Highland Heather Romancing A Scot: Castle Brides, #9
Dangerous liaisons? Aye. Marriage? Never.
~Enemies to lovers
~Heroine rescues hero
Gwendolyn McClintock has no patience for love. With her tragic romantic past, how could she? Besides, now that she’s been named guardian to her niece and nephew, her priorities must lie elsewhere. All she truly needs now is a fresh start—and she can think of no better place to get it than the Scottish Highlands. But the grand adventure she promised the children becomes a tangled muddle when her coach runs down a much-too-attractive rogue…
Dugall Ferguson is on the cusp of realizing his dream to become a spy when he’s nearly trampled to death. He has no time for the remorseful and deliciously tempting woman responsible. But the fiery lass hasn’t a clue about the peril awaiting her at her new home. She desperately needs his protection—and while he’s no gentleman, he’s not about to deny her anything she needs…or wants…
Their passion is irresistible. Their futures? Completely incompatible. Is happily ever after even possible for this pair of polar opposites?
Only if Gwendolyn’s powerful enemy doesn’t ruin everything first…
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“Cameron . . . does not disappoint. In fact, I truly believe this one to be her most outstanding work yet.” ★★★★★ ~S. Clark
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“…made me laugh, shriek in outrage, and sigh in contentment.” ★★★★★ ~Sharon H
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“Southern and Scottish accents meet for a witty tale from the delightful Collette Cameron.” ★★★★★ ~Dee
“One of Collette’s Best!!!” ★★★★★ ~Anissa
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“Wonderfully fun and adventurous story where the American deep south meets the Scottish highlands!” ★★★★★ ~Lesia Chambliss
“. . . intrigue, suspense, humor, and of course passion. If you like historical romance, Scottish romance, witty dialogue, and Southern charm, you will definitely love Ms. Cameron’s latest work!” ★★★★★ ~Terrie
“A cast of entertaining characters and a plot with excitement, danger, humor, and a few surprises make this book one of Collette Cameron’s best.” ★★★★★ ~Peggy C.
Twilight, September 1825
A deserted Highland Road
“Is he dead?”
Morbid fascination leached into Jeremiah’s nine-year-old voice.
I hope to hellfire not.
Squatting beside the enormous, unconscious man sprawled flat as a fritter in the middle of the road, Gwendolyn tossed a harried glance over her shoulder.
The children shouldn’t see this. They’d already experienced too much tragedy in their young lives.
Dangling over the coach’s open window, his moss-colored eyes bright with curiosity, her nephew swiped his nose across his sleeve.
Not for the first time, either.
Dried snot trails adorning his sleeve wasn’t the way she’d envisioned Suttford House’s new master arriving to claim his birthright.
“He sure ‘nuff looks like he’s got both boots in the grave, Auntie Gwenny.”
Gwendolyn considered the prostrate figure.
He did, indeed.
“Sugah, you’re quite certain the gentleman hasn’t already passed?” her maiden Aunt Barbara asked in her musical southern drawl.
Hovering beside Gwendolyn, Aunt Barbara turned down her mouth the merest bit as she skittered a timid glance over the gentleman in question.
“One way to know for certain.” Gwendolyn stripped off her pigeon-gray, ecru lace-edged glove before touching her palm to the man’s thick throat.
Sensation—tingling and scorching—ratcheted to her shoulder, across her chest, and then settled heavily in her breasts. She almost wrenched her hand away at the startling and unfamiliar jolt.
Good gracious. It’s his sheer size. That’s all. He’s quite the largest man I’ve ever laid eyes upon.
Crimping her mouth into a purposeful line, she stiffened her resolve, firmly gripped her cavorting composure, and pressed her fingertips to his neck harder.
A sturdy pulse thrummed against the pads.
“Dead, eh?” This from Mr. Dodd, one of the bristly-faced leery, wholly unchivalrous coachman, loitering a carriage-length away. Some protector he’d proven to be, the spineless poltroon.
Gwendolyn shook her head, and a tendril sprang loose from the tidy knot at her nape. “No, he yet lives.”
Oh, to be a man and be permitted to tell Mr. Dodd precisely what she thought of him. But southern belles did not curse. Ever. Instead, Gwendolyn assumed a well-rehearsed benign countenance and swore at him in her head as she tucked the strand back into place.
Not as satisfying as delivering a tongue lashing, but sufficient to ease her annoyance a thimble’s worth. It did nothing to appease her disquiet about this stranger, however.
Other than a few cuts and scrapes on his face, only the man’s high forehead showed obvious signs of real injury, and those bumps and gashes didn’t appear lethal. Difficult to be certain with head wounds, though.
Dried blood matted the ill-fated brute’s longish midnight hair, and fresh scarlet rivulets trickled from his noble forehead, across a strong, patrician nose, and onto a stubble-covered left jaw. Bruised and battered cheeks tapered to swollen, split lips above a determined, cleft chin.
His puffy, damaged face made it hard to tell whether he was handsome, but given his chiseled features, she thought he might be passably attractive.
Not that it mattered a whit if he were as homely as a rotten potato.
She wasn’t a frivolous young miss, easily cozened by sharply hewn features, slashing raven brows, and a square, black-whiskered covered jaw.
Pushing aside a stray curl teasing her forehead, she raked her practiced gaze over the architecture of his impressive form. He wasn’t the first man she’d seen worse for wear after a sound thrashing.
The stable hands and her brothers, especially Markus, had returned home battered on more than one occasion, their bruised bodies recovering far swifter than their pummeled pride.
Except for that last tragic time when—
Unbridled pain buffeted Gwendolyn’s ribs, stalling her breath, and she balled her hands against the overwhelming desire to wail her grief.
Not now, Gwendolyn Nicolette Eleanor McClintock.
Attend to the matter at hand.
She drew in a shuddery breath.
Yes. Yes. The injured man.
Anything to distract herself from the awful, heartbreaking memories. Lips cinched from the effort to control her tears, she blinked rapidly to dispel the moisture pooling in her eyes and gave herself a severe mental shake.
As she considered the lines of the man’s rugged face, she twisted her mouth in distress.
What other wounds might this poor scalawag have?
Was he a gentleman?
His finely tailored black coat and buckskins—even dirt-smeared and torn—as well as his big—very big—once-shiny boots proclaimed him gentry.
Recently arrived from South Carolina, she wasn’t familiar with attire worn by the locals, and they certainly weren’t accustomed to hers. In fact, her practical split-skirt traveling ensemble had earned her more than one skewed brow and sideways smirk from the English and Scots, men and women alike.
For her part, she’d expected the Scots to be enshrouded in tartans from their calves to chins, all the while tooting bagpipes, quaffing whisky, and munching shortbread, clootie dumpling, and haggis.
Served her right for planting herself at Grandpapa Gawyn McClintock’s knee and raptly listening to his wild—and obviously exaggerated—tales of his boyhood homeland whenever she had a chance as a child.
That dear man could certainly spin a fanciful yarn in his lilting brogue.
Trailing her troubled gaze over the insensate stranger, she released a silent sigh. Massively built, his hair unshorn, he resembled the wild, Highland warriors Grandpapa boasted of. All this fellow needed was a broadsword, a belted plaid, and a shield.
Once, long ago—four wretched betrothals she’d rather desperately wanted to forget ago—she might’ve appreciated such a fine masculine specimen.
Nonetheless, she permitted herself another leisurely perusal of his extraordinary form.
You cannot deny he’s unquestionably, quite pulse-stutteringly spectacular, Gwen.
At her inane ruminations, she pinched her mouth into a tight line and narrowed her eyes in annoyance.
Enough moon-eyed musings.
Raising her orphaned niece and nephew to the best of her limited abilities was her only purpose nowadays. Even though it meant she must put aside her few remaining dreams. Seeing Jeremiah equipped to step in to the role of a Scottish Lord of Parliament when he became of an age was paramount.
Whatever, precisely, a Lord of Parliament might be.
Something akin to a baron, according to Hubert Christie, the solicitor who’d contacted them all those weeks ago on behalf of Gerard McClintock’s estate.
Gwendolyn still didn’t quite understand all the title falderal, or how she’d manage to prepare her nephew for the elevated position. Still didn’t quite understand how Jeremiah came to inherit the title either.
Grandpapa had been the youngest of four sons. What were the chances his great-grandson would be the next in line to inherit?
Well, when Mr. Christie had written, he hadn’t known of her brothers, Markus’s or William’s deaths. Nor Father’s, either. Christie hadn’t been altogether keen that a woman held Jeremiah’s guardianship. In fact, his follow-up letters were quite peculiar, and he’d repeatedly asked if there were no other male heirs.
How very different things would’ve been if Papa and her brothers had yet lived.
Most of all, she still wasn’t certain what she’d do when the children were raised and no longer needed her. Out of the question that she would remain in Scotland. The land was too wild and rugged, much like many of the untamed and unrefined people she’d encountered so far.
Homesickness, heavy and melancholic, already shrouded her. She missed the South’s gentility, the sultry clime, the polite, considerate, slow-paced culture.
Though only September, she’d been nigh onto freezing her bum off from Scotland’s permeating cold and damp which seemed to increase with the elevation. She didn’t even want to contemplate the discomforts of Scottish winters. First on her list was acquiring thick, woolen drawers and stockings, a heavy shawl, and two or three sturdier gowns—perhaps flannel-lined.
A slight breeze danced past, and she shivered, her skin puckering from waist to shoulders.
Add mittens and a snug cap to that list.
Drawing a steadying breath, she darted her aunt a swift glance.
Gwendolyn absolutely refused to become the nervous, self-conscious, trying-not-to-be-a-nuisance-lonely-tabby Aunt Barbara had transformed into over the years.
She’d find something to give her a focus or a purpose, by heavens.
“Miss McClintock, we canna delay much longer.” Mr. Murray, their Scots guide, rubbed the back of his neck and shifted from foot to foot, his rheumy eyes and craggy countenance a muddle of impatience, guilty regret, and tension.
“We needs be gettin’ on our way, or ye’ll not reach Suttford House afore nightfall. The great house be a good six miles away yet.” He levered a scuffed boot toe at the prone victim. “We can drag him off the road.”
“Not exactly the epitome of compassion, are you, Mr. Murray?” Gwendolyn asked, disdain sharpening her question.
“He’ll come ’round eventually.” Murray’s dubious tone contradicted his confident words.