About the book
Magic existed in his eyes and all she wanted to do was surrender to them…
When Hope Burnett’s father parades her like a prize at an auction, her worst nightmare arises: a man twice her age, becoming her betrothed. But she won’t accept this, so she does the only logical thing: run away with a handsome stranger.
When Ian Cowan’s father died, his uncle usurped the Lairdship. His only goal is to gain his rightful position as Laird back. Now, on top of everything, he has to protect the woman his uncle wanted to marry...and maybe keep her for himself.
Now that he has her, Ian will let nobody harm Hope, no matter the cost. But things are not as simple as they look: an ancient treasure will solve all his problems, and it’s only a matter of time before his uncle finds it. And the key seems to be the only person who knew his father: a so-called witch...
Loud music filled the hallway that led to the Grand Hall. Hope took slow steps toward it, hoping that something would happen to deter her from making an entrance. Unfortunately, nothing happened, and so she continued to draw close to the Hall.
Even from the beginning of the long corridor, she could hear the loud, male cheers, the chants of the musician, and she could smell the buttery smell of ale in the atmosphere. Servants rushed past her toward the Hall holding trays of different kinds of meals for the feast.
There was wild boar, her father’s proud catch three days ago, venison cooked in soup made with wild garlic and celery, haggis, lots of wild raspberries and blueberries with lettuce and peas harvested from the garden in the large yard behind the Castle, and pies. The scent of mutton made her mouth water, and she craved a taste of it even though the nerves in her stomach were spiraling out of control.
She finally got to the door, and gently pushed it open to enter. The moment she stepped in, the musicians stopped playing and everyone speaking fell silent. Hope instantly felt all eyes on her and she looked around the Hall, her gaze roaming the eager faces of every man seated around the grand table.
Their gazes were expectant, hungry and devouring, and she felt sick again. Most of the men she could see from where she stood looked nothing remotely close to being young, and her heart sank as she looked around once more.
Her gaze settled on dark, brooding eyes and her breath instantly cut short in her chest. He stared right at her, and she gasped. Heat rose to her cheeks as his gaze pinned hers, and she felt a stir in her heart. He looked away, turned around and disappeared in the midst of the large crowd of men standing at the far end of the Hall while their masters sat around the table.
Hope cleared her throat and then her father stood up from his chair and gave her a wide grin, signaling with a wave of his hand for her to walk up to him. “This is my beloved daughter,” he announced when she reached his side. He draped his large arm around her shoulder, and kissed her cheek. “Hope Burnett, the maiden ye all have come to seek today. The fairest of all maidens in the Highlands.”
When Hope was eight, her father began making comments about her beauty, and the truth was she was beautiful. Most times, she stared at her reflection in the mirror and was simply astounded by the shade of her brown eyes, with gold flecks, and also the defined curls of her hair.
She got the majority of her looks from her mother, but years living in fear had reduced her mother to a shadow of her former beauty.
The crowd cheered again, the musicians took cue and started to play their songs, and Hope felt heat rise to her cheek as her father’s arm weight crushed her shoulders. His breath smelled of wine, and garlic from the food and he released her so she could take a seat beside him on the left while her mother sat on the right.
Hope looked at her mother, hoping she would meet her gaze, but Moira did not look up from the plate full of food in front of her. Whenever her mother was in the presence of her father, she was a shell of herself. Hope knew her mother feared him, that was why she never did anything to incur his wrath. He never hit her, but his words were always mean and battering.
The feast continued. Her father’s aim was to feed her until she couldn’t breathe before selling her off to any of the men around his table. As she ate from the bowl of broth and other dishes placed in front of her, she constantly looked around the chamber, aware that some of the men were staring at her while they discussed her.
Some even winked at her, when she caught their gazes, and it disgusted her.
I cannae be with any of these men, she thought, and shuddered while stuffing her mouth full of broth again and then forcing it down her throat. The entire time as she ate, she looked around the Hall again, trying to find the man with the brooding eyes she had seen when she entered, but she couldn’t.
It was like he was never there, or he had simply vanished. Hope wondered if he was one of the men bidding for her. At least he didn’t look as old as the other Lairds waiting for a chance to devour her.
“Today you have come from far-away places to compete for my daughter’s hand,” her father said with pride as he stood in the open center of the Hall. “I’d like to see the man who would go back to their land with her because after the feast comes the weddin’ preparations.”
Hope felt sicker, and she lowered her head to stare at her lap. Her heart pounded in her chest, and her skin felt hot. She needed air, needed to get away from this Hall before she suffocated.
“A hundred shillings,” a Laird in the crowd shouted and jumped to his feet and the bidding began. Hope watched in horror as voices arose from every corner of the Hall. The men each tossed prices higher than whatever the last person called. The hairs on her skin stood, as she raised her head and her gaze met with the same eyes again. This time, the cloak over his head was down and she saw his face.
She gasped, and a tingle raced up her back. He didn’t look away, instead a slow smile quirked up the corners of his lips. Hope blinked and he was still staring at her. His gaze roamed her face from afar there, and it made her flush. Her heartbeat picked up tempo, and heat rose to her skin.
The thrill from his gaze was like nothing she had ever felt before. It made her breathless and hot. In the background, she heard another man say. “Five-hundred shillings.”
The rough, thunderous voice jarred her back to reality, and she looked at her father who had a very satisfied look on his face. “Lyall,” her father called and the man stood up from his chair so everyone could see him.
Hope nearly gagged as she looked at him, and her frantic eyes moved to her mother. Moira met her gaze, but looked away, and tears stung in Hope’s eyes as she moved her panicking gaze to her father. He ignored her and stretched his hands over to the man as he made his way out to the front.
Nay, nay it cannae be him. Please someone else say something higher. Six hundred or seven hundred please.
“Eight-hundred shillings,” a voice among the crowd said, and Hope felt an instant pang of relief as she hurriedly looked to see who it was. As the man stood, Lyall’s angry voice boomed again.
“A thousand. The lass is mine, Laird Cawdor,” he snarled. Everyone in the Hall fell silent, and the man turned to Hope. His snarl changed to a smile, and he walked to where she sat.
“Hope, stand up,” she heard her mother whisper and poke her in the side with her elbow. Hope dragged herself to her feet, and she cleared her throat and stretched out her hand when the Laird outstretched his for hers.
She placed her hand in his, and disgust clamped her skin when she met with his sweaty palm. His breath was heavy with ale when he said, “Lyall Cowan, Laird of Galloway, is pleased to be yers.”
Hope stared into his large dark eyes, and her gaze moved over his round face, bulging nose and moved lower to take in his height. She didn’t know what to say in response, so she forced on a stiff smile and curtsied as he bowed his head to place a kiss on the back of her palm. He didn’t release her hand afterward, instead he guided her around the table and led her to the front of the Hall where her father stood. Standing beside Laird Galloway, she could look down at him, and she did not appreciate his looks even in the slightest bit. He had a wrinkled face, and her father looked much younger than him.
She shuddered again as dread filled her.
How can I let this man touch me when we get married?
The thought of it made bile rise up in her stomach and she felt it climbing to her throat. She knew she would throw up if she did not get out of the Hall soon, but when her gaze met her father’s, she saw his excitement and knew if she ruined it then, she and her mother would pay for it with long hours of yelling and insults, so she pushed down her irritation and forced on another smile.
“Hope,” her father said, flashing her his satisfied smile. “Ye have made me proud, Laird Galloway is a man worthy of yer virtue.”
“Faither,” she began, but he cut her short with a wave of his hand. “Does any other man wish to bid higher?” he announced and Hope saw Lyall’s hawkish gaze survey the Hall. When no one obliged, he smiled again and turned his smile to her.
“Then so be it. Let the dance begin, and when it is over, we shall have the blessed marriage tonight.”
Hope nearly shrieked at his last statement.
Tonight? He is selling me off tonight?
The music started again loudly, and she watched her father drag a woman from the midst of the dancers and started to dance with her while her mother sat alone at the table. Hope saw the deserted look in her mother’s eyes due to her father’s inattention as she blinked and looked away, and she heard Laird Galloway’s cackle.
The only thought on her mind as he dragged her to him and started to step to the music was: would her mother’s fate of a loveless marriage be hers? Would she end up her like her mother, drained and exhausted because of the man she had agreed to spend the rest of her life with?
Ian was not deterred from the reason he had traveled so far from Galloway to Drummond even though it didn’t seem like his plan was going according to how he mapped it out. It had been simpler in his mind, he had to get into the Drummond Castle and see for himself what his uncle’s grand plan for stealing power was.
When he entered the Castle alongside the other Galloway men that came with his Uncle Lyall, he had concluded his plan would go smoothly, but now that he knew what Lyall’s secret weapon was, he knew he couldn’t just sneak in and sneak out.
He had to be smarter, he had to make sure Lyall didn’t get control and allegiance with Laird Drummond by wedding his daughter. He had to do something to stop the union.
The moment Lyall wed the lady, he would have a woman to bear him an heir. And once he had an heir, then his seat on the Lairdship was sealed. Ian was a contestant for that seat, he couldn’t let Lyall win, not after everything.
He paced around the dark corner of the garden, one hand on his hip and the other shoving through his thick dark strands of hair. What do I do?
The image of the Lady, the daughter of Laird Drummond, slipped into his mind. Her beauty stole his breath away, and made his loins stir. The first time their eyes met, it hadn’t been intentional. He was trying to sneak out of the crowd, and get out of the Hall through the corner doors, and when he mistakenly met her gaze, he froze in his tracks. Her eyes were mesmerizing and they had taken him off guard. An instant thrill raced up his spine, and he was unable to breathe. It had lasted only a moment because he had turned away immediately before he got lost in them.
The second time he met her eyes on purpose because he knew she was the reason they had all traveled to Drummond. Lyall was willing to buy the woman for a thousand shillings, it was more money than Lyall owned, and Ian knew this.
How did he get so much gold? Is it possible that he has found the Treasure of Galloway?
Ian contemplated, but shook the possibility of his uncle knowing about the treasure out of his head. No one knew the tale behind the Treasure of Galloway beside him. It was a tale passed down from generations of first-born males in Cowan Clan, and his father had passed down the secret to him.
Even though he still had not solved what the tale meant, he knew he would eventually solve the mystery. So, if Lyall did not possess so much gold, how did he intend to pay off Laird Drummond for his daughter’s hand?
Ian continued pacing until he heard footsteps approaching where he was in the garden. He rushed and hid behind one thick shrub, and pulled on his cloak so he could blend in with the darkness.
How do I stop this weddin’?
The men approaching walked past him and past the garden heading for the corner leading to the back yard, and from where he hid, Ian recognized them as Drummond guards from the color of kilts and tartans they wore. He cleared his throat and moved to come out of hiding when he heard the movements of shrubs, and then the retching sound of someone vomiting.
He froze for a moment, and the sound came again before a small muffled sob replaced it. Curious, Ian came out of hiding to peep at who hid in the darkness and then caught sight of the white embodied gown the Lady wore.
She was bent over in a crouched position, and when she moved and tried to walk, the hem of the dress was stuck in a branch of shrub, so she nearly tripped and fell over on her face into the hard ground.
Ian’s reflexes were sharp, so he caught her before she touched the ground. She gasped, and opened her mouth to yell, but he immediately pressed his palm to her mouth to muffle the sound.
Slowly, he raised her back to a standing position, and their eyes met. She was breathing heavily; her eyes were wide as she stared at him and this time, he was lost in the gold flecks in her brown eyes. Her lips hovered so close to his, made his mind swoon.
His hands were around her waist still, wrapped securely so he could measure mentally how narrow her waist was. It was like she fit perfectly into his arms, and his mind began to reel with thoughts of what she would taste like if he were to dip his head and take her lips.
Her gaze furrowed, and slowly he removed his palm, but replaced it with a finger pressed against her lips. “Dinnae speak,” he ordered before she could say anything and he saw her swallow. “Why are ye out here in the dark alone?” he asked.
Her eyes remained wide, and when she didn’t reply, he took his fingers away from her lips and said again, “Ye can speak now.”
“I had to get away from my faither and those men in there.” She shuddered and added, “They make me feel sick in my stomach.”
Ian cocked a brow, and in that moment, a plan formed in his head. “I am Hope,” she continued and stuck out her hand for a shake. “Hope Burnett. Who are ye? And why are ye alone in the dark garden? Whose man are ye? Galloway? Cawdor? Blyth? Culloden?” He watched her lips move as she continued to list the names of the Clan Lairds present in the Hall.
“I am nay here for the feast,” he replied and stepped away from her when he realized his hands were still wrapped around her waist and she was still standing so close to him. He was aware of her, his gaze moved down again to the shape of her lips as she spoke, and the close knit of her eyebrows as she stared at him.
“Ye are nay?” she asked. “But I saw ye in the Grand Hall, right at the back, with the other men.”
“I am…” his voice trailed off as he searched his mind for a suitable reply to her curiosity without giving himself away, “I am one of the guards.”
“Ye dinnae have to ken everythin’, Lass,” he replied and saw her eyes roll. She pouted and turned away from him, then walked away, farther into the garden.
He stood behind her when she stopped and raised her head up to the sky. “It’s a very lovely winter,” she whispered, her voice sounding wistful. “And a long one. All I want is to leave the walls of this Castle, and see the mountains out in the wild. Ride a horse, feel the wind blow against every inch of my body while I gallop, drink from a loch and watch the deer play.”
“I dinnae want to be married to some old Laird from a faraway clan who may be vile or mean to me. A laird I dinnae love, neither does he love me. What kind of a life would that be?” she asked rhetorically and then turned around to face him. “I hate my faither,” she added.
Ian stared at her, and he saw the innocence in her eyes and face. She was genuinely not interested in wedding his uncle, and that gave him a sudden burst of joy. It meant he could so easily destroy his uncle’s plans and end this perfidious plan for a marriage.
“Is this why ye left the Hall?” he asked and she nodded. Tears brimmed in her eyes, and she lowered her gaze.
“When I return, I will have to wed him. My faither wants us to wed tonight, he is so eager to sell me off to that man,” she added with a shudder. “Did ye see what he looks like?”
Ian held back his chuckle as she spoke because he knew exactly what his uncle was like. Lyall was a short man for his build, he had large limbs and a round face partly covered with his large beard.
“I wish I could disappear,” she muttered. “Just go missin’ so my faither and that horrible man wouldnae be able to find me.”
“Wishes do come true,” Ian replied her, and she looked at him again. This time it was her turn to stare, and he saw her cheeks redden when she looked away.
“Aye, but only for lassies and laddies who play in the open fields unattended,” she replied him and then smiled. He immediately noticed the dimple on the side of her left cheek, and the way her eyes lifted alongside the corners of her lips. “I wish I was one of those lassies,” she added and then her smile slowly dropped. Ian immediately missed it, but he said nothing as she sighed and sucked in a deep breath.
“It is time to meet my fate,” she said when she heard a guard calling for her, and then gave him one last look. “Thank ye for savin’ me from fallin’ and breakin’ my head earlier,” she said. “I dinnae ken yer name yet, and I am guessin’ we wouldnae meet again, but I hope we do.”
She walked past him then, and headed back toward doors connecting the garden to the corridor of the Castle’s ground floor.
Hope had made it down the corridor when a hand grabbed her arm gently, and pulled her away into a dark corner. She yelped, but another hand covered her mouth, and muffled her scream.
Inside the Hall, Stephen Burnett, Laird of Drummond, waited for his daughter to return while he drank heavily from the quaich the serving girl beside him constantly refilled whenever he emptied it.
He laughed out loud at something his old friend, Lyall Cowan, Laird of Galloway said and turned to his wife who was the center of the joke. Moira said nothing as she averted her gaze to the door and waited just like him for Hope to walk in.
“Where is yer daughter?” he asked, his voice drooling as he brought his lips close to her face, then turned her chin with force so she could face him. “Go find her,” he ordered. “Now.”
Moira stood up from her chair quietly and as she walked away, he cackled with his friend again. “She used to be the prettiest of all the lasses in Drummond when I met her,” he said. “Now she is just some old woman who cannae even care for her own child,” he said.
“Ye mean Hope?” Lyall asked and he nodded.
“She is a prize, isnae she? I am most proud of her beauty and she is worth more than a thousand shillings to me.”
“I ken that,” Lyall replied. “I intend to make use of this allegiance very well, my friend,” he smiled. “I promise to care for and cherish yer daughter, as long as ye dinnae betray me on yer end. I ken my foolish nephew is planin’ an uprisin’, he intends to take power away from me,” Lyall said with a loud bout of laughter and when it ended, he added. “I cannae live to see that happen. It is why I need yer support; yer daughter will bear me healthy sons and ye–” his voice trailed off, and Stephen’s smile slowly withered as he realized what Lyall was about to say next. “Ye would support me with the resources I need to win this war until I can get a hold of the one thing I have been searchin’ for my entire life.”
Stephen cleared his throat and looked away from Lyall when he said, “The Galloway Treasure.” He had known the man for a long time, they met years back when Lyall had ridden to his Castle and offered him a deal.
In exchange for support to gain the Lairdship he had promised to give Stephen a half-share of the treasure once they found it. It was nearly seven years since the deal was made and Stephen had started to feel like the treasure was just a tale made up by a man in dire need of a favor at the time.
“The treasure doesnae exist,” he said, and Lyall’s eyes flared. He leaned in closer to Stephen, and whispered,
“It does exist, I ken this for sure. I heard my dying brother confess it before he died,” he chuckled and pulled back then picked up his quaich. “Let’s nae drown in too much for today as this is a day of celebration, the union of two powerful Highland clans,” he said and lifted the quaich.
Just then the door opened and the priest they had been expecting walked into the Hall and bowed to Stephen. “My Laird,” the man said. “I am here to bless the union,” he said and both Stephen and Lyall rose to their feet.
“It is time,” Lyall proudly announced.
He walked majestically to the front of the Hall, and all the other men from his Clan stood in support of his union. The door opened again, and Stephen raised his gaze, expecting to see his beautiful daughter walk in through the doors, ready to fulfill her loyal duty to the Clan.
Instead, his wife walked in, her face ashen white and her eyes wide as she shook her head. “She’s gone,” she murmured, and Stephen barked.
“What do ye mean she’s gone? Did ye search her chamber and the garden where she likes to pass time?”
“I am tellin’ ye, she is gone,” Moira replied him, and his face reddened in anger. Murmurs filled the crowd of men, hushed whispers as he looked around the faces of every one of them, his keen gaze sharp and fast.
Someone in this chamber, among one of these men has taken my daughter. I cannae have this happen, nae in my Castle.
He averted his gaze to Moira again, and yelled. “Get out and go find her, now.” Moira scurried out of the chamber, and he barked again.
“Guards.” Two of his men in the chamber responded and rushed to him, and he turned to Lyall. “I need yer men, I want every stone unturned in this Castle, every corner, seal every gate and outlet, check the tunnels, the cellar, the kitchen, the underground passage leading to the moats and the moors, find my daughter and bring her to me,” he ordered through clenched teeth.
“Join the Drummond men and find me my bride,” Lyall ordered his men and they started to file out of the Hall.
The feast had come to an abrupt end, the other Lairds started to file out of the Hall to return to the guest chambers given to them when they arrived in the east wing of the Castle.
Stephen watched with interest, taking note of every one of their faces as his mind reeled with thoughts of who the culprit was. Hope pulled stunts like this all the time, one time she had disappeared for hours, putting the entire Castle in upheaval only for the guards to find her in the stables, tending to a foal.
He had locked her up in her chambers for the days that followed, ordering her not to do anything besides sit, eat and sleep as punishment, but the minute he let her free again she had gone to check on the foal. Stephen knew his daughter was a free spirit. He couldn’t control her, so the best option was to make her useful to him by wedding her off to any of these men who would do anything to have a beauty like her.
What use is she to me without her beauty?
If she weren’t his only child, then he would keep her for himself, but he had other plans. He needed her to join with a powerful clan and bear sons fast before his time on earth was up.
Then one of her sons could take over his Lairdship if his wife didnae bear him another. He needed Hope to not be as useless to him as her mother, unable to bear healthy heirs for his Lairdship.
Time passed and both Lyall and Stephen waited for news. The Hall was empty, the priest remained waiting with them, but the other Lairds had been dismissed.
Stephen could feel his embarrassment grow with every minute that passed. Moira would pay for this insult on his rule and pride, and when he found Hope then he would marry her off to Lyall quickly and have him worry about taming her.
He clenched his fist when he heard footsteps approach, and his General opened the door to the Hall and walked to him, his head bowed. “Where is my daughter?”
“I am sorry, My Laird,” General James MacAnroy said and raised his head. Lyall stood up from where he had been sitting and rushed to Stephen’s side.
“Did ye find her?” Lyall asked and James shook his head.
“The lady is missin’, we found this at the gates of the Castle,” he said and brought out her black shoe. “Whoever took her is long gone.”
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to see how this story ends?
Highlander's Rebellious Affair is live on Amazon now!