. The northern side of the Torridon hills were cold, rocky, impossible to farm, and provided little grass for cattle to graze on. One needed to seek the valleys to find anyone.
She had been about to turn around and heed Faden's demands that they return back to Mackbaythe lands when a spear of sunlight from the ever-present clouds lit up the entrance to a partially hidden, narrow, rocky path. Adanel had decided God was beckoning her to see what mysteries He had created. Faden had disagreed, and Adanel had almost let him persuade her to leave for she had long learned to suppress any inquisitive thoughts or feelings due to fear of what her father might do if she learned or saw something she oughtn't. But something pressed her to shed her inhibitions and cave to her buried curious spirit.
The path was far too narrow and steep for a horse, so she had climbed. Though not a difficult ascent, it had been farther than she had anticipated, causing Faden to have grumbled ceaselessly. But when she had seen the pristine loch reflecting the clouds in the blue sky, she had been so glad to have persisted in the climb. Adanel felt as if she had found a little piece of heaven God had carved out just for her. Every fiber of her being had wanted to shed her clothes, jump into the waters, and enjoy the tranquility, even if only for a little while.
Of course, Faden had made sure that had not happened with his demands that they return immediately or face consequences. Knowing he was not overstating what might happen, Adanel had acquiesced to leave, but only after Faden agreed to let her come back the next week. And so, she had returned, that week and all the ones that followed for the past year as long as the weather permitted. To Faden's bafflement, the rain almost always abated the morning of their ride.
After weeks of climbing up to the little loch only to confirm that no one or animal was around or even had been near the small water refuge, Faden had elected to stay behind under the excuse of watching after the horses. Adanel fully supported the idea. She loved her uncle and enjoyed his company, but his absence offered her the opportunity to do what she had wanted since she had first spied the loch. Stripping bare, she had dived into the snow-fed waters. Cold and bearable only in the sunlight, the icy water had become the perfect remedy to stave off the sadness that threatened to overtake her sometimes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "How To Marry A Highlander"
Copyright © 2019 C. Michele Peach.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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