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Authors: Karen Ranney

One Man's Love

BOOK: One Man's Love
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One Man's Love
The Highland Lords [1]
Karen Ranney

She Swore to Hate Him...

He was her enemy, a British colonel in war tom Scotland. But as a youth, Alec Landers, Earl of Sherbourne, had spent his summers known only as Ian, running free on the Scottish Highlands--and falling in love with the tempting Leitis MacRae. With her fiery spirit and vibrant beauty, she is still the woman who holds his heart, but revealing his heritage now would condemn them both. Yet as the mysterious Raven, an outlaw who defies the English and protects the people, Alec could be Leitis's noble hero again--even as he risks a traitor's death .. But He Knew Her Heart Was His 

Leitis MacRae thought the English could do nothing more to her clan, but that was before Colonel Alec Landers came to reside where the MacRaes once ruled. Now, to save the only family she has left, Leitis agrees to be a prisoner in her uncle's place, willing to face even an English colonel to spare his life. But Alec, with his soldier's strength and strange compassion, is an unwelcome surprise. Soon Leitis cannot help the traitorous feelings she has when he's near ...nor the strange sensation that she's known him once before. And as danger and passion lead them to love, will their bond survive Alec's unmasking? Or will Leitis decide to scorn her beloved enemy?

K
AREN
R
ANNEY

B
OOK
O
NE OF
T
HE
H
IGHLAND
L
ORDS

One Man’s Love

To Lee Narek

Contents

Prologue

On his eleventh birthday, Ian kissed Leitis MacRae. She retaliated…

Chapter 1

I’m giving you a command, Colonel, one almost as vital…

Chapter 2

Leitis.

Chapter 3

At the first sounds of the pipes, grating and harsh…

Chapter 4

“We have to do something,” Leitis said, “or they will…

Chapter 5

The Butcher signaled with his free hand and a man…

Chapter 6

Alec entered his chamber, the wooden door easing shut behind…

Chapter 7

Alec stared at her, unable to deflect her sudden rage…

Chapter 8

The smoke-laden air made it difficult to breathe. But Alec…

Chapter 9

Alec stood in Fort William’s courtyard, oblivious to the cacophony…

Chapter 10

The village of Gilmuir was, in comparison to the rest…

Chapter 11

Leitis sat in the cave, her back against the rock…

Chapter 12

Arustle in front of the cave made Leitis turn her…

Chapter 13

Leitis was awakened by the sound of thunder. No, not…

Chapter 14

Alec stood looking at Loch Euliss. They were on the…

Chapter 15

Leitis waited impatiently until the day passed and she could…

Chapter 16

They lost the English patrol with such ease that it…

Chapter 17

Alec rode across the land bridge, pleased to see the…

Chapter 18

There was, Alec thought, only one way to accomplish the…

Chapter 19

“Are you certain you’ll not come in?” Leitis asked, turning…

Chapter 20

“You were the most fascinating person in my life,” she…

Chapter 21

He had not intended to lay with her, Alec thought…

Chapter 22

Her words were, unfortunately, prophetic. The storm had not moved…

Chapter 23

Leitis slept heavily, waking with a question. When would she…

Chapter 24

There was no reason to see Leitis. A warning that…

Chapter 25

Her mind refused to embrace the truth even as she…

Chapter 26

Leitis stared at the scene, her mind still reeling. There…

Chapter 27

“I knew I would find you here,” he said, his…

Chapter 28

Leitis stood clutching Ian, filled with a quiet kind of…

Chapter 29

Ian and Leitis led the way through the forest…

Chapter 30

When the last of the villagers entered the staircase, Ian…

Epilogue

An hour later, Leitis and Ian were married by Scots…

O
n his eleventh birthday, Ian kissed Leitis MacRae.

She retaliated by slapping him. Hard.

He rubbed his cheek while glancing around quickly to see if anyone had witnessed either act.

The courtyard of Gilmuir was blessedly empty. No groom stood with a horse on the glittering white stone that covered the ground. Not one of the wagons that made its way daily across the land bridge from the glen was standing in the corner waiting to be unloaded. There wasn’t a maid, cook, or blacksmith waiting patiently to see the laird. The massive iron-banded oak door remained fully closed, no amused face peering around it.

Ian sighed in relief, even as he prudently stepped away from Leitis.

“Don’t ever do that again!” she shouted, glaring at him and scrubbing her hand over her mouth.

“It was only a kiss,” Ian said, even as he realized it might well have been a mistake to act on impulse. But he had been thinking about kissing her for days now.

She was unlike any girl he’d ever known. Not that he met many, living in England at Brandidge Hall for most of the year. But it was summer, and he was in Scotland.

Every year he and his mother came to the Highlands. For two months no one told him to straighten his jacket or button his waistcoat. His tutor was left behind in England and Ian was not scolded once that he was acting like a ruffian. His mother only laughed when she saw him running through the stronghold that was his grandfather’s home, as if she knew the feeling of freedom that thrummed in his blood.

Even his name was different, bestowed on him during his first visit to Scotland when he was six.

“Ian means John in the Gaelic and your middle name is John, am I right?” his grandfather had asked.

“Alec John Landers, sir,” he said, nodding his head.

“A proper English name,” his grandfather said, frowning. He had large bushy brown eyebrows and a wrinkled face as weathered as the cliffs of Gilmuir. “You’ll be Ian MacRae here. I’ll not hear the name of Landers.”

And so it happened. No one ever knew his English name in Scotland, a testament to his grandfather’s power. Niall MacRae had the ability to decree a thing done and it was.

Ian sometimes wondered at the cause of the enmity between the laird and his father. His parents had met in France when his mother was visiting relatives and his father was on his Grand Tour. Moira MacRae
had asked only one thing of the earl she married—that any children they might have could learn firsthand of their Scots heritage.

He was their only child, but that fact didn’t stop his father from allowing him to come to Scotland. Every summer Ian and his mother came back to Gilmuir, and each time he viewed Ben Haeglish in the distance, he felt himself changing. By the time the coach stopped in front of the old castle, the buttons of his coat were half undone and his heart racing with eagerness to see his friends Fergus and James. For the last two years, however, he’d been just as anxious to meet Leitis again.

She could fish as well as any boy, knew the forests surrounding Gilmuir better than anyone. Bugs didn’t bother her and she could run faster than all three boys.

“It’s only a kiss,” he said again, wondering if she’d ever forgive him.

“Well, you shouldn’t have done it!” she yelled. “It’s disgusting!” She stomped away, leaving him to gaze helplessly after her.

“She has a right temper, does our Leitis,” a voice said.

Ian felt his face warming as he glanced over his shoulder. Fergus and James stood there, both of them looking somber. James was the elder by two years, but he was shorter than Fergus. Their features marked them as brothers, their red hair darker than Leitis’s.

“How could you kiss her?” Fergus asked in wonder. “It’s Leitis.”

“Are you angry?” Ian half expected it, and braced his feet apart the way his grandfather had taught him. He and Fergus had tested each other over the years, with Ian winning a fight as many times as he lost.

Fergus shook his head. “Now, Mary I could understand. Or even Sarah. But Leitis?”

“She’ll never let you forget it,” James said soberly. “She has a long memory.”

“And she’ll tell the laird, too,” Fergus offered with a grin.

Ian felt his stomach drop.

As laird, Niall MacRae could do more than change a name. He had the power of life and death over the entire clan, a group that numbered well over three hundred. His word was law and his dictates final. He often had a twinkle in his eye and a smile that said he didn’t take himself that seriously, for all his authority. But he was fierce about protecting the people of Gilmuir.

What would he do after hearing Leitis’s complaint?

“I don’t know why you did it,” James said, still staring after his sister. “It’s not that she’s all that pretty.”

Incredulous, Ian stared at her two brothers.

She had red hair as bright as the dawn sun trailing down her back. Once, he’d had the temerity to touch it, wondering if the color would burn him. She’d jerked away and nearly coshed him for his daring. Her fair skin had only the smallest dotting of freckles across her nose. Her eyes were such a light blue that they reminded him of windows. He wanted to simply gaze into them, wondering if he could see all the way inside to her soul.

“Ian’s daft, Jamie,” Fergus said. “That’s why he kissed Leitis. Is it from being half Sassenach, do you think?”

Ian felt the same flush of embarrassment each time his heritage was mentioned.

“I’d live here all the time if I could,” he said, feel
ing a pang of disloyalty to his father even as he spoke the words.

“But then I’d miss you too much.” A gentle laugh made him turn his head. His mother stood there, dressed for riding. Her habit of dark blue had a divided skirt, unlike anything she wore home in England. But here in the Highlands she chose to ride astride, not in the fashionable saddle his father decreed proper.

Both his friends fell silent at his mother’s approach. Not simply because she was a countess, he thought, or the laird’s daughter. She was so pretty that men sometimes stopped talking simply to gape at her.

Her black hair fell below her shoulders in tumbling curls that smelled like lavender. Her eyes were a piercing blue, the same shade as the laird’s. People always wanted to be around her, as if sensing that there was something special about Moira MacRae. His mother found the smallest things fascinating, like the delicacy of a spider web or a pattern of ice on the window.

She extended her hand and ruffled Ian’s hair. He ducked beneath her touch, embarrassed at the display of affection in front of his friends. She smiled understandingly and he grinned back at her. In private he didn’t mind her sitting with her arm around his shoulders, or smoothing the hair back from his forehead. It was only with other people that he thought it important to look manlier.

He stood beside his mother as her horse was brought around, watching as she effortlessly mounted the big bay. “Will you be taking a few men with you?” he asked, remembering his grandfather’s recent edict. The Drummonds were raiding again and no one was to leave Gilmuir without an escort.

It was one thing he’d never become accustomed to, the countless battles between the clans. In England a feud was resolved with a carefully worded note or even a request through a solicitor.

“Barbaric,” his father said, often enough. “The damn Scots are all damn barbaric.” But then the earl’s gaze would fall on his wife’s amused expression and he would smile and be silenced.

Here in Scotland it was almost commonplace to wake to his grandfather’s shouts of anger at the news of another raid. He’d watched many times as the laird led his own men across the land bridge, the moonlight illuminating their kilted figures.

“No one can keep up with me,” his mother said, smiling at him. “Besides, if the Drummonds raid,” she said with a little laugh, “they’ll be taking the cattle grazing in the glen or our sheep, not a woman on horseback.”

She bent low over the saddle and whispered to Ian, “You should be less worried about me, my son, and more concerned about your birthday surprise,” she said, smiling. “I’ll give it to you when I return.”

She gave her horse its head, racing across the bridge of land that connected Gilmuir to the glen. Once there, she halted and waved at him. She rode better than anyone he knew, even his father, and she’d become a common sight on these summer mornings, flying over the grass with her hair flowing behind her.

He waved back and then turned to his friends, impatient to be gone from the courtyard. It would be better, he decided, not to see Leitis yet. He’d give her temper a time to cool first.

“Are we fishing today?” he asked.

“No, I’ve another idea,” Fergus said, grinning. “A secret.”

“The staircase?” James asked, giving Fergus a quick, remonstrative look.

“What staircase?”

James punched his brother in the side sharply with his elbow. “We aren’t supposed to tell. The laird made us promise.”

“But Ian is his grandson,” Fergus protested.

Ian looked at one brother, then the other. “What staircase?” he asked again.

The two boys fell silent, each glaring at the other.

“If we get into trouble, I’ll say it was my idea,” Fergus offered finally.

“You know what he’ll say to that,” James said, his eyes narrowing. “He’ll say a man must weigh his temptations and consider the price he pays for every sin.”

“We’ll make Ian swear an oath,” Fergus said, turning to Ian. “Hand me your dirk, James,” Fergus said, commanding his older brother with the ease of much practice.

“Where’s yours?”

“In the rain barrel,” he admitted. “I used it for target practice and I couldn’t free the blasted thing.”

James shook his head and reluctantly handed him the knife, hilt first.

Ian stretched out his hand palm up toward his friend, knowing what Fergus planned. It was Fergus’s version of the MacRae oath, binding once blood had been spilled.

“Swear on all that’s holy to the MacRaes that you’ll not tell anyone what we’re about to show you,” Fergus said solemnly, his words a mere whisper.

“I’ll not,” Ian said, and nodded to accentuate his pledge. Both James and Fergus nodded, satisfied with his curt vow.

Ian told himself not to flinch, even as the other boy
made a small cut in the fleshy part of his hand beneath his thumb. It was surprisingly painful, but he tried to ignore it, dropping his hand to his side and letting the blood drip onto the stone.

Fergus handed the dirk back to his brother and led the way through the courtyard.

Gilmuir, the ancestral home of the MacRae clan, stretched upward three floors to a high-pitched roof. The exterior walls had darkened over the years until the fortress appeared part of the earth itself. The castle was perched upon an elevated promontory jutting out into Loch Euliss. Bordered by cliffs on three sides, a wide bridge of land was the only passage to the glen.

The squat buildings clustered around Gilmuir housed the various occupations designed to support the clan. The carpenter’s hut sat beside the forge, with the tanning shed and stables nearby.

They were all well-known places to the three boys. Fergus was to be a smithy, while James was training to be a carpenter. But during those weeks when Ian was in Scotland, they were released from their apprenticeships and given no more onerous task than being companions to the laird’s grandson.

Fergus headed, not to one of the outbuildings, but to the priory instead. The structure was reputed to have been built long before the first MacRae made his home here nearly three hundred years before. The island was reputed to have been the refuge of a saint and a sacred site of pilgrimage.

Over the years, the MacRaes had shored up the brickwork of the priory and replaced the roof. Shutters had been built to enclose the stone arches. On fair days, like today, they were left open and sunlight spilled inside, illuminating the cavernous space.

Today the wind from the loch careened through the arches, sounding low and fierce, almost as if it growled at him in displeasure.

The two brothers moved to either side of the room, quietly closing the shutters until the room was encased in shadows.

Fergus halted in the center of the room. James walked a few steps farther, staring down at the slate floor.

“What are you looking for?” Ian asked. Neither boy answered him, so he waited in silence.

A moment later James spoke. “Here,” he said, pointing to a spot in front of him.

“There’s a hidden staircase here?” Ian asked, reasoning it aloud.

Fergus nodded.

“Where does it go?”

“I don’t know,” Fergus said, his grin broad and white in the gloom. “But I mean to find out.”

“You don’t know? Then how did you find it?” Ian asked, kneeling beside his friend. Fergus removed the top stone to reveal another square piece of slate, an iron ring embedded in the center of it.

Fergus’s face changed, his grin fading as James frowned at him before reluctantly nodding. Ian had the impression that the older boy would just as soon be anywhere but here at the moment.

“Go ahead, tell him. We can’t be in any more trouble than we are right now.”

“We saw the laird come here one day,” Fergus admitted.

“And we came to talk to him,” James added.

“But he’d disappeared,” Fergus said. “Then all of a sudden he popped up from the floor,” he added, grinning broadly again.

“So did my heart out of my chest,” James said. “I think he was as surprised as we were.”

Fergus nodded. “But he wasn’t pleased, that’s for sure. And swore us to secrecy.”

“Then we shouldn’t go down there,” Ian said, even as he peered into the hole. Although he wanted to explore it, his conscience whispered that his grandfather was not to be disobeyed.

“Ian’s right,” James said, moving to his side.

“What’s the harm? The stone’s already been moved, and you already know the secret.” Fergus braced his forearms on either side of the space and a moment later disappeared into the darkness.

“What are you doing?” James asked as Ian sat and dangled his legs over the side.

“He shouldn’t go down there alone,” Ian said, the lure of the unknown proving to be irresistible.

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