A Historical Scottish Romance Novel

About the book

He never thought he would fall for the woman who hated him…

Lady Liliana Clarke’s family might now be wealthy, but she doesn’t forget the days when they were starving. That’s why she vows to help anyone in need, even if by unethical means. Namely, stealing from the reclusive Laird, who has more than enough to spare.

When Scott Dunlop, Laird of Falkirk, catches the menacing thief that has been plaguing his castle for months, he is surprised to see flaming red hair and an angelic face. The beautiful lass gives him the solution to all his problems: acquiring a wife, without needing to love her.

He has one month to win her approval, and she has one month to make him hate her. Yet living together has brought to the surface many secrets, and Liliana realizes that Scott may not be the awful Laird she thinks him to be.

Their love comes as a surprise to many, and Scott finally has something he is afraid to lose. So, when someone of his past kidnaps Liliana in exchange for the Lairdship, he underestimates the hell Scott will break loose to get her back…


Chapter One


Determination burned in Liliana Clarke’s hazel eyes, illuminated by a small lamp under the cover of the cloud-ridden night sky. She huffed, teeth clamped on the handle of her lamp as she struggled to get a proper grip on the stones that formed the wall of Falkirk Castle.

Yes, she was sneaking in and no, she did not care about the consequences. She would only have to face them if she got caught.

Sweat dripped from her forehead, a drop falling on the tip of her nose before sliding down her face to settle past her lips and inside her mouth. She grimaced. Why had she thought this would be like climbing a tree? It was certainly nothing of the sort.

The stones were not exactly the best things to hold on to, her palms were starting to cramp up. She cursed under her breath at her wild red curls, which got into her face more than once from the cold night breeze, her riding habit stuck to her back with sweat and not to mention the ache in her jaw from her teeth clamping down on the handle of her lamp. She could endure it. She would endure it.

Liliana let a sigh of relief filter from her clenched teeth when she felt her hand touch the flat surface at the top of the wall. She pulled herself up, managing to sit on the wall before rummaging in the sack she brought along with her.

She pulled out a pouch of water, pouring the majority over her head after she had a few refreshing gulps. With the number of times, she had done this, one would think the wall wouldn't be that much of an obstacle to her. Pausing to catch her breath, she took in the sight before her; the Laird’s Castle.

The area itself was large, surrounded by three other walls exactly like the one she had just scaled. In the middle sat the stone castle which housed the Clan’s leader. She could see lamps lit about the many balconies and windows, guards filtering in and out, up and down the Castle grounds. She was less interested in the Castle. Her eyes darted toward the west, where the whole area had been dedicated to the Castle’s food, the freshest fruits, vegetables, and the fattest livestock. They were all for the Laird, and it made her blood boil.

How dare he indulge in the finest of everything when his people were familiar with the growling of their stomachs? Her eyes darted toward the Castle once more.

She could beat her head that the Laird was fast asleep in the most comfortable of beds, covered with the softest furs after he had sat and had probably not finished his perfectly cooked buffet of food. She had hoped several times that news of the Laird choking to death on a piece of bread would reach her village but unfortunately, he continued to live.

Bracing herself, she started to scale down the wall once more, this time much easier as she soon felt the solid earth under her feet again. This was not her first time. She knew how to make her way toward the garden. Today, Liliana only wanted food. She would sneak into his treasury another day. Blowing out the light of her lamp, she rummaged for her cloak from her sack, quickly slipping it on and tucking her mess of hair away, she moved.

Liliana made sure to face the wall, the back of her cloak would blend in quite nicely in the dark. With hands pressed against the cold stone wall, she made her way through the memorized path toward the garden. It didn’t take her long, and soon she was setting down her sack, ripping her hood off her head to allow some fresh air before she started to harvest the Laird’s crops. She only ever took what she could carry when it came to food. The Laird’s treasures, on the other hand, she was greedy with. The more she took, the more she could sell and the more food her village could buy. In her defense, her village paid tax out of the money, so the Laird was getting a share of some sort.

She slapped her hands over her mouth when a rodent rushed past her, startling her. It had caused her to let go of a vegetable and she huffed as she reached out for it again. Why did she have to be the one doing this?

Her thoughts had wrapped her in a cocoon, shielding her from the world around her until she noticed the soft golden glow of a lamp approaching her. Jerking out of her thoughts, she was met with the sight of heavily armed men rushing toward her. Guards, to be exact. The rapid thumping of her heart filled her eyes as her eyes widened in realization of what had happened.

She had been caught, and she would have to face the consequences.

***

She snatched her cloak, gathering the skirts of her riding habit before she bolted. She could hear the shouts of the guards behind her, more joining in the chase as she ran toward the only exit on the Castle grounds, the main gate.

Peeking behind her and causing her to stumble just a little, she could see more than just a few guards, swords drawn and chasing after her. She doubted she would be allowed to speak her part if she was caught.

Up ahead, she caught sight of the gates and perhaps it was her Ma looking down at her, or it was just her luck when she saw a cart passing through. She could make it. She would make it. She had to make it.

From behind her, a booming voice barked out its order, “Close the gates!”

Liliana scoffed. A piece of her hair, previously waving madly in the air, lodged itself between her lips. She almost tore it right off her head. The cart had just passed through, and the guards at the gate were preoccupied with their given order, so it was an easy slip for Liliana when she finally got to the gate. There was no resistance until it was too late for them as she was already running past the heavy iron gates.

Still, the chase was not over. The yells and the stomping of feet behind her did not relent, forcing her back on her feet. Her chest had started to burn, and her feet ached. Her climbing the wall had honestly taken her strength. She did not expect she would have to run from what was possibly half of the guards from the Castle.

The crescent moon was hidden away by the thick clouds that swam about in the sky. She had left her lamp behind, so she was forced to stay on the path, but unfortunately, that put her right in the view of her pursuers. Looking toward the forests, she frowned. Her worst fear was running into some sort of wild animal. Her father would be devastated if they couldn’t find her. But then again, if the guards caught her…

She made her decision, wrapping her cloak around her. She hurriedly tied the stings under her chin, messily tucking her hair away before she took one last look behind her. The last thought before she dived into the forest was that none of this would be happening if the Laird had just done his duty.

***

Liliana almost did not breathe. She did not quite know her way around the forest, so she stayed hidden only a few feet away from the path. As she expected, the guards went deeper into the forest in search of her. From where she sat, huddled to herself and covered by her cloak, she hoped one would take her for a large stone. She had a clear view of the path she had just abandoned.

There were still guards filing into the forest. She had to wait.

 At the sound of a twig breaking in front of her, she flinched. She recognized the sound of the soft earth being stepped upon. It got closer. Closer until a pair of feet stepped into her line of vision.

The soft glow of a lamp stopped in front of her. She willed herself not to move, but still, she raised her head to see a guard. His lamp’s glow allowed her to see a set of deep-set brown eyes staring back at her. She gasped, falling over and inching away from the guard as he crouched low.

“What was that? Did ye find anything, Conner?” Someone somewhere yelled, and the guard looked behind him then back at her.

“Nay. It was just a rock!” Liliana’s shoulders sagged in relief. “What village are ye from?”

“Ayrshire Village,” she whispered in reply, and he pointed in front of him.

“’Tis that way. There is a river. Follow it in the direction which it flows. It is the river that flows into yer farms. Ye should know how to get home from there?” Liliana shakily nodded, her hands still trembling under her cloak. “Then go.”

Scrambling to her feet as quietly as she could, she ran without looking back at the face of the guard who had spared her life.

***

The door of her house creaked when Liliana pushed it open. Her breathing still heavy and her heartbeat thundering in her ears, she slipped off her dirty shoes to wrap up in her cloak. Her sister Alana would give her a hard time when it was time to wash it, but Liliana would worry about that when she needed to. Tucking her cloak and shoes under her arm, she gathered what she could of her skirts with one hand before silently making her way toward the bedchamber she shared with her sister.

Someone had left a window open. The moon had only managed to peek out from behind the clouds, giving her just enough light to find her way around without walking into anything.

Her feet were becoming numb from the cold and walking on her toes. As she passed her brother Oliver’s chambers, she noticed his lamp was still on, his door cracked slightly ajar. Not wanting to risk getting caught by him, Liliana let her hands touch the ground along with her knees, and she managed to get past by crawling. She kept her position until she reached her door, which she had held open with one of Alana’s shoes.

Pushing the door open, Liliana peeked in and let out a breath of relief to find her sister fast asleep. Still, she had to be careful. Alana slept like a lady, as the younger lass always said but for Liliana, it meant practically dozing with an eye open. Alana would wake up to anything as loud as a creaky door. Liliana could only hope the violent beating of her heart did not wake up her sister. Liliana left the door slightly ajar, leaving it to the wind to slam it shut. Aye, it would wake Alana up, but Liliana would have shimmied her way under her blankets by then.

It all went as she hoped, as she only got her furs over her head when the door slammed shut. Liliana stifled a giggle at the loud gasp that came from Alana on the other bed as her sister shot up from her sleep. Liliana pushed the furs a little out of her line of sight, just enough to see her sister regarding everything in the dimly lit room suspiciously before Alana’s glare went to the door and then fell on her. Wanting to get her sister back to sleep so she could get out of her riding habit, Liliana gave a soft snore which fortunately did the trick. Alana shrugged before laying back on her bed, fur dragged up to her shoulders. Alana was out like a light.

Liliana slipped out of her bed hastily, but she quietly shrugged off her riding habit, stuffing that and her cloak under her bed before slipping out her nightdress from under her covers. She was back in her bed the moment she had donned the thin material. It was only then that Liliana felt her shoulders properly sag.

She had tried her luck, and it almost ran out. If she had been caught, the guards might not even deem her worthy of pleading her case. Even if they did, they would never believe she was not a spy. Heaven knew what could have become of her if she had been a moment too slow or if that guard had exposed her. She wished she had gotten a proper look at him. At least then, she could properly thank him some other time, but it didn't matter. She did not think she would forget eyes that kind so easily.

Liliana let out a small yawn, her blood which had been rushing, was finally calm, and she felt her eyes start to droop. She was home in her bed, and she was safe. Liliana would wait a while before she went back again. Perhaps a week or two, just long enough for everything to die down.

After all, no one saw her properly other than the guard that helped her, and she had snuck back into her home unnoticed. Even Alana did not suspect a thing. There was no way anything could be traced to her.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t be more wrong.


Chapter Two


Much earlier, Scott Dunlop, the young Laird of the Falkirk Clan, was seething, having ruined his supper by having it with the Clan’s elders, who proceeded to pick him apart piece by piece. To them, they were simply stating what needed to be done, to him, they were worse than a nagging wife.

Out of all the cases they brought to his table, marriage was the one most hammered on. It was almost the only thing they spoke about anytime they saw him. One of them had even gone ahead to threaten him. If he did not find a wife to birth his heirs, the Lairdship would go to another man who could.

Another man being one of the bastards his father’s many mistresses bore for the old rake.

Members of his own court had threatened to hand over his rightful position to an illegitimate child when they were fully aware of his struggles ever since he became the Laird? His battles had become somewhat of a monthly occurrence as one bastard or another of his father had risen against him, challenging him for the title of Laird. He had half-brothers from his Clan and from others, and they were all seeking the one thing his father had ever given to him. Each battle cost him men, money and his attention. His Clan was bleeding, but he did not have the time to attend to it just yet.

Though as much as it annoyed Scott, he had to admit that finding a wife to bear an heir would be much faster, but the thought of marriage itself was unappealing to him. While he was nothing like his father, he knew all women were like his father’s mistresses. Each one was disgustingly vile toward him as they raced toward being the new Lady of the Castle. His own father barely saw him, which left him as an easy pick for the old Laird’s women.

Scott was convinced, when a man was in a position such as his, women would do anything to get close to him. That was a trait that so disgusted him, but he did not have that much of a choice this time around. His elders had even gone out of their way to find him a wife. The daughter of a neighboring enemy clan all in the name of truce and fattening up his Clan’s treasury once more. He had met her once, and he’d be damned if he married the lass.

His guards parted or outright dashed out of his line of sight as he made his way toward the training grounds, his personal guard and war chief a good distance behind the fuming Laird. Scott wanted to pummel his fists into something, preferably one of his elders, but he would have to settle for a spar with either his war chief or his personal guard.

The night was chilly, the moon barely visible, guards were scattered about the Castle grounds in pairs. Scott paused a few feet away from the entrance of the Castle, turning back to face the men following diligently behind him and he huffed out a breath.

“Ye really do want to get beaten up by me again?” Scott’s olive-green eyes fell on his personal guard, Conner, who averted his eyes, a ghost of a smirk on the man’s face.

“’Tis honestly going to be the other way around, me Laird,” his war chief, Adrian, replied earning a huff of a laugh from Conner. “We’re always here if ye want someone to spar with. The training grounds are empty by this time, and even if it wasnae, I doubt some poor guard would be willing to risk the broken bones just to pacify ye.”

“If ye want to pacify him, bring him an elder. ‘Tis sure to work faster.” Conner mused, earning a jab to the side from Adrian.

“Dinnae make matters worse, Conner.” Scott shook his head as Conner was quick to deliver a comeback at his superior. He doubted he even wanted to spar anymore. He settled for looking around the Castle grounds until something caught his eye.

The defense formation of his men was flawless which was why he was shocked yet impressed when he saw the faint outline of a person draping a cloth over themselves. He did not see clearly, but he could make out curly red hair that was soon tucked into the cloth. He became certain it was a woman when he saw her gather her dress. He almost chuckled.

Pointing toward the moving outline, Scott smacked Conner on the shoulder to get his attention. “A lass has snuck in.”

“How, the formation—” Adrian started but was waved off by Scott, who had started to move toward the outline. The more he followed the lass, the more questions he developed in his head for her. Who was she? Where had she come from? Why was she there? More importantly, how did she get in?

With just Conner and Adrian behind him, they had no light, which made Scott have a few of his men go ahead of them. They followed the lass to the garden, and Scott watched as she harvested the crops that had been planted while muttering to herself occasionally. Scott was more amused than angry. She had snuck into the heavily guarded castle for a sack of food?

She did not seem to notice them as she started to fill her sack. Her cloth from earlier, turning out to be a hooded cloak, was pulled down to reveal her wild mane of red hair, her lamp on the ground next to her gave him a good view of her side profile, but that was it. Yet, he found himself leaning toward her, a small smile growing on his lips. She was a young beauty. How desirable.

He was about to reach for her when one of his men with the light moved closer to her, yelling at her, which caused her head to snap up in their direction. Scott drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the lamp’s light on her face.

She was truly beautiful.

He approached his men and the lass, but she had already been spooked. Never had he seen a lass run that fast, but then again, this particular one had been surprising him since he laid eyes on her. He had found himself a wild cat, and he was not letting her slip away that easily.

***

Apparently, wild cats were difficult to catch, and Scott was starting to realize. The lass had dragged him and a good handful of his men outside the Castle walls before she dived headfirst into the forest. Scott would have gone after her, but Adrian was quick to hold him back much against his wishes while Conner and the guards dashed in right after her.

Adrian kept a firm grip on Scott, who could not break away from him despite his strength and aggressiveness. “Unhand me!” Scott tried to claw the larger man’s hand off his arm but winced when the grip got tighter. “For Heaven’s sake, unhand me, ye brute!”

“I cannae do such a thing, me Laird. We are at war with multiple clans and the lass might as well be a spy.” Adrian argued back, and Scott continued to violently struggle in his hold.

“She was stealing food! What spy would steal food? She was obviously from one of the villages.”

“Even if she was, me Laird, ye will not enter the forest on such a night. The moon hides from us, the stars refuse to shine, and ye have nay lamp with ye. Anyone or anything could be lurking in these forests. I say we wait until Conner gets back.” Conner emerged from the forests almost on cue, his black hair a mess and a lamp in his hand.

“Did ye find anything?” Scott pushed away from Adrian, who let him go and Conner nodded in the direction he had come from.

“Aye. I let her go.”

“Why?” Scott narrowed his eyes at Conner. “She could have been a spy!”

“Ye are being hypocritical now, me Laird” Adrian said from behind Scott but was ignored. “And Conner, I thought ye said ye found nothing earlier?”

“Aye,” Conner turned to his superior. “I did find her then, but she looked terrified. She was nae a spy as she mentioned she was from Ayrshire Village. I figured we could find her when the morn comes. If we take her now, I doubt we will be getting anything useful from her. Scratches, bites and kicks at most, me Laird.”

Scott scoffed at his guard as more of his men started to emerge from the forests. “And what if she is nae from the village? Perhaps she lied to ye, and now ye let a spy escape.”

“Again, me Laird, ye are being hypocritical.””

“Silence, Adrian!” Scott snapped before jabbing a finger in Conner’s chest. “Find me that lass before breakfast on the morrow or else.”

“As ye wish, me Laird.” Conner gave a curt bow before Scott turned toward the Castle. He was certain if Adrian had let him go instead of Conner, he would have fished out the lass with no trouble.

Still, he found her all the more alluring. The feats she performed before him alone were enough for him to applaud her. Scott found himself in the direction of the garden, picking up her discarded lamp and sack. He hoped she would not have a hard time getting back to her village without the lamp. His gaze went up to the sky. It was a dark night.

He smiled at the memory of her face. He couldn’t wait to see her properly in the daylight.

Looking down at the sack and lamp in his hands, his heart tightened in his chest at the guilt that overwhelmed him. Had he abandoned his Clan so much, theft was now common? A lass of all people, how desperate could she have been? The lass had left other farms and gone directly for his, going as far as sneaking into the Castle grounds. This spoke badly of his reign.

Perhaps he could bring her the vegetables she had come for when he finally found her?

No. What was he thinking? He couldn’t be that infatuated with the lass. She was a thief, possibly a spy. She had to be punished at least, or the next thing he knew, the villages would turn his grounds into a picking field. He hated disrespect, it caused conflict, dispute and he’d be damned if he let a wild cat of a lass start getting even, he would not be able to finish. He had to set a line before he was run over.

But what would he do to her? What could he do to her? With what he had seen, she seemed skittish. Conner had said she looked terrified when she had been found by him. He did not want to scare her away, but he could not be lenient with her. Thieves were not easily spared. Their punishments could range from a public lashing to death.

What would be a fitting punishment?

The question plagued his mind as he trailed toward his bedchambers, lamp and sack still in his hands. His guards either scattered or straightened up at the sight of him. Their Laird’s mood could change as fast as one could flip a silver coin, and no man wanted to be on the receiving end of any of his negative moods. Scott never seemed to notice their reactions, or perhaps he did but could not be bothered to speak about it.

He had other things to think about anyway. He locked his door behind him on getting to his chambers before carefully placing the sack and lamp on his desk. The chamber was fairly lit by the candlelight near his fur-covered bed. He unlatched the windows, opening it to let a little bit of the moonlight in; if any had shown up. Scott leaned against the window frame, a lock of his blond hair falling out of place over his forehead. With a frustrated sigh, he latched on to his hair, ruffling it out of place. He let his hand run over the fresh undercut at the back of his head before it fell to his side.

Even if she was a normal lass, he doubted he would be this worked up about it. He would have her punishment assigned almost immediately. He saw nothing but his infatuation with the lass standing in his way.

 Her hair, he saw it properly. It was the color of the leaves during autumn. The long curls waved freely behind her as she fled, almost as wild as their owner. He was sure it was her hair that started his infatuation. Then he saw what he could of her cherubic freckled face, her eyes, a light shade, he was unable to determine what color they really were. With what he had seen, he could only describe her as beautiful, nothing more and nothing less.

Scott poked his head out the window, letting the chilly breeze blow by his face. He rested his arms on the window frame as he looked down at the flower garden below his window. All he had to do was wait. A lazy grin spread out on his face at the thought of the wild cat he would be capturing. In the next few hours, he would get his hands on her no matter what.


Chapter Three


Scott was up and ready to head into Ayrshire Village by the time the morning sun had filtered through the curtains of his chamber. His mind was filled with the many scenarios that could take place when he met the redhead woman who had stolen from him.

He still did not have a proper punishment to give the lass. The thinking had cost him most of his night’s rest, but Scott was more active than his war chief and his guard when he saw them situated at the entrance of the dining hall as he made his way down for breakfast.

Pausing to raise a curious brow at his guard, Scott scratched at the stubble that was starting to grow on his chin. “Did ye find her?”

“Good morning to ye as well, me Laird and aye, I did find her. I set out earlier with a few men. Our task was a wee difficult as the villagers were nae exactly friendly toward us. Still, we managed to find her. She is the oldest daughter of the old Esquire yer father kept around until he passed. Her name is Liliana Clarke,” Conner replied, his eyes drooping slightly while Scott nodded at him, a small scowl lingering on his face.

For some reason, the information about the lass seemed to anger him. She was the daughter of an Esquire his father kept under his wing. His father was generous toward his subordinates which meant the lass had money, she had food. Then why would she sneak into his castle to steal? She had no real motive. She was not driven by anything perhaps other than greed and how that made his blood boil. Still, he remained calm

“Thank ye and get some rest, ye look like shite. I will ride into the village myself after breakfast. Neither of ye need to follow me.” Scott walked past the two men who followed behind him, simply out of habit.

“That is nay exactly the best thing to do, me Laird. Conner just said the villagers were nae happy to see them. That’s because they recognize yer men,” Adrian pointed out, hoping to reason with his Laird, but his words fell on deaf ears as Scott had taken his seat at the table, and food was piled in front of him by the servants. “Me Laird.”

“Aye, I heard ye the first time, Adrian.”

“Perhaps ye dinnae understand what Sir Adrian is trying to say, me Laird. Let me put in words ye can understand.” Conner stepped up to the Laird, who looked away from his food to meet the gaze of his personal guard. “If ye go to the village without proper protection, the chances that ye will get lynched are extremely high.”

“My own people would never.”

“They dinnae like ye, me Laird. They want ye gone by any means necessary.”

Scott clenched his teeth at being interrupted by his guard, but there was not much he could do about Conner. They had grown up together, with him being the son of the housekeeper. Conner was comically blunt even as a child. While Scott did need someone to put him in his place every now and then, they were odd, but they were friends. Scott would never admit it to Conner, but he thought of his guard more like a brother than a friend.

Scott raised a warning finger at his guard before a heavy hand descended on his shoulder. “Now, me Laird, let’s nay resort to violence this early in the day. Conner was being rash as usual, but he is correct.”

“Ye are nae the person the villagers want to see the first thing in the morning. I know ye dinnae nae mean to ignore their needs as each battle has been taking more than we can give, ye are nae to be blamed, but the villagers dinnae understand this. They see things their way, and until we attend to their demands, there is little we can do to change their minds. If ye go to the village alone, the villagers might get hostile, and we dae nae want that. Allow us to go with ye if ye dinnae want a large party accompanying ye.”

Adrian was the sort of anchor their trio of friendship needed. Adrian was older than them, Scott had counted it to almost a decade older. The large man had caught and won the eye of the young Laird with his fighting style and his experience on the battlefield even before the old Laird had died. Scott wasted no time in appointing the rather gentle giant as his war chief rather than Conner, who shrugged it off, saying he would be leading their men to their doom if he ever led a battle.

Though Adrian was a man of soft words, shielding his younger friends away from conflict from others and themselves, Scott could testify that he was a bloodthirsty beast on the battlefield, his black mane matted with the blood of his enemies, his eyes, black as coal showed his victims their way to Hell.

A steaming bowl of soup was set down on the table before Scott broke the trio out of their argument.

“I have nay clue what ye are about to do, Scott, but I suggest ye listen to Adrian. As always.” The cheery voice belonged to none other than Maia Wright, the housekeeper and Scott's mother figure. She flashed the men a warm smile which only Adrian returned. “So, what are we talking about?”

“Nothin’,” Scott and Conner replied at once as Scott pushed the soup away from him. This earned them both a disapproving glare from the plump woman.

“Actually, a thief got in the garden last night, Maia. She was trying to steal food.”

Maia’s eyes went wide as her lips parted with a gasp at Adrian’s confession. “And it seems Scott is enamored with her.”

“Her? A lass?” Adrian nodded, and Maia turned back to Scott. “And ye did nae want me to hear about it because ye knew I would scold ye?”

“Maia, I am seven-and-twenty winters old, ye cannae scold me.” Scott pushed his chair back and got to his feet, appetite gone. Maia sounded smug and it irked Scott. Maia could always read situations better than he could. She had warned him the villagers would soon get fed up with his nonchalant behavior toward them but in his defense, he had his birthright to protect.

“Aye, I cannae scold ye, but I can scold Conner. He will know how to convey me message. Where are ye going? Ye have nae had breakfast yet!”

Of course, there was the constant fussing, but could his day truly be complete without Maia almost yelling at the Laird and her son to take better care of themselves? Truth be told, Scott never needed to, Maia was always there.

“Scott is going to find the lass and br—” Adrian winced as Scott’s elbow connected with his side.

“Ye stay here and cough up our entire battle plans while ye are at it,” Scott hissed at the large man, who took a cautious step back as his Laird pushed past him. “Conner, let us leave.”

“Aye, but without Adrian, the villagers—” Conner started but stopped, pursing his lips and looking away from the sharp sideways glare Scott directed at him.

Maia let out a loud sigh as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Just go with him, Conner. Ye better nae upset the villagers, Scott, since ye certainly know what ye are doing.”

Scott turned to face the housekeeper who had waved the servants in the room over to clear the table. “So ye expect me to leave the thief be? If I let her be, the villagers will make a mockery of me.”

“Ye want to drag a lass out of her home because she stole food from ye. Food that the villagers are clearly lacking. Scott, think about this.”

“They have farms, Maia, and Conner said she was the daughter of an Esquire! She is nay lackin’ food. She came to spite me, rile me up. She tried to steal from me, and I will make an example out of her.”

His words caused Adrian and Conner to exchange looks. With Scott’s reaction to the thief the previous night and how he spoke of her now, something had obviously changed, but when it came to their Laird, it was often difficult to tell.

***

Her eyes snapped open as a gasp escaped from Liliana. Below her, she could hear the heavy banging on the door of the house and on the other side of the room, she could hear her sister clumsily scrambling out of bed.

“Liliana, wake up!” Alana snatched the fur covers off Liliana, but she did not need to go that far. Liliana was already awake and her heart thundering in her chest like the skies during a storm. She did not have to guess who was banging in their door this early in the day. She knew it was the consequences of her actions. But how had they found her?

Perhaps the guard that aided her had also been the one to expose her, or someone else had seen her face, but how could they have fished her out that quickly? Was the Laird conducting a search to find her, or did they know this was where she resided?

Her mind was a scrambled mess as she tried in vain to control her heavy breathing. The terror that washed over her was worse than her panic after being caught the previous night. Cold sweat prickled her forehead as she received a shove from her sister once more. This prompted her to get out of bed. Her legs wobbled underneath her as she slipped a robe over her nightdress, almost forgetting her slippers until Alana pushed her back into the room for them.

Liliana wiped her palms against her robe, holding on to the banister as she descended the stairs to find her entire family, even her sick father, already at the door which was pulled open. The moment her feet touched the floor, her brother, Patrick, stepped away from the door with a curt bow allowing a man to step in.

But it was not just a man. It did not matter how much Liliana wished and prayed to whatever God was listening that it was just a man, it fell on deaf ears as the Laird himself had been the one to seek her out.

Their eyes met, and Liliana sucked in a breath while she took a step back, more than ready to flee to her chamber and never show her face again. She had done what she did for the villagers, cast away logic for their sake, and even though she did not regret it, she knew she would be the only one who had to suffer whatever punishment the Laird would give to her.

“Me Laird as ye can see, the whole family is present. If ye can find who it was who broke into yer Castle last night, please do, although I doubt it is from this household. I know all of my siblings were in this house all through the night.” Patrick kept his gaze low while the Laird hadn’t taken his off Liliana.

“Ye go to such great lengths to defend yer siblings. Ye even challenge me, I find that impressive. But unfortunately for you, the thief is right here, staring back at me like a fish out of water.”

Liliana frowned; her lips curled into a scowl. A last attempt of defiance as she crossed her arms over her chest. The Laird could prove nothing. Patrick had seen her go to bed, Alana had seen her in bed when she was startled awake by the door. Liliana tried to stand her ground, her face nonchalant while her hands shook, forcing her to clench them into fists as the Laird stalked toward her, stopping when his foot touched hers. “Such audacity from a wee lass such as yerself.”

Liliana huffed, the corner of her lips quivered as she looked up at the Laird. The man basically towered over her. “I dinnae understand what ye speak of, me Laird. Whatever it may be, I am sure ye can say it from a respectable distance.”

Scott huffed out a small laugh, lips curling into a smirk as Liliana continued to hold his icy stare. “Ye snuck into me Castle during the night, I have nae a clue how. Ye got into me gardens and tried to steal from me.”

“I beg yer pardon, me Laird, but it seems ye have the wrong lass. I can nae even sneak past me ill faither. I… am but a lass, I am frail. How could have pulled off such a feat?” Scott could not tell if she was teasing or mocking but it annoyed him either way.

The Laird opened his mouth to speak, but Patrick was faster. “Me Laird, I assure ye that I could havenae been my sister. After supper, the lasses retire earlier than the men. I checked on them after putting me father to bed, my sisters were fast asleep. I, myself, dinnae retire until it was almost morn.”

“There is nae way anyone could have left or gotten in without running into me. And please, me Laird, be kind enough to step away from me sister. I willnae have her be intimidated by anyone as long as she is under my wing.”

Patrick’s plea went past the Laird as he remained in his position. “My personal guard saw her as clear as day.”

“Perhaps yer guard mistook her fer someone else.” Liliana’s second brother Oliver spoke up as he glared at someone on the other side of the open door. “These men go to war all the time, some blows to the head and ‘tis easy to see things when yer head is scrambled.”

“Oliver!” Patrick gently nudged his brother in the rib.

“Even if my guard mistook her fer someone else, who else has hair like this?” The Laird reached out for a curly strand of Liliana’s red hair, twirling it between his fingers before a hand came from beside her to yank Liliana out of his sight.

Patrick pulled his sister behind him before giving the Laird a quick bow as the man turned around. “Please, me Laird. Let us keep our hands to ourselves only out of courtesy. And while it is true that nay one has hair like me sister in the village, that does nae mean the thief came from this village. She is nae the only one with hair like this in the Clan, I am sure of it. Ye could have seen another hair color as well, me Laird. The blacksmith’s daughter’s hair is curly, ye must have seen the color wrong.”

“I cannae say if ye are calling me stupid or a liar. Yer sister tried to steal from me, she left behind a sack and her lamp when she was being chased. Me personal guard saw her up close, and every guard that gave chase, including myself, saw her hair clearly.”

“It was a dark last night, me Laird. It could have been easy to—” Patrick was cut short when the Laird stepped into his space. While her brother was a large man himself, almost the same build as the Laird, he was towered over as well.

Anger seemed to radiate off the Laird as he glared not at her brother but straight at her, but this time, Liliana could not stand her ground.


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  • Other than the few grammatical errors this is a great story to a story. I hope I am one of your ARC readers because I would love to be one of the first to read this story in its entirety.

  • This is absolutely wonderful. How is she going to extricate herself, after all he has her lamp and effects. How and when did she manage to make a proposal as crazy as to be his wife with no love involved. Will she now steal from her husband and not call it such, as they will marry? I can’t wait to read the book. Fascinated and intrigued with a lot of questions. Great start to a story. He has a month to make her love him; she has a month to hate him.
    I really can’t wait to see how this develops.

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