About the book
He set her body on fire with just one look…
Lady Lyla Watson would rather marry a tree than the insufferable gentleman who keeps pestering her brother for her hand. When a mysterious Highlander makes an appearance in the ton, she is intrigued...and dares to make a deal with the Devil.
Fergus Park, Laird of MacLennan, must acquire new English business partners; an impossible feat, due to the prejudice of the people against him. But when he rescues a beautiful fairy from her fate, he doesn’t realize he is rescuing himself as well.
A deal to save both their futures gets more complicated when their feelings become real. With no allies to aid them in their quest, Lyla and Fergus’ love goes through extreme hurdles...Yet, their biggest problem might be broken dreams...of Lyla in a wedding dress, dipped in blood.
Northern England, 1760
The king was dead, and Lyla Watson was seeking a husband.
She was an attractive, short, well-rounded lady of nineteen years with black hair and blue-gray eyes. As the daughter of the Baron of Graceview, Charles Watson – in a manor in the north of England – she was quite cut off from the society of the south, living in a lonely place where the prospects of society were limited. But the death of the king signaled a new beginning, the ushering in of a new era, and for Lyla, that beginning was to have consequences of its own–
The clock had just struck six o’clock, and a carriage was waiting outside for them, the family now assembled in the hallway. As the butler, Grayson, opened the door, a blast of icy wind struck her, and a flurry of snow blew into the house, causing her to shiver.
“What a night,” her brother James said, offering Lyla his arm, and they, along with her other two brothers, were bundled into the carriage, which now made its way across the moorland and down into the valley below.
“Now, Lyla, you must be on your best behavior this evening,” Evan, her eldest brother, said through the gloom of the carriage interior.
Lyla scowled at him, wishing he could see her face properly so that she might convey her full annoyance. She was not a child, though the way her brothers spoke to her often made her feel like one. Only her youngest brother Frederick treated her differently, perhaps because of his age, feeling that it was not his place to offer criticism, veiled or otherwise.
“I am not a child, Evan. I shall behave as I wish,” she replied, as the carriage jolted over a deep pothole in the track.
“Do not embarrass us, Lyla,” James said, and Lyla aimed a hard kick at his shin in the darkness.
“You have no trouble in embarrassing yourself, Brother, not when the punch is flowing freely, and your tongue is loosened. Do not forget the incident last year,” she replied, and James quickly changed the subject.
Their destination, Crawford Grange, lay in extensive grounds just outside the village, a house of considerable proportions, rivaling Graceview Manor itself. Torches had been lit along its front and two footmen came to meet the carriage, directing the driver to pull up outside the main doors, where the occupants of another carriage had just been deposited.
“Oh, there is Lady Moore and Killian,” Evan said, pointing to two figures making their way up the steps, and Lyla rolled her eyes at the two people she had hoped not to meet that night.
“There is to be no escaping then,” she replied, as the carriage door was opened, and a footman offered her his hand.
Fergus Park was lost. He had crossed the border between Scotland and England only twice in his three-and-twenty years, and the road which lay ahead seemed strange and unfamiliar. He had left home that morning in high spirits, an invitation from a friend in the south taking him on business into what had once seemed a hostile and enemy territory. But all that was in the past, the Jacobite uprising now a forgotten conflict from a bygone age, the union between north and south at last established.
“Where am I?” he growled, gazing out across the moorland, which seemed to stretch endlessly around him, a low cloud rolling in from the west and bringing with it rain and sleet, as he paused at a fork in the road.
The wind now picked up, as though in response to his question, whistling all around him, so that he pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders and shivered. He had with him only the mere essentials for his journey, riding upon a horse which had been a faithful friend these many years past, but was now ailing from its age.
As he pondered which turning to take, he could see a horse and carriage approaching at speed, coming from the direction of a distant house upon the horizon. Knowing that he looked as much a highway robber as a man of business, Fergus jumped down from his horse’s back to appear less threatening and hailed the carriage, the driver reining in the horse and looking at him suspiciously.
“What do you want?” he asked, looking warily at Fergus, as though he expected him to pull out a dirk and threaten him at any moment.
“Please, I only wish to know the way to Crawford. Is it this way or that?” Fergus asked, pointing along each fork in the road.
The carriage driver lowered his pistol, as the window of the carriage was pulled down and a young man peered out, a look of suspicion upon his face.
“Who are you?” he demanded, and Fergus smiled.
“My name is Fergus Park, Laird of the MacLennan Clan. I am a newcomer to this district, here on business with Thomas Cashmore. Do ye know him? How might I reach his house in the village of Crawford?” Fergus asked, and the young man tutted.
“You will find Mr. Cashmore that way,” he said, pointing to the road in front.
“And what is it that lies behind ye?” Fergus asked, glancing across the moorland at the solitary house upon the horizon.
“Graceview Manor, though you shall find no hospitality there,” the young man replied.
“Aye? And why is that?” Fergus asked, causing the young man to laugh.
“They guard their treasure carefully,” he said. “Good day to you, Laird, a stranger in a foreign land. Be careful.”
And with that, the carriage sped off along the road, leaving Fergus shaking his head.
“What hospitality these people display,” he said, and mounting his horse, he rode on across the moorland.
“Ah, Laird, come along in,” Thomas Cashmore said, flinging open the door to his house, after Fergus had knocked and waited.
It was a fine house, set in the middle of the village of Crawford, close to the church. Fergus was glad to get inside and out of the cold, the weather having taken a formidable turn, snow now falling thick and fast.
“I would have been here sooner, but I lost my way upon the moorland,” Fergus said, stamping the snow from his boots and stepping inside.
“No matter, you are here now, come and warm yourself, we have much to discuss,” Thomas said, ushering Fergus inside.
A large fire burned in the parlor grate, in front of which two large dogs were slumped, and Fergus was directed to a chair at their side. He had met Thomas on several occasions in the past, a man somewhat older than himself and a merchant of some note among the English traders. Now, he offered Fergus a glass of brandy, raising his own in a toast, as he sat down opposite.
“’Tis good of ye to welcome me like this,” Fergus said, and Thomas shook his head.
“Not at all, it is not long since an Englishman and a Scot could not have sat down like this without cutting one another’s throats. But those times are over. Business is what matters, money, and making more of it,” he said, smiling at Fergus.
“Then I am pleased to be here in yer company,” he said.
“I have arranged for you to meet with some local figures this evening. Lady Amelia Crawford hosts her annual ball tonight at Crawford Grange. I hope you are not too tired to attend?” Thomas asked, and Fergus smiled.
“I am still young enough to ride all day and sup all night,” Fergus said, and his host laughed.
“Forgive me, of course you are. Well, let us discuss our business and then we shall make ready to depart,” he said, raising his brandy glass once again, as the two men toasted their future success together.
Fergus smiled, swilling the brandy around, and breathing in its sweet aroma, “’Tis nae whisky, but perhaps I might come to like English ways,” he said.
“I am sure there is much about England that you shall like, not least the women who will be gathered at the ball. They are different from the Scots, I imagine,” Thomas said.
Fergus pondered for a moment, thinking back to the women of his clan that he had left behind.
“We shall see, though I would be happy for a woman to sweeten the deal, if ‘tis purely for the sake of business,” he replied, taking a sip of brandy and wondering what the night might bring.
Fergus was ill prepared to attend a ball having traveled with little but the clothes he stood in, but Thomas lent him some half-respectable clothes and having washed his face and combed his hair, he was presentable by the time the evening came. Crawford Grange was only a short walk from the center of the village, and the two men set off just after six o’clock, walking through the snowy night together, a wind whipping the freshly fallen powder into drifts.
“Winter has come early here,” Fergus observed, as they tramped through the gates of the grange and up the drive to where flaming torches lit the way.
“It has always been so along the borders. You should know well enough,” Thomas replied, and Fergus nodded.
“Aye, ‘tis reason enough why the English were kept out of Scotland all those long years. An army from the south couldnae stand the weather,” he said, laughing.
They were met at the door by their hostess, Lady Crawford, a formidable-looking type, yet she greeted Fergus warmly.
“We are now bound to be hospitable to our northern cousins, Laird. It is an honor to welcome you to our home. Come along inside and warm yourself,” she said, ushering them through the hallway and into a large drawing room.
Fergus looked around with interest. If this lonely place contained any society, then it was here tonight, a considerable crowd having gathered for the celebration. He was soon introduced to several local dignitaries, including one Lady Maisie Moore, who was quick to extol her own virtues and that of her son, Killian.
“He has considerable personal means. You would do well to meet him, for he is certain to be quite a name in these parts in years to come,” she said, as Fergus smiled and nodded.
He had little interest in these people, certainly not in doing business with the puffed-up sons of desperate aristocratic ladies. Nevertheless, for the sake of saving Thomas’ embarrassment, he remained polite, asking several questions, before excusing himself and taking a glass of punch.
There was little to interest him in the proceedings and he hoped soon he might excuse himself, wishing that he had been less forceful in his insistence that the journey from Scotland that day had not left him tired and looking forward to his bed. Having endured the attentions of several others, all of whom seemed insistent upon the fact that they could do business with him, he slipped out of the room into the hallway.
The death of the king was the talk of the gathering that evening. George II had died in London the previous week, having become the longest reigning monarch ever to grace the English throne.
Opinion upon the House of Hanover was divided among the guests, some of whom had been supporters of the Jacobite cause, while others had sided with the union. But all that was history, the more exciting speculation being the cause of the king’s death and the future succession, which was picked over as dogs do a carcass, the dissection accomplished with much penetrating wit.
“Well, they say that the king died in the morning, an asphyxiation of some sort,” Lady Crawford was saying, just as Lyla and her brothers were announced.
“I have it on good authority that no one was present,” Lady Moore replied, turning, and forcing her face into a smile, as Lyla came to stand before them.
“Lyla, my dear, such a pretty dress, you always look so lovely at these gatherings,” Lady Crawford said, stepping forward to embrace her.
“A beautiful dress,” Lady Moore said, as Lyla curtsied to them both.
She knew that the Viscountess of Cloverfield had little in the way of genuine affection for her. It had recently become clear that she was keen to make a match, for her son, Killian, perhaps realizing that he possessed few redeeming features, except for an inheritance which was not insubstantial.
Lyla’s elder brothers were keen to see her provided for, and in their short-sightedness, they had decided upon Killian as a worthy match, extolling his perceived gentlemanly qualities, though Lyla was doubtful that such qualities truly existed. She was far from enamored with Killian and the more she came to know of him, the less she liked him.
“You are too kind,” she replied, glancing around her at the drawing room, which by now was filled with guests.
Having endured the necessary pleasantries, Lyla excused herself from her hostess and circulated around the room, greeting her neighbors, and helping herself to a glass of punch from an ornate bowl which stood on a table at the center of the room. There was all manner of good things to eat, for despite her faults, Lady Crawford was an excellent hostess, and her generosity was famed. But Lyla was already growing bored, and desperate to keep away from Killian, who she could see talking to her brother Evan across the room.
“Lyla, how nice to see you,” a voice to her side said, and she turned to find Rebecca Crawford, Lady Crawford’s daughter at her side.
Despite her disliking for her hostess and her associates, Lyla had always found the company of Rebecca to be an antidote to Lady Crawford’s overbearing manner. She was two years younger than Lyla and had always sought her out for counsel and friendship in the years that they had known one another.
“Thank goodness you are here, I was despairing,” Lyla said, slipping her arm through Rebecca’s, and directing her toward a dark corner of the room, hoping that they might pass the evening together unnoticed.
Rebecca laughed, for Lyla was never one to disguise her true feelings, and the two of them settled themselves down, each with a glass of punch in hand.
“I know you detest these gatherings, Lyla,” Rebecca said, and Lyla smiled.
“Is it so obvious?” she replied, and Rebecca giggled.
“But they are the perfect place to be introduced to men,” she said, causing Lyla to roll her eyes.
“Tell me, Rebecca, what man is there in this district that either of us has not been introduced to a dozen times? Look around you, do you see anyone you do not know? Your mother has invited the entire district, and in its entirety the district presents little by way of novelty, particularly when one’s brothers have already decided in whom you are to show an interest,” Lyla said, glancing over to where Killian was still deep in conversation with her brother.
“But I am assured that some new hope might arise,” Rebecca said, causing Lyla to laugh.
“You have always been an optimist, Rebecca. Oh, no–” she said, sighing, as Killian now turned and noticed her sitting in the corner with Rebecca.
He hurriedly excused himself from Evan, who smiled at Lyla, as the gentleman she wished so much to avoid now came hurrying over.
“I shall leave you to it,” Rebecca said, and before Lyla could object, she had slipped away into the crowd which had increased considerably since their arrival.
“Lyla, I was just saying to your brother that I had not yet seen you, and I had been looking for you,” he said, in that annoyingly nasal voice which he possessed, a high-pitched tone which was most uncomfortable to the ear.
“I… was talking to Rebecca,” she replied, and he nodded.
“And now you shall talk to me. Tell me, how have you been? I have been wondering when next we might meet. How glad I am that it is tonight. Your brother tells me you have been looking forward to seeing me,” he said, and Lyla forced her face into a smile.
“Of course… I am pleased to see you, too,” she lied, wishing that Rebecca would return and save her from this sorry fate.
“My mother is keen for us to pursue our courtship,” he said, and Lyla’s face fell.
Lyla had insinuated no desire for a courtship, much less made any move to enact it. It seemed though that Killian thought a courtship already existed between them, a fact which made her heart sink. How could she extract herself from this unfortunate situation and make it clear she had no wish to court him, now, or ever?
“I must… would you excuse me,” she said, rising to her feet and curtsying to him, as he looked at her in surprise.
“Ah… I see, yes, I shall wait here for you,” he said, and she nodded to him, edging her way through the crowd, glad of some brief respite from his interminable company.
She exchanged polite greetings with several of the guests, making her way toward the door of the drawing room and out into the hallway. It was dimly lit, only a few candles burning in scones on the walls, illuminating portraits and ancient pieces of furniture.
A corridor led toward the library and dining room, and Lyla paused, taking a deep breath, and steadying herself for a second encounter with Killian. She knew she must tell him her true feelings, as much as it would anger her brothers, but she knew too that she could never be happy with him, not in a courtship and certainly not in a marriage.
Turning back toward the drawing room door, she took a deep breath and stepped forward, colliding as she did so with a man who had just emerged from the shadows of the corridor leading to the library. The sight of him caused her to startle, and she fell back with a cry, the man catching hold of her as she did so.
“I am sorry, Lass,” he said, in a broad Scottish accent, “I did nae see ye there,” smiling at her, as she gasped.
“Oh, it is all right,” she said, gaining her composure and noticing just how attractive this mysterious stranger was.
Lyla blushed. She had believed herself to know every gentleman present at the ball that evening, for strangers were rare in those parts, and his accent furthered his mystery. He was certainly attractive, tall with short, brown hair, muscular and handsome. He could not have been much older than her and had an air of confidence about him which she found attractive.
“I had to get away,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder, “the company is so dull.”
Lyla laughed to hear him voice the very thoughts which she herself so readily entertained as to the inhabitants of the district, and he smiled at her, holding out his hand.
“You are right to call them dull,” she said, and he nodded.
“So I have realized. Fergus Park, ‘tis a pleasure to meet ye, Lass,” he said, introducing himself, and she took his hand and blushed still further.
His name was familiar, at least she thought it to be, though she was uncertain why.
“Lyla Watson, I live at Graceview Manor with my father and brothers. You may have seen them in there,” she said, pointing to the door.
“Is yer father nae here?” he asked, and she shook her head.
“My father is frail. He would not come out on such a night. I should have remained at home, too,” she said, and he smiled, reaching out and placing his hand upon her arm.
“I am glad that ye did nae do so,” he replied, and she felt her cheeks flushing a deeper shade of crimson.
“I stepped out for a little air. The room becomes so stuffy when so many are present, or so I think. Tell me, what is it that brings you here?” she asked, curious to learn more about him.
“I have business with Thomas Cashmore, perhaps ye know him?” he replied, and Lyla nodded.
“He and my father are on good terms. He is perhaps the only man in this isolated place who looks outward rather than inward, I am not surprised that he has invited a man such as… a Scot, to do business with him,” she said, and Fergus laughed.
“We Scots are nae as bad ye English think we are,” he said, shaking his head.
“I did not mean… I am sorry,” she said, but Fergus only shook his head.
“’Tis a strange thing for me to come here, too. I have only crossed the border twice in my life, though I am beginnin’ to like what I find,” he said.
“How long do you intend to remain here? I presume you have business to return to?” she asked, and Fergus nodded.
“I have a clan to return to, I am Laird of Clan MacLennan, perhaps ye have heard of us?” he said, and now Lyla knew why she had heard the name of Fergus Park before.
Her father had had dealings with the MacLennans, long ago now, but she had heard him speak of the name, and she wondered now what he would say if he knew she was talking to this man who purported to be their Laird.
“I have,” she replied, glad of the dim light in the hallway which concealed the blush rising in her cheeks.
There was an attraction about him, and compared to every other man in the district he was quite different, mysterious even. Lyla had long thought of Scotland as a strange and foreign country, her life ever directed south into England, rather than into the north country. But here was a man who seemed at ease in both worlds, a confident and charming man, one she wished to know better.
But at that moment the door into the drawing room opened, and Killian appeared, looking as though he had lost something, the light from the room behind him now flooding the hallway.
“Ah, Lyla, I was looking for you, why are you hiding out here?” he asked, glancing at Fergus, who nodded and smiled.
“Forgive me, it is my fault. I have delayed the lass from returning to the fray,” he said, holding out his hand, a greeting which Killian did not reciprocate.
“Come along, Lyla, I am waiting for you,” he said, a note of exasperation in his voice.
“I must take a little air,” Lyla said, and before Killian could reply, she had hurried off along the corridor in the direction of the library, angry at being interrupted and embarrassed that Fergus should now encounter the man who believed himself worthy of her affections, though he was far from worthy of them.
There was something about Killian that set her on edge. He was unpredictable, his temper never the same from one moment to the next. In truth, she felt scared of him, terrified at the prospect of spending her life with him, and now she wanted to be as far away from him as possible.
A fire was kindled in the library, though mercifully Lyla found no one else present. Taking a deep breath, she leaned against the mantelpiece, still curious to learn more about Fergus. He had sparked her interest, a bright light amid an otherwise dull array of men, the same men, who could only present themselves in a new light so often and for whom she possessed little interest. But Fergus was different, and she wondered how she might speak with him further, while avoiding the attentions of Killian.
She was about to return to the drawing room, hoping that Killian might have distracted himself again by talking to her brothers, when the door to the library opened and Killian himself stood before her. He looked annoyed, angry even, as though he were about to demand an explanation as to her indiscretions.
In Lyla’s mind, she had done nothing wrong in talking to Fergus, though she knew that the wagging tongues of the district would see it differently. A lady did not simply speak with a man alone in a darkened hallway, certainly not a man she only just met and whose motives were questionable.
“So, this is where you are hiding? A stuffy library is hardly the place to take the air, Lyla. Come along, you have barely spoken a word to me all evening. Am I to be embarrassed in front of the entire district?” he said, advancing toward her.
“Please, Killian, I am not in the mood for such a conversation,” she said, turning her face away from him.
“But I am, and you and I are courting,” he declared, taking her by the arm and forcing her to look up at him.
He appeared drunk, or at least to have imbibed enough of the punchbowl to make his words slurred, his eyes wide and bloodshot. She felt uncomfortable to be alone with him, embarrassed to think that others believed them to be courting. She was repulsed by him and the thought of marrying him was most unappealing, grotesque, even.
“I have done nothing wrong,” she declared, still not wishing to openly humiliate him by declaring that any notion of courtship was his entirely.
“And who was that man? I have never seen him before. Why were you speaking with him?” Killian asked, placing his other hand on her shoulder as she struggled in his grip.
“Let go of me, Killian, you are hurting me,” she cried, but Killian only pulled her more forcefully toward him, as though he intended now to take advantage of her.
She tried desperately to push him away, growing angry at his blatant mistreatment of her, and she let out a scream as he shook her forcefully.
“I will not be embarrassed by you, Lyla. You are promised to me,” he growled.
“I will not be subjected to your whims and desires. I am not an object to be owned and fought over. I am not a thing to be bargained with. Just because you believe yourself to have the right of possession, does not mean that I desire to be possessed. Now, take your hands off me, Killian, this minute,” she said, summoning all her courage, although her hands were trembling.
She was not afraid of him, but under the influence of the punch and with lust in his eyes, she knew him to be dangerous. Now, he caught hold of her, pushing her back against the bookcases.
“You would humiliate me, Lyla? Is that your intention? You are nothing but a harlot, and I shall have my way,” he declared, bringing his face down to hers, as she struggled in his grip.
But just then, the library door flew open, and Fergus appeared. He looked angry, his eyes blazing with fury at the sight he now beheld. Killian was quite taken aback, his grip on Lyla now loosening, as she pushed him back.
“What are ye doin’ to the lass?” he demanded, but at that moment Lyla aimed a sharp kick between Killian’s legs, causing him to cry out in pain.
“There, now perhaps you will understand my feelings,” she said, as Killian clutched at himself and winced.
“You… little, harlot,” he gasped, as Fergus laughed.
“I think ye deserved that, Lad,” he said, as Lyla pushed Killian out of the way and strode toward the door.
“Perhaps I will take the air now. Will you join me?” she asked, and Fergus nodded, still laughing and shaking his head.
“Aye, it would be my pleasure. ‘Tis always a delight to meet a lively lass,” he said, offering her his arm.
Lyla looked behind her, knowing that she would soon pay for her forthrightness. But in that moment, she cared not for Killian’s evident discomfort, glad instead to have made her own feelings perfectly clear.
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