IS ALL FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR?
Scotland, 1812Rugged Highlander Graeme’s loyalty to his clan means that their enemies are his owneven when that includes his neighbor, the Duke of Lattimer. It’s a fight he doesn’t relish, but when Graeme’s reckless younger brothers foolishly kidnap Lattimer’s younger sister, all bets are off…
Lady Marjorie Forrester may be aligned with the enemy, but capturing her puts Graeme squarely in the middle of a war. If he turns Marjorie over to his clan chief, she could be killed. If he lets her go, his brothers could face prison. In addition, the woman can’t stop trying to civilize the lot of them! What’s a Highlander to do, then, but keep the stubborn lass close…and explore the unexpected passion that develops between them? But how can Graeme protect Marjorie and his brothers when both Lattimer and his own clan are on the warpathand will do whatever it takes to tear these two star-crossed lovers apart, in My One True Highlander, the next No Ordinary Hero Scottish romance from New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Enoch.
About the Author
Suzanne Enoch grew up in Southern California, where she still balances her love for the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer and classic romantic comedies with her obsession for anything Star Wars. Given her love of food and comfy chairs, she may in fact be a Hobbit. She has written more than 35 romance novels, including traditional Regencies, Historical Romance, and contemporary Romantic Suspense. When she isn't working on her next book she is trying to learn to cook, and wishes she had an English accent.
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My One True Highlander
By Suzanne Enoch
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Suzanne Enoch
All rights reserved.
Graeme, Viscount Maxton, stripped off his heavy work gloves as he strode up the hill toward the house. "Calm yerself, Connell," he urged, "before ye split the seat of yer trousers."
His youngest brother continued circling and leaping about like a pine marten after a mouse. "But it's the Maxwell!" the eight-year-old exclaimed, grabbing one of Graeme's hands to pull him along. "Ye said after last year he'd nae darken our doorway again, but there he is, himself! The Duke of Dunncraigh! And two grand coaches!"
Two coaches? That didn't bode well. Eight, nine men plus the coach drivers, all of them following after the dinner scraps of the chief of clan Maxwell. "Where are yer brothers?" Graeme asked, sending a glance across the field. Old Dunham Moore stood hip-deep in the irrigation ditch digging out an old tree limb, but other than that the field and green slopes beyond stood empty. Even the crows had flown elsewhere to search for a meal.
"Brendan says he's making a fishing lure," the eight-year-old offered, "but I ken he's writing a love poem to Isobel Allen or Keavy Fox because he locked his door."
Locked in a bedchamber was good, whatever the actual reason for it. "And Dùghlas?"
"He's the one who sent me oot to find ye, Graeme. I heard the Maxwell say he was growing into a fine young lad."
Graeme tightened his grip on Connell's hand, drawing him to a halt. "I ken ye're excited, duckling, but I need ye to go help old Dunham in the ditch right now. And I need ye to stay there until I or one of the lads come and fetch ye."
The boy's light gray eyes narrowed, then widened. Swallowing, he swiped his too long brown hair from his face. "I can go fetch Uncle Raibeart," he offered, his young voice quavering a little. "I'm nae tired at all."
The offer tempted Graeme. If it had been one of the older boys, he might have agreed to it. But under no circumstances did he mean to send Connell running two miles across the countryside while the Duke of Dunncraigh's brutes wandered about. "I dunnae think we'll need Raibeart," he returned, "but I do need ye close enough to hear trouble and far enough to stay oot of it. One of us has to be ready to run fer help."
Connell nodded, swallowing again. "I'll be ready."
Smacking the boy on the arse to speed him on his way, Graeme topped the hill. He knew by heart every inch of this land, of the white and gray walls of Garaidh nan Leòmhann, but the two heavy coaches and accompanying quartet of saddled mounts crowded on the front drive were new. His groom, Johnny, was nowhere in sight to collect or even water the animals, which hopefully meant the stay would be brief.
As he reached the front door it remained closed; either Cowen was occupied elsewhere, or the butler was in hiding. Graeme lowered the handle and shoved the heavy, stubborn oak open with his shoulder.
"So ye decided to make an appearance after all," a low voice drawled from the morning room doorway. "I dunnae ken if that makes ye brave, or stupid."
"A bit of both, I reckon. I see ye still dress English," Graeme returned, debating whether to push past the Maxwell's nephew or wait for an invitation. "Good fer ye, Artur. I thought after the duke's dealings with Lattimer, he might have ordered ye to stop wearing Sassenach clothes."
Artur Maxwell squared his shoulders. "That's fairly bold talk, Maxton. I dare ye to repeat it in there." Shifting out of the way, he indicated the depths of the morning room.
Keeping his own expression neutral and his work gloves clenched in his left hand, Graeme walked into the room. "Yer Grace," he said, inclining his head.
As the Duke of Dunncraigh turned from gazing out the front window, Graeme took a swift measure of everyone else in the room. His younger brother Dùghlas sent him a relieved look, which told him the fourteen-year-old at least had the sense to know that the Maxwell's visit here rarely boded anything but trouble.
He knew all but one of the other men crowded into the small room. Five of the Maxwell's bruisers, all related to the duke in one way or another and ready to bloody, shoot, or set fire to anything their master looked at sideways. The other one had the same look about him, and Graeme shifted his attention back to the duke and the stiff-spined other man who stood close by the Maxwell — no doubt ready to wipe Dunncraigh's arse if asked to do so.
"Ye took yer time getting here," the duke stated, his green eyes flat and emotionless beneath a shock of white hair.
"I was moving a plow and the handle cracked," Graeme returned, stepping over to tousle his younger brother's brown mop of hair and shove the lad toward the door. "Ye owe me some arithmetic, as I recall," he said for good measure. Once his brothers were out of immediate danger, he would deal with what seemed to be a hostile visit — another hostile visit — from his clan chief.
"Ye're plowing yer own fields now, are ye, Maxton?" the Maxwell's arse-wiper drawled. "Do ye milk the cows and cut the peat yerself, as well?"
Graeme kept his gaze on the steely-eyed duke. "I reckon ye brought Sir Hamish with ye as yer jester, but as we both ken we arenae friends, I'd prefer if ye'd forgo the theatrics and tell me what's brought ye oot here."
Sir Hamish Paulk's heavy face folded into a scowl. "That's bold talk fer a chieftain who cannae pay his own tithing, ye damned —"
"Considering ye just lost the tithes and loyalty of all the tenants of the Duke of Lattimer's ten thousand acres, I suggest ye nae go aboot insulting yer remaining clansmen, Yer Grace," Graeme cut in. "Or allowing yer other chieftains to do so."
"Sir Hamish doesnae have my patience," Dunncraigh returned. "I find myself more curious over what else ye think ye ken aboot the goings-on at Lattimer. I'd have thought ye had enough of yer own worries, what with three younger brothers and a large patch of poorly protected land of yer own." The Maxwell moved closer. "I reckon it's helpful that ye do know an English duke has taken our ancestral land and turned a good handful of our own against us."
That wasn't all Graeme had heard, but repeating rumors about the Maxwell failing to purchase Lattimer and then resorting to sabotage and threats in an attempt to turn the tenants against their lord — which efforts hadn't turned out at all well for Dunncraigh — seemed a very poor idea at the moment. "And why is that?" he settled for asking.
"Because I'm feeling a particular dislike for Gabriel Forrester, the damned Duke of Lattimer, and I'm inclined to feel a particular generosity toward any of my clan who might ... discover anything useful against him. Or who might cause Lattimer a measure of consternation. Do ye ken what I'm saying, Graeme?"
"Aye. And I've nae liking fer any Sassenach. But I reckon I'm content to keep to my own affairs."
The duke nodded. "Yer land borders his, so I ken ye wish to be neighborly. All I'm saying is that if ye should happen to have or overhear any dealings with Lattimer that someone might be able to turn against him, and if ye tell me of them, ye might find yer herds have increased and that any tithes ye might owe have been forgotten. If someaught unfortunate befell the duke himself, well, I'd nae mourn his loss."
He clapped Graeme on the shoulder. Making a supreme effort not to level his clan chief with a punch to the jaw, Graeme took a moment to wonder if anyone serving clan Maxwell under Dunncraigh's leadership actually liked the man. For him, even beneath the dizzying barrage of faux fatherly advice and barely veiled threats, the duke was to be tolerated, placated when possible, and obeyed when necessary — and otherwise ignored.
Dunncraigh and his sycophants stomped back out to their coaches and mounts, and he followed them outside to make certain no one lingered. One of the luckier things about owning a rundown manor and a property of a mere thousand acres was that the likes of a duke, especially one who happened to be the head of clan Maxwell, had no wish to remain under his roof for long.
"Ye'd best do as he asks, Maxton," Sir Hamish said, watching as the duke settled into the lead coach.
"So ye're giving me helpful advice now, are ye, Paulk? I reckon I'll give that all the consideration it deserves."
"If ye sell off any more land ye'll barely qualify as gentry, Maxton. So take the advice given ye and smile while ye hear it. With but two hundred cotters ye're already underqualified to be a clan chieftain. Make yerself useful, earn yerself some blunt and some gratitude, or he may decide ye're of nae use at all."
"Do ye recommend I follow yer strategy? Stay so close to Dunncraigh's arse that he thinks ye a pimple?"
"Go to the devil, ye useless sack of shite. Ye're the same as yer father and yer grandfather, stubborn fools. There are consequences fer failing yer betters. With yer brothers to look after, ye'd best remember th —"
"Hamish," the duke called. "I've nae wish to remain here till Christmas."
The other Maxwell chieftain present held Graeme's gaze, clearly meaning to intimidate. Not bloody likely. Graeme tilted his head, then took a quick half step forward. When Paulk flinched back, he curved his mouth in a smile he didn't feel. "It'll take more than yer beady eyes glaring at me to give me a fright," he murmured. "Now run off, dog. Yer master's calling ye."
"He's yer master, too. Ye'd best realize that before he decides the wee bit ye contribute isnae worth the aggravation ye cause." With that, Sir Hamish turned on his heel and stepped up into the coach.
Graeme stood on his drive of crushed oyster shells and gravel to watch the coaches and riders rumble down the hill and vanish into the scattering of trees and boulders beyond. Once he was certain they were well away, he turned back to the house — to find Dùghlas and Brendan standing in the open doorway, both of them holding rifles. Cowen stood just inside the foyer, armed with an old claymore the butler had likely pulled off the wall in the drawing room.
"Do ye mean to murder yer own clan chief then, lads?" he asked, proud that they'd had the presence of mind to arm themselves, and alarmed at what would have happened if a battle had erupted in his morning room.
"They threatened ye, Graeme," Dùghlas said, blowing out his breath as he lowered the weapon to point at the floor. "I nearly pissed myself when Cowen showed 'em into the hoose."
"Why would the Maxwell think ye'd want anything at all to do with the Sassenach Lattimer?" Brendan took up. "Mayhap we should go shoot the grand Gabriel Forrester so Dunncraigh will leave us be." He hefted his rifle.
Eyeing the sixteen-year-old, Graeme frowned. "I'll agree we could use both the money and gratitude that being Dunncraigh's lapdog would give us, but the Duke of Lattimer's nae done a damned thing to me. So ye mark me well, Brendan; nae a soul here is to harm Lattimer or those under his protection. Do both of ye brutes ken what I'm telling ye?" "Aye."
"Good. Dùghlas, go fetch Connell. He's doon by the ditch with Dunham past the south field."
Handing his rifle over to Cowen, Dùghlas trotted across the drive toward the near field. Brendan, though, stepped forward and spat onto the gravel. "After losing a thousand Maxwells to that Sassenach, Dunncraigh should be more grateful to ye and yers. Ye should have told him that, Graeme."
"I'll agree that a Maxton has been a clan Maxwell chieftain fer better than two hundred years, if ye'll agree that our da and I've nae spent much of that time bowing to Dunncraigh. I reckon we'd fare better if I bowed more, but I'm nae murdering anyone in exchange fer a pat on the head."
The brother nearest him in age continued to look angry and defiant, as offended and righteous as any well-protected and stubborn sixteen-year-old could be. Graeme put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. The lads had been much easier to manage when they were bairns, and the eleven years that separated him from Brendan had seemed much wider. Just a few years ago he could tell them the way things were and they didn't question a damned word of it.
"Tempers are boiling now," he continued, "what with Lattimer getting his gamekeeper to swear that he was taking blunt from Dunncraigh in exchange fer causing trouble. The Maxwell's embarrassed, I reckon. And he wants blood. But winter's nearly here, and everything'll quiet doon. By spring we'll be talking aboot calves and lambs and all this will be forgotten. So be patient. Dunncraigh willnae be sending us posies, but he'll likely go back to ignoring us again — which is damned fine enough fer me."
Finally Brendan nodded, his fingers easing their grip on the old rifle. "I ken, Graeme. Ye want us to stay quiet, like wee church mice, even though we havenae done a damned thing wrong."
Graeme knew some who could debate the last part of that statement, but now wasn't the time for that discussion. "Aye. And now ye can come help me fix that plow and drag it back to Widow Peele's before the snow and wet rot the rest of it."
"Dunnae we have men to do that?" Brendan returned, abruptly sounding like a young lad again.
"Aye, we do. And today their names are Graeme and Brendan."
When Connell trotted back up with Dùghlas, the eight-year-old needed more reassurance that they weren't about to be murdered. The animosity between the Maxtons and Dunncraigh had begun well before he'd inherited his father's role as chieftain, but he could take steps to mend the break if he felt so inclined. His brothers shouldn't have to be frightened of their own kin and clan. Causing trouble for a neighbor, though, English or not, didn't sit well. Lattimer had brought some changes to the Highlands, but none of them had harmed him or his. If not for Dunncraigh's public condemnation of the man, Graeme would have been tempted to go make his acquaintance. They were neighbors, after all, even if their homes lay six hours' distant from each other.
Once he'd sent the younger lads back into the house and Brendan on his way to the field, Graeme gestured at Cowen. "Send fer Boisil Fox and his brothers," he muttered, moving closer to the butler. "I want an extra watch on the hoose tonight."
The butler nodded, his gaze moving toward the treeline. "Ye reckon we're in fer it, Laird Maxton?"
"Nae. I dunnae want Brendan sneaking off to go shoot the Duke of Lattimer."
The older man's expression eased. "Yer bràthair's a good lad, if a mite hotheaded."
"He's a mite hotheaded the way the Highlands are a bit nippy in January. We'll be back by sunset."
"I'll keep an eye oot until then, m'laird."
Hopefully keeping his brothers close by until their tempers cooled would see them past the worst of this. The Maxwell's rare visits had never yet boded well for the Maxtons, and this time was no damned exception. As Graeme made his way back through a deepening drizzle to the widow's old plow, he spared a moment to wish that he could stop being civil to a man he disliked on principle, and stop worrying over three younger brothers, a half-dozen servants, and roughly two hundred cotters currently residing on his land.
With that kind of freedom, the only question would be who he went after first — Lattimer, for simply being there and being English; or Dunncraigh for fifty years of bitter vitriole. But that was also a question for a man who lived a different life — and one with far less responsibility than he had.
* * *
Lady Marjorie Forrester took the coachman's outstretched hand as she stepped down to the muddy ground. She'd worn her most practical walking shoes, but they immediately disappeared beneath thick, sticky brown halfway up her toes.
"For heaven's sake," Mrs. Giswell exclaimed from the coach doorway, "someone — you, sir! — move those planks over here before we drown in the mud!"
"I'm nearly to the inn, now," Marjorie returned, nevertheless favoring the large bearded man with a smile as he slogged over with an armful of planks and began laying them between the vehicle and the coaching inn. "Thank you for your assistance, sir."
"With that woman screeching at me, I was scared she'd put a curse on me if I didnae do as she said," he returned in a thick, drawling brogue, grinning back at her.
Once the planks covered the mud, Mrs. Giswell stepped down gingerly to follow Marjorie. "A lady does not screech, sir," she stated in her coolest tones. "A lady merely speaks up when an expected and needed chivalry is not offered."
"Och, a chivalry," the large man took up, tugging on his thick brown beard. "Ye hear that, lads? I'm a bloody knight!"
The half-dozen men scattered about the small courtyard laughed. "Aye! Sir Robert the Blacksmith, ye are," one of them called out.
"Aye, and the lot of ye bow when ye see me from now on."
The conversation amused her, and Marjorie smiled, starting a little when Mrs. Giswell put a hand on her arm. "A lady is not amused by brutes and their foul language," she said. "Now let's get you inside before you catch your death, my lady."
Excerpted from My One True Highlander by Suzanne Enoch. Copyright © 2017 Suzanne Enoch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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