Confessing her Highland Sins Preview

A Historical Scottish Romance Novel

About the book

She was sent to kill a traitor, only to find her soulmate...

Keira Middleton has worked as a spy for the King for as long as she remembers. Saved from the streets by the benevolent monarch, she has pledged her royalty to him for the rest of her life. Until she is sent on a mission to take down a certain devilish Laird, who makes her question her entire life…

Having the most powerful clan in Scotland has earned him many friends and even more enemies. The King has been on his tail for years, but Laird Cillian McMahon has never backed away from a challenge. Not even when the most alluring woman was sent to find his secrets…

They are enemies in the truest form, but even the biggest enemies have feelings...And Cillian might hate the King, but he can’t help falling for Keira. Now, Keira has to oppose the person she loved as a father figure her whole life. Yet, the King is not the one they have to fear, but the one who lies beside him…



Prologue


“Is he the one?” King Stephan, celebrating his fiftieth year, eyed the tall, gallant young man who had taken to the center of Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall.

The king’s advisor, Logan McVeigh, nodded. “Aye, Yer Majesty. The new Laird of McMahon.”

“Are ye certain he’s his faither’s?” A smirk appeared on the king’s lips, for the young man of nine-and-ten looked nothing like his father before him, aside from the mane of red hair. The old Laird McMahon had been uglier than a toad, with a hunched back, a squat stature, and a foul temperament.

Logan stifled a snort. “As far as anyone kens, he’s his faither’s. I imagine his maither’s beauty helped him avoid his faither’s ugliness.” He paused. “Do ye recall her, Yer Majesty?”

“Och, aye.” The king sighed, thinking of the breathtaking Lady McMahon. “Did I nae make a proposal to her once?”

Logan, almost as old as the king, nodded. “Aye, Yer Majesty, but she was already betrothed to Laird McMahon. Nay soul could understand the match, if I remember rightly.” He always did, or he would not have made much of an advisor. “A cruel thing, to marry such a lass to such a man.”

“Is she livin’ still? I havenae seen her at court in an age, but she must still be a beauty. How old is she? Forty?” A pleasing notion came to the king as he watched the young man bend from side to side, bracing himself for the feat to come, while the rest of the gathering crowded around to observe.

I wouldnae mind an older lass to speak some sense into me ear and share the wealth of her experience in me chambers… He had married a woman of eight-and-ten some eight years prior and regretted it ever since. A flighty, silly little thing. He had married her for her beauty and the allegiance it would forge, but the novelty of the former had swiftly worn off. Now, he could not bear to be near her, lest she caused his ears to bleed.

A sorrowful sound escaped the advisor’s thin lips. “Apologies, Yer Majesty, but she’s nae livin’ any longer. A malady of the blood—”

Before he could finish, the young Laird McMahon bowed toward the throne for the beginning of the Ghillie Callum—the “Sword Dance.” Usually, a ceremonial war dance before great battles, to select the best men-at-arms. Tonight, it was merely an entertainment.  

An opportunity to see if ye might prove useful to me, young Laird McMahon, as yer faither was before ye. So, it had not lost all its customary importance. The king was looking to see if the young laird would make a fortuitous, powerful ally.

Every guest in the Great Hall fell silent, as curious about the handsome young man as the king. The new laird did not seem to feel the heat of so many eyes upon him, content to stretch lithe limbs and lay his swords in an “X” upon the stone floor. He checked them several times, as though he were an expert.  

With the airy grace of a specter, the young laird leaped into the topmost triangle, formed by the crossed blades. It began the beat of the dance’s rhythm, and the bagpiper played along to that leading percussion with the rest of the musicians coming in afterward.

Men gaped and women swooned as the laird leaped upward and flicked out his right leg in a precise kick, before his pointed toes came back to touch his ankle. He followed with a fresh leap into the next triangle, using his left leg to flick outward and mirror the previous movement. Through every leap and kick, he held his muscular weight on the delicate tiptoe of one foot, jigging clockwise around the triangles.

It was obvious he took after his mother in elegance as well as appearance, for the king could not remember seeing such an enchanting performance. The hall was held rapt by the laird’s powerful, precise, blithe movements, his feet never losing a single beat of the rhythm.

He’ll have his share of faithers sendin’ letters, after this, askin’ him to wed their daughters.

Clan McMahon was certainly one of the largest, with a considerable fortune, and would have made a formidable ally to any other clan.

Nine strenuous minutes of leaps and bounds and precise kicks came and went in the blink of an eye, as Laird McMahon finished the frenzied last stretches of the dance with a gentle flourish. He swept low in a bow, and the hall erupted into vigorous applause. The king among them, for the boy had proven himself to be a man of stamina and skill.

“An excellent performance, Laird McMahon!” the king cheered, getting up to make sure everyone noticed him. He appreciated the boy’s expertise, but he did not like to be ignored for the sake of others. He was King, after all.

The boy bowed lower. “Thank ye, Yer Majesty.”

All around the hall, women of every age chattered animatedly behind their hands—the older wishing they were younger, the married wishing they were not, the younger hoping they might be able to draw the laird’s attention to them. Many were already adjusting the necklines of their dresses, pinching their cheeks, biting their lips, and fixing their hair in any shiny surface.

Once upon a time, ye’d have admired me like this.

The king tried not to let it get to him, for he was still spry and healthy at fifty years of age. He had the knowledge and experience that this boy lacked, and that counted for a great deal when there was a country to run.

“Now, let us resume our merriment!” The king clapped his hands together, commanding the musicians to begin a reel. Enough attention had been spent upon the agile man.

As the gathering returned to its former swell of music, dancing and feasting, the king had the young laird summoned to his corner of the hall.

“Ye dance well, Laird McMahon,” the king complimented, aware of many feminine eyes still watching the younger man. “We ought to discuss allegiances while ye’re here in Edinburgh. It’s the first thing a new laird should do.”

Laird McMahon met the king’s eyes with a blank expression. “I leave tonight Yer Majesty.”

“Why so soon?” The king did not appreciate the young man’s bluntness, though perhaps he did not understand that the remark was more of an invitation to remain at court awhile.

Refusing to drop his gaze, the laird shrugged. A vile insult. “I have business to attend to at McMahon Castle. Me faither had a vision for the future of our Clan, and I would see it come to fruition. To do that, I cannae be here, drinkin’ and dancin’ and discussin’.”

“Surely, yer faither’s vision was to see ye in high standing at court?” the king countered, his tone growing terser. Who did this young man think he was, to speak in so confident a manner before his monarch?

To make matters worse, the queen had decided to make an appearance. Sauntering through the crowd in a vivid gown of red silk, styled in the French fashion so she would be sure to stand out, she flopped down into the smaller throne at her husband’s side, draping herself over the chair in a most offensive style. Offensive to her husband, at least. Could she not see he was in the midst of a heated discussion? This was no place for a silly girl.

“I saw ye dance, Laird McMahon,” she purred, twirling a tendril of golden hair around her forefinger. “Ye have a great deal of grace for one so tall and… warrior-like. Are ye descended from legendary heroes? I do believe ye must be, lookin’ as ye do.”

How dare ye!

The king clenched his hands into fists, refusing to bite at her obvious baiting. He had not seen her for weeks and this was likely her attempt at punishing him, though she would be the one punished after this.

Laird McMahon, on the other hand, barely acknowledged her. “Thank ye, Yer Majesty. I did me duty, that is all. And nay, I’m nae descended from legendary heroes. I’m descended from ordinary, honest, determined men.”

She seemed annoyed by his dismissive reply, leaning further forward in her throne. “Ye dinnae appear to be very celebratory, Laird McMahon. Do ye nae favor merriment of this ilk? I would’ve thought ye’d be revelin’ in the attention of all these ladies. Ye’ve earned it with yer splendid skill.”

“As me faither before me, I’d only revel in the attentions of a much-beloved wife,” the laird replied curtly. That pleased the king somewhat, for he did not like the way his wife was flagrantly admiring the younger man. Or, rather, his pride did not like it.

The queen smiled. “How admirable. Nay, how wonderful, to be a wife and be beloved.” She cast a dark look at the king, which he promptly ignored. “I dinnae realize ye were wed, Laird McMahon.”

“I’m nae,” he muttered, bowing low. “I dinnae mean to be rude, but I ought to be departin’. Ye were gracious to invite me, Yer Majesties.”

The outlandish young man turned on his heel and left without another word, and without the permission of his monarch. It boiled the king’s blood, for there was nothing so sacred in this world as monarchy, and those who did not obey were nothing better than enemies of the crown.

And there is only one thing to do when there is a hint of rebellion. The king glowered at the laird’s back, his anger intensifying as he noted his wife’s adoring gaze, unaffected by the dismissal he had shown her. Yes, there is only one thing to be done with such behavior. Stamp it out.

Laird McMahon would come to regret this night. The king would make sure of that. After all, the young man had danced a war dance. Maybe it had not been simply for entertainment, but the start of a conflict that would not end well for him.



Chapter One


Ten Years Later…


Impenetrable darkness suffocated the lands surrounding McMahon Castle. The thin crescent of moonlight, assaulted by wave after wave of cloud cavalry, was too weak to offer any protective glow. A paltry sentinel, failing its duties, and on such an important night, too.

Where are ye, ye wretch?

A horse’s whinny drifted up toward the living shadow who stood upon the battlements, blending with the darkness as he kept to the black gap between the bronzed pools cast by flickering torches. The shadow eyed the darkened landscape, spying a rider charging at a breakneck pace across the sea of gloom.

“Friend!” A cry lifted to the imposing towers that loomed on either side of the portcullis below.

The screech and rattle of chains clanged in the shadow’s ears, bristling up his spine and steeling his strength.

They have come…

The same horse clattered into the main courtyard, the rider leaping off and taking a moment to scour his surroundings. The shadow knew he could not be seen from his position, but the rider seemed to sense him.

“The enemy has been spotted, M’Laird!” A triumphant voice sliced through the heavy quiet of the night, followed by the thud of footsteps pounding up to the battlements to repeat the news.

Cillian Chapman, Laird of McMahon, turned back to observe his shadowed realm. “Where?”

“At the northern guard post, M’Laird.” Jake Pearson, man-at-arms to the laird, stooped to catch his breath. “Rode all the way back meself.”

Cillian mustered the ghost of a smile. “I noticed.” He paused. “Ye were nae seen?”

“Nay, M’Laird.”

“Nor heard? Ye were makin’ a mighty racket.”

Jake puffed out his chest. “I left me horse halfway down the stag trail, M’Laird. Ran from the guard post, jumped in the saddle, came to give ye the news right away. They’re comin’, M’Laird.” He instinctively gripped the hilt of his broadsword. “What are yer orders?”

“I have none.” Cillian straightened up, glaring out at the forest that surrounded the castle on three sides. To the rear, a glittering loch stretched almost as wide as a sea, but there had been no sign of any enemy trying to cross by boat.

Jake arched a confused eyebrow. “None, M’Laird?”

“Their presence is an insult to me, and me alone. I’ll be the one teachin’ them a lesson they’ll nae forget,” Cillian replied evenly. “What do ye think I should send back to His Majesty?” The last two words dripped bitter sarcasm.

The confusion deepened upon Jake’s youthful, somewhat boyish face. “Send back, M’Laird?”

The two men were the same age at nine-and-twenty, but they were often mistaken for brothers with a considerable gap in their years. Jake was wiry, smooth-browed, and of middling height, while Cillian towered over most who encountered him and dwarfed them with the breadth and power of his build. While his stern countenance and steely green eyes further intimidated those who were not already afraid.

Cillian nodded gravely. “A warnin’ to the one who sent him. I’ll nae kill the lad, but he’ll survive without an ear… or a couple of fingers… an eye, maybe.”

“It’s at yer discretion, M’Laird.” Jake seemed unperturbed, for the reputation of the McMahon Clan was not built on niceties and leniency. “Would ye have me prepare one of the old council chambers? Och, it’s been a fair while since we’ve had to chuck someone in there.”

He said “council chambers,” but they had never been utilized for holding meetings, nor did any discussions take place within them. Perhaps they had, a long time ago, but their subterranean location and the thick walls that silenced even the loudest sound, had other, less civil, uses.

“Hold a while. We’ll see what the bastard tries to do, first,” Cillian instructed, as he turned and began to make his way down the wooden scaffolding that pushed flush against the high stone walls. The laird had ensured that the original stone steps were filled in once he inherited the title, for the wooden scaffolding was easier to destroy while under attack, preventing the enemy from gaining access to higher ground.

Crossing the main courtyard, devoid of castle residents after the chiming bell had urged everyone inside for curfew a couple of hours ago, Cillian strode up to the portcullis.

“Open up and close it behind me,” he instructed the guards on duty.

“Aye, M’Laird!” they called back, raising the commanding, black iron gate.

That done, Cillian stepped out alone, with his broadsword strapped to his back. The blade and lengthy hilt made up half his daunting height, and he had seen countless men—enemy clans, Englishmen, anyone that tried to threaten his hard-won peace—turn pale at the sight of it.

Ye best hope ye dinnae taste too much of me steel tonight, ye weasel.

Cillian’s grim gaze fixed forward, peering into the shadows as he waited for the enemy to come. Whoever they were, they would not be too far behind Jake’s arrival.

“Do ye see ‘em, M’Laird?” Above, Jake leaned over the bridge that crossed between the guard towers, sending a flurry of stone dust downward. A fleck of grit fell into Cillian’s eyes, irritating him.

“Would I be standin’ doin’ nothin’ if I had?” he shouted back with a roll of his eyes. “Now, get back! I dinnae want the king’s lad seein’ any one of ye, so dinnae come out unless I holler for ye!”

Jake vanished into the right-hand tower, though Cillian bristled with frustration at his friend’s unperturbed behavior. Did he not understand the need for silence when an intruder was incoming?

If one link in the chain is weak, the entire chain is useless.

Just then, a softer whinny snaked across the wide plain of grassland that separated the castle from the forest. It reached Cillian’s pricked ears on a gust of cold wind that smelled of earth and moss. The sweat of a horse that had been riding hard for a long time: the scent of woodland and trouble.

So much for takin’ us by surprise. Cillian smiled to himself, though he did not immediately reach for the hilt of his broadsword. Instead, he dipped to slide his dirk from his boot, concealing the weapon in his palm in case the imminent enemy decided to attack first.

Minutes later, a lone horse emerged from the northern road, at the same moment that the thin moon finally grappled free of a horde of clouds. A thin beam of moonlight illuminated the rider, crafting an eerie image that made it look like the figure had appeared out of nowhere.

“Ye’d come to intimidate me?” He laughed darkly in the back of his throat, observing the cloaked figure who sat atop a vast war horse: the beast as silver as the moon’s glow. The choice of mount was not accidental. A slighter horse, belonging to a scout, would have not carried the same air of threat.

Ye’ll regret doin’ yer king’s biddin’. If he wants to see what I’m up to here in the Highlands, he can come himself next time.

The horse plodded forward at a deliberately slow pace and Cillian braced for a cold introduction, concealing himself behind the jutting side of the wall that protected the inner mechanisms of the portcullis.

Before long, the enormous horse came to a standstill, and the hooded rider peered up at the guard towers. They cupped their hands around their mouth, though Cillian could not make out any of their features within the shadowed void, created by the drape of their hood.

“I thought I’d welcome ye meself,” Cillian said, emerging from his hiding place.

The rider subtly jolted. “And who might ye be?”

“Laird McMahon. Who are ye?” Cillian walked toward the horse and rested a hand at the top of the beast’s neck, close to the leather bands that connected that bridle to the reins. If the rider tried to flee or attempt anything, Cillian would be able to control the horse.

The rider threw back their hood. Their approach might have lacked the element of surprise they had planned, but the face staring down at him succeeded in delivering a sneak attack.

Luscious, silky brown hair fell past their shoulders in flowing waves, half of it held back by a thick braid, bound in place by silver wire. Rosy cheeks, flecked with freckles, were full and feminine. A pouting mouth, reddened with the rush of exertion, turned up in a smirk, leading down to a narrow chin. Pale and unblemished as the moonlight, save for the crack of a small scar that arced above an already arched eyebrow, the rider’s keen blue eyes glinted with amusement.

“What the devil?” Cillian hissed, for this was no king’s man. His enemy had intruded upon his lands in the most dangerous form he could think of—that of the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld.

 


Chapter Two


“Nay devil, M’Laird. Just a guest,” Keira Middleton purred, satisfied that she had made an impact upon the laird, for she needed all the advantage she could get. After all, Laird McMahon should not have been aware of her arrival.

The laird’s implacable green eyes narrowed at her. “Nae, here ye’re nae. Ye ought to ride on to the next castle if ye’re seekin’ somewhere to stay.”

“I was sent.” It took all of Keira’s training to hide the waver of trepidation in her voice. This was not how things were supposed to be playing out.

Who alerted ye, eh? Ye must have spies in His Majesty’s castle, just as he suspects.

The laird shrugged. “I dinnae send for ye.”

“I dinnae say ye did,” she shot back, wrestling with her unease. “I’m here at the king’s instruction, to bring news from Edinburgh. An envoy.”

The laird said nothing, but stared at her intently, waiting for her to speak. A silent battle of wills ricocheted between them, for she could not tell the truth about her presence without risking her life. Nor did she want to, for that went against the very reason she was here, and she would not disappoint the king. His success was all she cared for, and his orders were the only thing she obeyed.

In that strained quiet, she observed the man she had been sent to investigate. He was not at all what she had anticipated. The king had informed her that Laird McMahon was an ugly, hunched, skittish sort of man with a scarred face and a reedy appearance. Evidently, he must have mistaken this laird for someone else, as Laird McMahon was the very opposite of what she had been told.

He could crush me head in those hands if he wanted to, and he’s as tall as me horse… nae a hint of a hunch to be seen.

If she were to skim through a book of legendary heroes, all would have matched his build: gigantic in height, as broad as a bear, with muscle upon muscle, tightening and contracting at every visible part of his flesh. Even his forearms were knotted with strength and clad in nothing but a shirt and belted tartan, despite the icy chill of the night. She could see every cut and contour of an impressive chest, giving way to a corded neck.

Ye’re nae ugly, neither. Hardened, aye, and there’s nay warmth in ye, but ye’re nae hideous.

A bronzed mane of red hair gave him the appearance of a lion, or what she imagined a lion looked like. The similarity did not stop there, for his wide nose, curved lips, dark lashes, and elongated green eyes gave him a feline appearance, while the short, tawny beard that graced his square jaw and strong chin added to his wild quality. A quality that had a peculiar effect on Keira’s stomach, making it flutter.

I’m starvin’, that’s all. She was determined to convince herself that was the truth, even if her eyes kept lowering to the triangle of exposed chest at the unlaced collar of his shirt.

“Are ye goin’ to tell me the news so ye can be on yer way or are ye goin’ to keep sittin’ there like a sack of tatties, thinkin’ I’m in the mood to wait?” he growled, his voice gruff and deep, rumbling from somewhere in the fathoms of that enticing, broad chest.

Keira snorted, snapping her admiring gaze away. “There’s too much to tell ye out here, Me Laird, and I’d warm meself at a hearth first. If there’s dinner to be had, I wouldnae mind a bite or two of that, neither.” She sat up taller in the saddle. “I’ve ridden a fair way. Would ye deny me guest rites?”

The laird leveled her with a bitter scowl. “Guest rites are only for those who are guests. Go elsewhere if ye desire a warm welcome.” He peered up at the guard towers. “Say what ye have to say and I’ll have me men toss ye whatever they’ve got left from their dinner, so ye can be on yer way.”

“I am the king’s envoy,” she insisted, adopting a less friendly tone. “Ye will let me in.”

The laird smiled darkly. “Ye’re nae in the king’s territory now, lass, so ye’ll nae be givin’ orders on his behalf. If he’s got news for me, he kens how to hold a quill and dip it in ink, does he nae? I havenae forgotten to read since the last time we met.”

“What is the meanin’ of this?” The squeal of chains heralded the arrival of a beautiful young woman, similar in age to Keira’s four-and-twenty years.

The laird whirled around, glaring at the newcomer. “This is none of yer concern, Sister. Return to yer chambers, or did ye nae hear the bell for curfew?”

With long, glossy red hair, shining green eyes, and similarly feline, though more feminine features, Keira could have guessed they were siblings before Laird McMahon confirmed it.

“Och, I heard it, but I never pay attention to it,” the young woman replied with a grin. “Who is goin’ to scold me for wanderin’ as I please, other than ye?”

The laird balled one hand into a fist, though his other remained unusually straight. The difference did not go unnoticed by Keira.

He has a blade in his hand, I reckon. Probably thought to strike me with it ‘til he saw I was nae a lad.

Even the most feared lairds in Scotland tended to think twice about killing a woman, which was part of what made her such a valuable asset to the king.

“Return to yer chambers, Elodie!” the laird snarled, but his sister seemed unbothered.

“I would like to ken why ye’re bein’ so rude to such a beautiful guest,” she retorted, skirting around to the other side of Keira’s horse, and offering up a hand. “If me brother will nae offer ye guest rites, then allow me. I will nae see ye catch yer death of cold out here, nor will I hear of ye doin’ anythin’ before ye’ve had somethin’ warm to eat.”

Laird McMahon clenched his jaw. “Elodie!”

“Cillian!” his sister mimicked, as Keira took her hand and slid down from the saddle. “I’ll take care of ye, lass, but I ought to ken yer name first.”

Cillian… The sharp-sounding name certainly suited him.

Keira smiled. “It’s Keira Middleton.”

“Elodie Chapman.” The flame-haired woman leaned in and kissed Keira’s cheek: a sure sign that all was not lost in this mission, for Keira had begun to think that investigating this fierce man might prove more difficult than she had been told. But if she could befriend Elodie, perhaps there would be an easier way to discover what she had come here to find.

A sister kens all a brother’s secrets, even those he thinks he’s kept closest to his chest.

Visibly irritated, the laird stormed over and all but dragged his sister away from Keira. “Ye’ll get back inside before I have Jake hoist ye over his shoulder and carry ye in,” he muttered. “Ye shouldnae be beyond the gate without an escort. How many times must I tell ye?”

“At least once more, Brother.” Elodie grinned, but as a second newcomer appeared, her smile tightened. She looked hurriedly down at her feet, wringing her hands. “I was goin’ back inside, Jake. There’s nay need to force me.”

Apparently, they bred their men handsome in this part of Scotland, for the soldier—Jake, by all accounts—was a thing to behold. His hair was a darker shade of red than the laird’s, his eyes a lighter green, and where the laird was severe and stern, this other man seemed pleasant and a touch mischievous.

Ye fancy him, Miss Elodie. Perceptive to a fault, Keira sensed the awkward affection immediately. Judging by Jake’s fond smile, he was not entirely immune to Elodie’s charms, either.

“I wouldnae force ye, Miss Elodie,” Jake said, averting his eyes and confirming Keira’s suspicions. “I heard rowdy chatter and thought I’d see what the trouble was.”

Laird McMahon hissed a breath through his teeth. “All is well, Jake. Take me sister back inside so I can ensure this lass leaves.”

“A duel!” Keira blurted out, drawing confused looks from two of the three people present. Only the laird’s expression did not alter.

“Pardon?” he replied, with a note of derision.

Keira stroked her horse’s nose and locked eyes with the laird. “A duel, Laird McMahon. If I win, ye must let me inside to warm meself, eat to me heart’s content, and tell ye what I’ve come to tell ye.”

“A duel?” the laird repeated with a sneer. “Do ye understand the word, or does it mean somethin’ else to a lass such as ye?”

Annoyance bristled through Keira’s chest, though she was not unused to such remarks. “I understand very well. I favor the broadsword.” She drew her blade from the riding sheath attached to the saddle, and turned it back and forth with a deft twist of her wrist. “Unless ye would prefer to use a dagger?” A pointed stare at his right palm let him know she was aware that he was concealing a weapon.

Instead of showing embarrassment, he smirked. “Ye fight?”

“Ye’ll have to find out,” she shot back. “I win, ye grant me entrance and guest rites. I lose, I ride away and ye dinnae have to bother with me.”

Of course, she had every intention of finding another way in if she lost, but he did not need to know that.

“Name the terms. First blood? First to disarm?” He shrugged and drew his own broadsword—a claymore, far larger than hers, but she had come to learn that size was not always important. Considering his stature, she guessed he would be slow on his feet, encumbered by so much brawn and weight. His blows would be fierce, but as long as she feinted out of the way of them, all would be well. Besides, she had a feeling he would not use his full force.

I am a lass, after all. She sniffed inwardly, for countless men used it as an insult, not realizing she was better than them in most arenas. It never failed to amuse her when she watched their confidence fade and their pride deflate.

Smiling, she began walking toward an open patch of grass. “Whichever comes first, Me Laird: blood or the loss of yer weapon.”

He had already underestimated her. That would be his first mistake. Agreeing to duel her would be his second. She would make sure of that.



Chapter Three


Ye’d seek to humiliate me with this wench, Yer Majesty? It’s pathetic, even for ye. 

Cillian would not show it, but it boiled him up inside to think that the king would dare to send a woman as a member of his council. Her declaration of being an envoy, on the other hand, was entirely laughable. Stupidity was not one of his weaknesses, nor was a lack of suspicion. Evidently, the king had wrapped up a spy in pretty—no, stunningly beautiful—binding, thinking it would lower his guard.

“Should we begin? I dinnae imagine it’ll take long,” Cillian said, positioning himself at a reasonable distance from her. Clearly, she thought he would refuse, for how could a woman like her possibly know how to fight?

Yer hips and the swell of yer breasts would get in the way of wieldin’ a sword properly. Every time she moved, and her cloak swayed backward, he caught glimpses of her womanly figure. It could not be ignored, in truth, for she wore men’s trews that clung to shapely thighs, and a men’s shirt that did little to conceal a considerable bosom. Another trick, he assumed, to divert him.

She smiled back, flashing neat, white teeth. “Aye, I dinnae imagine it will.”

Jake, who appeared bemused by the entire endeavor, hurried to the center of the “field” they had created, to act as adjudicator. He put out a hand and looked between both opponents.

“Swords to the ground until I call for ye to begin,” he instructed, casting an appealing glance at Cillian, clearly wanting him to stop this before someone really got hurt. But if this was what Keira, or whatever her name was, wanted, then who was Cillian to disappoint her?

“Ye cannae be serious, Brother!” Elodie called out, but Cillian ignored her. He had other things to concentrate on. Namely, Miss Middleton shedding her cloak.

He furrowed his brow as he inadvertently gained a more detailed insight into her feminine charms. Gripping the hilt of his claymore tighter, he struggled to avert his eyes from the swell of her breasts, unbridled by stays of any kind. The moonlight, fighting the clouds, shone down upon the duelers, and had the peculiar effect of sheering the fabric of her shirt.

This will nae work, lass. He sniffed, his throat constricting at the sight of pert nipples, hardened by the cold, protruding through the material. The silhouette of a small waist, curving into wide hips and luscious thighs that her trews did nothing to hide, stirred him to the point of irritation. He would not fall for it or be swayed from his plan to send her back to the king with a subtle warning in tow.

“On yer marks!” Jake barked.  

The two opponents rested the sharp tips of their blades against the night-dampened soil, their eyes meeting. That was the most disarming thing about this duel, for she had the most enchanting eyes. Indeed, he wished they could have been closer to the torchlight on the battlements, for it would have allowed him to see their color more clearly. Blue, for certain, but what shade? He supposed he would not know until he was looming over her after he had claimed victory.

“Begin!” Jake cried, leaping out of the way as the two opponents charged toward one another. If Keira thought Cillian would hold back… she was mostly right. He did not want her dead, merely punished for her impertinence.

Clashing in the center of the square of grass, Cillian swept his claymore in an arcing swipe, turning the sword at the last second so it struck her with the flat of the blade. If he had not, it would have cleaved her in two.

She flew sideways at the impact, but, in an unexpected display of agility, she skidded her foot back, stopping the rest of her from tumbling to the ground. A second later, she shifted the weight to her other foot and lunged forward, under the length of his blade. Her sword came up, intending to slice across his arm, but he was ready for it despite his surprise. Fighting came as naturally as breathing to him.

“A deft maneuver,” he complimented, as he, too, ducked underneath her blade and span around to face her again.

She was closer than he had expected her to be, lunging at him with her sword. “Thank ye.”

“Who trained ye, eh?” He feinted the second strike, while sweeping his blade around, catching her in the ribs with the wide flat of the steel.

A grimace of pain contorted her face. “Who would train a lass, ye mean?” Shaking off the impact, she drew back a few paces to gather herself. A sensible maneuver, suggesting an instructor who had taught her when to attack, when to defend, and when to retreat.

“I dinnae say that,” he replied, waiting for her to come to him while trying not to look too hard at her womanly attributes. As beautiful and inviting to behold as her enchanting face.

She laughed. “Aye, but ye meant it. I just watched me faither, that’s all.”

As if ye expect me to believe that… Her swordsmanship had all the trademarks of the king’s court.

After taking a few moments to catch her breath, she raced toward him once more, her bosom bouncing in a most distracting fashion. There truly was nothing but skin between her and the draping of her shirt.

Dinnae allow her to get to ye! He scolded himself and brought his sword up, catching her hand as she moved to slash at him. The hard blow knocked the sword from her hand, sending it flying, piercing the cool night air.

Assuming he had won, he watched the sword arc through the air. Quick as a flash, Keira threw herself forward in a breathtaking display of agility, her body turning in a circle through the air. She caught the hilt while still rotating, and landed with it firmly in her hand. Cillian was so astonished that he did not remember they were dueling. Seizing that opportunity, she broke into a run, coming right for him.

Charging straight past the length of his unmoving blade, she barreled into him with the meagre force of her weight. As her ample bosom collided with his chest, it barely knocked him, but she was not done. Her arms locked around his neck, and she swung backward, driving her feet into his knees as she surged back against him. The powerful kick buckled both his legs in one fell swoop. Feeling himself collapse to the ground, he was not entirely sure what had happened. All he knew was that he was kneeling in the grass, and she was clinging to him, her legs wrapped around his waist.

“Victory to me, I’d say,” she chirped, breathing so hard that he could feel the rise and fall of her breasts against his chest. Tempting and ripe and round. As for her legs around his waist—he had a sudden urge to grip her shapely buttocks and pull her tighter to him, so he could feel the grind of her heat against him. After all, wearing trews, there was not much in the way.

“What?” he rasped, grasping behind his head instead and seizing hold of her wrists. He drew them apart easily and threw her off him, though her legs remained locked around his waist, putting them in a rather compromising position.

She grinned up at him, using the potent strength of her abdomen to lift herself back up. “I won, Me Laird.” She gestured down to his empty hand, and the claymore that lay on the ground below. “I hope there’s somethin’ delicious cooked. Me stomach hasnae stopped growlin’ since sunset.”

“I’d call it a draw,” he replied, but not in the manner of a sore loser. “If I hadnae used the flat of me blade, ye wouldnae be eatin’ anythin’ ever again. First blood, first bruise, it’s all the same in a duel where both parties would prefer to survive.”

She frowned, visibly scrutinizing him. “Aye, I suppose ye’re nae wrong, and I’m grateful to ye for that. I rather like meself in one part, rather than two, and there’s goin’ to be a few mighty bruises bloomin’ on me skin tonight.” She unfolded her legs and got off him, dusting off her trews. “A draw, then, so long as it has the same terms as a win?”

“How long do ye intend to stay?” He stood up and pulled each foot up to the small of his back, in turn, to ensure his knees would not suffer any ill effects.

She shrugged, grabbing her cloak, and pinning it around her throat, casting an opaque veil over the exquisite shape of her. It was probably for the best, as he did not want the woman thinking she had any sort of influence upon any part of him. Least of all the one that did not always obey his mind.

“If I’m to keep to the terms, I ought to ken,” he said curtly.

Stowing her sword away in the saddle’s leather sheath, she took hold of the horse’s reins. “It depends how long it takes me to tell ye all the news of Edinburgh and the court. The king wanted to be very thorough, so there’s a lengthy list to get through.”

“And what are ye to His Majesty?” Cillian forced his gaze to remain at the level of her eyes, which was much easier to do now the cloak was in place.

Keira raised an eyebrow. “An envoy. I told ye.”

“An envoy wouldnae have cause to fight like ye can,” he pointed out, giving her the credence she deserved, for she had dueled surprisingly well. “Nor have I heard of any lass bein’ envoy to His Majesty. An envoy to the queen, perhaps, but nae the king.”

She laughed: a sweet sound that stirred him almost as much as her pert nipples, a touch darker than the skin of the rest of her smooth, rounded breasts. “I’m sent to those the king doesnae want any conflict with, Me Laird. If he were to send a towerin’ bear like ye, the lairds I speak to would think they were under threat.”

Cillian could not argue with the reasoning, even if he knew it was mostly a lie. The king likely did not want to begin a conflict with the country’s most feared clan, and the laird who ruled over them, but Cillian knew he was under threat. The king was terrified of that which he could not control, and Cillian bowed to no one but his own people.

Very well, dinnae tell the truth, but it’ll come out in due time…

“Are ye finished batterin’ this poor lass half to death?” Elodie raced forward, dispersing the tension that thrummed between Cillian and Keira. Both sizing up the other, figuring out their enemy.

Keira chuckled. “I’ll be well enough once I’ve had a bath, if His Lairdship is nae averse to me takin’ such a liberty?”

“Ye should bathe,” he replied evenly, cursing his mind as it began to conjure images of her naked body, submerged in steamy water, slick with fragrant oils. “It’ll prevent ye from achin’ in the mornin’. Sister, have the healer tend on Miss Middleton, too. Ointment for her bruises. And, since ye’ve decided to take care of her, I trust ye can see she’s fed and given chambers? I’ve other matters to attend to.”

Elodie nodded eagerly. “Of course, Brother. I should be delighted.” She took hold of Keira’s hand, and, without another word, led her and her horse through the gates and into the main courtyard. An ostler hurried up to take the horse, though he looked to his laird first, gaining a weary nod of permission.

“That cannae be the spy they’ve sent, can it?” Jake whispered, edging up to Cillian.

Cillian shrugged. “It’s sly of the king. I’ll grant him that.”

“Aye, but… she’s a…” Jake trailed off, while Cillian nodded.

“I know,” he said. “Anyway, she’s inside our gates now, and we’ll nae get rid of her until she’s found what she’s come for.”

Jake eyed him warily. “Will she find aught?”

“Nay.” Cillian smirked. “So, either she’ll be with us awhile, or she’ll get tired of findin’ nothin’ and go scurryin’ back to His Majesty with her tail between her legs. I ken which I’d prefer.”

He did not elaborate, for after that alarmingly intimate moment that ended the duel, he was not truly sure. Either way, the enemy had breached their gates and there was nothing he could do about it except watch and wait.

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  • So wonderful!!! Can’t wait to read the whole story. Can you please send it to bookfunnel in order that I can download

  • Excellent draw into the mysterious world of the King vs the Laird. Makes you wanting to discover what is up with the lady spy. Definitely want to find out what happens next.

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