"A master of Highland romance."-Becky Condit of USA Today on My Highland Spy
It's been three years since Lady Elizabeth Walsingham ended her childish crush on Laird Ian Munro, the fierce Highlander who scared everyone but her. She's a grown woman now, heading to London to find a proper English gentleman. But when the wild Highland laird walks through the door, she's that breathless youth all over again.
Ian tries hard to avoid the young lass who's confounded him for years. But now that they're attending court, he must keep watch on her night and day. Danger is at every turn and advisors to the Crown are being murdered. Ian soon realizes the girl he's been protecting is a beautiful lady who needs his help, almost as much as he needs her.
The Highland Spies Series:
My Highland Spy (Book 1)
Kilts and Daggers (Book 2)
Kill or Be Kilt (Book 3)
Praise for My Highland Spy:
"One of the best... an outstanding Scottish romance."-Romance Reviews, 5 Stars
"An exciting Highland tale of intrigue, betrayal, and love."-Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author of Highland Master
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Sutherland, Scottish Highlands, 1613
This was his last chance to turn around and bolt from the gates as if his arse was afire. Against his better judgment, he kept his eyes forward, his hands steady, and he tried not to pay any heed to the warning voice that whispered in his head.
Laird Ian Munro wasn't aware of the death grip he held on the reins of his mount as he approached the portcullis. He'd sworn that he'd never again set foot on Sutherland lands as long as the four Walsingham sisters lived under the same roof as his friend. He was no coward, but between the troubles with the Gordon, Stewart, and the damn mercenaries, he'd made it a point to stay on his own lands.
Laird Ruairi Sutherland's home was a fortified castle with round turrets, a square watchtower, and a curtain wall that was twenty feet thick at the widest point. Yet, to Ian's surprise, the stone structure wasn't strong enough to hold the wily Walsinghams at bay. He passed the dangerous cliffs on the left, and to his right was a lush forest. He supposed he could always take a leap to the left if he found himself trapped within the walls with no means of escape.
As he reached the point of no return, his face clouded with uneasiness because the guards had already greeted him from the gatehouse. Ian continued through to the bailey and halted, hesitantly releasing the reins of his horse to the stable hand. Ruairi's captain greeted him with a brotherly slap on the back.
"Munro, how long has it been, my friend?" Fagan Murray's dark hair hung well below his shoulders, and he wore a kilt of green, black, blue, white, and orange-the Sutherland tartan.
"'Tis good to see ye, Fagan." Ian gazed around the courtyard, breathing a sigh of relief no Walsinghams were in sight.
"Then tell me. Why have we nae seen your face since Grace and I wed? Ye know it has been almost three years since we've last set eyes upon ye."
Ian raised his eyebrows and placed his hand over his heart. "Truly? Has it been that long?"
Fagan lowered his voice and playfully balled his fist into Ian's arm. "To be truthful, I ne'er thought of ye as a coward."
"I'm nay coward, but as I told ye before, keep your brood here because I sure as hell donna want them crossing the borders to my lands. I have enough troubles of my own."
Fagan chuckled. "Come. Ruairi's been expecting ye, and we'll have some food and drink to celebrate your return."
They entered the great hall, and Ian involuntarily burst into a smile. Tapestries remained on the walls that depicted swords, shields, and men in the throes of battle. He recalled the time when Fagan's wife, Grace, had insisted that Ruairi remove the wall hangings before her wedding day because she didn't favor them. Ian pursed his mouth in satisfaction when he realized Ruairi's bollocks were still in place, and he hadn't succumbed to the will of the women after all. Perhaps there was hope for his friend yet.
"Munro, I can nae believe ye're standing here in my great hall as I live and breathe." Ruairi's straight, long, chestnut hair had traces of red and fell to his shoulder blades. A plaid rested over his shoulder, and he sported the traditional Sutherland kilt. With a broadsword sheathed at his waist, his friend looked exactly as Ian had remembered him. "Fàilte. Ciamar a tha thu?" Ruairi asked warmly. Welcome. How are you?
"Tha gu math." I am fine. Ian embraced the man who was like a brother to him. "'Tis good to see ye, Ruairi." Without warning, a hand clasped Ian's shoulder from behind, and he turned.
"I'm glad to see ye did nae live up to your promise. Ye did set foot on Da's lands again."
"Torquil?" With his reddish-brown hair and green eyes, Torquil was the picture of Ruairi. "Ye have grown. Soon I think there might be a need to fear ye on the battlefield. What age is upon ye now, lad?"
The man who was no longer a boy smiled from ear to ear. "I am fifteen."
A lovely lass stood beside Torquil, and she was poking him in the ribs with her finger. "Fifteen, perhaps, but he behaves more like he's ten." Blond locks framed her oval face. She had sparkling blue eyes and wore an emerald dress that hugged her young frame.
"Lady Katherine?" asked Ian.
"Yes, it's lovely to see you again, Laird Munro."
Ian shook his head as if he'd consumed too much ale. He couldn't believe so much had changed. The last time he'd seen the girl she was only nine. Ruairi's wife approached them, and her wealth of red hair dangled in loose tendrils that softened her face. She'd always looked elegant and graceful, and Ian was glad to see some things hadn't changed.
He kissed the top of her hand. "Lady Ravenna, ye're still as bonny as the day that I met ye."
"Thank you, Laird Munro. Although I don't know how much longer I'll appear this way." She lowered her hands and cradled her stomach in a gentle gesture. "Ruairi and I are expecting another child. We're hoping for a son to have a brother for Mary."
"Another bairn?" He forced a demure smile. "Please accept my condolen...er, congratulations to ye both."
Lady Katherine clapped her hands together. "I'm delighted that I'm going to be an aunt again. I do hope Ravenna has another girl."
Ian didn't know what to say in the presence of the women, but Torquil was the only man among them who found his voice.
"Kat, donna even jest about something like that. I think ye might put Da in an early grave."
Ruairi gave Ian a knowing look.
"If it wasn't for me and my sisters, this castle-and the men within it-would be running wild. You should be thankful you have us here to keep you all out of harm's way."
Torquil playfully wrapped his arm around Kat's neck and rubbed his knuckles over the top of her head. "I do like it when ye try."
Ian would be sure to pray long and hard that Ravenna carried a boy because the last Ruairi needed was another cunning female under his roof. If it wasn't bad enough that Ravenna was a "retired" English spy, her haughty sister, Grace, had even married Fagan. Oh, and that wasn't all the poor bastard was made to endure. After Ruairi had spoken his vows, he'd taken in all three of his wife's sisters.
As Ravenna took her leave from the hall, Kat wandered off with Torquil. The men took their seats at the long wooden table on the dais, and Ruairi poured them all a drink. He placed a tankard in front of Ian and smiled. "Here. Ye look like ye could use one-or many."
"Och, aye." He lifted the tankard to his lips and spotted something over the rim. Kat and Torquil sat on a bench...together, close. Ian briefly closed his eyes. The two of them used to run away from each other, avoiding the other like the plague. Now he wouldn't be shocked if he saw the two holding hands or making wooing gestures toward one another.
"Something in my gut told me that I should've just met all of ye in London," said Ian. When a growl escaped him and his mouth pulled into a sour grin, Ruairi waved him off.
"There's only so much Ravenna and her uncle can do to keep King James at bay. We've been fortunate that we have nae had to attend court in years. Besides, with the recent passing of Prince Henry, we should pay our respects to the king in order to stay in his good graces. I thought it would be good for us to travel to London at the same time. More to the point, ye know how much we enjoy the pleasure of your company. We always have such a damn good time when we're together, eh?" Ruairi held up his tankard in mock salute.
Ian lifted a brow. "Aye. I remember all the good times we've had with your father-in-law, the Stewart, Redshanks, and let's nae forget about the English spies ye shelter under your roof."
A young woman stepped in front of the dais and cleared her throat. She had reddish-brown hair that hung in loose waves down her back. Her figure was slender and regal, and Ian could have easily drowned in her emerald eyes. But what captured his attention the most was the way the lass carried herself-confident, yet seemingly unaware of her true beauty.
She wore a black gown with hanging sleeves, and the embroidered petticoat under her skirts was lined in gray. With the added reticella lace collar and cuffs dyed with yellow starch, she looked as though she should have been at the English court rather than in the Scottish Highlands.
"Pardon me, Ruairi. Ravenna wanted me to tell you that we're taking little Mary to the beach. We won't be long. We'll be in the garden until the mounts are readied, if you need us."
When the woman's eyes met Ian's, something clicked in his mind. His face burned as he remembered. He shifted in the seat and pulled his tunic away from his chest. Why was the room suddenly hot? He felt like he was suffocating in the middle of the Sutherland great hall.
God help him.
This was the same young chit who had pined after him, following him around the castle and nipping at his heels like Angus, Ruairi's black wolf. But like everything else that had transformed around here, so had she. She was no longer a girl but had become an enchantress-still young, but beautiful nevertheless. His musings were interrupted by a male voice.
"Munro, ye do remember Lady Elizabeth, eh?"
How could he forget the reason why he'd avoided Sutherland lands for the past three years?
* * *
Laird Ian Munro was as daunting-and handsome-as Elizabeth remembered him. His long, red hair fell down to his elbows in complete disarray. His broad shoulders looked bigger than she'd recalled, and wisps of light hair curled against the V of his open shirt. He had a strong, chiseled jaw and green eyes that would make any woman swoon.
For goodness' sake, she thought-prayed-she was over this foolish fancy she'd had for him. After all, she'd been only fifteen at the time. Her brother-in-law often jested that women were terrified of Ian's wild appearance. The man even had a reputation for frightening men on the battlefield by his fierce looks alone. She supposed that's why her family was shocked when she'd shown an interest in him. But there was something about Ian that always drew her like a magnet.
Elizabeth willed herself to speak only to Ruairi and was proud that she didn't nervously stammer her words in front of the men. She had no idea how she'd managed to avoid Ian's gaze for that long. But when Ruairi asked if Laird Munro remembered her, she made a grave error in judgment.
She looked into Ian's eyes.
There was tingling in the pit of her stomach, and she found herself extremely conscious of his virile appeal. His nearness was overwhelming. Her pulse pounded, and she couldn't breathe as memories of the past flooded her with emotion.
Irked by her response to him, Elizabeth was determined to show the laird she wasn't the same young, stupid, senseless girl he'd known years ago. She'd changed, grown. And she needed to let him know that his presence no longer affected her the way it had in the past.
"Laird Munro, what a pleasure to see you again. You look well," she said with as much indifference as she could muster. She gazed back at Ruairi. "Ravenna and Grace are waiting for me in the garden. Pray excuse me."
Elizabeth resisted the urge to bolt out of the hall and not look back. She slowed her pace as much as she could so as not to look as though she was trying to flee. She was a Walsingham, and her family never ran from anything or anyone.
Kat followed Elizabeth out of the great hall, and Elizabeth said a silent prayer of thanks when she made it to the safety of the gardens. The scent of flowers wafted through the air, and blooms lined the garden path. This was the time of year she favored. They made their way toward a stone wall about waist high. Stretching her neck, Elizabeth leaned forward and glanced over the structure.
The blue waves of the ocean crashed onto the rocky shore below. She closed her eyes, and the sound was so peaceful, soothing. She enjoyed the sea wholeheartedly and found her calm demeanor was finally returning.
"The mounts will be ready soon." Ravenna was holding her daughter in her arms. She brushed her hand over Mary's tiny head, smoothing the girl's red curls.
As Grace approached, she lifted her arms into the air. "Time to give her up, Sister. Come to your Auntie Grace, Mary."
"I wonder who your new baby will resemble the most," said Kat.
The sisters all laughed in response when they'd realized what Kat meant. Ravenna had red hair, Kat had beautiful blond locks, Grace's hair was a warm-colored brown with golden strands, and Elizabeth's was more of a reddish-brown. Their mother and Uncle Walter didn't look like brother and sister either. Mother had pale skin, and Uncle Walter's was much darker. Everyone said the man looked like a pirate with his dark looks and cool demeanor. He always had an air of command about him, as if he were the captain of a ship on a stormy sea. At least, that's what Grace always said.
"I almost forgot to ask you, Elizabeth," said Grace. Elizabeth schooled her expression to one of innocence because she knew what was coming next. "How do you feel seeing Laird Munro again?"
Grace was dying to ask that bloody question, and Elizabeth knew it. As she'd expected, her sisters waited for a response. In order to avoid prying eyes, Elizabeth waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "I was only fifteen. That passing fancy has long since fled." For added measure, she gave a look of disgust in the event her sisters hadn't believed her words.
"I'm pleased to hear that you've finally come to your senses. It certainly took you long enough." Grace always knew what not to say. As Elizabeth was about to give her sister a piece of her mind, Kat grabbed Grace's arm.
"Did I hear you correctly? Elizabeth had a fancy for Laird Munro?" Kat's head whipped back to Elizabeth. "Did you?" Elizabeth shrugged, and Kat's expression bordered on mockery. "What could you possibly see in that man? Not only is he very large, but I don't think he's very attractive with all that unruly red hair."
Elizabeth briefly closed her eyes, her patience wearing thin. "‘Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean, needs not the painted flourish of your praise: Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye, not uttered by base sale of chapmen's tongues.'"
"Shakespeare, Kat. Perhaps you should be taking your studies more seriously if you've never heard of Love's Labour's Lost."
"Don't pay her any heed," said Grace. "She always quotes literary works when she's in a foul mood."
As they walked through the gardens waiting for the horses to be readied, Elizabeth felt more and more irritable, not that Grace helped matters. Her sister had no right to lecture anyone, especially since she'd never even followed her own advice. There had been a time when Grace despised Scotland and the captain of Ruairi's guard, but now, here she was living in the Highlands and married to Fagan.
Joy bubbled in Ravenna's laugh. Elizabeth wasn't a jealous person, but she was envious of the love her sister found with Ruairi. Even more so since the two had now started a family of their own. The more Elizabeth pondered the matter, the worse she felt. Ravenna had Ruairi, Grace had Fagan, Kat and Torquil were inseparable, and Elizabeth had no one but Angus to confide in. But lately, even the black wolf had parted from her company. She could only find the animal either with the men or out stalking small game in the woods.
When they entered the bailey, the horses were already saddled. The stable hand had just brought Elizabeth's chestnut mare over to the mounting block when a rider came through the gates with Angus trailing on his heels.
"I have a message for Laird Sutherland."
"I'll find him, Ravenna." Elizabeth lifted her skirts and walked with hurried purpose into the great hall. She wasn't a bit surprised when she found the men in the same place she'd left them with tankards in hand. All eyes were upon her as she made her way toward the dais.
"I thought ye were going to the beach. Is something amiss?" asked Ruairi.
"There's a messenger waiting for you in the bailey." Ruairi stood, and Elizabeth didn't wait around to see who followed.
When Ruairi entered the courtyard, he talked briefly with the messenger and then broke the seal of a letter that was handed to him. Although her brother-in-law always had an air of authority and the appearance of one who demanded instant obedience, his face was bleak. He dismissed the man and stood as still as a statue. She'd known him long enough to recognize when something was troubling him, and this was clearly one of those times.
"What is it, Ruairi? What has happened?" asked Ravenna.
Fagan, Torquil, and Ian came into the bailey at the same time Ruairi approached Ravenna, giving her a compassionate smile. But when he reached his wife, he hesitated, gazing down at the letter as if he was having second thoughts.
Elizabeth had never seen the man so unsettled, and that frightened her. Ruairi was always a rock, confident with his every move. After several moments, he handed Ravenna the missive. As her sister read the contents, a glazed look of despair washed over her face. When she burst into tears, Elizabeth's spirits sank even lower.
Ruairi pulled Ravenna into the circle of his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry, Wife. I'm truly sorry." He pulled back and wiped her tears with his thumbs. "But ye can nae allow yourself to be so distraught and must consider your health and that of our bairn."
"What has happened?" asked Grace.
Ravenna turned and faced her sisters. The pain in her eyes was unbearable. "Uncle Walter is dead."
Elizabeth gulped hard, hot tears falling down her cheeks. She could feel her throat close up and started to tremble. As her family embraced each other, she stood alone with only her misery to accompany her.
Uncle Walter was dead.
He was not coming back. She would never see him again for as long as she lived and breathed. The pain was insufferable, and she felt an acute sense of loss. When a large hand gently wrapped around her midriff, Elizabeth gasped. Green eyes studied her intently, and she lowered her gaze.
Ian pressed his body tightly to hers, and his arms encircled her. "Lass, let me offer ye comfort," he whispered, his breath hot against her ear. "I'm sorry for the loss of your uncle. Mildmay was a good man. He'll be sorely missed."
At first she tried to resist being held in Ian's arms, but then she buried her face against the corded muscles of his chest and yielded to the compulsive sobs that shook her. Her feelings toward him at this instant had no significance whatsoever because this was the second time she'd lost a father in her lifetime.
And that was the moment Elizabeth realized her life would never be the same again.