At age eleven, Alex Sinclair pledges an oath to the Duke of Chatham promising to serve and protect his illegitimate daughter, Lucy FitzHarris. Nine years later, the duke unexpectedly takes Alex up on his vow, offering the future Laird of Balforss his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Now a man, hotheaded Alex has difficulty convincing Lucy—who would rather starve to death than marry a vulgar Scot—to go through with the arranged marriage. Once Lucy arrives in Scotland, she cannot resist the magic of Balforss or the allure of her handsome Highland warrior. But when Alex seemingly betrays Lucy right before their wedding, she is tricked into running away. Alex must rein in his temper to rescue his lady from unforeseen danger and Lucy must swallow her pride if she hopes to wed the Highlander she has come to love.
Each book in The Highlanders of Balforss series is STANDALONE:
* Tying the Scot
* Betting the Scot
* Forgetting the Scot
* Saving the Scot
About the Author
Jennifer Trethewey is an actor-turned-writer who has moved her performances from the stage to the page. She would, if she could, live half of every year in Scotland. It’s the next best place to home. She never feels like a tourist in Scotland “because the people there always seem like they are expecting you, like you are a long-lost cousin come to visit.” Her love for Scotland has been translated into her first series of historical romance novels, The Highlanders of Balforss.
Trethewey’s primary experience in bringing the imaginary to life was working for one of the most successful women’s theater companies in the nation, where she was the co-founder and co-artistic director. Today, she continues to act but writes contemporary and historical fiction full-time. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband. Her other loves include dogs, movies, music, good wine, and good friends.
Read an Excerpt
Spring 1814, Maidstone Hall, Kent, England Lucy FitzHarris tested her bowstring once again. What was it her instructor, Stevens, had said? Relax your mind and body. The only thing that should be tight is your bowstring. She selected an arrow and inspected the fletching. Satisfied, she whispered to herself, "Nock ... draw ... loose."
A short ffftss sound and then a soft thunk.
Lucy smiled down at her tiny white-and-brown spaniel whose tail was waggling. "Come along, Hercules."
She walked across the practice field toward the straw bale target, with Hercules bounding along at her side. Five of her six arrows had struck center. Lucy had proven herself a far better archer than her brother or his friends, yet they had never allowed her on a hunt. "Hunting is for men," George had said. "The sport is too rough for girls."
"One day, Hercules. One day we will take down a stag with a single shot. That will wipe the sneer off George's face once and for all."
Hercules broke into wild barking at an approaching threat — Lucy's maid, Nounou Phillipa, puffing and grunting up the hill, her wide frame swaying from side to side. Merde. She must have run all the way from the house to the shooting range. She had her skirt hitched up to her knees with one hand, and the other hand waving madly.
Lucy met her half way. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"
"Votre père veut vous parler." Phillipa bent over to catch her breath.
"What does Papa want to talk to me about?"
"Oh mon Dieu." Even Phillipa's wheezing sounded French.
"Tell me. Is it Langley?" Lucy gave her shoulder a quick shake. "Has George brought Lord Langley home to Maidstone with him?"
"Je ne sais pas." Phillipa gasped and fanned herself with a free hand.
Lucy started for the house, calling over her shoulder, "Hurry. I can't receive him in my morning gown. Hurry, I say."
Triumph swept Lucy along the gravel path through the gardens toward the house. She had been waiting for this day for many months. Viscount Langley was the son of the Earl of Bromley, and he had finally come to ask for her hand.
A schoolmate of her brother's, the handsome and charming Langley had visited Maidstone many times. Although he had never professed his love, she was certain of his affections. He had kissed her in the garden. Everyone knew a gentleman never kissed a lady unless he intended to marry her. No doubt, he'd been waiting for her to turn eighteen. Now that she had, they would be married, and she would be a viscountess.
"Remember to act surprised when you see him, Hercules. We don't want Langley to think we're too eager." She lifted her skirts and took the back staircase two at a time. She paused at the top to call down. "Phillipa, where are you?" No answer. She let out a growly huff. "I have to do everything myself."
Lucy pawed through her gowns hanging in the wardrobe. A look of casual perfection would be most appropriate. She held the blue satin to her body, consulting Hercules. "Too fussy?" Rejecting the blue, she tried the green velvet. "Too formal?" The tiny spaniel cocked his head, confirming her assessment. Lucy swiped past two more. "Definitely not the pink or the burgundy. Far too frivolous." She needed something sophisticated. A gown that conveyed effortless grace.
At last, Phillipa appeared at the bedroom door, red-faced and winded.
"Where have you been? I have nothing to wear." Lucy pointed to the offensive wardrobe, her voice teetering between a whine and a wail.
"Le jaune est parfait."
"Of course." Lucy wanted to collapse with relief. "The yellow muslin. Merci, ma chère. But hurry. Vite. Vite."
After a flurry of fluttering shifts and stays followed by fastening, brushing, pinning, and draping, Phillipa held up the glass for inspection.
Lucy touched the small cameo tied around her neck. It had belonged to her mother, Genevieve, a French noblewoman whose family had been displaced during that awful business in France. She had died of fever soon after Lucy's birth. It would have been nice to have her here today, the biggest day of her life. Langley had come to propose. In a matter of minutes, she would be engaged to the future Earl of Bromley. Her life would never be the same.
"Suis-je prête?" Lucy asked.
"Oui. You are beautiful," Phillipa said in her halting English. "You look so like your mother." She was the only person who ever spoke of Lucy's mother. The only person to keep Genevieve alive in George and Lucy's memories. "Je t'aime, ma petite."
"I love you too," Lucy said.
Hercules bounded off the bed.
"Non, mon cher. Not this time. You stay here with Phillipa."
Lucy stepped lightly down the hall with Lady of the Lake in hand, a recently published poem popular with London Society. Evidence of her sophistication. Spotting her brother below, she arranged her composure into what she hoped looked like pleased indifference. She took a breath, and floated down the grand staircase as she had practiced many times.
The viscount was not present to witness her entrance.
"Where's Langley?" she asked, her voice airy, careless.
George lived to make Lucy's life difficult. Or at least that's what it seemed like to her. She tried a different tack. Sweetness. "Did he come home from school with you?"
He shook his head. She could tell he was being deliberately obtuse. Patience, she reminded herself. To show frustration would fuel her brother's mischief. "Is he arriving later?" "Father awaits you in the library."
George gave her the look he often wore when he was about to spring an especially nasty trick on her, but she refused to fall prey to his nonsense today. She lifted her chin, picked up her skirts, and swooshed into the library.
"Lucy. You're looking lovely as ever." Her father favored her with his best smile. The one she knew he saved only for her.
He kissed her on the cheek and motioned for her to sit. She chose a place on the loveseat where her gown might be best displayed. The library was Lucy's favorite room in the house. Small compared to what had been her mother's parlor, yet warm and welcoming. Tall shuttered windows, comfortable leather chairs, shelves overflowing with books, papers, and oddments. A decorative reflection of the duke — stately, elegant, masculine.
"Ah, Lady of the Lake," he said, seeing the book. "Like it?"
"Oh yes, indeed." She loved Scott's poetry. So romantic. So heroic. "I didn't care for the ending. I would have preferred Lady Ellen marry King James and live happily ever after as queen." She handed her father the small leather bound volume, and he frowned at it.
"Not every story has a happy ending, my darling." Is he thinking of Mother? Everyone said he grieved like a madman when she died. If he loved her so much, why didn't he marry her?
A moment later, her father's face cleared. Setting Walter Scott aside, he moved a mahogany bergère close to Lucy and sat. Taking both her hands in his, he leaned in and said, "I have momentous news."
Lucy tilted her head, a coquettish look she had practiced. "Really? How wonderful."
"News I am certain will make you very happy."
"Don't tease me, Papa. Tell me."
"You, my beauty, are to be married."
Lucy inhaled her joy. "Oh, Papa. I am so, so happy. I am glad you approve." Lucy gave her father's hands a squeeze. "Did he write to ask you, or did he meet you in London?"
The duke rose and crossed to the spirits trolley. "I made arrangements with his father by messenger. But I assure you, your fiancé is most in favor of the union." He poured them both a finger of brandy. Handing her a glass, he said, "Lucy, dear, you haven't even asked me whom you are to marry. Don't you want to know?"
She could barely contain the giddy sensation rising in her chest. "Stop your teasing. Did he say when the wedding would be? Will we hold the ceremony here at Maidstone Hall or in London?"
"At his father's estate, of course."
"I see." The disappointing news dampened her spirits. She had hoped for a London wedding. With renewed enthusiasm, she asked, "Did Langley say when he will arrive? I mean, he should ask me himself, oughtn't he?"
She rolled her eyes. Her father was such a tease. "Yes, silly. Who else?"
Her father looked blank. "Langley who?"
Lucy's heart began to beat faster. Her casual tone faltered. "Lord
Langley. The Langley I am to marry."
"Lucy, dear, what makes you think Lord Langley asked for your hand?"
Her attention sharpened on her father. "He ... he didn't?"
"No, dear." The duke shook his head. "You are to marry Alexander Sinclair of Balforss."
She dropped her glass of brandy on the carpet and bolted to her feet. Blood pounded in her head, the cameo tied around her neck now strangling her. "What? Who?"
"Alexander, the son of my dear friend, Laird John Sinclair."
"I don't know any Alexander Sinclair. I've never heard his name before in my life. Papa, how could you?" Her hands curled into fists.
The duke chuckled. "Of course you know him. You met him when you were a little girl. You liked him very much as I recall. Insisted he was your protector. Don't you remember?"
Why on earth would she remember some dirty little Scottish boy? "This is your fault!" she shouted. How could her father do this to her? Ruin her life without a care. Not a trace of remorse on his face. "It's because you never married our mother. We're an embarrassment to you, I suppose."
At last, she saw a crack in her father's impenetrable facade. "Darling, if it had been possible, I would have married your mother. I loved her very much."
The room began to spin, and she clutched the back of the bergère to keep her balance.
He started toward her, a conciliatory gesture she staved off with a hand. "I'm doing this for you. You're miserable here. London Society is cruel, and I can't bear to see you hurt."
She shook her head. A few pins fell out of her hair and pinged on the floor. "Stop it! Stop talking." Lucy straightened and lifted her chin. "I'm supposed to marry Langley. I can't marry someone else. I won't." She stormed out of the library before her father could say anything else to upset her.
Lucy collided with George in the hallway. He was stuffing a chunk of cake in his mouth and laughing.
"What's the matter, Lucy Goosey?"
She despised the pet name, one he had tortured her with since childhood. "Shut up."
"Did you think the future Earl of Bromley would marry the illegitimate daughter of a duke?" George coughed and pounded his chest with a fist.
"I hope you choke on that cake and die." She ran up the stairs to her room, flung herself onto her bed, and screamed into her pillow.
"Ma chou chou. Ma chère.Qu'est-ce que c'est?" Phillipa sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing her back.
Coming up for air, Lucy wailed, "He's a monster."
"No. Papa. He's making me marry some horrible man." She took a breath to yowl, "From Scotland."
Insisting the bedroom door remain open so her father could hear the full measure of her misery, she shrieked and howled and wept while Phillipa did her best to console.
She must marry Langley. London Society barely tolerated the illegitimate sons and daughters of nobility. As such, she had no real title. She'd learned to deal with the ugly remarks made behind pretty fans, never allowing people to see how their words wounded her, what their nasty comments cost her. But a title, especially the title of viscountess, would stifle all such remarks for good. It was essential she marry Langley.
"Oh, Hercules. How could Papa do this to us? Scotland. Of all the detestable places on Earth." Even worse, he was sending her to live in the Highlands.
She'd heard her father's guests speak of the Highlands at parties. "Untamable," one man had said. "Savages incapable of civilized behavior." Lawless was another term bandied about. Lucy shuddered. How could her father send her somewhere so vulgar?
She heard a light rapping and lifted her face from the soggy pillow. George stood in her bedroom doorway, the look on his face apologetic, rather than his usual sneer.
He swallowed hard. "Lucy, Langley was engaged to Miss Whitebridge two weeks ago."
She sat up straight. All the crying had left her ears plugged. She hadn't heard her brother properly. "What?"
"Sorry. I thought you knew. There's been talk of nothing else. You know, the sea of broken hearts he's left in his wake, and all that rubbish."
"You're full of rubbish. Langley plans to marry me."
"Did he tell you so?" George asked, his voice uncharacteristically sympathetic.
"Yes." Lucy swallowed a gulp of air. "No. Not in words. He kissed me. Everyone knows a gentleman doesn't kiss a lady if he doesn't intend to —"
George shook his head. "No, Lucy. You misunderstood. I'm sorry." George left, closing her bedroom door behind him.
She sat motionless, numb, wanting to believe George was playing another one of his childish tricks, yet knowing he told the truth. She felt broken inside, her dream of becoming Countess of Bromley shattered. Langley's kiss had been a lie.
She gasped as another thought, more horrifying than the last, hit her square on. She had told Caroline Humphrey of Langley's kiss. She'd told Caroline, the most notorious gossip in London, that Langley intended to ask for her hand. How could she have been so stupid?
Oh God, everyone must know.
Everyone must be talking about foolish Lucy, the silly girl who misinterpreted a kiss. She was ruined. She dropped her face into her pillow and wept, and wept, and wept.
Exhausted and congested, she lay on her back, hiccupping, one arm draped over her eyes, the other cradling her only solace, darling Hercules. Phillipa removed Lucy's boots, pulled the drapes, and left her to wallow in the very worst kind of unhappiness, self-pity.
Her life in London Society had come to an end. She could never show her face again, doomed to a lonely life at Maidstone Hall. As the years passed by, she would watch her brother marry and have children. She would become the sad aunt who was never loved and lived the life of a spinster. Over time she would slowly become invisible, forgotten, like an old shoe.
Or she could go away. Far, far away.
Lucy uncovered her eyes and stared at the pleated pink canopy above her bed. With this new perspective, the arranged marriage her father had foisted upon her so rudely didn't seem as awful as it had earlier.
Lucy had told Papa a fib. The Scottish boy had made a deep impression on her at the time. His strange Highland costume and his fierce behavior had frightened her at first.
"Bonnie wee thing," the boy had said.
He was referring to the yellow ball her father had given her. George had tossed her gift into the duck pond, but the Highlander boy had rescued her ball. He'd waded back to shore, smiling, unperturbed at having soaked his clothes to the waist. He had handed her the ball and said, "It's a bonnie wee thing."
Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake was the most romantic poem she'd ever read. He made Scotland and its people sound exciting. Would the Highlands be like the poem? Full of heroic princes and dashing knights?
No. Scotland was no place to live. It was a social wilderness, a cultural desert. Her father's friends had called it the land of the barbarous tongue.
Lucy scooped Hercules into her arms. "He was a nice boy," she whispered. The dog's floppy ear twitched. "No doubt he's grown into a beastly man. We can't let Papa send us to Scotland."
Late Summer 1814, Balforss, Caithness, Highlands of Scotland Alex stretched out on the summer grass and watched the fickle Scottish sun disappear behind a grey cloud. He pulled the painted miniature from his pocket and examined it again. If the artist was true, Lucy FitzHarris was a real beauty. Raven curls, alabaster skin, blue eyes. She looked defiant. Her brows and chin lifted as if she challenged the looker to doubt her loveliness.
When the duke's letter had arrived five months ago, memories of the day he'd spent in the gardens of Maidstone Hall had come to him quick and vivid; the pretty little girl he'd showed off for, thinking that he was very grown up, smacking her brother in the nose and wading into the pond to rescue her wee ball, expecting a tawsing and instead, making an oath to His Grace to serve and protect his daughter for life. Even now, nine years later, remembering the pride shining in his father's eyes made him flush with happiness.
Excerpted from "Tying the Scot"
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Trethewey.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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