I promised an excerpt and so here it is…
The heavy door silently arced across the floor as she scanned the room. At first it looked empty, but she soon saw him sitting in her uncle’s chair with his back to the door. One leg was half slung over the other and the sight of a thick calf muscle surprised her. Didn’t Gawain pad his leg irons?
He seemed awfully relaxed. Something wasn’t right.
Her heart beat a little faster as she crossed the threshold and crept further into the room to catch a better view of the lower half of his body. Bright red plaid covered a dark leather jerkin. A wave of nausea washed over her as she inched closer. Her gaze trailed up his torso where the plaid swept over a sculpted shoulder and disappeared behind sandy brown hair.
She tripped on a chair, out of place in the center of the room, and silently cursed when the sound alerted him to her presence. She froze as his head turned and green eyes met hers. Her jaw dropped.
He pushed back the chair. The sharp scrape of wood across stone echoed and sent a hundred butterflies loose in her gut. He turned toward her and stepped around the desk. She should flee, but could not uproot herself. His intent gaze pinned her. When he was near enough that she could have reached out to touch him, he held out a piece of folded parchment. She wanted to hide from him, from herself, from anything that would remind her how unhinged he made her.
He placed a letter in her hand. Only then did she notice her clan crest stamped in red wax. The seal was unmistakable and since she had not given it to him, only one other person could have written it.
She broke the seal, the soft crack echoing in the silent room. He stood so close, sending every nerve in her body on end. The irrestible scent of leather filled her senses again, feeding her urge to slip into his arms.
She must get a hold of her scattered wits.
Hands shaking, she unfolded the letter and immediately recognized her uncle’s evenly scripted hand. Stabbing pain tore into her chest. How many letters had he sent her over the years when travelling? This would be the last one she ever read. She barely registered being guided onto a chair.
Through misty eyes she began. The first words were of a formal nature listing Iain’s full title, properties and other assets, none of which were a surprise, but the last paragraph forced her breath to catch in her throat.
“Upon her eighteenth birthday, my niece, Aileana Chattan, shall enter into a three month betrothal contract with James MacIntosh, Chieftain of the MacIntosh Clan of Inverness-shire. Upon their marriage, the Chattan Clan will fall under the protection of that Chieftain. In the event of my death before her eighteenth birthday, their betrothal must occur immediately.”
Aileana’s breath hissed through her teeth. James MacIntosh? Her head throbbed as she tried to rationalize the enormity of her uncle’s wishes.
Iain wanted a union with those he’d suggested would openly back the Stewart king? How could he do this to her? She never really imagined he would marry her to anyone but Gawain, and certainly never considered he would contemplate a permanent link between the Chattans and another clan. And on whom did he settle? The most arrogant, insufferable, womanizer this side of the green. She had no time for him or his traitorous clan.
She re-read the letter again. There must be some mistake.
The MacIntosh had visited the estate occasionally over the years, since his lands bordered her uncle’s. During those times she would observe, with mortification, the castle’s female servants practically bending over backwards to gain even one brief glance from him. Well, she was not some silly maid about to throw herself at his feet.
She had not seen him in about three years…
“It is my pleasure to reacquaint with you after so long.” His deep voice interrupted her inner rant. “I believe you’ve blossomed, lass.”