Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 4th 2017
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Rugged highlander Graeme has one thing on his mind—take a stand against the horrible Englishman Lattimer and he will be rewarded with enough money to be set for life. But when his reckless younger brothers take it one step too far and kidnaps a young woman on her way to see Lattimer, Graeme has to intervene. He cannot send the lady back without his kin getting in trouble. And when a damsel this beautiful is dropped into your lap, it’s hard to let her go...
Marjorie should be terrified she’s been captured by highland scoundrels, but it’s hard to live in terror when your captor is a devilishly handsome and sinfully tempting as Graeme is. She cannot stay by his side forever—no matter how her heart may pound at the thought—but Graeme seems to have other plans. This wicked highlander is out to seduce her and doesn’t plan to stop until she’s in his arms...forever...
Graeme, Viscount Maxton, stripped off his heavy work gloves as he strode up the hill toward the house. “Calm yerself, Connell,” he urged, “before ye split the seat of yer trousers.”
His youngest brother continued circling and leaping about like a pine marten after a mouse. “But it’s the Maxwell!” the eight-year-old exclaimed, grabbing one of Graeme’s hands to pull him along. “Ye said after last year he’d nae darken our doorway again, but there he is, himself! The Duke of Dunncraigh! And two grand coaches!”
Two coaches? That didn’t bode well. Eight, nine men plus the coach drivers, all of them following after the dinner scraps of the chief of clan Maxwell. “Where are yer brothers?” Graeme asked, sending a glance across the field. Old Dunham Moore stood hip-deep in the irrigation ditch digging out an old tree limb, but other than that the field and green slopes beyond stood empty. Even the crows had flown elsewhere to search for a meal.
“Brendan says he’s making a fishing lure,” the eight-year-old offered, “but I ken he’s writing a love poem to Isobel Allen or Keavy Fox because he locked his door.”
Locked in a bedchamber was good, whatever the actual reason for it. “And Dùghlas?”
“He’s the one who sent me oot to find ye, Graeme. I heard the Maxwell say he was growing into a fine young lad.”
Graeme tightened his grip on Connell’s hand, drawing him to a halt. “I ken ye’re excited, duckling, but I need ye to go help old Dunham in the ditch right now. And I need ye to stay there until I or one of the lads come and fetch ye.”
The boy’s light blue eyes narrowed, then widened. Swallowing, he swiped his too long brown hair from his face. “I can go fetch Uncle Raibeart,” he offered, his young voice quavering a little. “I’m nae tired at all.”
The offer tempted Graeme. If it had been one of the older boys, he might have agreed to it. But under no circumstances did he mean to send Connell running two miles across the countryside while the Duke of Dunncraigh’s brutes wandered about. “I dunnae think we’ll need Raibeart,” he returned, “but I do need ye close enough to hear trouble and far enough to stay oot of it. One of us has to be ready to run fer help.”
Connell nodded, swallowing again. “I’ll be ready.”
Smacking the boy on the arse to speed him on his way, Graeme topped the hill. He knew by heart every inch of this land, of the white and gray walls of Garaidh nan Leòmhann, but the two heavy coaches and accompanying quartet of saddled mounts crowded on the front drive were new. His groom, Johnny, was nowhere in sight to collect or even water the animals, which hopefully meant the stay would be brief.
As he reached the front door it remained closed; either Cowen was occupied elsewhere, or the butler was in hiding. Graeme lowered the handle and shoved the heavy, stubborn oak open with his shoulder.
“So ye decided to make an appearance after all,” a low voice drawled from the morning room doorway. “I dunnae ken if that makes ye brave, or stupid.”
“A bit of both, I reckon. I see ye still dress English,” Graeme returned, debating whether to push past the Maxwell’s nephew or wait for an invitation. “Good fer ye, Artur. I thought after the duke’s dealings with Lattimer, he might have ordered ye to stop wearing Sassenach clothes.”
Artur Maxwell squared his shoulders. “That’s fairly bold talk, Maxton. I dare ye to repeat it in there.” Shifting out of the way, he indicated the depths of the morning room.
Keeping his own expression neutral and his work gloves clenched in his left hand, Graeme walked into the room. “Yer Grace,” he said, inclining his head.
As the Duke of Dunncraigh turned from gazing out the front window, Graeme took a swift measure of everyone else in the room. His younger brother Dùghlas sent him a relieved look, which told him the fourteen-year-old at least had the sense to know that the Maxwell’s visit here rarely boded anything but trouble.
He knew all but one of the other men crowded into the small room. Five of the Maxwell’s bruisers, all related to the duke in one way or another and ready to bloody, shoot, or set fire to anything their master looked at sideways. The other one had the same look about him, and Graeme shifted his attention back to the duke and the stiff-spined other man who stood close by the Maxwell—no doubt ready to wipe Dunncraigh’s arse if asked to do so.
“Ye took yer time getting here,” the duke stated, his green eyes flat and emotionless beneath a shock of white hair.
“I was moving a plow and the handle cracked,” Graeme returned, stepping over to tousle his younger brother’s brown mop of hair and shove the lad toward the door. “Ye owe me some arithmetic, as I recall,” he said for good measure. Once his brothers were out of immediate danger, he would deal with what seemed to be a hostile visit—another hostile visit—from his clan chief.
“Ye’re plowing yer own fields now, are ye, Maxton?” the Maxwell’s arse-wiper drawled. “Do ye milk the cows and cut the peat yerself, as well?”
Graeme kept his gaze on the steely-eyed duke. “I reckon ye brought Sir Hamish with ye as yer jester, but as we both ken we arenae friends, so I’d prefer if ye’d forgo the theatrics and tell me what’s brought ye oot here.”
Sir Hamish Paulk’s heavy face folded into a scowl. “That’s bold talk fer a chieftain who cannae pay his own tithing, ye damned—”
“Considering ye just lost the tithes and loyalty of all the tenants of the Duke of Lattimer’s ten thousand acres, I suggest ye nae go aboot insulting yer remaining clansmen, Yer Grace,” Graeme cut in. “Or allowing yer other chieftains to do so.”
“Sir Hamish doesnae have my patience,” Dunncraigh returned. “I find myself more curious over what else ye think ye ken aboot the goings-on at Lattimer. I’d have thought ye had enough of yer own worries, what with three younger brothers and a large patch of poorly protected land of yer own.” The Maxwell moved closer. “I reckon it’s helpful that ye do know an English duke has taken our ancestral land and turned a good handful of our own against us.”
That wasn’t all Graeme had heard, but repeating rumors about the Maxwell failing to purchase Lattimer and then resorting to sabotage and threats in an attempt to turn the tenants against their lord—which efforts hadn’t turned out at all well for Dunncraigh—seemed a very poor idea at the moment. “And why is that?” he settled for asking.
“Because I’m feeling a particular dislike for Gabriel Forrester, the damned Duke of Lattimer, and I’m inclined to feel a particular generosity toward any of my clan who might … discover anything useful against him. Or who might cause Lattimer a measure of consternation. Do ye ken what I’m saying, Graeme?”
“Aye. And I’ve nae liking fer any Sassenach. But I reckon I’m content to keep to my own affairs.”
The duke nodded. “Yer land borders his, so I ken ye wish to be neighborly. All I’m saying is that if ye should happen to have or overhear any dealings with Lattimer that someone might be able to turn against him, and if ye tell me of them, ye might find yer herds have increased and that any tithes ye might owe have been forgotten. If someaught unfortunate befell the duke himself, well, I’d nae mourn his loss.”
He clapped Graeme on the shoulder. Making a supreme effort not to level his clan chief with a punch to the jaw, Graeme took a moment to wonder if anyone serving clan Maxwell under Dunncraigh’s leadership actually liked the man. For him, even beneath the dizzying barrage of faux fatherly advice and barely veiled threats, the duke was to be tolerated, placated when possible, and obeyed when necessary—and otherwise ignored.
Dunncraigh and his sychophants stomped back out to their coaches and mounts, and he followed them outside to make certain no one lingered. One of the luckier things about owning a rundown manor and a property of a mere thousand acres was that the likes of a duke, especially one who happened to be the head of clan Maxwell, had no wish to remain under his roof for long.
“Ye’d best do as he asks, Maxton,” Sir Hamish said, watching as the duke settled into the lead coach.
“So ye’re giving me helpful advice now, are ye, Paulk? I reckon I’ll give that all the consideration it deserves.”
“If ye sell off any more land ye’ll barely qualify as gentry, Maxton. So take the advice given ye and smile while ye hear it. With but two hundred cotters ye’re already underqualified to be a clan chieftain. Make yerself useful, earn yerself some blunt and some gratitude, or he may decide ye’re of nae use at all.”
“Do ye recommend I follow yer strategy? Stay so close to Dunncraigh’s arse that he thinks ye a pimple?”
“Go to the devil, ye useless sack of shite. Ye’re the same as yer father and yer grandfather, stubborn fools. There are consequences fer failing yer betters. With yer brothers to look after, ye’d best remember th—”
“Hamish,” the duke called. “I’ve nae wish to remain here till Christmas.”
The other Maxwell chieftain present held Graeme’s gaze, clearly meaning to intimidate. Not bloody likely. Graeme tilted his head, then took a quick half step forward. When Paulk flinched back, he curved his mouth in a smile he didn’t feel. “It’ll take more than yer beady eyes glaring at me to give me a fright,” he murmured. “Now run off, dog. Yer master’s calling ye.”
“He’s yer master, too. Ye’d best realize that before he decides the wee bit ye contribute isnae worth the aggravation ye cause.” With that, Sir Hamish turned on his heel and stepped up into the coach.
Copyright © 2017 by Suzanne Enoch and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
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