About the book
He would change everything to please her…
Almost considered a spinster, Daphne Wellington is desperate for a match. It doesn’t have to be a love match, but she wants a gentleman…And when a brute Highlander shows up instead, Daphne is devastated.
Growing up alone, Jacob McCulloch has acquired everything: Scotland, wealth, fame. But what he never had, was a family. But he found that in Daphne, with whom he fell head over heels in love.
Time is of the essence when you fall in love, and Jacob needs to enchant his new bride as soon as possible. When a sister he never knew he had, appears in his castle, Jacob finally has the family he always wanted. Until he loses everything once again…
The loud rumble of lightning stroking the thatched roof of the castle reverberated through her, spiking her already racing pulse. The mottled sky outside was a mid-gray color, and the cool night’s air reached her from the large windows of the grand hall where they had gathered.
The Gaelic song the men chanted reminded her of her childhood.
She never believed the day when she would sit here in the castle amongst these men would come, and yet, here she was.
Claps erupted from the back of the hall, the men cheered their laird, singing his praises as the feast continued, but none of that mattered to her. This was what she had dreamed of for years and the time was finally upon her. The grin on her lips could not dwindle because she was cast in her excitement.
All she cared about was the tingle racing through her. She had never felt more alive…or in control, and in that moment, as she watched the performers display their skill and dance to the rhythm of the drummer’s beat, she felt a rush of excitement move through her veins. The resounding echoes of the bagpipes were enough to make her nerves jump all over the place. Not even the taste of the wine in front of her could overpower the triumphant taste of victory filling her insides.
Her eyes scanned the crowd, the smiling faces of the men seated around the large table. They wined and dined, each jubilating to their newfound happiness.
She regarded them closely, and the grin on her lips widened. This was their time for celebration, but for her, it was just the beginning. It was finally time for her revenge.
Nothing can stop me now.
The cheers continued as she lifted a quaich to her lips. The ale burned a path down her throat as she sipped, licking the droplets that clung to her lips.
He was finally vulnerable, and this was her chance. When her revenge was complete, then it would be her turn to celebrate, and oh how much she would enjoy watching him suffer for all the years she had suffered. This was a joyous day for him, and she was going to make sure it was the last feast he ever held.
In the end, she would have the last laugh…and that was all that mattered. With renewed energy, she rose to her feet, curtsied to the men seated with her and made her way out of the hall, aware of the eyes watching her. None of them could suspect a thing—she had them all fooled, and even if they did suspect in the end, it would be too late because her plan would be over.
I would have my revenge. It’s only a matter of time now.
Jacob McCulloch walked out of his chamber that morning with his mind made up. The protests of his court men did not matter to him, and neither did the concerned look on his man-at-arms’s face as he started towards the stairs leading to the first landing of his castle.
“My laird,” Nicholas began as they reached the stairs. “The men are gathered in front of the castle again this morn. They dinnae wish to see ye welcome the English lass.”
“My wife,” he corrected as he jogged down the stairs, adjusting his leine with both hands. “I expect that ye think the same as them, Nicholas, but I dinnae wish to be swayed by ye or anyone else. I am already wed to the lass, there is naythin’ anyone can do to change that now.”
“I am nay here to sway ye,” Nicholas replied, his deep tone making Jacob turn to face him. Jacob sensed there was a “but” attached to Nicholas’s words, and the grim look on the man’s face cemented that thought.
Nicholas waved a hand as he spoke. “But the clansmen daenae support yer decision and this could and will cause a rift amongst them. We daenae want to ruin our togetherness as a clan at a time like this when rumors of war from across the border are arisin’.”
“I daenae care for any of that,” Jacob insisted as they reached the exit of the keep and stepped past the threshold leading to the drawbridge.
In a few minutes, he would welcome his English bride, and that was all that mattered to him for now.
Jacob sucked in a deep breath as a tingle of anticipation made its way through him. He had thought of the lass since the night he first saw her at the ball in England. She was a socialite, a woman who had pleased his sight from the first instant, and as a lady with influence she had walked around with so much grace, enough to attract him.
She’s the perfect match I want in a wife. Beautiful, with hips wide enough for childbearing, and gracious.
Those were the thoughts that helped him make up his mind to get the lady, but besides that there was the instant explosive tingle that raced through him when, for a second, their eyes had met.
Jacob was certain she hadn’t noticed him, but he could not get the image of her out of his head since then.
Since he returned from his trip to Wellington three weeks now, he hadn’t taken the image of her out of his head. Those shiny green eyes and deep-pressed dimples that flashed from the distant smile he had witnessed stayed with him.
He had known from the second he laid eyes on her that night he had finally found his bride. After months of searching the highlands, Jacob had concluded in his heart that no woman could intrigue him enough to make him wed her. All of that had changed when he saw her.
Though he hadn’t approached her then, he had watched her.
“Yer mind is made up I see,” Nicholas commented as they passed the castle gates and stopped in front of his men already gathered there. Jacob crossed his arms at his back and gave his friend a nod. Over the years, he had valued Nicholas’s advice on certain matters, but this was not one of them. He had made that clear from the start.
“My mind is set on this, and trust me, when ye see the lass, ye will realize she is indeed the right wife for me.”
His words ended on a smirk, and Nicholas shook his head. “Is she that bonnie?” Nicholas asked.
Jacob’s response was interrupted by the neigh of a horse in a distance. He looked away from Nicholas and at the approaching horses leading a carriage behind.
“Ye will see for yerself,” he answered, then took few steps forward to meet the horsemen halfway.
The men stopped, then looked around for a second before they dismounted their horse. One of them strode to where Jacob stood with Nicholas and extended a hand.
“Michael Balfour,” he introduced. “A messenger from the Duke of Wellington. I bring with me the Lady, daughter of the duke to yer lands, Laird McEwan.”
Jacob shook the man’s hand steadily, and without a word, side-stepped and walked towards the already open carriage.
He watched as a guard extended a hand to help the lady out, and even before she stepped out of the carriage, his pulse skipped a momentary beat. Jacob held his breath for the millisecond that passed as she stuck out her leg first before climbing down from the carriage.
She is indeed more beautiful than I remember, he thought as she whipped her head around and her eyes landed on his. He gasped, shivered internally, and realized his insides were rolling with heightened sensations he had never experienced before.
I am finally here, Daphne thought as the carriage door opened for her to alight. The entire ride from England, she had counted the seconds till she would meet her mystery husband. Even though she hated that her parents had married her off to some stranger in Scotland, she had come to terms that this was now her life long before she left England.
Only one thought plagued her mind during the journey. What would it be like? What would he look like?
She remembered her conversation with her maid the night before she left England. “The laird is a brute. Many call him the 'King of the Highlands’ because he is a man with wealth and power, even more than the Scottish king.
“He is also very fierce, and many say he is a rake, even though they cannot testify that he has been with any woman before. He’s a snobbish laird from all I have heard, my lady, and you are better off.”
Remembering Mary’s words caused a shiver to race through her and doubting thoughts of what her future held surfaced again. Daphne did not think she could find the slightest bit of affection to be with a man of this many bad attributes, and growing up in England, she knew the gossips always had some bit of truth in them.
How would I survive with a man who does not care for anything else but his power and riches? How can he marry a woman he has never met just to seal his power alliances in England?
Daphne pondered on those thoughts even as she forced herself to keep an open mind. What angered her the most was her parents had agreed to whatever amount he had paid for her hand.
They sold me off like a property. Daphne hadn’t met the laird yet, but she was certain she would hate him.
She stepped out of the carriage and looked around at first, dragging in a large chunk of air to fill her lungs. Her joints ached from the long hours of sitting, and what she desperately craved now was a stretch.
Maintaining her proper appearances, she turned around to where the Scottish men stood, and her gaze landed on one of them. His blue eyes stared back at hers, unwavering, and a tingle raced through her, immediately creating a shiver that made her knees weak.
Daphne clamped a tight rein over the sudden tingle and took the first step towards the Scots. She held the hem of her dress, her walk slow and calculated as she got to where the first man stood.
“My lady,” he said as soon as she got to him. His smooth voice reminded her of the gentle sound the wind makes when it fluttered against leaves, and it started a low thud in her heart. “Welcome to the Highlands… Welcome to my castle.”
The introduction told her he was Laird McEwan. The brute her father had married her off to without her consent.
She choked back a gasp and slowly extended her hand to his for his greeting kiss.
“Daphne Wellington,” she spoke, amazed that her voice came out as a weak sound. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Laird McEwan.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he replied. Her breath stopped in her throat at the huskiness in his voice, and even though she hoped he didn’t notice, a heat scorched the back of her neck and reached her cheeks.
He kissed the front of her palm, his eyes remaining in contact with hers, and there was a mild jolt that raced through her, making it difficult for her to form any thoughts in that second. The contact of his lips on her bare skin sent a rush of heady excitement like she had never felt through her. Daphne’s heart sprang to life, battering against her ribcage with erratic rhythms.
She hated her parents for marrying her off to Laird McEwan, and she had already condemned him a brute. So, why did his touch make her heart race like it never had?
Jacob lost the ability to form coherent words when he touched her hand and placed a kiss on the front of her palm. His pulse did a slow dive and, for a second, he was lost in her eyes when he looked up at her again.
The reaction didn’t shock him. From the minute he set eyes on the lady, he knew he wanted her. But what surprised him was what her reaction did to him inside. The subtle blush that formed on her cheeks was enough to have his blood roaring in his veins, and the way she averted her eyes from his told him she was trying to avoid the heat between them.
Jacob felt it either way, and it brought a sense of deep awareness of her. The scent of lilies hovered around him as they stood close to each other, and it intoxicated him.
He heard her gasp, and it sent a wave of sensations spiraling through him. His insides quivered like an excited child’s, and he quickly released her hand before he did anything foolish like cross his fingers with hers.
Jacob cleared his throat when Nicholas stepped forward. “This is my man-at-arms, Nicholas,” he introduced. As he spoke, he took in her delicate features, the chestnut shade of her brown hair, and the creaminess of her skin. Her small nose perched on her face with elegance, and her lips were a small pout, a lovely shade of pink.
Merely looking at them, he could already imagine tasting them. A rush of adrenaline flowed through him, raising the pressure of the blood pounding through his veins.
She is beautiful…more lovely than I remember.
She curtsied again, and he caught a glimpse of the creamy skin at her cleavage exposed by the low-cut dress she wore. His body tightened in response, and instant desire shot through him.
His uncle Theodore walked out of the gates to meet them, and Jacob introduced him too. When he finished, he bowed, turned away from the lady, and walked towards the gate.
“Show her into the castle to her chambers,” he said to Nicholas as he continued down his path. The entire time, strangely, he could feel her gaze burn into his back, and it made his pulse skitter around the place.
Jacob had never felt this intensity of heat when he looked at a woman before. He had met his fair share of woman across the highland clans, and even in the capital. When he spent time in England, he had daughters of earls and dukes at his feet. None of them caught his attention, not even one intrigued him.
Inside the keep, he rounded the corner of the stairs and headed straight for his chamber. His insides were still shivering when he got in and took his seat at his large, sturdy desk.
Jacob placed his hands on the table and lowered his head for a second, dragging in a deep breath to collect his thoughts.
You should not let it become so obvious that the woman gets to you so much, he told himself as he released the pent-up air in his lungs.
A soft knock came on his door, and it opened. Nicholas walked in wearing a broad grin. “Ye were speechless when ye saw the lady,” he stated as he closed the door behind him.
“Speechless is a strong word. I simply introduced her and headed back here to work…Ye ken I have a lot to attend to these days.”
Nicholas maintained his smile. “Ah! I would have thought otherwise because for a second there, ye looked smitten.”
Jacob scoffed, ignoring the tingle still tunneling through his nerves.
He glanced away from Nicholas and back at the scroll he picked up from the table. “If ye have naythin’ else to do, I suggest ye go join the men on the trainin’ fields. Theodore would need yer help with trainin’ the new men added to the castle’s guards.”
“Theodore is occupied with showin’ the lady to her chambers, a task that ye should have been doin’,” Nicholas replied. Jacob dropped the scroll when Nicholas walked to his table and took the seat opposite.
“The lady will nay be pleased that ye dismissed her so easily after she traveled miles to come to ye. Perhaps ye should have engaged in a little conversation? Gotten to know her name or a little about how her journey was as ye walked her to her chamber?”
Jacob frowned at Nicholas’s list. He rubbed his forehead before wondering aloud. “Should I have done that?”
“Aye, that is how a proper gentleman should behave. She is an English lady, and she is now yer lady. Ye should treat her properly.”
Nicholas tapped his hands on the table before he rose to his feet. “I will join the guards in trainin’ now.”
He bowed and exited the study while Jacob rose to his feet and moved to the window to stare outside. From where he stood, he could see the distant hills of the highlands and he admired their teetering heights trying to reach for the skies.
Maybe I should have talked to her a little, he thought as he turned away from the window and began pacing his study. It was his first time bringing a woman into his keep.
I don’t even know her, he thought as he rubbed the back of his neck. With a deep sigh, he strode out of his study and started up the stairs, responding to numerous servants’ greetings as he headed for the lady’s new chamber.
When he got to the door, he turned the knob and pushed in without knocking. Jacob’s eyes fell on her face as he entered the chamber.
Once again, his pulse skipped a beat as he looked at her, and he lost track of what he intended to ask.
Daphne sighed and groaned a little as she stretched out her hands in front of her. Slowly, she opened her eyes, taking in her surrounding with caution as she stirred fully awake and rose to a sitting position.
“My lady,” a cheery voice called immediately, pulling her out of her dazed state. She turned to see a young girl, with wide brown eyes, and hair the color of brimstone braided into two large plaits. “I am here to help ye with anythin’ ye might need in the keep, my lady.” The girl curtsied as she spoke, and Daphne closed her eyes for second.
She rubbed the back of her neck and stretched her arms again before slipping out of the bed. Her body still ached a bit from the long journey, but she was sure a hot wash would help ease most of the tension.
“What is your name?” she asked, looking at the girl again. Daphne noticed she wore a saffron-colored apron over her black dress, and her cheeks were stained with soot.
“Shona, my lady,” she replied.
“Shona… Did I sleep for long?” Daphne queried. She dusted her hands over the skirts of the dress she still wore, moved to the window, and pulled the drapes open with one move.
It was sunny outside; Daphne stuck her head out for a second to enjoy the cool breeze coming in her direction. She sighed, inhaled the crisp freshness, and marveled in the silence that surrounded her.
This place is peaceful…I might like it here.
The clouds in the sky, however, hinted there might be rain sometime soon, and she imagined what it would be like to experience the coolness of spring in the highlands when flowers would bloom, and the fields would flourish.
Daphne loved nature. During the journey here, she spent time imagining what the Laird would look like. Her worries soared with her imaginations as she tried to paint a picture of the husband she had never met in her mind. Even after she met him, she still couldn’t fully remember what he looked like because she had been too exhausted.
All Daphne could recall was the shiver that raced through her when he looked at her with those intense blue eyes.
“Aye, my lady. Ye slept the entire night till mid-day. The laird has come here to check on ye twice already.”
Shona’s statement caught her attention. She lifted a brow, the corners of her lips quirked as she asked with a scoff. “He did?”
“Aye,” Shona answered.
“What did he want?” Daphne got the first impression that he was not interested in seeing her when they first met. As soon as he introduced her to his men, he marched away without sparing her a second glance.
His stand-offish attitude proved she was right to think of him as uncultured. Only an uncultured man would treat a lady this way. I can’t believe my parents married me off to this man.
“He wanted to eat with ye, my lady.”
Her jaw gaped open for a second at Shona’s revelation, but she quickly regained composure. “Eat with me?” Daphne scoffed after asking the question. He did not seem like the kind of man who would care about another person’s needs.
So why would he want to eat with me? Or care if I starve?
“I have prepared a bath for ye already, my lady, and I will assist ye with it. What would ye like to eat after that? The kitchen has prepared varieties for yer welcome, and everyone was sad that ye dinnae get a chance to eat of what they had in store for ye.”
Daphne’s stomach grumbled at the mention of food, and she chewed on her lower lip. “I would like that very much,” she responded, then turned around for Shona to help with loosening the sash at her back.
The fabric slid down her body after she took her hands out of the sleeves, and she stepped out of the pile on her feet. Daphne took the first step towards the bath corner when the door suddenly burst open.
She shrieked from the shock of the invasion, and her eyes widened when she spun around to see Laird McEwan make his way into her chamber.
Daphne gasped when he looked right at her, his gaze flickering over her face. He didn’t flinch when she yelped and brought her hands up to cover her body instinctively, shielding herself from his heated gaze.
“What in heaven’s name do you think you are doing?”
Daphne blinked, still reeling from her shock as he closed the door behind him and looked at her. Her lips went dry, and she ran her tongue over it. “You cannot just barge into my room like this. It is only cautious that you ask for me to let you in.”
Daphne shivered when instead of responding to her, his eyes drifted all over her body. She suddenly felt conscious of her state of undress. She was aware her undergarment was a sheer fabric when he kept looking at her like that. Suddenly, the tingles raced through her, and she felt her nipples harden. Her eyes lowered to her chest, and she saw that they stood out.
Mortified, Daphne shivered, and turned away from him. He was still silent, looking at her like he was dumb, and she needed to stop the flush racing through her, stealing her breath away and making it difficult for her to speak.
Shona had reached for a robe, and she slipped into it, tying the sash in front of her before taking a few steps towards the laird.
“I am free to enter anywhere that pleases me in my castle,” he spoke.
His rough tone sent another shiver down her spine, and this time, she noticed his eyes languidly moved over her body. Daphne crossed her hands over her chest and cleared her throat.
“What did you need?” she asked, angling her chin higher so she came off as defensive. This time, she got a closer look at his face, and her heart did a slow dive in her chest as she looked into his eyes.
Laird McEwan was indeed the kind of man that could sweep any woman off her feet. His dark, brown hair sleeked away from his face, and the rest of his facial features were pleasing to look at. In her opinion, he was roughly handsome, with skin a creamy shade, and the stance of a warrior.
He is indeed not bad for the eyes, she thought as she looked at him.
His figure towered over hers, his arms bulging out of the leine he wore. When he moved his hands and crossed them behind him, she saw the muscles of his arms ripple. It sent a delicious wave of longing through her, instantly awakening a low hum she had never felt before.
Their minute of engulfing each other with their eyes passed when she cleared her throat again and licked her lips. “Laird McEwan,” she called. “Did you need something?”
“You will join me for dinner tonight,” he said, showering her with another full stare before he turned to walk away from her.
What? Is this supposed to be an invitation?
“I will do no such thing,” she said in a cool voice. Daphne’s pulse skipped a beat when he turned back to look at her. “You cannot order me to eat with you.”
His eyes narrowed, and she heard his sharp intake of breath. Daphne kept her shoulders raised high as she stared back at him.
How can he come in here and think he can order me around or tell me what to do?
She maintained her stance as he came close to her again, this time inches closer so she caught his masculine scent. “You will do as I say, my lady,” he replied in a stern voice.
When he walked out of her chamber this time, she scoffed and turned to Shona who stood behind her the entire time the laird was in the room.
“He has no manners,” she blurted, her cheeks burning from the flush of irritation rising in her. “Can he just order me around? Like I’m some item he’s shipped from England?”
She untied her sash and allowed the rest of her undergarment to fall to her feet as she took them off. Daphne sank into the bath basin and allowed the hot water to lap at her skin.
Her husband was as mannerless as the rumors had pointed him out to be, and she didn’t think she could learn to live with such a man!
On their first meeting, he completely brushed her off, and now he just walked into her room and ordered her to eat with him.
What kind of brute is he? How could he stare at me like that?
She rolled her eyes and huffed when she remembered how her body had responded, how her body still reacted even though he was no longer looking at her. Daphne placed her hands on her cheeks and the warmth there was like the one all over her skin.
The way his eyes had drifted slowly over her body and stopped on her lips for a moment—she remembered it, and she had to clear her throat when more images of his face and his look entered her mind.
Stop it, she cautioned herself, shaking her head to dispel the thoughts of him. I need to wash.
After her bath, she was still fuming. Daphne had tried to keep an open mind. She had told herself she could live with the laird, and get to learn the ways of his people, but from what she had seen so far, he did not seem like the kind of man she wanted to know.
Her resolve to give him a chance dissolved, and a slow hatred festered. This was a man who bought her from her parents without the courtesy of asking for her hand in marriage in person.
Daphne decided to cancel the laird from her thoughts. They were man and wife only in the eyes of the law, no alliance could ever form between them, she was certain of that now that she had met him.
“Ye ordered the lady to have dinner with ye,” Theodore stated as they returned from their ride into the village. “That is nay way to treat a lady, my laird. Yer time in England with the elite men of the ton should have taught ye better.”
“She will nay defy me either way,” he said as he dismounted his horse at the gates and strode into the keep with Theodore.
The sun had set earlier, and although Jacob was exhausted from his time in the village with the workers on the field, he had ended his work for the day in time so he could make it back for supper.
This was the first time in a long time he had taken time out to eat in the dining hall. His routine never allowed him as he spent most of this time training the guards or planning his clan’s protection with Theodore.
He had decided having dinner with the lady was a good start. He could learn a few things about her like Nicholas had suggested to him.
“What would ye do if she defies ye?” Theodore asked when they reached the stairs leading to the first landing. His uncle stayed on the first landing where Nicholas and his wife also had a chamber.
Jacob’s wing was on the second, and his wife’s chamber was just right next to his. Although they were married now, he made sure to prepare her own chambers for her arrival simply because he knew it would make her comfortable.
Jacob had no intention of making the lady feel uncomfortable here. If she was going to get used to living in his castle, he had to make it easy for her, right? And that involved allowing her some time to get accustomed to him. So he was starting with dinner.
“She would nay,” he replied.
Theodore chuckled. He shook his head and walked away from Jacob without another word.
His uncle’s reaction wasn’t what he expected. Nicholas had suggested asking her to supper, and he had done just that.
With a sigh, he went into his chamber to clean up. By the time he entered the dining hall, the servants had already served their meal.
“Inform the lady it is time for supper,” he told the chief servant as he entered the hall.
“Aye, my laird.”
He took his seat at the head of the table, planted his hands, and dragged in a deep breath to steady his lungs. Jacob realized he was nervous as he sat alone in the room. Whenever she was around him, he lost touch of what words to say to her, and he feared he ended up looking like a fool.
Would she come? The question popped in his mind as he remembered her bold refusal when he asked her to join him for supper earlier that day. Walking into her chamber and seeing her like that, wearing nothing but a sheer fabric, had sent his pulse into a frantic beat he still hadn’t recovered from.
He knew the lady was beautiful but seeing her like that had toyed with his senses. His body couldn’t relax, his heart battered against his ribcage, and as time ticked by slowly, he became restless.
Jacob rose to his feet the second the servant re-entered the dining hall. “Where is she?” he asked, his voice echoing around the empty dining hall.
The servant lowered her head and curtsied. “She has refused to join ye, my laird,” she announced, her head still bowed.
His next breath passed through gritted teeth, and without thinking, he marched out of the room, heading directly to her chambers.
When he got there, he tried the doorknob but found it locked, so he leveled his fist into it, banging to get her to come out.
“I demand ye join me for dinner at once,” Jacob said, his voice thundering around the hallway.
“I will do no such thing.”
Her reply sifted through the doors to him, and her defiance not only sparked his anger, but also fueled something inside him.
Is it intrigue?
No woman had ever dared defy him.
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