Of the seven bold brothers born to defend their Scottish Highlands, Crevan McTiernay is the most restrained. But that doesn't make him any less passionate…
IT BEGINS AS A PLOY…
When Raelynd Schellden and her sister are caught in the stables with the notorious McTiernay twins, her father sees not scandal, but opportunity. The future of his clan is uncertain, and a double engagement-even under false pretenses-will lend security to his people and protect his beloved daughters from power-mad fools.
AND BECOMES A PLEASURE
But Raelynd's designated intended interests her far less than his quietly powerful brother Crevan, a man born to lead. Though bound by honor and committed to his sworn duty, Crevan cannot resist a taste of Raelynd's crimson lips when offered-and then another and another-until the unlikely couple is entangled in both a public deception and each other's hearts…
Praise for Michele Sinclair
"Once again Sinclair demonstrates her ability to touch readers' minds and hearts, keeping them enthralled." -Romantic Times on Desiring the Highlander
"Sensual and humorous, a winning combination that everyone can enjoy." -Hannah Howell, New York Times bestselling author on The Highlander's Bride
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September 05, 2011
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Excerpt from Tempting the Highlander by Michele Sinclair
1310, Caireoch Castle
Raelynd silently both cursed and thanked the large crowd in the Great Hall that made her escape difficult, but possible. Ironically, they all had come to watch and cheer for her as she chose one of the men her father had carefully selected to be her groom. She had stayed long enough to confirm her father's assertion that all were fine looking men and they were undoubtedly able soldiers, but not a one was interested in her. And why should they be? They did not know her nor she them. Greed had motivated their supposed interest in her, craving appetites to become the next Laird Schellden. Fortunately, her sister had finally come to her rescue. Mistaken identity was a taxing consequence of being a twin, but tonight, it allowed her presence to be seamlessly replaced at the head table without anyone aware.
Making her way out the Hall's back entrance, which led to the buttery and the kitchens, she was seen and recognized by many servants, but they knew to remain silent. To them, her popping up unexpectedly in places where nobles normally would not venture was no different than any other night. Raelynd and her sister often caused mischief using their physical similarities to relieve their boredom. And with an overly indulgent father and their mother dying when they were only twelve, there was no one to intervene and teach them otherwise.
Sticking her head out the kitchen door, Raelynd quickly scanned the small bailey and let go a long sigh. There were a few soldiers and clansmen mulling around but they numbered less than a dozen. By the way they were staggering, they were on the verge of passing out and would be unable to remember anything. Straight ahead held the entrance of the one place in the castle that might serve as a potential refuge.
With a grimace, Raelynd lifted up the hem of her bliaut and dashed across the courtyard to the closer of the castle's two large round towers. Darting inside and out of sight, she leaned back against the cool stones and closed her eyes. "Courage, Lyndee," she said aloud, reminding herself that this was the one place no one would look for her. Taking a large gulp of air, Raelynd forced her reluctant limbs up the narrow, winding, four flights of stairs until she reached the top.
Pressing her hand against the heavy wooden planks that led to the outside, she paused, debating which was worse--the cramped damp space of the tower staircase or the high view that came with open air. Making a decision, she carefully pushed open the door and poked her head outside. The night breeze whipped through the battlements, freeing a lock of her tawny-colored hair and flicking it across her eyes. Raelynd tucked it back behind her ear and then hugged herself, reconsidering her plan.
"Where is she?" came a muffled grumpy bellow from somewhere in the Great Hall as the music and clapping suddenly ceased.
Raelynd bit her bottom lip at the sound of her father's stinging question she knew was directed at her sister. But Meriel was the expert at handling her father. The sounds of the Hall's doors repeatedly opening and closing as people went in and out could mean many things, but Raelynd knew her father had ordered his soldiers to look for her. And once found, she would be forced to return to the festivities and her supposed destiny. Why couldn't her father understand that neither she nor her sister was interested in marriage?
More shouts. Taking a deep breath, Raelynd stepped out onto the tower floor and shuffled as close to the battlement's edge as she dared, balancing her fear of falling with her need to see. Glancing around a crenel, she verified the accuracy of her guess. Soldiers were emerging from the Great Hall, several of whom she recognized as being eager, potential groomsmen. Groaning, she squeezed her eyes shut and rested against the uneven stones, wishing she was as good at deflecting her father's plans as her sister was. In very few areas would Raelynd ever consider Meriel stronger than her, but when it came to handling their father, her sister was the expert, easily ignoring anything she did not find desirable.
After a minute, the shouts died and Raelynd reopened her eyes. Her heart came to an immediate and abrupt stop. She was not alone. As she should have guessed, someone was on duty manning the tower.
A male figure was across from her, hidden within the shadows and leaning against a precipice, looking up at the stars. Based on his bulky silhouette, the man resembled the type of suitor her father had selected to woo her. Debating how she could sneak back down before being seen, the dark figure shifted and returned Raelynd's unavoidable stare. She blinked. Now that he wasn't bending over, she could discern his real height. Whoever he was, he was enormous.
The shadows hid all but a few physical details. His gaze, however, pierced the darkness. His eyes were examining her, and Raelynd felt suddenly exposed. It was as if he had the ability to peer down into her soul, her true self, and was deciding if she were indeed worthy.
A crisp, angry shout from below caught his attention and the momentary bond was severed. His chin jutted toward the opening in the battlements. "Your suitors are looking f-for you." The voice was deep, silky, and unfamiliar. "Are you going to tell them where I am?" Raelynd asked, and hugged herself even tighter.
"As that w-would bring them here, I had not planned on it." The mocking tone made it clear he was serious in his desire to be alone, but also that he was not upset with her presence. Raelynd released the breath she had been holding and ordered herself to relax.
"May I ask something that might be considered overly bold?"
Her question brought forth a deep laugh, not loud enough for anyone in the courtyard to hear, but of ample volume to convey that he knew of her--what she called daring, but her father deemed audacious--personality. "If you'd like."
Raelynd took a half step forward. "Are you one of them?" she asked, gesturing down to the growing number of men searching the grounds below. "My suitors, I mean." "And if I w-was?"
Raelynd cocked her head and peered into the shimmering eyes that had held hers so easily just a few minutes ago. Almost immediately she recognized her question as foolish. If he were a suitor, he would not be escaping the crowd, but participating in it. So what was he doing up here? Perhaps he, too, was evading someone. "Are you already married then?"
Crevan choked. "No," he blurted out. Every soldier who spent any time training with Laird Schellden knew of his beloved twin daughters, so Crevan had assumed Raelynd had also been aware of who he was. But he was wrong, for if she did, she would have never asked him that particular question.
"Why? Do you not wish to be?"
The inquiry Raelynd posed was sincere, but far from new. His sister-in-law had been verbally dancing around the concept of his getting married for the last couple of years. He could hear Laurel now. "Your elder brothers have found wedded bliss, do you not wish for the same thing? Come now, Crevan, you are young, but if you are ever to marry you must at least begin to look. You are not even pretending to try."
Truth was, he did want the deep love his brothers had discovered. They had not only found passion, but an unwavering friend. But that type of relationship was never likely to be his. If he ever did marry, it would not be from emotional compulsion. "Perhaps someday," he finally answered.
"Not me," Raelynd huffed, moving just a fraction farther away from the tower's side.
Crevan suppressed a chuckle. Taking over guard duty for a few hours was turning out to be far more interesting than he had planned. "Is that w-why you are here? To hide?" Raelynd nodded. "No one will ever look for me up here. I do not like heights and this is one of the places Father refuses to light the torches."
Crevan leaned back, finding himself surprisingly at ease with the boldest of Laird Schellden's twin daughters. "Light only alerts those on the ground how many are on guard and w-w-where, but I w-will light them if you w-wish." Raelynd's jaw tightened. "Did you not hear what I said?" she snapped, fighting to keep her voice soft. "I want to hide, not announce my whereabouts." She did not actually add the words "you fool" but her thoughts were reflected in her expression, clear for all to see.
Crevan shrugged, unperturbed. "I shall leave you then." Raelynd waved a hand to stop him, just as he suspected she would. "No, wait. I, um--" She paused, desperately searching for a reason to keep him from leaving her alone while up so high. "What were you doing . . . before I interrupted?" He appraised the young girl before him. At sixteen, people thought Raelynd Schellden, with her dark gold hair and green and amber flecked eyes, a beauty and Crevan agreed that she would someday become one. For him, however, it was her indomitable spirit that made her attractive. Luckily, her youth also made him immune.
"Looking at the stars," he finally answered.
"The stars?" Raelynd repeated as she scrunched her brows and looked up at the night sky. She had seen them many times, but stargazing? She had never understood the appeal. "Why?"
"It helps to clear my thoughts," he replied, wishing that tonight it had worked. Unfortunately, he had not found the peace and solace the heavenly objects usually brought.
The evening's party had originally been planned to observe Schellden's twin daughters turning sixteen, but over the past few days it had evolved into more than just a birthday celebration. His eldest brother, Conor McTiernay, had returned victorious from battle, helping King Robert's forces ward off a second invasion led by England's newest earl, Piers Gaveston. And Rae Schellden, the McTiernay clan's closest neighbor and ally, had practically demanded the privilege of welcoming Conor home.
All night Crevan had heard the praise for his fraternal twin brother, Craig, and how well he had managed the clan affairs while their eldest brother was fighting in Perth. It mattered little that the responsibility should have been given to both Craig and Crevan, since both had an equal claim to the right of temporary chieftain. Yet, it was Craig who Conor had, without any discussion, placed in charge. And why shouldn't he have selected Craig? Unlike himself, Craig could talk without a stammer. He could easily address the masses. And yet, no one knew that Craig would have mishandled the responsibility if Crevan had not been in the background, listening, advising, and basically directing all the work and decisions.
On the battleground, his brother was fearless and resolute, but when it came to the livelihoods of his fellow clansmen, Craig was continually hesitant to the point of inaction, fearing an incorrect or harmful decision. So Crevan had managed the clan covertly. Not until Conor's return had he realized just how much he had enjoyed the position of leadership. But with three capable elder brothers and the unspoken title as fourth son going to his twin, the likelihood of his inheriting the McTiernay lairdship was extremely slim. And with his speech impediment, Crevan was under no illusions about any chances of wooing a noblewoman and marrying into such a title.
"Never let anyone determine your f-future, my lady." Raelynd huffed and crossed her arms. "I don't intend to. Not my father, not anyone. I bet you find that shocking." Crevan took in a deep breath and sighed. "I f-find that I am jealous."
She stared at him and determined that he was serious. "Why? You are a man. Can you not determine your own fate? You do not look so old to me."
Crevan grinned. He hoped not. He was only twenty. "I was reminded tonight that my f-fate was written f-for me long ago."
"Sounds like it is not a happy one."
Crevan pushed back against the stones behind him and then dusted the dirt off his hands using his plaid. "It is not a gloomy one," he countered nonchalantly.
"Well, I want happiness. Nothing else."
"Then I suggest you f-find w-what w-will give you that happiness and never let anyone s-w-way you from your course."
Raelynd watched the group of her would-be suitors regather and then disperse once again with new instructions. Soon, her father would order the entire castle to be searched, which would eventually include where she was hiding. "My father believes my happiness entails marriage."
"He wants an heir."
Raelynd's head snapped back to glare at him. "That's not cause to marry. I mean would you pledge yourself for life to one person for such a reason?" she demanded.
"It depended. For myself? No. For my clan . . . ? Perhaps."
Raelynd paused. She had thought she had been talking to one of her father's soldiers, but it suddenly occurred to her that the mysterious stargazer might not even belong to the Schellden clan. Stepping forward, she asked, "Who are you?"
Crevan smiled and inched deeper into the shadows. "Just a man who enjoys looking at the heavens." Raelynd eyed his clothes but could not make out the colors of his plaid. Her father had invited only one other clan tonight, the McTiernays, who had gathered in part to celebrate their latest success. Could this be one of the famous McTiernay brothers? He was definitely not Conor, the clan chieftain, whom she knew she had left below. The next two older brothers were married and no longer lived in the area, but it was possible she was visiting with one of the McTiernay twins. They had come years before, for training, but they had kept their distance and had successfully avoided her and her sister. A fact that had rankled both of them enormously, even to this day.
Against prudence, Raelynd decided not to leave and instead, pointed to the night sky. "Tell me about them."
Crevan suspected that she had figured out his identity.
The little he had witnessed of her from afar, Raelynd Schellden was quite intelligent, she just lacked the maturity attained through life experience. "See that one, the bright one?" he asked, moving in behind her and pointing upward so that she could follow the direction of his finger.
"It never leaves the sky and it alw-ways lies to the north." Raelynd nodded, enjoying the sound of his voice. It was strong and soft and made her feel like she was in a bubble, protected from the world's criticisms and expectations. She had never been kissed, nor could she ever remember wanting to be. She had no idea what to expect from an embrace, but if she were to ever learn, a McTiernay was going to be the one to teach her.
"Tell me more, would you?" she pleaded, not wanting the moment to end. But it was too late. Before he could answer, a shout from below revealed that someone had spotted her.
Crevan stepped back. "Your hair gave you away. Best you go down before you get into trouble."
Raelynd turned and moved toward the floor opening. She stumbled and Crevan instinctively grabbed her elbow to steady her, stepping just outside the shadows enough for her to see his eyes.
They were a spell-weaving color of blue. Like brilliant sapphires.
Raelynd knew then that her instinct had been right. He was a McTiernay. One of the twins was rumored to be reserved and rarely seen. The other could supposedly woo a woman with his gaze. And this one, with a single touch and look, had turned her body into liquid and lit her skin on fire. Here stood Craig McTiernay, known to be the most charming of all the McTiernay brothers.
Footsteps climbing the staircase echoed through the opening and Raelynd knew she had to leave. Not only was she about to be found, but she was about to do something foolish. Breaking the connection, she darted around him and quickly descended the tower steps without another word, but not without a promise.