About the book
You’ve never been so obsessed with a woman before.
Elizabeth Williams fled England to avoid getting married. Now, she teaches in an all-girls school in Scotland. Until one day she meets the most irritating man of all of the Highlands…who turns out to be her employer.
Laird Arthur Duns is deemed as a Saint. Charities, education, being a good Laird…But he cares for nothing, except his little sister. Yet, the most beautiful woman starts teaching in his school. And he falls head over heels for her.
Their love is forbidden, for nobody deems Elizabeth worthy of Arthur. Yet, he would burn down everything, if it meant keeping her warm…
Elizabeth peered at the howling skies above her head, a lively smile marking her rosy cheeks, reddened by the nippy weather. Mornings in Edinburgh never failed to inspire her. This morning, she had been anointed with an irresistible smile and she was certain she would carry it on until the fall of the day.
She briefly glanced at the clock tower looming over Arthur Duns School courtyard. Almost six o’clock. It was time for her students to wake up and prepare themselves for yet another day of learning.
She followed the passage under the carved archways leading to the girls’ dormitory and considered the matters she was hoping to resolve before the evening pleas: Isla would have to improve her grasp of Latin declinations, Caena’s spelling was abysmal, Skye…
Elizabeth put a hand over her mouth and huffed. Skye was a flawless learner, but she tended to misbehave outrageously, and Elizabeth had found her more than once cursing and swearing. She had sought to lecture the girl about the rules of decency, but her father was one of the most influential Lairds in Scotland, so there was little to be done regarding her questionable manners. Most of the time, Elizabeth waited with a scowl on her face until Skye’s imaginative brain had run out of profanities.
Elizabeth started knocking at the doors while handing out the first orders of the day.
Another day of suffering to wake these girls up.
She was on her way towards the last chamber when she saw the door of the room opening on its own. The face of a man appeared from inside the chamber.
No man is permitted to enter the girls’ rooms.
Before she could reach the entrance, the man exited the room, giving her a side glace. Looking at the rest of his frame, Elizabeth froze. What seemed to be a giant of a man had stepped out of the room. Having shut the door, he saluted Elizabeth with a nod of his head and walked away.
She was flabbergasted; what kind of man would dare visit a girls’ bedroom? Especially in such a pristine school like this. Elizabeth quivered in rage. She lifted her skirts and moved after him, eager to teach him about the most basic rules of civility before making sure he would be arrested and thrown in the gaol.
She ran as quickly as she could behind the man, but each of his steps covered more distance than Elizabeth’s. Aware she had no chance of matching the stranger’s pace, she resolved to pair his indecency and shouted to him.
“Halt! Who goes there? Announce yourself! Only a scoundrel would enter a girl’s bedroom at this time of the morning. You need to confess your crimes!”
He casually turned around and gazed at Elizabeth with an amused expression. Elizabeth froze once she took a good look at his face; the most handsome man was staring back at her, a mingle of fury and amusement in his stark grey eyes. She found herself staring at his lips as he spoke.
“A scoundrel, am I?” he demanded.
Elizabeth blushed, and she felt her cheeks burning so fiercely she would not have been surprised to see flames blowing out from the pores of her skin.
She had to crane her neck to look him in the eyes. His blonde hair framed his face as he looked down on her, soft but wild; Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to touch it at that moment. Her attention was drawn to his full lips as he smirked, seemingly aware of the effect he had on her.
No matter how alluring the man was, Elizabeth would not let him slip away. She inhaled to regain her countenance and arranged her hands over her hips once again.
“Yes, you! Do you see anybody else around? I must wonder what you are doing here. Are you aware it is a wrongdoing to be discovered inside these walls without approval? You will pay for what you have done. The young ladies in the chamber you just exited are only sixteen.”
The man chuckled and went to lean on an adjacent pillar. He then signaled Elizabeth to continue her tirade, as if nothing could have pleased him more than listening to the sound of her voice.
“This is not a matter of laughingstock. It’s a crime to enter these walls, and an immoral one at that. If you have harmed my pupils, I swear to God…”
The man clicked his tongue and Elizabeth shut her mouth instantly, as if she had been the victim of a spell.
“Yer students? Because ye work here, bonnie lass?” he asked, surprised.
Elizabeth was on the brink of losing her mind. She strode towards the man with her finger pointed at him and she kept walking until her nail was pressed firmly against the man’s chest. She could not help but gasp when she felt the man’s pulse and the warmth of his skin radiating from underneath a layer of cloth.
“I am a lady and, yes, I teach at this school. Both attributes give me authority here, and that is why you will now follow me to the headmistress’ office.”
She walked away as if she were hoping the man would docilely come after her, but he didn’t move.
“Nay, nay,” he said. “Ye will if you wish to, but I cannae. I’ve got places to be.”
She tried to run again after him but this time she stumbled over the hem of her dress with a yelp. Before she even hit the ground, two strong arms held her in place. She raised her eyes to see the man’s face only a short distance from hers. From this angle, his eyes looked even more wondrous than before, their color resembling the Scottish skies after a storm. Elizabeth glanced in his eyes and thought she was going to succumb.
“A clumsy thing like yerself shouldnae run like that,” he teased.
Elizabeth did not pronounce a word, but the man lifted her up as if she was no weightier than a feather and put her back on her feet.
“I havenae introduced myself, I believe,” he said with a soothing tone. “I am Arthur Duns, Laird of Greendale, and founder of this school.”
Elizabeth was speechless. This beast of a man was the founder of the school? She never had the chance to meet him because he was always abroad for business, but she had heard countless praises about him. She always thought the founder of the school would be an old balding man, not the most handsome man of Scotland.
“My Laird, I am extremely sorry for the confusion, but you must understand my anger seeing a man coming out of my students’ bedroom. If I hadn’t reacted, you could have called me a poor example for our girls, but…”
He hummed in acknowledgement but didn’t truly pay her any more attention before he started walking toward the door, which led to the courtyard. Elizabeth followed him as if in trance, still baffled by his audacity and poor manners. She stood at the door, watching him as he saddled his horse.
Feeling as audacious as ever, she cut through the courtyard and approached him, still seeking answers to her questions.
“No matter who you are, my Laird, it is despicable to stay in an underage girl’s room at night. What is the matter with you?” she basically shouted, irritated by his nonchalant behavior.
Arthur tied the seat of his horse without immediately answering. He shook his head as if he was exasperated with the young girl’s obstinacy and eventually consented to grant Elizabeth his attention, but only from over his shoulder. His tone was harsh and intense.
“Nothin’ at all. I did nothing illicit or immoral.” He mounted his horse and continued. “Why don’t you ask the girls?”
And he retired hastily, leaving Elizabeth fuming under the rain.
Arthur did not particularly like the rain pouring over his face, but he did not care about it much as he kept thinking of the irritating woman pestering him.
What was her name?
He hadn’t even asked. He tried to remember Mrs. MacAllistair, the school’s headmistress, telling him about her, but he seldom listened to the old woman’s tirades. He only remembered her mentioning the coming of a new hire a few months before, but his hands were tied up with faraway business back then and he had not given much consideration to the novelty.
No matter how poorly he thought of the headmistress, she had proven herself to be an excellent judge of characters and he had therefore trusted her to single out the best personnel for the school. She was an old friend of his mother’s and he had no better options at his disposal, anyway.
He could not believe how bothersome the young woman had been. In normal times, he would have taken to his heels without hesitating. But there was something unique about her that had captivated his attention. Even though he had disguised his trouble, he had found himself taken by the girl’s looks and wits.
What is wrong with you? You’ve never been so obsessed with a woman before.
Elizabeth checked herself in the mirror of her bedroom. Her face was still contorted in anger over what happened with that abominable buffoon.
Someone tapped at her door. Elizabeth checked herself one last time and went to open it.
A thin blonde girl with icy blue eyes and pristine skin was standing in front of her.
“Caena? What is it you are doing here, my dear?”
Caena was one of her favorite pupils, and they shared a bond that went well beyond a typical teacher-student relationship. Elizabeth often thought of her as a younger sister.
“We are getting’ worried about ye, Miss Elizabeth. Ye disappeared before breakfast and it’s already well past the time for our first lecture to commence.”
Elizabeth briefly stared at the sun on the sky and choked out of panic. For the first time since she had arrived at Arthur Duns School, she was late.
“I had quite an awful morning, sweetheart, but I am doing better now. Would you be kind enough to entertain the others for a few minutes more while I finish preparing myself?” she asked, holding the hand of her student.
Caena nodded, still looking genuinely concerned about her tutor.
“I will do as ye say, Mistress, but ye do nae look so fine to me.”
Elizabeth forced a smile and sealed the door before leaning against the wooden frame.
What in heaven’s name is going on with me today?
After having carefully redone her hair and buried the twists of shock on her face, she went out and headed to her classroom. The girls were taking on some homework of their own, and Caena was helping Isla with her Latin.
Elizabeth cleared her throat and Caena curtsied before she joined her seat by the window.
“Forgive me for my lateness, young ladies. We will start forthright with the myth of Achilles and…”
A humming sound interrupted her speech.
Mrs. MacAllistair had popped up in the room in her usual disingenuous fashion. Everyone in the room looked down, including Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth,” declared the old woman with a feigned smile. “I am pleased to see ye’re doin’ well. I have heard the most awful tales about ye this morning.”
Elizabeth frowned and accompanied the old woman outside.
“And what sort of tales were those, Mrs. MacAllistair? As far as I am concerned, I simply protected my girls from being harmed by a trespasser. I did not know the man.”
The woman hissed, letting her crooked teeth appear in her mouth.
“Is the head of our school a trespasser to ye? Ye’re lucky he didn’t resent yer allegations.”
Elizabeth’s face became crimson, and she could not restrain herself from reacting.
“I had never met the Laird of Greendale before. He was coming out of the girls’ dormitory, which is not what we are instructed to encourage here at the school.”
The elderly lady passed her tongue over her lips, as if she needed to hold onto the bitterness that was seeping into her mouth.
“The matter is settled. But I do not ever want to see ye behaving like that again. Otherwise, I will send ye back to England without hesitatin’. Do not forget ye’re only a guest here.”
She turned her back and walked away.
Elizabeth was fuming. She thought for one second running after the headmistress, but she knew it would be futile. Plus, Mrs. MacAllistair was correct. Elizabeth had been lucky enough to have found this opportunity in the Highlands; it would be foolish to risk everything for a matter that was not hers to resolve. Also, despite her deepest concerns, she genuinely didn’t believe that the man she saw was capable of evil.
Elizabeth went back to class to continue her duties, even though the circumstances of the early morning kept plaguing her thoughts.
At lunchtime, she strode into the common room without looking around and headed straight to the open fire, because she was still feeling cold. Other tutors came to sit by her side, visibly overexcited.
Blair, a stout girl from Glasgow who had the appetite of a handful of grown men combined, wasn’t even caring for her plate.
“Did ye hear the rumors, Elizabeth? The Laird of Greendale is back into town. I couldnae focus on me lectures this mornin’, knowin’ he might be just behind the wall…”
She sighed and giggled shamelessly.
Jaime, a redhead beauty born and raised in Edinburgh, patted her friend’s shoulder.
“With such manners, ye will appeal to the young Laird’s minstrels at best! I believe Arthur Duns would be much more receptive to a fine young lady from Edinburgh such as meself. What do you think, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth was staring at them without listening.
“I… I am not certain. I don’t know him at all.”
The two other girls peered at each other and chuckled.
“What is there to know, lass?” said Blair. “Besides being as handsome as it gets, he’s the richest man of the Highlands. Men like him only exist in tales. He is also known to be interested in a lady for a very short time. A rake, truly. So, what is the problem in dreaming a little?”
Elizabeth smiled stiffly.
“Oh, please. He is nothing but a scoundrel, a man with no manners and even worse attitude. You cannot tell me he is the pinnacle of a gentleman.”
Jaime leaned in and whispered, “But that is what all the fantasy is about, Elizabeth. He’s not like any of these English lords in their lofty castles, trapped in their boring habits. He’s a wild beast, waiting to be tamed, that is what he is.”
“Why is he here?” asked Elizabeth, hoping to change the topic.
Blair had found her appetite, and she was now devouring a piece of lamb with her bare fingers.
“To see his sister, I surmise. Wee Miss Caena truly is his spitting image!”
Elizabeth nodded, shocked as she thought about Caena. She undoubtedly resembled her brother in looks, but their blood ties were only apparent on the surface. How could she have missed the resemblance, she did not know.
Deep down, they are like night and day, she reflected.
“He’ll stick around Edinburgh for a while this time, I have heard. He has some important trade to conduct in the area,” added Jaime.
“You need to laugh along, Elizabeth! The Laird is not interested in women like us, it would seem. He barely looks at us in the eyes when we pass him by. Maybe we are not his type, but it is quite a curious attitude to have when he’s the founder of an all-girls school.”
“But this morning, I saw him...” Elizabeth acknowledged reflexively.
The two others looked at her with wide-open eyes.
“You saw him?” they demanded at once.
“Only briefly,” answered Elizabeth. She had resolved not to allude to the incident where the Laird had come out of the dormitory, which she now remembered to be Ceana’s, reluctant to startle her friends furthermore.
“It was the first time I bumped into him. He’s a gorgeous man, I’ll give you that, but I felt quite offended by his comments.”
They both snickered.
“That is how the Laird is. But wait a little while and you will be the same as us. Hopelessly possessed,” sighed Blair.
Elizabeth grimaced. She could not imagine herself falling for such a man, but she did not want to argue, so she nothing, but smiled at her friend.
She had not touched her meal, but she was not hungry at all. The eruption of Arthur Duns into her world had upset all her certainties. She had thought she would easily forget about him as the days would go by, but, if she trusted what Blair had mentioned, he was going to haunt the confines of her mind for a long time. She headed back to her desk and conducted her duties as normal as possible.
I probably won’t even meet him again, she thought.
Alas for her, she could not have been more wrong about that.
The Laird of Greendale never seemed to leave the school anymore. To the grandest joy of the rest of the women, he was regularly seen wandering around the school, speaking to the students and even executing some handiwork like cutting timbers to feed the open fires, hunting or restoring the rooftop.
All these projects were the opportunity for every girl in the school to swoon over him in the most obvious way conceivable. Elizabeth had had to raise her voice more than once because of her students’ attention being disrupted whenever he passed by. Elizabeth herself was trying her best to avoid him, but his presence had become so ubiquitous it was nearly impossible to avoid him without looking either weird, or particularly rude.
One such morning, Elizabeth was struggling to carry books to her office. The big pile in her arms made it difficult to see where she was going. After having managed to make it for most of the way, she bumped headfirst against a wooden structure lying against the wall.
All her books went flying in the air and she rubbed her forehead with a painful expression. When she lifted her eyes, she realized she had hit a ladder. To her surprise, Arthur looked down on her, shaking his head at her clumsiness. He started descending, and Elizabeth could not help but notice how the muscles on his back flexed with each step under his sweaty shirt.
Arthur landed on the floor and rubbed his forehead before he chuckled at Elizabeth’s pained expression. Without uttering a word, he bent and started picking through the books spread over the floor, hugging them against his chest. The pile looked much smaller in between his hands.
He pushed them under his armpit and lent a hand to Elizabeth.
“Me favorite clumsy lady,” he said with a smirk.
Elizabeth was contemplating the option not to accept the Laird’s hand, but she thought of the headmistress’ words, and resolved to not continue her feud with her very own employer. She took his arm and he hoisted her up with exceptional ease.
“Thank you, my Laird,” she said. “I’ll take it from here.”
She was going to grab the books from the man, but he moved a step back, the smile on his face resembling a cheeky child.
“I daenae think it is a good idea, Miss Elizabeth,” he declared. “Let me escort ye back to yer office. I wouldnae mind a wee break, I must say.”
“It is not necessary…” she started to say, but he had already started walking away. He turned and waited for her to show him the way. Elizabeth bowed, resigned, and continued her path to her study.
She forced herself not to look back to him and tried to enjoy the cool breeze blowing in the school’s passageways. Her forehead was still hurting, and she knew that if she looked too long at him, she will not avoid running into another wall.
They passed by a group of girls studying in an empty classroom and Elizabeth could hear the chairs scraping and the steps rushing towards the door in the hope they could have a glimpse of the Laird. Elizabeth rolled her eyes, catching Arthur’s face as she turned back around; he looked concerned to say the least. Perhaps this attention was not as appealing to him as everyone thought.
They finally reached her office, and Elizabeth indicated to him a table where he could drop the books on. He did so extremely carefully and turned back with his hands grasping the table edge. A ray of sun was shining over his chest, illuminating the hardened muscles underneath his shirt. Elizabeth could see every detail of her employer’s undebatable perfection.
She wanted to say something, but her mind did not seem willing to cooperate, too busy contemplating the valleys of muscles offered to her views.
“Nice office ye’ve here. No wonder students like learnin’ with a lass like ye.”
Elizabeth cleared her voice the same way Mrs. MacAllistair did, a detail that made the Laird frown expressively.
“My students like to come here because of the quality of my teachings, not because of my office outlooks.”
Arthur approached her.
“I was not speaking about yer office design. I was speaking about ye.”
“I bet all the young lassies want to be like ye. Me sister, for example.”
He smiled at her, and Elizabeth could not help but return a tentative smile.
“You’re flattering me, my Laird. But your sister does not need a role model; she is already an exceptional woman on her own.”
The Laird looked her up and down once, which made Elizabeth squirm in her place, and moved towards the door. He then added, without looking back, “Tell me if ye need somethin’. I’ll make sure ye receive it.”
Elizabeth was heading back from picking some blueberries when she heard loud grunts close by. Curious as to what the commotion might be, she approached silently the door leading to the courtyard, only to find the Laird in combat with two men, both of them as big and muscular as he was. She was thankful the students had taken a trip to a nearby loch; perhaps that’s why Arthur decided to use this day for such an activity.
They seemed to be amidst a training session, for they were holding swords, the two men against Arthur. Irresistibly drawn to the scene, Elizabeth kept watching from afar, afraid to get any closer, in case the Laird sees her and starts teasing her again.
As if the Laird had felt her, he paused amid the frenzy of his training to look at her. One of his opponents used the occasion to strike his back. Elizabeth covered her mouth, shocked to see redness spreading his skin; this would surely bruise later. He smiled as if to reassure her and turned to his guards, raising his sword and motioning him to come closer.
A heartbeat later, the nearest of his opponents flew backwards and painfully landed on his friend. Elizabeth ran towards him, profoundly worried for the two men, as well as the cuts forming on the Laird’s skin.
“My Laird, are you alright?” She asked as she stopped to check one of the other two men, who was trying to get up.
He grinned and looked at her. “Aye. Were ye worried, lass?” Elizabeth glared at him.
“Dinnae worry, then. Friendly training.”
Elizabeth walked around and studied the Laird’s large cut.
“It doesn’t look pretty, my Laird. Let me at least clean the wound.”
He swiftly jumped the fence. “’Tis nothing but a scratch.”
Elizabeth took his wrist and led him towards the infirmary. She made him sit on the examination table and went about grabbing bandages and alcohol. It was a pity the healer had gone with the girls, to keep an eye on them.
“It’s going to hurt.”
“May I?” Arthur motioned to the bottle in her grasp, took it, and drained the liquid directly from the neck.
“Now I will nae feel anythin’.”
Elizabeth put a little bit from the whiskey bottle on a tissue, and she patted the skin around the cut, as to encourage the Laird to relax. Even if he was sweating, his scent was addictive; a blend of wildflower and freshly turned over soil.
She applied bandages to the wound only to feel shivers flying down Arthur’s spine. She repeated the action until everything was covered, then took her supplies and tried to put them in their correction place. Tried, because her hands were shaking from her proximity to the Laird. When she was back facing him, she tried to ignore his gaze.
“Ye’re not goin’ to stumble again, aye?”
She forced herself to smile.
“Can you lift your arms, my Laird? I need to see if there is any other wound.”
He lifted his arms without a sound while continuing to stare at her.
She applied a salve on the cuts around his midsection, and her cheek briefly brushed his beard. His scent was maddening from up close, and his naked torso made it difficult to breathe.
She stopped for a second and closed her eyes.
She abruptly jerked and blinked repeatedly, as if she had awoken from a dream.
“Very sorry, my Laird. I was testing your cut. You will be alright. Have a lovely evening.”
She bowed exaggeratedly and ran away, taken aback by the emotion that had momentarily taken over her resistances. As she walked briskly back to the door, she looked over her shoulder to find the Laird looking at her intently, smirking, as if knowing the effect he had on her.
Elizabeth only prayed he couldn’t read the flush on her face.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to read how the story ends?
An English Rose for the Brutish Highlander is live on Amazon now!