To Enchant a Highland Earl
Heart of a Scot Book 5
Sparks fly whenever they meet…not the sensual kind.
She knows precisely what she wants…
And it’s not the obstinate Highlander, Broden McGregor. Even if the handsome brute did recently inherit an earldom and a sizable fortune and now must wed to produce an heir. So why doesn’t Kendra object when the womanizing libertine boldly steals a kiss? And why does his promise of more sensual encounters thrill, rather than infuriate?
Fate turned his life upside down…
Not only did Broden inherit a title he never anticipated, someone wants him dead. At great peril to herself, Kendra saves his life, and the stunning lass he once regarded as his nemesis, becomes something more. But as his best friend’s adored sister, she’s off-limits. Besides, Kendra is prickly, opinionated, and holds him in contempt, though he has no idea why.
Antagonism transforms into sizzling desire…
Neither can deny nor resist the passion between them as secrets, temptations, and long-hidden love are revealed. But at what cost?
This riveting Scottish historical by a USA Today bestselling author will have you sitting on the edge of your seat and reaching for the tissues! You won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens to Broden and Kendra next as their tender romance blossoms.
If you enjoy reading Highlander love stories brimming with mystery and suspense, a dash of humor, and gripping emotion then you’ll adore Collette Cameron’s mesmerizing HEART OF A SCOT Series. Buy TO ENCHANT A HIGHLAND EARL and settle into your favorite reading nook for a rousing Highland adventure 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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Clenching the wadded letter tightly in his fist, Broden pivoted on his heels and tramped the reverse path across the smooth flagstone floor. His boot heels rapped dully off the book-laden shelves and the dark paneled walls of the masculine chamber acting as his library, private sitting room, and study.
His heartbeat whooshed in his ears, a peculiarly muffled tempo, like someone striking a drum covered by a thick pile of blankets.
The fire in the hearth sizzled as occasional droplets of rain survived the treacherous descent down the chimney only to splutter to a quick death. Outside, a deluge poured from the contemptuous pewter-gray clouds as the biting winter wind assailed everything in its path with unrelenting resolve to pummel and saturate.
He supposed he ought to be grateful it wasn’t snowing.
A particularly powerful gust buffeted the sturdy rectangular stone house, causing the windowpanes to rattle and the unremarkable man sitting at Broden’s desk to cast a wary glance out the rain-splattered glass.
No doubt, Mr. Philibius Oswald, Solicitor, worried about his return journey to Eddleshaugh.
As well, he should.
If the weather remained this dismal—a savvy chap would wager on it—Oswald would be obliged to take a room at one of Eddleshaugh’s inns. After he and the sorry nag he’d arrived upon had slogged the almost two miles to the township. At this juncture, the much-traveled tracks to Edinburgh and then London would be impassable if the torrent kept up. Given the ashen sky, that seemed certain.
After all, this was January in the Highlands. One could expect rain and snow. Snow and rain. Then more of the same.
Every bit as certain as the intractable weather’s continuation was another simple fact: Broden wouldn’t extend his hospitality and offer the attorney a bed for the night. Or two or three if the tempest lingered. Not after learning why Oswald had stupidly—Sassenach idiot—braved the storm and called unannounced.
An entirely different sort of storm brewed within the cozy study, though no less fierce or ruthless in its fury. As Broden struggled to accept the life-altering news he’d just received—Goddammit to hell—anger and disbelief vied for supremacy in every pore. Pores humming and pulsating and expanding in a silent, but raucous chorus of strain and vexation.
And the news… A groan of despair almost escaped past his meshed lips. News he’d never conceived nor expected to hear; not in a hundred—no, a thousand—lifetimes.
God’s hairy ballocks, he swore irreverently to himself.
Surely, it was a gargantuan mistake. An enormous, colossal error. A careless clerical blunder or a misprint on some long-ago faded, forgotten, and fusty kirk registry. Someone, somewhere had to have made a mistake.
He could not be—most assuredly did not want to be—the next Earl of Montforth. Plowing his free hand through his hair, he dislodged the ribbon that kept it tied in a queue at his nape. Earl or not, he wasn’t donning a ridiculous curling wig or powdering his hair for anyone.
He was not a mincing fop.
“There’s nae one else to inherit?” he demanded of the solicitor, aware but beyond caring that the man simply performed his duties.
Dinna kill the messenger and all that twaddin’ shite.
The silent reminder to himself did nothing to lessen his ire. His helplessness. The acerbic frustration. The unequivocal feeling of being trapped. Ensnared. Imprisoned.
He jabbed a finger toward the man of law, idly noting the dirt packed beneath his nails. Earls didn’t have dirty fingernails. Or hands. Neither did they muck out stalls, move rocks from grazing and farm the land, or chop their own firewood.
“Ye’re absolutely—without a single doubt—positive ye havena made a mistake?” he asked.
Oswald vacillated for a long blink, his Adam’s apple rapidly cresting and sinking like a miniature boat caught upon the tidal surges of a massive, violent storm. And his tiny ship was about to flounder.
“There is another distant English cousin,” the fusty attorney reluctantly confessed. His eyebrows—wiry copperish things with minds of their own and with an unfortunate proclivity to wriggle about on his forehead—huddled together over the pronounced bridge of his beaked nose.
“Aye? And?” Broden encouraged, grasping at even the weakest straw. Anything to keep him from plummeting into the loony world of the aristocracy.
“In truth, he’s already contacted me in anticipation—” Oswald faltered, realizing he’d disclosed confidential information, and his nervous gaze bounced about the room, landing everywhere but on Broden.
So, the other chap thought to inherit.
Could such a blessed thing be arranged?
Suddenly finding the well-thumbed documents before him of acute interest, Mr. Philibius Oswald cleared his throat. “But you, my lord, are indisputably the next in line. I informed him as much, unequivocally. You needn’t fear he’ll supersede you.”
“How did he take it?”
“I beg your pardon?” From the solicitors gaping jaw and buggy eyes, Broden might have asked him when he’d last swived.
“Was he upset?” He was in no temper to dance around the point or use flowery phrases.
“Naturally, he was—ah—somewhat nonplussed.” Oswald chose his words with obvious care. “But, I believe, he understands the rules governing ennoblement, the letters patent, and the specifics of the remainder are beyond our control. Which is to say, he cannot inherit as long as you are alive.”
Och, well, there went that idea all to piss.
Broden didn’t miss the pinched expression tightening Oswald’s thin face as he admitted that fact. The Englishman assuredly would’ve preferred his countryman inherit the title, rather than an uncouth, lowborn Scot of questionable comportment and an even more questionable liking for the English.
“His name?” he asked, tempering his impatience.
But only just.
“Mr. Edwin Archibald Wiggins McGregor.”
Pompous. Traditional. Unimaginative. A worthy Sassenach name except for the family surname, that was. McGregor, after all, was a derivative of the Gaelic MacGriogair. Scots through and through, no matter how much Oswald would prefer it otherwise.
“He attended Oxford,” Oswald added with the merest haughty sniff.
La de dah.
“He’s well-traveled and already acquainted with several members of the peerage,” the attorney droned on as if listing Edwin’s stellar attributes ought to impress Broden.
Or did Oswald prattle on to jab a particular point home?
To demonstrate how much more Edwin was qualified for the title?
As Broden didn’t give a hog’s teat about Edwin Archibald Wiggins McGregor, not even to pity the man his unfortunate third name, Oswald’s intentions missed their mark.
“Ye dinna say?” Each word dripping with sarcasm, he schooled his features into a false expression of suitable admiration. “He sounds like a paragon of society.”
Och, I’ve been to England and France, and I count a half dozen Scots lairds as my friends. I dinna suppose the skinny turd cares about that, though.
“Mr. Archibald McGregor is an investor.” If Oswald lifted his nose any higher in self-importance, he might well drown when he left the house.
If that meant Broden might be free of the mammoth burden just dumped upon him, he could be persuaded to look the other way and permit the man to suffer the consequence of his arrogance.
That thought brought him reluctantly ’round to the matter at hand once more.
He was an earl. And, by Odin’s toes, he very much didn’t want to be.
Mouth cinched into a grim, unyielding line, he leveled the solicitor a steely stare.
“Pray tell me, Mr. Oswald, why I am just now learnin’ of my change in circumstances via this?” Broden jerked his hand up, uncurling his fingers around the mashed missive with its dangling black ribbon and seal-imprinted crimson wax. “My predecessor died over a year ago.”
Oswald, a gangly fellow, all lanky arms and legs and spindly fingers flicked a disinterested look at the balled paper before bringing his keen, hazel gaze up to scrutinize Broden’s features. He examined him for an extended moment, taking in his soiled and mended work clothing, scuffed boots, unkempt and unbound hair, and beard-stubbled face as if searching for something.
“You do bear a vague resemblance to the late earl.” He wiggled his twiggy fingers near his angular face. “In the angles and bone structure of your chin and jaw, though your physique is much more…ah…,” he lowered his assessing gaze to take in Broden’s shoulders and chest, “robust.”
Meaning, his dead kin had most likely had been a milksop and a prancing, affected popinjay.
Had he worn stays?
Broden had heard some Englishmen padded their clothing to enhance certain anatomical features and also wore stays to diminish others.
Broden used the occasion to take the solicitor’s measure, too.
At odds with his fastidious behavior, gravy stains marred Oswald’s buff-toned, wrinkled waistcoat and a shock of fuzzy red-brown hair poked straight up from atop his otherwise bald pate. Almost as if someone had forgotten to shave the rest of the unfortunate man’s pointed head.
It rather gave the man the appearance of a paintbrush.
He peered over the round wire-rims of his spectacles. Seemingly unaffected by either Broden’s superior size or his obvious vexation, he calmly lifted the corner of another document he’d pulled from his brown leather portfolio.
“Mr. McGregor—?” The lawyer flushed blotchy red. “I beg your pardon.”
He noisily cleared his throat and began again.
“My lord, the prior earl was most emphatic that in the event of his death, his heir only be notified when it became abundantly clear that the title would not pass to a progeny of his loins. As his wife was with child at the time of his lordship’s unfortunate death, prudence demanded postponing the pronouncement of the fifth Earl of Montforth until the babe’s birth, seven months later.”
A bloody Sassenach earl.
How in all of Christendom had such a wholly preposterous thing occurred?
The earldom did lay just inside the British side of the borderlands, but still…
His focus beyond the soggy landscape visible through the windows, Broden scrunched his eyes and rubbed his chin. Wasn’t there something he’d heard once about a long-ago relative scampering off with a noble, decades before?
Was that the connection?
His mother might recall.
He’d have to ask her after Oswald took his leave.
As the attorney had explained, somewhere in the gnarly, extended, and complex family tree, Broden and the previous earl had shared ancestral blood.
Where, precisely, was unclear to him.
“I take it the bairn was a wee lass?” Working his thumb across the stiff wax seal, Broden regarded the attorney. There was something about the man that raised his hackles. Something besides him being an Englishman and a slimy solicitor, to boot.
In short, he didn’t trust the man.
Perhaps a visit to Oswald’s London offices was in order.
Oswald sighed as he removed his spectacles and wiped the lenses with a less than pristine handkerchief, he’d lifted from his inside coat pocket. “Seven children in nine years and the only surviving offspring are all daughters. Five, to be precise.”
Standish had been a busy man, and mayhap not a complete peacock if he sired that many bairns. Or perhaps, he’d just been desperate to beget an heir. A sliver of pity for Standish’s wife poked Broden.
“And quite naturally, it did take several months to locate the next male in line for the title,” Oswald blathered on. “We exhausted all of our leads in England before resorting to directing our attention to Scotland.”
As he tapped a bony finger atop the scarred and scuffed desk, the man’s contempt was fairly palpable. He seemed no keener to tell Broden of his new title than he was to learn of the bloody nuisance.
He heartily wished he hadn’t been found.
“The law is very clear, my lord. You…,” he glanced down at the page before him, his brow knitted. “Broden Lachlan Errol McGregor, are the fifth Earl of Montforth.”
Oswald’s nasally, clipped tones set Broden’s teeth on edge. Not good, considering a very fine tether held his ire in check.
The fire popped and snapped as a log fell, disintegrating into glowing, crimson-orange coals. More for a need to do something than to build the flames once more, Broden laid the letter atop the mantel beside a bronze candlestick, then knelt and added another log to the blaze. With the poker, he shoved a few coals beneath the new addition, coaxing the fire, and soon hungry flames licked up the sides.
He set the poker in place before planting his palms on his thighs and pushing upright once more, accompanied by a hefty, resigned sigh.
Christ and all the angels would descend from heaven before he trotted himself off to England to claim a Sassenach earldom. God’s teeth. He already could hear Liam MacKay’s and Graeme Kennedy’s mocking chortles. Logan Rutherford and Coburn Wallace would be utterly unbearable.
“What if I refuse?”
“Refuse? Why… Why… You cannot,” Blinking rapidly, his eyes owl-like behind his lenses, Oswald spluttered like a stubby candle’s flame about to die. “The title is yours. Yours.”
Yes, definite scorn riddled his terse speech.
“What you do with the honor is, of course, up to you. But there is no question of not accepting,” the solicitor insisted. “You are the Earl of Montforth until you depart this earth, my lord.”
Just because the paperwork said he was an earl didn’t mean Broden must adjust his life one iota. He leaned a shoulder against the stone mantel—stones which had been cleared from his lands by his two times two-grandfather—and crossed his arms. “And if I choose to ignore it and continue as I have for the past three decades?”
Oswald raised his bland gaze for a moment before attending to his spectacles once more. Something deep within the depths of his eyes shifted. The briefest flash before he sank his attention to cleaning his eyewear.
“As you can imagine, my lord, Lady Montforth is quite beside herself, awaiting news of her future and that of her children, as well. She is a gentle creature, devoted to her daughters, and the epitome of refinement.”
Aye, Broden grudgingly admitted to himself. The countess was in a precarious predicament through no fault of her own.
“The household staff, the tenants, not to mention the villagers, all await your directives.” Oswald spoke clearly and deliberately as if striving to make a bacon brain or mutton head understand a complex mathematical formula. “These past months have been a hardship for them all as the stewards and solicitors could only make superficial decisions.”
The twig of a man all but implied Broden owed it to those people he’d never met—strangers—to ensure their futures and well-being. He wasn’t a selfish man, by God, but to uproot himself and charge off to England? To become part of that uppity set—the haughty aristocrats who looked down their snooty noises upon the Scots?
Not as long as he drew a breath.
The familial home he shared with his mother, a cook, a maid of all work, and on occasion, his childhood friend, Quinn Catherwood until he’d married last Christmastide, was simple but comfortable.
And the eighteen acres he owned, which fed sheep, a few cows, and other livestock quite nicely. Conveniently, a brook rambled through the northernmost edge of his property, where he enjoyed fishing as time permitted.
He also employed two laborers who tended everything from the garden to the stables, and he worked alongside them at whatever task most needed completing. Hence his dirty nails and soiled garments today.
Broden highly doubted the previous Earls of Montforth had ever even broken a sweat, let alone cleaned hog sties, dug peat, helped deliver lambs, or used a blade upon another man.
Though he’d never attended a fancy university, Broden was well-educated and knew how to wield a sword and a dirk, thanks to his scholarly father’s tutelage. And thanks to his mother, he could maneuver a ballroom when required to dance, spoke a dab of French, and when pressed, could conduct himself like the poshest of gentlemen.
But don the shroud of a noble?
Wouldn’t that make him the worst sort of hypocrite?
“At the very least, I would expect, your lordship, that you’d want to examine your holdings.” Oswald rubbed his reedy nose, leaving a faint ink trail down the side. “After all, Sommerley Parke House is not even two days’ journey from here.”
A better man might’ve told the man of law about the ink smear.
Broden wasn’t such a man.
With the smudge on his thin nose, Oswald resembled an over-sized rodent. Appropriate, since Broden regarded all attorneys as vermin. He had yet to meet one who didn’t serve his selfish interests first. Oh, no doubt there were a good number of ethical and honest lawyers in their field. He’d just not had the privilege of meeting one as yet.
“I suppose, you could hire a man of business to oversee your estate or expand the duties of your current stewards,” Oswald continued, as if thinking aloud, his eyes slightly narrowed and fingers loosely steepled. “The countess did ask me to inquire what your wishes are for her and her daughters—now your wards. Should they remain at Sommerley Parke House? Retire to the dower house? One of the other estates? Bellewaite House? Come here?”
Dower house? Other estates?
Wait, the bloody hell!
Here? Them come here?
Where in God’s name would he put six females and no doubt a lady’s maid for the countess, a nanny for the youngest girls, a governess for the older lasses, and a nurse for the infant?
“Shite,” Broden swore beneath his breath, furious and foul.
The care of the former earl’s wife and five daughters were now his responsibility. Hell and damnation. He’d never even met Standish, the fourth earl, and certainly never anticipated inheriting.
Derision curled his lip.
He hadn’t even been aware of the title until Oswald, very much appearing like a drowning mongrel, had banged most insistently upon his door two hours ago.
Broden’s mother coughed delicately before entering with a laden tray. Her lace cap flapped upon her graying hair as she limped to the low table before a well-worn, sage green sofa.
Damp weather always made her joints stiffen and ache. Rather than waiting upon him and Oswald, she ought to be snuggled in her bed, sipping a hot willow bark and turmeric toddy, heated flannel encasing her legs, and a ripping good book between her work-worn hands.
“Mr. Oswald,” she said with a cheery smile, “I’m certain ye must be famished.”
Her simple plaid gown and white apron pinned to the front bespoke a woman of gentle, but humble, means. The McGregors weren’t impoverished by any stretch, but neither were they affluent.
Oswald perked up as the aromas of Scotch pies and warm bread wafted from the tray’s direction.
“Indeed, Mrs. McGregor. A most welcome respite.” Oswald stacked his papers into a neat pile, and once he’d closed the inkpot, he hurried to the sofa and availed himself of a Scotch pie.
Mother poured him a cup of coffee. “Broden, would ye care for coffee?”
“Nae.” He strode to his desk and pulled the bottom drawer open. Removing a glass and a whisky bottle, he poured three finger’s worth of the dark, amber liquid. Reluctantly, he angled the bottle toward Oswald. “Whisky, Oswald?”
The solicitor lifted his long nose, his nostrils flaring in distaste. “Thank you, no. I’ve found Scottish spirits are too strong for my palate.”
Och, the toff probably takes milk in his coffee, too.
Before Broden had finished the thought, Oswald said, “May I impose upon you to add milk to my coffee and three sugar lumps, Mrs. McGregor?”
“Aye.” His mother swiftly complied, her right eyebrow elevated. That always meant she had a great deal more to say but had elected to hold her sharp tongue, which could strip a heather bush bare when she was incensed.
Broden, on the other hand, had to bite his tongue to keep from telling the rickle-a-bones his mother wasn’t a servant.
A fine line pulling her eyebrows together, his mother peered at him with knowing, pale brown eyes. Eyes very much like his own. The hue not quite the shade of strong tea but more fawn colored. “Are ye no’ eatin’, son?”
“I shall later.” He dropped a kiss onto the crown of her head as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Why dinna ye rest now? I ken this damp weather wreaks havoc on yer joints.”
Her gaze avid with curiosity, she sent the solicitor a considering look.
A wry, mocking smile skewed Broden’s mouth at her not-so-subtle hint. “I’ll tell ye everythin’—”
“The earldom owns houses in Brighton and London, as well,” Oswald said between bites and uncouth, appreciative noises. “One of those climes might be beneficial to your health, Mrs. McGregor.”
Not bloody likely.
Broden lanced the man through with his gaze. Did he truly think to manipulate him by playing upon his sympathies?
“Earldom?” His mother’s attention swept between the men. “Have ye inherited Standish’s title, Broden?”
She knew about the title?