Under The Highland Sky

Book Cover: Under The Highland Sky

Spirited, beautiful and entirely convinced she is being dangled on a string, Dianna O’Donnell arrives at Murray Castle for one purpose and one alone—to break off her engagement with Alasdair Murray, rude, imperious, and the fourth Duke of Castleworth. But things are seldom what they seem and rarely ever do they go according to plan. Will her resolve stay steadfast? Or will this Scottish lass fall for the rugged Highlander all over again?

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Chapter 1

 

Highlands

1792

 

There was something very wrong with Dianna O’Donnell. This conclusion, one she had not come by lightly, was punctuated with each rapid thrum of her heart, every small drop of pearl layered along her collarbone, and the slight tremble that feathered across her fingers. A conclusion sealed by icy pools of fury.

Her nemesis. The bane of her existence. The devil himself.

Imperious. Entitled. Rude.

Her betrothed.

“Dianna O’Donnell.” His gaze traveled from her to the five suitcases stacked atop each other. “What are you doing here?”

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Dianna lifted her chin a notch. His low, raspy brogue did not fail to spark a tempestuous onslaught of annoyance. Boredom defined the tenor of his voice even as midnight blue eyes flashed with ire. The man was a swamp of contradictions. A marshland of unexplored bogs and winding rivers, each as perilous and fraught with danger as the other.

Two weeks ago, on her twentieth birthday, and two years after their fathers had perished in a boar hunting accident, Dianna had dared to venture into the uncharted land that made up this man and almost drowned for her courage. Harshly rebuffed by her own fiancé, any romantic fairytale of becoming his wife, the next Duchess of Castleworth, had wilted away.

He had broken her heart.

And still the devil held her dangling on a string.

That was all about to change.

Dianna wanted out.

“Alasdair Murray.” She smiled, a full stretch of lips. “What a startling breath of air you are, I was expecting your mother.”

His frosty eyes narrowed on her face.

Dianna became aware of her pulse leaping beneath her skin. They had known each other since birth, the two of them, but at no time had formed a bond of friendship. A detail he never failed to remind her of whenever in each other’s presence. Like now, those eyes blazed with barely veiled hostility.

Dianna pursed her lips.

For the first time, ever since resolution took hold in her breast, Dianna’s courage wavered. And for one wee second, she was the girl of a fortnight ago, staring up into dark blue eyes, unsuspecting and full of bright dreams. Would he be as harsh and difficult as he had been back then? Would the words to his reaction hurt as much?

“Are you going to answer the question or not?” he demanded, broad shoulders stiffening as a deep hue brightened his jaw. “Why aren’t you on your way to Wales with your mother?”

Dianna bit down on the inside of her cheek.

Words had yet to form on her tongue, her mind a jumble of all she’d practiced to say. Aye, that look, that tone, was the grounds on which she wished to crush Alasdair’s soul beneath her boots. The reason Dianna had come to Murray Castle instead of joining her mother in Wales this year. Although gazing into his flashing eyes now, Dianna reckoned she might have underestimated the limit of her patience.

But at the time, between the comfort of her soft sheets, Dianna had been brave in convincing herself that living close quarters with her nemesis would be a stroll in the park. Their mothers were best friends, and he would keep his distance, as he always had.

“Have you lost your tongue?” he growled.

Dianna squared her shoulders, exhaling a deep breath. “I have lost nothing. You, on the other hand, have lost me.” She offered him a sweet, indulgent smile, and marched past him. “Do bring my luggage, Alasdair. They are gathering dust and quite heavy.”

“I am the Duke of Castleworth,” he growled, and spun around. “You will address me as—”

“I’m certain your mother will inform you of the rest,” Dianna cut him off over her shoulder.

“I am not your bloody—”

“That will be all,” she interrupted, and reached into her pocket to flick a coin at his feet.

Dianna sprinted up the last two steps before Alasdair exploded into fireworks, her pulse steadying only once she cleared the threshold.

 

 

Alasdair Murray, the fourth Duke of Castleworth, stared slack-jawed at the copper coin teetering to an abrupt stop at the brim of his boot. Had Dianna O’Donnell just treated him like a blasted servant? Taunting him with familiarity they had never shared was one thing—she’d been doing that as far back as he could recall—but treating him like a worthless peasant? That was downright intolerable.

His gaze darted to the trio of trunks and two worn leather bags, their very presence a bad omen. What was Dianna doing at Castle Murray? The O’Donnells traveled to Wales during the summer months. Every. Single. Year. Blessed months were those. Why then, was she not blessing him with her absence this year? And what the devil had she meant by ‘he had lost her’?

With a curse, Alasdair marched after the lass, determined to wring answers from her pretty little neck. But Dianna O’Donnell had vanished like a speck of dust. Never mind. Alasdair knew precisely who to seek out, and he found her trimming roses in the conservatory.

“Mother.”

“Alasdair, dear.” She turned to him with a smile. “What brings you all the way out here?”

“There is a mouse in the Castle.”

“Only one?” The Duchess raised a thinly arched brow. “I’d have imagined there to be more.”

“Mother.”

She laughed. “You are referring to Dianna, I suppose?”

“So you did know about her arrival?” Alasdair said, incredulous.

“Of course.” She turned back to pruning her roses. “I extended the invitation.”

“Why the devil would you do such a thing?” Alasdair demanded.

“Why would I not? The O’Donnells and Murrays have enjoyed decades of friendship. Dianna is like family.”

The slip did not go unnoticed.

“They travel to Wales during the summer,” Alasdair bit out. “Why is the lass not visiting her aunt?”

“Mary indicated Dianna wished to remain in Scotland this year, so I offered that the girl stay at Castle Murray.” Snip, snip.

“So you felt sorry for her?” Alasdair dragged a hand over his face. “What about me?”

His mother lifted her head to blink up at him. “What about you, dear?”

“Did you even once think about how I would feel?”

“Of course.” The Duchess broke out into one of her much-too-indulgent smiles. “I thought you could spend time with Dianna. Perhaps take her out on the lake sometime.”

Alasdair balled his fists. Neither he nor Dianna wished to spend time in each other’s company. That had become patently clear a fortnight ago.

“Let Drew take her.”

“Your brother is off carousing with Ewan MacCallan.”

A footman appeared, clearing his throat. “Your Grace, Mr. Cavendish and Miss Cowan have arrived.”

Cavendish?

“Ah, Peregrine and Elspeth are here,” his mother murmured. “Do make sure they settle in, Oswald.”

“Aye, Your Grace,” the footman said, and disappeared.

“Who in ever-bloody-lasting-sheep-castrating-hell invited Peregrine Cavendish?

“I did, dear, along with Elspeth, as you heard.” His mother paused in thought. “I suppose if you don’t wish to take Dianna out on the lake, Peregrine will not mind.”

Over his rotting corpse.

Alasdair’s lungs labored for breath. He shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. This could not be happening.

“What are you up to, Mother?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

Alasdair opened his eyes to pin his mother with a sharp glance. “Inviting Dianna, Peregrine, and Miss Cowan?”

His mother shrugged. “Have you not known each other all your lives?”

“That does not mean we are friends.”

“I must have misunderstood.” She glanced over her shoulder. “By the by, Aunt Aisleen invited me to Inverness for a visit. I depart in the morning.”

“You are leaving me alone with them?” Alasdair demanded. “How long will you be gone?”

“You are a grown man of thirty-one years, dear, and a Duke.” The duchess turned back to her pruning. “Honestly, it’s not the end of the world.”

Did his mother think fairies and goblins took care of the family estates? The tenants? The workers? Aye, he thought darkly, she probably did. Avoiding Dianna was one thing. But, with Peregrine here . . .

“For Christ sake’s, Mother.” Alasdair pivoted and marched from the room.

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