When Eva MacKay learns her father has bartered her off to a warrior from a neighboring clan, she has no choice but to run away, taking her dark secrets with her. Freedom is now within her grasp!
Dutiful highlander Rob Mackintosh tracks down his runaway bride, only to be stunned by the fireworks that erupt between them. For behind Eva's timid smile lies a headstrong beauty, and Rob knows, no matter what, this marriage is going to be full of surprises!
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Rob Mackintosh, cousin and close friend of chieftain of the powerful Mackintosh clan, glared at that friend and was met by an expression he could only describe as glee. Brodie did not even attempt to hide his enjoyment of Rob's discomfort.
'Damn it to hell, Arabella!' Rob cursed. Brodie's wife had neatly undermined his argument against this proposed marriage with a few words. 'How am I supposed to refuse it now?' He turned and strode out, still cursing under his breath as he left.
The last six months since Brodie had taken his place as chieftain of the clan and the head of the Chattan Confederation had been busy ones for Rob. After struggling to help his friend defeat his treacherous cousin Caelan and undo the damages wrought during Caelan's rule, Rob had taken a position on the council that advised and guided Brodie. But, everyone knew that Brodie trusted Rob as he did no other, and Rob soon became the one to seek if someone needed or wanted something from Brodie.
Rob nodded to several in passing as he made his way down the corridor away from the chamber Brodie used as his workroom. From the way their mouths twitched, he knew they'd heard either the cursing or the door slam.
A marriage contract.
To some unknown, unmet woman from the north. To bind her clan and his and expand Brodie's sphere of influence.
All of that was the normal pattern of events for marriages and contracts, but somehow Rob had wanted something more. Something or someone different. Always in Brodie's shadow but not close enough in blood, he'd hoped that would protect him from clan machinations and plans. Clearly, it had not.
Turning the corner, he strode down the corridor and out the doorway that led to the yard. He needed some fresh air to clear his head and think on this matter. Rob did not doubt that Brodie would have his back in this and, if Rob refused outright, Brodie would accept it. But, meeting the gaze of Arabella and saying no would be another thing.
Rob had watched as she, once their enemy, had first given Brodie back his soul and then helped to save their clan. In spite of the long history of hatred and mistrust between the Mackintoshes and the Camerons, Arabella had accomplished what many had thought impossible and, more than that, she'd saved Rob's closest friend.
If truth be told, Rob knew he would have to come up with a strong objection to allow himself to refuse this arrangement. He let out a breath and looked around.
Somehow his feet had taken him into the village, and he stood before his sister's cottage.
Brodie had said that Margaret approved the match. Rob suspected that she would be in support of any arrangement that ended with him married. She'd long decried his bachelorhood and had tried her own hand at matchmaking, but he'd resisted. She was probably chortling with glee over his situation now.
'Margaret?' he said, knocking on the door frame. 'Are you within?' She called out to him.
Leaning down to enter, he watched as Margaret put a pile of clothing aside and stood to greet him. She was always busy, her hands never idle or empty. And though her husband was gone, she worked more now than when he was alive, taking in the strays and the lost and the injured, seeing to their care until they could move on. Just as she had in their mountain camp during their months and months of exile and outlawry.
'Ah, Robbie ' She clutched his shoulders and drew him down for a kiss. 'You have been a busy man.'
'Is that your way of saying I do not see you often enough?' Rob asked as he stepped back. She smiled and nodded.
'Well, now that you are such an important man, seeing to the chieftain's business and travelling so much, I understand.' Rob narrowed his gaze and watched for signs that she was teasing him.
'Aye, Margaret,' he said as he finally recognised the tiny lines at the edge of her eyes as humour. 'I am so important.'
'Truly, Rob, are you well?' she asked, concern filling her tone. Before he could answer, a knock came on the door and it was pulled open.
'Margaret? Are you here, lass?'
A man who called his widowed sister lass? Rob turned to see who this man was and was shocked when Magnus, one of the warriors, ducked low and entered. From the man's startled expression, he did not expect Rob to be here. The glances that passed between Magnus and his sister told Rob the answer to the question he'd not yet voiced.
'Aye, Magnus,' Margaret said, walking to the door and the man. The blush in her cheeks both surprised and pleased him in some way. Though he would never have thought of this, clearly there was something more than simple kinship between the two. 'Rob just arrived.'
'Rob,' Magnus said, holding out his hand in greeting. 'How goes it?'
'Well, Magnus,' he answered, accepting the man's hand. 'What brings you here?' he asked, even knowing 'twas neither his right nor his place to ask such a thing.
'I help your sister from time to time with the heavier tasks at hand,' Magnus explained. His voice grew gruff and Margaret's face grew redder. Heavier tasks, his arse! 'With you being off, seeing to Brodie's business, I stop by when I can.' Margaret looked near to choking or exploding, Rob could not decide which, so he took pity on her.
'I am glad you are here to aid her, Magnus. Especially when I cannot be,' Rob said.
He meant it. Though from their actions, the shy glances shared between them and their nervousness, Rob understood the relationship that was growing. Margaret's healing skills had saved Magnus's life during their exile, and the two had spent much time together.
If it pleased his sister to have this man close at her side, then it pleased him. She did not need his approval to marry again or to take a man to her bed. If she found some joy after the bitter loss of her husband, Rob would not deny or question her. The air around them grew tense, and he felt the odd one here and knew he should go. But first
'Speaking of my travels, Magnus, Brodie has offered my hand in marriage.'
''Tis about time for that, Rob,' Margaret said, laughing and pulling him back into a hug. Magnus stepped aside to let her close. 'I had given up any hope of my efforts working to see you matched.' She let him go but kept her hand on his arm. 'So who is the lass?'
The snort he let out was unexpected, as were her words. Margaret had given no approval. Hell, she had not even known of the offer. Brodie would pay for this.
'A MacKay from the north. Brodie wishes our clans joined, and I seem to be the eligible kinsman to be offered to the slaughter.'
He did not need to see her wince to hear the bitterness in his own voice. If this match did happen, he should not want his resistance whispered around. Margaret leaned in close then.
'Mayhap this is for the best, Rob? Brodie would not ask someone he did not trust to do something as important as this.'
Rob nodded. 'Aye, you have it right, Margaret. I had just hoped.'
He paused, not knowing how to explain his feelings to her. Men and women looked at this from different perspectives and, since her marriageone that resulted in a deep lovehad been an arranged one, she would likely not do anything but support it. Some noise outside caught his attention and gave him the excuse he needed to leave.
'I must see to packing for the journey,' he said. Kissing his sister, he nodded at Magnus and then could not stop himself from a wee tease. 'Have a care with those heavy tasks, Magnus. A man could find himself confined to a bed easily if they are not done well.'
Rob walked out quickly then, but not without hearing Margaret's sputtered curse and Magnus's deep and hearty laughter. It did his heart good to know that Margaret had found joy again and that Magnus would be there for her.
The rest of the day passed quickly, too quickly for his taste, as he saw to his duties that involved training the warriors. Fighting at Brodie's side over the past years had honed his skills with weapons and strategies, and he enjoyed this part of his duties the most.
Then, he gave Brodie, and Arabella, his answer at dinner.
Brodie's reaction was exactly what he expected it to bea knowing nod of his head and a satisfied expression in his gaze. Arabella, well, Arabella jumped up and ran to him, throwing her arms around him and clutching him close, regardless of her ever-expanding girth.
'I am glad, Rob,' she said, wiping at her eyes as she released him. 'I want you to be happy in this. I pray you will find the MacKay girl to your liking and you will be happy.'
Any desire to argue or correct her dissipated at Brodie's approach. The look in his eyes now promised retribution and pain if Rob dared ruin Brodie's wife's happiness in this matter. Having been at the wrong end of Brodie's anger more than once, Rob decided to allow her to believe the optimism in her words and he just nodded.
'When will you leave?' Brodie asked, as he guided Arabella back to her chair.
'In a day or two. I have some things to see to before I leave.'
'How many will you take?'
Rob inhaled and let it out before answering his laird. He'd thought on this all day while finishing up some tasks. If this failed, he wanted no one to witness it. Whether Brodie would agree was another matter.
'I go alone.'
Silence greeted his words for several long seconds. He met Brodie's stare, waiting as his friend thought on his answer.
'I would rather you take at least a small number of men with you,' he said. 'But you will be travelling through lands held by allies or kin and can defend yourself,' Brodie agreed. 'How long will you take?'
'If the weather holds, no more than a fortnight to get there and another to get back. I will stay there as long as it takes,' he said.
'Rob ' Brodie began. Rob held up his hand to forestall his friend.
'I am at peace with this, Brodie. If I cannot tolerate the woman or have some strong objection, I will speak my mind to you.' Brodie smiled and nodded. 'I am at peace,' he repeated, 'but not happy at all.'
Accepting more wine in his cup from a passing servant, Rob drank it down in one swallow. He'd been truthful with Brodieif there was something wrong with the lass, he would refuse. If there was some impediment or other reason, he would refuse. And if there was none, he would have to accept her.
As he mounted his horse and gathered the reins of the packhorse in his hand two days later, Rob rode out of Drumlui Keep, knowing that he would be a different man when he returned.
A married man, for better or worse.
He could only pray that it would be for the better.
But the situation that greeted him on his arrival made him realise, it was only going to get worse.
Three weeks laterCaisteal BharraichCastle Varrichvillage of Tongue, Scotland
H e should have gone by ship. He should have taken men with him. He should have done many things differently than he had. Rob knew that and more now as he neared the MacKay's keep outside the small village of Tongue.
Following the winding path up and around the hill on which the castle sat, Rob heard the guards call out as he cleared the last copse of trees and approached. He called out his name and the gates opened. One man motioned for him to follow and he did, aware of those watching his every move. Once he'd ridden close to the entrance to the keep itself, he threw a leg over his horse and dismounted. A gap-toothed boy ran up and Rob tossed the reins of both horses to him. He whistled to the boy before the young one got more than a couple of paces away and tossed him a coin.
'Mackintosh?' a man called out from the open doorway. 'The MacKay awaits you.'
Rob nodded and climbed the steps, leaning down to avoid hitting his head as he entered the keep. It was smaller than the one at Drumlui, but well kept and brightened by windows high up on the walls in the main hall. Glass from the looks of them. With the winds that blew in from the sea to the north and across the Kyle of Tongue, it was clear to him why those windows were small and thick.
Walking towards the large table at the other end of the rectangular chamber, Rob took note of a woman rushing there, as well. Not young enough to be his intended, she arrived there just as he did. He paused and bowed to the large, bearded man before him.
'My lord,' he said, as he lifted his head. 'I bring greetings from the Mackintosh to you and your family.'
He'd brought several gifts that yet remained on the packhorse that he would present formally later. And, something more personal to give the young woman when, if, he accepted the marriage contract. Rob glanced around the chamber and, though he saw several servants and others in the hall, no woman young enough to be the MacKay's heiress was present. Reaching inside his tunic, he took out a packet from Brodie and handed it to the MacKay.
'Ye were expected nigh to a week ago,' the MacKay said, nodding to a servant. 'We heard of storms to the west. Did ye get caught in them?'
'Aye,' Rob said. He accepted a cup of ale from the servant and followed the laird's lead over to a table. 'What roads I found quickly became muck and mire.'
'Not surprising at this time of year,' the older man explained. 'And this year the storms seem stronger coming from the north.'
The talk about the weather continued on and Rob knew it was forced. The rains came and went. The winds howled or caressed. The sun shone or hid. And none of that was of enough consequence for a man like this chieftain and a man like himself to dwell upon. It was, however, a perfect way to avoid the subject they should be discussing.
And why would the MacKay be avoiding that?
'I have been amiss, Mackintosh,' he now said. 'I do not believe ye have met Lady MacKay, Morag Munro.' Rob stood once more as the woman approached them now.
'My lady,' he said with a bow of his head. 'A pleasure to meet you.'
'Was your journey pleasant?' she asked, sitting on a chair across from her husband.
The journey again. Would the weather be next?
'Longer than I expected, my lady.' He kept his tone polite and tried not to let his suspicion enter it.
'These storms have been unusual.'
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is my second book by this author but won't be my last. It's a Harlequin so it's a fairly fast read. Eva MacKay is forced by her cruel father to wed Rob Mackintosh. She has a secret that she must keep. Rob didn't want to be married but his laird needs the connection with her father so he must wed Eva. Rob is a very good man. I will not write plot spoilers, especially with this book. I don't want to ruin it. I will say you might tear up occasionally. I do like Rob's sister, Margaret, who was in the first book of this series also.