Author: Lane McFarland
Publisher: Lane McFarland
Editor: Alexa Bourne
Genre(s): Romance, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction Read Excerpt >
Alec dropped on the seat next to Heather, stretched his long legs before him and gazed over his tankard. “Ye’ve been busy. I’ve hardly seen ye.”
His smoky dark eyes drew out nervous energy, and she smoothed her skirt over her legs. “With Da still abed, I’ve tried to step in for him.”
Beathan moved around the desk. “And ye’re doing a good job.”
Heather smiled at him. He had been a tremendous help. What would she do without him?
“Repairs are moving along? The barn’s almost finished?” She held her breath. It had to be finished soon.
“It’s close. We should wind up in a few days.”
“Ye will head to Glencara then?”
Alec rested the heavy tankard on his thigh. “Are ye so ready for us to leave?”
Oh dear, was she that obvious? “I only inquire as ye and yer men are understandably ready to return home.” She cleared her throat. “I don’t want to keep ye any longer than necessary.”
He paused, and his gaze searched her face. “I want to be sure yer clan is secure before we head out.”
“I thank ye, but we’ll manage.”
His brow rose. “Until Symon shows up again?”
“I appreciate all ye’ve done, Laird Campbell. We certainly needed yer help, but I can manage until Da is back on his feet.”
“How will ye defend the castle? Women don’t know anything about strategy, but perhaps yer young warrior will appear to fend them off?”
She straightened. He had some kind of nerve.
Beathan casually placed his hand on her shoulder, a reminder to choose her words carefully. She bit her lip, wanting to retort, but instead, she changed the subject. “Do ye play chess, Laird Campbell?”
She would show him strategy.
Alec eyes widened. “I do.”
“Would ye care for a game?”
The corners of his mouth tugged upward. “Ye know how to play?”
The arrogance! “I’ve enjoyed the game for many years.”
Beathan placed his empty tankard on the table. “Watch out. She’s good.”
Eric stood and yawned. “It’s time for me to retire.”
“Please don’t leave,” she said. “I didn’t intend to break up yer meeting.”
Beathan rubbed his neck. “Ye didn’t, lass. It’s been a long day.”
“Verra well. Goodnight,” she called as the men left the room.
She slipped to the side cabinet and removed an old chess set from a large drawer, then placed it on the table between their chairs.
Alec leaned back, observing her placement of the black chess pieces on the board. “Where did ye learn to play?”
“My da taught me.” She set her queen and king on adjacent squares. “Contrary to what ye might believe, I can read, write and even perform basic calculations. Da even schooled me in the intricacies of warfare.”
He lounged in the chair. His long muscular legs encased in brow trews relaxed. His tunic, open at the neck, revealed dark hair peeking out. He leaned toward the table and placed the white chess pieces opposite her on the board. “Indeed?”
“My mum saw to it my sisters and I were educated. Da not only agreed to have Brother Martin provide lessons once a week, he granted all of us our wish to live our lives as we desired. That’s why Cameron devoted her life to the healing arts, Lindsey has managed Da’s stables for years now, and my youngest sister, Elsbeth, set out with the sisters of the abbey to protect orphaned children.”
Alec’s dark eyes focused on her. “And what of ye, Heather? How do ye wish to live yer life?”
His intense gaze mesmerized her as if he could read her thoughts. “I oversee the castle’s household chores, and care for its people.”
His eyebrow quirked. “That is yer dream? To run yer da’s castle?”
Heather cleared her throat and sat back. Time to change the subject. “I’ll let ye start.”
He hesitated, then responded, “All right.”
He advanced a pawn two spaces.
Heather made a similar move.
“And just what intricacies did yer da teach ye?” He slid his rook across two vacant squares.
She studied him. Did he ridicule her? Most men scoffed at a woman’s knowledge of the art of battle. Richard’s sneering face loomed before her, but Alec’s gaze was intent. He appeared genuinely interested.
“Never let yer enemy know what ye’re thinking.” She hesitated, the words she recited with Da rambling through her head. “Never let them see ye nervous. Hold them close enough to know their weaknesses then call their bluff.”
Alec’s eyes narrowed. “Ruthless words for one so soft.”
She moved another pawn, aware of his attention upon her. “As with the Goddess Athena, I strive to use reason over brawn, but it’s not always effective.”
His booted foot brushed her leg. Her gaze shot to his face, but he did not seem to notice he had touched her. With heightened nerves, even the bump of his trews against her leg jolted her senses. Her fingers shook. She abruptly reached for her bishop, and her hand collided with his. The black piece clattered to the board on its side.
His head tilted. “Did I misstep?”
She straightened. “I beg yer pardon?”
“I did not yet make my move.”
Pinpricks crept up her neck and she grimaced. Totally captivated in the sensations he caused by the mere sweep of his leg against hers, she lost concentration in the game. So much for her formidable battle words. With one touch, he disconcerted her, causing irrational feelings to course through her body. “I apologize. Please continue.”
She pulled herself together and studied the board as they progressed, strategically positioning her pieces and focusing on her next move. Each time she glanced up, his eyes were fixed on her, not the chessboard. Perhaps she could distract him for a change.
Arching her back in a stretch, she thrust her chest toward him.
She heard his intake of air. She had him.
Just a couple more well-placed moves. “It’s yer turn.”
He inspected the board and straightened, puzzling over how to situate his pieces. “Yer beauty has me at a disadvantage, lass.”
He expertly moved his knight.
Why hadn’t she seen that opening? Her teeth raked her bottom lip as she considered her options. She had to take a defensive position and move her queen out of harm’s way.
He grinned as she struggled with losing her rook. After several strategic moves, he sat back. “Checkmate.”
She could not believe it—she had him a few moments earlier. Her arms dropped to her sides, shoulders hunched.
“Well done,” Alec said.
Heather lifted her gaze to meet his.
“Ye’re quite a player.”
“Obviously not quite good enough. I’ll have to practice with Da.”
Alec enveloped her hand in his warm, callused palm. He stroked the back of her knuckles. “Ye can practice with me anytime.”
Her heart slammed against the walls of her chest. Her breathing grew erratic. He brought her fingers to his mouth, his gaze never leaving her face as he kissed the back of her hand.
“The winner exacts his reward.” He stood and moved around the table, tugging her to her feet. She should not get this close to him, but her resolve dissipated, her longing to be in his arms too great.
Although he smiled, his piercing eyes bore into her. Her knees wobbled when he tugged her into his strong embrace, lowered his head, and gently brushed her lips with his mouth.
His heavy, rough stubble grazed her cheek. She closed her eyes and breathed in a whiff of ale mixed with charred wood smoke. Heat spread from his large body, engulfing her in his essence. She ran her hands along his powerful arms to his broad shoulders. His chiseled, well-honed muscles bunched underneath her touch.
Her pulse quickened. The overpowering effect frightened her. No man commanded such a response in her. He exuded dominance and strength. She should be in control, but her traitorous body acted of its own accord, relishing in the safety and security his hold invoked. She must push him away ─ keep him at a distance.
He slowly eased his tongue into her mouth, and desire flooded her body. Her legs buckled, and her head reeled at his assault on her senses, thrilling passion coursing through her veins. His hands roved her back and lower to her bottom.
A knock on the door startled them. She guiltily broke away, smoothing her hair.
Muire stuck her head inside. “Excuse me, Heather, but yer father asks for ye.”
Heat crept up her neck and over her face. Her mouth and cheeks tingled from Alec’s scratchy beard, and she suspected Muire recognized the telltale signs.
Heather ran her hand down the front of her gown. Trying to compose herself, she cleared her throat and glanced at Alec. “Thank ye for the chess game. I’ll challenge ye to a rematch.”
He bowed slightly. “I look forward to it.”
Heather ~ The Daughters of Alastair MacDougall ~ Book II | See Bio >
Book 2 of 4 in the The Daughters of Alastair MacDougall Series.
The Daughters of Alastair MacDougall
Set in late thirteenth century Scotland, this series tells the stories of Laird Alastair MacDougall’s four independent and oftentimes, headstrong daughters coming of age in a country fraught with war and feuds amongst rival clans. Follow his daughters as their lives become intertwined with four fierce, rebel highland warriors bent on eradicating the English soldiers from their homeland.
Bent on overcoming the belief he’s failed his aging father, Laird Alec Campbell concentrates on proving his worth to his people. He provides for them and leads men into battle, vowing never again to disappoint his clan or lose his heart.
Bound by a promise to her dying mother, Heather MacDougall secretly leads rebel warriors in her quest to keep her clan intact and hold off those who plot to overtake her father’s land. She fights to keep her secrets safe, while resisting the lure of the handsome young laird who challenges her defenses.
They can’t deny their passionate attraction, but can their love survive their secrets?
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