Who can you trust?
Betrayed by his brother and his childhood love, Brice Kinross needs a fresh start. So he welcomes the opportunity to leave Sweden for the Scottish Highlands to take over the family estate.
But there’s trouble afoot at Rosyth in 1754 and Brice finds himself unwelcome. The estate is in ruin and money is disappearing. He discovers an ally in Marsaili Buchanan, the beautiful redheaded housekeeper, but can he trust her?
Marsaili is determined to build a good life. She works hard at being housekeeper and harder still at avoiding men who want to take advantage of her. But she’s irresistibly drawn to the new clan chief, even though he’s made it plain he doesn’t want to be shackled to anyone.
And the young laird has more than romance on his mind. His investigations are stirring up an enemy. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – including Marsaili – even if that means destroying Brice’s life forever …
Marsaili Buchanan was pulled back from the brink of sleep by the soft growling of her deerhound, Liath. It started as a low rumble inside the big dog’s chest and throat, and grew in volume while the animal raised his head and stared fixedly at the door. Since Liath was snuggled around Marsaili’s feet, the vibrations could be felt all the way up her legs. Her heart skipped a beat as she held her breath, waiting to see who was coming up the stairs to her tower room this time.
‘They never give up, do they, boy,’ she whispered and sat up, putting her palm on Liath’s flat skull. She felt the rumbling more strongly there and stroked the dog’s wiry neck, keeping her hand near his collar in case she needed to hold him back. It was a distinct possibility.
She’d been plagued with night-time suitors like this for a while now, even though she never encouraged any of the men in the household or on the estate. Her face and figure seemed to inspire lust in any male between the ages of fifteen and fifty, no matter how much she covered it up. She silently cursed fate for giving her this dubious blessing. It brought her nothing but trouble.
The latch moved softly. Since it was well-oiled and silent, Marsaili wouldn’t have heard it if she hadn’t been forewarned. The door didn’t open though, the bar she’d had installed recently saw to that. The latch dropped with a clink and she heard a snort of frustration. This was followed by a muted thud, presumably a shoulder pushing against the door. When this didn’t produce the desired result either, a man’s voice muttered an oath. A harder shove which made the wooden planks quiver seemed to conclude the assault. Marsaili bit her lip hard to keep from making a sound.
‘Marsaili? It’s me, Colin.’ The whisper was clearly audible and seemed to hang in the air for a moment.
Marsaili almost gasped out loud. That was one voice she’d never thought to hear outside her door. She’d believed Colin Seton, the estate manager, too proud to go sneaking around at night.
‘Mr Seton? What’s the matter?’ she asked, trying to sound as if she’d just been woken up. ‘Is something amiss?’
‘Come now, girl, you know why I’m here. You’ve been holding out for long enough, it’s time you were rewarded.’
His voice was slightly louder, but still low. Marsaili didn’t know why he bothered trying to keep it down. Her room was at the top of one of the towers of Rosyth House and there was no one immediately below her at the moment. He must be aware of this.
‘I beg your pardon?’ She sat up straighter, glaring in the direction of the door. Holding out for what? Him? How on earth did he reach that conclusion? She just wanted to be left alone, not be importuned by a widower old enough to be her father.
‘The finest looking woman in all the Highlands deserves only the best. Can’t blame you for setting your sights high. Let me in now, you can trust me to look after you right.’
Rage bubbled up inside Marsaili’s throat and threatened to choke her. The words she longed to hurl at Seton were so stacked up, she couldn’t spit them out. All that escaped her was a noise of frustration, but Liath felt her wrath and gave voice to it on her behalf. His growling grew into a crescendo of menace that reverberated around the small room
She managed to control her vocal chords at last. ‘Please leave, Mr Seton and I’ll forget we ever had this conversation. I’m sorry, but you’ve misunderstood.’
‘Eh? You’re just being stubborn now and you know it. No need to be coy, you’ve made your point.’ His voice was beginning to sound strained, as if he was keeping his temper in check, but only just.
Marsaili didn’t know what to reply. She didn’t want to antagonise the man, but on the other hand she had to make him understand she wasn’t available to anyone. As if to emphasise her thoughts, Liath gave a short bark, and although she couldn’t see him, Marsaili knew he was probably baring his fangs as well. She felt her heart beating harder, the sound of her pulse almost drowning out the dog’s noise inside her ears. She took a deep breath. ‘I meant what I said. Anyone who wants to court me can do so in daylight.’ Not that it would do them any good since I don’t want any of them.
‘Who said anything about courting? Your mother –’
She cut him off abruptly. ‘What my mother chose to do was up to her. It has nothing to do with me and I’ll live my life as I see fit. I’m a respectable woman.’
‘Rubbish! You’re no better than you should be. Hoity-toity by-blow of a –’
‘Mr Seton! You’ve said enough.’ Marsaili was shaking with fury, but was determined not to enter into a lengthy argument with him.
Seton cursed long and fluently. Finally, he hissed, ‘That dog isn’t allowed in the house, you know. I’ll see it’s put where it belongs from now on, in the stables.’
‘You can’t! I have the mistress’s express permission to keep him in here. The dog stays,’ she said firmly, trying not to let her voice tremble the way the rest of her body was doing. It was true after all, but would he leave it at that? She waited again, holding Liath’s collar in a tight grip, while Seton made up his mind.
The door was stout, but she knew Seton was both strong and determined. Fortunately, so was Liath. Marsaili was reluctant to let the dog loose on anyone because she’d seen what those powerful jaws could do, but if she was cornered, she’d have no other choice.
‘We’ll just see about that,’ Seton snarled before giving the door a vicious kick. Soon after, she heard footsteps disappearing down the stairwell. She breathed a sigh of relief and threw her arms around the dog’s neck, burying her face in the shaggy fur.
‘Thank you, Liath, good boy. You’re the best.’ He licked her hand in acknowledgement of this tribute and leaned against her until her limbs stopped shaking.
They’d won this time, but Marsaili knew that from now on she’d have to be on her guard at all times, both for herself and for Liath. There was no saying what Seton would do and now he’d put all his cards on the table, there was no going back. He wasn’t the type to give up easily and she’d probably wounded his pride. He would use every means at his disposal to have his way.
Well, she’d be ready for him. Just let him try!
Buy links: Highland Storms is published by Choc Lit on 1st November 2011, (ISBN: 978-1-906931-71-1). It is available from www.amazon.co.uk For further details on where to purchase this book please see http://www.choc-lit.com/html/highland_storms.html
Link to longer excerpt - http://www.choc-lit.com/First___second_chapter_-_Highland_Storms_by_Christina_Courtenay.pdf
(For a short author bio, please see previous blog regarding The Scarlet Kimono or check out my website at www.christinacourtenay.com )