Highland Temptation

By: Lori Ann Bailey
For: My daughter, Bailey, as you start on your new journey, know that you are loved and your dad and I are proud of the woman you have become. You will do amazing things and I’m honored to watch from the sidelines as your story unfolds.





Chapter One

EDINBURGH CASTLE, SCOTLAND, JUNE 1643

C’mon, open.

Kirstie Cameron fumbled with a hairpin she prayed would give her access to the locked door. After falling through her trembling fingers, it hit the floor. She cursed under her breath. Her brother’s life lay in the balance, and she couldn’t still her frayed nerves.

Scanning the darkened hall, she surveyed the shadows then bent. As she swiped her hands across the cold stone floor in search of the pin, her finger managed to knock into and push it beneath the locked door.

Breaking into the most dangerous man in all of Scotland’s room was not her brightest idea, but it was her only option, and now the opportunity was lost. She stood and looked around to see if there was anything else she could use to dislodge the lock on the Earl of Argyll’s door. Nothing but the bleak gray stones and scattered flickering sconces down the hallway of the castle stared back at her.

Wait. There was a shiny scrap of something just under the dancing flames a few feet away. Stepping away from the door and bending to inspect it, she froze at an unwanted familiar voice.

“Miss Cameron.”

Kirstie rose to see a shadowed figure glide toward her. How’d he do that? She’d not heard the man approaching. She shivered but plastered a smile on her lips to face one of the men who might hold answers to the Covenanter plot. “Hamish, how are ye this evening?”

“It’s a beautiful night now that I’ve found you.” He bowed like English gentry, and she was, as usual, at a loss for how to respond.

Knowing she was too tall and far from the fairest lass around, his words fell short of their intention. Even Hamish was shorter than her. Sure, she had other attributes men liked. Her breasts were large and she was fair of face, but as soon as a man stood next to her and realized he had to look up to catch her eye, he turned and bolted the other way.

Hamish’s flirtatious comments were commonplace, and she’d learned to take them as what they were. Practiced words to woo and seduce. Despite the urge to pull away from the man set on converting her to Presbyterianism, she would lead him to believe it possible, at least until her family was safe.

“’Tis many a bonny lass in residence this week. I’m fair certain ye could have yer pick.”

“Ah, but what if I have already chosen the lady I wish to court?”

Her gaze traveled from his hair down his form to make certain he knew she was looking and doing her part to gain his confidence. She was not unpracticed at flirtation as well. She glanced back up to see his lips curve in an appreciative smile. His shoulders straightened, and he moved closer.

I bet the English lasses are all prim and proper and dinnae spar with him this way.

“May I escort you to the hall? I’ve wanted to dance with you since we arrived.” He gently laced his arm through hers and turned her in the direction he’d approached from.

Her heart sank as she realized there was no way to get out of it. Breaking into the Covenanter leader’s room would have to wait for now, but she couldn’t delay long as more guests would be arriving soon. She would have to try again before the castle became crowded and the chance of discovery was too great.

“What brings you to this part of the castle?”

Her steps faltered, but she recovered quickly. “I was told that Malcolm arrived earlier. I cannae wait another minute to see him.”

The lie slid easily from her lips because it was also the truth. Too much time had passed, almost a year since she’d seen her younger brother. The urge to wrap her arms around him and know he was safe clawed at her.

The threat against her older brother, the Cameron laird, was the only reason she was here spying in this overcrowded, suffocating castle, and despite her desire to be back on Macnab land and tending to the horses in the stables, she was thankful Lachlan had not come to Edinburgh. If someone was after Lachlan, would they use Malcolm to get to him?

“It is not proper for a lady to be seen in the men’s quarters.”

A chuckle escaped her lips, and he turned a disapproving gaze on her.

She was reminded again of how different they were. His family had ties to the English aristocracy, so as a youth he’d gone to live with relatives in England and attend school there. She’d spent her whole life in the Highlands and couldn’t imagine calling any other place home.

He was but a year older, and she’d met him back in the fall. It was late June now, and in those few short months, she’d come to the conclusion that the only thing they had in common was an uncanny ability to turn any conversation into a flirtatious combat.

This was the first time she’d seen disapproval in his eyes, however. They were dark and held a hint of something dangerous beneath the surface. A chill prickled at the back of her neck, and she shuddered.

She wasn’t going to let a man tell her what to do, but she thought it best to pacify him. If for no other reason than to reinforce her half-truth.

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