Vexing the highlander, p.1

Vexing the Highlander, page 1

 

Vexing the Highlander
 


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Vexing the Highlander


  Vexing the Highlander

  Terry Spear

  Terry Spear

  Contents

  Foreword

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Also by Terry Spear

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  PUBLISHED BY:

  Terry Spear

  Vexing the Highlander

  Copyright © 2016 by Terry Spear

  * * *

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

  * * *

  Discover more about Terry Spear at:

  http://www.terryspear.com/

  To my dear next-door neighbor and friend, Carrie Pringle, who has had too many surgeries to count, including brain surgery, came back after her heart stopped three times, and still keeps moving forward. She loves to fall in love with the Highlanders of old and as soon as we met, she fell in love with my world. Thanks for being such a good friend and neighbor!

  Foreword

  VEXING THE HIGHLANDER

  Lady Aila MacIntosh hopes she doesn’t regret the king’s marital choices for her and her sister. Until one braw Highlander bumps into her at the king’s gathering. He’s as taken with her as she is with him, until she learns he is but a commoner, when she is a lady. The king would never make a match between them. Alban of the Clan Daziel meets a beautiful woman at the king’s court, only she is a lady and out of his reach. When the lady and he meet under awkward circumstances, they chance to overhear a plot to assassinate the king. Their lives spiral out of control and losing his heart to Aila is only one of his pressing concerns. Protecting her from those who wish the king dead—his greatest.

  1

  Scotland, Summer, 1088

  Alban of the Clan Daziel had one mission in mind when his eldest brother, Ronan, the clan chief, ordered him and their brother, Ward, to attend King Malcolm’s court—stay out of the king and his courtiers’ way. As much as he could possibly manage. Ten guardsmen rode with them to see that they arrived safely and returned in the same way.

  Heather and thistle bloomed all across the verdant green glen and rolling hills in waves of light and dark purples and for the moment, it wasn’t raining as they rode with their guard force to see the king.

  “’Tis time you went to court to see the king,” Ward said, but Alban would rather fight Ronan’s battles than the king’s. Without doubt, he didn’t want to attend the festivities at court. Many of those in the Highlands still did not feel they owed allegiance to the king. Not when he had given his eldest son, Duncan, to the English King William as hostage, and accepted the overlordship of the English king.

  “Will he no’ be angered that Ronan didna come in my place? I have heard Malcolm has gone to battle for being slighted in the past.” Alban was the youngest brother, the shortest, at six-one, yet he still was tall enough to gain attention. His older brothers teased him for being their little brother, though he took their jesting in stride.

  “Ronan couldna leave with Sorcha giving birth so soon. Unless our castle was under attack, he wouldna have left for any reason. Certainly not to attend the king’s festivities.”

  “If only we were so lucky to find such a lass.” Alban spied more horses up ahead up on the road. “More attendees, it appears. Mayhap the king willna even know if we dinna show.”

  “We would be missed. Someone is sure to make note of who has arrived and who has no’.”

  Alban looked out on the lands dotted with stone shielings and stone dykes, ponds, streams, and lochs throughout the area. The sky was bright blue, billowing white clouds casting shadows over the land at one place, then gliding with the windblown clouds across the landscape. “At least we will be staying in tents outside the castle walls. Except for attending feasts, I plan to make myself scarce.”

  His dark-haired brother glanced at him, his dark eyes smiling. “Aye. As long as you make appearances when necessary. Beyond that, just stay out of trouble. No fighting. Dinna drink too much. Just be on your best behavior. And remember, just be careful about what you say or do while we are there. To earn the good favor of the king, for a coin or two, servants and courtiers alike will serve as his spies in a court. Gossip runs rampant among the servants. Just dinna do anything that will reflect badly on our clan.”

  “As if I would,” Alban said. “Besides, we have some of the same thing at home.”

  “Only ‘tis different because Ronan would believe us before he would anyone else. The king? His loyal staff would probably be believed before Highlanders not completely under his rule would be.”

  Beside one of the blue lochs, a group of ladies were sitting on blankets and eating, a complement of guards standing around the area watching over them, their horses tied to trees nearby.

  Alban and Ward bowed their heads to the women as they approached along the road.

  “Courtiers?” Alban asked his brother.

  “Or some of those attending court, just visitors like us. The golden-haired woman in the blue kirtle appeals to me. What about you?”

  Alban took a longer look at the women, about to say none of them did because he couldn’t imagine marrying a woman of the court, or of noble status. Not that he had the chance to, given his position. Several of the lassies were smiling at him, one even bold enough to wave. Then they all giggled.

  Alban smiled, then laughed. “They appeal, though I wouldna wish any of them for a bride.”

  Ward shook his head. “You willna be saying so if one of the lasses smiles sweetly at you and is quite agreeable.”

  Alban didn’t think it was the case, if she were a lady and ineligible to marry. Wouldn’t that just whet his appetite for that which he could not have?

  Before long, they reached sight of the massive stone castle. Ward told their men to set up camp in a clearing where no one had claimed the area yet. Tents were already set up all over the glen, different clans having claimed their own temporary spot of land.

  “We will see the king’s steward and let him know we have arrived.” Ward led Alban toward the inner baily where a man was writing on parchment and they both dismounted to speak to him.

  “I am Frederick Gustafson, steward to the king, and you are?”

  “Ward and Alban, brothers to Chief Ronan of the Clan Daziel, and we will be representing him here.”

  “He is ill?” the dark-haired steward asked, his brow arched in question.

  “His wife is having a bairn. He will be here as soon as he can.”

  The steward frowned at the notion the chief’s wife was more important than the king’s business, then jotted down notes.

  Alban glanced at his brother, but Ward was frowning at the steward.

  “The king has commanded that you stay at the castle. Your men can camp beyond the walls.”

  “But—“ Alban said, not wanting to be confined to the castle. He was sure to speak his mind at some time or another and if he did so, he wanted to do it in front of only Ward so he didn’t get himself in trouble. He assumed staying out in the glen, he could speak privately with Ward and get whatever he needed off his chest without being overheard.

  “We are honored.” Ward gave Alban a dark look, which meant he should be grateful for the king’s generosity and not argue with his steward.

>   The steward snapped his fingers and a lad standing nearby came running. Another immediately took Alban’s and Ward’s horses and led them to the stable.

  “Take these men to the blue chamber,” Lord Gustafson said.

  “Aye, my laird.” The sandy-haired boy was about nine and bowed to them before leading them into the castle.

  “Your name?” Alban asked him.

  “Tomas, my laird.”

  “Well, Tomas, do you know what the blue room’s importance is?”

  The boy’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “Nay, my laird. ‘Tis just a room for important lairds like yourselves.”

  Servants were rushing back and forth down the corridor, preparing for the guests’ arrivals while Alban wished they were well away from this place. He didn’t like that they’d been asked to stay here. That meant the king had to want some concession from Ronan and their people.

  “Here ‘tis, my lairds.” Tomas opened the door to the small chamber. Then he rushed off and left them alone.

  The chamber was furnished with one large bed, pegs on the wall, a table, two chairs, and a chest. Alban looked out of the window and saw the tents dotting the countryside.

  Smiling, Ward sat on the bed. “No’ bad. No’ bad at all.”

  “I agree, except…”—Alban shut the door—“I wonder just why we are here.”

  Ward left the bed and joined Alban, and the two of them peered out the window. “We can see our clansmen over there.” In a whisper, he said, “Remember, everything you say can easily be monitored here. If the chamber is for guests, we may have eyes watching all we do and say. So be very careful.”

  “Which is just why I preferred staying with our men.”

  “Even out there, you have to be careful of what you say. No telling who might be lurking about, waiting to hear some bit of gossip to pass along to the king.”

  “Since we have no choice, do you want me to return to our men and tell them we are obligated to stay here?” Alban was eager to do so, to get away from here forthwith.

  “Aye, but dinna tarry down there. We need to be here in case we are summoned for an audience.”

  “You mean if you are. You represent Ronan in his absence, not me.” And Alban was glad for it.

  “No matter. Return as soon as you give word to our men.”

  “Aye.” But Alban fully intended to take his time before he returned. Their brother was laird, and good at leading the men. Not that Alban couldn’t do so in battle, but he much preferred leaving politics to Ronan.

  Alban stalked across the floor, jerked the door open, and hurried into the hall, eager to leave the place. He was in such a rush to exit the chamber, when he bolted out of the room and slammed the door shut, he ran into a maid carrying a pitcher of water. He barely caught hold of her arm and the pitcher of water before it hit the floor and shattered into a million pieces of earthenware or she fell to join it. The brown-eyed, redheaded wench cried out when he startled her half to death. The pitcher managed to splash water all over them, soaking the front of her brown kirtle and his brat and tunic.

  Good thing she wasn’t a lady or the news would carry to the king about what a buffoon their new guest was.

  The woman was beautiful though, and he stood there with his mouth agape, staring at her creamy skin and flushed cheeks. Alarmingly beautiful. Only she and he were both sopping wet too.

  “Beg pardon,” he apologized to the woman finally. He’d never seen such a bonny lass before, except for the one he had chased around the loch when he was but a lad, but she was now married to their blacksmith. Well, and Ronan’s own lovely wife, and their sister too. But that wasn’t the same.

  He shifted his gaze from her kirtle where the wet wool clung to her breasts. He hoped she had not caught him gawking at her pebbled nipples, but he had only looked down to see how much of a mess he’d made, not for any other intent.

  She looked completely rattled. Could he blame her? “Here, let me refill the pitcher for you.”

  Her light brown eyes widened, but she managed a small smile. “You are no’ wet enough already?”

  He smiled back. “I dinna intend to spill anymore.”

  “Thank you kindly, my lord. But I can manage.” She took the pitcher from him and hurried off. She headed toward another room, knocked, glanced at him and smiled to see him watching her with utter fascination. Then the door opened and she went inside and the door shut behind her.

  He wished he’d asked the servant’s name. He should have told her he wasn’t a lord. Brother to one, aye. But that didn’t make any difference where he was concerned.

  Lady Aila couldn’t believe what had just happened with the spilled water between her and the Highlander as she rejoined her sister in the chamber. He was gorgeous with his long, dark curly hair, and his dark brown eyes that had melted her right to the spot as she so clumsily ran into him. But she’d been in a rush to fetch the water so she and her sister could wash off the mud from their travels, and he had been in just as much of a rush when he left his chamber too.

  She could still feel the strength and warmth of his touch as he’d held her up, making sure she hadn’t fallen.

  “What in the world happened to you?” Lady Wynda, her older sister asked, her dark hair hidden beneath a veil of pale blue silk. The king had already married her off to one of his barons, but he’d died in battle while serving him. So now Wynda was again the king’s ward. The king was eager to marry them both off this time because of their holdings in Scotland, a way to reward his loyal subjects.

  In truth, King Malcolm had planned the festivities with that in mind, but they were not the only ones he had brought to court with the same notion. The more alliances he could make with the lords in the area, the better for him when he needed to battle with the English or other Scottish lords who felt they should have been the next in line for the Scottish crown.

  “I ran into one of the lords staying in a nearby chamber. Quite literally. He apologized, but my, how braw he was,” Aila said to her sister.

  She hoped she would end up with a kind lord, one who would make her pulse quicken, and would intrigue her like the men she’d met whom she never could marry. Not when they had no title and the king would most definitely not have approved. Someone like the Highlander who’d bumped into her and was so gallant about offering to refill her water pitcher.

  “I do hope you apologized to him,” Wynda said, staring at Aila’s gown. “As wet as your bodice is, you need to change. Well, you do anyway, but you need to get the water so we can wash up if you dinna want me to do it.”

  “Nay, I’ll do it.”

  “You canna go out like that.” Wynda motioned to her gown. “What would possible suitors think? That you had wetted your gown to catch their eye, that is what.”

  Not that it hadn’t happened before. Mostly not on purpose—a sudden rain shower drenching the both of them, a boat, several had been crossing a river in, capsizing during rough weather, half drowning them. Or on purpose, but not to catch men’s eyes, like when she and her sister had splashed water on each other to cool down on one of those unseasonably hot days, and thought the men watching them were just amused to see the lasses playing in the loch. Until their mother warned them otherwise.

  But there was the time that both Aila and Wynda dampened their gowns for the sole purpose of catching lords’ eyes. By the time they had found the ones they were half interested in, their gowns had quite dried out.

  This was not the same. Rather innocent. And utterly enthralling. Because she did catch the lord’s attention, his gaze taking in her breasts, which made the tips tingle in response, and set off a curious little quiver deep in her belly. And lower.

  Wynda was now looking out the window at all the tents being set up. “You did apologize to the gentleman, did you no’? If he is as braw as you say.”

  No, she hadn’t. Not because she thought it was his fault, they both had collided with one another at the same time—but because she had been so taken wi
th the gentleman’s physique—she’d just stood there awestruck staring at him. What if he already had a wife?

  Aila sighed.

  “Are you positive you dinna want me to get the water this time?” Wynda, being a dark-haired beauty, appealed to men more than Aila did with her cursed red hair.

  Not that she didn’t love her hair, but just that most men she had met didn’t. “Nay, I will get it. The lord was leaving, so I shall not run into him again.” Though Aila wished it with all her heart. She couldn’t help that she was such a romantic. Her mother and father had loved one another, and she wanted what they’d had. Though she knew arranged marriages rarely resulted in such a thing. Certainly, it hadn’t been so in Wynda and her deceased husband’s case. Wynda was more circumspect about this business, having been through it once already. Aila couldn’t help but dream her fate would be better than that.

  Both their maids had gotten sick off something they had eaten on the journey here and were sleeping on pallets nearby, or they would have gotten the water for the sisters.

  Aila fanned her bodice, glancing down to see if it had dried a bit. She didn’t want to change into clean clothes when she was dirty from traveling.

  Her gown was still damp, but if she held the pitcher up, no one would notice. She poured what was left of the water into a basin.

  Wynda shook her head. “Do hurry though, Aila. We need to be in the great hall for the meal soon.”

  “Aye, I will fetch it as quick as a mouse. No one will ever notice me.” Except if she could catch his eye…the Highlander that was, and maybe she could even learn his name and offer her own.

  She hurried down the curved stone stairs until she reached the main floor and saw the Highlander speaking to a lad, Tomas, she thought his name was. She knew it would be unseemly to race across the bailey to the well, just so she could snag the lord’s attention. What if she tripped, fell, and broke the pitcher?

 
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