Laire MacLeod’s father has married a mysterious widow who is a vain beauty that deals with potions and spells. Laire does not drink them with the rest of her family and is the only one who could see through her stepmother’s games. When Laire flees to find help from her Uncle, the Lady’s huntsman follows her with orders to kill. Laire must survive in a dangerous new city and find the antidote to a poisonous potion before it is too late.
Iain Lindsay is cursed. He is bound for seven years to be the hunter of a Lady who uses him to bring back birds to use in her potions. When Laire MacLeod escapes the Lady’s nets, Iain tracks her to Edinburgh, where she’s found shelter with an unusual band of thieves, but he cannot bring himself to harm her. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with the MacLeod beauty.
But a Highlander’s oath is his bond, and the price for helping her is death, both his own, and of those he loves.
About the Author
Lecia Cornwall is the author of Regency and Scottish romances, including Beauty and the Highland Beast and When a Laird Finds a Lass. Her books are known for their layered plots, humour, and intriguing characters. Lecia lives in Alberta, Canada with two adult children, four cats, a crazy chocolate Lab, the dozens of book characters who live in her head, and one very patient husband who endures it all with remarkable patience. Lecia is currently hard at work on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
The Lady and the Highlander
By Lecia Cornwall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Lecia Cornwall
All rights reserved.
Laire stood with her sisters as Bibiana entered the hall on Papa's arm. It was Tuesday, and on an ordinary Tuesday in early November, they'd be washing the linens, repairing plaids and blankets, distributing winter stores to the old and sickly members of the clan to see them through the cold months ahead. All that would be done tomorrow, of course, but that meant Wednesday's tasks would have to wait until Thursday. She felt an anxious twitch in her chest and clasped her hands together tightly. She hoped her new stepmother wouldn't change the routines, the traditions, the little rituals at Glen Iolair, but they knew so little about her.
Papa had gone to Edinburgh on business, as he did several times a year. But this time, on the date of his expected return, a letter had come instead, announcing the happy news that he was bringing a bride and directing his daughters to make ready for a grand wedding a fortnight hence.
It had set the whole castle into a spin. There'd been days of speculation about who the lady might be, and just how Papa had met her and fallen in love so quickly. The haste of it made Laire uneasy, but Papa had been married eight times before. If anyone recognized love at a glance, it was Donal MacLeod.
They'd known Papa would remarry eventually. He wanted a son to become the next laird of Glen Iolair, the next Fearsome MacLeod. But with twelve daughters and only two married and gone, their father had despaired of any woman accepting his hand in marriage while the castle was so full of females. Laire and her sisters had come to believe that Papa intended to wait until a few more of his daughters — say eight or nine of them — were wed before he married again.
The lady's stunning beauty when she arrived in the glen on Papa's arm, with three servants in tow, had been yet another surprise.
And now, on this happiest of days, Donal's daughters sighed like an autumn wind at the pride and joy in their father's eyes as he entered with his bride. He looked every inch the nervous bridegroom, though this was his ninth wedding.
"She's beautiful," whispered Cait to her sisters.
"And look at her gown," Meggie murmured.
Papa's new bride glittered in the candlelight and the sharp shards of light that emanated from her made people squint as she passed by. It was impossible not to stare at her jewels, at the delicate embroidery that covered her garments, at the youth and grace of the bride.
In Laire's opinion, all that flashing sparkle made it impossible to see her, the bride, the person behind the finery. Was she pleased to be marrying Papa? Was she as in love as he was?
"Papa looks so happy," Jennet sighed. "How fortunate at his advanced age to find such a lovely wife."
Laire frowned slightly. No, he wasn't getting any younger, but he wasn't in his dotage. She felt the hope he carried in his breast, that this time he'd breed a fine, strong, strapping son. He had a son once, Laire's own twin, but the boy had died when he was only five. A misadventure, they called it. A tragedy. Laire felt a twinge of guilt now, a familiar companion. It had been all her fault ... She bent to pick up her youngest sister, Annie, who was five herself now, so she could see the bride better, and held her tight.
Aileen, Laire's eldest sister, dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. "I wish we'd had time to know her better — this all seems so sudden. Papa goes to Edinburgh twice a year, and he's never come back with anything more exciting than ribbons and sweets before now."
"And books," Gillian added.
"And fine gowns," Meggie sighed.
"He said it was love," Jennet whispered. "Where did he say she was from?"
"Italy," Isobel said. "Her maidservant told me so."
"Her manservant Rafael said Spain," Aileen said.
"I understood it was Egypt," Gillian said. They all glanced at the bride again, standing next to Papa, smiling as she received the congratulations of the clan.
Her servants were passing among the MacLeods with trays of wine instead of whisky, ready for toasting the happy couple.
"Wherever she's from, she's beautiful. And rich." Meggie said taking a glass of the deep red wine. "Have you tasted the wine she brought? A dozen casks of it have arrived already, with more to come. Her maidservant mulls it with spices and herbs and secret things. I've never tasted anything so fine." She drank deeply and held up her glass to be refilled, and Rafael filled it to the brim. Her eyes shone, and Isobel giggled. So did Aileen, and Jennet ... All her sisters were giggling.
Laire looked around the room. The whole clan was merry on the fine wine. It was red as rubies and apparently as sweet and heady as the rich autumn air.
"You are not drinking, mademoiselle," Rafael said to her.
"I drink only water," she said. He made a moue of disappointment and held out a glass anyway. "Take just a sip to wish the bride happy," he said. Laire looked into the depths of the liquid. It was as dark as the loch at night, and it smelled sweet, like spring flowers. But underlying the fragrance was a dark, metallic tang that made Laire recoil. Rafael's jaunty smile faded. "Take the glass, mistress," he said, his eyes as hard as pebbles, and Laire felt a chill sweep over her.
She took it and held it, but Annie grabbed it in her small hands and drank deeply before Laire could stop her. "Annie, no," she said, but Meggie laughed.
"Oh let her. What harm can it do? She'll fall asleep before she's had more than two sips."
Annie squirmed to be released, and Laire set her down, watched her dart through the crowd.
The noise in the hall rose as one toast followed another and the clan celebrated. The wine flowed and cups were filled and refilled until cheeks and eyes shone. Donal gestured to the pipers and the music began, and folk danced with wild abandon. Laire backed out of the onrushing stream of people and found a safe place by the wall. Still the drink flowed, an unending river of it. Lads kissed lasses, and the lasses kissed them back. Papa would never allow such impropriety in his hall, but he was oblivious to all but his new bride. He hadn't taken his eyes off her.
Laire supposed Bibiana's servants thought it odd she didn't drink ale or wine or whisky. They probably thought she didn't wish her father happy, but she never drank anything but plain water. Not since her brother's death. She did wish Papa happy ... She looked around the hall at her delighted clan and saw the last of Bibiana's servants standing in the shadows just as she was, outside the party, watching.
Bibiana had brought three servants. Terza was as old and lined as the hills, but her black eyes were as sharp as a bodkin. The French manservant, Rafael, was handsome, quick of wit, and as charming as summer wine. It was his job to anticipate anything that Bibiana might want, and provide it before she even had to ask.
But this man was most intriguing. He was simply called the hunter, the sealgair, and by no other name. Laire looked at him from under her lashes. He neither ate nor drank, and he hadn't dressed for the wedding, but wore the same black leather he'd worn since his arrival at Glen Iolair. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, it was with the gruff brogue of a Highlander.
He was dangerously dark, long, and lean. His sword hung low on his hip, and there was a dirk in his belt and another in his boot. Even in the midst of such revelry and merriment, he looked like a hungry wolf — a predator coiled to strike. She swallowed and ran her hand along the side of her skirt. She couldn't seem to look away. Was he dangerous?
He turned, and she felt the moment when his eyes met hers like a touch. A jolt of surprise shot through her. His eyes stopped her breath, arrested her, made her lips part in breathless surprise. They were as hard and gray as polished metal. He was a bonny man, she noted, the realization striking her like a whip and making him all the more disconcerting. Her belly tensed, and her breath left her body. Slowly, those clear gray eyes gaze moved over her, taking in her violet silk gown and the locket at her throat. Awareness of him heightened every one of her senses. She could feel the softness of the silk against her skin, smell the damp stones of the wall beside her, hear her heart beating. It skipped a beat as his eyes stopped on her lips. She watched his mouth tighten slightly, saw his throat work. She flicked her tongue over her lips, suddenly thirsty.
She forced herself to smile, to offer him a brief and polite welcome to Glen Iolair, but he didn't smile back. He looked away to scan the crowd, and she felt as if a candle had been snuffed out, leaving her in the dark. She kept her eyes on him, waited for him to look back at her again, but he did not.
He was watching Meggie, who was very merry, and Isobel, who was tipsy and giggling, and sensible, steady, matronly Aileen, who glowed under the effects of the potent wine. The sealgair looked away again, frowning.
Laire felt an angry blush rise from her breasts to her hairline. What right did this man, this servant, have to judge the MacLeods? It was their laird's wedding, a joyous event indeed. There was nothing wrong with a glass of wine or two. Or more.
She looked at him again, willed his eyes back to hers, and raised her chin. He glanced at her again, a mere brush of his eyes before they moved on. She sent him a sharp look to remind him that she and her sisters were the daughters of the Fearsome MacLeod, while he was just — she paused. No. He was more than a servant, that was clear. Something about the way he stood, the proud set of his head or the easy lines of his body, told her that. But what was he otherwise?
He was alone, and he was a guest — of sorts. She turned to take a glass from Terza's tray, not for herself, but for him. Her hands shook a little, anticipating what she would say and how it would feel to stand beside him.
But when she looked up again, the shadows were empty. Bibiana's sealgair was gone.CHAPTER 2
Iain Lindsay pushed back the black hood that covered his head and looked around the forest that surrounded Glen Iolair. He breathed in the rich, pine-scented air of Scotland and let himself relax for a moment. He'd missed Scotland, even though he'd hardened his heart against ever coming back to his homeland. It had been nearly seven years. He'd missed the rocks and the hills, the purple of the heather, and the unsurpassed blue of the sky more than he'd known until this moment. The air held the tang of the sea, the freshness of the mountains, and the sweetness of the peat-rich earth. It was a perfume that was unique to the Highlands of Scotland.
He frowned. Nay, it wasn't his home. Not anymore. He had no country, no plaid, no clan, no home, and no name. He was the sealgair, defined by his hunting skills and nothing more.
He closed his eyes and rubbed them, the brilliant yellow of the last autumn leaves so bright they were almost painful to behold. Or perhaps it was the long-forsaken emotion the sight of them stirred in him.
He had no right to such feelings. He was naught but a servant now, and his job was to kill the birds Bibiana craved and play her bodyguard when she required that — which wasn't often. Bibiana was a woman of independent wealth, wit, and charm. She was no man's victim. Some called her a witch, some a seductress. She took what she wanted, swiftly and without mercy.
He turned his face up to the sun filtering through the trees. The air was crisp and cold. It was early November, and he knew there wouldn't be many more days like this one. Winter would soon close in on the Highlands, and deep snow would lock the land in an icy grip. Cailleach, the winter hag, would reign. But that witch had not met Bibiana ...
It wouldn't snow today. Yellow leaves floated down around him like forgiveness. But redemption was impossible. His heart was as black as the clothing he wore, black as the dried blood on his sword and the barbed tips of his arrows.
By spring, his sworn service to Bibiana would be done. She would try to beguile him to stay, promise him his heart's desire if he remained with her. He wondered now if that was why she'd come to Scotland — to remind him of who he'd been, what he'd been, and what he was now.
Ach, but this land was still part of his battered soul, for all his refusal to say it aloud. Still, he wouldn't stay. When his contracted time was done, he'd go and disappear forever. But no matter where he went or how far he ran, the memories, the sins, the terrible burden of guilt, would stay with him.
His ears pricked at the soft snap of a twig, the rustle of a branch being moved aside carefully. Not carefully enough. Someone was following him.
It was the boy, no doubt — the half-grown son of a MacLeod clansman who had begged to come hunting with him that morning. He'd offered to saddle the horse, carry the weapons and snares, and bear home what the sealgair killed. He'd made a fist, crooked his arm, and showed Iain the strength of his wee muscles.
But Iain hunted alone, the way he did everything else.
For the moment, he ignored his stalker. He turned at the coo of a wood dove, high in a tree. In one sleek motion he drew his bow, nocked it, aimed, and shot the creature. It fell from the tree without a sound.
He crunched through the leaves to where it lay, its red blood staining the soft gray feathers and the golden leaves. He frowned. He'd hit it through the heart and killed it instantly. It was a mistake. Bibiana liked the heart whole and undamaged, and the creature's suffering made the meat spicier, sweeter. He pulled his arrow free and put the limp body into the pouch at his hip anyway. He looked around for more birds, but the woods had gone silent.
He blamed the boy and his clumsy attempt to follow him. A hunter must be silent, stealthy, a shadow. If he were willing to teach the boy the way he'd been taught, he'd tell him that, show him ... but he wasn't here for that. He was Bibiana's servant, her thrall, and he had work to do.
He fixed a ferocious scowl on his face and turned to the place he knew the boy was hiding, just a dozen yards behind him, crouched low behind a bush. He heard the intake of the lad's breath, knew his heart was beating fast. Good. He should be afraid.
Iain began to stride toward the undergrowth. He caught the glint of an eye, the curve of a cheek. He heard a soft gasp, the sound of movement, and the boy lifted his head to look at Iain fully, his eyes widening in surprise. But the eyes were violet, vivid against the yellow leaves, and surrounded by long dark lashes. He stopped in his tracks.
It wasn't the boy — it was the lass. One of Donal MacLeod's daughters, the one who'd watched him at the wedding feast, the beauty with the lush lips and slender curves. He'd broken his own rule and looked at her, stared, unwilling to look away as his body shook with craving for her, with sorrow for her fate and disgust for himself. It had been a mistake, that moment of connection. He'd always made it a point not to see Bibiana's victims, not to meet their eyes. But this lass had surprised him, and once he'd met her gentle gaze and set eyes on her half-parted lips and her slim, perfect figure, he hadn't been able to look away. She had pale, translucent skin, and she'd blushed under his scrutiny. It was like watching the sun rise over the mountains in winter. It had felt like a blow to the gut, and his belly curled with the kind of male interest he'd thought long dead. She'd stolen his breath, just standing there. And her eyes — like amethysts, or the wee violets that filled the woods at Craigmyle in spring. For a long moment — too long — he hadn't been able to look away from the MacLeod's daughter. He tried to recall how long it had been since he looked into any woman's eyes, felt desire stir. A mistake indeed. Lust had been replaced with regret at the thought of what Bibiana would do to the lass, what she'd suffer.
He couldn't afford such thoughts. They were distracting and dangerous. But still his heart kicked into a run, seeing her again here in the wood. He should turn and walk away, but he didn't. He was curious. Why did she follow him? Her sisters were no doubt still abed, well-dosed with one of Terza's potions — perhaps the one that brought on lust-filled dreams and made them sigh and quiver in their sleep, their young, perfect bodies rousing with desire and yearning.
Excerpted from The Lady and the Highlander by Lecia Cornwall. Copyright © 2017 Lecia Cornwall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.