Heart of a Scot Book 3
Desperate for her freedom, she’ll risk everything. To protect her, he’ll forsake a solemn oath.
Steadfast, loyal, and a fierce warrior, Laird Graeme Kennedy puts his duty to his family and clan above all else. After a horrendous marriage, he’s vowed to never wed again and to become the best laird Killeaggian Tower has ever known. Only, the unexpected arrival of the beautiful and intelligent Berget Jonston throws his orderly life into upheaval and threatens the safety of those under his protection.
Brave and intrepid, widow Berget Jonston refuses to be manipulated into another arranged marriage. Risking all, she escapes to the Highlands. The last thing she expected—or wanted—was to encounter the intimidating, brawny Graeme Kennedy. A man who affects her as no one ever has.
Will Graeme and Berget find the courage to put their pasts behind them and embrace their passion and love? Or will Berget flee again to protect Graeme and his clan from the madman determined to have her, no matter the cost?
This heart-warming Scottish historical by a USA Today bestselling author will sighing and reaching for the tissues one minute and giggling the next. You won’t be able to flip the pages fast enough to find out how Berget and her sexy Highlander at last achieve their hard-won happily ever after.
If you enjoy reading enemies to lovers, second chance, and marriage of convenience 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 SEDUCE A HIGHLAND SCOUNDREL 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.
Chapter One Excerpt
Early July 1720
Trepidation, exhilaration, and relief vied for dominance within Berget Jonston as she concealed an indelicate yawn behind her hand. Lifting the fragrant, steaming cup of milk-and-sugar laced tea to her mouth, she blew lightly as she worked her gaze over the Hare and Hog’s Inn’s humble, but cozy private parlor.
The unpainted open shutters permitted the cheery morning sun to infiltrate the dark, high-beamed chamber, which smelled slightly of smoke and last evening’s supper.
Something containing cabbage, and—she sniffed—leeks, she’d vow. A half-dozen tables with mismatched chairs, a raggedy-eared red stag above the soot-stained, stone fireplace mantel, and a lopsided coat rack beside the stout arched door enhanced the rustic ambiance.
Utterly exhausted when she’d arrived last night, she’d misheard the coachman call the lodging house the Hairy Hog. Given her fanciful—sometimes naughty—imagination, that had spurred all sorts of odd visions.
Even her dreams had been invaded with images of hairy pigs with curly coats like sheep, bedchambers with straw-filled sties for beds, and breakfast plates heaped with corn mash.
She often had peculiar dreams when overly-tired or troubled. She’d been both for days.
However, this establishment appeared much the same as hundreds of others across Scotland. Functional, rather than luxurious, but adequately clean and suitable for hungry and weary travelers.
After just over a week of grueling, teeth-cracking, and bone-jarring travel, the perpetual fear initially thrumming through her had dissipated to a vexing niggle. She’d ceased jumping at every sudden sound, peering anxiously out the coach windows mile after interminable mile, or fretting about the conveyance’s sluggish speed.
I did it. I truly did it.
A secret, triumphant smile tipping the edges of her mouth, she sipped the delicious tea, welcoming its soothing warmth. Absently, she traced the L-shaped groove in the scarred tabletop with her index finger. At quarter-past six in the morning, only she, her sleepy—rather grumpy—companion, Mary Irving, and a savage-looking, long-haired, tartan-clad Scot occupied the chamber.
Of its own accord, her gaze traveled to where he sat gobbling his breakfast. As if sensing her perusal, he glanced up, a smile somewhere between flattered and annoyed curving his mouth.
Blinking drowsily, Mary yawned and poked at her bowl of porridge.
At a table beneath one window, the big Scot belched loudly then chuckled devilishly—a dreadful untamed rumble—at her wide-eyed, disconcerted, and wholly critical glare. Berget’s companion had speared him several such intolerant scowls, which only seemed to amuse the man all the more.
His thickly-lashed, azure eyes glinted with an unnerving combination of mischief and menace. Every now and again, his full lips twitched. Not that Berget deliberately observed him, but when he emitted unrestrained vulgar sounds…
No gentleman ever made bodily noises in the presence of women. Arching an eyebrow askance, Berget pointedly stared at him and awaited the expected apology.
None was forthcoming.
Instead, he patted his flat stomach with his great paw of a hand which bore a pinkish scar and, quite deliberately, burped again.
Loudly and boisterously.
A challenging grin on his whisker-stubbled face, he stuffed a kipper into his mouth. Whole. Then proceeded to chomp with hearty exuberance. Almost…aye, almost as if he meant to offend and dared them to call him out for his impertinence.
What a cock-sure, Highland scoundrel.
He’d succeeded in affronting her, as he’d no doubt intended, and she presented her profile. At least he closed his mouth to chew. There was that small reprieve.
Though she’d met only a few Highlanders previously, they were reputed to be a rougher lot than Lowlanders, and even more so than the simpering English fops she encountered in Edinburgh.
Or the dandified fop she’d been forced to wed.
Lips pursed, she gave a tiny side-to-side flick of her eyes in remembered repugnance.
Lord Almighty, Manifred had been the worst sort of prancing, prissy popinjay. He’d fussed and whined more over acquiring a hangnail or freckle than any female Berget had ever met. Heaven forbid that he should acquire a spot of something on his immaculate attire or encounter a crawling creature of any sort.
Once, a snake had slithered across his path, and his high-pitched shrieks had rung in Berget’s ears for days. So had his contortions and high-kneed hopping to keep from having to place his feet upon the reptile-contaminated ground.
Upon her entrance into the parlor a short while ago, the Scotsman, now so exuberantly enjoyed his meal, had examined her from her black-clad head to her toes. Evidently, finding nothing of interest, he settled heavily into a chair and applied himself to his food with impressive and noisy gusto.
Unused to being dismissed so easily—for she’d never wanted for suitors, even after becoming widowed—rather than take his indifference as an insult, a little thrill of satisfaction had tunneled through Berget.
Her plan to appear ordinary and easily dismissed had worked to perfection.
Well, she was a trifle offended he could so easily disregard her, when ’twas so very hard to disregard him; poor manners aside. He was the sort of man who commanded attention. A man among men. Confident, brawny, attractive as sin, and perhaps a might arrogant, too.
Such a man might’ve piqued more than her curiosity at one time. Before she’d married and learned the true nature of men. Before she’d sworn off the opposite sex for eternity and beyond.
A small smile teased the edges of her mouth.
She’d been wise to wear her mourning weeds from two years ago. A shapeless sack of a gown, and equally hideous bonnet complete with a heavy veil covering all but her chin and mouth, unadorned and practical obsidian-colored boots, gloves, and a simple ebony cloak completed her unremarkable ensemble.
Drab as a Quaker’s or a nun’s attire. Nothing the least enticing or alluring unless one had a peculiar proclivity for ugly, black clothing. Collectively, her attire screamed, Leave me alone!
And for the most part on this tedious journey, everyone had.
To commemorate her husband’s death—one couldn’t very well blast trumpets, light colorful rockets, and dance with glee, no matter how overjoyed one was to be free of matrimony’s encumbrance—she’d specifically chosen the items for their utter and absolute lack of appeal.
In that inconspicuous way, she’d silently rebelled.
Then, as it did now, the defiance brought great gratification.
The gown and bonnet were truly dreadful—that seamstress and milliner ought to never touch a needle again. She hadn’t been able to sell them as she had most of the rest of her wardrobe as well as her jewels. Manifred had been generous in the gewgaws and trinkets he bestowed upon her, praise the saints.
Once more assuming the faux role of a grieving widow, she’d opted to wear the travesty on her flight to the Highlands. As she’d hoped, her attire deterred unwanted questions and unwarranted interest directed her way and also masked her identity. Today, she’d reach Killeaggian Tower, and Berget would begin her new life as a governess while Mary would be reunited with her grandmother in the nearby village of Killinkirk.
The daughter of a Scottish viscount, reduced to a governess.
Giving a little mental shake, Berget admonished herself.
Nae regrets. None.
Well, she had one wee qualm. She hadn’t told her best friends, Emeline LeClaire or Arieen Wallace, what she was about. However, once she was settled in her new home, she’d write them straightaway. When the danger of discovery was past.
For certain, her parents would question Emeline, who also lived in Edinburgh with her impossible aunt. Berget refused to put her friend in the awkward position of lying for her. Emeline’s life was difficult enough as it was.
She bit off the corner of her toast, chewing thoughtfully. She’d known full well the irreversible consequences of her carefully conceived plan. Far better this than another forced marriage. Such a union would’ve destroyed her. She knew it beyond a doubt.
That in the seven short weeks since the McCullough’s Masquerade Ball when she’d learned of her parents perfidy, she’d managed to secretly sell her belongings, acquire a position, arrange travel details, and hire Mary was a tribute to her cleverness as well as her parents lack of interest in her for anything other than a means to increase their financial standing.
Left to her own devices for the most part, they’d wrongly assumed Berget would meekly comply. Again. It showed how little they knew their daughter. How very unlike them she was, thank the divine powers and all the saints, too.
Berget’s smile slipped as she considered their reactions upon discovering she’d flown.
Fury. Outrage. Retaliation.
She hadn’t left a letter or other indication where she’d hied off to. Not so much as a hint. Doing so posed too great a risk of being caught, and nothing upon this earth would compel her to wed to satisfy Lord and Lady Stewart’s greed and their desire to fill their perpetually empty coffers once more.
For once in their self-indulgent lives, her parents might consider economizing rather than selling their only offspring like a prize sow or heifer. Again. That they’d even suggest she enter another arranged marriage pained her beyond words.
Hadn’t she sacrificed enough for them already?
They expected their only child to agree to another loveless union? To a sot even older than Manifred? To a man evil fairly radiated from?
Nae. Nae. Nae!
This was her life to live. She’d done the dutiful thing once. And had been miserable beyond words.
She pressed to fingertips to her lips, pondering. How much had the settlement been for this time?
Revulsion skittered from her neck to her hips, and she tightened her mouth.
Oh, eventually she’d forgive them—mayhap—but at present, furious and hurt that they’d arranged another match for her without her permission or even having the courtesy to discuss the nuptials with her made reconciliation impossible.
After many days of traveling, she was fairly certain she hadn’t been followed, and they’d not be able to trace her. Not even Mary knew her real surname.
Berget was of age now. She didn’t have to comply with her parents’ demands. She could, and would, forge her own future, and a governess to a Highland laird’s children proved far more preferable than marriage to…well, to anyone. Ever.
All her silly girlhood dreams of marriage, love, and having a family of her own had died, one by one, until the idea of exchanging vows ever again left her lightheaded and queasy. And afraid. So very afraid. A husband had absolute, undisputed control over his wife.
Her eyelids drifted shut, and her memory unwillingly flashed to four years ago to the naïve seventeen-year-old girl she been. The trusting daughter, obediently fulfilling her parents’ dictates and wedding Manifred Jonston, three and twenty years her senior.
In the beginning, he’d been kind enough. As long as she kept to herself, made no demands, and permitted him to go about his life as he had prior to their nuptials.
Which mean frequenting establishments so loathsome and depraved, she nearly fainted when she’d learned of his activities. Afterward, she could scarcely stand to be in the same room with him. Her humiliation multiplied a thousand times over when she’d realized many others knew of his depravity. Even now, bile burned the back of her throat, nearly making her retch.
In order to acquire the bulk of his inheritance, he’d been required to marry and produce an heir. After they’d wed, she’d discovered he wasn’t physically capable of the latter. Or more to the point, he wasn’t capable of coupling with a woman. Any woman.
A blessing that.
He’d received half of his bequest upon marriage, which he revealed when he told her she’d been sold to him for a mere five thousand pounds.
Five thousand pounds.
God, wasn’t she worth more than that? Hot tears threatened, and she stubbornly willed them away. She did not cry in public.
She did not cry in private either.