He kissed her lips as tenderly as he thought was needed. Then he pulled back and looked into her eyes with satisfaction, for her eyes were heavy with desire as she stared back at him. She smiled at him as she softly whispered, “I love you.” This had been too easy, he thought to himself as he smiled back at her. She had been so eager for his attention and affection. The daughter of a Duke! The only daughter of a Duke, to be precise! He laughed softly as he stroked her face. Such a shame, for she was a beauty. A naive, innocent beauty. The perfect pawn in their game. He kissed her again. “Ye promise ye will come away with me, Maegen my love?” “I will, Neacel,” she answered him softly. “I will go with you all the way to your home in Scotland. Twill be an adventure,” she said excitedly. “I love you so much! I know I will come to love the Highlands as well!” He smiled at her, though his eyes were hooded, cloaking his true nature. His deceit.
“We leave tonite,” he said firmly. “Tonite? Tis my brother Delwyns’ birthday,” she pouted slightly. “It must be tonight!” he said urgently as he leaned forward and kissed the side of her neck with narrowed eyes. She sighed and tilted her head so his lips could have better access to her neck. “And then I will finally become your wife,” she said with a soft sigh of happiness. “I was becoming impatient, my love.” “Aye,” he laughed quietly at her eagerness. “Ye will become my Sassenach wife once we reach me home in Scotland. With ye by me side it will be as if I hae me own golden treasure,” he said. He kissed her again as she closed her eyes in bliss and melted in his arms.
She was unaware of the evil look that glinted sharply in his eyes just before his eyelids slid down to conceal his treacherous soul. Delwyn Barton sat in the tavern, enduring endless toasts to celebrate the beginning of his twenty-first year. After all, one did not surpass two decades of life every day. He had lost count of how many tankards of ale he had drunk that evening. Everyone loved him so people were coming up all the time to have a toast with thim. Older men, younger men. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and Delwyn would buy a cup of ale for all of them. Late in the evening, he got unsteadily to his feet as he pushed his black hair out of his eyes, thinking vaguely that he must be getting back home soon. “Where are you going then, eh Delwyn?” his friend and one of his father’s crofters, Jerrold, said. “I’ve got to get home.
My father—pious bastard that he is—doesn’t really hold with drunkenness. He’s likely to have my head if I don’t head back soon,” he said with a laughing twinkle in his bright blue eyes. Jerrold grinned. “Oh yes, the Duke is a pious man. I’m sure he is praying for your mortal soul as we speak.” Delwyn huffed a laugh. “You’re right about that.” He sighed. “I cannot wait to be out of his clutches.” Delwyn staggered towards the door of the tavern with a wave of his hand as he received one more rousing cheer.
He was quite popular with the tenants as he tended not to look down his nose at them. As the second son of the Duke of Dargue, he had limited prospects. He could either join the clergy as his father hoped or he could join the army. Given a choice, he would rather go for a soldier than enter the Church, but both options did not really appeal to him. He would rather seek adventure at sea, following in the footsteps of all the great explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan or Sir Francis Drake. Unfortunately, his father would never fork over funds for such a thing and so he was stuck. He spent his time hunting in the Forests of Dargue, keeping the family fed in winter, and acting as a go-between for his brother, a viscount, with the tenants. But he needed a real challenge. At this age he knew he had to seek something more from life. And if the challenge did not find him, he would seek adventure in any way possible… He opened the door of the manor, wiping his muddy feet, before lighting a lamp to guide him to his chambers.
But first, he wanted to check on his sister. She had been acting strangely lately. Delwyn went to her room and knocked on her door. No one answered. He knocked again but nothing. The door was unlocked… He stepped in and he felt like someone punched him in the gut. There was no one in the room. Jamesina Arabella Douglass was woken by the loud knocking on her door. She sighed tiredly, knowing full well that it was her sister, Ùna, on the other side, no doubt unable to wait to share some new idea she’d had in the night. Now that Fiona, their oldest sister, was married and a mother of twins, the younger girls looked to Jamesina to fill the role of mother.
Their own mother had died a while back and they lost their father two years ago, just before Fiona fell in love and married Daividh Campbell, a simple soldier who was now the Laird after marrying Fiona. They were in love and Jamesina was truly happy for them. Fiona still tried to find time for them but having a pair of twins to tend to as well as a new marriage left her little time for the particulars of her sisters’ daily lives, even if they did live in the same keep. Jamesina threw off her duvet, calling for her sister to enter. To her surprise, it was not Ùna, but Fiona who walked into her chambers. “Guid morning tae ye,” Fiona said, closing the door behind her. “Guid morning, Fiona. What brings ye here sae early?” Fiona sighed. “Daividh had tae go tae the mines at first light. There was an accident yesterday according tae the messenger.
I woke early tae see him off. Now I cannae go back tae sleep. I mun’ confess that I’m worried. This is the third accident this month.” Jamesina rubbed at her face, trying to wake up properly. Then she pulled her fingers through the riot of long, red curls on her head, hoping to tidy the mass of her hair. “What d’ye think, it’s subversion?” She looked at her sister with her wide, doe-like eyes. Fiona shook her head with a sigh as she came to sit on Jamesina’s bed. “I dinnae ken. I just…” She pursed her lips and gave Jamesina a wry smile.
“I’m fashit.” “Well we should put more guards to figure out who the troublemakers are and then hang em publicly!” Fiona loved her sister’s enthusiasm even if sometimes it could push her to reckless choices. “Jamesina, please. Tis not that simple. A dinnae ken if there are trouble makers.” Jamesina reached out and squeezed her sister’s hand. She was obviously anxious, so Jamesina looked around for something to distract her sister. “We should go and wake the others. Nobody can distract ye better than Ùna.” Fiona laughed.
“Aye, ye’re right.” She got to her feet, waiting for Jamesina to get her robe on, and then they walked out together to go and wake their sisters. W 1 KIDNAP AND RANSOM hile Delwyn had left his sister’s room trying to find out where she was, he heard a loud scream. “What’s going on?” he asked a passing footman. “I don’t know, my lord. Shall I find out and let you know?” Delwyn hesitated, wondering if he had the patience to wait until the footman had gone to see what happened and come back to tell him. He shook his head. “I’ll go myself and have a look.” Could something have happened to his sister? The noise was coming from the north wing where his sister’s chambers were in addition to his parents’. He quickened his footsteps as another scream rent the air.
It sounded like his mother and his heart pounded in fear even as he increased his pace. He skidded to a halt in front of Maegan’s open door as he caught sight of his mother sitting on his sister’s bed, head bent, hands fisted around a piece of paper. “Wha.?” He took a tentative step into the room. “Mother?” he whispered. Bronwen began to sway from side to side. “Mother?” His call was louder as he became fearful as to what could have transpired. “Do you know where Maegan is? I was looking for her.” To his surprise, his mother thrust the paper at him, not bothering to look up. He slowly took it from her hands and then straightened it out to read it, his face paling with every word.
“Where did you find this?” he asked, heart sinking. His mother pointed to his sister’s pillow. How did he not see that himself? He just saw that she was not in the room so he assumed she would be somewhere else in the estate. “Where’s Father?” His mother just wailed louder. He looked down at the note. Dear Family, I am in love and we have eloped. Please do not worry about me, I shall be fine. I love you all. Maegan His brow furrowed as he read it again and again as if new information would emerge if he just read it enough times. “I do not understand.
” “I have summoned her lady’s maid.” Delwyn brightened. “Yes, that is a good idea.” He wondered where Maegan could possibly have met her beau. As far as he knew, she never left the compound unaccompanied either by their mother, a chaperone, or her lady’s maid and a footman. Who can this man be? And how did he get to her? He flexed his hands, feeling as if he should be doing something but not sure what. His older brother, Aaren, appeared next to him, eyebrows raised. “What is happening?” Silently, Delwyn passed him Maegan’s note. As Aaren read it, his eyebrows rose higher and higher until Delwyn thought they might disappear into his hairline. “Where’s Father?” he asked, looking at Delwyn with urgent eyes.
Delwyn shook his head. “I don’t know.” Aaren looked around his sister’s chambers where their mother continued to rock herself, crying softly. He sighed, gave the note back to Delwyn, and hurried away. “Where are you going?” Delwyn called. “To get Father,” he called as he disappeared down the corridor. The Duke of Dargue felt rather put upon by the disappearance of his daughter. He had little use for her already. Girls did nothing but drain the estate with their endless need for gowns and dowry. The fact that Maegan had saved him the need to pay any dowry with her elopement was a source of celebration to him.
He did not understand why the countess insisted on carrying on as if the girl had died. “Father, do you not want to know who this man is?” Delwyn’s brow was furrowed with his customary concern and it was all Francis could do not to snort in disgust. It was clear as day that whomever Maegan had chosen to…mate with was extremely unsuitable. Why would Francis want to know who it was? Sooner or later, she would come crawling back begging for forgiveness and he could give her away, free of charge, to one of his peers in need of a fourth wife to look after them in their old age. “I do not care. Maegan has made her choice. She will deal with the consequences.” The Duke nodded once to indicate that the matter was closed and was quite put out when Delwyn continued to regard him with censure as if he had done something wrong. “You’re dismissed!” he hissed, and still the boy hesitated. Finally, he turned on his heel and left, annoyance apparent in the set of his shoulders and the loud clip of his heels on the stone floor.
Francis expelled a breath and sat back in his chair. He knew that sooner or later, his second son would be a problem. He was too headstrong and opinionated. One would almost think that he was the heir and not the spare. Delwyn went in search of his mother, who had been devastated to learn that their father would not be pursuing the matter of Maegan’s groom. He found her in the den, interrogating the lady’s maid. “Who has she been speaking to recently? Who has she been meeting? You must know something!” The lady’s maid was in tears, shaking her head frantically. “I don’t know anythin’. If I did, I would have said. Please madam, I don’t know!”