Highlander’s Mark of Destiny Preview

About the book

He was there to find her truth, when no one else believed her…

At her father’s funeral, Lillith Jamieson learns two truths: that her future will always depend on a man. And that her father was murdered. Set to be betrothed to a future Laird, she ends up falling for the only man she can’t have: his brother.

Malcolm McCormack, aptly named “Bravery of Scotland”, has been tasked with protecting his brother’s betrothed, until he returns. And in the matter of life or death, he chooses to die for her.

Battling their forbidden feelings for each other, Lilith and Malcolm embark on a quest to unveil her father’s killer. But secrets are better left hidden, especially when they carry the curse of truth: for her father was murdered by someone he trusted for years. And he is nothing more than a Shadow.

Chapter One


The Death and Legacy of Arthur Jamieson


Lillith’s ears did not register the funeral music as it played and the words of the priest rolled off her like the gentle rain on the hay roof. There she sat, numb, staring at the coffin of her father, as she had for the entirety of the wake. It felt wrong to leave his side, it had been her position in her life and should be in death. She loved her faither dearly and admittedly, had never dedicated more than a fleeting thought about what life would be like once he was gone.

She was never meant to find out so early in life.

The service was coming to a close and soon enough, the men of her village would carry Arthur Jamieson down to the burial site and lower him into the cold, damp ground, never to surface again. Her heart was clutched in the hands of fate, squeezing it until it was sure to pop and spew red, hot blood. And yet, just as she wished the angels would claim her, the words of the hymnal struck something deep down inside her. Something deeper than the mourning of her father.

Community. Her pale face lifted to see their family home packed shoulder to shoulder with every soul from their village and the towns her father frequently did business in, as a successful merchant of the Isles. It was as if every person that had ever purchased goods from Arthur or waved as he passed by on his wagon had shown up to pay their respects. Arthur may have departed himself, but he left Lillith with a strong network of others who would support and watch out for her. Arthur had been a good man, and all the north of Scotland would be damned if harm came to his beautiful daughter.

Her eyes fell on Leo, Arthur’s best friend in life and guardian to his daughter in death. He stood as strong as a great stone wall, his hands clasped and eyes forward. Even the strongest of men could not hide every ounce of emotion from their weathered faces. Surrounding his slate-gray eyes were red blotches—not from crying, but the irritation of wiping his eyes vigorously every time a tear threatened to fall. Leo did not want to appear weak, even in a moment such as the burial of his lifelong friend. He had to be strong if for nothing else but Lillith.

It was time to carry the body down to the cemetery. A shaking, slim hand went to her mouth to mask the wail building in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t ready to let her father go, but then again she knew she would never be. There was no stopping it—she must accept it.

The women were left standing at the gate as the eight pole-bearers finished Arthur’s journey. Lillith found herself staring between the iron bars to watch as they positioned the coffin above the hole in the ground. When the men started the process, Lillith couldn’t bear to look.

With a great deal of shame, she turned her cheek. She was startled to find a chest so close to her face. A hand jutted out from a dark cloak to steady her, while the other went to his face and made a hushing motion.

Lillith was such a typhoon of emotion, her brain couldn’t make sense of it. She didn’t bother to try and make out the face, the appearance covered by the hood of the cloak and the overcast sky. Feeling embarrassed, Lillith forced herself to look forward once again. It was a punch to the gut to no longer see the coffin. Her hand once again found her mouth, a quiet sob sounding from the frail, emotionally bruised twenty-one-year-old.

“Arthur’s death was nay accident, lass,” a gruff voice whispered in her ear, causing every hair on her slender neck to stand on end. “He was murdered.”

It was a long moment before her mind could put the words together, to make sense of the hoarse voice—because it was such a foreign concept to her. Never for a moment had she thought her father’s death had been anything but a tragic accident. Who would want to hurt a merchant as kind and honest as Arthur Jamieson? The air was sucked from her lungs and Lillith turned to ask the hooded man. The figure was gone. Her heart panged painfully in her chest.

She wanted—no needed—to scream. Scream in horror, in agony, and in desperation for the hooded figure to come back to her and tell her what in the bloody hell he meant by murdered. Why couldn’t he have been merciful and given her the name of the murderer if he had such information?

Her chest was freshly scarred, her heart ripped from her chest all over again. Her father died all over again in Lillith’s mind, only in a more brutal and horrific fashion. Lillith was frozen in her trauma as her mind tried to untangle the webs of thought.

Whether or not the man had been as honest as her father, the cloaked figure had planted a seed of doubt in Lillith’s tender, vulnerable mind. Had her beloved father truly been murdered? Her eyes scanned the crowd of mourners. What if the culprit was present, acting like the mournful neighbor? Lillith’s stomach twisted in painful, nauseating knots.

When the dirt was packed upon Arthur Jamieson, the crowd paid their last respects in a unified prayer at the gate before slowly thinning out, retreating back to the family home for the dredgy. Those closest to the family lingered for longer by the gate. Lillith received more pats on the back than she cared to count.

There was an overall treatment of her as though her favorite horse had passed. That it would be gloomy for a while, but the clouds would part and she would know the sun again. Why couldn’t they just let her be sad? Why did every interaction have to be laced with a message of hope?

More annoying than their inability to be genuine with the poor grieving girl, was her own growing paranoia. Every time someone approached her, a thought rang quietly in the back of her head: Did ye kill me Faither?

Her own mind was soon to drive her mad if she didn’t get home to rest. She looked to Leo, who was faring the well-intentioned crowds much better than herself, as he returned from the grave site. His red eyes had calmed and his cool expression was distant without becoming unfriendly. While the Laird of Aeredale, Connan McCormack, and Leo stood around for a while talking, Lillith was growing impatient. 

Just as Lillith began to approach Leo to request leaving, a man intercepted her path. He didn’t seem to notice her, she was sure her average height left her as insignificant as an ant to his intimidating, towering form. She had half a mind to say something, but reserved herself for the time being. The man only had her father to thank for her politeness. She would not disrespect his funeral for a pompous man like that.

The man clasped Leo’s shoulder with one hand and his hand with the other. Lillith was raised not to eavesdrop, but she no longer cared. She was not under the reign of a parent and if the man was speaking at her father’s funeral, Lillith felt entitled to know—unfortunately, their voices were just out of reach.

***

“Leo...I’m heartbroken for yer loss. Arthur was a great man.” 

“Thank ye for coming all the way here.”

“Course, couldn’t miss paying my respects to the great, respectable merchant Arthur Jamieson.”

“Careful now,” Leo warned, “he’s just on the other side of that hill. Pretty sure ye could still cause that head of his to swell.”

“Leo, this is me son, Aindreann.”

Aindreann bowed his head in greeting. “Pleasure to meet ye, Leo.”

“I’m nay Laird, lad. Nay need to bow,” Leo mumbled. Leo knew he was being standoffish, but he couldn’t help it. He was in no mood for formalities.

After a gruff clearing of the throat from Connan, Aindreann began again. “Did ye ken Arthur long? Ye must be something special for a wealthy man like Arthur Jamieson to entrust his heiress to.”

“What business of that is yers?” Leo nearly spat, closing the distance between the young man and himself.

Connan stepped between the two, raising hands in defense of Aindreann. “Forgive me son. Travel has always been hard on his sensibilities. He’s a well-meaning lad. Lack of rest diminishes his manners.”

Aindreann stood his ground, his expression as blank as it could be—though suspicion lingered in his icy eyes. Leo sneered and reluctantly backed away. “That does nae clarify why yer boy thinks Arthur’s affairs are any concern of his.”

Connan’s eyes fell on Lillith as she stood nearby, the last of the visitors leaving her side. Leo followed his line of sight to Lillith before back to Connan. “Perhaps ‘tis best if we find somewhere private to talk. After the dredgy?”

Leo gave one brisk nod before pacing over to Lillith. “Come now, lass. People are waiting on us.”

***

“What was all that about?” she asked as they started toward their home. The aroma of mutton, vegetables, and beer intertwined with the evening air, only worsening the nausea Lillith had been fighting off for days.

“Let’s nae worry about that right now, all right? We have a feast to attend,” he said, hooking an arm around her in comfort. “And I want to see ye actually eat something this time, Lillith. Daenae think I dinnae notice ye take a bite this mornin’.”

“Forgive me for nae being hungry at a time like this,” she grumbled.

“Ay, none of that sass now. Daenae think I’m belittling yer pain, dear lass. But, the best thing we can do for now, is to honor what yer Faither would have wanted us to do. Do ye think he would want to see ye wither down to skin and bones over him? I think nae.” A ghost of a smile appeared on Lillith’s lips. After such a miserable day, the comforting words of her familiar Leo was what she needed. “Ye’re going to drink all the beer Arthur would have drank if it were him in attendance. Do ye understand?”

Lillith stopped in her tracks and turned to Leo, hugging him tightly. He let out a heavy sigh that had been building in his chest all day long. They both loved Arthur dearly and neither of their lives would ever be the same again. After such a dismal few days, comfort in the one person left on Earth she trusted was just what she needed.

As she pulled back from the hug, Aindreann and Connan passed. When Lillith’s gaze met Aindreann’s for a split moment, he smirked. A shiver went down her spine. She knew not who he was or what that smirk meant but it was enough to cause worry. It was like he knew what was in store for her.

***

It was near impossible for Leo to actively participate in the dredgy after his encounter with the McCormacks. Shortly after Arthur’s death, Leo had gone through his papers to find his will. It was no act of good will that the McCormack’s had shown up to pay their respects. They were there to stake their claim in Jamieson’s estate. Of course, the fortune came with a price—a marriage to Lillith.

Leo’s face screwed up at the mere thought. Connan was a good enough fellow, but Leo didn’t feel right marrying off a daughter that wasn’t his own. Especially not to a lad like Aindreann, who walked onto the Jamieson’s land as though he already owned it. Sure, Connan excused his son’s abhorrent behavior by saying he was tired from the journey, but Leo was not daft.

The moment Leo stood from the table and excused himself outside for fresh air, Connan followed. “Can this nae wait, Connan?” Leo called over, not having to look over to ken it was him. “Let us have today, at least.”

“Ye ken I mean nae disrespect, Leo,” Connan began softly, pacing across the grass to join his side. “Ye also ken I’m a Laird and have to be on me way soon enough, having me own things to oversee. We have quite the journey ahead of us and I need to get this matter sorted before I head back.”

“I daenae ken what ye want me to do, Connan,” Leo retorted, shaking his head. “She’s nae my daughter to marry off. I’m nae going to just give her away to a man I daenae ken. She just lost her Faither, for Christ’s sake.”

“Nae, she may nae be yer daughter—but she is yer ward. Arthur trusted ye with her care. Besides, Aindreann is nae just some stranger, he’s my son.”

“He’s an arse.”

Connan sighed and drew near. “I ken he didn’t make a good first impression—” he was cut off by a glare from Leo. “He’s a decent enough lad. He’s a natural leader. He may be a bit too smart for his own good and as stubborn as an ox…but he would take good care of Lillith.”

“Why am I supposed to take ye at yer word?” Leo snapped, growing tired of the conversation. He hated every part of it, not feeling prepared in any sense of the word to handle the virtue of Lillith.

“Ye’ve got nothin’ else to go on,” Connan said with a shrug. Leo grimaced and looked up at the sunset. “Arthur and I have been planning to marry our children for quite some time. A great union of the north. I hate that he passed before ever bringing it up to the poor lass, I ken it will make it quite the shock…however, the pact must be honored.” 

“Must it?” Leo mused.

“Aye,” Connan nodded. “She’s a lass, Leo. She can’t access any of the money without a husband. And if the pact is nae honored, well—” His voice trailed off, knowing he did not have to complete the sentiment. If Lillith did not uphold the pact her father made to the McCormack’s, she would essentially be doomed to a life of poverty. As Lillith’s guardian, Leo could not let that happen.

Still, he did not trust Aindreann with Lillith’s hand yet. Just as much as it was Leo’s job to prevent her from crashing down the societal ladder, he was to protect her as well. “I need to be sure of Aindreann’s intentions before I agree to anything,” he finally stated after a long, cold silence.

“Understandable,” Connan nodded. “There must be some sort of agreement we can come to.”

Leo wasn’t well versed in the ways of handling such affairs. What was an agreeable approach? He had the inkling that no matter what he chose to do, Lillith would hate him for it. Rubbing his forehead and leaning against a fence post, Leo suggested, “What if she came to live with ye for a while? So she can learn the lay of the land, and see how she takes to Aindreann. As long as all goes well, they will marry.”

Connan smiled. “Fantastic idea. When shall she leave?”


Chapter Two


The Arrangement


As if Lillith hadn’t cried enough, angry tears stung her eyes when Leo broke the news to her. “I daenae believe ye,” she defiantly cried. “Me Faither would have told me if he had done such a thing!”

Leo sat at the empty table, rubbing his hands together, defeated. “Pretty sure he thought he had time to, lass.”

“I should be able to make my own choices in life. How dare he do this to me, before the grave or from beyond it?!”

Hold yer tongue,” Leo hissed at her, jumping to his feet. “This is troublin’ to ye, I understand. Ye do not curse yer Faither, though. Ye ken he loved ye. He must have thought this best for ye and the family business.”

“Of course, ye defend him!” Lillith hollered.

Lillith,” Leo warned. He was growing visibly impatient with her lack of respect, but she couldn’t have even pretended to care. Letting out an aggravated breath, he tried to reason with her. “Ye do have a choice, all right? The other one is nae so favorable. Without marrying a McCormack son, ye willnae have access to the fortune. Ye’d be without a single pound to ye name. Arthur trusted me to look after ye, lass. It is me duty to keep that from happenin’ if I can. ‘Tis why I made the deal that ye go live with them before the marriage. See how ye take to it. At least give them a chance.”

Lillith wanted to argue, but what more was there to say? Leo had spelled it all out for her. It was either a life forced into poverty or marriage for her. The smirk on that man’s face haunted her. Had he known the ultimatum she would be faced with? Lillith’s body felt cold and hollow, wrapping her arms around herself. In a single day, she had buried her father and lost her own life. She might have still had a pulse, but any illusion of free will she had evaporated into the night air.

When she pivoted on a heel and left for her room without a word, Leo called after her, “We leave at dawn!”

Lillith retreated to her room, lying on her bed and staring at the far wall which was illuminated by moonlight. There were no more tears left for her to shed, not that day. Her mind and her body were exhausted. She found herself hugging her pillow tightly as her eyes traced the stone wall. Would this be the last night she ever had in her childhood home? Would she ever return from the Aeredale Castle?

She laid awake most of the night, her mind plagued with worry, anger, and sorrow. Lillith despised her own life, hating that her very fate had always been and would remain to be, in the hands of men. Leo had not proposed a suggestion to her. He had relayed the only course of action that the powers that be saw fit for her—an unmarried and orphaned young woman. Of course, she must belong to a man. God forbid she have time to mourn her father’s death before her life was reassigned to the next man standing in line.

When Lillith managed to finally slip into a light sleep, it was fitful and plagued with the imagery of the cloaked man. Only in her dream, the cloak was red and the man held a lantern.

They were by her Faither’s freshly filled grave and no one else was around. She would yell at the figure to tell her what he knew. He would never say anything, his finger covering his lips in a hushing gesture. Every step Lillith took to get near him, to force him to tell her all he knew, the figure would move back without taking a step.

Soon, she was running after him and the wind howled the words “no accident, it was murder” again and again. The leaves fell from the trees and began to block her vision and crowd her path. She tripped and fell into an empty grave. Overhead was Leo, looking down with a frown. “Poor lass, she never saw it comin’.”

“Never saw what coming?!” she shouted back at him.

Leo began weeping, his tears falling on her forehead like raindrops. An arm snaked around his neck, the cloaked figure stood next to him. The cloaked figure dropped the lantern down into the grave. Taking it in hand, Lillith began desperately clawing at the dirt walls that enclosed her. As her frantic attempts to climb up caused her to grunt and groan, pleading with Leo to help her, the figure raised that same finger to its lips and hushed her.

Lillith jerked up in bed, her eyes dilated and frantically searching the room for light, needing proof that she was not in that damned grave. The first light of morning coming over the horizon and spilling into her window gave her the needed relief. It was short lived, however, as she remembered she was waking to another nightmare.

Her bitterness subsided overnight and instead was replaced with a fit of fear. She knew she had to go live with the Laird’s family…she had no idea what they were going to be like. What if they were cruel to her? Would she then be forced between a life of cruel nobility and cruel serfdom? What a damned life her father left for her…Lillith didn’t want to hold hatred toward her beloved father, but it was hard not to when he had passed without ever even mentioning the plans for her future he had laid out.

Leo had been right, that her father must have thought it was a good fit for her, or else he would not have arranged it. As she dressed herself in a kilt and blouse, Lillith did her best to come to terms with her fate. She only hoped that when she reached the Aeredale Castle, she would feel foolish about her worries. That the McCormacks would be welcoming and wonderful, and that she would feel content with her new life.

Her wishful thinking did not reach her stomach, however, her gut churning with its own woes and concern. Lillith did not bother to even attempt to show her face at breakfast, knowing Leo would take her lack of appetite personally and think it was some sort of childish protest. It was only when she heard the coach arriving at the front of the house that Lillith emerged from her room.

She did not feel attached to her body as she made her way through the house, her spirit seeming to float somewhere above her. Lillith was alive and yet she longed to haunt those halls. Stuck between a moderately routine morning in action, and the anguish of departing her home for perhaps the last time, a dreadful thought crossed the back of her mind.

Did Faither have this feeling when he left the house that final morning?

Leo was already outside, standing by the coach when Lillith finally emerged from the house. He was dressed in full attire; kilt, sash, and sporran—and who could forget the long socks. It was almost strange to see him so formally dressed. Leo had been around her whole life and she couldn’t remember the last time she recalled him looking so proper. She did not comment, however, and simply climbed into the coach.

Once Leo climbed in as well, they were off. He cleared his throat and shuffled a bit nervously. “I will be staying a couple of days at the Castle as well, to make sure ye settle in all right.” Lillith only nodded in response; she wasn’t attempting to be a child, she just didn’t have much to say. “I’m sorry about all this, Lillith…I am. I wish I could change it.”

“‘Tis all right, Leo. I ken ye are just doin’ what you have to.”

He eased after that, comforted by the mercy of the young lady. Lillith’s eyes went out the window, having to swallow her own heart as the family cemetery slipped out of view. Flashes of her nightmare came back to her, causing her to chew nervously on the inside of her cheek. She thought about mentioning it to Leo, but she didn’t see what good it would do. He would likely say the person at the funeral had been a disturbed loon—after all, with the massive crowds Arthur’s death had brought upon them, it was likely there were a couple of nuts in the bunch.

Lillith was almost certain he would only consider her a naïve lass if she mentioned it—or worse, a final ditch effort to stay at home. Any way she looked at it, it was not favorable to her. So, she held onto her secret, hoping that one day she would be able to piece together whether or not the cloaked man was in fact a loon, or an informant.

The Aeredale Castle was nearly a whole day’s travel by coach, the horse lazily trotting along to make it a bearable ride for its passengers. Lillith’s day was spent studying the scenery as it slipped away, lost in her own world of thoughts and anxiety. Images of the cloaked man lingered underneath her surface, constantly bubbling up and giving her a new wave of fright.

Occasionally, Leo would make mention of something; anything to break the silence he perceived as thick. She knew she had been upset with him the night before, but surely he had to understand how dreadful the news he gave her must have been to a young woman. Her only wish then was that he would understand she no longer was upset with him or her father, and was only dismayed by her predicament.

No one had to announce they were approaching their destination for Lillith to know. The Aeredale Castle sat atop a large hill, its towers and top floors poking out from behind a massive stone wall.

Me Lord, it looks like its own town!

While it was an impressive sight, Lillith did not ogle at it and did her best to look uninterested. She did not want Leo to think that just because the Castle was charming meant she was happy about being there.

The coach eventually pulled up to the Castle gate and two men pushed open the large doors for them to be allowed in. Waiting there by the front of the Castle was a line of servants, dressed plainly with false smiles to accessorize their look of servitude. The Jamieson’s were rich but did not have servants, only employees that helped with the business. Leo stepped from the coach and offered a hand to Lillith to help her down.

Her eyes took in the full scope of the Castle, admittedly overwhelmed. It resembled her new life perfectly. Cold, looming, and contents unknown to her.

“Right this way, me Lady Jamieson and Guardian,” one of the servants chirped, gesturing for her to follow their lead. Lillith peered up to Leo who gave only a shrug before abiding. Lillith tried to retain her look of passive indifference all the while her body was begging her to leave.

The servants did not tell them where they were going, guiding them in silence through the great corridors of the Castle. Eventually, they were led to the doors of a dining hall. The moment they were pushed open, a servant announced, “Introducing Leo Cochrane and Lillith Jamieson, future wife of Aindreann McCormack, future Laird of Aeredale!”

Oh, how she wished to throw up. What happened to letting her ease into things? Those sitting around the table stood and bowed and curtsied in their direction. “Lillith, Leo, welcome,” Connan grinned at them. “What marvelous timing you have. The feast should be ready any moment. Come, join us. Let us give ye the proper Aeredale welcome.”

Her thoughts were souring to those of a brat, finding herself inwardly musing that she was sick of feasts. In her eyes, the one that was about to take place was as much a dredgy as her father’s had been. A feast to celebrate the end of her own life. Leo guided her to the table, on the left of the Laird. When they sat, Lillith lifted her gaze to find that rude man from the funeral sitting across from her—the one who had cut off her path to Leo. He was smirking at her, that same smirk as the night before.

“Lillith,” Connan began, “this is me son, Aindreann.”

As if this nightmare could nae get any worse.

He was pleasant enough on the eyes, but she did not care for the smug aura that hung around him like a perfume. An overwhelming, pungent perfume you wished to cleanse from your senses instantly.

Stop being so judgmental, Lillith. You have to give this life a chance, meaning you have to give him a chance.

Aindreann smiled at her and dipped his head in greeting, “Lillith, it is lovely to meet ye.”

“The same to ye,” Lillith muttered, doing her best to put on a convincing smile. His sky-blue eyes twinkled at her, his smile warming. No matter his true colors, Lillith knew that it would take time for her to warm up to him.

Servants filed in with platters, heaping with meat pies, roasted chicken, bannocks, and an array of vegetables—including some imports. Not only did they present the trays of beautifully cooked food, but then served their plates as well. Lillith gave her thanks to the servant girl which earned a confused sneer from Aindreann. What in the world was his problem?

The sound of a door opening registered in Lillith’s mind, but did not grasp her attention. “Ah, there ye are, me Son,” Connan bellowed across the dining hall. “Better late than never today, are we?”

“Sorry,” a husky voice responded, “trainin’ took longer than usual.”

Lillith peered up as the chair next to Aindreann was pulled out. Her breath seized in her throat at the sight of that man. He was shirtless with only a sash going across his chest, his tanned skinned glistened with sweat, and a kindness that reached his dark eyes.

“Lillith, this is me younger son, Malcolm,” Connan introduced.

***

Malcolm was astonished at the sight of her. That pale, heart-shaped face framed with luscious curls of chocolate brown. Full lips that looked so soft and pink he was certain they had never been kissed; and big, rounded ocean-blue eyes that mirrored the same look of shock and attraction that lingered in his own eyes.

How in the Hell did a brat like Aindreann deserve a bonnie lass like that?

Malcolm did his best to keep himself composed, bowing his head in a welcome to Lillith, “Welcome to Aeredale.”

“Thank ye, Malcolm.”

Oh, he liked the way his name sounded coming from those lips. Connan, Leo, Aindreann, and Charles began a long-winded conversation about something that Malcolm honestly could not even pretend to care about. Politics and business. Something like that, the conversation fleeting and ever shifting—leaving Malcolm in the dust.

Instead of his usual level of attentiveness, Malcolm was distracted with trying to find a balance of how much he could look at Lillith without actually staring at her. His heart leapt into his throat every so often when their eyes would meet.

Could it be she was feeling the same thing?

Malcolm had never been a man of romance. It was his brother that chased after women and had since they were wee lads. Malcolm, on the other hand, had been too busy playing soldier until it was his time to train to be one. Sure, he had fancied a girl or two in his younger days, but nothing like he was feeling in that moment. It made him feel foolish and crazy. Was it even possible to be so genuinely attracted to a person with just having met them?

“Malcolm here is our greatest warrior,” his father bragged to Leo.

“Is that so?”

Connan nodded, smiling fondly at his son, “He is the bravery of Scotland. Led many men into battle when the English invaded last year. They only lost one man under his leadership. Poor English cannae say the same.”

Leo eyed Malcolm with skepticism then, as if sizing him up. “Well, I’m sure Lillith will be safe during her time here then.”

“I will be the one to keep her safe,” Aindreann interrupted, his tone nothing more than matter-of-fact. He wanted to make the point that Lillith was his. There was a prolonged silence, as though everyone in the room anticipated him to elaborate. He didn’t. It was typical of his brother. Aindreann was not the warmest of lads; and if he was, he wanted something from you.

“Aindreann, did ye forget what we spoke of earlier?” Connan questioned his son, his voice warning and annoyed. Nothing more had to be said for his sons to understand he would not tolerate competition at the table. “Leo, would it be all right with ye if I enlisted Malcolm to watch over Lillith on the morrow? I ken ye may find the timing strange, but a letter came earlier in the day, requesting that I handle a squabble between some sharecroppers. I would like to take Aindreann along to show him how it’s done. After all, I’m nae getting any younger.”

Malcolm beamed at the thought. He was actually going to get to spend time with her? “Well, if Lillith is all right with it—” Leo answered.

All eyes were then on Lillith. Malcolm’s heart pounded loudly in his ears, giving him worry he would miss her answer. It was the moment of truth, of absolution. Did she feel something too? Or would she reject him, forcing Malcolm to go in Aindreann’s stead? He held onto hope as her nervous eyes shifted to him, his breath catching in his throat as her sweet lips parted to give her answer.


Chapter Three


The Courtyard


After the feast, the rest of the evening had dragged along. Everyone decided for her that it was best if she get some much needed rest for the remainder of the evening. She was in her new chambers before sunset. Lillith sat by the window, staring up at the pink and orange sky, wondering if this was where she actually belonged, so far away from her home in Sutherlainn.

So far, her only glimmer of hope was within Malcolm. A thought which wreaked havoc on her nerves. Why was it just her luck that she be so attracted to the brother of her betrothed? She was certain that if Leo found out, he would have much to say about her “obvious defiance”.

Maybe he was right, but what she felt for Malcolm seemed real.

There was a quick knock at the door before it pushed open just a bit. A redheaded woman poked her head in, “Me Lady Jamieson, would it be all right for me to come in?”

“Aye,” Lillith answered, turning to face her.

The woman entered, appearing to be around Lillith’s age, perhaps a couple years older. She carried in a stack of clothes. “I figured ye could use something more comfortable to sleep in, so I brought ye a night gown.”

“Thank ye, but I packed a bag.”

“Oh, I see,” the woman said, noticing the luggage at the foot of the bed. “Of course, ye did. I’m sorry to disturb ye.”

“Nay,” Lillith blurted, wanting to catch her before she left. She could use some conversation from someone that wasn’t a man in charge of her life. When was the last time she had that? “It was sweet of ye to think of me. What’s yer name?”

The woman beamed and paced forward, bowing in respect. “Violet Frasier. I’m the wife of Charles, one of Malcolm’s good friends. It’s a pleasure to meet ye, Miss.”

“The pleasure belongs to me,” Lillith smiled. “Why daenae ye stay a while? I could use a good chat.”

Violet’s eyes nervously shot toward the door before she nodded. “‘Course, me Lady Jamieson.”

“Please, call me Lillith.”

Violet sat on the chaise at the foot of the bed, folding her hands in her lap. “Very well then. Is there something on yer mind, Lillith?”

She chewed her lip nervously, not wanting to get ahead of herself and trust someone she should not. Violet appeared to be a mild-mannered and thoughtful woman, but she was still a stranger to Lillith. How was she supposed to unload all of her worries and anxieties on this poor woman? From the suspicions of her father being murdered, to her attraction to the wrong McCormack, it would be too much for even a trusted friend to handle.

Lillith dug around her mind, desperate for a reasonable question to ask. “What’s it like here at Aeredale? I mean, what’s it really like? I’m nae quite sold, if I am honest.”

“Nae sold on living in a Castle? Who has ever heard such a thing?” Violet questioned, but there was a teasing tone to her voice. Lillith smiled. “Aye, with all things in life there’s the good and the bad. The good being the delicious food and wonderful servants. Connan is also a very reasonable Laird. He has a temper to him, but I daenae believe I’ve ever seen him direct it at a woman. It’s mostly at his sons and the council.”

“The poor lads,” Lillith frowned—though the sympathy was only for Malcolm. “And what’s the bad?”

Violet shuffled uncomfortably. “I believe that is up to interpretation, Miss. What I may nae like ye might nae think twice on.”

“Then share it,” Lillith urged. “I promise I won’t tell a soul. I only need to ken what I’m getting meself into.”

There was a silence then, both waiting for the other to speak. Lillith waited for Violet’s answer, and Violet held out hope that Lillith would drop the question. When Lillith didn’t back down, Violet let out a sigh, “It’s a man’s world in here, Lillith. Nae only is Connan’s word law, but his son’s as well, and any other man ye find yerself at the command of.”

Lillith huffed and rested her chin in her hand, “So it’s just the same as Sutherlainn, only I have a bigger bed and giant stone walls to keep me trapped inside.”

“Sorry, Miss.”

After a moment of sulking, Lillith pressed forward. “Do ye mind telling me what Aindreann is like? He does not seem…agreeable so far.”

Violet chuckled lightly, “I think that’s the kindest anyone has ever put it. He’s a man of his own accord. A bit rough around the edges, perhaps. A little distant. A decent man, though. After all, he’s Connan’s son. The man is under a great deal of pressure, being the future Laird. If I’m honest, I daenae know him well. He is often off on business.”

That gave Lillith some relief, thinking to herself even if she is subjected to a life with Aindreann, then at least maybe she would not have to spend too much time with him. What an awful thing to hope about her future husband. Lillith smoothed her skirt, trying to appear casual as she approached her next question, “And what of Malcolm? He is to watch after me on the morrow.”

Violet lit up at the mention of Malcolm. “Malcolm is a wonderful lad. Very kind and earnest while packing such a punch I think he could take Connan out if the occasion arose.”

The women sat in her room for quite some time, gossiping and swapping stories. Already, Lillith was very fond of her new friend. Violet was just what Lillith needed to find solace in her stay there at Aeredale. For even if Lillith ended up finding Aindreann so repulsive that she would rather live in squalor than in a castle, at least she would have Violet’s friendship to look back fondly on.

For the first time in a week, Lillith slept relatively soundly; comforted by her new friendship and hope for the next day. A day spent with Malcolm McCormack.

***

Malcolm sent word to the servants to have Lillith meet him in the Great Hall when she was ready that following morning. He wore his traditional kilt, sash, and clan braiste. He found himself wondering if he should have worn trews instead, something he hadn’t ever considered before. Kilts were better for training and combat, offering better mobility. Why would he care to wear trews?

To look yer best for Lillith, a voice in the back of his mind chastised. What an idiotic thing to think. She is my brother’s betrothed. He did not need to impress her.

Footsteps approached and Malcolm pivoted to see Lillith and Violet nearing him. Once again, his breath was taken away by the sight of Lillith. She had her long hair plaited and wore a tartan gown and earasaid. Just as his faither had called him the Bravery of Scotland, Malcolm found himself thinking of Lillith as the Beauty of Scotland. The epitome of tradition and elegance, yet had this way about her that let him know she did not think so highly of herself; she likely found herself to be ordinary when she was the furthest thing from it.

“Mornin’, Lillith,” he greeted.

“Good morn, Malcolm.”

“I figured a good way to start yer day would be with a tour of the grounds.”

A pearly smile peeked from behind her rosy lips. “That sounds wonderful. Thank ye.”

Malcolm wished to offer her his arm, but wasn’t sure it would be appropriate. Why wouldn’t it be appropriate? He was certain her guardian would offer his arm to her when escorting her around. Why was he overthinking everything? His hesitation was enough for him not to offer his arm, and proceeded with walking through the halls. He couldn’t help but notice the physical distance between himself and Lillith. She kept her hands clasped in front of her and was at least two paces away from him. Was she having the same conflicting feelings he did?

He offered her the same history lessons of the paintings they passed that he had been told as a child. It was quite frankly a great deal of boring aristocratic nonsense to him, yet the information had still managed to wedge itself into the creases of his mind. Malcolm was on his best behavior, being formal and informative, not once deviating as they made their way down the first corridor.

However, when he glanced over and saw such a dull glaze coming over Lillith’s eyes, he offered up a small grin. “Would ye like to see the courtyard?”

She blinked rapidly, apparently miles away in thought.

Poor bonnie Lass, I’m sorry for boring you so. I daenae blame ye.

She mirrored his polite expression and nodded, “The courtyard sounds lovely.”

Pacing back up the hall, they walked through a door and directly into the courtyard, the center of the four main wings of the Castle. The expansive yard was filled with brilliant green grass and delicate floral trees and bushes.

My,” Lillith breathed as they walked along the stony path.

“Aye, this was my Maither’s project. Any time she wasn’t chasing Aindreann or myself ‘round, she spent her life here, deciding where each sapling was planted and each stone placed for the path.”

“She did a wonderful job,” Lillith breathed. “It’s gorgeous! The most impressive garden I’ve ever seen.”

Malcolm’s grin was reaching his ears at that point, his heart swelling at the praise of his mother spilling from Lillith’s lips. “I only wish she had been around long enough to enjoy it as it is now. Everything was just sprouts and buds last time she walked this path.”

“Oh,” Lillith breathed. There was a pause, though Malcolm knew what was coming next. He didn’t mind. “Might I ask what happened to her?”

“Aye, smallpox,” Malcolm sighed. “Aindreann and I weren’t allowed ‘round her for a month before she passed. In fact, Faither had us locked in a room and only one servant could come bring us food and water…children die from it more often and all. They thought she would pull through. God has a timing for us all, doesn’t He?”

“That he does,” Lillith nodded. “I lost me Maither to fever when I was about ten. She had fallen ill after chasing me out in the rain. Me Faither thought it was just a cough. She was dead just a week later.”

Malcolm’s heart ached for her, turning to her and squeezing her arm gently. “Lillith, I hope ye do not blame yerself for anything.”

Her eyes lingered on his hand on her arm before finally up to his face. “I used to. I’ve grown since then. I ken it was in God’s plan. I’m just still trying to figure out why.”

“Ye’ll drive yerself crazy trying to understand God’s command.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps I’m on the cusp of understanding where he has been leading me all along.”

They both stared at each other wide eyed, Lillith looking as shocked as him at her words.

Is she actually flirting with me?

Malcolm longed to ask or to better yet, close that distance between them and put the attraction he felt to the real test. He stared at her for what felt like eternity, the rest of the world melting around them. Why did he feel so strongly for her? He hardly knew her? His body begged him to kiss her…

Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!

Want to read how the story ends?

Highlander's Mark of Destiny is live on Amazon now!

  • Oh my goodness. That was awesome. I LOVED IT! I can’t wait to learn the reason for the
    man at the gravesite and in her dreams. This is a definite MUST READ!

  • I enjoyed getting to know the characters and can hardly wait to see how their story unfolds! It was especially exciting to see the introduction of the cloaked man at the start to hint at the intrigue ahead!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    >