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Fiona gave her heart once, and doesn’t plan to repeat that folly. Yet she finds herself drawn to Alasdair’s intelligence and strength, and the passion he incites goes well beyond her expectations for what’s only a marriage of expedience. Despite herself, she’s falling in love with her husband.
But there’s a high wall between them—and Fiona’s not sure it can ever be torn down.
Read an Excerpt:
Wondering where his shoes had gone, Alasdair looked down to see his wolfhound Cuilean at his feet. Intelligent dark eyes were looking up at him inquiringly, shaggy ears were pricked: a hint, Alasdair knew, that breakfast was long overdue. He reached down a hand to caress that rough head, and as he did so Cuilean sharply turned it, toward an archway leading off toward the kitchens.
Fervently did Alasdair hope it was a servant, bearing a refreshing tankard of ale (or even a silver pot filled to the brim with blisteringly hot coffee), but no, it was Dame Margery, quite possibly the oldest member of the clan, hunched over her gnarled stick and stumping into the Hall. Trailing behind was her little granddaughter Sheila, who viewed the dissolute scene before her with blasé indifference, her expression, distinguished by eyes which seemed to gaze in two different directions at once, seeming more focused on something immaterial and inward — and for that Alasdair could only be thankful, as uneasily he wondered if a seven-year-old really ought to be in the Great Hall at this particular moment.
As Dame Margery drew near, she noisily banged her stick on the marble floor, causing people nearby to stir, moan, rouse. She passed by Uncle Duff, insensate, draped sideways on a chair and his long beard dangling perpendicularly, and muttered audibly, “Ach, the old wastrel!” before turning her piercing and unblinking stare to Alasdair. Finally she stopped before the dais on which the two great chairs — one for the laird, one (long unoccupied) for his lady — stood. Her silence, Alasdair noticed, had a heavy, expectant, rather ominous sort of quality, and he groaned under his breath. He wasn’t in the mood for drama. Still, he was the laird, and one must be polite, so he cleared his throat and said:
“Good day to you, madam.”
“And to you, laird,” she answered with an awful, punctilious politeness. “May I tender my congratulations to you on your birthday.”
“I thank you.”
“I believe I am correct, laird, that as of yesterday you turned thirty-five?”
“Not thirty-four, laird?”
“Nay, thirty-five, madam.”
“Not married, are you, laird?”
Alasdair looked narrowly at Dame Margery. Had she gone soft in her aged head? Everyone knew he was unmarried and, in fact, happily so. But courteously he replied: “Nay, madam, I’m not.”
“Well then, laird, perhaps you are not aware of the ancient clan decree which dictates that any chieftain of Castle Tadgh who remains unmarried by his thirty-fifth birthday must immediately invite the eligible highborn maidens of the Eight Clans of Killaly to stay within the castle, and within thirty-five days choose one to be his bride?”
Dame Margery issued this disconcerting pronouncement in stentorian tones and with a single breath, leaving her gasping a little by the end. She breathed in deeply, then added sternly:
“The wedding to follow within thirty-five days.”
A sufficient number of people had woken up by now to create a stunned, openmouthed audience for Dame Margery, who seemed well satisfied by the effect of her words. Alasdair sat upright, jostling the black-haired lass who let out a choked snore but remained blissfully asleep. He stared balefully at her and then at Dame Margery as the unpleasant import of her proclamation sank in.
“And if I don’t obey?” he said, losing a little of his earlier politeness.
“Death to you, I fear,” the old crone replied with annoying promptitude. “Hanged and quartered, laird, and your head displayed in the courtyard as a warning to all who leave off their sacred duty to the clan.”
About the Author: Lisa Berne read her first Georgette Heyer book at fourteen, and was instantly captivated. Later, she was a graduate student, a grantwriter, and an investment banker, but is thrilled to be returning to her roots and writing her own historical-romance novels! She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.
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