Forbidden Night with the Highlander

By: Michelle Willingham

CHAPTER ONE

Scotland—1171

‘My daughter is…not like other women.’

Rhys de Laurent eyed the Scottish chief, Alastair MacKinnon, wondering what the man meant by that statement.

There was a pained look upon the MacKinnon’s face, but Rhys waited for the chief to continue. When there came nothing further, he prompted, ‘Is she shrewish or is her face marked by pox?’

Alastair shook his head. ‘Nay, she is fair of face. But you’ll ken what I mean when you marry her. She is different.’

Rhys was not eager to claim the Scottish bride promised to him since her birth. He had travelled north for nearly a fortnight to Eiloch, Scotland, and he had no desire to live in this godforsaken land, half a world away from his family.

But he had come here for the sake of duty and obligation. He was a man who honoured promises, though he was not certain he would go through with the marriage as of yet.

Truthfully, he was here for his younger brother’s sake. Warrick had no land of his own, due to an estrangement with their father. These lands in Scotland would give his brother a place to live in peace, and Warrick could help to defend the fortress when it was necessary. It might be that his brother could marry the bride, if he could coerce the young woman’s father into changing the agreement.

The MacKinnon lands held value, and in the midst of unrest between the Normans and the Scots, Rhys knew his responsibilities. His father had made an alliance that depended on this marriage.

But he was uneasy about wedding a woman he had never seen before.

‘I want to meet with my bride before I agree to the formal betrothal,’ he told the chief. ‘Both of us deserve that much.’

A tight expression crossed Alastair’s face. ‘That would no’ be wise. Lianna has said she willna marry a Norman.’

Rhys wasn’t surprised to hear it. ‘Which is why we should meet and get to know one another. She may change her mind, once we are acquainted.’ And he could discover if his brother might be a more suitable match.

But the chief was already shaking his head. ‘Nay, if she sees you as a Norman, she’ll do everything she can to avoid the marriage. Better if you should dress like a Highlander and let her ken who you are as a man. You would find her more appealing.’ The Scot eyed him carefully. ‘Unless you are too proud to wear our clothing.’

Rhys considered the matter. The chief was right that Lianna MacKinnon would judge him as an outsider, no matter what he said or did. Fear would govern her opinion, and that was no foundation for a marriage. But he was uneasy about the deception. ‘I don’t like the idea of lying to my bride.’

‘You need not give your name,’ Alastair said. ‘Trust me when I say that Lianna will soften at kindness. And then you may see her warm heart.’ The Scot studied him carefully. ‘I’ve heard a great deal about you, Rhys de Laurent. Most say you are a fair man, respected as a leader. I would never give my daughter into your hands, did I not believe it.’

He gave no reaction to the flattery, for he knew Alastair had no choice but to uphold the arrangement. If Rhys did not accept Lianna as his bride, then he had the right to take Eiloch back again and place Norman soldiers in command of the fortress. His own father, Edward de Laurent, could have done so a generation earlier, but out of respect for his mother, Margaret, he had not. Although she was Norman, she had loved her second husband, Fergus MacKinnon, and had spent many happy years in Scotland, as if it were her sanctuary.

Alastair motioned for one of his men to come forward, and murmured an order in Gaelic. Rhys understood every word, for he had learned the Scottish tongue at a young age. His grandmother had insisted upon it, for the MacKinnons would never accept him as their leader otherwise.

The servant disappeared to obey, and then Alastair turned back. ‘I think you will be pleased with my daughter as your bride, once you ken the sort of woman she is and understand her ways.’

Rhys met the man’s gaze. ‘I will judge her for myself.’

Alastair nodded. ‘She rides out to the coast every day for her noontide meal. You will meet her at the dolmen, but I caution you not to let her ken who you are. At least, not yet.’

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