About the book
There was only one rule: don't fall in love with each other...
Adriana Kentington has had no suitors and she knows very well why: her size that does not fit what society dictates. But when it comes to saving her family’s estate, there is nothing she’s not willing to do. Even if that means offering her soul to a fiend on a silver platter.
His rogue years are well behind him, yet nobody trusts the newly appointed Laird of Cord, Ragnall McAvoy. In order to inherit his father’s wealth and help his clan, he must first marry. So, when a woman he once knew comes looking desperately for a husband to save her family, he proposes a deal: get married, but not fall in love.
Struggling to stick to the deal and not give in to their feelings, Adriana and Ragnall fight not only each other but their own selves as well. But Ragnall’s past has remained dormant for too long. And now it’s ready to come back and claim what it rightfully owns: Ragnall.
“Please tell me ye understand, Ragnall,” Albert, the gray-haired councilman said as he leaned over the wooden table.
“I still think this is all a daff. Me Faither died, what was his belongs to me.” Ragnall glared at the old man defiantly.
“Aye. The council isnae sayin’ ye cannae have it. We just—” Albert glanced over his shoulder at the other men circling the table. Ragnall paused to look each one in the eye. Their judgmental glares didn’t go unnoticed. Just by the way the five of them cocked their heads and pursed their lips, Ragnall knew what they must think of him.
Yes, maybe five years ago, Ragnall would have taken his inheritance and squandered it. That was his life then, when no responsibility rested on his shoulders. But those times were gone, just as his father was gone.
Clearing his throat, Ragnall leaned back in his wooden chair and pressed his hands together. Pulling in a deep breath he waited for Albert to continue.
“We want to be certain the Clan will survive. By securing an heir, our minds will ease.”
“But before the pitter patter of little feet echo the halls, one must be married,” Ragnall said. He could taste the bitterness in his words. Never in all his life had he thought of marriage. If he had it his way, he’d be free of the lot of them and their rules.
Albert pushed the parchment toward Ragnall and pointed to the words Ragnall’s father put down. There, in the elegant scripture before him, Ragnall read for himself his father’s last wishes.
“So, a wife?” Ragnall said as his lip twitched. “That is what it will take for me to gain the inheritance that is rightfully mine? And what if I decline?”
Albert, along with the other councilmen shook their heads and turned to one another. Ragnall waited for their answer but already knew in his heart what they would say.
“Yer Faither requested this, it is here. We cannae in good faith hand over yer Faither’s estate and his title to ye until ye wed. We willnae be moved on this.”
“Just say what ye mean,” Ragnall said. “Ye donnae trust me.”
Albert glanced to the other councilmen and shook his head. “Yer Faither spoke of yer… habits.”
“Aye, was I a rogue, absolutely. But those days are behind me now. I want to do what is right by this Clan, me Faither’s Clan.”
“Ye mean well,” Rodger, a husky man sitting at the far end of the table said. His voice boomed against the walls of the library. Not even the books seemed to quench his baritone voice.
“But we will nae go against yer Faither’s wishes. We swore our allegiance to him. And if what ye say is true, we’ll be swearin’ it to ye too. But we request ye prove to us ye’ve settled. Takin’ a wife is the best way to do that. Am I right, Lads?” Rodger asked as the room filled with laughter.
Ragnall watched Rodger’s stomach jiggle as the man laughed whole-heartedly. It was a sound Ragnall hadn’t heard in some time. But he knew in the depths of his being they were right. A wife did have a way of settling a man and without one, Ragnall understood his father’s title, lands, and money weren’t going to be his.
“Then it is settled,” Ragnall said pushing away from the table. The scraping of the chair against the stone floor bounced off the walls. He found himself delighted by the cringes of the elderly councilmen at the sound.
“Are ye to marry then?” Albert asked as Ragnall stood.
“I willnae give answer this day,” Ragnall answered as he walked out of the library. The moment the doors closed he dropped his shoulders and looked up to the vaulted ceiling. The large beams of wood holding the roof up seemed sturdy and secure, but within the depths of his being, he wished the beams would come tumbling down on the lot of them.
“If only they ken,” Ragnall said through clenched teeth.
The sing-song voice caused Ragnall’s head to whip about. Leaning against the wall, he saw the tall, thin, brown-haired beauty, Penelope Virhorn. She twirled a strand of her hair between her fingers as she smiled at him.
“Nothin’,” Ragnall said.
“Doesnae seem like nothin’,” she said pushing off the wall and moving toward him. Her skirt fluttered at her ankles as she walked.
“Those old dobbers think they can rule me life is all,” Ragnall said glancing at the library door as the group exited the room.
“Since when have ye let anyone rule over ye?” Penelope said with an arched brow. Her lips curled at the corners as she batted her eyes. The sunlight poured through the window and caused her eyes to shimmer like gems. Ragnall had to blink and turn his head so as not to be lured into her trap.
Ragnall knew Penelope since they were children frolicking in the evergreen fields of the Highlands. He had shown her how to ride a horse against her father’s wishes. But he knew her inside and out. She had always looked up to him and the older she grew the more her infatuation with him grew.
“What is it they want ye to do?” she asked. Her hand rested on Ragnall’s forearm and he knew she wanted him to look at her.
“Marry,” he hissed.
“Is that all?”
“Isnae that enough?” he said finally pulling his eyes off the councilmen gathered in the great hall.
“Doesnae sound so bad if ye ask me,” she said. Ragnall couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He knew that would be her answer. The glee that radiated from her face sent a chill coursing down his spine.
He had seen that same look on other girls before. All with the same high hopes of becoming his wife. But Ragnall preferred the harsh embrace of the open moors, wild and untamed, to that of the confinements of a household.
“I dinnae ask ye for yer opinion,” he said through clenched teeth.
“What’s so wrong of wanting marriage?”
“Doesnae suit me,” he said shaking his head.
“And how would ye ken? Have ye ever been? “
“Ye ken I havenae and wouldnae wish it on anyone if it could be helped.”
“Aye,” she said nodding, “but that is what they’re askin’ ye, isnae it?”
“And there lies the problem,” he said shortly. Ragnall rolled his shoulders back and shook his head. “I willnae be havin’ any of it.”
With his lips twitching, he turned and walked away from Penelope. His footsteps echoed as he pushed past the councilmen and out into the open courtyard.
The fresh crisp air soothed the fire boiling within him as he looked around at the tall cypress trees flowing in the breeze. He could remember when his father planted them in the courtyard and dropped his head.
Why did ye have to leave this in such a state?
“Ragnall,” Penelope’s voice drifted through the open doors. She stood with her hair drifting in the wind. Ragnall exhaled and shook his head.
“Saddle me horse,” Ragnall said as a servant passed by him. The young man nodded and bolted toward the stables.
“Do ye want some company?” Penelope said walking toward him.
“Nay,” Ragnall stated curtly as he noticed a black stallion being led out of the stables. The horse looked as angry and frustrated as he felt.
The instant the horse was next to him, Ragnall mounted the steed and slipped his feet into the stirrups. He settled into the saddle and jerked the reins. The servant jumped back as the horse reared up on his hind legs.
“Donnae leave like this,” Penelope begged. “There was a time we spoke of everything.”
“Aye, we were younger then.”
“So why nae allow me to help now as I’ve done before?”
Shaking his head, Ragnall refused to answer as he drove his heel into the horse’s flank. He took off as the horse galloped through the courtyard in haste. Although he had no place in mind he wanted to go, he knew he didn’t want to stay there a moment longer.
With each mile that passed under the horse’s strides, he prayed he could leave his past behind him. He knew deep within that the councilmen had every right to withhold his title and inheritance. After all, he had been a rogue for so long it was hard for even him to believe he could turn over a new leaf.
I willnae allow me Faither’s estate to rest with those daffs. If a wife is what will quell their wagging tongues, then a wife I shall get. And all that belongs to me.
White flour drifted in the air as Adriana leaned against the threshold of the kitchen. A smile played on her lips as she watched her sister, Priscilla, pound her fists into the lump of dough on the table.
Each time Priscilla’s knuckles crashed into the lump, more white flour billowed up. For a moment, Adriana couldn’t help but marvel at the specks of flour drifting down like snow.
“Having problems, are we?” Adriana finally said stepping into the kitchen. Her sister’s head whipped up as she glared at her.
“Do ye have any idea how complicated this is?” Priscilla said as she wiped the beads of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand.
“What’s that? Making it snow in here or making the bread?”
“Daenae tease, nae everyone knows how to make bread,” Priscilla grumbled as she glanced to the lump of hardening dough on the wooden table. “At least I’m trying to make something of myself.”
“Aye, ye’re making a mess of yerself is what ye’re doin’. Now scoot over and let me have a hand at it,” Adriana said pushing her sister away from the clump of dough that seemed too tough to do anything with.
“Now, first thing,” Adriana said swiping the apron off the hook by the back door and carefully wrapping it around her waist. “Ye got way too much flour on this. We need to dust some off and add a bit of water. That should salvage this monstrosity.”
Priscilla rolled her eyes and shook her head as she planted her hands on her hips. “The recipe called for flour.”
“Aye, but did it say ye had to use our whole supply of it?”
“I dinnae.” Priscilla’s voice rose to a higher pitch as she let out a whine.
“Aye, right, and that’s why it’s coming from the ceiling now,” Adriana said patting the lump before her. Flour billowed off the mound and Adriana couldn’t help but let out a chuckle.
“If ye add a wee bit of water to it,” Adriana glanced about to find the pitcher of water on the far end of the table. She dunked her hand into the pitcher and pulled out a handful. Gingerly, Adriana sprinkled the dry lump and watched as the flour soaked up the moisture. After a few handfuls, Adriana pounded her fists into the hard lump.
“Ye got to remember the water, Love, or what ye’ll get is nothin’ but a flat mess of dough.”
“Daenae tell Mother about this, she’ll think I cannae do anythin’.”
“Tell me what?”
Adriana and Priscilla’s eyes widened as they both looked toward the doorway. With her arms folded over her chest and her lips tight, Katherine stood at the doorway shaking her head.
“What are ye girls doin’? Donnae ye ken we cannae be affording to be wasteful? Money is tight as it is. And Priscilla, is that yer new dress? Why on God’s green earth did ye think it was suitable to be cookin’ in it?”
“I dinnae think it would be a problem,” Priscilla said glancing at her blue dress that looked more white than blue. Bits of hardened flour clung to the fabric making the whole thing a mess.
“I swear, if yer Faither were alive—” Katherine said begrudgingly.
“We wouldnae be in this mess,” Adriana said as if on cue. Her mother flashed her an evil gaze that caused Adriana’s eyes to drop to the floor.
“And I suppose ye’re the reason for this debacle?” Katherine hissed as she moved to Priscilla to help clean the dress. “Ye should be ashamed of yerself having yer sister cook for ye.”
“But—” Adriana began to protest just as her mother lifted a hand into the air silencing her.
“Honestly, Maither, it was me fault,” Priscilla said in a hushed voice. “I wanted to make the bread for dinner tonight. If it werenae for Adriana, it would have been ruined.”
Before Katherine could say another word, the light jingle of bells stopped her. All three whipped their heads toward the door. Katherine gasped as Katherine’s eyes widened.
“Maither? We expectin’ someone?” Priscilla asked dusting her hands off onto her apron. Katherine shook her head and turned quickly and stormed out of the kitchen.
Adriana and Priscilla glanced at each other and quickly followed their mother to the parlor. Nudging her sister aside, Adriana stepped in first and stopped short as Katherine pulled the door open.
“My Lord,” Katherine said clearing her throat. “What brings ye here today?” The Baron of Felick arched an eyebrow and shifted the case to the other arm. Katherine stepped aside and motioned to the sitting room.
“Your husband, Edmund Kentington,” the Baron said gruffly as he moved toward the couch. Flipping his coat tail out, he sat and placed a folder filled with papers onto the table. Keeping her eyes locked on her mother, she watched as Katherine moved to the chair next to the fireplace. Priscilla stood behind Katherine like a dutiful daughter with her head held high.
“If I’m nae mistaken, ye ken full well my Husband passed on several months ago,” Katherine said keeping her shoulders back. Adriana knew her mother well. The stern expression on her mother’s face was one of irritation. Even now, Adriana knew her mother didn’t want to discuss anything that revolved around her father.
“Aye,” the Baron said reaching for the papers, “and if you aren’t aware, he owed me a large sum of money.”
“Excuse me?” Katherine’s stern expression faltered causing cracks in her forehead.
“Forgive me,” the Baron said pushing the paper to Katherine. “I can only imagine how this must sound to you. But Mr. Kentington borrowed a large sum of one-thousand pounds from me six months ago.”
“That is impossible,” Katherine said glancing over her shoulder to Priscilla. “He would have told me.”
“Is this not his signature?” the Baron asked as he pointed to the bottom of the page. Adriana watched her mother lean forward to inspect the papers. Her hand shot to her mouth as Katherine’s face turned a darker shade of red.
“It is,” she said regrettably.
The Baron sat straighter as Priscilla reached over the chair and placed her hand on Katherine’s shoulder. Adriana’s heart sank into her stomach as she glanced about their home. It wasn’t much, only the bare necessities. She knew there was no way they had the money to pay off her father’s loan.
“We have no money,” Katherine said in hushed tones that broke Adriana’s heart. Never in all her life had she heard her mother so distraught.
“There is the matter of the estate,” the Baron said. He pressed his lips into a tight line. To Adriana, it was difficult to read what the man was thinking. For a moment she wondered if he was enjoying tormenting her mother.
“Ye want the Manor?” Katherine said gasping. She clutched her hand to her heart and dropped her shoulders.
“Or the money,” the Baron said. “I’ll give you a week to produce the funds or I come back for the Manor. That should be a reasonable amount of time to get your things in order.”
“We cannot come up with such a large amount in such a short time. Please, can we nae have more time?” Katherine reached out for the Baron as if she had the power to stop him from rising to his feet. He glared at her as he collected his papers from off the table.
“I take no pleasure in bringing you this news,” the Baron said. “But if I extend the deadline to your household, I would have to extend the same courtesy to others. And that I’m afraid I cannot compromise on. You have one week.”
The tears swelling in Katherine’s eyes finally spilled down her cheeks. Adriana reached out for her mother and put her hand on her leg. With an arched brow, the Baron nodded once. They watched as he moved to the door and collected his things.
“Please, Sir,” Adriana said jumping to her feet and rushing to his side. “There has to be some compromise? Perhaps we can arrange a payment plan?”
The Baron’s eyes narrowed and he stared at Adriana for a moment. “I understand your plight, I do. But the amount of money your father borrowed is too much for me to turn a blind eye to.”
“We arenae asking you to forget, just give us more time. There is no way anyone can come up with that kind of money.”
The Baron leaned in closer, his hot breath tickled Adriana’s ear as he spoke. “There are three women in this house. Two of whom could easily find a suitor.”
“Marriage?” Adriana stepped back and shook her head. “But—”
“You have a week,” the Baron said on a final note as he walked to the door. Adriana turned to face her mother and sister still distraught from the news. The door slammed behind the Baron, causing Adriana to jump.
“Is there no hope then? Are we to move?” Priscilla asked as she curled her arms around Katherine’s shoulders.
“Daenae give up hope, not yet,” Katherine said patting Priscilla’s arm. “This is our home and I will not see it taken from us. We will find a way out of this mess.”
“Maither,” Adriana stepped into the sitting room with her hands folded before her. The Baron’s words played in her mind like a broken record. “The Baron said there are three women of a proper age to wed.”
“You ken the rules, we cannae in good faith have your sister married off before ye, what would society think?” Katherine glanced at Priscilla as Adriana noticed the conflict in her gaze.
It was clear by her mother’s gaze that she didn’t oppose the idea of marriage, but couldn’t give up her favorite daughter to such a fate. After all, Adriana had heard on several occasions her mother promising Priscilla the chance to wed for love over money. Yet, it was money they needed to save their home.
Adriana glanced down. Her hands trembled as she chewed on her lower lip.
“How did this happen?” Priscilla asked as she fell to the ground at their mother’s feet.
“I daenae ken.”
“What are we goin’ to do, Maither?”
“We are going to find me a husband,” Adriana said bluntly. Katherine and Priscilla’s heads shot up with their mouths gaping. “It’s the only way to save our home, is it nae?”
“Where are we goin’ to find you a husband in such a short time?” Katherine laughed. “We would have a better chance with yer Sister.”
“Maither,” Priscilla clamped her hand over her mouth and shook her head.
“It’s true,” Katherine said. “Yer sister has never caught the eye of anyone. But ye,” Katherine cupped her hands around Priscilla’s face. “Would ye be willin’ to do this to save the family home?”
Priscilla’s eyebrows scrunched to the bridge of her nose as she mulled over the idea. Adriana stepped closer to them. Exhaling, she realized it would have to be her making such a sacrifice. After all, she didn’t want to see her mother working as a seamstress, nor her sister as a laundry maid.
“I will find someone to help,” Adriana swore despite the fact she had no clue who she would find. But, she knew she couldn’t let her family down.
Adriana turned on her heels and moved to the coat rack. Pulling her cloak off the hook, she pulled it around her shoulders.
“Where are you goin’?” Priscilla asked as Katherine stroked Priscilla’s head to comfort the girl.
“I’m goin’ to find our savior,” Adriana said as she reached for the door and pulled it open. The warm, muggy breeze kissed her cheeks as she stepped out of the Manor. With the weight of the world resting on her shoulders, Adriana held her head up and moved down the walkway.
No older men. No matter how much they are willing to give as a dowry. But there has to be someone out there to help us. I have to hold on to the belief that maybe there is someone who will not turn their eyes from me.
Glancing over her shoulder, Adriana stole one last look at her family’s Manor. Ivy curled up the stone walls as it reached toward the roof. For a split moment, she couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the ivy. It was a dreadful weed that never died. No one liked it, but it never gave up in trying to reach the roof.
Adriana realized she was just like the ivy clinging to the Manor. She had to be resilient in her efforts. She wouldn’t allow her family home to be taken. Despite her flaws, she held on to her belief and her hope.
Turning, she pulled in a deep breath and pushed through the wooden gate at the end of the walkway. With the open road before her, she knew her best chances of finding a suitor wouldn’t be here. She had to go forth and find one.
Ragnall lowered his head as he stared into the brown liquid swirling around in his mug. He shook his head as he contemplated what he knew he had to do. Exhaling, he dropped his shoulders as he pulled a deep swig from his mug. The alcohol burned as it went down his throat, but it wasn’t the pain that caused him to shudder.
Marriage. But marriage to who? Every girl I’ve ever been with wanted more than what I was willing to give them. Love is nae something that I will ever find. Most of the girls just see the money behind the face.
I didnae travel beyond me Faither’s lands to Inverness to come up empty handed. I set out to find a wife, and find a wife I shall.
But do I settle for just any lass?
Ragnall scanned the pub. The only women were the loose kind he was so used to, but none of them held his interest. None of them would be suitable to present to the council of his Clan as an eligible bride. But without one, he knew he would never get his father’s title or inheritance and the entire Clan would think he was a fraud.
“Baron,” the barkeep looked up from polishing his glasses as the door flew open. Ragnall thought nothing of the name. After all, this was a pub that was frequented by several noblemen and a place to gather information about the country.
“What can I get for ye this fine day?” the barkeep asked moving to the counter as he polished a clean spot beside Ragnall.
“Mead,” the man said, dropping his papers on the counter and settling in next to Ragnall. In the corner of his eye, Ragnall noticed the stout red-haired man with a huge grin plastered on his face.
“Ye seem mighty jolly this day,” the barkeep said filling a mug from a wooden barrel. The liquid flowed out of the spire and into the mug. The barkeep sealed off the spire, stopping the flow of the mead, and handed the man the mug.
“Here ye are, Baron,” the keeper said with a smile.
“Thank you, James,” the stranger said raising his glass to the barkeep and drawing a long deep swig. The man tapped his knuckles on the bar. Ragnall glanced at the stranger to his side. There was something familiar about him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Good Sir,” Ragnall said tapping the man beside him on the shoulder. The man nodded and lifted his glass to Ragnall. “Ye’re English?”
“That I am,” the man said. “Caleb Jackson. And you are, good Sir?”
“Yer the Baron of Felick?” Ragnall asked lifting his glass and clinking it to the Baron’s. The Baron nodded and smiled.
“You’re well informed, Sir,” the Baron said. “But who are you?”
“Ragnall McAvory, Laird of Cord.”
“Ah, yes,” the Baron said nodding. Ragnall watched as he took another sip and turned in his seat.
“Mighty fine mead,” the Baron said lifting his glass. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” James said going back to polishing his glasses.
“’Tis a fine day when you come into a new estate, wouldn’t you say?” the Baron said placing his hand on the pile of papers before him.
“Wouldnae ken,” James said with a bit of a smile that Ragnall found to be false. James looked like someone kicked in the gut. After all, James knew as well as Ragnall that the English lords could at any moment come in to steal land out from under the Scottish folks and there wasn’t anything they could do about it.
“And whose estate are ye procurin’ this month?” James asked. Ragnall glanced at the man as he leaned in over the bar with his grin stretching wider.
“The Kentington’s,” the Baron said.
Ragnall’s eyes widened. The name Kentington sounded so familiar to him that it caused him to pause mid drink. Slowly, he dropped his hand as he racked his brain for any recollection of who the family was to him.
“That is Edmund’s Manor, is it nae?” James asked with an arched eyebrow.
“Well, it was, but soon enough it will be mine,” the Baron said.
Edmund and Katherine Kentington? It cannae be. Nae Edmund, he was me Faither’s best man. Served him proper he did. But what’s this? How is it Edmund’s lands are being taken? Perhaps it is another family he speaks of?
Ragnall shifted his eyes to stare at the Baron beside him. Shock washed through him as he cocked his head.
“Good morrow, M’Laird,” Ragnall said raising his glass to the Baron. The Englishman smiled at Ragnall and put his cup to his lips. “Pray tell, is there a young voluptuous lass named Adriana that lives there?” Ragnall asked the Baron.
“There was a young woman with that description,” the Baron said finishing his mead and pushing the mug to the edge of the counter. James took the empty mug and nodded to the barrels.
“One more, then I must be going to finalize the papers,” the Baron said.
“What is it that the Kentington’s owe you? If you don’t mind me asking.” Ragnall swirled the contents of his mug around as a plan hatched in his mind.
“A thousand pounds,” the Baron said. “But I doubt they’ll be able to get it to me by next week. Have you seen the state of their affairs? That place is as good as mine.”
“Ye donnae say,” Ragnall said. He reached into his pocket and placed two sterlings on the counter. “Till next time, James.”
Ragnall pushed away from the counter and moved swiftly to the door with his mind racing. Memories of Adriana filled his mind as he pushed through the door and stepped out into the mid-afternoon sunlight. It seemed as if all his troubles had been lifted from his shoulders. Pulling the reins from the post, Ragnall moved around the horse and mounted his steed.
Memories of his childhood flooded his mind as he raced toward the Kentington Estate, Wellington Manor. The last time he had been there was when he was much younger. His father was Edmund’s business partner and they often spent time out in the country with the Kentingtons.
As Ragnall rode on, he couldn’t help but wonder what Adriana looked like now. He hadn’t laid eyes on her since they were children. His stomach twisted as he thought of the young girl who so easily got under his skin. She was the only person in all of Scotland who challenged him. Ragnall wasn’t looking forward to seeing her again, but since she needed him as much as he needed her, he hoped they could come to an arrangement of sorts.
The sky above his head shifted from a pale blue to gray as the clouds rolled off the hills. Small beams of sunlight streamed through the dark clouds. Wherever the light hit, it made the grass greener and more vibrant. A cold chill caressed his face as he charged on through the moors.
Although there were no homesteads around, the wild and uninhabitable lands felt more like home to Ragnall than any other place. It was where the bitter winds twisted the trees and he preferred it here more than any other place.
If he could stay, he would. But in the back of his mind, he felt the pressing of his father’s spirit on him. A memory haunted the edges of his mind that he couldn’t shake.
“Stop that,” Adriana shouted as she turned and shoved Ragnall off her. He had been tugging at the locks of her hair enjoying the way they sprang back into place.
“Make me,” Ragnall challenged. Adriana sprang at him and knocked him back. It surprised him that such a small girl could overpower him. Yet, there she was ramming her little fists on his chest.
“Nae, what are ye doin’, Lass?”
In an instant, Adriana was hoisted off Ragnall and placed on her feet. Ragnall’s father towered over her as he wagged his finger at her.
“That is nae way for a lady to behave.”
“He provoked me,” Adriana said whipping her head to Ragnall who climbed to his feet.
“Did he now? And just what precisely did the Lad dae?”
“He’s been tuggin’ at me hair and it hurt,” Adriana said. Ragnall’s father shifted his eyes to Ragnall.
“That true, Lad? Ye’ve been harassing the Lass, have ye?”
“She lies, Faither,” Ragnall said with a straight face. “She’s the one who’s been teasing me.”
“How so?” Ragnall’s father drew his hands to his hips and with an arched eyebrow glared at him.
“Well, look at her,” Ragnall said waving his hand up and down.
“Aye, I’ve seen her, but that doesnae explain why she attacked. Now out with it. What did ye do?”
“Pulled her locks… they are springy,” Ragnall said reaching for Adriana’s curls once more. “Just look at them.”
“Enough,” Ragnall’s father said as he tried to curb the smile playing on the corner of his lips. “Ye apologize.”
Ragnall glared at Adriana. If there was one thing in all the world he hated more, it was being told what to do. As his eyes narrowed on her, he started to open his mouth.
“Nae, I willnae,” Ragnall said defiantly. He reached for Adriana’s hair once more, plucked the strand once more to see it spring back into place. Adriana screamed from the pain as Ragnall turned swiftly and ran from his father before he could snatch him.
The memory played so vividly in Ragnall’s mind that he couldn’t help but smile at it. Although it had been nearly twelve years since that day, he still remembered the beating he got when Adriana caught up to him. His father didn’t stop her the second time from beating on him, instead, stood by and watched.
Wonder if she still has that spark in her?
In the distance, Ragnall noticed a small bridge surrounded by esk trees. Their foliage shimmered as the rays of light drifted by them making them look as if the sun itself set them ablaze. Ragnall knew at once he had reached the edge of Inverness. There, he knew a few miles down he’d reach the Kentington’s estate.
As he trotted closer to the bridge, he noticed a phantom on the path. Although, he had no right to believe it was anything more than a gypsy, he couldn’t ignore the tugging in his soul.
Pulling on the reins, he slowed his horse as he drew closer to the woman. The hood of her cloak was pulled down, masking her face. She did not look at him, but merely continued on her way as if lost in her own thoughts.
Her dark-blue cloak flowed out behind her. A gust of wind ripped through the trees and she gripped the cloak as her only means of protection against the blistering wind. The wind whistled through the trees and caught the hood.
Ragnall’s eyes widened as he watched her wrestle with the hood trying to keep it over her head. But it was too late. He had stolen a glimpse of her face.
Ragnall’s heart drummed in his chest as he felt his grip on the reins tighten. A lump formed in his throat as he realized the woman was none other than Adriana, the very woman he wanted to meet.
She hasnae changed one bit.
Sliding off the saddle, his feet landed hard on the ground. Looking around the horse’s neck, he caught Adriana pausing at the other end of the bridge that separated them. He waited and brushed the horse’s mane as he kept one eye on her. She threw the hood of her cloak off and lifted her head.
Ragnall wasn’t sure how to approach her, let alone how she would react to seeing him. He didn’t even know if she would remember him after all these years. Sucking in a deep breath, he pulled the reins forcing his horse to follow him to the bridge.
“Good day,” Ragnall called out as he threw his hand up. He watched Adriana step back wary of him approaching the bridge. “Miss Kentington.”
Adriana’s eyes widened and she stepped closer to the bridge with her head cocked. “Ye ken me, Sir?”
“Aye, as a matter of fact, I do,” Ragnall stepped out from around his horse and lifted his head. The sunlight beamed down on his face as his heart pounded in his chest. Ragnall watched as Adriana’s eyes narrowed into slits as she shook her head. Slowly, her lips drew into a tight line and she shook her head.
“What are ye doin’ here?” she asked.
She does recognize me.
“I’ve come to see ye,” Ragnall answered.
“I see, you’ve heard the news about me Faither and come to gloat about it, have ye? Well, get out with it. I have a busy day and have no time to dawdle with the likes of ye.”
“May I accompany ye, Lass?” Ragnall asked as Adriana stormed across the bridge.
“Nae,” she said passing him without a side glance.
“How is yer sister? Priscilla, was it?” Ragnall asked as he turned his horse around and began following her. His eyes drifted over Adriana and found his knees weak. Her face was red with irritation giving her cheeks a soft blush that highlighted her eyes. The beams of light that cut through the canopy above them caused her blond hair to shimmer.
“And yer Maither? Is all well with her?” Ragnall asked. Adriana stopped and whipped her head to face him.
“What do ye want? Daenae ye have some other lass to harass?”
“I am too busy harassin’ ye at the moment,” he said playfully.
“Go grace someone else with yer presence,” Adriana said as she continued down the way. Ragnall couldn’t help but smile as she picked up the pace. “I’m in no mood today to deal with the likes of ye.”
“But I wanted to see ye,” Ragnall said.
“Ye’ve seen me — now go.” Adriana turned off the road and headed down the slope to cut through the trees.
“Come now,” Ragnall said. “We have so much to discuss.”
“There is nothin’ I have to say to ye.”
“Ye arenae still holding a grudge against me, are ye?” Ragnall asked despite knowing he was horrid to her as a child.
“Ye still owe me a dress,” Adriana hissed back at him.
“What?” Ragnall asked stopping. Trying with all his might to recall what she was talking about, he cocked his head and let out a laugh.
Adriana stopped and turned. Glaring at him, she shook her head. “Ye would forget all the vile things ye’ve done to me. I, Sir, dinnae.”
“Clearly,” he said. “What grave offense did I do that causes yer face to turn so red? Dinnae get me wrong, ye look lovely with such a blush.”
“Forget it,” Adriana said pursing her lips into a tight line and throwing her hands to her hips. “Why don’t ye go and irritate my sister? She was rather fond of ye when we were younger and I think she still fancies ye a bit.”
“That’s the problem,” Ragnall said. “There are several women that fancy me and all expect me to love them.”
With a raised eyebrow and her hands fitted to her hips, Adriana shook her head. “Woe is me, Mr. McAvoy has too many women flaunting over him. Whatever will he do?”
“That is why I’ve come to ye,” Ragnall said. “I have a proposition for ye.”
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