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Entries in highlanders (4)

Wednesday
Aug272014

Eye On Romance Topshelf: The Highlander Next Door by Janet Chapman, Author 

 
On the Eye On Romance Topshelf: The Highlander Next Door by Janet Chapman, Author

Available August 26, 2014

From the New York Time bestselling Janet Chapman comes this delightful tale of a young woman who's had enough of men...until she ...meets her spectacular new neighbor.

Order from Amazon now:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0515153222/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0515153222&linkCode=as2&tag=taragreen-20&linkId=4CP7KM76VLEDJN7X

Legend has it love is carried on the rising mists of Spellbound Falls, and not even time-traveling highlanders are immune to its magic…

Birch Callahan has seen the trouble men can cause. After witnessing her mother’s four marriages, Birch now runs a women’s shelter and doesn’t want a man in her life. But there’s something about her neighbor, Niall MacKeage. Birch can’t figure out how the cop can be so big and gruff and yet so insightful and compassionate—and sexy. Or how she’s falling for a man who acts like someone from the twelfth century.

Niall knows that Birch is attracted to him, even if she seems to distrust all men. Yet he also knows she has a secret—something that drives her to place herself in harm’s way for the women of her shelter. Niall would gladly rush to Birch’s side to protect her from harm, but with their secrets standing between them, he’ll have to reveal his own truth if he wants to keep her…

#JanetChapman #highlanders #newromances #EyeOnRomanceTopshelf

Authors: Want to be on the Topshelf?? Contact me at tara@eyeonromance.com for your promotion.
Friday
Jul042014

(Day 5) Special Edition Romance Previews: MY REBEL HIGHLANDER by Vonda Sinclair

 

  

 

 

 Order now from

 Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks

 

ABOUT THE BOOK: Known for his wicked wit, fierce loyalty, and skills in battle, Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, loves freedom and has no plans of marrying anytime soon. But when his father, a powerful Scottish marquess, signs a contract betrothing Rebbie to an earl's young daughter, he is furious. If he has to marry, he's determined to choose his own bride, though he has no inkling who he would wish to wed until fate intervenes to remind him of one fair-haired, nameless beauty and the passionate night they spent together years ago. A night forever etched in his memory.

 

Lady Calla Ferguson, a penniless widow with a young son, is forced to seek employment as her cousin's companion in order to pay her late husband's massive gambling debt. Having been ignored or mistreated most of her life, Calla has become a resourceful survivor who will stop at nothing to get what she wants—safety and security for her son and herself. Wealthy merchant, Claybourne cares little for the money the Earl of Stanbury owed him; he simply wants the earl's beautiful, voluptuous widow and he'll do whatever it takes to get his hands on her, even kidnapping and blackmail.

When Rebbie happens upon Claybourne abducting Calla, he rescues her and hides her in a secluded castle deep in the wild Scottish Highlands. Calla conceals her passionate spirit beneath reserve and duty, along with closely-guarded secrets which, if exposed, could ruin both her life and her son's. Years ago, she lost her heart to a dark-eyed stranger she never thought to see again, but now he's her protector. Rebbie craves another pleasurable night like the one they shared in the past, and she cannot resist the fiery passion that echoes deep in her heart and soul. Soft but strong, Calla sparks within Rebbie a desperate hunger and a need to protect her. But will her secrets tear them apart?

Learn more at:

 

 

Day 5:

Though Rebbie wants to stay at Draughon Castle to be close to Calla, he leaves when Lady Elena and her father try to force him into the marriage with Elena. After going on a three day errand, he returns to Draughon Village and spends a night at the inn. This is what happens the next morning.

 

Wearing his belted plaid kilt, Rebbie stepped out of the Breakstane Inn and approached his saddled horse where the groom from the livery stable held him. He secured his clothing behind his saddle. Dreading the trip to Draughon and the conversation to come with Barclay, he hoisted himself into the saddle.

A scream sliced through the air.

"What the devil?" His gaze scanned the village.

Down the street, in front of the livery, a man carried a kicking, screaming woman into the stables.

"Hold him," Rebbie said to the groom, then leapt off the horse and ran forward, determined to help her, whoever she was. She wore a black cloak and cowl but a lock of blond hair slipped free. Given her petite size, the woman looked like… Nay, it couldn't be.

Calla?

He withdrew his sword and charged into the stables.

"Release her, you whoreson!" Halting, Rebbie squinted into the dimness, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

"This is none of your concern, Highlander." The man's voice grated from the shadows.

Rebbie now easily discerned the man's gangly silhouette. He held Calla, his hand over her mouth muffling her protests. Her eyes wide with terror, she kicked and elbowed her captor, but he didn't loosen his hold.

"Release Lady Stanbury or I will cut you down where you stand!"

Laughing, the man shoved Calla into one of the stalls, latched the door, then drew his basket-hilt broadsword.

"Rebbie!" Calla rattled the door as if trying to open it. "Nay! Watch out!"

"Have no fear. I'll get you out," he told her. "Once I kill this whoreson."

Claybourne charged and thrust the blade, but Rebbie easily deflected his blow. The man was tall and thin, dressed in well-tailored dark brown breeches and doublet with an expensive collar at his neck. Obviously, some sort of laird. Rebbie struck out, his blade nicking the man's arm through his fine doublet. Blood soaked the exposed white linen of his shirt.

The man flicked a glance down at his arm. "Bastard!"

Rebbie sent him a malicious grin and sliced again but the man dodged back.

"Hastings!" the knave yelled through the wide, open doorway toward the street.

Och. So he needed backup, did he?

Rebbie pressed his attack and the man fled the stables. Rebbie ran to the stall where Calla was confined and opened the door. "Are you well?"

"Aye."

"What the devil is going on?"

Tears glinting in her eyes, she shook her head. "Is he gone?"

"He ran outside. Come. I must get you back to Draughon." He offered his elbow and she slid her hand around it. "What are you doing here alone?"

"I'm not alone. The driver, maid, and guard are with the coach down the street," she said, her voice shaky. "I came to pick up Lady Elena's dress."

He didn't have time to ask what she was doing so far from the coach and the others in her party. Wielding his bloody-tipped sword, Rebbie glanced this way and that as he led her from the stables. On the muddy street, at twenty yards, the whoreson stood talking to another man. Almost a half-dozen others stood behind him.

"Grab her!" he yelled and charged forward with the rest of his men.

"What the hell?" Rebbie muttered and rushed Calla to his horse. Why were these men after her? He didn't have time to ask questions. After sheathing his sword, he lifted her into his saddle and leapt on behind her. He headed the horse toward Draughon, but when he rounded the bend at the edge of the village, several armed men on horseback waited in the road, too many for him to best alone while protecting Calla.

Rebbie drew his sword and slashed at the first man to approach. The blade sliced his forearm and he fell back, screaming. The other men on horseback formed a barricade across the road leading to Draughon, swords drawn. With Calla on his horse, he couldn't risk riding head-long through them. She could be grievously injured or killed.

His only other alternative was a well-worn trail leading to the right. Mayhap he could circle around to Draughon. He guided Devil in that direction.

"Stop them!" the whoreson yelled behind them.

Holding Calla tightly before him, Rebbie urged the stallion into a breakneck gallop across the moor. The horse relished a good run anyway. Rebbie tried to figure out how to circle back to Draughon Castle, but then he remembered that the River Tay lay in their path. The bridge was further back. Damnation. Now what was he going to do? With all the rain, the river was too deep and swollen to wade through.

He glanced back at the dozen or more pursuers in the distance. "Hell," he growled through clenched teeth. Why were they so determined to capture Calla?

As they crossed a grassy field, Rebbie gave the horse his head. Devil leapt a stone dyke, then galloped along another muddy road. He followed it northwest for a mile or two. Moments later, he slowed Devil, not wanting to lather him, and glanced back. The whoresons were nowhere in evidence, but Rebbie still had to keep ahead of them.

Or mayhap he could outsmart them.

A thick wood lay ahead. The dark green leaves would provide good cover. He directed the horse into the trees, hoping to hide while their pursuers rode by. Then, they could double back and head south again toward Draughon.

Devil's breath whooshed in and out. 'Twas the only sound within the quiet forest, but not loud enough for anyone approaching to hear over their own horses' hoof-beats… if anyone should appear.

Rebbie focused on the road he could see through the branches, but the sweet floral scent of Calla's unbound hair wafted up his nose, distracting him.

"Did he hurt you?" he asked her.

"Nay. I thank you for rescuing me." Her soft, feminine voice grabbed at something within him, making him want to protect her with every last ounce of strength he possessed.

"I'm glad I was there to help." He couldn't imagine what the knave would've done to her if he hadn't shown up. Raped her? Killed her?

None of the bastards passed by on the road beyond the wood. He listened for hoof-beats in the distance, but all was quiet.

"Where the devil are they?" Rebbie grumbled. "No doubt lying in wait for us to return. How would he know we need to get to Draughon Castle?"

When Calla didn't respond, he frowned, growing more and more curious. "Who is that bastard? He's a laird, is he not?"

Calla nodded and turned toward him a bit. "A wealthy merchant. Edward Claybourne. But, aye, he owns land."

"And why is he trying to abduct you?"

Her back to him, she faced forward again and dropped her head, as if she were staring down at her hands.

"Come now, Calla. Tell me," he said gently, eyeing her lush flaxen curls, wanting to bury his hand in them and experience the softness of her.

He hadn't asked if he could call her Calla, but given their past intimacy, he thought 'twas not out of the question. And he certainly wanted her to call him Rebbie.

She turned her head, her profile clear. "Claybourne and my late husband often gambled. Stanbury lost everything he owned—which wasn't entailed—to him and grew deeply in debt before he died. I've been repaying Claybourne, but 'tis not enough."

"'Slud!" Rebbie shook his head, his heart sinking, just imagining the horrible situation she was entangled in. "What a bastard." Both her husband and Claybourne.

She nodded.

Hell. That had to mean Calla was penniless, then. That was why she was working as a companion to Elena. How could her husband leave her in such dire straits? Had he been daft? This Claybourne was evidently a piece of work, trying to abduct her because he'd won everything from her late husband. What an evil-hearted whoreson. He'd best not touch Calla again or Rebbie would slice him limb from limb. He couldn't risk riding back south with Calla. He couldn't fight Claybourne's garrison singlehandedly and still protect her.

Her feminine scent, a blend of roses and lavender, teased his nose. Damnation, but she was bewitching. He wanted to bury his nose in her hair and breathe her in. She would of a certainty think him mad. He would also love to smell the delicate skin of her neck, then kiss her there. Taste her. Hell. He almost growled the word.

"We'll ride northwest." Rebbie needed to distract himself from her allure and focus on how best to keep her safe.

"Where will we go?" she asked. Despite the dangerous situation, he found himself liking the sound of we coming from her lips. Was he daft? There was no we.

"I have a small castle deeper in the Highlands," he said. "Tummel Castle, about forty miles from here…"

 

(excerpt concluded)

 

Wednesday
Jul022014

(Day 3) Special Edition Romance Previews: MY REBEL HIGHLANDER by Vonda Sinclair

 

  

 

 Order now from

 Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks

 

ABOUT THE BOOK: Known for his wicked wit, fierce loyalty, and skills in battle, Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, loves freedom and has no plans of marrying anytime soon. But when his father, a powerful Scottish marquess, signs a contract betrothing Rebbie to an earl's young daughter, he is furious. If he has to marry, he's determined to choose his own bride, though he has no inkling who he would wish to wed until fate intervenes to remind him of one fair-haired, nameless beauty and the passionate night they spent together years ago. A night forever etched in his memory.

Lady Calla Ferguson, a penniless widow with a young son, is forced to seek employment as her cousin's companion in order to pay her late husband's massive gambling debt. Having been ignored or mistreated most of her life, Calla has become a resourceful survivor who will stop at nothing to get what she wants—safety and security for her son and herself. Wealthy merchant, Claybourne cares little for the money the Earl of Stanbury owed him; he simply wants the earl's beautiful, voluptuous widow and he'll do whatever it takes to get his hands on her, even kidnapping and blackmail.

When Rebbie happens upon Claybourne abducting Calla, he rescues her and hides her in a secluded castle deep in the wild Scottish Highlands. Calla conceals her passionate spirit beneath reserve and duty, along with closely-guarded secrets which, if exposed, could ruin both her life and her son's. Years ago, she lost her heart to a dark-eyed stranger she never thought to see again, but now he's her protector. Rebbie craves another pleasurable night like the one they shared in the past, and she cannot resist the fiery passion that echoes deep in her heart and soul. Soft but strong, Calla sparks within Rebbie a desperate hunger and a need to protect her. But will her secrets tear them apart?

Learn more at:

 

Day 3:

We meet Rebbie, the hero, and discover the trap his father has set for him.

 

Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, rode toward Draughon Castle with his plaid flying. He grinned, wondering what his friend, Lachlan MacGrath-Drummagan, the Earl of Draughon, would say about his fine Highland garb which he'd grown to love. While staying in Durness with their friend, Dirk, Rebbie had taken to wearing a belted plaid more often. He was, after all, a Highlander, though because he'd spent much of his time in the Lowlands, England, or on the continent, he did not always dress as such. When he'd needed new clothing in Durness, plaids were far more plentiful than breeches or trews, and he found he loved the sense of freedom a plaid gave him.

"Wait, m'laird!"

Rebbie glanced back along the muddy, rutted coach road, green bushes encroaching on either side, to see his manservant, George Sweeny, trying to keep up on the smaller horse, while he led the pack horse carrying Rebbie's belongings. Rebbie slowed his mount to give George time to catch up. It had taken them a fortnight to travel from Durness to Perth. Fortunately, most of his journey had been by galley.

Soon, massive iron gates and high stone walls loomed before him, and beyond them, the impressive Draughon Castle with its four round towers. He drew up and his spirited black stallion reared. "Whoa, Devil!"

"That be you, Laird Rebbinglen?" the guard called down from the gate house.

"Aye."

"I hardly recognize you in all that plaid."

"Ha." Rebbie grinned.

When the gates opened, Rebbie and George proceeded through. In the stone-paved courtyard, they dismounted. Rebbie handed the reins to George, then sprinted up the keep's front steps. The two guards on either side of the door bowed. "Laird Rebbinglen," they greeted, while one opened the door. Aye, they remembered him from his stay here last autumn.

Upon entering the two-story great hall, he paused until his eyes adjusted to the dimness, lit here and there by candles.

"Rebbie?" Lachlan's voice echoed from the other end of the huge room. "Welcome." His fair-haired friend met him in the middle of the great hall, shook his hand and gave him a rough, back-slapping embrace. "'Tis good to see you again, my friend."

"Likewise. Married life appears to be agreeing with you." Aye, his friend looked as fit and happy as the last time he'd seen him.

Lachlan's grin widened. "Angelique and I have a wee new daughter. She's the loveliest angel you'll ever set eyes upon."

Rebbie smiled at his friend's obvious delight. "I'm certain she is. Congratulations."

Lachlan's gaze dropped to Rebbie's belted plaid, much like his own, and he laughed. "What the devil are you wearing? I've never seen you wear a breacan-an-fheilidh."

"Does it suit me?"

"Aye. Finally, you're a Highlander, as you've always claimed to be. Do I have Dirk to thank for this?"

"'Haps. Or maybe 'twas the cold weather up north."

"'Tis about time you arrived, Robert," someone at the other end of the room called out. He was half hidden behind a screen. The voice was older, urbane, and a bit stodgy.

"Who is that?" Rebbie muttered low, but he had a sinking feeling he already knew. Not many people called him Robert. Frowning, he strode forward.

God's teeth. Nay! His father, William MacInnis, the Marquess of Kilverntay, sat near the hearth with another man.

"Da, what in blazes are you doing here?" Rebbie asked.

"Ha!" His father got to his feet, looking a wee bit older than the last time Rebbie had seen him. His long dark hair now showed a few strands of gray. "That's a fine way to greet your own da, whom you haven't visited in over a year."

Well, aye. 'Haps he should feel guilty about that, but he'd stayed away because his father's obsessively controlling nature drove Rebbie mad. "A good day to you, sir," he said, giving in to good manners. He shook his father's hand, then embraced him. He indeed loved his father; he simply had a difficult time living near him.

His father pulled back and motioned to the man with short gray hair next to him. "This is a good friend of mine, the Earl of Barclay."

The man stood, casting Rebbie a speculative, distrustful look from his keen blue eyes.

Rebbie shook his hand. "A pleasure, Barclay."

"Rebbinglen."

"Why haven't you been to visit?" his father asked.

"I was planning to in September." Aye, a very brief visit of a day or two. 'Twas all he could take.

"Do you think I believe that?" His father raised a dark brow.

"How are the lasses?" Rebbie asked of his four sisters. He rarely visited them because his stepmother was intolerable. Considering that his father lived on a different estate, he must have found her intolerable, too.

"Fine, fine. Lily is eighteen summers now and I'll have to start searching out a husband for her… as soon as you're married." His father smiled.

Damnation, Rebbie shouldn't have sent his father the missive, telling him where he was headed when he'd left Glasgow. But he always tried to keep his father abreast of where he was, since he traveled so much. His father had never followed him before. Why was he here now?

"If you weren't always trying to force me to marry some aristocrat's daughter, I would visit more often."

His father sent him a calculating look. "Naught to fash yourself over, Robert. You will find no fault with the bride I've found for you. She is the most beautiful young lady you will ever catch sight of."

Just like the dozen others he'd introduced Rebbie to in years past. He released a tired breath. "When I'm ready to marry, I'll inform you."

"Well, you are twenty-eight summers! 'Tis high time you've married and sired me some grandsons. I want to meet the lad who will one day succeed me as the Marquess of Kilverntay."

"Aye, and at twenty-eight, I'm plenty old enough to choose my own bride. I will only marry a woman to my liking." Rebbie would not back down in this, especially since he'd seen how happy his friends were with their respective brides. Lachlan's marriage had been arranged by the king, but fortunately he and Angelique had quickly discovered they were mad for each other.

"This lass is not only beautiful, but sweet… and spirited too." His father turned to a nearby female servant. "When are the ladies due back from the dressmaker?"

"Any time now, m'laird."

"She's here?" Rebbie asked, annoyance simmering in his blood. "You've brought some lass here to my friend's home that you wish to leg-shackle me to?"

"Aye. How else was I going to introduce the two of you?" He motioned to the man next to him. "The Earl of Barclay is her father."

Rebbie clenched his teeth so tightly he feared they would crack, barely holding his temper in check. Barclay met his glare with one of his own.

"Da, I would have a word with you in private." Rebbie tilted his head toward the exit door.

"Very well." His father murmured something to Barclay before following him.

Ready to throttle someone, Rebbie strode across the great hall, his boot heels striking the smooth stone floor and echoing from the ceiling. He shoved the door open and emerged into the sunshine.

His father came out and closed the door behind him. They proceeded into the courtyard a short distance from the guards. "Why the devil are you wearing that belted plaid? You look like a wild Scot in that garb."

"'Tis the dress of Highlanders, which we are rumored to be," Rebbie said dryly.

"'Tis the dress of peasants and barbarians. Not earls."

"You're insulting your host. Lachlan is certainly no peasant or barbarian."

"Never mind that. You'll be lucky if you haven't insulted the lady's father."

"I don't give a damn," Rebbie grumbled, low.

"Well, you'd best because the contract has been signed."

"What! Are you mad?" Rebbie demanded. "Last time I saw you, you agreed that we would talk before you signed any contract, and I would choose my own bride."

"You will never choose," his father said in a calm, wise manner that only grated on Rebbie's nerves.

"I will. When I meet the right lady, I will know. Then, I will choose."

His father shook his head doubtfully and gave a faint grin.

Rebbie ground his teeth.

"You haven't even met Lady Elena yet. She may be the one you wish to choose."

Rebbie narrowed his eyes. "And if she isn't? What if we don't suit at all and you've already signed a damnable contract?"

 

(excerpt continued on Thursday)

 

Monday
Jun302014

(Day 1) Romance Previews: MY REBEL HIGHLANDER by Vonda Sinclair

 

  

 

 Order now from

 Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iBooks

 

ABOUT THE BOOK: Known for his wicked wit, fierce loyalty, and skills in battle, Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, the Earl of Rebbinglen, loves freedom and has no plans of marrying anytime soon. But when his father, a powerful Scottish marquess, signs a contract betrothing Rebbie to an earl's young daughter, he is furious. If he has to marry, he's determined to choose his own bride, though he has no inkling who he would wish to wed until fate intervenes to remind him of one fair-haired, nameless beauty and the passionate night they spent together years ago. A night forever etched in his memory.

Lady Calla Ferguson, a penniless widow with a young son, is forced to seek employment as her cousin's companion in order to pay her late husband's massive gambling debt. Having been ignored or mistreated most of her life, Calla has become a resourceful survivor who will stop at nothing to get what she wants—safety and security for her son and herself. Wealthy merchant, Claybourne cares little for the money the Earl of Stanbury owed him; he simply wants the earl's beautiful, voluptuous widow and he'll do whatever it takes to get his hands on her, even kidnapping and blackmail.

When Rebbie happens upon Claybourne abducting Calla, he rescues her and hides her in a secluded castle deep in the wild Scottish Highlands. Calla conceals her passionate spirit beneath reserve and duty, along with closely-guarded secrets which, if exposed, could ruin both her life and her son's. Years ago, she lost her heart to a dark-eyed stranger she never thought to see again, but now he's her protector. Rebbie craves another pleasurable night like the one they shared in the past, and she cannot resist the fiery passion that echoes deep in her heart and soul. Soft but strong, Calla sparks within Rebbie a desperate hunger and a need to protect her. But will her secrets tear them apart?

Learn more at:

 

Day 1:

In the prologue, we meet the heroine and learn of the horrible predicament she finds herself in.

 

Prologue

Kinross, Scotland, November 1612

 

Calla Ferguson, the Countess of Stanbury, tensed when her husband strode into the bedchamber. She had just endured another mortifying examination by his physician.

The silver streaks that ran through the Earl of Stanbury's dark hair glinted in the gray light from the castle's window. When his spiteful, dark gaze swung to her middle-aged maid, Betty, she scurried into the nearby dressing room and softly closed the door.

The earl pinned Calla with a glare. "How long have we been married?" he demanded.

Why would he ask such a thing? He well knew they'd married when she was but sixteen summers. "More than two years."

"And yet I still have no heir. I have little use for a barren wife."

Barren? A chill shook her as the blood drained from her face. Could it be true?

Stanbury advanced on her. Fearing he would strike her, she backed up two steps, but a wall blocked her path. He placed his large hand slackly around her throat. Her heart stopped. Nay! Panicking, certain he would strangle her, she grasped both hands onto his forearm, but his brute strength proved immovable.

"Listen to me." He gave her a shake, his grip on her throat tightening the slightest bit, but not enough to cut off her air.

She froze, praying he wouldn't murder her on the spot.

"Do you see that window?" He pointed. "You're going to find yourself flying out of it one day soon."

The sensation of icy water trickling through her veins stole her breath. Dear God in heaven, he wanted to murder her.

"I'll give you one more month, and if you're not breeding…." With a final glower, he released her and left the room. In the corridor just outside the open door, he stopped one of the chambermaids, then pointed at Calla. "Watch her. She is in such despair, I fear she will fling herself from the window."

Saints! He would murder her and make it look like a suicide. Though her knees threatened to buckle, she forced herself to stand, tears streaming from her eyes. She had to do something.

His footsteps receded down the corridor. Betty hastened out of the dressing room and closed the bedchamber door. "Oh, m'lady! Did he hurt you?" She took Calla's hands.

"Nay." Calla wiped the tears from her eyes, ashamed of her weakness. "Not yet, anyway."

"You must do something," Betty whispered.

"You heard?"

"Aye."

"I cannot run away. I have no money. Where would I go? Where would I live? He would surely find me. I have no family other than my father's cousin, and we are not close. He would turn me over to Stanbury again. What if he's right? What if I am barren? The only reason he married me was to provide him an heir, and if I'm unable to do that…"

Betty shook her head, glanced back at the door, then whispered, "The earl was married twice before, you ken?"

Calla nodded. A harrowing thought chilled her blood. "Did he kill his first two wives?"

"One died of a fever. The other… 'tis a mystery. Even the physician had nay inkling what was wrong with her when she passed. Anyway, I think the problem lies with him… that he cannot get a woman with child."

"Oh." At eighteen summers, Calla realized she was still naïve when it came to certain things. And a man being unable to sire a child was not something people discussed. "He will never admit to that."

"Of course not. 'Tis always the woman's fault," Betty said in a caustic tone, then glared at the door.

Calla clenched her hands together. She couldn't feel more trapped if she were in Stanbury's dungeon. How could her father have given her to this brute just before he'd died? He'd promised that Stanbury would protect her and care for her.

"What am I to do?" she whispered.

"Do you truly want me to tell you?" Betty asked, giving her a look that said she might not like the answer. But as a woman in her fifties with two grown children, Betty would surely ken what to do.

Calla nodded.

Betty drew her to the padded settle by the fireplace, sat very close to her and whispered, "Find a man… a stranger you will never see again, a young virile man, and… couple with him."

"What? Are you mad?" Calla covered her burning face with her hands. How on earth could her maid suggest such a shocking and sinful thing? She could never be unfaithful to her husband. Of course, she had never loved him and almost grew nauseous every time he did his husbandly duty. And he was certainly not faithful to her. Still… 'twas not something a virtuous wife should do. And if she was found out…

"You're advising me to commit adultery?" Calla asked. "'Tis one of the worst sins."

"Do you have a better idea? The man wants you to bear him a child, a son. Otherwise, he has threatened to kill you. 'Tis your decision. I'm not saying 'tis right or moral. But you're a kind young lady, much like a daughter to me, and I don't wish to see you dead." Betty blinked back tears that suddenly glinted in her eyes.

Nor did Calla want to die, but to do what Betty suggested… she could not even imagine it. "Where on earth would I even find a man that I would never see again? Certainly no one in Kinross or the surrounding area. If he were to learn who I am, 'twould be a disaster."

"Aye. He must be a complete stranger. Someone you will never see again. Someone with the earl's coloring, dark hair and dark eyes."

It might be possible. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. "Oh, Betty, I can't believe I'm even considering doing this."

"You and the earl are going to Stirling next week, are you not?"

"Aye."

"Well, then, mayhap you could find a man there. Someone at an inn. If he's staying at an inn, he likely doesn't live in Stirling."

"'Tis true." Calla paced before the fireplace, unable to imagine herself seducing some stranger. Nay, she couldn't do it. She hated Stanbury's touch. Surely, all other men would be just as revolting.

At the same time, the thought of her own husband shoving her out a third floor window chilled her bones. He was so much larger and stronger, she couldn't fight him. And she did want a child, not just to appease Stanbury. She needed a bright spot in her life, someone to love.

"Do you truly think I can accomplish this?" Calla whispered. "What if Stanbury finds out? He'll kill me for a certainty then."

"You must be very careful, m'lady," Betty whispered urgently.

For the rest of the week, the servants eyed Calla curiously. Did they expect her to leap from the tower at any time? He must have told them all she was likely to kill herself. He'd said she had only one more month. She had no choice but to do what Betty suggested. Either that or kill him, but she could never get away with that, even if she could accomplish it. She was not the murdering kind, anyway.

As for notifying the authorities of his threats, he was a powerful earl, for heaven's sake. No one would believe her.

Two nights later, Calla paced in their room at the Silver Bell Coaching Inn in Stirling, her stomach aching with anxiety. Stanbury had left to spend the night gambling with his friends. 'Twas his favorite pastime and naught would drag him away from it. Tomorrow, they would leave for home. Tonight was her only chance. She must take control of her future, if she wanted to have one at all. She'd never been allowed to make any choices of her own. When she was a child, up to age sixteen, her father had made all the important decisions for her. And now, her husband decided everything. No longer.

Betty watched her silently from across the room.

"I will do it tonight," Calla whispered. "I'll go to the inn down the street."

Betty nodded. "Daniel will walk behind you and guard you. And he'll wait outside the inn until you come out again. I explained the situation. He will tell no one."

Daniel Kerns was Betty's husband, a large burly man. Not a guard, but a strong manservant.

Swallowing hard, Calla nodded. "How do I look?"

"Beautiful. You always look beautiful, m'lady."

Calla put on her black woolen cloak and drew the cowl over her head, hiding her flaxen hair and most of her face.

Downstairs, Daniel waited near the inn's exit door. They remained silent as they emerged onto the wet, cobblestone street. A misty rain hissed through the darkness of the chill night. She glanced back to see that he walked a few paces behind.

 (excerprt continued on Tuesday)