Enchanting The Highlander -- Available Now
Book 2 of Kilts and Kisses
Five new, enchanting, Scottish romance novellas by five bestselling authors!
About Tartans and Trysts:
Sorcha Gunn has realized the error of her ways and wants to make amends for everything she’s done. But when her cousin mysteriously disappears and Sorcha suspects her father is responsible, she needs to make a choice: betray the man who has given her everything or seek help from his enemy. Her decision is not an easy one, especially when the only person who believes in her is a brawny Highlander from the neighboring clan.
As captain of the MacKay guard, Doughall Forbes will do anything to protect his clan from the ruthless Gunn laird. The last thing he needs is a wily female luring him into a nefarious trap. But he believes Sorcha, even though he can tell she’s holding something back. He’s determined to help her but soon discovers he’s the one who needs protection…from losing his heart.
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Scottish Highlands, 1607
She gazed into the eyes of a killer.
How could she sit at the same table with the man in the great hall and be expected to keep the terrible secret that loomed between them? A chill ran down her spine at the mere sight of him, especially since they shared the same blood. Laird, Chief, John, a murderer—in truth it didn’t matter what she called him. There was nothing she could do. The man was her father nevertheless.
His hair was full of graying strands. He wore the Gunn plaid of blue, green, and red, and affixed at his shoulder was the clan badge—what should have been her uncle’s badge—which read “Aut pax aut bellum.” Either peace or war.
Sorcha Gunn sat on the dais with her father, mother, and cousin. She played with the food in her trencher, not that she felt much like eating anyway. Afraid everyone would know the secret she concealed by the expression on her face, she averted her gaze from her clan at the tables below. She was deeply ashamed, disappointed, and disgusted with her sire for all he had done for the sake of becoming chieftain.
A short curl of ash-brown hair slid onto her forehead, and she left it there. Her stomach was sour, and she was plagued by dire thoughts. Her mother’s voice pulled Sorcha from her woolgathering just as she started to wonder if her mother had known all along about her husband’s treachery.
“What troubles ye, my dear? Ye’ve barely eaten anything since Ceana wed a few days past.” Her mother was a comely, petite woman with a square chin and a wide mouth. Although Sorcha had her father’s eyes, she was grateful she’d always had her mother’s smile.
She hadn’t thought it was possible, but hearing Ceana’s name made her feel even worse. The last thing she needed was to be reminded of her cruelty to her cousins. Since discovering the truth about her dear father, she’d regretted every moment of her abhorrent behavior. But perhaps now that Ceana had wed Sorcha’s betrothed in a love match, her cousin would no longer be cross with her and they could mend the past.
When Sorcha took too long to respond, her mother added, “My heart breaks to see that look on your face. When we finish our meal, ye can take your leave to the stream and wash your sleeve again. I am nae giving up on ye, Daughter. Ye’ve had suitors lining up at the gates, and they will be again soon. I have nay doubt in my mind.”
“Aunt Marta, do ye truly believe Sorcha will see the apparition of her future husband by placing another garment in front of the fire this eve?” asked Anna with a hint of censure. Her long, blond locks hung in loose waves down her back. Waiting for an answer, she leaned around Sorcha at the table. The blue day dress hugged her cousin’s fifteen-year-old frame, and the color of the fabric matched Anna’s azure eyes.
Sorcha’s mother gave a patient smile. “Aye. That’s exactly how I knew I was destined to wed your Uncle John.” She placed silvery locks of hair behind her ear and cast a coy expression at her husband.
Even though the woman believed heavily in superstition, Sorcha had learned to accept her mother’s eccentricities. Everyone had faults, and Sorcha knew that better than anyone. Not wanting to think another moment about her father’s machinations, she turned to Anna.
“Do ye need any help packing your trunks?”
Anna gazed at Sorcha with heavy suspicion. “Nay. I’ve almost finished the task.”
“Verra well. It will nae be long before ye’ll be under the MacKay’s roof. I know Ceana and Luthais will be happy to have ye there.” Sorcha glanced at one of the young men who sat at a table below the dais. He wore a loose tunic over the Gunn kilt, and a plaid hung over his shoulder. His wavy, reddish-brown hair touched the top of his shoulders, and his dimples were hard to resist when he smiled. His boyish good looks and kind demeanor made it obvious why her cousin favored him. “But I know someone who will miss ye greatly.”
Anna’s face reddened. “Please keep your voice down. Samuel can still visit me. I will nae be that far away.”
“Aye. With all that happened between Ceana and Luthais, I know the distance to MacKay lands verra well,” Sorcha said dryly. “But give me your word that ye’ll be more discreet than the two of them. Ye would nae want to be caught having trysts at the loch in the light of day.”
She waved her cousin off, knowing Anna would never be as foolish as Ceana. Samuel and Anna reminded Sorcha of two puppies, neither one of them sure of the other and nipping innocently at each other’s heels. When Sorcha finished her untouched meal, she stood, brushing down the skirts of her brown day dress.
“Daughter, I’ll have a word with ye in my study,” said her father.
“I did nae think there was anything more to discuss.” When her mother cast a puzzled gaze and her father’s eyes narrowed, Sorcha took a deep, calming breath. “I’ll be along shortly.” If she was forced to speak with her father, she needed to have her wits about her.
“Now.” Her father’s tone was more of a command.
Having no choice in the matter, Sorcha gave a slight nod of compliance and followed her father through the hall to his study. A cool draft of air ran down her spine, and she trembled. The fact that her father wanted to have a conversation with her didn’t discomfort her in the least, and she continued to tell herself that.
The heavy wooden door closed behind her, and the click of the latch made her flinch. Her father gestured to a chair, and she watched him warily as he sat behind his large, oak desk. Even though the room was spacious and boasted a stone fireplace with more than a score of swords displayed on the walls, she was suffocating. Hidden from sight, her hands moved nervously on her lap.
“Ye think ye’re verra clever,” said her father with heavy sarcasm. Warning spasms of alarm surged through Sorcha, especially when his voice continued to grate harshly. “Ye were to wed the MacKay’s son, nae my niece.”
“I doona know why ye’re angry with me. Ye still have your alliance with the MacKays. A MacKay wed a Gunn.”
“Èisd!” Listen! “Doona try my patience, Sorcha. Ye’ve cost me a great fortune, and now I’ll ne’er be able to seize MacKay lands.”
She lifted a brow. “And ye would’ve had me deceive my own husband?”
Her father sat forward and spoke between gritted teeth. “I am laird. I do what is necessary to see my clan prosper, nay matter what the cost.”
“Even at the expense of others…” Under the heat of her father’s gaze, Sorcha felt a lump forming in her throat. “And what will ye do? Kill Laird MacKay and Luthais for their lands as ye did my uncle, your own brother, for the chieftainship? And what about my poor aunt? What did she do to deserve such a fate, other than being the wife of the laird?”
Her father’s face became a glowering mask of rage. He flew to his feet and rounded the desk. Without words, he pulled Sorcha forcefully from the chair and bent her over the desk. She tried to stand, but his rough hand only shoved her cheek harder into the desk. “Ye give me nay choice!” He fumbled to lift her skirts.
He smacked her hand away as she reached behind in a futile attempt to lower her dress. Removing one of the leather belts from his kilt, he placed it on the desk in front of her fearful eyes, taunting her. “The time for pleading has long since passed. Ye blackmailed me into letting Ceana wed the MacKay’s son.” He spoke between clenched teeth. “Ye doona run this castle. Daughter or nae, ye will learn your place beside your mother.”
The sting of the leather strap against her bare buttocks made her cry out.
“Ye will be an obedient lass and do what ye’re told!”
Sorcha was about to speak when she received another hearty strike to her backside. Tears welled in her eyes and fell down her cheeks. With blow after repeated blow, the humiliation she felt was nothing in comparison to the jolting pain on her bottom. A knock came at the door, and only then did her father stay his hand. He lowered her skirts and his fingers encircled her arm like a vise, pulling her from the desk as if she weighed no more than a mere bairn.
His eyes were cold, lashing. “I ne’er want to hear a whisper of my brother or his wife’s name spoken from your lips. Remember that I am laird above all else, even a father. Ye will nae defy me again—for if ye do, I will nae be as kind. Do ye understand?”
Shock briefly held her immobile. This was the first time her father had ever laid a hand on her. In the past, he’d always doted on her and given her everything she desired. How was it possible she didn’t even recognize the man standing before her? As he waited for her response, Sorcha could only find the strength to nod. But once she did, he released the death grip he held on her.
“Come in,” called her father.
She stepped gingerly to the door and was greeted by Raonull, the rogue, who studied her from head to toe. When he gave her a mocking smile, she wanted to wipe the smug expression from his face. The man might be her father’s henchman, but she was in no mood for his unrefined behavior.
Raonull was tall, rawboned, and beardless, with an ingenuously appealing visage. His hair was the color of field oats, and his skin was pulled taut over the elegant ridge of his cheekbones. Most women in the castle flaunted themselves at him in a discomfiting way—but not Sorcha. The man certainly didn’t have his younger brother Samuel’s kindness and compassion. When the latch clicked behind her, she heard the men through the door.
Raonull spoke in an amused tone. “I see ye showed her who is laird.”
“As if there was any doubt.”
* * *
Sorcha woke the next morning after the longest night she could remember. Memories had flooded her with emotion, and never had darkness consumed her soul as it had last eve. Her entire life was a lie—well, at least it had been for the three years since her father had her aunt and uncle killed and stole the lairdship.
There was a single knock on her door, and her mother entered. “Ye’re still abed at this hour?”
Sorcha threw back the golden coverlet from the bed. “Aye, I did nae sleep verra well.”
Her mother scowled as she stood in front of the stone fireplace. “I can see why. Ye ne’er went to the stream to wash your sleeve last eve, did ye?” When Sorcha shook her head, her mother added, “How do ye expect to find your husband? I suppose I can gather more white heather and pray for luck.”
“Whatever ye feel is best, Mother.” Sorcha rubbed her fingers over her tired eyes and grudgingly pulled herself from the bed. Her body was stiff, and her backside hurt like the devil. The little voice inside her head refused to be silent, and she couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. Studying her mother closely, she asked, “Did Father ever receive word about those cowardly vagrants who killed my aunt and uncle on the road?”
“That’s an odd question to be asking, especially so early, is it nae?” Sorcha shrugged, and her mother continued. “Your father did everything in his power to discover who murdered his brother and sister-by-marriage. Ye know verra well that’s why he does nae like to travel with us. He fears for our safety on the road. Why are ye thinking about your aunt and uncle after all this time?”
“I suppose because Ceana is newly wed, and Anna will be taking her leave soon.”
Her mother pulled out a day dress from Sorcha’s trunk. “Ceana is wed; Anna has taken her leave; and ye, my dear, are the laird’s daughter.” She placed the gown on the bed and approached Sorcha, her gentle hands brushing back the hair from her daughter’s shoulders. “Ye have nay need to fear. Your father will find ye a good match. Of that I am certain. After all, ye are Laird Gunn’s daughter. He would nae let ye wed just any man,” she said proudly.
“Mother, there’s something I must tell ye.”
There was a quiet knock at the door, and Sorcha’s lady’s maid entered. “Are ye ready to dress?”
“Aye, she is, Beitris.” Her mother walked toward the maid and gave the girl a pat on the shoulder. “My daughter can nae sleep the whole day away. We are finding her a husband, ye know.”
As her mother was stepping out the door, Sorcha called out. “Wait! Did ye say Anna has taken her leave?”
Her mother turned. “Aye. She left well before dawn. I did nae even get a chance to wish her a fare-thee-well, but she’s nae too far away and can visit from time to time.”
Sorcha tried to speak, and her voice wavered. “Why would she take her leave before dawn? Did Laird MacKay’s men come for her at that time of day?”
“I am nae certain. Your father told me she was gone before first light.”
The door closed, and Sorcha’s thoughts raced.
Sorcha shook her head to clear the cobwebs. “Thank ye, Beitris, but I’ll dress myself this morn.”
The girl’s emerald eyes widened, and her mouth dropped. “Pardon?”
“Is my request that surprising?”
“Aye. Ye’ve ne’er asked me to take my leave before.” She nervously placed a fallen piece of red hair behind her ear as Sorcha opened the door.
“Believe it or nae, there was a time when I could dress myself. Thank ye, Beitris. I know that I doona say the words nearly enough.”
The girl stared, speechless, and then left the room, giving Sorcha an odd backward glance. Few kind words had ever escaped Sorcha’s mouth so she wasn’t taken aback when her maid couldn’t find her voice.
After donning her dress and washing her face with the tepid water from the washbowl, Sorcha made her way down the hall to her cousin’s chamber. Perhaps there was a clue why Anna had left so early. But when Sorcha opened the door, the room was dark.
Fumbling over to the small window, she yelped in pain when one of the bed’s corner posts rammed into her buttocks. She pulled back the heavy curtains and was greeted by the morning sun.
Anna’s chamber was empty. The bed was unmade. There were no trunks, and not a single trace of her cousin remained. A male voice startled her, and she jumped.
“Where the hell is she, Sorcha?” Samuel’s nostrils flared with fury.
“I doona know. Mother said she’d taken her leave this morn before dawn.”
His eyes darted back and forth across the room. “Now why would she do that?”
“I was asking myself the same.”
“Why did Laird MacKay’s men nae come for her?” He closed the distance between them. “One of the guards said she was escorted by your father’s men and my brother.”
A flicker of apprehension coursed through Sorcha. “My father’s men?”
“Did your brother say—”
“Raonull does nae know about Anna and me. My brother only tells me what he thinks I need to know.” Samuel ran his hand through his hair. “I doona like this. Anna would ne’er take her leave without speaking to me first. Can ye speak with your father?”
“Aye.” Sorcha depicted an ease that she didn’t necessarily feel.
Samuel walked over to the bedside table and picked up a yellow flower. His eyes darkened with emotion as he fingered the petals, bringing the bloom to his nose.
“What is it?”
He hesitated. “I gave this to Anna the last time we met, and yet it remains. She did nae take it with her.”
“Find out what ye can from the guards. I’ll travel to the MacKay’s this morn to see if she’s there. More than likely she had a good reason for leaving when she did. I’m sure she’s all right, Samuel.”
But for the first time in her life, Sorcha wasn’t certain about anything.