How a Lass Wed a Highlander by Lecia Cornwall
Alex opened the door of the little storeroom on the third floor of the old tower.
Moonlight filtered in through the arrow slit and illuminated the pile of mattresses. Alex stared it. “Ye sleep . . . up there?” he asked.
He leaned on the doorframe and took note of the stacked crates. “And ye climb up?”
“Yes,” she said. She shrugged. “I’ve grown quite used to it. I don’t mind. I may have a similar bed made when I get ho—” she paused. “At Rosecairn.”
He looked at her. She stood in the center of the floor, her russet hair bright copper in the moonlight, her eyes luminous. He couldn’t look away. Desire flared all over again. Hector was one of his own, his clansman. His captain. But the thought of giving Cait to Baird tore at him.
“I mind,” he said, his voice thick as he looked at her sky-high bed again. “I find I mind very much.”
He looked back at her. She waited silently, her eyes on his.
“Alex? If I must marry Baird, I would like . . . that is, just once, I want—you.” She held out her hand to him. It was white in the moonlight, pure and pale, and for a moment he stared at her long fingers without moving. “I want you as a woman wants a man. I want to know what it’s like to be loved, because I can’t imagine wanting Baird like I want you. Will you stay with me tonight, while we are both still free?”
He wanted it too, wanted her, before he had to marry Fiona, or Nessa, or Coria, or Sorcha. He stepped into the room and kicked the door shut. He took her hand and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her once, gently, and stood looking down at her upturned face. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered. “I wish—” She put her finger to his lips.
“Just this, now.”
He took her hand, kissed her fingers, her knuckles, then claimed her lips. She pressed herself to him, kissed him back, and he moaned softly and wrapped his arms around her, claimed her mouth, deepened the kiss.
She was his. If only for this night.
A Match Made in Heather by Anna Harrington
“We would have lived in a cottage just like this,” she whispered, barely a sound passing her lips, “if we’d married.” Her belly tightened at the glimpse of the life they might have shared, spreading out before her. Once she’d wanted nothing more than to be his wife, keep his home, have his children . . . “We would have been happy here.”
“You would have been miserable,” he corrected gently.
She whispered, “Not with you.”
“Especially with me.” He shook his head at the futility of what she was suggesting. “Can you honestly tell me that you would have been happy living in a place like this, two rooms so poorly furnished that we would have been lucky to have a table to eat from, let alone any food on the plates? No pretty dresses or beeswax candles, no books, certainly no tea or sugar, no velvet or ribbons.” He reached out and tugged at the shoulder of her riding habit, adding, “No Rowland tartan for you or our bairn. Your father would have made certain of it.”
“I would still have been a Rowland by birth.” Resentment began to pulse inside her. “Entitled to wear the tartan.”
“You would have become a McGuiness. You would have been nothing.” His jaw tightened. “Just as I was.”
“Don’t say that! I loved you, more than—” The words choked in her throat. When they came, they were little more than a breath. “More than I’ve loved anyone else in my life.”
He froze, stunned at her unexpected confession.
“Not going with you that night was the most difficult choice I’ve ever had to make.” Her voice shook from the emotion of her admission. “I loved you, Garrick, but I loved my family, too. They needed me to be here with them, to face together all the terrible things that were about to happen to us.”
“A gambling debt?” he bit out. He shook his head, disdain darkening his features. “Terrible for Samuel, surely, but nothing you had to take on yourself.”
She hesitated, wanting nothing more than to tell him everything, to spill her heart and all the dreadful events of that summer—
But she couldn’t. Even now, the pain was still raw, still too difficult to share.
“I wanted to go with you that night,” she answered instead. “I wanted to be your wife and share a home with you, just like this one.” She glanced around her, unprepared for the rush of sadness that swept over her when her eyes landed on the empty cradle in the corner. “And fill it with our own children. There would have been love and happiness . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she drew in a deep breath, pressing her hand against her chest to fight back the memories of the past. The ghosts of a life that would never be. “I had to choose, and I chose my family. But not one day went by that I didn’t regret having to make that decision, not one night when I didn’t wonder what our life would have been like.”
Her gaze met his, and as she stared into his eyes, the rest of the world fell away around them. Just as it did ten years ago whenever his attention was on her, when it seemed only the two of them existed.
“I made the right decision, Garrick, I know I did,” she breathed out in a trembling whisper. “If I had to relive that night, even knowing now what would happen—” Her eyes began to sting as tears blurred his handsome face. She whispered softly, “I would make the same choice.”
He shook his head. “Arabel—”
“But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love you. That I didn’t want a life with you.” All the emotions roiled inside her so fiercely that she had to press a fist against her chest to keep breathing. The pain was unbearable, but the only way to end her misery was to sear the wound completely, to stir up the desolation and grief until no more pain was left. To answer the question that had been haunting her for ten years . . . “Why did you leave, Garrick? You left Kincardine when I . . .” When I needed you most.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he finished with a cutting iciness.
She flinched at the accusation, and old wounds bled anew. “Neither did I,” she admitted. “I’d thought . . .”
“You thought what?” he pressed.
Somehow she found the resolve inside her to not look away. “That you loved me enough to understand,” she whispered as the memories of that night spiraled through her, all the pain and panic, the desperation . . . “That you loved me enough to wait.”
A Midsummer Wedding by May McGoldrick
Elizabeth suddenly felt the need to talk. If she was going to make good use of this time together, she needed to correct any misunderstandings now.
“I want to explain why I came to you at the tavern,” she began. “Why I pretended to be Clare Seton.”
His gaze was fixed on the fire.
“It was a foolish plan, I know that now. But . . . but the idea was to make you see Clare and her intended and think she was me and . . . and to make you believe that my heart belonged to someone else.”
He looked up at her. “Why? What did you hope to accomplish?” His tone was civil, but his expression was indecipherable.
“I wanted you to walk away from our marriage bargain.”
“What was wrong with meeting me in person? Why couldn’t you simply tell me?”
Reason. Of course, that would have been the logical thing to do. But how could she explain to him that such a thing took courage and at the time she didn’t trust him to initiate the break? That the stakes were so high and she wasn’t thinking straight?
“I should have,” she said finally. “That would have been the wiser course of action. I don’t want to marry you.”
There. It was out. She’d told him the truth. At least, part of it. She didn’t tell him about not wanting to defy her father, about the future she imagined for herself. He was staring again at the fire. She studied his face. There was no change in the relaxed way that he sat against the wall.
He glanced up at her, and something in his expression told Elizabeth that the man was relieved.
“Then . . . you’re fine with this?”
His eyes sparkled in the dark. “Aye,” he said, lifting a knee and resting an arm on it. “Why do you think I was so impatient to see you these past two days? I even sent a letter to you with my squire this afternoon. He passed you with it when you came into the tavern.”
“What did the letter say?” she asked, wanting him to say it. She didn’t want to assume anything.
“I feel no sense of duty toward the agreement binding us together. That deal was made decades ago, and both families have already profited by it. And in return for my freedom, I’ll provide a sizable sum of gold for you to do with as you please.”
“You don’t want to marry me?”
“Blast me if I do. You don’t want to marry me, and I don’t want to marry you either,” he responded, looking like he’d just won the prize pig at the fair. “You can choose anyone you please, so long as it’s not Alexander Macpherson.”
The Scot Says I Do by Sabrina York
“Why do you want to marry me?”
“Oh! That!” He huffed a laugh and then sobered. His lips closed as he pondered the question.
And, really? Did he need to ponder the question?
“Don’t you know?” she snapped.
“Of course. Of course I do. I . . . need a wife.”
He nodded and stepped back, looking rather pleased with himself.
She shook her head and his smug smile deflated like a soufflé. “Any woman will do if you simply need a wife.”
“I need heirs. I have an estate now”—she assumed he meant Peter’s—“and I need heirs.”
“Again. Any brood mare will suffice.”
His brow furrowed. “You are hardly a brood mare.”
“Well, thank you very much for that. But you still have to answer the question. Why do you want to marry me?”
His throat worked again. “Isn’t it obvious?”
She crossed her arms. “Apparently not.”
Another thing it was not, was even remotely romantic, but she supposed a woman in her position knew better than to expect such fribbles.
“Well, you are . . .” He waved at her person. Up and down in an illustrative manner that was not illustrative in the slightest.
“I believe we have established the fact that I am a female of child bearing years.” A brood mare, if you will.
“You are more than that, Catherine.” Ah. Now we were getting somewhere.
“You are elegant. Genteel. Trained in the art of social niceties. You would make a proper wife.”
She sniffed. She was hardly proper. And she certainly did not care to be proper. “There are a thousand debutantes in London who fit that bill.”
He made such a face that she was tempted to laugh. Had she not been so adamant about discovering his true motives, she might have. “Debutantes? London debutantes? What a revolting thought.”
“I, sir, am one such creature.”
“You are nothing like them, my wee Cat.” His adamant tone stirred her, as did his intent stare. She insisted those feelings recede. “You have a highland heart. You love heather. You ride bareback. You run barefoot in the grass at dawn—”
“Good Lord, Duncan. None of those things are proper. And I did those things when I was a child.” She hadn’t known such joy since her father locked her up in Miss Welles’ Finishing School for Girls in Kent. Despite Elizabeth’s friendship, the school had done much to squeeze the wild child from her soul—a loss she felt deeply, even now. But, apparently, she was a proper English lady doomed to marry a proper English lord, and—
But no. She wasn’t. Not anymore, was she?
How strange that this thought filled her with unaccountable joy.
“You are no’ like them,” Duncan, oblivious to her epiphany, continued on. “You are clever and funny and interesting. Those girls have nothing of interest to say.”
“Most likely because I was ruined early,” she “said, tongue in cheek. “I did spend my formative years with savages, I’m told.”
It took a moment for him to realize she was jesting, and then his glower turned to a smile. “Aye.”
“So you want to marry me because I am better disposed to tolerate your unrefined manners?” She was teasing him now, but frankly, he deserved it.
His face went ruddy and he began to sputter.
“Or because I can converse with you on lower subjects, such as offal and breeding?”
“Or is it—”
“I would stop if you would tell me why you want to marry me—so much that you would blackmail me into saying my vows.”
“It was never my intention to blackmail you.” He seemed offended at the suggestion.
“Really? What were those threats about Newgate for then?”
His brow lowered. “Those were a statement of fact. And to be sure, I doona want a wife who felt compelled to wed me, one who felt trapped with a lesser soul as a husband. In fact, if that is the case, I firmly rescind my offer.” He stared at her for a moment, his eyes red-rimmed, then whirled around to leave the room.
Oh dear. Perhaps she had gone too far. She had not intended to insult or wound him, or disparage his person.
“Duncan.” Her voice was small, but he heard her. He stopped stock still, but did not look at her. “I do not feel that you are a lesser soul. You have to know better than that. You are and always have been one of the finest men I’ve met.” It cost her to admit that because of the bitter waters between them, but it was true.