The Marriage Alliance
Her hand in marriage could secure peace.
Lady Ailsa Cameron has slept through a few masses. She isn’t the most patient of souls. However, the gentle lass never did anything wicked enough for her father, Laird Cameron to demand she wed Black Duncan, the Laird of Clan MacLean.
The leader of the Spartans of the North, Duncan MacLean inspires many gruesome tales in the majestic highlands and beyond. Duncan accepts Laird Cameron’s offer of his daughter’s hand in marriage to war against their shared enemy, Clan MacKinnon. Wed to the ravishing woman, he aches to possess her even as he vows never to lower his defenses, again.
Can past enemies become lovers?
Read an Excerpt:
Scottish Highlands, 1256
Surely, Ailsa Cameron never managed anything in her score of a lifetime so wicked to deserve this cruel punishment. She never took the life of another. Admittedly, she dozed through a few masses in her lifetime. Others were guilty of such sin and never punished so harshly. Maybe, it was the many times she took the Lord’s name in vain. That vile curse hadn’t passed her lips for some time, not since her last penance forbade her from speaking for a sennight. She had remained silent until the noon meal but her guilt still lingered. Even that did not warrant her wedding the dreaded Duncan MacLean.
Nay, she journeyed along the stone-littered tract to the MacLean fortress because of men and one in particular, her father—Laird Cameron. His fierce desire to merge with the Spartans of the North appointed Ailsa the maiden sacrifice to appease the ferocious dragon. Who was the dragon—her father or her husband-to-be?
Either way, Saint Peter would throw open the pearly gates for her since she behaved as the dutiful daughter, pledging the rest of her days to Laird MacLean.
Not that she had many days to live.
MacLeans would rather kill a Cameron than share the air…of course, after they cut out her tongue.
Especially since bloodthirsty MacLeans enjoyed a savory meal of human flesh.
Would her tongue be roasted before consumed or eaten raw?
No doubt raw.
That meal probably accounted for the clan’s immense proportions. Few men towered over Highland men yet most Highlanders struggled to stand shoulder to shoulder with MacLean men. Muscular forms of others appeared scrawny beside the mighty MacLeans. And the women were no smaller, just about the height of an average Highlander, convenient since both sexes lugged around basketfuls of enemies’ fingers. Ailsa strained to reach her brother’s wide shoulders. She’ll never fit in.
She wanted to escape to the mountains rising in the distance behind her. If she veered her mare around, she could gallop away to freedom in the harsh environment, where she could starve to death or, if luck were on her side, be eaten by wild animals.
Maybe, it wasn’t too late to be a bride of Christ. She could live in a convent and not starve or have her flesh ripped from her bones by the sharp fangs of wolves. Then again, the nunnery might not be the best place. Even though Ailsa perfected the serene visage, her talents rested elsewhere. Besides, she had slumbered through quite a few more masses than she admitted. Another sin she added to her mental count. Taking the veil would be a disaster for her and the nuns.
So, Ailsa rode onward, up the cresting hill. The impressive fortified castle soared on the rocky outcrop overlooking the loch at the path’s end. A towering curtain wall hugged the craggy contours as the loch’s water lapped gently against the rocks. Harsh Highland elements weathered the structure’s limestone to a mixture of grays, browns, and whites cloaking the structure with a dismal aura Ailsa believed her life would become once behind its walls.
Even her gentle mare, dismayed by the sight ahead, stumbled on a stone strewn on the trail meandering to the gatehouse and her doom.
“We shall be well, Joy.” Her mare tossed back her head and neighed, not believing her.
Patting her lean crest, she peeked through the veil of her hair to her father. He wore a pleased looked on his face that bode ill for others. She glanced at her elder brother. Alec sent her tentative smile then turned his gaze. He was as happy about this marriage as she was. As the heir, Alec tried to persuade their father from his determined course but to no avail. Father had a plan, and his children must submit to his commands.
“Come along,” Laird Cameron demanded, placing himself between the two siblings. She sucked in a lungful of crisp highland air, slowly exhaling until the straining muscles in her face eased. Unlike the countless other times, her calming technique failed so she decided to ignore him.
Glancing upward to the lofty battlements, she spotted two heads. Oh God’s eyes, she forgot that gruesome tale! She gawked and swallowed her squeak.
MacLeans decorated their parapets with their enemies’ heads on spikes as a warning to those foolish enough to attack. For the rest of her short days, she’d have to see ghastly heads…until she was propped next to them.
“By marrying the brute, my influence will extend to these lands, and I can get what is mine. Girl, you’ve been an annoyance since your first breath,” Laird Cameron snarled the exact words he had grumbled since her first breath.
Ailsa craned her neck, scanning the ramparts for more spiked heads when her father jerked Joy to a halt, whipping her head forward.
“Finally, you serve some good.” He grunted at her relieved sigh, believing she listened to him. But it rushed out when the heads moved, thanks to the very alive bodies attached. Rubbing her aching neck, Ailsa gave scant attention to her father calling out to the gatehouse.
“Laird Cameron, only you, your daughter and one of your men are allowed entrance,” a commanding voice shouted from the ramparts.
“Fine,” Laird Cameron barked as he waved his men back. Alec remained. His face was a mask but for the small twitch of his jaw. The white-knuckled grip on his reins betrayed his hidden anger. When the men ventured a fair distance from the curtain wall, the portcullis crept open, the ropes squeaking with every tiny measure of the rising structure.
With a tap to her mare’s sides, Joy lurched forward into the shadowy tunnel and the inner sanctuary of Castle MacLean. The bustling courtyard came to a swift standstill. Ailsa fancied she viewed a tapestry of castle life frozen in time. The smithy drifted forward, his hammer in his hand. Carts and wagons rolled to a stop on the rutted earth damp from last night’s storm. The butcher cupped his chin, smearing blood over his face. At least, Ailsa hoped he was the butcher and all they killed were animals. MacLeans stilled in mid-step, monitoring their entry with rapt attention. A woman drawing water from the well stared, holding onto the rope. The other women drifted from the well line for a better view. Small fowl scatted away from the clopping horses’ hooves, the only sign of life within the walls.
Her fingers felt as if they had forgotten to function. Her scalp began to prickle. She knew, her rapid heartbeat roared through the expansive space. She rode into the heart of the courtyard. She kept her gaze trained on the laborers standing transfixed on the wooden scaffold, never setting down the heavy stones for the half-constructed wall extending toward the western horizon.
“Ailsa,” her father snapped. He wrenched the reins from her hands and jerked Joy to an abrupt halt. He swung his portly frame from the saddle and tore her from hers. Alec cupped her elbow, steadied her, and stayed at her side. A stable boy about ten and two snatched the dangling reins. Ailsa presented him with a tentative smile. He spun around and led Joy to her new home.
She brushed off the dust on her blue and yellow plaid. “Thank you, Father,” she mumbled as she folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head.
Southeasterly winds blew warm air and clear skies and the sun blazed overhead, but Ailsa felt chilled as though cold-whipping winds sliced through her.
Three men stood at the top of the stone stairs, looming large, and even at this distance cast a shadow over Ailsa. “Laird MacLean is the one in the middle.”
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The Laird’s Right Coming Soon
To save his clan…
Laird Alec Cameron wars against Clan MacKintosh and its sept, Clan Chattan over a swathe of land. When he learns MacKintosh schemes to wed his English sister-in-law to chieftain of the Chattan, he knows the risk threatening the clan. Her riches and blood ties could overpower the Camerons. For the upper hand, he kidnaps her.
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