A Christmas Kiss for the Highlander
Heart of a Scot Novella
He’s a prisoner of his past until she offers him freedom and a future…but can he pay the price?
A man who scorns heritage and kin…
Haunted by a vile family secret, Highlander Quinn Catherwood leads a dangerous, covert life. Until he encountered the vivacious and captivating Skye Hendron, he’d never considered marriage. Now, however, he’s contemplating accepting his inheritance and putting aside his wanderlust ways. Except…his best friend is Skye’s guardian, and because of Quinn’s shadowy past, he forbids him to court her.
A woman who cherishes family and traditions…
Sent to the Highlands to live with her Scottish cousins, Englishwoman Skye Hendron is completely out of her element. Homesick and lonely, she doesn’t understand Scottish customs, especially why they don’t celebrate Christmastide—her favorite time of the year. When a frequent house guest of her guardian’s arrives for an extended visit, she cannot deny the dashing and mysterious Quinn Catherwood makes her heart flutter in a most unmaidenly way.
A Highland holiday house party…
Skye persuades her guardian to host a Christmastide and Twelfth Night gathering. She has less than a month to convince him to allow Quinn to ask for her hand in marriage. Quinn fears his secrets are too dark to overcome, and even the legendary magic of Christmas can’t grant him his dearest wish…to make Skye his bride.
This charming Scottish will immerse you in the Christmas spirit and holiday traditions of times-gone-by. You won’t be able to flip the pages fast enough to find out what happens to Quinn and Skye. Can the magic of Christmas lead to their happily-ever-after?
If you enjoy reading Highlander love stories brimming with mystery, a dash of humor, and gripping emotion then you’ll adore Collette Cameron’s entertaining HEART OF A SCOT series. Buy A CHRISTMAS KISS FOR THE HIGHLANDER and settle into your favorite reading nook with a cup of chocolate and a Christmas cookie for a rousing Highland holiday romance you can’t put down.
Though this book can easily be read as a stand-alone, most readers prefer to read the series in order.
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Chapter One Excerpt
Eytone Hall, Scottish Highlands
Cantering his horse up the well-maintained drive to Eytone Hall, Quinn felt the tension easing from his muscles. It had always been like this when he visited Liam MacKay, Baron Penderhaven, one of the few men he called a true friend. One of the very few people he trusted. The doors to Eytone Hall were open to him whenever he decided to drop in for an unannounced visit, and today would be no exception.
He called no place home, preferring the freedom to come and go at will. But if he had, Eytone Hall came the closest. In fact, Liam’s mother, Lady Penderhaven, made certain his usual chamber was always prepared, his clothes inside the wardrobe, clean.
“Thank ye.” Handing Benedict’s reins off to the liveried footman who’d hurried from the grand mansion to attend the gelding, Quinn skewed his mouth into a grin. It truly was good to be here.
He untied his pack from the saddle while sending his gaze around the familiar courtyard and lands. Creamy, shorn sheep dotted one sloping hillside, and reddish-brown Highland cows milled about on another.
Even he could admit there was something enjoyable about the familiarity and comfort of returning to a place where he’d known a degree of contentment and peace. Contentment? Peace? That was a stretch, and neither were things he’d particularly coveted.
Nevertheless, if he didn’t relish his freedom so much, he might envy Liam MacKay. Slinging his pack over one shoulder, he drew his mouth into a grim line. No, he didn’t. Liam had been through bloody hell these past few years.
“Simmons.” He nodded to the austere butler poised beside the mansion’s double doors. “Ye’re lookin’ well.”
Simmons angled his hoary head. “As are ye, Mr. Catherwood.” He closed the doors then reached for Quinn’s satchel. “I’ll have yer bag delivered to yer usual chamber.”
“Thank ye. Is Liam at home?” More than once, Quinn had arrived to find Liam absent, not that he wasn’t still made wholly welcome by Lady Penderhaven and her daughter, Kendra. He’d known that minx since she’d worn braids, and she was still inevitably embroiled in some sort of mischief or other.
“Nae, he isna, though he is expected back any day.” He passed Quinn’s pack to the footman before angling toward the corridor. “Will ye join her ladyship for tea at half-past three?”
Quinn would rather lick the marble floor than perch on a settee and exchange trivial comments, but he summoned a droll smile nevertheless. He was capable of acting the part of a gentleman. After all, he’d been raised as such even if he’d chosen to leave that life behind a decade ago.
What time was it, anyway?
His pocket watch had been rather smashed on his last mission, and he hadn’t replaced the timepiece yet. He didn’t relish cooling his heels in the salon for an hour or two, waiting for the lady of the house’s arrival when he could traipse about outside or enjoy a long relaxing soak in the tub while sipping a glass of Liam’s superior cognac.
“Lead on, good fellow. I shall endeavor to appear civilized.” He clasped a palm to his chest. “I promise no’ to slurp my tea or chew with my mouth open.”
He might talk with his mouth full, though.
One of Simmons’ wiry eyebrows shied upward the merest bit. Ah, that’s right. The butler didn’t possess a sense of humor.
No one in Baron Penderhaven’s household had ever accused Quinn of being ungentlemanly or, for that matter, of being a gentleman. He skirted the bounds of propriety, not quite drifting so far astray as to be ostracized, but never teetering over the edge into complete respectability either.
“Might I suggest ye freshen up first?” Nothing subtle about that or the butler’s slightly flared nostrils.
Quinn was quite covered in dust, and he stank of sweat and horse.
“Indeed. An excellent notion.” He swiveled toward the impressive staircase instead.
Twenty minutes later, he tripped back down the risers, having made do with the washstand water after examining the night table clock and finding it three-quarters past two. Just his blasted luck, he’d also nicked himself shaving in his haste. Putting a fingertip to the still-stinging cut, he checked for fresh blood.
Wouldn’t do to bleed all over his starched neckcloth. He only had three here.
He passed the impressive library and had nearly gone beyond the drawing room when movement inside the open doorway caught his attention. Scrunching his brows together into a puzzled frown, he halted.
Hadn’t Simmons said tea was to be served in the rose salon?
No, although that was where her ladyship generally preferred to take her tea, the butler hadn’t specified where earlier. Mayhap things had changed since Quinn last visited. After all, it had been over six months. He pivoted and, touching his cut again, strode into the room.
A startlingly exquisite woman with glorious, pale, honey-colored hair piled atop her head, and attired in a white and robin’s egg blue gown, whirled away from the window. Her incredibly blue eyes widened, and she put a delicate hand to her throat where a single row of creamy pearls rested.
A long, intense minute stretched out, lengthening into something extraordinary and potent as they stared at each other, neither seeming able to break the inexplicable and immediate powerful connection which thrummed between them.
Good God. He almost expected choruses of Hallelujah and the harmony of violin strings to fill the sweetly tense atmosphere.
Finally, somehow marshaling his composure, he swept into a gallant’s bow. Not usually at a loss for words or one to falter when faced with something unexpected—after all, his line of work tossed him in the middle of the perilous and unforeseen on a daily basis—he commanded his galloping pulse to return to its normal pace.
Opening his mouth, he found every drop of moisture had vanished. He cleared his throat then swallowed. Blast, he was behaving more ineptly than a wet-behind-the-ears pup.
She remained statue-still, much like a wary doe prepared to flee if he moved suddenly.
“Please permit me to introduce myself. Quinn Catherwood, yer most humble servant, my lady.” He found himself standing over her, not consciously recalling having moved across the carpet. The top of her shiny head reached his shoulder.
He envisioned leading her in a dance, or wrapping his arms about her delicate shoulders, or resting his cheek on the crown of her head. Yes, to all of that and more.
The girl was impossibly more perfect up close, her skin milky and smooth as silk. Navy blue-ringed her light azure irises framed by golden, winged brows. A delicate floral and citrus scent wafted upward from her sleek hair, and he inhaled her heady fragrance.
She was…Odin’s teeth. She was—God help him—an answer to a prayer he hadn’t even known he’d desired. And she must be his. His.
Gazing up at him, her peach-tinted lips slightly parted, she seemed as transfixed as he. As if coming to her senses, she blinked and lowered her hand to her waist.
“I’m Skye Hendron, Baron Penderhaven’s cousin, visiting from England,” she said in a melodious, cultured tone. “I’m simply a miss, not a lady.”
Very proper and English, but not the least stuffy or superior. Her voice held an unexpected husky quality that immediately sent his senses into a spin once more.
“I’m most pleased I decided to pay my auld friend a visit.” Quinn couldn’t drag his focus from her exquisite features or the lively intelligence dancing in her now amused gaze.
His pulse leaped again. An extended stay might be in order. No, most definitely was in order. “Will ye be here long?”
God and all the saints, please say aye.
A slight shadow passed over her features, tipping her lovely mouth downward as she directed her focus to the window behind him. “Truthfully, I’m not sure. My father has fallen ill, and my mother sent me to Eytone Hall while she tends him. I pray ’tis nothing serious.” As if as an afterthought, she arced her hand gracefully. “Aunt Louisa is my mother’s sister.”
At her obvious distress, a strange coiling began in Quinn’s middle, spreading outward until it tangled around his heart. How could he want to gather this woman in his arms and promise her she could rely upon him for…what?
Comfort? Protection? Security?
Aye. Aye, and much more.
Something he’d never considered until this very instant, but so wondrous, he’d be an absolute idiot not to pursue whatever this was.
“I’m sorry, lass. I’m sure ye’d rather be with them than here no’ kennin’ what is happenin’.” He tipped his mouth into a compassionate arc. “It must weigh heavily on ye. Have ye any brothers or sisters?”
She pulled her vibrant gaze back, surprise and appreciation for his understanding shining in her eyes. “It does, and no. I am an only child.”
So was he.
“Quinn. Ye must call me Quinn, please. I would deem it the greatest honor.”
Taking her soft hand in his, he cupped it reverently. How he wanted to hear his name on her lips. He didn’t know what had come over him and, in truth, he didn’t give a ragman’s scorn. Something had clicked the instant he laid eyes upon her, and he knew as well as he knew his name that his life had inexplicably veered down a heretofore unexplored path.
It was terrifying. And exhilarating. And marvelous.
His request for her to address him by his given name lay completely outside the bounds of propriety and, yet, she made no attempt to remove her hand from his. In fact, she cupped his palm back, her pale fingers in stark relief against his sun-browned skin. Her dainty, fine-boned hand nested inside his as if sculpted to fit there.
“And it would please me if you’d call me Skye,” she said, a touch of color high on her cheekbones.
A secret thrill tunneled through him. She was bold in the sweetest way possible.
Eyes guileless and the merest bit curious, she curved her mouth upward. “Quinn, I know this may sound strange, and please believe me when I tell you I am not usually so forward, but I feel as if I’ve known you my entire life. That we aren’t strangers meeting for the first time at all.”
Yes, he knew exactly what she felt because the same sensation sluiced through him.
She gave a self-conscious chuckle, and her lush lashes fanned against her porcelain skin for the space of a blink before she met his gaze again. A hint of becoming color tinged her sloping cheeks. “’Tis silly, I know.”
“Nae, no’ silly, Skye.” He stepped nearer, drawing her close and then tipped her chin upward with one finger. “I ken exactly what ye mean, for though I canna explain it, I feel precisely the same way.”
“You do?” she whispered, her breath sweet and smelling of strawberries.
“Aye, lass,” he murmured before brushing his lips across the velvety softness of her fingers. “I feel like I’ve come home at last.”