How does a spirited Highland lass bring nine overprotective brothers to heel? Rescue a dangerous looking gypsy, tend to his injury most ardently, and when he swoops in to steal a kiss, kiss him right back.
A LADY IN A CASTLE
Sassy, kind-hearted, and bored to death, Lady Honoria MacCallan has had enough of her brothers' overbearing ways. She longs for a chance to spread her wings and is determined to take flight whether her brothers approve or not.
A ROM WITHOUT A TRIBE
Determined, frustrated and at the end of his luck, Lash Ruthven has vowed to find his missing sister and nothing will veer him from his path. But an unfortunate encounter with a rival leaves him at the mercy of a beautiful, quirky Scottish lady. Will sparks fly? Or will fate once again take all he holds dear?
As the first daughter of the late Duke of Roxburgh, Lady Honoria MacCallan had always been coddled by her brothers, wrapped in cotton wool and shielded from the world. As a young girl, she had adored their attention, even at times when she wanted to wrench their hair from their very heads.
As a woman of twenty, she refused to be coddled any longer.
Sadly, the situation was not that simple. Two years ago, a horrific twist of fate had changed all of their lives. They had lost a brother, Ewan, who had sustained a fatal blow to his head in a fighting match, heaving his last breath in Adair’s arms, the oldest and current Duke of Roxburgh. A rare occurrence, the doctor had announced, and nobody’s fault. Ewan had been unlucky.
The mighty twelve had been reduced to eleven.READ MORE
Ever since that day, Honoria and her sister Isla had been leashed to the castle grounds. A leash, Honoria thought bitterly, about to snap if pulled any tighter.
She glared up at her brothers with hands firmly planted on her hips. Four of them were present. Happily, the others were elsewhere.
“Don’t be looking at me like that, lass. You cannot travel with us to Edinburgh. ’Tis a matter for adults,” Adair said in his usual throaty drawl.
His soft, coffee-colored eyes held no hint of remorse—only firm conviction. That he was the most indulgent of all her brothers made it all the more infuriating for him to rebuff her request for the hundredth time.
“I am an adult!” Honoria exploded, hands fisting at her side. “I have been for ages now!”
Adair dragged a hand through his chestnut hair, tinged with several different ranges of red, much like her own and most of her siblings. Only Isla and Boyd flaunted copper hair.
“You are still a wee lass to us,” Adair answered.
Honoria flung her glare to Duncan, who, unlike the rest of the brood, had a peaceful nature about him. It infuriated her that both Adair and Duncan refused to listen to reason on this. “You cannot be serious; I am old enough to travel with you.”
“Aye, but who will watch over Isla?” Gregor asked in a low, reasonable voice.
Honoria leveled him with a not-so-reasonable glare. “Hugh is staying behind.” Which was a miracle, truly. Hugh—her twin and the youngest male in the family—was a rare choice to leave in charge. Duncan or Boyd normally stayed behind to supervise the general run of things.
“Isla needs her sister,” Duncan insisted.
Honoria scowled up at him. His soothing tone was doing everything but soothing her. Isla and Hugh were old enough to boil their own darn potatoes. But nay, what her brother wasn’t saying was that they did not want her to accompany them while they traveled to Edinburgh. Which was all Honoria had wanted to do ever since she read her first Robert Burns poem at sixteen.
She wanted to trace the steps of her favorite artists and study their work. She longed to breathe in the city’s culture and society, rub elbows with ladies that shared the same interests. And over the past two years, with the walls of the castle closing in on her, her desire grew fiercer. Her desire, however, was one her brothers refused to indulge.
Rats, the lot of them.
“I am not a tiny wee lass too delicate to travel such an arduous road,” she snapped, her amber eyes lifting to meet Adair’s.
“We will take you when Isla is older,” Callum supplied, drawing her gaze, attempting his famous knee-wobbling smile.
Honoria was not in the mood. Neither was she one of his simpering sweethearts who swooned at his feet at the mere hint of a grin. “And how old is that?” she demanded. “Thirty-seven?”
“Honoria,” Adair warned.
“There are plenty of servants to watch over Isla,” Honoria argued, redirecting her icy gaze to him. “And she is nearing her eighteenth birthday—not an infant, either.”
Adair sighed. “We have business to attend to, lass. We cannot take you sightseeing. Why not find yourself a young lad to marry instead of engrossing yourself with the lives of dead people and senseless musings?”
“Don’t forget those paintings of hers,” Callum put in with a shudder. “A husband will do you good, lass.”
The barbs hit home.
“You sent away the man Isla fancied!” Her eyes shot daggers at them. “That hardly inspires enthusiasm, or have you forgotten how you broke her heart?”
“That’s a bit harsh, lass,” Duncan muttered, dragging a hand through his unruly hair.
“He was a gardener,” Adair snapped. “You are the daughters of a duke. Patrick Moray knew there was no future with Isla.”
Honoria threw her hands up in exasperation. “He was never just a gardener—he was the object of Isla’s affection. That ought to count for something.” And if Patrick was an unacceptable match, what about them? Her brothers were criminals, the lot of them.
“Honoria,” Callum warned, scowling down at her. “That matter has long been settled.”
“Has it?” Honoria mocked. Seven months was not a grand amount of time. “What did you expect, Callum? We live in Nairnshire. All the acceptable men keep quarters in the city, where we are not allowed to venture because there are beasties that will snatch us away!”
“She has a point,” Gregor muttered with the lift of his shoulders.
Adair and Callum each shot him a glare.
“The surrounding regions have more than enough acceptable men,” Adair pointed out.
“Aye,” Callum said. “Look at us.”
“The only point worth noting,” Adair continued, a soft note of warning entering his voice, “is that the city is no place for a lady, not without a proper chaperone. Perhaps next year.”
“Aye, lass,” Duncan agreed. “Next year we will arrange everything neat and proper.”
Next year? As in another twelve months? That’s what the scoundrels said last year. Maybe next year, Honoria, we shall see. Nay, Honoria was not waiting another year only to hear another excuse then. Not if she had any say in the matter. Which she did not, but that was beside the point. She would find a way to break free from these wretched castle walls.
“Honoria?” Adair probed.
Her eyes lifted to meet his. “Next year I’ll be an old maid.”
“One-and-twenty is not that old, lass,” Gregor attempted to appease her.
“Nay? I’ll have all but shriveled up like a dried prune!”
“You won’t shrivel, lass,” Adair said, pulling a face at the word. “Not while I’m still alive to witness it.”
Callum, the rotten beast, made a gurgling sound in the back of his throat.
“I may not survive the next twelve months, have you beasts thought of that? I could slip on a river bank and hit my head on a rock. Or catch a cold and perish of consumption.”
Four sets of eyes glowered down at her.
“Don’t say such things,” Duncan reprimanded, green eyes stormy.
“What things? The everyday perils threatening a wee lass like me?” Honoria shook her head, thinking how she wanted to clobber each one of them. “For heaven’s sake, I can stumble down a flight of the stairs this night and perish.”
“That’s enough, Honoria,” Adair said, his voice laced with steel. “We are done debating the matter.”
“Och, but you are all impossible!”
She shot them each a quelling look—since they were too big to clobber—and spun around to stalk from the great hall, nearly careening into Kieran, another good-for-nothing brother. She bared her teeth at him, and he jumped out of her way, wide-eyed.
“What did you say to get the lass in such a hot temper?” Kieran asked.
Honoria did not linger to lend an ear to their obnoxious response.
Growing up with ten brothers breathing down her nape and shepherding her every move had always made her feel smothered.
Don’t touch the horse, Honoria, it will bite you.
Don’t run down the hill, Honoria, you will fall.
Don’t swim in the lake, Honoria, you will drown.
Don’t eat so fast, Honoria, you will choke to death.
Well, they could all choke on the air they breathed!
Bursting through the front entrance in a flurry of skirts, she headed for the small hill beyond the castle to clear her mind.
A pox on any sibling who tried to stop her because the pollen she might drag into her lungs would cast her into a timeless sleep. It was more probable that she would die of boredom before her brothers allowed her to do anything remotely thrilling. They could go to Hades for all she cared—except for Hugh. Her twin was the only MacCallan man she tolerated at present. He stood up for her and Isla. Always had their backs. Falcon too, but he was presently in London with his wife.
Boyd and Lachlan, the siblings most likely to get into a brawl, were busy readying the horses when she stalked past them. It was a beautiful day with nary a cloud in sight—the perfect day for travel. Her anger soured.
They each cast a curious look her way but wisely said nothing. Hah! The two devils knew what injustice had transpired here today and had done nothing to aid her.
“Good-for-nothing male cretins,” she muttered, shooting them each a glare.
“Where are you heading, Honoria?” Lachlan shouted after her.
“To sulk,” she snapped, not bothering to look back.
“Och, come now lass, it cannot be that bad,” Boyd called out.
Honoria ignored them, confident they wouldn’t follow unless they wished to lose a limb. They always left her to brood after they snuffed out all her hopes. And always upon their return, they brought gifts.
As if gifts would console her battered pride.
Those brainless lumps did not understand. About the only thing Honoria adored more than culture and poets was painting. Granted, she did not paint as any young lady of her age painted, landscapes and portraits, but enjoyed a more peculiar style.
Truth be told, she was terrible at sketching, though she enjoyed painting faces. Mostly it wasn’t painting itself that appealed to her, but the layering of abundant colors at her disposal. Her own intuitive art style, as Honoria thought of it, was usually inspired by her moods.
Honoria did not mind that her paintings were odd. She painted from her heart.
And if her brothers did not love her paintings, they abhorred her sketches. About the only thing she was good at sketching were eyes: animal eyes, young eyes, wrinkled eyes, any eyes. Of course, those eyes made her brothers’ skin crawl, which was why she hung them on the walls all over the castle.
If living under the watchful gazes of nine brothers tested her sanity, why not drive them a little mad in return? It was one of the few things that kept her occupied—and sane—which was no way to spend a life.
Was it too much to ask to accompany them to Edinburgh?
An undignified snort left her lips.
The cool air nipped at her skin as Honoria made her way up a hill overlooking the looming brick walls of the castle. Her home was beautiful. Nestled in the Northern Highlands and cloaked between mountains and pastures, it stood strong and nearly impenetrable.
A long time ago, Castle MacCallan had once almost fallen to ruin, but her great-grandfather, the fourth Duke of Roxburgh, had relocated from Inverness to restore the castle to its former glory.
While Honoria loved her home, she longed to participate in the city life, too: attend theatres, dance at balls, saunter through art exhibitions. But their father wished for his children to be raised outside the influence of corrupted city life—or English influence, as he oftentimes said. And Adair, as most of her brothers, had adopted the same school of thought.
“An ancient line of thought,” Honoria muttered as she hunkered down to settle on the grass in view of the castle. She tucked her legs close to her chest, resting her chin on her knees. Adair and Gregor were striding toward the stables, issuing orders to the servants, almost ready to depart.
Disappointment settled in her chest.
For the past month, every night before she turned in for bed, and every morning when Honoria opened her eyes, she prayed for something, anything that may bring about change—preferably the sort of change that resulted in her traveling to Edinburgh.
But no such luck.
She was to stay at MacCallan Castle.
At this rate, she would die an old maid, which would be fine if she could get to the city before passing on to the next life. Perhaps the time had come for her to go off on her own exploration.
If only fate would send her a sign.
In the distance, her brothers mounted their horses. It was torturous to watch them set out on their journey, the carriage filled with their belongings edging forward at a slower pace. She ought to have been in that carriage.
At the gate, Adair drew his horse to a halt and glanced up toward the hill. It had become a ritual of sorts. She would retreat to the hill to brood whenever they left, and he would turn at the gate and…acknowledge her sulk?
She did not quite know. Had never asked.
As Adair turned back to catch up with the entourage, Honoria vowed the following year he would find an empty hill. She’d be with them, or off on her own, or she’d choose another place to sulk. But this was the last time for their unspoken tradition.
A dull thump drew her focus away from her departing brothers, so faint she almost missed the sound. Her head snapped around, her eyes searching for the origin. Nothing.
With the shake of her head, she rose to her feet and smoothed her skirts. She must be imagining things. But another, more unmistakable, thud followed by an indisputable grunt.
What on earth?
It sounded like a man, maybe a goat. In her undervalued opinion, they sounded much the same.
Gathering her skirts, she marched further up the hill to inspect the thump she’d heard. At the top, she cast a glance over her shoulder to ensure her brothers were no longer in sight before stepping around to the other side.
Her foot caught on something hard.
A helpless cry tore from her lips as she tumbled over a large animal, landing on a crumpled heap beside the thing. Eyes wide, she scrambled away from it, putting enough distance between them to settle her thundering heart.
Good Lord! Her hand settled over her chest.
Was that a man?
She leaped to her feet. That could not be a man. It was a big hulking bear—her brows puckered—with breeches. A bear that wore breeches.
She inched closer.
“As I live and breathe,” Honoria muttered, leaning over the motionless form. It was a man. A filthy, bedraggled man, covered in mud and—her heart lurched—blood.
Honoria clutched her throat and glanced furiously about. Should she leave him there? Would he die if she did? He did not seem capable of managing on his own. The man was out cold.
Something thawed in the region of her chest. Or ignited. A spark of curiosity? Fear? Whatever it was, she could not leave him on the hill to die. If whatever wound he sustained did not kill him, the frosty night surely would.
She studied his thick, tangled ebony hair. It covered most of his face, so it was hard to tell his features. He was a big beastie, maybe as tall as her brothers, around six foot two thereabout. Like them, he would tower over her. The thought annoyed her.
She kneeled beside him. How much strength would it take to move him? The last time Boyd had gotten so foxed he couldn’t drag one foot before the other it had taken Lachlan, Gregor, and Kieran to put him to bed. Three of her brothers may very well equal four or five servants.
“Do not worry,” she murmured to the unconscious man. “I will return with help.”COLLAPSE