Every family has legends behind it, but no family more than the Dun Tarh clan.
Tucked deep in the highlands of Scotland and relatives to the MacKenzie clan, the dun Tarh family is said to have been spawned from the lost Roman legion, the elite Ninth Hispania. For generations, the family was known for their dark men, quick to temper, fierce fighters with comely looks. They were greatly respected in the highlands until Lares Rayan dun Tahr became the head of the family, a former priest who had fallen from grace.
Lucifer, they called him.
And his sons were known as Lucifer’s Highland Legion.
Aurelius dun Tarh is the eldest son of what many consider Lares’ unholy union. Highlander born but English trained because of his English mother, Aurelius is a man of two worlds. Enormous and powerful, he is the first of many handsome brothers and it’s no secret that there is probably more than one dun Tarh bastard roaming about the highlands.
For all of his talent and power, however, Aurelius is a man of discontent. His English grandfather insists he fight in France for Edward III and Aurelius finds himself fighting alongside men who should be his enemy, but men he nonetheless shares an alliance with.
A man of two worlds, indeed.
As a reward for his performance at the Battle of Crecy, Aurelius is presented with a bride from one of the great English warlords. The Earl of Bridlington has no male heirs and he wants Aurelius. Unable to protest, Aurelius finds himself betrothed to one of the richest heiresses in England… and absolutely hating it.
Valery de Leybourne, daughter of Bridlington, doesn’t like the idea of being married to a highlander, either. A spitfire of a woman, Aurelius learns that aspect of her personality the hard way. He further realized that he may very well enjoy this marriage because Valery and her spark entertains him to no end. But before the marriage can take place, an explosive family secret is revealed that might possibly ruin both families…
And it has nothing to do with Aurelius or Valery, but it could very well mean their end.
Grab your box of tissues for an epic adventure of romance, mystery, and the true meaning of love in this stunning beginning to a great new Historical Romance series!
Tropes: Enemies to lovers, family secrets, a rogue's redemption
Read for FREE in Kindle Unlimited!
The Highland Legion series:
Release date: December 8, 2023
Publisher: Kathryn Le Veque Novels, Inc.
Print pages: 383
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Kathryn Le Veque
Year of Our Lord 1313
Mount Pleasant Castle
The only sounds were those of the bailey.
In a castle the size of Mount Pleasant, one would have thought there would have been a
myriad of sounds from all over the compound. Servants, horses, dogs… even screaming
children. But nothing penetrated the walls of the enormous, two-storied solar of Mount
Pleasant’s keep other than the muted sounds of the bailey coming in through the lancet
They were, perhaps, accompanied by the sounds of his pounding heart.
He thought it was going to pound right out of his chest.
“I will admit I have been waiting for this moment, Lares.” A man dressed in fine robes of
silk and leather spoke quietly, sitting behind the table that Lares was standing in front of. “I
have expected it every day since you arrived.”
That was a whole week ago, Lares thought. Was there a slight in that comment? He
wasn’t sure, but it seemed to him that Ralph de Gilsland, the lord of Mount Pleasant, was
laughing at him. The man wasn’t exactly smiling, but his eyes were glimmering… with
Lares wasn’t sure what it was, but he wasn’t sure he liked it.
“It isna that I dinna have the courage to speak to ye, m’laird,” Lares said with as much
backbone as he could summon. “’Tis only that I wanted to make certain that Davina felt the
same way. I wouldna offer for a woman who dinna love me in return.”
“You love her, do you?”
“Aye, m’laird. And she loves me.”
Ralph’s gaze remained fixed on Lares for a moment before he rubbed at his forehead and
averted his gaze. Aye, he’d been expecting this request. He’d been expecting it for a year. It
wasn’t that he didn’t like the lad, for he liked him a good deal. Lares dun Tarh was from a
very old and wealthy family in the Highlands, the family that had their roots far back to the
Roman occupation of Britannia. It was said that Lares’ family descended from a lost Roman
legion who had forged their way deep into the Highlands, only to marry into the native
population. Even the mascot on the dun Tarh standard was the remnant of the mascot of
that lost Roman legion—a bull. That fearsome, stubborn, and powerful animal represented
everything about the dun Tarh family.
Including the young man standing in front of him.
Stubborn and proud, indeed.
Lares wasn’t a true Highlander in the sense that he’d spent his entire life in the
Highlands, hardly venturing out of the hills. In fact, for a Highlander, he was very well
traveled. Lares followed their tradition set by one of his ancestors that every eldest son of
the Earls of Torridon fostered in an English household. Lares had trained in some of the
finest households in Northern England, and he had also trained in the royal household of
King Edward. That was also a longstanding tradition with the dun Tarh family, and at least
one male, preferably the heir, was always sent into the royal household of the English king
as a symbolic hostage. That was something Henry II had established with a dun Tarh
ancestor long ago.
That particular tradition meant the dun Tarh heirs could be more English than Scottish.
In any case, it certainly set up the heir to a lifetime of turmoil with his siblings and other
family members, because the rest of the family didn’t have the same training that the heir
did. It was an odd and divisive tradition, but one the House of dun Tarh kept to religiously.
Lares had two younger brothers, both of them as Highland as the very earth and the very
sky. Ralph knew those younger brothers, Arden and Florian, and they were a ruthless lot.
So was their father.
Julius dun Tarh, the current Earl of Torridon, had arrived with his son a week ago,
feasting and reaffirming the bonds with de Gilsland. But it was for an alliance, not because
he was fond of Ralph, as Julius was a man of vision and ambition. He didn’t possess a warm
bone in his body, a stern man that had only and always expected perfection from his sons.
He, too, had trained in the royal household and also in a couple of the northern castles,
homes to the allies of his clan, and he had a very English outlook on life in general.
Although his title was rooted in the Highlands, Julius didn’t spend much time there, but
rather at Ashkirk Castle, which wasn’t far from Mount Pleasant on the English border.
Julius considered himself far more of a Lowlander than a Highlander because it was at the
Scots/English border where most of the action took place. He was a man with a head for
politics, and he used that to his advantage, in spite of his adversarial relationship with the
Lowland clans. As long as he had the support of the English and their big armies, he didn’t
care what his Lowland neighbors thought of him.
Ralph was well aware of this. He always thought Julius to be the rather uninteresting
man, and the fact that they were allies was simply because Ralph appreciated Julius’
political knowledge—and also the fact that Julius could produce a couple of thousand rabid
Scotsmen on the field of battle upon request. Ralph might have appreciated Julius to that
extent, but he did not want his daughter marrying into the family.
He had greater aspirations for Davina.
But Lares didn’t know that. Ralph was aware that Lares had been sweet on Davina for
years, but he’d only made that obvious over the past year or so, when they both became of
age. Ralph suspected that Julius knew of his son’s intention and, more than likely, had
encouraged it because a marriage linking dun Tarh to the de Gilsland family would be quite
a feather in Julius’ cap. Ralph found it odd that Julius hadn’t come on behalf of his son,
which was the only reason he wondered if Julius knew of Lares’ intention at all, but the fact
remained that Lares had finally asked that fateful question.
May I seek yer daughter’s hand in marriage?
Truth be told, Ralph was already feeling bad about what he had to tell the lad.
“Sit down, Lares,” he said after a moment’s reflection, indicating a nearby chair. “Sit
down before you fall down. There’s no reason to be so troubled about this. Every man must
face this day at some point in his life, facing the father of the woman he wishes to marry. It
is a rite of passage.”
Lares smiled weakly. “It feels like an execution, m’laird.”
Ralph chuckled. But, then again, Lares always did something to make him, or others,
laugh. He was a tall, muscular young man, with a crown of dark, curly hair and an easy
smile. He was always joking, always laughing, but beneath that exterior was an incredibly
sharp mind. Men sometimes mistook his intelligence level because of his smiling manner,
and that was their undoing. The easy manner was only on the surface. Beneath it, there was
That darkness also had Ralph worried.
“Not an execution,” he said after a moment, reaching over to pour the man some wine
because he looked like he needed it. “Simply a new experience in life. If a man lives
correctly and sets his cap on the right woman, he only goes through it once.”
He regretted it almost as soon as he said it, because Lares focused on the last few words.
“Does that go for me also, m’laird?” he asked. “Will I only go through this once?”
Damn, Ralph thought. He hadn’t wanted to get into the meat of his refusal so soon, but it
seemed that they were headed in that direction. Setting the pitcher aside, he handed Lares
the cup full of rich red wine.
“I like you, Lares,” he said, watching Lares suck down about half of the cup in one
swallow. “I like your father and I like your brothers, even if they are like a pack of wild dogs
from time to time.”
Lares wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, grinning. “I’ll not dispute ye,” he said.
“I’ve called them worse.”
Ralph snorted. “But they’re excellent warriors,” he said. “I’d go into a fight with them
Lares nodded, not particularly wanting to talk about his younger brothers. “Respectfully,
m’laird, ye’ve not answered my question,” he said. “Will ye accept my offer for Davina?”
Ralph’s smile faded as he looked at the dark-eyed man. “You’re a knight, Lares,” he said.
“You were knighted at the Lyceum, were you not?”
Lares nodded, not unaware that Ralph was still refusing to answer him. “By Thurston de
Royans, m’laird,” he said. “I served at the Lyceum for a few years during my training.”
“And your father is a friend of de Royans?”
“And your brothers are not knights?”
Lares shook his head. “Nay,” he said. “It is tradition that only the eldest male be knighted.
But Arden and Florian are excellent warriors, as ye say.”
Ralph nodded to what he already knew before standing up and moving away from the
table, clearly pondering Lares’ question. His expensive slippers made soft sounds against a
floor that was made from the finest pine, just as all of Mount Pleasant was made from the
finest stone with the finest furnishings. De Gilsland had wealth and wasn’t afraid to show it.
Lares watched closely as the man paced.
“What manner of life could you hope to give my daughter, Lares?” Ralph asked. “What
could you offer her that should make you the best prospect?”
Lares stood up because he didn’t want to address the man sitting down. “I will be the
next Earl of Torridon,” he said. “As it is, I hold the title Lord Albion. I have my own lands
and I have income. But as the Earl of Torridon, Davina will be the Countess of Torridon and
the mistress over the Hydra. It is the grandest in the Highlands. We have wealth and lands,
and we will be very happy.”
Ralph looked at him. “The Hydra is grand,” he said quietly. “I am not disputing that. But
your family’s politics are… concerning, Lares.”
“I understand, m’laird.”
“And your brothers and their activities are concerning.”
Lares had suspected that might come up. “My brothers are Highlanders to the bone,
m’laird,” he said. “I dunna condone what they do. I dunna participate in it. I—”
Ralph cut him off, but he wasn’t cruel. Simply factual. “Your brothers have sided with the
Bruce,” he said. “They have created havoc for England, Lares. No doubt about it.”
Lares averted his gaze. “I know, m’laird,” he said. “But I dunna support their actions.”
Ralph simply shook his head as if baffled by a Highlander who didn’t support the Scots
king. “Your father walks a precipice in his loyalties every day of his life,” he said. “Everyone
knows that he was educated in England and that his wife is English, yet your father is a
Scottish earl. Furthermore, it is no secret that Robert de Brus rails against the Edward, and
he is supported by most Scots.”
“Most but not all, m’laird,” Lares said quickly, nearly interrupting him. When Ralph
looked at him with a regretful expression, Lares could see where this was going. There was
so much conflict between the Scots and the English at this time that loyalties were being
pulled apart all across the country. And that left the dun Tarh clan with some difficulties.
“My family has always had loyalty to the English, from the time of Henry Curthose. We have
English lands, as ye know. My father spent the majority of his youth in England even though
he’s a Scots nobleman, as ye’ve said.”
“And you, Lares?” Ralph asked softly. “What of your loyalties? If you say they are with
England, then you are a man without a country. The Scots will hate you for it.”
Lares grunted. “They already hate me,” he said. Then he chuckled ironically. “What are
my loyalties? My loyalties are to a peaceful Scotland. Ye know I’ve been advising the Bruce
on the English behavior. On the English activities. I know the English and how they think,
and I’ve advised the Bruce on such things. But I willna take up arms against the Scots or the
“Because I canna take up arms against my brothers,” he said. “M’laird, ye know that the
dun Tarh clan and our lands are… special. My da has a big army of Highlanders, and he’ll
use them for the Bruce if he must. He fears that if he doesna, then the clans will turn against
us and we’ll lose everything. But me… I’m like my da. I’ve too much English in me from my
years of living with them. Ye called me a man without a country. That’s true, more than ye
Ralph was listening with sorrow because it was leading into what he had to say next.
“And you want to take my daughter into that chaos?” he asked, almost gently. “Lares, she
does not deserve that.”
Lares stiffened. “She would be cherished, m’laird,” he said. “I would protect her with my
life. I swear to ye, we would be rich in love, if that counts for anything. She would be
everything to me.”
Ralph sighed sharply, mostly because he truly hated denying Lares. “You and I have
known each other for quite some time, have we not?”
“And you would expect me to be honest with you, would you not?”
Ralph looked him in the eye. “Then I will tell you that I was expecting this offer from
you,” he said. “I know you understand that my concern is only with Davina. I must ensure
her safety and happiness. Would you agree with that?”
Lares nodded, but he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I would, m’laird.”
“And you know that I would never want to hurt you, don’t you?”
Lares sighed faintly. “I could not believe ye would do it deliberately, m’laird.”
“You are right,” Ralph said, moving in his direction. “I would never hurt you deliberately.
But what I must say will hurt you, however regrettable. Davina must be safe, and that is all I
am concerned with, and you should know that I have already agreed to a betrothal with an
English ally that will take her away from the borders. She will be away from the English and
the Scots as they fight one another. Her future husband is an older man with great wealth
and status, and she will be treated like a queen. She will be safe and happy. That is all I can
wish for her, but unfortunately, that means I cannot grant your request. I am very sorry,
It was a kind refusal, perhaps the kindest refusal Lares had ever heard. Ralph was a kind
man, and that was evident. But Lares had suspected this would be the answer, and he was
prepared. At least, as much as he could be. What he hadn’t expected was that there was
another betrothal for Davina, evidently already arranged. He’d never even caught wind of
such a thing, not even a hint of a rumor. Truth be told, that bit of news had his belly
After a moment, he hung his head.
“Then the woman I love will marry another,” he muttered, struggling with his
composure. “She’ll belong to another man.”
Ralph felt a good deal of pity for Lares. “For her health and happiness, I think that would
be best,” he said. “If you think about it, Lares, I believe you would agree with me. If you
truly love my daughter, then you will want her safety and happiness above your own. You
will think about her before you think of yourself.”
“Does Davina know?”
Ralph shook his head. “Nay,” he said. “I’ve not yet told her because I knew she would tell
Lares looked at him then. “And you thought I would do something foolish, did ye?” he
said. “Ye dinna trust me to do the right thing?”
He was growing agitated, and Ralph hastened to reassure him. “It is simply that it was
none of your affair,” he said. “Lares, the underhanded thing would have been to allow
rumors to reach your ears to discourage you from the offer I knew you were going to make.
But that is dishonorable. I knew you were going to ask for Davina’s hand, and I wanted to
tell you personally that she is betrothed to another. I wanted you to hear it from my lips.”
Lares understood, sort of. But his composure continued to slip, and he raked his fingers
through his dark hair. “And so I have,” he said. “But it doesna change the fact that I love yer
daughter and she loves me. Will ye truly give yer miserable daughter over to a man who
must compete with my memory? You speak of preserving her health and happiness, but the
truth is that ye simply dinna want her to marry me.”
“That’s not true.”
“Ye’re holding Davina up as the reason I should be selfless, because I should think only of
her, when the truth is that ye’ve thought only of ye.” Realizing he was about to say
something he would regret, Lares turned for the solar door. “Ye speak of truth, m’laird, but
ye’ve given me lies. I’m not as stupid as ye seem to think I am. I thank ye for yer time today,
but it changes nothing. Davina loves me and I love her, and yer betrothal canna change
Ralph rushed after him, grabbing his arm before he could get to the door. “Lares, calm
yourself,” he said steadily. “I’ve given you the complete truth. If you were not so swept up
in what you want, you would see that. You are doing exactly what you accuse me of
doing—thinking only of yourself.”
Lares yanked the door open in spite of Ralph having a grip on his arm. “I’m thinking that
ye couldna tell me that ye dinna think I was good enough for yer daughter,” he said, dark
eyes flashing. “Ye painted a picture that suggested she’d be better off somewhere else. Why
could ye not have simply told me ye dinna want me for her? I could have accepted that
better than manipulative lies, trying to make me believe that you thought she’d be safer
elsewhere and trying to coerce me into agreeing with ye. That was unkind, m’laird. I dinna
With that, he pulled his arm from Ralph’s grasp and stormed from the solar, into the
keep entry, and headed out of the front door.
Ralph stood in the solar entry, watching the young man storm off, and thinking that
nothing Lares had said was wrong. He knew the lad was sharp, but evidently, he was much
sharper than he’d given him credit for. Ralph had, indeed, been trying to manipulate the
conversation, hoping to convince Lares that everything was for Davina’s benefit. He
thought if he put it that way, it would mean more to Lares, but the young man saw through
his scheme. Lares was smarter than that.
Ralph had the feeling this would not be the last of it.
He had to find Julius.
Lares could hear his name being shouted as he marched across Mount Pleasant’s bailey,
a small and compact area given the size of the keep and walls. It was crammed with
outbuildings and animals. He was heading for the stables, though he really didn’t know
why. All he knew was that he had to put distance between himself and Ralph de Gilsland.
He was angry and hurt and disheartened, a bad combination where Lares was concerned.
He’d been known to act out a time or two.
The shout came again, closer this time. He knew who it was because he recognized the
voice. Coming to a halt, he turned to face Davina as she ran toward him from the kitchen
hard. She was dressed in green silk, perhaps a finer fabric than she should be wearing out
in the dusty bailey, but she wore it like a goddess. At least, he thought so.
But his no more.
“Well?” Davina said, her green eyes alight with anticipation. “What did he say?”
Lares stared at her for a moment. Those beautiful eyes and that wavy auburn hair spoke
to him. He wanted to run his fingers through it, claim her as she was meant to be claimed.
Davina could be silly and petty at times, but she had a woman’s soul. A good soul. The more
he stared at her, the more grief he began to feel.
“He denied us,” he said bluntly. Tact had never been his strong suit. “Did ye know that he
already has another husband selected for ye?”
The smile vanished from Davina’s face. “Another… husband?” she said, startled. “Where
did you hear this?”
“From yer father,” Lares said, jabbing a finger at the keep. “I have just come from him.
Not only has he denied me, but he tells me that he has an English husband selected for ye,
someone far away from the borders who will keep ye safe from the turmoil of these lands.
He intends to send ye away, and I’ll never see ye again.”
Davina gasped, and her hands flew to her mouth. “It’s not true!”
Lares sighed heavily. “I’m afraid it is.”
“But he’s never said a word to me!”
“For good reason. He knew ye’d tell me.”
She was beginning to tear up. “But… but this is madness,” she said. “I do not want
another husband. I want you!”
“And I want ye. But yer father has other plans.”
“Then what shall we do?”
She was obviously upset, and Lares moved to comfort her but thought better of it. “I
dunna know,” he said quietly. “I… I must think.”
Davina grasped his arm. “Then you’ll not give up?” she said, blinking back the tears.
“You’ll try again?”
“Why?” he said, and she shrank from him, fearful of his tone. He had to steady himself
because he didn’t want to upset her more than she already was. “He’s set, Davi. His mind is
made up. He must do as he feels best, but so must I.”
Davina eyed him fearfully. “What does that mean?” she asked. “Please do not tell me you
are going to ride from here and never return. I could not bear it if I were never to see you
He shook his head, shushing her, but that bright mind was working on the problem. He
glanced up, toward the keep, seeing Ralph emerge and look around, clearly scouting for his
daughter. Lares stepped back from her, standing a few feet away. A proper distance. When
Ralph caught sight of his daughter, he didn’t want the man to be concerned because Lares
was standing too close.
“If I ride from here, ye’re going with me,” he said quietly. “Dunna turn around, but yer da
is watching us. Dunna show any rage or emotion, Davi. Be calm.”
She looked up at him with big eyes, wanting to turn around but fighting the urge. “Is he
looking at me?”
“What should I do?”
“Nothing,” Lares said. “Davi, I’ve made a decision.”
“I’m leaving, and ye’re going with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“To the nearest church so we can be married.”
Davina's features rippled with hope. “Now?”
Lares sighed again and looked around, pondering the situation. Ralph was still looking at
them at a distance. He had to throw the man off his scent if he truly intended to depart with
“Lass,” he said, his head turned away from her. “I’m going to make it look as if I’m angry
with ye, but it’s only to confuse yer da. Mayhap he willna watch ye so closely if he thinks I’m
angry and want nothing to do with ye. Can ye play the part?”
Davina wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind, but she nodded. “I can,” she said. “What
do you want me to do?”
“Weep,” Lares said, turning to her and shaking a dramatic finger in her face. “Weep and
carry on as if I’ve just told ye how disgusted I am with ye and yer da. He’s watching, so
make it good.”
Davina did. She wailed and put her hands over her face. “Like this?” she asked, muffled.
Lares waved his hands at her in an exaggerated gesture. “Perfect,” he said. “Now, listen
closely. I’m going to the stable to gather my horse. While I leave, I want ye to go to the keep,
but at the feast tonight, ye’ll tell yer da ye dunna feel well enough to attend.”
Davina shook her head dramatically, trying to play the role of an extremely upset young
woman. “And I do not attend the feast?” she said. “Then what?”
Lares extended his big arms, pretending to gesture wildly. “Ye’re going to make sure no
one is watching ye,” he said. “When it’s safe, ye’re to make yer way to the postern gate. I’ll
meet ye there. Now, wail again.”
Davina did, carrying on for a moment with her hands over her face before looking at him
between splayed fingers. “We’ll leave when everyone is distracted with the feast?”
He was smiling even though her hands were covering her face. “Then I’ll be there,” she
said. “Oh, Lares… I can hardly believe it. We shall be married!”
“Wail,” he commanded softly, shaking another raging hand at her and she squealed. “If
yer da is to ask what I said to ye, ye must tell him that I told ye that we are finished. That
I’m going away and never returning. Tell him I’m sorry I ever knew ye.”
“But you aren’t… are you?”
“Of course not,” he said. Then he waved his hands at her in a gesture of finality. “Go
inside now. I’ll be waiting for ye tonight. And tell no one!”
With that, he stomped off, leaving Davina standing there with her hands over her face.
Thinking she should probably run away from him to convince her father that their
relationship was indeed ended, she whirled on her heel and rushed back toward the
kitchen yard. There was a door that led to the lower-level kitchens there, but she could get
into the keep from that door. All she could think about was this evening and how Lares
would be waiting for her. She knew a church not far from Mount Pleasant where she could
pay the priests to marry them. The sooner they were married, the better. Damn her father
for trying to marry her to some English fool.
Davina de Gilsland was going to take charge of her own life.
Little did she know how much the situation was going to veer out of control.
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