In need of an heir, Arran has finally agreed to take a wife, but when he sees Breghan's fragile beauty, he's furious. He will not risk the life of another maiden by getting her with child. Lust prompts him to offer a compromise: necessary precautions, and handfasting for a year and a day, after which Breghan will be free. For a chance to control her own future, Breghan makes a deal with the Devil.
Passion quickly turns to love, but Arran still has no intention of keeping the lass, or making her a mother. He loves her too much to lose her. But when a treasonous plot threatens queen and country, Breghan has to prove only she is woman enough to stand by his side.
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There must have been a hundred of them. Black-hearted Kerrs with mud-streaked cheekbones, matted braids falling down naked chests dark from dirt and sun and hair. But the eyes. Black as night, black as their hearts, black as the devil's soul.
Breghan ran faster, tearing through the summer-thick foliage. She could hear them rapidly closing in. The high-pitched grunts were neither human nor animal.
Branches rustled at her left, then at her right. Stubby fingers reached for her, scratching, clawing, poking, until all that remained of her gown was shredded ruins.
And then they went for her hair and face.
"No," she screamed, swatting in every direction before she fell to her knees and covered her face with her arms. "Leave me be. Please, please let me be."
The cruel fingers fell away.
The grunts stilled.
Breghan swallowed her sobs, slowly lifting one arm, then the other, afraid to look and afraid not to.
The leader of the pack stood right in front of her.
A shudder trembled through her. The stories were all true. He stood at least seven feet tall, blocking out the sun with his width. What she could see of his face was horribly disfigured, the skin puckered and mottled red. This one's eyes weren't black. No, the Kerr's eyes were blood-red and burning bright with the wild rage of a fire-spitting demon. Only one of his names was the Devil of Jedburgh.
Breghan's eyes shot open to sunlight streaming through the densely covered branches. Her chest was so tight, she had to fight for every breath as she sat up straight, her gaze darting about in a wild frenzy. A late-afternoon breeze rustled the leaves above and skittered shadows across the tangled yellow gorse and long grass. Her snowy mare, Angel, grazed contentedly at the base of the tree she was tethered to. It was a perfectly normal summer afternoon.
But there was nothing normal about this day.
Breghan slumped back against the tree trunk.
How long had she been asleep?
The long shadows indicated a couple of hours at least. She had to get home, before she was missed. Little chance, she remembered with a groan. Her mother demanded her almost constant attendance of late, plucking at sleeves and pinning up hems, embroidering necklines and sewing fresh ribbons onto old slippers. An entire wedding wardrobe was to be fashioned in under a week.
A week that ends today. By this time tomorrow, she'd be married to the Black-Hearted Kerr of Ferniehirst.
She couldn't make this sacrifice.
Her father demanded too much.
I could run away. That desperate thought was followed by a revelation. I already have.
She hadn't meant to. She'd simply done what she always did when it felt as if the walls of Castle Donague were closing in on her. She'd mounted Angel and the two of them had raced the morning breeze across McAllen fields. Neither the stable master nor the gate guard had blinked an eye. They knew she never went further than the river.
This morning, however, she couldn't stop herself. She'd veered west with the River Tiviot, onto the main road, and then she'd just kept on going and going.
Now Breghan contemplated truly doing it. She only had to stay away until the Kerr arrived to find his bride gone. His pride and her father's shame should do the rest. The Kerr would never tolerate such an outrage and her father would never insist the jilted laird honour their brief betrothal.