Happy Thursday boys and girls. Once again, author BJ Scott, offers readers a wonderful Highland tale full of love and intrigue. I’m happy to present the beautiful cover for Her Highlander’s Promise and an excerpt that will get you hooked…
The extended excerpt…
“Are you sure the two of you will be all right on your own? I would like to try my luck at the stone throw and mayhap the caber toss. I have been practicing since last fall and think I might have a good chance of winning this year.”
Angus was one of her father’s most trusted warriors. A bear of a man, he boasted a large muscular frame and what Laurel figured was considerable strength. “By all means go. We will see to our purchases, then join you. I canna wait to cheer you on to victory,” Laurel said. She was going against Deirdre’s orders, but as long as they returned on time, no one would be the wiser.
He bowed, and after securing the horses, raced off in the direction of the competition field.
“I’ve no doubt he will do verra well. Da always said he had the brawn of five men.” Laurel watched their escort disappear, then walked toward the market.
With so much to look at, taste, and smell, Laurel closed her eyes and savored the moment, committing it to memory so she could call upon it on one of the dismal days she found herself alone in her chamber.
“Sweetened nuts, m’lady. The best you’ll find anywhere.” A peddler offered Laurel a sample of the confection.
Finding it hard to resist the sugar-dusted almonds, Laurel curtsied and smiled. “Thank you. Mayhap we will return for some before we leave. Can you direct us to the tent with the freshest vegetables?”
“That would be the green one yonder.” He pointed, then scurried off to attend to another customer.
“I would be happy to buy you some sweetened nuts or anything else you might like. A lassie as comely as you should have anything her heart desires.”
Laurel spun around at the sound of the deep gruff voice, coming face to face with a tall, scruffy-looking man and his two friends. She stiffened and inclined her chin. “As I explained to the peddler, we may return and make a purchase later. But right now, we must be on our way.” She suspected given their dishevelled appearance and the strong odor of ale, the three men were well in their cups. There was no telling what they had in mind, and she quickly devised a plan to discourage their unwelcomed advances without angering them.
“Come, Isla, we dinna want to keep Angus waiting. You know how furious he gets if he sees us talking to strangers. Best we hurry. We are already late.”
“If your man is foolish enough to let his lassie out of his sight, then he doesna deserve you,” the first man said, his words slurred.
He obviously had not fallen for the ruse or was too drunk to care. “Come with me and I will show you a good time.” He grabbed Laurel by the arm and tried to drag her around to the side of the tent.
“Leave her be. Do you have any idea who she is?” Isla tried to intervene only to be shoved to the ground.
“She could be the Queen of England for all I care,” the man growled and hauled Laurel against his chest.
Her stomach roiled at the overpowering stench of spirits, unwashed flesh, and foul breath. She choked back the bile rising in her throat, then forced herself to speak. “Release me at once. I am not a lass who lifts her skirt for strange men.”
“Then I can show you what you’ve been missing,” he hissed, then nipped at her neck.
She tried to twist free when he captured her mouth, but she was no match for his size and strength. Planting both hands on his chest, she pushed with all her might. But he held firm, and instead of releasing her, she heard the tear of fabric and felt a cool rush of air on her shoulder.
“Now look what you’ve done, Callum. You ruined the lady’s gown. She obviously doesna fancy your company and we should let her go,” one of his companions said.
“Aye, let’s be off. You said you wanted to have a little fun with the ladies, but you dinna say anything about forcing yourself on them,” the other one added.
“The two of you are daft, spineless sots. Look at her. And her friend isna hard on the eyes either. All I want is a little kiss,” Callum said. “What say you, m’lady? Cooperate, then I’ll let you be on your way.”
“Unhand her. Now. Least you find yourself on the receiving end of my blade,” a man growled.
Callum released Laurel when a large hand clamped down on his shoulder, then whipped him around. “Wait your turn. I’ll be but a minute, then you can have her if you want.”
“Time is up,” the man snapped as he drew his sword.
Callum glanced to his friends for help, but when they both lowered their heads and backed away, he did the same. “I wasna going to hurt her,” he spat, then turned and ran.
“Did they harm you in any way?” the man asked as he offered his hand to Isla, helping her to stand.
Isla brushed the leaves and dirt from her skirt and shook her head. “Nay, I’m fine. But I am grateful you came along when you did.”
“So am I,” Laurel said. “Thank you.”
“As always, I’m at your service, Lady Laurel,” he said and bowed, a lock of raven hair falling over his eyes.
Laurel’s heart skipped. While it had been eight summers, she’d recognize that mischievous smile and those expressive blue eyes anywhere. “Blair Cameron?”
His grin broadened. “I’m pleased to see you havena forgotten me. And if I might add, you are even lovelier than I remembered. Have you missed me?”
“Do you know this silver-tongued devil?” Isla asked.
“Aye. We met on the day I buried my da, but I havena seen or heard from him since.” She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was grateful for his assistance, but refused to let him know how truly happy she was to see him. “I hope your father is well. And your brothers?” she queried in an attempt to change the subject.
“They are all hale and hardy. My brothers are taking part in the games, but my da decided not to attend the festival this year. And tell me, Laurel, how have you been?” He took her hand and brought it to his lips.
“Halt! Stand down and step away from the lady, or I will run you through!” Angus rounded the corner with his blade drawn. His face was contorted with anger as he ran toward them at full speed. “I heard there had been some trouble. If you’ve laid a hand to either one of these ladies, you’ll only live long enough to make your peace with the Lord.”
Angus charged toward them with the ferocity of a wild boar.
“Wait, you must listen to me.” Laurel raised her hands and stepped into his path.
“Clear the way, m’lady. I’ll teach this brigand what happens to men who accost young women,” he growled, then came to an abrupt halt when she stood her ground.
“You’re making a huge mistake,” Blair said, then gently moved her aside. “I did nothing to harm the ladies. In fact, I came to their assistance. I—”
“Save your explanations for the Almighty when you arrive at his gates.” Angus swung his sword in a large arc above his head while taking a menacing step forward.
Blair gripped the hilt of his weapon and stood fast.
“He speaks the truth, Angus. Three men attacked us. Blair came to our aid. He drove the blackguards off. Thanks to his actions neither of us was harmed. You must believe me,” Laurel shouted. She had to make him understand.
Angus lowered his blade and glared at Blair. “That isna what it looked like to me. I see no one but this scoundrel.”
“What m’lady said is true. Lord Cameron chased the attackers away with their tails tucked between their legs. He deserves a reward for his bravery. Had he not come along when he did, there is no telling what might have befallen us.” Isla placed her hand on Angus’ forearm.
“Cameron? Be you one of John’s sons?” Angus asked.
“Aye. The youngest.”
“Your da is a good man and was a friend of Brandon MacClay.” Angus sheathed his weapon, then turned to face Laurel. “Are you certain you are all right?”
Laurel nodded. “Aye, I’m fine.”
“I was in the middle of a throw when I heard some ladies were accosted in the market square. I came as quickly as I could. Thank God you are unharmed.” Angus raked his fingers through his tangled red hair. “I should have known better than to leave you alone.”
“Please dinna blame yourself. You had no way of knowing this would happen, and we need not speak of it again.” Laurel glanced at Isla. “We still need to purchase the goods we came for, if we return empty-handed, Deirdre willna be pleased. Best we do so now, then prepare to head back to the keep.”
“Must you leave so soon? I was hoping I might show you around the festival.” Blair made no attempt to hide the disappointment in his voice.
“Aye. The cook will be waiting for the supplies we’ve come to fetch and I gave my word that I would return by noon. As it is, we will be late.”
“You stay here and speak with Lord Cameron. Angus and I can go for the vegetables.” Isla smiled, then took Angus by the arm and tried to tug him in the direction of the vendor tents.
“Given what happened, I’m not sure that is a good idea.” Angus dug his heels into the dirt and refused to move. “I dinna think it wise to let either of you out of my sight again.”
“Dinna fret, I am sure she will be in good hands.” With that, Isla dragged him away.
“Mayhap Angus is right and I should go with them.” Laurel made an attempt to follow her friends, but stopped when Blair placed his hand on her upper arm.
His touch sent a surge of excitement coursing through her veins. Her heart thundered against her ribs as she fought to catch her breath. Suddenly weak in the knees, she struggled to remain on her feet. She experienced the same unfamiliar swell of emotions on the day they first met. A bairn of ten summers, she was too young to understand her body’s reaction. But today, she found the passion and desire too powerful to ignore.
“Please dinna go, Laurel. I have come to the festival every fall hoping to see you, but you never attended before today.”
“Deirdre doesna like me to stray too far from the keep,” she replied.
But she could not bring herself to look him in the eye for fear she would give away her feelings. He was not her husband, and she might never see him again. By all rights, she should be furious with him. It had been many years since they’d met, and during that time, he’d made no effort to contact her, despite his promise to court her when he came of age. To let her guard down now was only setting herself up for further disappointment.
“Is that old battle-axe still giving you grief? I thought by now you’d have assumed your place as mistress of the castle and lairdess of Clan MacClay.”
“Soon, but I am not yet eight and ten summers. Until then, my cousin Murray is acting laird. But I hope that will change in a little over a sennight, after my eighteenth Saint’s Day. Then, I will be old enough to fulfill my father’s decree.”
“You are not married?” he asked.
She shook her head. “And you?” She dreaded the potential answer, but had to know.
“I have been waiting for the right lassie.” He wiggled his brow, then took her hand. “Do you still have the ring of intent I gave you?”
“Aye, but when I never heard from you, I assumed you were no longer interested, thought that perhaps you were already married or betrothed.”
“I am betrothed.” He grinned and brought her hand to his lips, pressing them to her palm. “I made you a promise, Laurel. One I intend to keep.”
“If that’s true, why have you not come to see me?” She fought to keep her voice from trembling.
“You were never far from my thoughts. Many times I considered coming to Thistledown Castle. I wanted to ask Murray for your hand, but my father convinced me to wait. Da was certain that your cousin wouldna agree and believed it was better for me to postpone my visit until you could decide for yourself.” He kissed her knuckles one at a time before he continued. “If it pleases you, Laurel, I would like to court you, now.”
Her chest tightened, and thinking clearly was suddenly next to impossible. But while there was nothing she’d like more than to be his bride, Deirdre and Murray would never give their consent. She withdrew her hand and turned away, hiding the tears that trickled down her cheeks.
“I am honored and flattered, but dinna think it would be possible. Your da was correct. Mayhap you should forget about me.” She wiped her damp face with the back of her hand and squared her shoulders.
He spun her around to face him. “I could no more forget about you than I could forget to breathe. The dirk of love found its mark on the day we met and the wound hasna healed. I fear my heart willna mend until we are man and wife. We are meant to be together, Laurel, and I willna give up hope.” He drew her into his arms, lowered his head, and kissed her.
Her pulse thundered in her ears and all logic vanished into a fog of euphoria she’d never before experienced. Her legs buckled, but Blair was there to keep her from falling.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment,” he whispered, threading his fingers through her hair. Then he gently kissed her cheek, her jawline, finishing with a playful nip at her earlobe. When she gasped with pleasure, he slid his tongue between her slightly parted lips, took possession of her mouth, and deepened his kiss.
Aware she should resist his advances, she tried to regain control of her emotions, but could not bring herself to move. Instead, she leaned against his broad chest, responding to his kiss with equal enthusiasm. She wished the moment would go on forever and was surprised when he suddenly released her and stepped back. “Is there something wrong? I—”
Blair pressed two fingers to her lips, nodding in the direction of the market tents. “Kissing you is as amazing as I always knew it would be. Were circumstances different, nothing could tear me from your side. But I think it would anger Angus to find us embracing.”
Laurel backed away. She nervously slid her hands down the front of her gown as Angus and Isla approached.
“When can we meet again, Laurel? Mayhap tomorrow? I can call on you at the keep, and at that time, speak to your cousin Murray.”
Her heart clenched. “Och, I dinna think that will be possible, Blair. At least not until after I turn eighteen. Murray and Deirdre wouldna permit us to see each other, let along agree for us to wed.”
“Then we will meet in secret.”
“I canna. She keeps watch over me like a hawk does its prey. Maybe it would be better if you did forget about me,” she replied softly and dropped her chin.
“Nay. There must be a way. She canna watch you every minute. I’m sure there is a time when she is busy with her duties around the castle. When does she retire? Tell me and I will meet you then.”
“What good would it do? They will never agree to our union, and we are only fooling ourselves to think otherwise. As long as I am under their guardianship, they control my every move.”
“We could run away together. If you are agreeable, we can marry, then return after you come of age. They will have no choice but to honor your father’s wishes, and once you are lairdess of Clan MacClay, they can no longer tell you what you can and canna do.”
He spoke so fast it made her head swim. The offer to run away, while tempting, was sadly not an option. “Things are not that simple. Deirdre is a force to reckon with when angered,” she replied. “But more importantly, I promised my da on his deathbed that I would mind Murray. Defying them would dishonor his memory.”
Blair swept his knuckles along her cheek, then lifted her chin. “I’m sure he would understand, but your sense of honor would make him proud. However, I canna return to my home without seeing you again. I will come to Thistledown Castle tomorrow evening. Meet me at the postern gate when Deirdre retires for the night. I’ll wait for you as long as it takes. We will make plans for the day you turn eighteen.” He clutched both her hands, bringing one to his lips. “Please, Laurel.” He kissed her palm, then placed it over his heart.
“I will try, but canna promise,” she finally agreed.
“I live in hope, m’lady, and count the minutes.” He bowed, then stepped aside when Angus and Isla arrived.
“We must be on our way, Lady Laurel,” Angus said.
Laurel nodded and accompanied her friends. When Blair moved forward to assist her into the carriage, Angus stepped between them.
“That willna be necessary, laddie,” Angus grumbled. “I will see to the ladies and think it best you leave.”
Once seated, Laurel glanced down at Blair and smiled. “It was lovely seeing you. I pray we meet again.”
“Count on it, m’lady. You have my promise,” Blair replied with a grin. “Until then, I bid you farewell.”
Isla waved as the carriage pulled away, then quickly turned to Laurel. “What a braw young man.” She lowered her voice. “Did you have a nice visit?”
“Aye, he is verra handsome and we had a good chat.” Laurel peeked over her shoulder at the festival grounds. Blair had yet to move.
“Did he ask to see you again? Did he kiss you?” Isla badgered. “Your cheeks were flushed when we arrived. And the way he was looking at you . . .” She pressed her hand to her chest and released a deep sigh. “You must tell me everything.”
Laurel raised her finger to her lips, hoping to silence her friend. She was not ready to share what happened and did not want Angus to overhear. “It was nice to see him, but you are letting your imagination run wild. There is nothing between us.”
“If you say so.” Isla grinned and leaned back against the seat.
As with most journeys, the trip to the festival seemed to take forever, but the one home was over in the blink of an eye. As they entered through the raised portcullis, Laurel spotted Deirdre standing at the top of the castle steps. Her stomach twisted with dread at the thought of facing her cousin’s ire…
Her Highlander’s Promise will be available for preorder soon on Amazon…
Don’t miss out on BJ’s other wonderful Highland books.
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Thanks for stopping by today BJ.