A lady’s mission …
Known for her beauty and boldness, Abigail MacGregor must preserve her clan’s dangerous secret: that her mother is the true heir to the English Crown. If the wrong people find out, it will mean war for her beloved Scotland. To keep peace, she embarks for London, unprepared for the treachery that awaits—especially from her wickedly handsome escort. He is the enemy, but his slow, sensuous kisses entice her beyond reason.
A warrior’s temptation...
General Daniel Marlow, loyal knight and the kingdom’s most desirable hero, would rather be on the battlefield than transporting a spoiled Highland lass. But Abby MacGregor is unlike any woman he’s ever met, in a ballroom or in his bedroom. Captivated by her daring spirit and seduced by her lovely innocence, Daniel must choose between betraying his queen or giving up the woman who would steal his country—and his traitorous heart.
A Blackstone Audio production.
Release date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 400
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The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor
“Who is it from, Faither?” Abigail asked, rising from her chair. She smiled at her mother, convalescing in her settee by the window, and pulled her blanket up to her chin.
“Lads,” Robert MacGregor said to his sons instead of answering her, “go fetch yer brother and yer uncles.”
“Which uncles?” Braigh asked.
“All of them.”
“Robbie, who is it from?” his wife, Davina, asked softly when the boys were gone. Bronwen, her giant hound, rested at the foot of the settee and raised her head to whine at the sound of her mistress’s gentle voice.
“ ’Tis from… the queen.”
Abby turned to her father. Her mother sat straight up. Very few people in England knew Davina MacGregor was Davina Stuart, the true firstborn daughter of King James II of England and Anne Hyde. She’d been secluded in an abbey her whole life, unknown to her sisters or anyone else to ensure a Catholic successor should James II die without a son. Those who suspected her existence didn’t know she lived with the MacGregors somewhere on Skye. So why was the queen, her mother’s sister, penning them a letter?
“What does she say?” her mother asked, her voice shaken.
Her father read the letter silently. Abigail hadn’t seen his face drain of so much color since his beloved wife came down with fever three months ago.
“She says…” He stopped and looked up from the parchment, his blue eyes startlingly vivid. “She says she knows of ye and she commands yer attendance in London.”
Abby shook her head. Her mother couldn’t leave Camlochlin. The exceptionally longer winter had struck her slight body like a plague. She was just beginning to recover and it was still brisk outside.
Her father shared her thoughts, proving it when he held up his palm to stop her mother from speaking. “Ye’re not goin’, Davina. My mind is set.”
Thank God. Abby gave a soft sigh of relief. When her father set his mind one way, he rarely moved it again. Abby loved him and respected him as clan chief. She had grown up hearing tales of him from his bard, Finlay Grant, and also from their aunt Maggie, who favored her Rob above all others, save for her brother Callum, and from Abby’s mother.
Her father was stubborn and steadfast in his duty. He made certain that Camlochlin remained a safe haven for displaced Highlanders. With that responsibility came many challenges. She’d watched him face them with confidence and keep them all safe. Everything done was for the good of the clan and the land.
In the last few years, Scotland’s independence had changed so much. Clans were changing, moving into burghs with Lowlanders as their neighbors.
Abby didn’t want that kind of life. She was happy in Camlochlin. She hoped her father would always be there to make decisions that would protect the clan and their home, but when he grew weary of it all, who would take his place as chief? Her older brother, Adam? God help them all, no.
It was up to her.
She might bare more resemblance to her mother but it was her father’s heart she followed.
“Robbie, my love,” said his wife, “how do ye know I was going to suggest anything of the sort?”
He looked at the letter clutched in his hands and then at her. “Ye will when ye hear the rest. But wait a moment fer the others. ’Tis something everyone should hear.”
Abby swallowed and sat down beside her mother. What was it? What was so important that everyone needed to hear? She worried that life here would change now that the monarchy knew of her mother’s existence.
She and her mother didn’t have to wait too long before her uncles arrived. Abby’s brother, who was Robert’s heir, wasn’t with them.
“Where’s Adam?” her father asked the twins.
“With Murron MacDonald,” Tamhas answered.
“He said he’d be here shortly,” Braigh added.
Her father didn’t wait. When he told them who’d penned the letter, Abby’s uncle Tristan poured them all whisky from her father’s decanter.
“She threatens to send her full army to Skye to come get her if Davina refuses to go to England.” He stopped when his wife gasped and looked around at his brothers and his brother-in-law to gauge their reactions. He’d already decided Davina wasn’t going. That meant the army would come. Their lives and their family’s lives were at risk. Robert MacGregor was chief to his clan but he still discussed his decisions with them. If they all didn’t agree with this one, what would he do? “She also commands,” he continued without looking at the parchment again, “that my wife go with no Highlander to accompany her, but with the queen’s personal guards only.”
Everyone remained silent and still while his words settled on them.
“I must go.” Her mother broke the silence and swept her blanket off. Abby held it in place in her lap while Bronwen sat up and plopped her huge paw in Davina’s lap.
“Are ye mad to think we’d let ye go, Davina?” Abby’s uncle Colin asked.
“Mayhap the fever has returned,” said her uncle Connor Grant.
“Should I get Isobel?” her uncle Tristan asked, bringing more relief to Abby knowing that they agreed with her father.
“I can’t let people I love die because of me. Not again.”
“We need to alert the other clans.”
“Aye, Tristan,” her father agreed. “I dinna’ think the queen knows where in Skye we are. She’ll send her army throughout.”
“Rob, my love,” her mother pleaded woefully. “Please. I can make it to London and stop any fighting from taking place. Let me do it. I don’t know how she found out about me but my sister simply wants reassurance that I am no threat.”
Abby had heard tales of St. Christopher’s Abbey, where her mother grew up, and how her royal family was responsible for hiring a madman to burn it down with more than twenty nuns who raised her inside. She would have died as well if Abby’s father hadn’t rescued her from the flames. Her mother didn’t want to be responsible for more deaths.
“She knows ye’re no threat,” her father corrected. “No Catholic can ever claim the throne again.”
“But she isn’t certain I am Catholic,” her mother argued. “She needs reassurance. I can give it.”
How had Anne found out about her? Had she always known? Did she really just want assurances that the firstborn heir to England’s throne didn’t want the seat?
“Davina,” her father said softly. “My mind is set, my love.”
“What of our kin?” her mother insisted. “Our bairns, Rob. What if they are killed?”
The thought of the queen’s army coming down on Camlochlin turned Abby’s stomach. Nae! She wouldn’t let it happen. She stood up again. “I will go in her stead, Faither!”
Hell, she wasn’t afraid to go to England. Even if she was, there wasn’t a choice. She would go in her mother’s stead and convince her aunt that the true heir was happy just where she was and that she was the last remaining Catholic novice from St. Christopher’s. Davina Stuart wanted no part of the throne. Abby would make the queen see that. She would win the queen’s favor for her mother’s sake and try to guarantee some kind of protection for the clan. Protection against the loss of their name and their Highland way of life. She wasn’t afraid. What was the worst that could happen? Mayhap she might even meet a handsome knight like the ones from her grandmother’s books. She’d be escorted by the queen’s personal guards, so nothing… She blinked at her father, who was staring at her like she’d just sprouted a second head.
“Abigail, d’ye sincerely think I’d let ye go to England alone?”
Her eyes glittered like the frost on the mountaintops outside the castle, but there was nothing cold about her. Like her mother, everyone at Camlochlin loved Abby. She fit in with everyone—whether in the kitchen, in the sewing chamber, or on the practice field. The chief’s only daughter won every heart, especially her father’s.
“Ye dinna’ have a choice, Faither. Our clan depends on it. I will do whatever I must to keep us safe. The Royal Army would do much damage and eventually they would find us. I’m not going to sit back while my beloved faither and uncles fight and possibly die in a battle. I’m going. My mind is set.”
Colin was the only uncle who smiled. It was slight, but Abby caught it.
“Ye will go over my dead body, Abby,” her mother told her sternly.
“And ’twill be dead indeed if ye try to go, Mother.” She shook her head and turned to the men again. “Ye all know that one day I want to be the chief. This clan needs a dedicated leader when our chief steps down. Adam isn’t yer man and ye all know it. Though I’m a woman, I want to prove to ye that I’m worthy of the title.”
Colin raised his cup to her and smiled. “Ye’re braw, lass. Ye’ll have my ‘aye’ when the time comes fer the next chief to be chosen.” He turned to her father and winked at him. “Not that I want that day to come any time soon, brother. I just think she’s a better choice than Adam—”
“I dinna’ give a damn about that,” her father shouted. “Ye think my only daughter should go to meet our enemy alone?”
“Nae, of course not.” Colin laughed. “Why the hell would ye think that? We’ll stay a day behind her.”
Tristan smiled. So did Connor. Abby loved them all. They were strong willed and fiercely protective yet tender enough to pick heather without breaking a stem. Each of them possessed traits she wanted in a husband and would wait for, no matter how long it took to find them.
“I canna’ let her go.” Her father turned to her. “Ye ask the impossible.”
She knew she did. How could she expect her father to allow her to do such a perilous thing? She didn’t expect it. She wasn’t a fool. But it had to be done to save them. Her mind was made up. No one would change it.
She smiled softly and went to her father, taking his arm in hers. She’d learned it’s easier to go around the mountain than to try to conquer it.
“Faither, I love ye with all my heart, but I didna’ ask.”
Abby penned her reply to the queen herself, and without waiting for her father’s approval, she rode to Broadford and made arrangements to have the letter delivered to St. James’s Palace. Afraid or not, she was going to England to see to the safety of her kin. The more she thought about it, the more she knew she wouldn’t be stopped. No one in her mother’s royal family knew of her existence. Or rather, they thought no one knew. Now the queen knew. Abby wanted to use it to her advantage. Her blood ties to the queen could prove to be a blessing.
Upon her return to Camlochlin, she met up with her eldest brother, who was returning from Torrin.
“Where were ye earlier today, Adam?” she asked, riding her surefooted mount around his appropriately named dog, Goliath. There were many dogs at Camlochlin, but he was one of only five offspring of the late beloved wolfhound Grendel. “Faither sent fer ye and ye didna’ come.”
Adam exhaled a long breath and turned his eyes toward Camas Fhionnairigh. Abby knew where he’d been and what he’d been doing instead of seeing to his duty. She didn’t blame Murron MacDonald. Adam was striking, with raven hair like their father’s and pale skin like their mother’s. It was a shocking contrast, and with even lighter blue-gray eyes than Abby’s, his beauty was chilling and otherworldly. He was an indifferent danger to women everywhere he went.
“Aye, a letter from London. The twins told me.” He swung his cool gaze to her. “Ye know I have nae interest in anything English.”
“It seems ye have nae interest in anything that doesna’ wear a skirt.”
He smiled and Abby thought it a pity that he was so arrogant and flippant about his life.
“Ye are practically handing me yer birthright, Adam.”
He shrugged. “Who says I want it?”
He didn’t. He’d made it clear on more than one occasion. He didn’t want to rule. He wanted to raid, women mostly. That was fine with her. Less opposition later. She smiled.
“Give it to me then.” She waited for his answer. If he handed his birthright over to her, no one would contest it. “Why wait? Find yerself a woman who can find a way to love ye, take her as a wife. I’m beginning to think that only Edmund and Lucan are fit to be faithers.”
He laughed, infuriating her that he found his birthright a matter of jest.
“Why d’ye want the weight of our clan’s survival on yer shoulders?” he asked her. “Ye’re the one who should find a husband and have babes, sister.”
Oh, she wanted to punch him in the face. She’d never wanted to punch anyone so badly. “Adam, ye—”
“I say that because I love ye,” he cut her off. “I dinna’ want to see ye carry such responsibility on yer back. Ye dinna’ understand how crushing being chief will be.”
“And ye do?”
“I’ve been groomed fer it my whole life. I have a better idea than ye have aboot it.”
“That might be true, but the safety of the people in Camlochlin means more to me than it does to ye.”
He cast her a wry smirk. “I dinna’ think we should meddle in English things, but I would fight if an army came here, Abby.”
“Well.” Abby didn’t smile back. “They might be doing just that. The difference between us is that I would stop them from coming in the first place. The letter, brother. ’Twas from the queen. She knows of Mother’s existence.” Ah finally, a reaction other than a glib quirk of his lips. “Queen Anne has commanded Mother to travel to London with English guards.”
“She canna’ go.”
“She isna’ going. I am.”
He laughed again and she smiled with him but there was no humor in her eyes. Let them all think she was mad or foolish. She was willing to put herself in harm’s way for them. Adam might not have been paying attention to his grooming, but she had been. She’d hung on every word, every lesson she’d watched from her place atop the barn with her cousin Caitrina.
Robert MacGregor’s blood flowed through her veins. She wanted to be like him, and she was. Almost everyone had told her so. The passion to protect their clan drove her. She wasn’t going to let harm come to them because of a queen’s command.
“And Faither has agreed to this?” her brother asked.
“He will. If I dinna’ go, the queen has promised to send an army here.”
They discussed it more, with Adam finally taking the matter more seriously.
She was going to England to save her clan and to prove she was worthy of someday becoming chief. And nothing was going to stop her.
Captain General Daniel Marlow, knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter remained still while his valet, Albert, dressed him. Hell, he hated formal attire with all its pomposity and lace. His thick embroidered brocade waistcoat and justacorps made him feel heavier on his feet. He could barely move his damn head around the magnitude of heavy lace at his throat. His wrists too were shackled in it. And who in damnation decided to make shoes with high heels for feet the size of his? His squashed toes only added to his increasingly foul mood. He’d rather be wearing his uniform, though even that was a bit stiff and overdone.
“Think the queen would take offense to me arriving in my coat, breeches, and boots?”
“The queen,” said she, herself, entering his chambers in her wheelchair, “takes no offense in anything you do.”
He turned and offered Anne Stuart a half smile, reaching for her hand before she offered it. “You look radiant tonight, Ma’am.”
A blush stole over her pale skin and her smile lingered for a moment longer before disappearing back into the shadows.
He waited while she dismissed his valet and the servant who wheeled her around the palace. Her usually cheerless expression was hard and determined. Something serious was going on and he was about to become part of it. He hoped there was some form of trouble, some enemy that needed the justice of his sword. He welcomed fighting. He’d welcome anything that got him away from court, and from Charlotte Adler, the Duchess of Blackburn and the queen’s close friend.
“Pour me a drink of wine, will you, Daniel?” she asked when they were alone.
He didn’t ask her what her physicians said about her partaking of the vine. None of them knew what caused her to go lame. It could, they said, have been caused by anything from gout to a dozen different diseases. They were no help. Daniel believed it a culmination of many sorrows too difficult for any person to bear. She’d suffered miscarriages or stillborns twelve of the seventeen times she became pregnant. Four other children died before the age of two. Her fifth child lived for eleven years, and then he also died. Anne was utterly grief stricken and had never truly recovered.
If she wanted wine, she would have it. He poured some for himself, as well.
“Daniel,” she spoke softly as he handed her the cup. “You know that I trust you more than anyone in my life, and that I favor you above all others.”
Yes, he knew. Her favor had given him the title of Earl of Darlington. It had made him a knight of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry, and granted him the rank of captain general, the highest commander of her entire army. She didn’t have to grant him such honor. He had pledged his loyalty to the throne, as his father and grandfather had done before him. Regardless of who sat there or what she gave or didn’t give him, he would serve her. But he thanked God every day that he served Anne Stuart.
He’d known Princess Anne since he was a babe of two. His father, Edward Marlow, was a general in King William’s army. He kept close to the royal family, moving his own family with Anne’s from her residence in Whitehall Palace to St. James’s Palace. He had wonderful memories of Anne, younger, newly married to her prince, happier. She loved Daniel from the start, keeping him close under her wing the way a mother might do to her child. They became close friends despite the difference of sixteen years, give or take, between them.
“There is an enormous thing I must ask of you, Daniel. You have never refused me, though you might decide to now.”
Worry creased her brow. One thing he didn’t want her to do was worry. His foul mood over his clothes forgotten, he flashed her a wide grin and fell into a chair by the hearth. “I’ll do it if you excuse my presence at your ball tonight.”
One side of her mouth tilted in a rare smile. “You will do it and you will attend.”
She knew he would. He did what she asked. That was his duty. More of a privilege, because he loved her.
“What is she doing?”
“Charlotte,” Anne said, the tilt of her fragile smile remaining. “What is she doing to you that makes you so desperate to avoid her tonight at the ball?” When he narrowed a skeptical gaze, she laughed softly. “Oh, come now, dearest, don’t look surprised. Do you think I’m blind as well as lame? You are miserable. I just thank God you haven’t taken her to your bed.”
He set his cup down and let his gaze darken on her. She paid no attention to it.
“I asked her,” she confessed, ignoring too his parting lips. “Knowing her, she would have taken enjoyment in telling me. But she reminded me, instead, that she is a lady.”
Daniel caught the humor in her voice and if he wasn’t so damned annoyed at her, he would have enjoyed her amusement. He tossed his head back to guzzle the rest of his wine and let the spirit soothe him.
Things had gotten bumpy between the queen and Lady Blackburn last year, after Anne’s husband died and Charlotte was cruel to her about Anne’s not wanting to remove his portrait from her chambers. Whatever bond they had formed before Daniel left for battle had been splintered by the time he’d returned. The wedge between them grew each day. Still, Daniel wasn’t sure if Anne appreciated what a true viper Charlotte Adler was.
“Daniel, look at me.”
He lifted his eyes from the inside of his cup and did as she asked.
“You’re angry with me,” she said quietly.
He hadn’t realized his jaw had tightened until he relaxed it. “Not angry,” he told her. “But I thought you would never interfere in my personal affairs.”
She didn’t back down. He didn’t expect her to. “And I never shall again in any circumstance that does not have to do with you and Charlotte in bed.”
He stood. He didn’t want to talk about his intimacies, or lack of them, with her.
Her gaze followed him.
“Promise me you will never take her to your bed like my sniveling cousin Montagu has done.”
“I’ve no intentions on taking her to my bed,” he told her honestly. He wasn’t a fool. “But why does it concern you so?”
She sipped her wine and shrugged her shoulder at him. “ ’Tis just wise counsel. The same I would give to my own son.”
His anger faded. He didn’t believe a word she said, but she hadn’t meant to offend or insult him. Perhaps she was aware of Charlotte’s true nature.
“She has done nothing to me,” he assured her. “I keep her close to keep others safe. I know you don’t care to hear this and that’s why I rarely mention it anymore, but I don’t trust her. She has secrets and I intend to learn them.”
“Perhaps,” the queen said, going pale and looking faint. Daniel went to her. “Perhaps ’tis best if you no longer associate with her, Daniel.”
He cast her a confused look and felt her forehead. “What’s going on, Anne? Do you know something about her or her husband that you’re not telling me?”
“No, no, of course not! I simply don’t want you to suffer her for my sake.”
He bent a knee before her wheelchair and took her hands in his. Enough of her worrying. He would have no more of it. “I would do anything for you. You’ve no cause to worry about Lady Blackburn. Put her away from your thoughts, my dear Anne. I’m no fool.” He kissed her hand and then smiled up at her. “Now, what is this enormous thing you must ask of me? You have only to speak it and I’ll do it.”
She set her dark, level gaze on his. “I need you to ride to the Highlands of Scotland in the morning.”
No. Hell. Not that.
“There is a young woman whom I need you to escort back to me. She is very important. The daughter of a renowned Jacobite chief named MacGregor.”
Daniel didn’t know whether to laugh or have another drink. Or four. There was only one thing worse than Highlanders and that was Jacobites. They were those who pledged their lives to Anne’s stepbrother James Francis Edward Stuart, allegedly born of King James and his second wife, Mary of Modena, and his claim for the throne. Daniel had fought enough Jacobites to know they were among the most fearsome men who lived. He also knew they hated Anne, and William and Mary before her. They were rebels with no loyalty to the throne or obedience to any law. They were everything he had been trained to despise. Traitors to their king, or in this case, queen. Such people deserved the noose. Why the hell would she want a Jacobite in her castle? He had to have heard her wrong. “You want me to ride to the Highlands of Scotland to bring the daughter of a Jacobite outlaw, whose name is proscribed, to St. James’s Palace, and to your side. Is that correct?”
He straightened and poured himself another drink. After he tipped back his head, emptying his cup, he looked at her. “How can you ask me to put you in such danger?”
“The young woman is no danger to me. But because of her name, she is fair game to anyone who wants to bring her harm. I need you to see that none comes to her.” She grabbed his wrist when he moved before her, shaking his head, against the idea. “I’m going to make her my handmaiden, and she is going to help me secure the Jacobites’ support.”
“How?” he asked her. The Jacobites were her greatest enemy.
“Leave that to me. I’ll explain everything to you later, but for now, you are the only one I trust to do this. Daniel, I know your feelings about the Jacobites, but I need you.”
Yes, she needed him to babysit a Jacobite. No! He didn’t have the stomach for it. “Anne,” he tried one more time. “I don’t think bringing a Jacobite here is wise.”
“I know, dearest. But wise or not I want her here.”
Daniel nodded and looked into the fire. What support could Anne hope to gain from a Highland chief’s daughter? And why a MacGregor? Cameron MacPherson was the most dangerous Jacobite in Scotland. Why not seek an alliance with him? How could support from the MacGregors help Anne? “I’ll do it, but she better know how to ride. I won’t ride across Scotland with a Jacobite cradled in my arm. Give me the directions to her home.”
“In the morning,” she told him. “Tonight you’ll dance.” When he opened his mouth to speak, she stopped him. “You know how much joy it brings me to watch you.”
Yes, he did know. She’d made certain he’d learned how to dance from a young age. He hadn’t wanted to attend those lessons. He’d preferred his lessons on fighting, but he was glad now that he’d done it. He enjoyed moving to melody, and he did it well.
The queen left him a few minutes later and sent his valet back to him.
“You’re brooding.” Albert Carmichael had been in service to Daniel for the last nine years. He was more of a friend than a valet.
“I must go to the Highlands on an errand for the queen.”
Albert snapped his tongue. “Lady Blackburn will be most upset.”
Did Charlotte care for him? Like him, she’d been in service to the throne for many years, befriending Anne at a young age. As they grew older, Daniel saw less of her. She never showed interest in him until he returned almost a year ago from fighting Anne’s enemies in Spain. Despite her being married, she confessed her love to Daniel on more than one occasion and brought her fury down on any woman who showed interest in him. Of course, Daniel didn’t share her feelings. Over their long years of friendship, Anne had made Charlotte a woman of high influence. He could have his way with her if he desired it. She was dark and dangerously beautiful, and closer to his age than to Anne’s. But he knew that once he became one of her lovers she would never let him go. Besides that, she had a husband.
“If you intend on giving her her way tonight,” his valet pressed on boldly, “I wouldn’t suggest a bed—”
“I don’t,” Daniel cut him off, “intend on giving her her way tonight. She’s wed.”
“How long can you deny her?” Albert put to him, leaving his side to reach for the powdered wig on Daniel’s dresser.
“No.” Daniel halted him from lifting it to his head. “I’ll not wear that hideous thing. And I’ll deny her as long as she has a husband and is mad in the head, which I’m inclined. . .
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