From New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn comes a sweeping Scottish historical romance between a dashing MacGregor highlander and his English bride.
They tried to resist a marriage of convenience. . .
As the clan chief's son, Adam MacGregor is duty-bound to marry a royal heir. Yet when he meets his bride---a beautiful but haughty young lass who thinks he is nothing more than a common savage---he realizes she's more than he bargained for. But the more Adam gets to know his new wife, the more intent he is on proving her wrong about him.
But can they resist each other?
Sina de Arenberg wants nothing to do with the unsavory MacGregors, especially the fierce Highlander she now calls husband. But the more time she spends with the man she married, the more she sees his honor and courage. Just when she thinks there might be a future for her and Adam, Sina is called back to court. England isn't the place she remembers, though, and soon she'll be forced to choose between the life she once knew, and the Highlander who has captured her heart.
Release date: December 18, 2018
Print pages: 401
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Highlander Ever After
The Isle of Skye
Melusina de Arenburg ground her jaw, closed her eyes, and prayed. She hoped that since she was in a chapel, God would hear her request and grant it, even if she was a bastard. A royal bastard, but a bastard nonetheless.
She prayed this wasn’t truly happening. That she hadn’t been taken from her bed in Kensington Palace and brought to the Highlands. And oh, Lord, please that she wasn’t about to be forced into a marriage with an outlaw.
Where was her father when the queen’s men had carted her off to marry Adam MacGregor, son of a proscribed chief?
She opened her eyes and looked around the chapel at the faces of people she didn’t know. People she didn’t want to know. Barbaric in appearance. Nothing like the men at court, who dressed appropriately, tied back their hair, and covered their knees.
She knew she didn’t look much better with her long blond tresses messily plaited over her shoulder, her ears and neck unadorned, and her body covered in a wrinkled gown.
“I wish to speak to my father!” she demanded, though it sounded more like a plea echoing throughout the chapel. “He is the prince elector, George of Hanover, heir to the throne. He would not agree to this! ’Tis a mistake,” she called out, hoping, praying someone would listen. “I cannot wed this man. I am already betrothed to Lord Standish.”
Someone behind her gave her a gentle shove to get her moving along. Her throat closed up. Her heart rang in her chest like an alarm, dire and urgent. Run! her head screamed. Run the other way! Where would she go? She didn’t know where she was. She wiped her tears but they continued.
Why? Why her? She thought the queen loved her. Why would Anne wed her to a Highlander? They were savages who frightened the blazes out of her. Why had she been sent so far away from everything she knew?
She heard the sounds of women weeping and men swearing under their breath. Everything sounded louder. Everyone seemed bigger, including several enormous, deadly-looking hounds at the feet of their masters. She crossed herself and wondered if it was too late to pray because she was already in hell. She stopped and was shoved again, a bit more forcibly this time. She couldn’t move. She refused to move. “I…I will not wed this man.”
Her eyes swept to the man to whom she had to promise her life on the whim of a queen.
“’Tis the queen’s order,” a man behind her, the one who’d prodded her onward, whispered. “MacGregors are loyal to the queen.”
The queen’s order. Sina’s eyes filled with more tears, blurring her vision of the groom. When she reached the end of the aisle, she was supposed to kneel beside him, but her knees locked together.
A deep, low growl drew her eyes to a black hellhound bent at his side, twice the size of the others, its lips curled over its white fangs, its dark eyes fixed on her.
Sina gathered every last ounce of courage she possessed not to faint at the sight of the beast. Oh! How could Anne have done this to her? Her anger at the betrayal kept her on her feet.
“No.” Its master’s command was low and deep, resonating through her. He said something else, and the hellhound lifted its haunches and moved to the other side of him.
He commanded devils. She closed her eyes and bit her lip to keep from crying. When the man behind her rested his hand on her shoulder, gently urging her to her knees, she went, dipping her head to weep into her hands.
Through her sobs she heard her soon-to-be groom mutter something angrily. Her heart skipped. Was he ill-tempered? She wiped her eyes and dared a glance at him up close. The first thing level with her eyes was his mouth. She caught her breath at the full, relaxed decadence of it. He was draped in darkness and light, with lightning in his storm-filled eyes. His coal-black hair fell to his shoulders and was swept away from high, chiseled cheekbones and a strong jaw shadowed by a dusting of dark hair. His ivory complexion was almost flawless—a strong contrast against his raven hair. His beauty was captivating, bewitching.
She followed his angry stare to an older man standing to her left.
Sina turned to look at him. She knew who the man was—the chief of these people. He was as huge and deadly looking as the rest of them. The one who’d read the letter she’d delivered from the queen. The groom’s father.
She offered him her angriest glare. How did a man like him even know the queen? And who was he to give her to his son? She was already promised to Lord Standish, son of the Earl of Chesterfield.
The priest began speaking. God help her. A woman she loved and trusted had ordered this. Sina had no choice but to obey.
After a long benediction that gave her time to consider how horrible her life was going to be from here on in, here in this wilderness with these mountain men rumored to be so savage that they had to be proscribed. Her heart hammered in her chest, her throat. There was nowhere to run. What would poor William do without her? Would she ever see her dear friend Poppy again?
The benediction stopped, and silence descended for what seemed an eternity before the man beside her finally spoke. He looked as miserable as she while he promised to be her husband.
Would her father dissolve this marriage when he became king? Did he even give a damn? William did. Hadn’t he told her every day since they were eight and eleven that he needed her? Hadn’t he just told her what she meant to him when he returned from the grand tour? But what could he do when the queen had ordered this?
The priest set his stern gaze on her next.
She glared at him, refusing to wipe her eyes again. “I would like to know—”
“Just yer consent will do,” the priest said, cutting her off.
“Well, you don’t have it!” She swallowed and looked around at the brooding faces watching her. “I don’t love him.” It was all she could manage.
“Adam’s being forced into this too,” a woman called out.
“She defies the queen,” a man grumbled.
Did she? Would she defy the queen for the life she’d always dreamed of? One with a family of her own, to a man she loved?
“Your consent,” the priest prodded.
“Yes,” she managed, hating herself for it.
A few more words and a blessing, and it was over.
Her husband pushed off his knees with an angry growl—or the sound could have come from his hound. Sina couldn’t be sure. He rose to his feet, at least two heads taller than her when she rose. She tilted her neck to take in the full sight of him. She crossed herself.
Tightly leashed muscles stretched his léine across his chest. His large hands were balled into fists at his sides. Her gaze traveled upward to his face, dark and angry, beautiful.
She wouldn’t consummate this marriage. She’d find a way to hold him off until someone came to help. Her father would come…or William…someone. The marriage could be annulled.
If any of these Highlanders thought her meek and mild, they would soon discover that they had misjudged.
She pulled a bit of her fortitude up now and girded it around her.
“I demand to know why this terrible thing has happened to me,” she said in a soft voice on the verge of shattering.
Refusing to tremble, she raised her brow at her husband when anger flashed across his silvery-blue eyes. She was angry too! She met his gaze head-on, waiting for his reply.
“It has happened to me as well, woman.” His voice burned across her ears. “I’ll leave it to my faither to explain why.”
She thought she was prepared to meet his anger straight on, but his deep, growling baritone and the bite of reply made it hard to stand.
She did, however, and turned to the chief, who was a tad less daunting than his son, and waited for an answer.
Adam MacGregor leaned back in a chair in Camlochlin’s great hall. He ignored the servers scurrying about to prepare for the last-minute celebration.
He thought of the life he’d left behind a few moments ago. He’d stepped into the chapel a free man and came out bound to a woman he didn’t know, for reasons for which he didn’t want to be responsible.
He thought of his bride—rather than the implications of this marriage. She was quite lovely with her enormous, sparkling green eyes and small, pert nose swollen and red from crying. And hell, she could cry! He understood her misery, for he felt it too.
“Och, Adam, it canna be true!”
He turned to a group of at least a half dozen maids, and nodded. “Alas, fair ladies, ’tis.”
Neither of them had a choice, he thought somberly, even as the lasses gathered around him. He shooed them away. “I am no adulterer,” he muttered as they scattered. Hell, but he was giving up much for duty.
According to his father, whom he’d argued with moments before the ceremony, this union between the MacGregors and the House of Hanover meant much for his kin. The queen had wanted it done as soon as the lass arrived, which meant either her poor health had deteriorated further or there were some against the union. Most likely Sina’s betrothed, Lord Standish.
Adam sure as hell didn’t want to wed someone else’s betrothed. He didn’t give a damn about the throne either. He’d never been to England, nor did he want to go. He cared about the queen but not the power she brought with her during her visits to Camlochlin to see her sister Davina, Adam’s mother. He felt the heavy weight his aunt bore that finally crippled her.
He didn’t want to carry that kind of burden. He did his best to forget that side of his heritage, which made him, a Catholic, a direct heir to the throne. He was determined to stay in Skye, free from England and the danger of its power. He was even willing to give up his birthright as next clan chief to his sister to remain free.
But the arrival of Miss Melusina de Arenburg and the sealed letter she carried changed everything.
The burden of marriage fell to him as eldest son of the chief. He agreed to it—not because of loyalty to the future throne—but because it would ensure the continued utmost leniency where MacGregors and the laws against them were concerned once the queen was gone.
Adam had never wanted to be forced to make choices like the one tonight. Choices for the good of others and not himself. Even more, he hated being pushed around by power. It made him want to defy it, take it to the field, and battle it to the death.
He wasn’t ready for a wife. She wasn’t even Scottish. He liked his life, with nothing on his mind but a bit of mayhem and mischief. He was a raider of cattle and a master of deception. It had taken him years to convince his clan that he was a careless rogue, unfit to be chief.
And now this.
He wasn’t ready for his life to change—and his father agreeing to this marriage meant that he had made his decision about who would be chief.
Adam guzzled his ale, then looked up for the server. He saw his bride entering the hall with some of the women of Camlochlin at her sides, trying to soothe her. He rolled his gaze heavenward when she looked at him and made the sign of the cross.
A man with auburn hair and a short beard to match stepped in front of him and blocked Adam’s view. He grimaced and cast a brooding glance at the cup.
“I’ll admit that was painful,” said Daniel Marlow, retired general of the queen’s army, straddling a chair beside him. “But she isn’t hideous.”
Adam hadn’t time to grow especially close to any of his cousins when they were all younger. By the time some of them had gone off to stop the union with England act, Adam had already established himself as the pampered heir who couldn’t be bothered with the affairs of England. In truth, he couldn’t.
He attached himself to few, those without tails anyway. Daniel was one of the few.
“Ye had to physically push her, Daniel. She wept the entire time as if I were some beast and she’d rather God strike her dead than marry me.”
“So prove her wrong,” Daniel challenged, rising from his seat to greet the women.
“Who says she is?” Adam muttered, staying in his seat.
“I do,” Marlow said, taking him by the arm and pulling him to his feet. “Show her the thoughtful, intelligent man behind your roguish smiles. Make her happy. ’Tis your duty now.”
Aye, that’s what he was afraid of. How tiring it must be to constantly try to make someone else happy. He wasn’t looking forward to it.
His gaze fell to his reluctant bride. Her frame, in a gown that matched the emerald of her eyes, seemed too small to hold such a courageous heart. She’d done her best to refuse—or stall their marriage. Though it made him feel like hell, he liked her determination not to go down so easily—despite the fear that radiated off her.
Her hair fell like a golden flame over her milky cleavage. A slight smile, coaxed by something his sister said, brought a delicate dimple to light in her left cheek. She lifted her gaze and set it on him. His breath stalled a wee bit. Hell, she was beautiful, like a sparrow, small and shaking—
“Is it true?” she asked, reaching him. “Are you terrified?”
He narrowed his eyes at his sister and then returned them to the wide, waiting eyes of his bride. “I—”
“Because you are home, no? You reign over me now, no? Why should you be terrified?”
“I’m home but—”
“But?” She spoke on a whispered breath, yet the word came down on him like a hammer. She wasn’t finished. His sister and the others stepped away.
A sparrow with the heart of a lion. Adam liked it.
“How has your life changed today save that there will be a woman in your bed tonight—though by the number of women crying over you in that chapel, I must assume that the end of this day will be no different. So please, tell me, what do you have to be terrified about?”
Did she not understand the weight of who she was? Aye, he was home, surrounded by people who loved him—and she wasn’t. He understood. But his kin were the ones who would expect the most from him. Already, Daniel had reminded him how important it was to make her happy. He knew perfectly well how wives were treated in Camlochlin. He didn’t have the time or the inclination to devote so much to one.
“The woman in my bed,” he told her, his gaze falling to her hands wringing her already wrinkled skirts, “will be my wife, one to whom I pledged much, includin’ my body.”
“I can assure you, you’ve no need to pledge your body to me.”
“And yet”—he stretched out his arms and smiled at her—“’tis yers now.”
She looked at him with wide, frightened eyes. She said nothing, and lifting her skirts, she hurried away.
He didn’t speak to her again until she arrived at their marriage chamber a short while later, looking as if the last of her strength had abandoned her and being gently urged along by some of his female relatives. They deposited her in front of him and his dog, Goliath, and hurried off.
She bit her lip, squeezed her eyes shut, and began praying.
He frowned, listening to her plead to God to deliver her from this savage. One thing Adam wasn’t was a savage. He didn’t like that she saw him as one. He might be rebellious to the life he’d been trained for, but he wasn’t uncivilized. He could be gentle with her, make her first night in his bed a pleasurable one. In fact, he looked forward to undressing her, kissing her prayers from her succulent, pouty lips, and proving himself worthy of her most heated, secret desires.
He pulled off his léine and felt a wave of disappointment at her strangled gasp. Proving anything to her was going to be difficult. He cursed the queen for doing this to them. “I willna force myself upon ye.”
He got into bed, turned his back on her, and closed his eyes. He felt her climb in a few moments later and poke him in the arm. He opened his eyes and turned to look at her.
“I love someone else,” she declared as if somehow it would be enough to toss her out of his bed and out of Camlochlin.
“Thank ye fer tellin’ me,” he said and then closed his eyes again.
He lay awake for hours, lamenting while she slept. He didn’t want a wife as much as he didn’t want to be chief. There were enough married men in Camlochlin for him to know what would now be expected of him: giving in to her every whim, picking flowers for her, making certain she was happy. What would he get in return in a loveless marriage? He groaned thinking how terrible life would be. How could he make her happy if she was pining over another man? He felt a pang of something…jealousy because she was his wife? Or hopelessness for the same reason?
After another hour of restlessness and regret, he rose from bed, pulled on his boots, and grabbed his cloak. He called softly to Goliath, and left the chamber.
Sina opened her eyes when she heard the click of the door closing. He was gone, thankfully taking his hellhound with him.
She hadn’t dared move for the last four hours, terrified that the beast or the barbarian would turn on her in the dark. She’d prayed for courage and strength while the Highlander tossed and turned beside her. Every time he moved, she thought he would touch her. He hadn’t. How would she ever fight him off? He was bigger and broader than any man she knew. But he hadn’t touched her. He’d left her alone.
When he’d removed his léine, the sculpted cut of his arms, his chest, and his hard belly snatched her breath from her body—for more reasons than she’d admit.
Highlanders certainly did wear less clothes than the men in London.
She’d listened, still and silent, to his soft, anguished groans and sighs for four long hours, wishing he would sleep so she could weep without drawing his attention. But he hadn’t slept, just as she hadn’t. He didn’t want this either. He didn’t want her.
Oh, how could the queen sentence her to a life empty of everything Sina wanted? She was Anne’s companion, and they’d spoken of it many times. Sina wanted a man who loved her, who would live or die for her. She wanted William. Anne had claimed to understand the fancies of a romantic heart, for she had loved her dearest George.
How could she do this to her? What were her motives behind it? Why did she care so much about some faraway warriors that she would use Sina to ensure binding them to the future throne? Who were they?
The MacGregor chief had claimed they were Anne’s friends and that her father had been involved in the arrangement. MacGregor warriors were loyal and mighty. This union guaranteed their allegiance to her father while securing their safety against the laws of proscription.
Sina didn’t believe any of it. Her father would not sell her for a handful of Highland fighters, no matter how skilled they claimed to be. Nor would he give her up to help a clan of outlaws. Would he? He had given her up once before to be raised by her relatives. Was this his way of getting rid of his bastard once and for all?
She rose from the bed shaking and went to one of the surrounding windows. She stretched her solemn gaze beyond the moonlit, heather-lined vale, to the cliffs in the distance. Everywhere else she looked was mountains and water. Were they at the edge of the world? Her heart sank deeper. She’d traveled for days, six perhaps, in a closed carriage. She knew they’d gone north, but how far north?
She prayed she was wrong about her father and that he would come.
Still, hopelessness covered her. Whatever would she do here? What would she wear? Oh, her gowns. She would never forgive Anne for not giving her time to take her gowns. Who would she talk to every day? What would they talk about? Cattle? And poor William. He could have done better than agreeing to marry the bastard child of the prince elector. She loved him for it. William was refined and courtly. She—
She blinked at the mist settling over the landscape as light from the sun in the east spread a soft, golden haze before her…and on a lone man draped in a gray hooded mantle. Or mayhap it was a wolf she saw perched at the crest of a mountain. The black hound at his heels proved it was Adam MacGregor. What was he doing out there alone? Contemplating running, as she was? At least he knew which way to go.
She hoped he ran—very, very far away and never returned. Perhaps then she’d be sent back.
She watched him climb sure-footedly down the steep braes and walk toward the shore of a small beach. He moved with natural strength and grace, like something mythical come to life.
Why in blazes did he have to be so alluring? So…civilized? It would be easier to hate him despite his appearance if he behaved more like a barbarian. Even while she’d wept over their marriage and just barely gave her consent, he hadn’t been harsh with her.
She thought of all the weeping ladies in the chapel. He was no doubt a rake, careless of the hearts he broke. None of them seemed to mind that so many others were crying, which only proved that he was a snake beneath all that beauty. He’d bewitched them all, but whatever these people considered charm wouldn’t work on her.
She sprang back from the window when he turned and looked up. Had he seen her? Her heart thumped in her head, making it pound. He was coming back inside!
She leaped for the bed and tried to remember in which position she’d been pretending to sleep.
She didn’t have to wait long before he pushed open the door and then closed it softly. She peeped her eyes open and watched him from beneath her lashes. His back was turned to her.
He swept his cloak from his broad, bare shoulders. His loose hair fell like a dark cloud around him.
She wanted to close her eyes and not see the beauty of this Highlander and, heaven forbid, ever desire him. But she kept looking, drawn by the corded flare of his back tapering to his bare hips. She was certain none of the men at court were crafted so masterfully beneath their coats and garters and hose, or Poppy and Eloise would have told her. She swallowed, thankful he hadn’t removed his pants earlier.
Still, the top half of him was enough to stall her breath, addle her good judgment for a moment, and tempt her to look.
He began to turn toward her. She snapped her eyes shut.
A low, guttural growl coming from behind her turned her blood cold. The hellhound! Why was the beast growling? Her pulse raced, and try as she might, she could not keep her eyes closed another instant waiting for the hound’s fangs to sink into her back.
Her eyes settled on the half-naked stranger watching her. She had no time to be afraid of both him and his beast—or to admire him in the soft wash of dawn streaming in through the windows.
She felt something settle on the mattress behind her back.
With a cry of terror, she leaped up and hurled herself at the hound’s master.
He caught her in his arms, against his hard chest.
“Goliath!” he admonished the beast while Sina buried her face in the folds of his silky hair at his neck.
The hound whimpered, emboldening Sina to look up—and to become aware of her body pressed so intimately to this man who was now her husband, held in the strength of his arms.
He smelled like the fresh mist outside. His eyes, up close, were like turbulent seas, roiling from someplace deep and hidden.
He tried to move her off him. She closed her arms tighter around his neck and cast a worried look over her shoulder.
“What is that thing?”
“’Tis a dog.” His voice was like the low rumble of thunder across her ear.
“’Tisn’t a dog,” she insisted. “’Tis something born of nightmares.”
He offered the drooling creature a pitying look and her an angry one. Then, using a bit more strength, he pulled her off him and set her back in bed.
“Goliath, come on,” he ordered, moving toward the door.
Sina was hopeful they were both leaving again. She especially didn’t want to be alone with her reluctant groom after she’d clung to him like scum on a pond. Heaven help her, but his body was as hard as armor. Still, she was certain she could feel his heartbeat through it, as accelerated as hers, as if he was also affected.
He opened the door when the “dog” reached it. They both stopped and looked at each other for a moment. The hound’s eyes were large and repentant.
Sina felt a moment of guilt.
The Highlander bent and took the hound’s large head in his hands. “I canna let ye go aroond actin’ like a vicious mongrel, now can I?” He pointed to the door.
With its long, furry tail between its legs, the beast hunkered out.
Straightening to his full, glorious height, MacGregor flicked his icy gaze to her, then looked away.
“Am I to blame for its wanting to rip out my throat?” she asked on her knees from the middle of the bed, where he’d left her.
When he didn’t answer her, she left the bed. Let the hellhound back in, then. She’d rather sleep in the hall than in his bed anyway.
She passed him without a word, but when she put her hand to the door, he grasped her wrist and spun her back. She landed with her back up against the door, her wrist held above her head and his hard body pressed to hers.
“I willna have ye confusin’ my dog,” he said in a deep whisper.
“Let me go or I’ll scratch out your eyes.”
He reached down, snatched up her other wrist, and held that one over her head too.
He gave her a challenging smirk that set her heart thrashing in her chest. What was he going to do? Had she pushed him too far? She looked up into his eyes, afraid of what she would see.
What she saw surprised her. Regret, shame…just traces of it, but enough to make him let her go and walk away. He didn’t go to the bed but fell into a nearby chair, stretched his long, powerful legs out before him, and rested his entwined hands on his bare, hard belly.
Still shaken, Sina stood in her spot for a m. . .
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