Hannah and the Highlander

BOOK: Hannah and the Highlander
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This book is dedicated to Monique Patterson. Thank you for everything.

 

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My deepest appreciation to Barbara Wild for her copy-editing genius, to the St. Martin's Art Department for such a beautiful cover, and to Alexandra Sehulster for all her guidance.

My heartfelt appreciation to my fellow writers for their support along this journey. Especially Cherry Adair, Pam Binder, Sidney Bristol, Ann Charles, Cerise DeLand, Wendy Delaney, Delilah Devlin, Tina Donahue, Laurann Dohner, Sharon Hamilton, Mark Henry, Desiree Holt, Elle James, Jennifer Kacey, Gina Lamm, Delilah Marvelle, Rebecca Zanetti, and so many more.

And of course a shout-out to my amazing support team, Linda Bass, Crystal Benedict, Stephanie Berowski, Crystal Biby, Kris Bloom, Monica Britt, Kim Brown, Sandy Butler, Carmen Cook, Celeste Deveney, Tracey A. Diczban, Shelly Estes, Lisa Fox, Rhonda Jones, Denise Krauth, Barbara Kuhl, Angie Lane, Tina Leuthardt, Chris Lewis, Rose Lipscomb, Jodi Marinich, Loraine Oliver, Tracey Parker, Laurie Peterson, Iris Pross, Tina Reiter, Hollie Rieth, Pam Roberts, Regina Ross, Sandy Sheer, Kiki Sidira, Sheri Vidal, Sally Wagoner, Deb Watson, Veronica Westfall, and Michelle Wilson, as well as the shy ones, Christy, Elf, Fedora, Gaele, Lisa, Nita, and Pansy Petal.

To all my friends in the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America, Passionate Ink and Rose City Romance Writers groups, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, thank you for all your support and encouragement.

 

CHAPTER
ONE

May 1813

Barrogill, Caithness County, Scotland

She should look away. Really, she should. But Hannah Dounreay could not tear her gaze from the sight of the enormous man striding onto the field of combat like a warrior of old. It could have been the glorious fall of inky black curls riffling in the breeze, or the breadth of his shoulders, or the sharp cut of his chin … or the rippling muscles of his bare chest, swathed only with the Sinclair plaid. But something had captivated her attention.

He stood, tall and proud, bare legged in the traditional kilt, head and shoulders above the other men. He was even taller than her father and Papa was not a small man.

Hoots and hollers rose from the throng as he surveyed the pile of logs—taunts from his competitors, who, one and all, wanted to break his concentration. They did not. His biceps bunched as he braced his thick legs and hefted a caber. Hannah sucked in a breath at the undeniable evidence of the sheer power of this man. An unfamiliar flutter danced deep in her core.

It was a shame he was too far away for her to make out the details of his face.

His body stilled, his energy hummed, as he studied the clutter of tossed cabers and took his aim. The catcalls rose. He ignored them and heaved back. With a great growl, he let fly. The log wheeled through the air like an arrow, arcing past all the others to fall with an enormous thud that shook the earth. A plume of dust rose, along with the cheers of the crowd.

Though she wasn't a fan of male posturing and ridiculous, archaic games such as this, Hannah couldn't deny she was impressed. This man had easily trounced all the others.

Her father approached him and clapped him on the back in congratulations. Papa said something and the tall, striking man threw back his head and laughed.

Hannah's heart hitched. The sound was like music, rising above the cacophony of the fair-like atmosphere, dancing on the wind to her ears. He turned then, and she caught a glimpse of his face. Hard. Harsh. As craggy as the moors. But, lit with his grin, striking.

Ach.
She really should look away. But she couldn't.

“Husband shopping?”

Hannah whirled to frown at Susana. Heat prickled at her nape. First of all, because she'd been caught ogling. And second of all, she was tired of her sister's teasing about her reluctance to settle on a suitor.

Susana excelled at teasing.

And on the topic of suitors, there was much fodder.

“I have no idea what you mean.” Hannah tried not to speak in a defensive tone but failed.

Susana smirked. “He's a fine bonny lad. I couldna blame you for drooling.”

“I wasna drooling.” And he wasn't a lad. He was a man.

“Although he's hardly your … type.”

Hannah snorted. She had no “type.”

“I mean, look at him.” Too late. She already was. Again. That Susana was now ogling him as well sent an odd ripple of annoyance through her. “Tall. Powerful. Domineering. It's written on every line of his face.
That
is a man you could never control.”

“I doona need to control everything.” A mutter.

There was no call for Susana to laugh as she did. Uproariously. The sound captured the attention of every male on the field. But then, it would. Of the three Dounreay sisters, Susana was by far the prettiest, statuesque and curvy. Her hair, a riotous fall of red, was her crowning glory. Lana, the youngest, was very pretty too, with honey-blond curls and sweet, delicate features. They each took after their father, but as they had had different mothers, they were very unalike in looks and temperament.

Beside them, Hannah felt like the cuckoo in the nest. She'd inherited her mother's coloring of dark, black tresses and pale white skin. Her eyes were too large and her mouth had a crooked slant. She was hardly stunning.
Plain
was a better word for it. Aside from all that she was, well, plumpish. Perhaps it was a blessing that, as the eldest, she also came with the fertile strip of land and bustling fishing village.

Likely, without that she couldn't catch a husband at all. Certainly not the kind of husband she would want.

It was quite lowering to be desired only for one's orchards. Well, there was the castle too. And the loch. And the lucrative salt mining.

Though it was naïve in this day and age, and probably ludicrous given what she saw in the mirror, Hannah reviled the prospect of marrying a man who only wanted her land. Deep in her heart she longed for a man who might want her for
herself
.

And, if she had to marry, she wanted what Susana had had with Gilley.

But she was not Susana. She was naught but a pale shadow in comparison. She was hardly a woman to engender blind devotion. When she married, her husband would, no doubt, see her as chattel, as a broodmare. He would expect her to follow his orders rather than issuing her own.

She'd never been adept at following orders and she'd certainly never met a man to whom she would willingly surrender her freedoms. And a husband would expect that, she supposed. The thought made her shudder.

Hannah frowned and turned her attention back at the field, where other men were now stepping up to try their luck. She winced as her gaze tangled with
his
. Indeed, he'd been watching her with a scorching stare that was fierce and assessing, almost hungry. And Susana was right. As attractive as he was, he was not what Hannah was looking for in a husband. Not that she wanted a man she could control. Above all things, she craved a sweet and romantic man, one with whom she could share confidences, laughter, and late-night chats. A man with whom she could have a
connection
.

This man was a warrior. There was probably not a romantic bone in his body.

Still … that body. Heat blossomed on her cheeks at his frank survey and she yanked her attention to something else. Anything else.

Unfortunately, it landed on Niall Leveson-Gower, who was also staring at her. His attention made her uneasy. Then again, Niall always made her uneasy. He offered a toothy smile and she nodded in response but quickly looked away. She didn't want to encourage him. Niall was one of her suitors. His father, the Marquess of Stafford, had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to acquire Reay, a feat that could only be accomplished through marriage. To her.

Aside from the fact that she found Niall physically revolting, there was a greater peril to consider. The marquess had followed the example of the southern lairds and cleared his land, evicting his tenants to import sheep; should Reay fall into his hands, he would, no doubt, do the same there, destroying everything her family had built for generations.

She owed her people far too much to allow that to happen.

“Ooh,” Susana gusted. “Now
there
is a fine figure of a man.” She waggled her brows, which should have served as a warning.

Hannah glanced at the field just as Olrig waddled up to the caber toss. She grimaced. Another of her suitors, Olrig was as wide as he was tall, which she didn't mind as much as the fact that he tended to spray when he spoke. And then there was the farting.

It was unfortunate that Olrig bent over to survey the logs. The bright flash of twin fleshy moons nearly blinded her. “Good lord,” she murmured.

“Such a tempting target.” Susana fingered the bow draped over her shoulder; she was rarely without it.

“Nae doubt Olrig would object to an arrow in his hindquarters,” Hannah advised her sister.

“Do ya think?” Susana's green eyes sparkled, but then, they always did.

With something between a screech and a bellow, Olrig tossed his caber. It didn't go far, clattering into a pile of the others and rolling even farther back. He grumbled and kicked at a hummock, as though blaming the earth for his shortcomings.

“Just think. One day, all
that
could be yours.” Susana excelled at a dry tone.

But Hannah excelled at glares. She affected one. “I would rather marry a rutting pig.”

Susana's shoulder rose. “Same difference. But his lands, merged with yours, would make an enviable holding.”

True, but when it came to choosing a husband, a man's lands were her last concern. If she was going to bind herself to a man, give herself to a man, she wanted
something
in the bargain.
Love, passion
, a tiny voice within her whispered, but she silenced it. Love was a fool's dream. And passion? A hopeless hope.

BOOK: Hannah and the Highlander
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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