Authors: Tencia Winters,Serena Vale
The Highlander’s Surrender Bride
“I am Abigail Cecilia Dubois Castlerey, and I am here to marry the Black Lord.”
Of course, she never meant to blurt out a proposal like that, well, honestly Abigail hadn’t meant to propose at all. She was perfectly content to spend her days as a spinster firmly on the shelf as they said in London. But Scotland has different rules altogether and when she’s betrothed to the notorious Black Lord of Scotland as a girl too young to understand, she takes it as a blessing as she gets older and still receives no word from him.
That all changes after her father’s death leaves her all alone in the world, with the exception of her dastardly uncle. Thick in gambling debts he concocts a scheme to offer her hand in marriage to an equally despicable man in exchange for forgiveness of the money he owes. Upon learning of this, Abigail decides to take her life into her own hands and make good on the marriage arranged between her and
aka the Black Lord. She soon discovers that his reputation doesn’t live up to the man he really is but that doesn’t mean her heart is safe, actually, just the opposite.
Copyright 2015 by Tencia Winters - All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents
Abigail Castlerey patted Chestnut as the dun mare plodded slowly up the winding, rocky path. She looked around the wild landscape and tried to fight back the sharp stab of fear that threatened to cut through her. Lord, she hoped she was doing the right thing. But what other options were left to her?
She unclenched her fist just enough to see the words spelled out in her uncle’s scrawling handwriting. The piece of parchment was stained with wine and whatever food he’d been eating at the time. Honestly, she was surprised he’d penned it himself. Usually, he thought he was above such menial tasks, but she supposed he didn’t want anyone hearing the terrible words written there.
For years her uncle Travis DuBois Castlerey had harbored an insane jealousy at her father’s wealth and success. His brother had never understood that it was hard work and fair business, not some whim of fate, that had made her father successful, and had eventually earned him a title and a piece of land in one of the most fertile foothills of Scotland.
They had made a more than comfortable life for themselves, and the township they provided for, her father, the new Earl of Castlerey and his only daughter. Her mother had died of an illness when she was just a child but they had always had each other. Grief struck her, as it always did when she thought of her father. He had been a great man, and the six months since his death had been pure hell for Abigail. She was the last remaining heir.
Abigail closed her eyes, trusting that her horse would make her way with a sure footing along the uneven path. She didn’t need to look at the letter to know what it had written on it. There terrible words were branded onto her memory and she doubted she would ever forget them. He was coming. Her uncle was coming to take everything her father had built and to marry her off to some horrible duke that she’d had the misfortune of meeting once, and that was more than enough for her.
The worst thing was, despite being the last surviving heir, that was nothing she could do about. Except the one secret he didn’t know. As part of the contract for receiving the land and the manor, and even the title itself, she had agreed to an arranged marriage between herself and a neighboring Scottish lord when she came of age. That time had come and past and now at almost twenty one she was well past the age she should have married. Her father had never pushed her, however, and she had never brought it up, content to stay in her position of lady of the manor and steward of the estate after her father had taken ill a few years before.
But now her uncle had forced her hand. He was coming to steal away everything she had ever loved, and at the same time condemn her to a life basically as a prisoner to a man she detested. Abigail clenched her fist again as the familiar anger suffused her body. Chestnut nickered softly, dancing slightly beneath her as the mare sensed her mistresses temper rise.
Abigail patted her softly, calming the horse as they continued on their journey. It was just a half day’s ride from Castlerey manor to her destination. The home of the man she had been betrothed to since a little girl, but had never met. All she had to go by was his reputation and it was blacker than sin. Lord Aryen MacCalium was known across the Scottish countryside as the devil himself and she desperately hoped that his reputation was just that, rumor and hearsay.
She sighed, staring at the beautiful landscape, wild and untamed. So much like the man she was riding to meet. Riding to marry. She knew her only option was to force his hand and make sure the ceremony was performed right away, so that there was no chance her uncle could go through with his dastardly plan.
Apparently, according to the note, her uncle had incurred some very hefty gambling debts whilst in London. The man to whom he owed these debts was an incredibly powerful and influential man, and absolutely horrible. Her uncle, completely broke and facing debtor’s prison had been overjoyed to hear of his brother’s demise because it meant he could pay off a portion of his debt, but even the annual earnings from the manor wouldn’t be enough. So, in a desperate and despicable ploy, her dear uncle Travis had offered her as payment. Her hand in marriage in return for a forgiveness of the debt owed. He had agreed.
The idea made her so furious all over again that she didn’t even notice when MacCalium castle rose above the nearest rolling hill, reaching into the clear blue sky in its grandeur. Her breath caught as she finally realized just how close she was to the biggest risk she’d ever taken in her entire sheltered life. Lord, she really did hope she was doing the right thing. Because there was no turning back now.
Fighting back the fear trying to drag her under, Abigail straightened her spine and kicked Chestnut into a quick gallop, desperately trying not to focus on anything at all, especially not the massive stone structure getting ever closer. There was a heavy nausea laying across her stomach and she felt like she couldn’t breath, but she knew in the end she really had no choice. The man they called the Black Lord was her only hope, the devil her only salvation.
Frantically, she leaped off of the horses back completely ignoring the damage done to the hem of her scarlet red dress. It was her favorite one, and now one of her only ones as she’d been forced to flee only with the things she could carry in the small chest strapped to the back of Chestnut’s saddle.
Abigail tried hard to breath, to stay calm, to stay focused on putting one foot in front of that other. That’s it. Now, slowly raise your arm and grasp the knocker shaped like a lion. Good. Now knock on the door. Wonderful. She took a dizzying step back just as the door was flung open. Abigail squinted as her vision tunneled. How odd. She raised one shaky arm and pointed at the muscular chest in front of her.
“I am Abigail Cecilia Dubois Castlerey, and I am here to marry the Black Lord.” She just had time to slur the words out before she crumbled to ground in a dead faint. Luckily for her, there was a set of strong arms to catch her.
Aryen MacCalium stood there for a long moment looking down at the little slip of a woman who had just proposed, nay demanded, marriage to him. He shook his head in utter bafflement. So this was Abigail Castlerey, the girl his father had promised him to over a decade ago. He had been barely eleven years old at the time, and thought nothing of it. Of course, over the fifteen years that had passed since then he had given quite a bit more thoughts, but even now at twenty six it seemed like more a fairy tale to him than anything else. He had never even met the lass before now.
And he still hadn’t really. She’d just sort of yelled that she was here to marry him and then fainted before he could get a word in. Black Lord, she had called him. Aye, he had earned the name, if not for the reasons most people thought, but it still made him cringe, especially when uttered from such gorgeous lips as these.
He stole the moment to look at her, drinking in her beauty and sweetness. She was the total opposite of what he’d pictured. The few English ladies he’d met had all been pale haired and paler spirited. The perfect gentlewomen. How boring. It was part of the reason why he had put off following through with the arrangement for so long, besides the fact that he’d had no real intention with going through with it.
Her dark brown hair hung in heavy waves that draped over his arm where it had come undone from the pins. Her skin was sweet peaches and cream and had his mouth watering for a taste, her lips pure and unadulterated sin. They were closed now, but when he’d first opened the door, expecting one of his men, he’d been struck by her wide, grey eyes. Like a storm falling over the Scottish moors. They had trapped him, entranced him.
As he began walking through the front room and down a back stairway to avoid unwanted eyes, Aryen couldn’t help but feel her sweet curves pressed against him under the deep red fabric of her dress. He noticed how travel worn it was and wondered what had brought her so far with nothing but her horse. He knew Castlerey manor was several miles off, and not the easiest of rides. Her clothing could attest to that.
He would have to get someone to take care of the lass’s horse, he thought idly, trying to fill his thoughts with anything besides just how right she felt in his arms, cradled against his chest.
“My Lord! What are ye doing with that poor girl!” He froze as Mira’s voice washed over him. Mira Tomgunney, the steward and head maid of Castle MacCalium, and a stricter taskmistress he’d never met. Without her, they would all surely fall into ruin and he made as sure to let her know that every day as he did to try and avoid her.
“It’s…she’s…” Aryen stopped, cutting off his nonsensical words. “She is my fiancé.” He finally said, as calmly as he could, and immediately panic flooded his veins. Why in the bloody hell would he say that? Because it would the simple truth, he realized then, standing there and staring down at her. He may have denied it for the past fifteen years, but it had been there, she had been there, always a part of him.
“Oh, bless my soul! A fiancé! Who is she? Ach! What are you doing carryin’ around an unconscious fiancé, my laird?” Mira made it sound more like a nickname than a title of respect but he put up with it because, well, she didn’t give him much choice in the matter. Besides, it was hard to demand respect from the woman who changed him as a child and wasn’t afraid to throw him over her knee even after he was twice as tall as her if she thought he stepped out of line.
“She fainted. I was carrying her to my bedroom so she could rest and recuperate.” He said the words slowly, making sure to enunciating his words so he didn’t feel like such a complete fool in front of the the older woman.
“My stars, fainted! The poor dear. No doubt she took one look at your face and fell dead away.” Mira cackled as she put down the bucket of soapy water she had been carrying. “Follow me, my laird.”
Aryen stared after her for a long moment, just shaking his head. If people knew how he let his own staff treat him they would roll over laughing. More like yellow lord instead of black. He shook his head, and then did the only thing he could. Followed after her.
“Now, ya know ye can’t be having any unmarried girls in yer chambers, even if she is to be your bride. Let me just air out the blankets and you can put the poor girl in here.” No doubt poor because she was marrying him, he thought with a roll of his eyes.
It caught him by surprise all of a sudden, how easy it was to think of this woman as his wife. He stared down at her and felt a strange fire burning in his chest, something he’d never felt before. But rather than a conflagration, it was a comforting warmth that spread from his chest through his body in calm, soothing waves. Suddenly, he wished he knew what had brought her running to the Black Lord’s doorstep with marriage on her mind. It must be something terrible indeed, he thought with a sarcastic cynicism he couldn’t deny.
As he laid her down gently on the mattress Mira had just prepared, his thoughts churned madly. Could he do this? Could he really go through with it? Aryen thought again of all the unmarried daughters that had been thrown in his path by well meaning mothers, and some of the mothers themselves, truth be told. They either knew the truth about him, that he wasn’t the blackguard every one thought him to be, or didn’t care and wanted the title and wealth that would come with his name.
He couldn’t remember the amount of times he’d had to duck an unwanted advance, and some of those women would not take no for an answer. It had been a very trying year for him and he couldn’t wait for it to be over. And this would be the perfect thing to get the desperate attempts to trick him into marriage to stop. Because he already would be married.
The idea struck a chord in him, not just because it would solve his dilemma, but as he stared down at Abigail Cecelia DuBois Castlerey, he could picture himself married to her, getting to know and care for her, having children with her. It was all there in his mind, like their story had already been written in the stars and he was just discovering it for himself.
“What are ye doing mooning over the lass, sire. You have to let the girl rest.” Mira’s words were quickly followed with a shooing motion and he knew better than to argue with the old harridan.
“You’ll make sure she’s alright, Mira? Check in on her and such?” He waited for her nod of assent, that was accompanied by a look that told him he was idiot for having to ask. Aryen turned towards the door to walk out, but stopped again. “And you’ll let me know? When she’s awake, I mean?”
“Certainly, my laird. You’ll be the first person to know.” She smiled at him for a moment, before her normal harsh expression returned. “Now be gone! This is no place for a randy bachelor.”
Randy bachelor! He fumed to himself as he fled. He was her bloody fiancé!