Passion and Plunder
Highland Heather Romancing A Scot Book 5
Knowing you can never be together, would you still sacrifice everything for the person you love?
A desperate Scottish lady Lydia Farnsworth—the sole surviving heir to the Laird of Tornbury Fortress—has lost nearly everyone she loves. Now her father lies on his deathbed. And as if this isn’t dire enough, he’s invited men from the surrounding area to a warrior’s contest—the winner to claim Lydia as his bride. Still grieving a lost love, Lydia wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage… Unless, perhaps, the groom is Alasdair McTavish.
Alasdair McTavish, son of Craiglocky Keep’s war chief, is a seasoned warrior in his own right. So when he’s sent to Tornbury to train the Farnsworth soldiers, he’s more than equal to the task. When Lydia confides her father’s cockeyed plan to choose her husband, Alasdair is forced to confess he can’t help. Although he’s given the brave, beautiful laird’s daughter his heart, he can never offer her his hand.
A danger unseen
When a dangerous adversary makes a move against Lydia, a dastardly scheme comes to light, and Alasdair realizes only he can protect Lydia. Can these brave Highlanders rid Tornbury Fortress of evil, and find a way to a happy future?
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“The first word that came to my mind as I read the last page was WOW! This story was chalk full of wow’s.The setting of Scottish Highlands was wow; the heroine’s strength and bravery is wow and the hero is to die for, so wow for him as well.” ★★★★★ ~Bookworm 2 Bookworm
“OMG, what a thrilling, exciting story with suspense, a bit of mystery, betrayal and the possibility of love and finding a HEA.” ★★★★★ ~My Reading Addiction
“As always Collette Cameron writes a 5 star read.” ★★★★★ ~Dee
“The dialogue was witty and humorous and the story is a page turner. Collette Cameron has spun her magic again and you will want to read the other books in this series!” ★★★★★ ~Kari
“…very intricate and captivating plot, a grand romance…PASSION AND PLUNDER is an exceptionally moving and unforgettable story.” ★★★★★ ~Mo
“The book is full of passion, anxious moments, frustrations, secrets, heartache and love. Truly fabulous.“ ★★★★★ ~Teri Donaldson
“A very emotional story, with danger, intrigue and woman fighting for her rights. This book will drag you in from the first page and not let you go until the end.” ★★★★★ ~Petula Winmill
“This story kept me wanting more, could not put the book down and I wish the story kept going on and on!” ★★★★★ ~Charlene
“A wonderful love story that will keep you glued till the end. It has all the elements an intriguing plot villains a sexy Highlander and a fearless heroine…” ★★★★★ ~Maria
“Ms. Cameron brings in an extraordinary twist that could not be seen.” ★★★★★ ~Joann Maggio
“This should be at the top of your “Must-Read” list. A 5+ novel.” ★★★★★ ~Elizabeth Evans
Tornbury Fortress, Scottish Highlands
Life’s never predictable.
Lydia Farnsworth forced her stiff lips into a sunny smile and, smoothing the heavy russet counterpane across her father’s once muscular chest, refused to acknowledge the sorrow clawing at her ribs.
For his sake, and the clan’s too, venting her grief would have to wait until she sought her chamber. Future lairds, especially female chiefs, controlled their weaker emotions.
She inhaled deeply, longing for the crisp outdoor air rather than the stuffy sickroom’s fug.
Wasting disease. Heart failure.
She’d lost Mum scarcely three months ago. Her brothers six months prior to that. And the man she loved too, though he hadn’t died. He might as well have for the grief she’d suffered. And if that wasn’t chaos enough, mere weeks ago, her orphaned, American second cousin had arrived.
And now this awful prognosis?
Wretched, bloody unfair.
Like something from one of Mum’s gothic novels she’d kept stashed behind her half-boots within her wardrobe.
Lydia had devoured several as well, in utmost secrecy, of course. Chiefs didn’t read risqué novels. Rather, they didn’t get caught reading them.
“I’ll see Doctor Wedderburn out, Da.” She brushed a lock of gray-threaded, bright red hair from her father’s pale, slightly damp forehead before kissing him.
Her hair, secured at her nape with a lavender ribbon a shade lighter than her gown, billowed forward.
Da’s lips tipped up at the corners, and love glinted in his still brilliant hazel eyes, so like hers. He playfully tugged a tendril of her almost black hair.
“Nae need to look so solemn, lass.” He winked. “I dinna plan on cockin’ up me toes just yet, ye ken. I still intend to see ye wed and to bounce yer bairns on me knees.”
A coughing fit interrupted his raspy chuckle.
Sorrow squeezing her lungs, Lydia passed him a fresh handkerchief.
Doctor Wedderburn waggled his grizzled eyebrows at his long-time friend. “Aye, Bailoch, yer too stubborn and contrary to point yer knobby toes heavenward without a fight.”
Da grunted and scowled, but his feet wiggling the bedding belied any actual annoyance.
Would he live long enough to play with her children?
Besides, she wasn’t even betrothed. Hadn’t any prospects either.
Dredging up that heartache was pointless and just plain stupid, particularly with Da’s looming health crisis. If she also ruminated on her broken heart, she might splinter—fracture into a thousand jagged, miserable pieces.
Lydia had neither the time nor the strength to lose her composure and indulge the pain she’d resolutely suppressed since last spring. Besides, she quite detested moping females, and sulking about in a fit of the blue devils benefited no one.
If hell had a season, she’d just borne several long, unrelenting months, and her torment didn’t look to be over soon.
How much more could she endure?
Da stirred again and, though he winced, managed a puny smile.
I’ll endure as much as I have to.
She and Da only had each other now. But God help her, at nineteen, though educated right alongside her brothers and often surpassing them in academics, Lydia wasn’t prepared to be the clan’s chieftain yet.
Would she ever be?
Did she want to be?
Not now. Not like this.
Even before Colin’s and Leath’s deaths, Da had trained her, took her into his confidence, asked her opinions, insisted she speak the King’s English with a cultured lady of the realm’s accent.
So why did feelings of inadequacy still plague, sharp and frequent?
The harsh, even scathing, whispers about a female chief, that’s why.
But proving a woman worthy of such a lofty roll as laird?
Well, that intrigued her mightily.
She’d love to prove the naysayers wrong.
Of course, Da had assumed she’d marry a high-ranking Scot to help her lead, not fall in love with a titled Sassenach. Nevertheless, to honor Da, as well as her brothers’ memories, she would accept the role.
If Da did, indeed, name her his successor.
Lydia had made no provision for otherwise, and that included any notion of nuptials.
By God, she’d do well by the position. She would.
She’d have a purpose then, a focus, something to work toward since her dream of marriage—at least a love match—had been ground to dust and the specks blown across the moors by the Highland winter’s wild gales.
As she’d sobbed in his embrace after confessing Flynn had married another, Da had gently advised, “Only after a tree’s weathered a fierce storm can it claim strength, Liddie lass. Didna give up on love yet. Yer too young. Given time, a wounded soul can heal and learn to trust again.”
Grief’s cumbersome weight pressed cripplingly, and she rotated her stiff shoulders, then kneaded her sore nape.
However, humoring Da couldn’t hurt.
“Of course you’ll play with my children.” Lydia drew one velvet bed curtain closed against the room’s piercing chill despite the hearty fire snapping a few feet from the bed’s footboard.
She grinned and skewed a brow upward playfully. “All eight of them.”
“Och, eight, ye say?” Da laughed and slapped his gaunt chest when he started coughing again. “We’d best find ye a husband soon, and get started then. Ye’ve nae time to waste. A big, strappin’ Scot, like one of those McTavish twins. That Alasdair McTavish, now he be a braw fellow. Keen too.”
Flynn hadn’t been Scottish.
Mayhap destiny had played a part in his marrying another, since Lydia could no more have abandoned Tornbury after her brothers’ deaths than Flynn could’ve forsaken his marquisate.
“A fine, honorable man,” Da rattled on, oblivious to her ruminations. “A warrior who can protect ye and Tornbury when I be gone.”
She didn’t need a man to protect her. Far past time for Da to accept a woman could, and should, be allowed to do what men had presumed was their exclusive rights for centuries.
The doctor canted his head toward the Italian baroque nightstand. “Take the medicines I left ye, follow me orders, and Tornbury may yet have the pleasure of their cantankerous laird for a goodly while.” He rolled his eyes heavenward. “The guid Lord preserve us all.”
“Wheesht.” Da wagged his hand at Doctor Wedderburn, a faint smile pulling at his mouth. “Stop flappin’ yer tongue, and get on with ye. I’ll outlive ye by a decade.”
An absurd exaggeration, if Lydia had ever heard one. Still, she summoned another valiant smile. “Da, I’ll be back in a few minutes, and I’ll bring you a tray. Cook made you cock-a-leekie soup and custard. Also fresh oat rolls.”
“I’d rather have a dram or two of whisky, beef collops, and mutton chops,” Da grumbled, a scowl contorting his ginger brows. “Me pipe too.”
She could use a tot of whisky-laced tea herself.
On second thought, never mind the tea and the teacup.
“No tobacco or whisky,” Doctor Wedderburn admonished, shaking his finger before snapping his worn-about-the-seams bag shut. “But each evening, ye may have a half glass of red wine before ye retire.”
“I’m nae a confounded half-wit or a droolin’ invalid.” Da made a disgusted noise, sounding very much like his familiar, disgruntled, bearish self.
Bernard, a rather spoilt tabby and one of the mansion’s best ratters, cracked an amber eye open at having his nap disturbed at the bed’s foot. He stretched his lanky form and sank his claws into the coverlet before leaping to the floor.
Perhaps her father did feel better. His temper, as fiery as the thatch atop his head, hadn’t waned a jot.
Da pounded the counterpane. “I be Bailoch Farnsworth, laird of Tornbury Fortress. And I’ll tell ye right now, I winna be stayin’ in this confounded bed.”
In the process of adding wood to the fire, Lydia dropped a log, launching a cascade of angry sparks. “But Da, you must—”
“My tribe needs their chieftain, daughter. Tornbury canna be seen as weak. I canna be seen as weak.
“Neither of ye breathes a word about me heart, ye ken? Not even to yer Uncle Gordon or cousin Esme, Liddie. I’ll be up and about in a day or two. Ye tell anyone askin’ ye, I’ve naught but a wicked bout of influenza.”
As she swept ashes from the hearth, Lydia pressed her lips into a grim line. He asked much of her.
His eyes sunken and circled by purplish shadows, Da wilted further into his pillows, yet his commanding gaze held their attention, demanding their compliance. “I mean it.”
“Yes, Da,” Lydia half-heartedly agreed as Doctor Wedderburn gave a reluctant nod.
Not that keeping silent would do much good.
Concerned murmurs and worried glances had followed the laird these past few months already. A few of the more daring servants and clan members had asked probing questions which she’d answered with platitudes and half-truths.
And, by George, she didn’t like lying. Even for a compelling reason, as if that excused dishonesty.
Auburn brows pulled tight, Da jutted his square jaw in proud defiance. “I’m nae as feeble as ye think I be.”
Yes. He was.
“That’s wonderful to hear.” His bravado nearly undid her, and she blinked way hot moisture as she escorted Doctor Wedderburn from the chamber.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, ye cross old boar. Get some rest.” Doctor Wedderburn’s gentle insult earned him a rude gesture.
Shutting the heavy door, Lydia drew in a steadying breath. Drawing every ounce of mettle she possessed, she squared her shoulders and faced the doctor.
Hopefully, she appeared collected. Weeping and histrionics wouldn’t earn the clan’s admiration. Scots honored strength and forbearance almost as much as loyalty.
As they neared the stairs, she slowed her steps, and Doctor Wedderburn raised a bushy gray eyebrow expectantly.
“How long does Da actually have, Doctor?” Swiftly scanning the corridor and stairway, she lowered her voice. “You must understand the gravity of our situation and the clan’s precarious position right now. We’ve no war chief since Lundy drowned.”
He’d been on the same ill-fated boat that sank, snuffing her strapping brothers’ lives far, far too early.
Doctor Wedderburn’s half nod confirmed his agreement.
“And Da hasn’t chosen another, nor named his successor as laird. None of us dreamed both his sons would die before him, or that he’d fall ill so early on. And though he’s all but told me I’ll be the next laird . . .”
The doctor rubbed his nose and puffed out his florid cheeks. “A year at most, lass. Likely less. Six months would be me best guess.”
Anguish lanced Lydia, and for an endless moment she couldn’t speak or draw even a spoonful of air into her lungs.
Her entire family gone in less than twelve months.
Either she’d been cursed, or she had the most confounded bad luck. She’d better never wager a shilling at the gaming tables.
Tornbury might be lost with the toss of a die.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
“And?” She blinked against the hot tears stinging behind her eyelids. “Yer sure? There truly be nothin’—” She sucked in a shuddery breath. “Nothin’ at all that can be done?”
Misery thickened her brogue and stilted her speech.
Da would scold her until her ears glowed red if he overheard. Why must her speech mimic a lofty lady’s when his brogue was thicker than congealed porridge?
“Nae.” Doctor Wedderburn shook his head. “I’m afraid nothin’, except to reduce yer father’s stress. Keep him calm and try to prevent upsettin’ him.”
Far easier said than done.
He suddenly chuckled softly, covering his lips with a forefinger. “I ken Bailoch, though, and he winna be a biddable patient. Ye should be prepared fer him worsenin’, perhaps rapidly, if he refuses to follow me directives.”
He’ll follow them, all right. Even if I have to tie him to his bed, the ornery dear.
Nodding, she swallowed the lump mounting in her throat.
Neither spoke as they descended the stairs and made their way across the parquet floor to the grand entrance.
Gordon Ross, Lydia’s maternal uncle, emerged from the study, carrying a short stack of thin books in his gangly arms. He stopped, appearing startled upon seeing her. He cut a troubled glance to the stairs. “How fares Uncle?”
Straight to the point, as always. No “Hello,” or “How is your day,” or “Such lovely spring weather we’re having.”
“Da’s resting and should be up and about in a day or two,” Lydia said. Not precisely the truth, but not an outright lie either.
“Nothing serious, then? He’ll recover?” A frown wrinkling his forehead and crunching his black eyebrows, his pewter gaze swung between Lydia and the doctor. He slid the ledgers under an arm, holding them close to his chest. “There nae be need fer concern?”
“Rest assured, laddie, the laird isnae ready to topple into his grave, just yet.” Firming his grip on his medicine bag, Doctor Wedderburn exchanged a conspiratorial look with Lydia. “I’ll see ye on the morrow, lass.”
He took his leave, and Uncle Gordon’s scowl deepened, but whether from the doctor calling him laddie, or he’d detected the nuance of untruth in Doctor Wedderburn’s words, she didn’t know.
At the moment, she didn’t care, truth to tell.
Not a thing new about Gordon’s darkling temper, and today, she wasn’t in the mood, nor had the patience, to cajole him out of his pout.
“Please excuse me, Uncle Gordon. I promised Da I’d fetch his midday meal. He didn’t eat much breakfast and is quite famished.”
Slight exaggeration there, but he must eat. He’d grown far too thin in recent months.
“Lydia, ye do ken I want to help ye in any way I can, didna ye?” Uncle Gordon touched her shoulder, his eyes filled with compassion.
His concern moved her, and she softened minutely.
“Ye’ve born much, and a woman be fragile. Your delicate constitution isnae made to carry such heavy burdens.”
And there went her pathetically short-lived empathy. “I assure you, I’m neither fragile nor delicate, Uncle.”
He bristled, and quickly masked irritation flickered in his eyes before he schooled his angular features. “I’m nae a fool, Lydia. I ken Uncle be ailin’, has been fer a wee while. Time he named a successor, but with yer brothers dead . . .”