SCOTLAND, 1819. Brandt Montgomery Pierce is a bastard—and proud of it. Raised by the Duke of Bradburne, Brandt enjoys an uncommon life of privilege. Despite the mystery surrounding his birth, he has wealth and opportunity, and wants nothing more. Especially not a wife.
Lady Sorcha Maclaren, the fiery and scarred daughter of Laird Maclaren, the Duke of Dunrannoch, is desperate to avoid marriage to a loathsome marquess at any cost...even if it means risking a kiss with a handsome stranger at a Scottish border festival.
But after an innocent kiss turns into a scandalously public embrace, Sorcha and Brandt get more than they bargained for—a swift trip to the altar. When danger chases them into the Highlands, and deceit threatens to tear them apart, their only hope will be to surrender...to each other.
Each book in the Lords of Essex series is STANDALONE
*My Rogue, My Ruin
*My Darling, My Disaster
*My Hellion, My Heart
*My Scot, My Surrender
About the Author
Amalie Howard’s love of romance developed after she started pilfering her grandmother’s novels in high school when she should have been studying. She has no regrets. A #1 Amazon bestseller and a national IPPY silver medalist, she is the award-winning author of several young adult novels critically acclaimed by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and Booklist, including Waterfell, The Almost Girl, and Alpha Goddess, a Kid’s IndieNext title. She currently resides in Colorado with her husband and three children. Visit her at www.amaliehoward.com.
Angie Morgan lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their three daughters, a menagerie of pets, and an extensive collection of paperback romance novels. She’s the author of several young adult books, including The Dispossessed series written under the name Page Morgan. Critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin, Angie’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Visit her at www.AngieMorganBooks.com
Read an Excerpt
Selkirk, Scotland, 1819
It had to be a miracle.
Brandt Montgomery Pierce, connoisseur of horseflesh and stable master to one of the most venerated stables in England, stared in stunned silence at the glossy gray Scottish thoroughbred tethered in the auction paddock. This was the very horse he had traveled to Scotland for.
Lochland Toss was by far the finest animal Brandt had set eyes upon, and ever since he'd first seen the Scot-bred stallion, two years ago at the races in Kelso, he'd wanted him. The horse hadn't been racing and never would; he wasn't sleek or fast enough for that. No, Lochland Toss had been bred into the Duke of Dunrannoch's legendary line of horses for incomparable brawn, endurance, and extraordinary stamina.
Reverently, he reached for the aristocratic beast and, starting at the withers, ran his fingers down his velvety back to his hindquarters, feeling along his strong legs and examining his joints for any abnormalities. There were none, of course. Dunrannoch wouldn't have brought anything less than perfection to the common lands auction. Brandt had met the Scottish laird at Kelso and had made an offer for the two-year-old on the spot. He'd been turned down that day with a firm no, and then twice more since. The horse wasn't for sale, he'd been told. And yet now, here it stood, in the auction ring.
It was a stroke of blind luck. Brandt had been stopping at the common lands festival only to purchase a mare for the already well-stocked Bradburne stables before traveling north to Maclaren, Dunrannoch's home, where he'd planned to make yet another offer for the horse in question. Beg, if necessary.
Rising from his crouched position, Brandt signaled the auctioneer. He'd waited long enough to make a bid on the stallion, and he'd pay whatever coin Dunrannoch wanted in order to take him off the auction block. He wanted, and needed, the stallion to begin a new, unparalleled breed. Something bred to win.
The auctioneer came over, tipping the short brim of his hat. "My lord?"
Brandt wasn't a lord, but he didn't correct the man. "What is the opening bid?"
"For this horse?" the man said, his eyes turning toward Lochland Toss. "Apologies, my lord, but 'tis no' up for auction."
A stone of disappointment dropped into the pit of his stomach. Bloody hell. Not again.
"Then what is it doing here?" he bit out.
The auctioneer cocked his head. "He's with the Maclarens, o' course. Fine animal, he is. Owner's o'er there."
Brandt followed the man's eyes and turned to view an exhibition match in a nearby paddock. Two men — one monstrous and the other a youth half his size — covered in thick padding and wearing metal helms, dueled with heavy claymores. The bigger one had to be the Maclaren in question. He would easily seat Lochland Toss, and if the steady thrashing he was giving the smaller man were any indication, he could handle him as well. Brandt admired the skill and pluck of the youth, but the outcome was not in his favor.
He revised his prediction as the youth spun and vaulted into a flying leap to bring the flat of his blade behind the man's knees. His opponent crumpled like a sack of bricks. The onlooking crowd went nearly quiet in shock. Brandt laughed. The sound drew the attention of the victor, who chose that same moment to pull off his helm. A long, inky braid tumbled from its hold, and a blazing blue gaze met his, knocking the breath from his lungs.
The fighter wasn't a young man, but a woman. A heavily scarred woman, with three parallel welts running diagonally across her face from mid-brow to right cheek. Her hair was combed away from her crown, declaring to all that she didn't give a whip what anyone thought of her ruined face. A lesser mortal would have hidden behind a fringe or a veil, but with her proud mien and broadsword lifted in triumph, she was Athena incarnate.
Brandt stared at her as the crowd began to cheer, a few people chanting something that sounded like "beast," though he couldn't be sure. With a hard twist of her lips, she turned away to collect her winnings. In that moment, she had weighed, measured, and dismissed him as nobody of consequence. He supposed she was right. He was a poor, inconsequential stable master, charged only with the welfare of the Duke of Bradburne's stables.
Though neither of those were entirely true. He also owned one of the finest breeding stables in England. And he wasn't poor. Far from it. He had more wealth than he knew what to do with, thanks to certain well-timed investments and the advice of his longtime friend, Archer Croft, the Duke of Bradburne.
His eyes drifted back to the clearing paddock as the crowd dispersed, opening up his view. Brandt couldn't help but take in the details of Athena's appearance, from her proud cheekbones to a hard, expressive mouth that seemed bent on ferocity. Though she'd been a head shorter than her opponent, she was nearly as tall as some of the men surrounding her, and her arms, bound in supple leather, were limber with muscle. They'd have to be strong to wield a broadsword with such confidence and ease.
She was a Highlander through and through. As hale and spirited as Lochland Toss, shifting restlessly beneath his touch. Which reminded him, he had business to conduct. Brandt gave the beautiful animal another once-over and shifted his attention to the felled Maclaren giant. Once the man had soothed his wounds and his pride, Brandt intended to make him an offer he could not refuse.
He turned back to the auctioneer and gestured toward the spotted mare he'd been looking over earlier. They'd already reached an agreement on that horse, and now, after making the arrangements for delivery to Essex, Brandt gave one last pat of appreciation to the gray stallion and headed back to where his own mount was stabled. Archer would be pleased with the mare, he knew. The beautiful horse would be a fitting gift for his wife, who loved horses almost as much as Brandt did.
Having been raised at the Duke of Bradburne's estate, and as the son of the previous stable master, he'd been surrounded by the animals all his life. They had always soothed him, giving him comfort as a boy and then as a man whenever his mind betrayed him by turning to things he'd rather not dwell upon anymore.
Like his cold-blooded Scottish mother.
Brandt loosed a shallow breath. He hadn't lived up past Hadrian's Wall since he was an infant, and he certainly had no memories of it. He had no memories of her, either, and if the reluctance his father, Monty, had always shown in speaking of his birth mother told Brandt anything at all, it was probably best he didn't know. Shaking off his maudlin, unwelcome thoughts, he signaled for his horse.
His mount, Ares, was brought forward quickly, and he motioned the horse toward the road when a female bellow and sounds of a scuffle reached his ears. Brandt closed his eyes and released a sigh. These Scots were always getting into barneys over something or the other. It wasn't his fight, but even he could not ignore the sound of a woman in distress.
The crowd cleared for the big horse, and what Brandt saw made him gape. Five men of varying sizes wearing yellow and brown kilts surrounded the swordswoman from earlier in the exhibition paddock. She didn't look afraid at all, despite the trickle of blood running from a shallow cut near the trio of scars that traversed one half of her face. The bloody trail, combined with the lurid marks, should have made for a daunting picture, but instead, she reminded him even more of a warrior goddess.
"You lost fair and square, Craig," she snarled, her fists high. Brandt was struck by her proper English speech, underscored by a lilting brogue, though it was nowhere as thickly accented as some of the Scots he was used to bartering with at these festivals.
Craig, the large man she'd been fighting earlier, scowled. "'Twas no' a fight for a woman."
"Though you got beaten by one."
Her opponent's face darkened with rage as he swung out a hamlike fist, which she deftly dodged. "Ye cheated, Sorcha Maclaren!" Brandt sat straighter in his saddle. Sorcha Maclaren?
"Take that back, ye goat-faced lout!" She rushed him headfirst. It was an error on her part; she was soon hidden by the crush of Craig's four friends.
Brandt couldn't fault her courage. But courage or not, one woman against five men was not a fair fight. Apparently, he was the only spectator to think so. He dismounted and pushed past the cheering mob to the edge of the circle before jumping into the fray. Plucking one man up by the scruff of the neck, Brandt tossed him to the side as the familiar rush of mad strength filled his blood. It'd been ages since he'd been in a good tussle.
Warming to the task, he sent a second body flying into the crowd and rammed his fist into the face of a third to the satisfying crunch of bone. He wasn't even breathing heavily by the time he got to the female pinned to the ground beneath the man she'd mocked, her arms banded to her sides. Struggling fiercely, she sank her teeth into his cheek, and Craig howled, wrenching back a fist aimed at her face. Brandt didn't waste a breath before delivering a heavy kick into his side, forcing the man to suck in wind and roll out of reach. He lunged to dispatch the brute properly when he was shoved from behind.
By the time he'd knocked his attacker to the ground with one punch and turned back around, the woman was on her feet, her tunic ripped during the fracas, exposing the lacy edge of her chemise. The unexpected sight of such delicate embroidery made Brandt halt for a startled second just as she executed a well-placed kick to Craig's nether regions.
"Ye're a right bastard, Craig Dunbar!" she swore as he keened loudly and crawled away from her on all fours. Clearly overcome by emotion, her brogue had eclipsed her earlier proper English speech. "Aye, ye're lucky my brothers were no' here, ye ken? Next time I see ye, I'll slit yer throat." She turned on the crowd next, holding her torn shirt together. "As for the rest of ye, go find something else to gawp at!"
Brandt watched as most of the crowd dispersed, though some remained, as if to see what she would do next. Dusting the dirt off his jacket, he smoothed a hand through the locks of hair that had fallen into his face. He wasn't fully prepared for the moment she faced him. Arrested, Brandt's jaw slackened. Not because of her scars, but because of her eyes. Across a distance, they had blazed. At close range, the fire in them was near unbearable.
They were a startlingly deep blue, reminiscent of the Ettrick Water flowing through the village, and they held his with unswerving tenacity, her head thrown back and one hand on her hips. Seconds, or an eternity, went by. Brandt was aware of nothing beyond this woman and her bold, incisive stare. He saw intelligence glimmering in her eyes, and humor, too, as her gaze scoured his.
"You're a Maclaren," he said.
"I am," she answered.
And she'd called the other man Dunbar. Which meant he wasn't the owner of Lochland Toss. She was.
Brandt cleared his throat as something assessing flickered in the blue depths of her eyes. He had no time to ponder it before she released his stare and smiled, drawing his attention to her lips. Her mouth had seemed sullen from a distance, though now, it was ... not. The generous curve of her bottom lip looked silky and inviting. His heart galloping slightly, Brandt's gaze focused on the blood crusting on her cheek. He lifted a hand, and she shied away, her smile fading.
"You've been hurt," he murmured.
"You're Sassenach," she said, her eyes narrowing, a different light coming into them. Calculating, almost.
"Scottish-born, though raised in Essex."
"Essex." The sound of that word on those lips made a knot of pure lust tighten in his belly. Brandt sucked in a stiff breath, growing warm as her eyes appraised him with a practiced sweep as if he were prime horseflesh on display for auction. "Do you know the Marquess of Malvern?"
Brandt frowned at the strange, abrupt question. The marquess she spoke of was a man many people in England had heard of, mostly because of his notoriously savage wartime exploits on the Continent. A cousin to the Countess of Sutherland, he was also known for his open approval of the brutal Clearances employed by the countess and the Marquess of Stafford. Still, he was a man of some influence with allies in both England and Scotland.
"I know of him," Brandt replied carefully.
She pursed those sulky lips, drawing his attention there again. A shout that sounded vaguely like her name resonated from somewhere behind them. The lady's gaze slid to the remaining audience with something like guilt and resignation warring in her eyes. Another shout of her name echoed, this time closer.
"Someone is calling for you," he said.
"I should thank you," she whispered in a husky voice that made warmth rush to his groin. "For your help."
"You don't need to thank —"
But Brandt's words were cut off as she grasped the lapels of his jacket and hauled herself against him. The soft hints of feminine sweat and a touch of lavender invaded his nostrils before the barest pressure of her lips grazed over the corner of his mouth.
Brandt didn't think ... he only reacted.
She shouldn't have kissed him.
Regret was followed by a dizzying sensation at the surprising warmth of his lips. That austere mouth of his was sleeker than Sorcha expected, the spice and leather scent of him a double-edged assault. It was enough to throw her practical thoughts into disarray. And bring on a fair amount of alarm.
God above, his sheer size and strength took her breath away.
Before she could pull back, strong arms lashed around her, the corded sinews she'd admired earlier holding her flush against him. Every bold, bracingly hard inch of him.
Sorcha gasped, and the stranger took full advantage, his mouth breaching her lips for a sultry flick of his tongue. A shock of pure sensation rioted through her. Everything went soft ... every muscle, every thought in her brain, every bone in her body, everything.
With fumbling inexperience, she mimicked his teasing stroke, licking lightly. A strangled sound echoed between them — hers, his, she didn't know — and the kiss took a dangerous turn. Growling low in his throat, the gentleman's mouth angled persuasively over hers, coaxing it to open wider before he delved deep, and heaven help her, she gave in, parting her wicked lips wide for his pleasure. Glutton that she was, she wanted more. More of the pulsations skittering over her skin. More of his clever mouth, more of his hands. More of him.
Sorcha was dimly aware of the murmurs from the dwindling crowd, but that had been her plan. She'd hoped to provoke gossip with the scandalous embrace. The fact that her quarry was well-appointed in expensive tailored clothing that hugged his broad frame to perfection, and the fact that he was remarkably handsome, had made her decision only slightly less deranged.
In the moments before she'd lost hold of her senses, she'd taken in the deep, reddish bronze tones of his hair. He had a square jaw, a nose that looked like it had been broken a time or two, and a stern but sensuous mouth that seemed like it smiled more than it scolded. His hazel eyes had been hypnotic, changing color like a crystal when held to the light.
The idea to kiss him had come to her like a bolt of demented lightning. He was clearly an English nobleman visiting Selkirk for the common lands festival, and once he rode off, she would likely never see him again. She'd only been desperate ... desperate enough to try what she imagined any young woman in her situation would do to escape an unwanted betrothal — cause a scandal. And getting caught in the arms of another man seemed the best way to do it.
Not that she was entirely adroit at seducing strange men. The Beast of Maclaren was far better suited to swinging a sword than kissing.
She'd intended the kiss to be brief and chaste ... not whatever this was.
Chaste would be the last word she'd have used to describe the sublime onslaught of his lips, teeth, and tongue. It made her want things she'd never dreamed of wanting ... like his body, stripped of all its clothes, and his mouth on other smoldering, aching parts of her. Diah, Lord knew only a loose woman would have such lewd thoughts.
Excerpted from "My Scot, My Surrender"
Copyright © 2018 Angie Frazier and Amalie Howard.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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