The Clan MacLaren #1
My Highlander Husband
Lady Juliet Kingston did not expect to find love in the Scottish Highlands. Sent by the king to marry a laird’s son, she had no expectations until she met the strong and stubborn Ross MacLaren. He won her heart, erasing her feelings for the man she left behind. Her happiness is short-lived as the threat of war becomes real, and she is reclaimed by her former love.
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance
Pink Satin Romance
“Scotsmen are greedy and stingy, Juliet, so always watch what you say and what you do. You cannot trust them. They will lie to your face and stab you in the back. They are power hungry bastards, and that is why I send you away with a heavy heart. But for the good of God and country, I must let you go. Your life,” her mother said as she wiped tears from her eyes, “will never be the same.”
Those words lay heavy in her heart as Juliet sat astride her horse, overlooking the small village that led to Glenhaven Castle. King George had given orders that she come to Scotland and marry the laird’s son. The Scots and English had a tentative relationship, and the marriage would help bond the countries, hopefully preventing war. But she was not sure why she was chosen out of all the noble families in England. Juliet shook her head. It does not matter. I am here now.
Lady Juliet Anna Marie Kingston, daughter of the Duke of Norchester, sighed then blinked to fight back tears. She knew her mother’s words were true. On this day in May 1715, her life would change forever and never be the same again.
Gray stone cottages with dark brown thatched roofs filled the valley below. Juliet’s father told her the English called the Scottish homes smoking dunghills. She thought they looked quite pleasant but hadn’t ridden through the village yet to capture the smell. Animal pens, attached to the sides of houses, held pigs, goats, sheep, and a few horses. Crops grew in a huge field beyond the last row of homes. Her eyes followed the dusty brown path through the center of the village and continued up the hill. The road to the castle. She scanned the elevated landscape, searching for the place she would call home.
Castle Glenhaven was nestled among ash and elder trees. Spring flowers had bloomed on the crab apples, making the scene appear magical in the noonday sun. The pale gray stone and rounded corner turrets of the three-story building reminded Juliet of home.
She wiped a tear that escaped her eye. More of her mother’s words flooded her mind. “It’s your duty, Juliet. Donnach MacLaren is a powerful chieftain. He keeps the peace. The laird wants his son to marry an English lady, one of nobility. You have been chosen by the king. Hold your head proud.”
Juliet shuddered at the thought. She left her happiness back in England, and nothing could fill that void. She loved Lord John Alder, the son of the Duke of Essex, and no Scottish Highlander would change her mind. John had fought for her, begged her father, and offered money to no avail. No one could contest the king’s orders, not even John.
She pictured John’s dancing gray eyes full of mischief, as she stared up at the cloudless blue sky. They sparkled every time he laughed. He kept his blond locks clean and pulled back in a tail except for formal attire. Then he wore a powdered wig, making him look quite regal. He had a slender build yet was well-muscled and strong. Juliet loved that he was just the right height to place her head on his shoulder when they went for walks.
“I’ll come for you,” he promised. But Juliet knew he would not. Her fate had been sealed. John would be arrested before he stepped on Scottish soil.
The male voice startled her. “Yes?”
“I am sorry to interrupt your peace. We have to continue on. As you can see, we are close to the castle. We should arrive within the hour.”
“Yes.” Juliet shook her head and returned to the moment. “Carry on, Edward. I will follow behind you.” Her mother wanted her to ride in a carriage, but being an expert horsewoman, Juliet insisted on her own horse.
A small entourage of soldiers and servants escorted Juliet to her new home, but only her maid would stay on. The rest would return to England. Juliet kept her eyes on Edward’s back then decided to make a daring move. She guided her horse alongside him. “Edward,” she said so no one else could hear, “please tell John I still love him.”
His eyes made brief contact with hers. “I think it best not. The man is suffering. I cannot do that to my friend.”
“Then how shall I live if you do not?” Juliet tossed her chestnut brown hair over her shoulder, and the sun bounced off the locks giving it an auburn glow. She knitted her brows together in a worrisome look. “Please, Edward, if you were ever a friend.” She’d known him for many years, even before she met John. He had been the one to introduce them.
“If you insist, my lady. I will have to oblige.”
“I insist.” Juliet hoped her eyes held the look of determination.
Edward galloped ahead, shouting directions to his men. Juliet dropped back and searched for her maid, Eva, who had difficulty staying on her horse most days. More than once they had to stop and wait for her to be retrieved from the ground, brushed off, and returned to the saddle.
“Eva? How are you faring?” Juliet called over her shoulder and pulled up her reins to wait for her.
“I am fine. We are almost there so I doubt I will drop from the saddle many more times.” Eva giggled as she batted her lashes to stay focused. She was seventeen, two years younger than Juliet. They had grown up together, and Juliet thought of her more as a friend than her maid.
“You have held up well. I am sorry for your troubles. We will practice riding once we are settled and have established a routine.”
“That may be a while, milady. You are to marry this Saturday.”
“Yes, about that.” Juliet looked into her friend’s blue-gray eyes. “You will have to help me get through the festivities.”
Eva twirled her sandy brown braid around her finger. “I do not know how much I can help. I am just a tiny thing.” She laughed, and Juliet joined her.
Eva came to the tip of Juliet’s nose. She had a lovely, heart-shaped face, small nose, and rosebud lips. Her petite size never held her back. She would stand up to anyone who dared to cross them.
“Your size has nothing to do with your strength, Eva. Remember I have seen you take on many people you thought wronged you or I.”
Eva lifted her shoulder. “Yes. I guess you are right.” She looked ahead and pointed. “We are at the village. Hold your breath!”
Juliet assumed Eva heard the talk about the smell of peat and dung. The Scots burned peat in their fireplaces, and she wasn’t sure about the dung. Juliet shook her head as if to get the phantom smell from her nose. She had no idea what to expect. London had its own peculiar smells, and yet Englishmen thought this odor was worse
The party emerged from the forest and headed down the wide dirt path through the village. People came out from their homes to gawk at the parade as it passed. Juliet raised her hand in greeting, hoping they would like her. They must have heard the news that Laird Donnach MacLaren’s son, Ross, would marry an English girl the end of the week.
“Och, no! The English.” An old man spat at the ground. “Sassenachs. Get home where ye belong. We dinna want yer feet touching Scottish soil.”
Juliet raised her brows. “We are not that bad,” she whispered to Eva, “for him to speak of us in a rude way.”
She noticed Edward had pulled up his horse and returned to her side. “Who said that?” His face had turned to stone.
“No one,” Juliet said then whispered to him, “It is quite all right.”
“No, it is not,” he answered back. “I have been sent to protect you. You know there has been talk of a Jacobite uprising. The Scots have never been fond of the English. They want their own king back in power.”
“I am aware. That is why I am here, is it not?” Juliet glared at him.
“My apologies.” Edward tipped his hat and tapped his heels into his horse.
“Men!” Juliet glanced over at Eva. “And their wars!”
They reached the base of the hill and started the upward climb to the castle.
“What do you think he will look like?” Eva edged her horse closer to Juliet.
“No, silly! Your husband.”
“Oh. I had not thought of that.” Juliet’s stomach clenched into a tight ball. She would never tell Eva, but she had put much thought into what her new husband might look like, and hoped he would be decent enough. She might have to live with him for a very long time, and her stomach rolled at the thought.
“I hope he has good teeth and a nice smell. I was told most Scots are ragged and do not care about their appearance.” Eva wrinkled her nose. She looked back at the village. “But that was not too bad, do you think?”
“I had not noticed.” Juliet grinned. “I am sure there are more smells to come.” She took in the spring scenery to pass the time as they rode along the edge of a wooded area.
The grass had turned a pale shade of green with pink and white wildflowers sprinkled among the blades. Patches of shade came and went as the group traveled through canopies of trees. The smell of dried leaves and fresh grass filled Juliet’s nose as she rode along. The entourage came out into a sunny field, the final leg of the journey. Castle Glenhaven loomed before them.
The castle, made of light gray stone, stood three stories high, and looked more majestic than it had from a distance. Arch-shaped windows ran along the first two floors. Square windows with triangular peaks sat above each arched one on the third floor. A dark gray roof offset the lighter gray, as did the turrets on top of each corner tower. A prison or a home? Juliet had yet to decide.
~ * ~
“His lordship will be with ye shortly,” a servant said with a bow as she backed away then disappeared down the hall. The entourage had been escorted into a small room. No one had greeted them in the castle courtyard except the girl and the men who tended their horses.
Juliet locked eyes with Eva as a strange feeling crept over her. This was not the welcome she expected. No formal greeting. No beverages had been offered. The room barely had enough seats for them. Do they even want me here? Her hands shook with fear, and she buried them in the folds of her gown.
Donnach MacLaren finally made his entrance, sweeping into the room without a word. His gray hair stuck out wildly in different directions as if he had just woken from a deep sleep. Juliet took notice of his kilt and stockings, something she’d never see a man wear in England. He stood in silence, studying the people around him. His hazel eyes landed on Juliet, and he lifted his brow.
“Laird MacLaren, I am your most humble servant,” Edward said. He stepped forward and dipped at the waist. “I am pleased to meet you. May I introduce—”
“Och,” Laird MacLaren said with a wave of the hand. He walked toward Juliet, took her hand, and planted a light kiss on top. His eyes traveled up to hers. “Save it for tonight, lad. We have a feast planned in the lass’ honor. I have business to attend but didna want ye to feel unwelcomed.” He smirked.
Unwelcomed? Juliet sank her teeth into her bottom lip trying to erase that exact feeling.
“The servants will show ye to yer rooms,” the laird said. With that, he turned and walked through the door, leaving them in stunned silence by the welcome they received.
~ * ~
Eva helped Juliet dress for the evening. She would be presented to the family and important members of the MacLaren clan before dinner. “Your mother instructed that you wear the blue dress to bring out the color of your eyes.” Eva held up the silk dress with a white ruffled inlay. She tightened Juliet’s corset and slipped the outfit over her head. “There you go,” she said as she tugged at the waistline.
Juliet had grown used to Eva’s hands on her body, poking and primping to make her look her best. She did not flinch as Eva adjusted the material around her breasts, which were quite prominently displayed.
“Laird Donnach did not act as if he was happy to see us.” Eva took in a breath of air as she tugged on the skirt. “There goes my mouth again.”
“No, Eva, you are right. He seemed reserved.” Juliet recalled staring into his cool hazel eyes, unable to tell what he thought. “He was kind.” She pictured him towering over her, his bow and the kiss to her hand. But when he looked up at her, his smile did not reach his eyes. Her stomach twisted in a knot. “He is the one who requested an English bride for his son. Mother said it would be a union that helps both countries.”
“If you wish to think he is kind then let it be so. Sit.” Eva pointed to the chair in front of a mirror. “I will fix your hair.” She worked without speaking, brushing out Juliet’s long locks.
“What are you thinking?” Juliet sat without moving to make Eva’s job easier. “I know you have an opinion.”
“I am not supposed to have one. My job is to serve you.”
“When we are in private, you are my friend. I need to hear your thoughts.”
Eva stepped in front of Juliet, comb in hand. “I think it odd we were not given a royal greeting. The laird had to be summoned when we arrived. He greeted you and sent you to this suite.”
“We may have arrived earlier than expected. The laird said a feast has been planned in my honor tonight.” When she was shown her room, Juliet thought the accommodations were much smaller and sparse by English standards. The suite had two rooms, a bedroom and boudoir, but having time to study the décor, she deemed it tastefully done. The four-poster bed had a red velvet canopy with matching bed cover and beautiful tapestries hung on the paneled walls.
“Well then,” Eva said as she walked over to a table, “all is settled.” She returned with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. “I picked some wildflowers in the field. When I am done with your curls I will place them here.” She touched the back of Juliet’s head. Her hand brushed the side of Juliet’s neck as she reached for a lock of hair.
The contact made Juliet think of her future husband. How would he touch her? Did he want to touch her even if he did not know her? Of course, that was what all men wanted. Her mother told her so. She had pulled Juliet aside before she left and said, “Oh, my sweet daughter, I only have time to tell you this. Strange things happen to men when they take a woman to bed. Be prepared to accept what happens.”
Juliet had no idea what her mother meant. She had kissed John many times and nothing odd happened. They held hands, and sometimes he wrapped his arms around her making her feel loved and safe. She liked it all. “Mother?” She wrinkled her brow and squinted. “You do not make sense.”
“It will make sense all too soon, my dear.” Her mother kissed her cheek. “Now go. Do your country proud. Remember we love you.”
Juliet did feel loved by her parents and brother. So why had they seemed eager to send her away?
“It is the way of the world, is it not, Juliet?” In private quarters, Eva called Juliet by her first name but knew better when they were in public.
Juliet blinked. “I have no idea what you said, Eva. I am sorry.”
“I was saying how I left England and will live in Scotland for the rest of my life just like you. Women live where their men live. Since I am in this country, I hope to find a husband here.”
“Oh, Eva, I hope you do too. You have an adventurous spirit. I would have preferred to stay in England.”
“With Lord John.”
Juliet sighed. “Yes, with John.”
A knock came at the door. “’Tis time,” a voice said through the wood.
Eva shuffled to the door of the suite and opened it. “Oh! Whoever it was, they are gone. They did not wait to escort us.” She looked at Juliet and shrugged. “Do you know the way to the grand hall?”
Juliet shook her head and took one last look in the mirror. The red tones in her brown hair shimmered in the candlelight. Eva had pulled back the sides of her hair and curled the locks into long tendrils down her back. The tiny, white wildflowers were expertly placed within the curls. Her skin looked creamy white against the blue dress. Long, dark lashes framed her sparkling dark blue eyes. She pinched her cheeks to give them a flush of color.
Juliet tied a dark blue ribbon with a small cameo around her neck, a gift from her parents. “There, I am ready.” She stood and took Eva’s hand. “If we get lost, it is their fault.” She tossed her head back and stood straight. If they wanted an English lady, then a lady they would get.