About the book
He saw stars in her eyes and fell in love with the sky…
After her father’s death, Millie Douglas is content to continue on with the family business. She is done with all the men thinking she needs them to succeed. And no one is exempt from her rage...not even the Laird.
Laird Kieren Byrne is notorious for being the non-talkative type, especially after his mother’s death. But he always seems to favor the spice merchant’s daughter a lot more. A moment of weakness and a loose tongue make him say something he might spend the rest of his days regretting.
Despite their rocky start, Kieren is determined to help Millie and make her his wife. Step one? Convince her to come live with him in order to show her his true self. But living in the castle is no easy feat. Especially when the walls themselves want to devour her alive.
Lusting for the Laird
MacGuille Castle, Scotland, 1681
Millie sat in the cart beside her father. It was always just the two of them, and she would not have it any other way. Up ahead was the grand sight of Castle MacGuille, but that was not what was capturing her attention as the cart bumped up and down over the dirt road. She could already see the profile of the Laird as he stood above the castle entrance.
Millie saw the Laird waiting for them, the handsome Laird who stirred something deep inside of her. She angled herself so that she could keep her eyes on him without making it too obvious that she was staring in his direction. The cart passed through the large stone arch, and the Laird was gone from sight.
“I daenae suppose that ye saw the Laird standin’ atop the battlement as we were comin’ in, did ye?” asked William, and Millie knew, without looking at her father, that he had a smile on his face.
“Was he?” asked an innocent Millie. “I dinnae notice. I was too busy admirin’ the heather on the hills beside the castle.”
“Aye, I could see that ye were admirin’ the…heather.”
Millie playfully slapped her father on the arm.
Millie stood slightly behind her father as they waited at the door of the small dining room, ready to be ushered in. Kieren stood up from the table and walked over to Willian with his arm outstretched. Millie’s father took his hand and shook it with a strong grip, neither man smiling.
“Thank ye for takin’ supper with me,” said Kieren.
“Yer invites are always most welcome, me Laird,” said William.
“It will give us time to talk more about the price of yer spices.” Kieren looked over William’s shoulder to Millie standing behind. “Millie,” he added.
“Me Laird,” replied Millie with a coy smile.
“Me prices are very fair, and ye ken that, nay matter what yer trade advisors think. I could be givin’ me goods away for free, and they would still want to pay me less.” William shook his head slightly, and a smile grew on his lips.
“Aye, ye might be right about that,” said Kieren, bringing his attention back to her father. “Please, come in and sit down. Our cook has prepared some duck for supper this evenin’. I hope that ye like duck, Millie.”
“I do, me Laird,” said Millie. “Thank ye, me Laird.”
William turned around with a broader smile on his face. “Why are ye talkin’ like that?” he whispered.
Millie only smiled in return.
“Ye can call me Kieren,” Kieren said as he turned to walk back to the table with his guests.
“As ye wish, me Laird,” said Millie, and she felt a sharp jab from her father’s elbow. She quickly stifled the laugh with a quick cough.
Kieren let William pass him first and motioned toward a chair. As Millie passed him, he placed a hand on the small of her back, and gently guided her to another chair. The simple touch from the Laird sent sparks flying through Millie’s body, and she had to move, or she would have squirmed deliciously under his touch.
She gave the Laird a look up and down as he walked to his own chair, watching the slight movement of his tight buttocks, and then averted her gaze when he turned to sit down.
She was thankful to see that there was a brightness still in his eyes, the same flicker of light within the sea of green that he had as a child, a care-free child who would run with her through the bracken and thistles. He also still had the dimples in his cheeks, that were always there, but brought out more when he smiled, which he did not seem to do as much anymore.
He was a boy no longer, though, and Millie’s eyes lingered on his statuesque torso in the brief moment when Kieren drank from the glass. She drew out his muscular chest with her eyes, the strong chin and jaw peppered with dark stubble, the strong, confident hands, and rich hazelnut hair. Even sat in his chair, he had a presence, and he would tower over most with his height and character.
“The wine is good, me Laird,” Millie said as she realized she had lapsed off into a daydream, and the Laird had locked eyes with her. She picked up her glass and took a slurp of the wine, almost choking from drinking it too hastily. Her father turned to her once more, this time with a withering look on his face.
“Thank ye, Millie,” said Kieren. He held her gaze, and Millie could see a fire growing in his eyes. She could see the craving written all over his face, she wanted to succumb to the Laird, and feel his touch over her body.
“May I just say how bonny yer daughter is lookin’, William. Ye’re raisin’ a fine lass,” said Kieren.
Millie almost blushed and looked away.
“Thank ye, me Laird. Aye, she has a good head on her shoulders,” replied William.
Millie could feel Kieren staring at her again, and she did not hold his gaze this time, demurely looking away for fear that she would not be able to contain herself.
More stewards entered from the side door, carrying a large tureen of beef and barley soup.
“Do ye remember the time ye fell in the thorny bushes, and ye caught yer breeks and ripped them right up yer behind?” Millie giggled furiously as she got to the end of her sentence and memory.
“Millie!” exclaimed William.
The Laird opened his mouth to respond, but William cut in before he could speak.
“I’m sorry, me Laird. Sometimes, she doesnae ken how to hold her tongue, especially in the company of Lairds.”
Millie stifled her giggles as the absurdity of the situation overwhelmed her.
“Och, it’s fine,” said the Laird. “I do remember the day.” The Laird said nothing more about it, but Millie was sure that she saw the tinge of a smile appear in the corner of Kieren’s lip and, for a moment, the dimple became more apparent. Yet the smile vanished, and the Laird spooned some of the freshly served soup into his mouth.
Millie did the same if only to stop herself from smiling or laughing any more.
“The cooks daenae always make this soup, Millie,” the Laird said as he placed the spoon down beside his bowl. “They usually make this for special occasions, but I thought that the spices should be used while they were still fresh.”
Millie did not need to plumb the depths of her intelligence to be sure that the Laird was trying to impress her. If only he would do this outwardly instead of hiding behind these acts. He had given her gifts over the years when she had visited with her father, and lavished her with rich food and drink, yet he always seemed to be holding himself back, waiting for the right time.
“It is delicious,” admitted Millie, and she licked her lips and looked at the Laird as she said it. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her father almost imperceptibly shake his head.
“Ye are both welcome to stay the night,” continued the Laird. “There are two rooms prepared specially.”
“We dinnae want to burden ye anymore, me Laird,” said William. “Our village is only a short ride from here.”
“It’s nay burden,” said the Laird, his face open and welcoming. “If I cannae treat me favorite spice merchants to a supper and a bed to sleep in, then what sort of Laird am I?”
Millie could see the Laird’s gaze flitting to her as he spoke, and that made her heart skip a little. She would not hold back if she could truly figure out where the Laird’s feelings lay.
“Did ye hear that, father? The castle’s favorite spice merchants. Maybe we should think about raisin’ our prices.” Millie raised her eyebrow as she mentioned raising prices.
“Prepared specially for ye,” said Kieren as he laid slices of duck on Millie’s plate. He looked down at her, and she up at him as he lingered again, his lips slightly parted as if he wanted to say something or do something.
“Thank ye, Kieren.” Millie did not even look at the duck. “Looks delicious.”
Millie watched as the Laird wielded the sharp knife, and that was more impressive to her than the lashings of food that the Laird had provided. The way that he gripped the blade made her feel that she would be safe with him. He had been able to take care of himself when they were kids, but he offered security now, and she longed to throw the food to the floor and pounce on him. If her father were not in the room, of course.
“Will ye have another drink with me?” asked Kieren as the night drew to a close.
Millie could see that the question was directed at her father, though the sentiment was directed at her. She wanted nothing more than to have a drink with the Laird.
“Nay, we should be gettin’ to bed,” said William with a yawn.
Go on, ask me, willnae ye? Ye ken that it wouldnae be right, but I ken that ye want to.
“Aye,” responded the Laird, and he held Millie’s gaze for longer this time, almost a dare between them, but there was nothing that would come of it.
Dunnet Village, Scotland, 1685
Millie looked into the polished mirror and wished that she had not polished it to such a shine. Her eyes were sunken, and her skin had a paleness to it. She hoped that was because of the mirror, and she did not look like this now. She had never seen herself as anything special, but she did have a little confidence in her looks, as men always were drawn to her and her curves.
There came another knock at the door, and Millie wished that they would just go away and leave her alone. Sure, they all meant well, but did they not know what they were doing to her? She thought about ignoring whoever had come this time, but that was not an option. She reluctantly left this faded image of herself in the mirror and went to the door.
“Are ye well, Millie?” asked the young man who stood with his hands behind his back.
Why is it the young men who always comes? Do they nae have the maturity of older men, or do they believe that I need lookin’ after?
“I am well, thank ye,” said Millie, though her tone was far from thankful.
“I, uh,” started the young man, and he shifted from foot to foot.
“Aye, out with it then.” Millie was done with them coming one after the other, trying to help her when she had asked for no help.
“I heard about yer father, and I’m terribly sorry.”
“And ye are here to fix me, is that it? I suppose that ye’ve come to help me?” asked Millie. She held back the tears that were forming.
“Nay, I mean, aye, well nae like that, I just wanted to give ye some bread.” The young man held up the loaf as if he were handling a baby.
“’Cause I cannae even bake a loaf of bread, is that it?” Millie folded her arms in front of her chest.
“Nay, I just thought that ye might nae be up to it,” said the man.
“Up to it? What’s that supposed to mean?” Millie tightened her arms in front of her chest.
“Nay, I dinnae mean any offense, Millie. I mean, yer father did just pass.”
“Oh, did he?” asked Millie. “Well, that’s very kind of ye to remind me. There was me, I had gone and forgotten that me father was dead! Just leave me alone, will ye? All of ye!” Millie threw the door closed and broke down in tears.
She still could not believe that he was gone, and now she was left with this house that only reminded her of him. What was she to do with the spice trade business that she had no idea how to run? If she were to be honest, she would let everyone know that she had always hated the spice trade, and it had been the travel and people she had enjoyed. Her father had been a natural businessman, but she just felt lost and did not know how much longer she could keep doing this. It was only two weeks since his death, and she was ready to give it all up.
The scene at the door must have scared the other men off, for she did not hear a rapping at the door until the next day. Usually, that would have given her time to calm herself down, but she was not in the mood to see anyone right now. She stormed to the door, ready to give this next suitor a piece of her mind and flung it open to find Archer Murray standing there.
“Me Lady,” he said formally, bowing low, his hat almost scraping the ground. “I have traveled the land lookin’ for the greatest spice trader and have finally found her. I daenae ken how I did it, but I have created a new blend of spice. I have bred rosemary and nutmeg together to create a spice that will end all other spices.” Archer took a step forward and paused for dramatic effect. “I call it megmary!”
Archer held out his hands and presented what looked like a dandelion. Millie had the remnants of tears in her eyes, though she could not help but burst out laughing.
“Och, ye are a bloody fool, just like the rest of them, but at least ye have a wee bit of humor to ye.”
Archer bowed again, and a smile drew across his face.
“I’ll invite ye in, but only if ye promise nae to try and ask for me hand in marriage again,” said Millie.
“I swear.” Archer put his hand on his heart. “Unless ye want to find out the secret of me marymeg, then ye’ll have to marry me.”
“I thought it was megmary,” said Millie.
“Maybe it is, and maybe it isnae,” replied Archer.
“Och, ye’re a bloody eejit. Come on, get in here, and I'll make ye some tea.”
“Braw,” said Archer as he stepped up into the small home and closed the door behind himself. He made his way into the living area and sat down in one of the chairs.
The house was modest, but it was not the smallest in the village, not by a long way. The spice trade had been kind to Millie and her father, and the home was comfortable, with a separate kitchen area. Millie busied herself in there, placing the kettle on the stove and portioning some leaves into the teapot. There was a large plate of scones cooling on the windowsill, and she placed a few on a fresh plate. Since her father had passed, cooking had been one of the few things that had taken her mind from her grief.
“I daenae want to talk about it,” said Millie when she returned from the small kitchen.
“We daenae have to,” said Archer.
“Do ye remember the time when we were kids, and we found that big puddle of mud, and the two of us decided to roll around in it until we were covered from head to toe?”
“How could I forget?” Archer laughed and shook his head.
“Me father was livid when I got home. I can still remember the look on his face.”
“Come on,” said Archer when Millie started to cry. He rose quickly from his chair and placed his arms around her, comforting her.
“They keep comin’,” Millie said between sobs. “One by one, the young, single men come around with some excuse about wantin’ to help me when they have it in their thick skull that I need takin’ care of.”
“Ye’re a fine eligible woman,” said Archer, holding her tight.
“I daenae feel like it. I thought that I would have scared everyone off by now with me sunken eyes and plump, tear-stained cheeks.”
“Och, daenae say that," said Archer. He held Millie at arm’s length and took a good look at her. “Ye’re as bonny as ever. Yer curves and freckles drive the men wild with lust, and yer long chestnut hair is admired by many. And daenae even get me started on how beautiful yer eyes are. I could stare into them all day.”
Millie wriggled free from Archer’s grasp. “Now ye’re startin’ to sound like all the rest. I thought ye were here as me friend and nae as a suitor.”
"Och, I was just playin’,” said Archer, smiling, but his eyes did not match the smile.
“Me father did tell me to stay away from ye,” said Millie.
“What?” Archer was shocked and slumped down in the chair, looking as if Millie had betrayed him in some way. “Why? Did he nae like me?”
“I daenae ken,” said Millie. She knew that she was hurting him, but she also knew that he liked her, and she was not ready for a man in her life. Her head told her to stay quiet, but her heart told her to push this man away. “I shouldnae have brought it up. A lot of things have been brought up with me father’s passin’. He just daenae trust ye is all.”
“I was just jestin’ with ye earlier. Look, I’m here as a friend, and I apologize if I caused ye any offense. I promise that I will nae try and make ye me wife for the rest of the day.”
Millie tried to smile, but she was not in the mood for jokes just yet. She wished that her father were here, he would know what to do, yet somehow if he were here, she would have no need for his advice in this situation.
“How do ye do it?” asked Millie.
Archer looked back at her with confusion, not quite knowing what she was asking.
“Ye have run the smithy since yer father retired. How did ye ken how to do it all?” she asked.
“Me father taught me everythin’.”
“Aye, that’s what I thought. I daenae ken if me father tried to teach me about the spice trade or nae, or if I wasnae payin’ enough attention. I dinnae think that either of us thought I would be in this position.”
“He was a good man,” was all that Archer could say.
Millie looked down at her friend sitting in the chair. Many would say that he was handsome. He had a muscular figure, a strength that had been forged in his job as a blacksmith. Archer’s blond hair was neatly kept, as was his beard, and there were times when Millie saw something more in those green eyes of his, but it was not enough. She had thought about marrying him at points in her life, but she did not love him. She knew there were feelings on his side, still she dared not ask how far those feelings ran.
“I’m thinkin’ of givin’ it all up,” said Millie.
“What?” asked Archer.
“I cannae keep the business goin’. It’s too much for me.”
“I’ll help ye. They daenae need me all the time at the smithy. I ken that yer father put a lot into this business, and I cannae do what he did, but I could go on some of the trips with ye, it might be fun, and I can help ye with the business side too, maybe we could sit down and talk about it over supper some time.”
“Archer, listen to yerself.” Millie waved her hand in the air. “Ye sound just like every other man in this blasted village. I’m tellin’ ye what I want; I’m nae askin’ for yer help. Ye keep tellin’ me that ye’re here as me friend, yet ye cannae help but sound like ye want to be more than just that.”
Archer stood up and tried to place a hand on Millie’s shoulder, but she moved out of the way before he could.
“Daene be like that, Millie. Do ye want to ken the truth? If ye would let me, I would marry ye tomorrow, and I would keep ye safe for the rest of me days, but I ken that ye dinnae want that, and I’m nae goin’ to force that on ye. I am here as yer friend, I really am.”
“I need some time alone.” Millie wiped at the tears in her eyes with her handkerchief.
“I just want to be here for ye,” protested Archer.
“Please, Archer,” said Millie.
“Aye, aye, all right.”
Millie could see the obvious disappointment in his eyes, and he did not even try to crack a joke as he slowly walked from the living area to the front door. He turned back and gave a wry smile, and a wave as Millie slowly closed the door.
Millie went back to the mirror and looked into it. She still had the look of a grieving woman, at least the comments on her looks from Archer had lightened her mood a little.
She let out a deep breath and laughed a little, dabbing at the tears as they finally stopped. Even if she did have feelings for Archer, the words from her father would have had her steer clear, anyways. He was an astute judge of character, and if he did not trust someone, there was likely a good reason.
With a new outlook on things, Millie went back to the kitchen. Oh, how her father would laugh at her if he would see all of the baking and cooking that she had done. She was a little worried that her curves would become a little too curvy with the number of cakes she was baking and then eating. She did share some with the children around the village, but there were still many left over, even after that.
Millie went back to her kitchen with a sigh. She had no sooner lifted the pan from the stove when there came another knock at the door. She slammed the pan back down on the stove. She was not sure what would be worse; another suitor come to try and tame her, or Archer come back to explain himself or plead his case.
Millie threw open the door and did not even wait to see who it was.
“And what do ye want?” she asked, arms folding again.
Standing outside was Kieren, smiling as if he had expected to be greeted in this exact way.
“Well, I was hopin’ that I could come in and visit with ye,” he said.
“Sorry, me Laird,” said Millie. She immediately unfolded her arms and straightened the front of her dress. She brought the handkerchief up again to dab at her eyes and pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear.
Kieren let the smile fade from his face. He found some amusement in the situation, and he was glad to see Millie after not seeing her since the funeral, yet he could also see the pain in her eyes. He wanted nothing more right there and then than to scoop her up in his arms and take her back to the castle.
“I ken that ye are hurtin’,” said Kieren. “I just wanted to make sure that ye were well. Can I please come in?”
“Aye, me Laird. Sorry, me Laird.”
Kieren almost laughed at that, thinking back to one of the many times that she and her father had visited the castle, but he knew she was not being playful now; she was lost within herself. He followed her into the house as she turned and walked from the door. The smell was all too familiar to him.
When Millie and her father had come to visit the castle, the smell of the spices would fill the kitchens and pantries for days, and that smell always lingered on Millie and her father for some time after. When he would sit for supper with the two of them, he would smell the spices on Millie, and he came to associate the aroma with her, the intoxicating nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon, the spicy ginger, the playful rosemary and garlic. He could smell them all around as he entered Millie’s modest abode.
Kieren watched her walk away and fell in love with her curves all over again. There were not many women who had the subtle sway of the hips that Millie had, and she carried herself with a confidence that she did not know she had. Kieren traced her shape with his eyes as he followed her back to the living room, careful not to leave his eyes lingering on her, not at a time like this.
“Would ye like some tea, me Laird?” asked Millie.
“Aye, that would be braw,” said Kieren. He tried to keep himself composed, but each time that she called him Laird, his heart began to slow. Before, it had been playful, a challenge, but now, it was keeping him at arm’s-length; it was a formality that he did not want.
Millie was not gone for long when she returned with some tea and a small plate of pastries. Kieren’s eyes lit up at the delicacies on the plate. He took the cup that was passed to him and eagerly grabbed one of the cakes and took a large bite.
“I’m sorry for snappin’ at ye, me Laird,” said Millie. “It’s just…” she trailed off.
“Ye’ve had too many people come to offer their condolences,” finished Kieren.
“Aye, I’ve had about half the village here tryin’ to make me feel better. All the young men of the village.” Millie said.
“I really am sorry about yer father,” said Kieren. He choked a little as he said the simple sentence, and Millie leaned forward a little, almost getting up off her chair.
“Thank ye, Kieren,” said Millie.
The change of address lifted Kieren’s spirits, even though he was hurting too. Millie’s father was a simple spice merchant, but he was also a man that the Laird had come to admire.
“He was a good man,” said Kieren. “I wish that I could have got to ken him better, or to help him, or be able to do somethin’.”
“There was nothin’ to be done,” said Millie. “It was just his time to go.”
“Aye,” said Kieren, and he wandered off in his mind to somewhere else. He absent-mindedly finished his pastry and took another one from the plate.
Kieren finally broke the silence. “It was the same when me mother passed.”
Millie stopped eating for a second to better listen to the Laird.
“People came from all over, Lairds from the other castles, merchants, nobles, everyone. They came to offer their condolences, but I dinnae want them there. All I wanted was to be alone. I wanted to grieve, and they wouldnae let me. I had a pain in me heart, and everyone wanted to ken what this meant for the clan, how trade was going to change, and on and on. I wanted some peace, and I couldnae get it.”
Kieren abruptly stopped when he saw Millie’s face. “I’m sorry, I’m ramblin’ on about wantin’ peace and to be alone, and here ye are listenin’ to me ramblin’ on while ye probably want to be alone, and here I am continuin’ to ramble when I already pointed out what a bad idea that was. What sort of Laird have I turned out to be?”
Millie burst out laughing. She roared with laughter, and a tear fell down her cheek. She wiped it as she stopped laughing, only for her to burst into laughter again, the emotions inside letting loose.
Kieren never thought that he would find himself inside Millie’s house, trying to guide her through the grieving process, only for him to be laughing with her. As she burst into the second round of laughter, he joined in. It was not only the sound that was infectious; it was the light that appeared in her eyes. It was also the intimacy of the moment in a time of pain.
“I’m sorry,” Kieren finally said when they had both calmed down a little. “I was bletherin’ on too much when I should have been listenin’ to what ye needed, I could see it in yer face.”
“It’s nae that,” said Millie with a smile. “I’ve just never heard ye talk so much about somethin’ of substance. When we were younger, ye dinnae ever say much. Ye were polite and all that, but ye were nae one for talkin’. Even when me and me father would visit the castle, ye talked mostly about the spices. It’s…it’s nice to hear ye talk about somethin’ else.”
Kieren could feel his face redden a little, and he knew that he could do nothing about it. There was just something about this lass that made him want to tell her everything. He wanted to tell her everything.
But what would she say if I told her how I really feel?
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