Seduction in the Highlands – Kenna Kendrick

Lady Elizabeth Darling couldn’t keep her focus on her book. She took a deep breath, gripped the sides of it, and tried to concentrate as hard as she could, but after a few moments, her focus was lost again, and she was off again, drifting in a daydream. She had nestled herself in her Aunt Mildred’s library, ready to forget the past and move on, trying to distract herself with one of her favorite stories, but it was to no avail. She could not get her father’s crime and her time in Scotland a few weeks before out of her mind. Elizabeth put the book down, frustrated, and pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes. It was still early in the morning, and since her aunt was wont to wake late, Elizabeth rewarded herself by sneaking down to the library in her robe and taking her morning tea there, with the company of a book. She took up her teacup and let her blue eyes wander to the sights out of the window. Carlisle was a lovely town, and her aunt was one of its leading members with a lovely sprawling estate, but Elizabeth’s heart still sighed for the lush green hills and wild beauty that were not far away. The border between England and Scotland was nearby, and the sight of the Irish Sea in the distance was enough to set her mind upon Fort William, and its coastline, and all the people that she had known there. Besides Charlotte Andrews, her dear friend who she’d met while living there briefly, thoughts of another person kept constantly coming to her mind. It was one very handsome Scotsman whose red curls and bright green eyes made him hard to forget. She fiddled with a stiff card she had been using as a bookmark. She glanced down at it and smiled. It was a wedding invitation for Charlotte and Angus she had received a few weeks earlier. At last, they had worked out their differences and realized their love for one another.

That made her happy. Perhaps her aunt would let her go to the wedding? She would not tell her father, of course. It could give her one last chance to experience Scotland before she had her own duties to conduct, as her aunt was always telling her. A servant knocked and entered the room, bowing. “Excuse me, My Lady, but a letter has come for you from the prison.” “The prison?” Elizabeth asked softly, but she knew who it was from, and her stomach fell at the thought of what fresh Hell her father would wreak upon her. “Thank you.” She took the envelope and opened it. She steeled herself before she allowed herself to read it, but she knew what it would contain. My Dear Daughter, You know that the time has come, and it is most urgent now that I have been detained.

We discussed this eventuality at length for many years, and you must keep your promise. It is unbecoming of a lady to do otherwise when she has a father to guide her in the ways of the world. I know that you are naïve and that you have allowed yourself foolishly to be guided by that bold and brash Englishwoman at Fort William, but you must remember yourself and what you have been taught. Think of your mother, my dear, and what she would have wanted. Her fortune awaits you upon the event of your marriage, and you know that she would wish you and only you to have it. If you do not take it, then the money will be given away, which would have hurt your mother terribly. You must follow her wishes in the will. Find yourself a suitor that is both wealthy and of high status, and once you are married, her fortune will come to you along with my portion. However, if you choose not to abide by these rules, then all will be lost, and you will be left penniless because of your own foolhardy decisions. Think of the wanton women who fill the brothels of our fair country.

They, too, might have had a different choice, yet they made the foolish decision to choose a life of selling their bodies for coin. Do you see yourself as one of them? Be sensible, Elizabeth, and remember your promise. There is one more thing. I have been ill of late. You have not come to see me as you ought. Do not come now. Who knows what illness takes me? The doctor does not give me long to live. Grant me this last wish, my dear. Lord Mortimer Darling Elizabeth let the letter fall to the floor as tears welled in her eyes. Even from afar, her father was still trying to keep her in his clutches, trying to bend her to his will time and time again.

She knew of the promise of which he spoke, yet he mentioned nothing about how he had endeavored to ruin her chances of a good match after he murdered a man. Ever since her mother had died five years before, he had been telling her of her mother’s greatest wish: That her daughter would be married to a well-to-do man with both wealth and status to his name. It did not sound like something her mother would have placed in her will, but Elizabeth knew she wanted to fulfill her mother’s wish, even if that meant putting aside her own happiness. She wanted to crumple the letter and throw it into the fire, but she knew that would not lessen her obligation or what her promise had tied her to. She would have to find a man, and if she did not find him, or if she allowed herself to be guided by her heart in a different direction, then her mother’s wish could not be fulfilled. That would not do. She twirled a small gold ring around her finger, the last of her mother’s jewelry that had not been given away to relatives, and she thought of her mother’s kind face. Yes, she would have to do this. But first, she wished to go to Charlotte’s wedding and live a little bit longer in the freedom of her own choices. After she had told her aunt of her desire to return to Scotland, Aunt Mildred had simply said, “Go and celebrate your friend, my dear.

But keep your mind to your own wedding, and flirt not with any gentlemen. Your father would not like it.” It was the only warning she had been given, and then she was free to go. The next morning, she left, and once inside the carriage, she finally let her muscles relax. She closed her eyes and leaned her head on the carriage seat. This might be her last chance of freedom and her last chance to do something on her own that was not prescribed for her ahead of time. And even though she felt a little wicked for thinking it, she knew since he was locked away and knew nothing of her trip, her father could do nothing to stop her. I CHAPTERONE sle of Mull, Seat of Clan MacLean, a few weeks later Elizabeth dressed with care that evening. She had been bold and stopped in an inn along the way to make sure that everything was in order and that her dress would not be too rumpled by the carriage ride from England. With a pale blue dress and her light blonde hair tied in braids and twirled at the base of her head, she hoped she was dressed suitably for the occasion, even if the journey on the boat across the Sound may have wrinkled her dress or pulled pieces out of her coiffure.

She also wished to show respect to her dear friends on the Isle of Mull, even though it was her own father that had caused problems among the clans. To her surprise, nearly as soon as she’d arrived, she had been swept into handsome Liam MacLean’s arms onto the dance floor, and they began to dance along to the merry tunes of bagpipes and fiddles. With his handsome boyish smile, she felt herself smiling as well, her skin tingling when his strong arms were wrapped around her, pulling her this way and that as if she weighed nothing. “So, ye Sassenachs have more rhythm than expected,” Liam said, slightly breathless at the end of the tune. She saw him wink at her and blushed slightly. What to say? She had no idea how to flirt with a man, and the last time she and Liam had been in conversation, she felt she had embarrassed herself entirely since she was always so dumbstruck by his handsome presence. “Well, I was taught as a child. Certainly nothing like this, but we were forced into dance lessons with tutors.” “Is that so?” Liam grinned and leaned against the pillar nearby, staring back at her. Elizabeth could see dancers and merrymakers out of the corner of her eye, but she couldn’t rip her gaze from Liam’s.

He said with a mischievous grin, “I would love tae hear all about what ye experienced in England, lass. I have heard Julia and Charlotte talk about it from time tae time. ‘Tis like another world for me.” Elizabeth felt her breath quicken, and her mind was flitting around, desperately trying to find something to say in response. His gaze was warm and direct, and he was looking at her as if he never wanted to look anywhere else. It was unnerving, yet if she was honest, it was deeply pleasurable. A song was struck up again, and Liam put out a hand. “Will ye dance again, lass? With yer tutored rhythm?” He chuckled. Weakly, Elizabeth smiled back. She wanted to dance with him again more than anything, but she feared she would simply look like an imbecile who had nothing of interest to say.

She shook her head. “No, thank you. I think I will rest for one moment before I try again.” Liam nodded. “As ye wish, lass.” He dashed off and grabbed another giggling woman nearby the dance floor and pulled her into the center. Elizabeth watched, her lips parted in surprise. She couldn’t help feeling the slightest bit upset at Liam’s quick change from her to someone new. He had made her feel so special at that moment, and then…What am I doing? I am here to greet a friend on the celebration of her wedding! Not spend time daydreaming about fickle yet handsome men! Wine was the answer. It would calm her nerves and perhaps help her relax enough to give her more fodder for conversation with anyone else who wished to speak with her.

Searching around, she spotted a table and took a filled glass in hand. She stood alone and watched the merriment before her, hoping to soon be reunited with Charlotte. Charlotte was always one to make her feel comfortable and that her words were worth listening to. She took a long sip of her glass, and suddenly a tall man appeared at her side. “Laird Campbell,” she said, nearly spitting out her wine onto his waistcoat, her heart beating nervously. To her relief, the man bowed his head in greeting. It had only been a few weeks since she’d last seen him after her father had killed his older brother, but now that he had become laird of the Campbells, it looked as though he’d grown in confidence and, dare she say it, happiness. His brown curls were rough and tumbling on his head, and his stark blue eyes twinkled merrily in her direction. “Lady Darling, I am most happy tae see ye returned tae us. Charlotte never mentioned it tae me, that ye would be coming tae the wedding?” He lifted an eyebrow.

“She did not know. I wanted it to be a surprise. Is she around? There seem to be so many people here that I can barely breathe.” He laughed, and Elizabeth noted the handsome way his eyes crinkled at the sides when he did so. “Ye are right, lass. I agree with ye. Charlotte is around, aye, but I have tae be selfish for a moment. Will ye nae give me one dance afore ye go and see her? I never know when I might get the chance again, with an English beauty such as yerself who may leave us again at any moment.” Elizabeth opened her eyes a little wider. John Campbell is asking me to dance? He had been so kind to her the last time they’d met under horrible circumstances, but she never expected this.

Even after all that had happened, here he was, asking her to dance and appearing rather forward about his interest to do so. She swallowed the remainder of her wine, and placing the glass down, put her hand forward delicately. “Of course, laird. I would be honored.” John beamed in her direction. He leaned in to whisper in her ear, as he slipped a hand around her waist, “Ye dinnae have tae call me that, ye know. I had hoped ye would call me John. It is much more informal. The way I prefer things between us.” Elizabeth couldn’t believe what was happening.

John Campbell was flirting with her. A second man that evening! He pulled her into a dance, and she tried her best to follow the rhythm. They interlocked arms and swung about. As she spun, she noticed Liam watching them from his section of the dance floor. Every time that she spun her head, Liam’s gaze was following her every movement, and she felt a heat bloom up from her stomach, up her neck, and redden her cheeks with its warmth. She found she rather liked it, this bold attention from two very handsome gentlemen, but she felt an old shame at that fact. It brought up the memory of her father connecting her potential fate to that of the prostitutes who populated the brothels. Once the song ended, John took her arm in his. “If ye dinnae mind, lass, I shall bring ye tae Charlotte myself. Ye have done me a service.

Ye should see all the jealous lads around us.” She grinned and felt her eyes flutter downward at the compliment. “Hardly a service, John. Please, I would be most gratified to see my friend on her most glorious of days.” He pulled her through the crowd to the edge, where she saw with delight a beautifully dressed Charlotte and a tall, strong, dark-haired Angus standing nearby. They were looking into each other’s eyes and laughing. Charlotte turned and smiled widely at her approach. “Elizabeth!” She opened her arms and rushed to her friend, wrapping her in a warm embrace. “I saw you earlier but did not want to disturb your enjoyment of the wedding dances.” She winked.

“When did you arrive?” Angus bowed smilingly in her direction. “Lady Darling.”

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