Laird Callum MacLean vowed to marry Maggie MacDonnell. But when his father’s apparent suicide makes him Laird of his clan, Callum must unmask his father’s killer before bringing Maggie into his dangerous new home.
Maggie’s home isn’t any safer. When Callum fails to return, Maggie does what any resourceful Highland lass would do. She escapes—and finds herself toe-to-toe with Callum, who’s determined to fulfill his promise. Maggie can’t bring herself to trust him with her heart again. But with a traitor still at large, they must rely on each other in every way, or their clans—and their love—will be destroyed.
Callum heard the whine of the pulley on the rope.
His stomach dropped as he stared at the curtain wall, rooted to the ground in disbelief and fear. Only one person he knew would be forced to escape the castle like that.
When the clouds drifted from the moon and the shape of a woman appeared from the darkness, barely hanging on to a rickety pulley, he knew it had to be Maggie. Her wild hair streamed behind her as she streaked toward them from high above.
“Lord have mercy,” Artair said. Beside him, Gill made the sign of the cross.
“Christ Almighty, she’s going too fast,” Drustan croaked, sounding as helpless as Callum felt.
She was bare-legged again, her skirts tied up between her legs, and when he saw her lift them up to the rope, it propelled him into motion.
He jumped from his horse directly to the tree and climbed as fast as he could, passing Finn on his way down. Dread tightened Callum’s chest. He wouldn’t make it in time to catch her or soften the impact. Then he heard a bang and the sound of the pulley dragging on the rope, and he knew she’d popped it off the track to slow herself down.
By God, she might make it after all if the rope didn’t fray.
He drew even with the lookout and saw her glide into view and bump arse-first into the tree. Seconds later, a gust of laughter burst from her lungs before she clamped a hand over her mouth. All his fear turned to relief, then boiled into anger over what might have happened—just as it had when she’d been chased up the tree by the wolves.
He had to squeeze the words past the tightness of his throat and clenched jaw. “Maggie MacDonnell, if I e’er find you up a tree again, lucky to be alive, I swear I’ll lock you in my bloody castle and throw away the key!”
She yelped in surprise and almost fell, but her harness held, and she tipped halfway over instead. “Callum?”
He hauled himself up beside her on the platform as she scrambled to right herself. Her skirts fell back to her ankles. He steadied her as he lifted his knife above her head and sawed viciously at the rope. Moments later, it gave way, fell to the ground, and slithered back to the castle.
His emotions careened inside him, all tangled up and whipped into a frenzy like her hair from the pulley ride. Without any thought, consumed by raw need and want, he tucked the knife into his belt and hauled her against him, tight and hot.
Her startled breath fanned his lips as his hand squeezed high on the back of her thigh, pulling it around him.
“Callum MacLean!” She sounded shocked and breathless but not admonishing. Her fingers curled into his waist, anchoring herself instead of pushing him away.
He sank his other hand into the mass of curls at the back of her head and held her in place. Her eyes met his for just a second, and he knew she wanted the same thing he did—wanted him to devour her, to reaffirm that she’d made it, that she was alive!
He caught her mouth without warning, lips open, tongue stroking in, tasting her, savoring her, until neither one of them could breathe. He nibbled down her throat, his hand sliding along her thigh to her knee.
“I’ve dreamt of this, of you, every night since we’ve been apart.” Voice rough, he sounded almost feral.
She answered with a groan as he slipped his hand under her skirts and cupped her thigh, trailing his fingertips along the sensitive inner muscles. They quivered against his palm, and her breath rasped through her lungs. When he reached the top, she gasped, rocked her hips toward him, her heel lifting higher to push into his backside.
He pressed closer and inhaled her scent—the smell of fresh air and sunshine and that unique bouquet of Maggie that he would sometimes wake to even though she wasn’t there.
He knew he should stop, that they weren’t safe yet, but his need for her overwhelmed rational thought. His body was so filled with lust, with feelings, that he could barely reason and strained to sink into her warmth.
He lifted his head and watched her in the moonlight. Her eyes had closed, her mouth had parted. When he skimmed his fingertips along the crease at the top of her leg, her throat arched and lips quavered on her sudden inhalation.
She released his waist and slid her hands up his back to tangle in his hair, pulling and twisting in the short strands.
“We are betrothed, Maggie,” he ground out. “All we need is this final intimacy, then before God and man, we’ll be married. We doona need a priest. Let me join with you, sweetling.”
She groaned and opened her eyes. “I canna believe you’ve asked me this. We’re in a bloody tree, surrounded by our enemies. Your men are just below!”
The low, rough timbre of her voice sent shivers up his spine. “We’re alive. When I saw you flying down that rope, knowing you could fall at any moment, going too fast to land safely…” His throat tightened, and he couldn’t continue.
She pressed her cheek against his, her breath huffing past her lips in warm bursts of air. Every puff sent a jolt down to his groin, tightening his stones. When her teeth dragged over his stubble, he knew it was with a mix of desire and anger, and he wanted to bite back.
“You left me,” she accused, her voice filled with hurt, with fury.
“Aye, and I’m sorry. My father died, Maggie. They whispered he committed suicide, but I knew it was murder. I couldnae keep you safe at my home until I had answers.”
He released her leg and cupped his hands around her face, brought her gaze to his. “But this time, I came back. I left so I could return to the castle and save you.”
“I didn’t need you to save me. I needed you not to leave.”
Alyson McLayne is a mom of twins and an award-winning writer of contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance. She’s also a dog lover and cat servant with a serious stash of dark chocolate. After getting her degree in theater at the University of Alberta, she promptly moved to the west coast where she worked in film for several years and met her prop master husband.
Her self-published works in contemporary romance include her Santa Barbara Billionaire Bachelor series: How To Catch A Bride, How To Claim An Heiress, and How To Outplay A Player. How To Catch A Bride (formerly The Fabrizio Bride) was recently nominated for a RONE award.