London, England, 1618
"Lady Angelique! Come back, sweeting!" ancient Lord Chatsworth called.
Sacrebleu! Angelique Drummagan rushed down the corridor, eased open a door and slipped inside a dark drawing room, one of many within the maze of Whitehall Palace. She prayed Chatsworth would pass by. He fancied himself her suitor and did naught but drool on her hand every time he was near.
Heavy breathing and moans sounded from across the room. She turned and froze, her eyes searching the near darkness. Who was here? Only the shifting moonlight glinting off the Thames provided any illumination, revealing chair backs and settees.
A high-pitched giggle pierced the air from several yards away, in the vicinity of a sitting area near the cold hearth.
"Shh."A long moment of silence stretched out, broken by sounds of kissing.
"King James wishes her brought before him forthwith," a muffled male voice said outside the closed door.
"She vanished in this passage," Chatsworth said.
A pox upon the old lecher! And the king, too. Angelique crept across the Turkish carpet and slid behind the brocade window drapery.
"Ooh, I'm impressed with your swordplay skills, my laird." Lady Eleanor's voice, breathy and excited, shattered the quiet of the room. She was the one moaning and giggling?
"I'm not a laird, but I do thank you for the compliment."
A Highlander? Angelique would recognize that tongue-rolling speech anywhere.
She had never known Eleanor, countess of Wexbury, to dally with anyone below a viscount. What was she doing with a barbarian? That's what her mother—God rest her soul—would've called him, or any Scot. And Maman should know; she'd been married to one.
Eleanor cried out with carnal pleasure. Angelique's face burned hot. She couldn't comprehend how a woman found pleasure in the act. Never again would she entrust her body and heart to any man. Since men were naught but faithless pigs, she knew she only had duty before her, not happiness. Not love.
That had been a foolish child's dream.
Eleanor gasped for breath and the Scot made a growling noise. The height of pleasure, some said.
Surely the French term le petit mort—the little death—was more accurate. Nausea gripped Angelique even as shocking excitement quickened her heart beat. A dark, hidden part of her wondered… No, never again.I cannot marry and be subjected to a man's lust. She pressed trembling fingers against her throat and found it damp with perspiration.
The door opened and lamplight reflected off the white walls.
"Lady Angelique?" Dryden's nasal voice echoed through the room. He was the most vexing of the king's courtiers.
The two lovers became silent.
"I know you're in here. I heard a noise."
From her position behind the draperies, she noticed the light moving across the floor.
A thump sounded, then rustling.
"Sir Lachlan? What in Hades are you…?"
"I was but…resting," the Scot said.
"Have you seen Lady Angelique?"
"Dryden, the lamp, if you please," Chatsworth said.
"What is it?"
In the silence, the light shifted again, growing brighter as it moved in her direction.
Mon Dieu, do not let them find me, s'il vous plaît. Angelique's pulse roared in her ears. She detested Chatsworth, and now, to be discovered lurking about in a dark room while a Scot coupled with a lady harlot would be exceedingly mortifying. They might even accuse her of spying on them.
Dryden yanked the drapery aside.
"Parbleu!" Angelique blurted and pressed a hand to her mouth.
Dryden sent her a vile grin. In the background, Chatsworth scowled, then shot a murderous glance at the man they'd called Sir Lachlan, who stood in a darkened corner.
Where had Eleanor crawled away to? Angelique couldn't see her beneath the carved furniture in the dimness.
"You and Sir Lachlan?" Dryden snickered. "His Majesty will likely find this interesting."
"Non! I was not—Lady Eleanor was—where did she go?" Embarrassment flamed over her. Now, they thought she'd been with the Scot? Never.
"No need to lie, mademoiselle. Come. The king wishes to see you." He ushered her toward the door.
"You, too, Sir Lachlan."
"Indeed." Dryden waved him forward.
The Highlander stepped into the light. The giant was more than a foot taller than she, broad shouldered and wearing a belted plaid, leaving the bottom portion of his muscular legs bare. She'd seen few of these barbaric articles of clothing since she was nine years old and her mother had taken her from Scotland.
His face was ruggedly masculine with a square jaw and hard chin, enticing to a woman's baser instincts, but not refined. This was the same man she'd seen leaving Lady Catherine's bedchamber the night before. Then, he'd been wearing trews. Dallying with two women at court? Or perhaps more?
Amusement sparkled in his eyes before he bowed. "M'lady."
"Sir." She curtsied.
The Scot's darkened eyes fixed upon her in a too-knowing way. To cover the heat rushing over her face, she strode from the room.
Feeling like a prisoner headed for the block, Angelique walked beside the Highlander through several rooms and dark-paneled corridors, taking two steps for his every one. Dryden and Chatsworth followed. She would not be surprised to feel the prick of a sword at her back. Glancing around, she found the men empty-handed.
They passed through four doors, guarded by numerous courtiers and royal servants before reaching the antechamber with its gleaming ebony furniture upholstered in the finest red velvets. Numerous candles lit the room and glimmered off the gold leaf.
What did the king want? He'd sent for her two days before at Hampton Court Palace, though he hadn't been ready to meet with her until now. She disliked leaving the comfort of the queen's household, but King James was her guardian and she must do as he bid. Chatsworth and Dryden had been searching for her before they found her in the room with this Highlander, so the summons could have naught to do with him. Why had they asked him to accompany them?
They neared the king's private rooms and an usher opened the carved door. "Lady Angelique Drummagan and Sir Lachlan MacGrath," he announced.
The four entered. The men bowed, and she curtsied deeply before the king.
The scrawny, aging monarch, wearing overblown clothing in colorful silks, occupied an ornate chair on an elevated platform. Buckingham, his favorite courtier, a regally handsome dark-haired man in his early twenties, stood next to him, along with several other members of the aristocracy.
"You have found her." King James turned his rheumy, unsteady gaze toward the tall man beside her.
"And Sir Lachlan, I'm so glad you have joined us once again."
"Your Majesty, 'tis a supreme honor." Lachlan bowed.
Dryden whispered something to another courtier, who whispered to Buckingham. And he proceeded to murmur into the king's ear.
The frail monarch's eyes widened. "The two of you have…met?"
Angelique's face heated. "Non. Not in truth."
The king frowned at his courtiers but his expression lightened when he looked at Lachlan. "It matters not. This is my ward, Lady Angelique Drummagan, the new countess of Draughon in her own right." He motioned toward her. "My dear, meet Sir Lachlan MacGrath, a hero to whom we owe much."
The cursed MacGrath took her hand and kissed it. "'Tis my great pleasure to make your acquaintance, m'lady." His rich baritone and the Scottish burr appealed more than it should have.
In the bright candlelight, she saw he was a most visually interesting man. His tawny hair was too long by far and not of the current style. His eyes gleamed like a tiger's eye stone. It was not the color that arrested her, but the expression—assessing and sensual. She had come upon many a rogue like him in France, and barely escaped marrying one.
She jerked her hand away but remembered her manners just in time and curtsied. Not too deeply, because he didn't deserve even that. "An honor, Sir Lachlan."
A tiny grin lifted one corner of his full lips. Though she already loathed him because he was a Highlander and a debaucher, something about him defied her to look away.
"Through his cunning and sharp wits, Sir Lachlan has saved the life of our dear marquess of Buckingham and broken up the den of conspirators," King James said. "We knighted Sir Lachlan a fortnight ago but we believe he deserves an even greater reward. Do we not, Steenie?"
"He will also receive a title." King James gave her a toothless grin. "Earl of Draughon."
What? Her late father's title?
The shock and silence threatened to render her senseless on the floor. What had the king meant?
"Yes, my dear, I have finally found you the perfect husband. He is Scottish, as you are. He is pleasing to look upon and…"
"Pray pardon…Majesty." Fearing she would faint, she quickly curtsied and fled the stateroom as if Lucifer himself chased her. She would die before she'd marry a Highlander whose favorite pastime was lifting skirts.
My Wild Highlander
"The Seducer of the Highlands, Sir Lachlan MacGrath, can seduce me anytime! And did! Danger, romance, and Highlanders make this tale a must read! Loved it!" ~Terry Spear, Heart of the Highland Wolf
"I've described myself as a Vonda Sinclair junky. It's true. These books just get better and better. This one is multi-layered with conflict that keeps the reader riveted to the very last page." Cate Parke
"Ms. Sinclair hits another homerun with My Wild Highlander. A follow up to My Fierce Highlander, she picks up younger brother Lachlan's story. Forced into a marriage neither wants, the heroine and hero try to make the best of their situation. She has been damaged, and he has lacked true direction. She gives him a purpose, and he teaches her how to love and embrace life again.
Very good plot lines between the two.
Very good plot lines between the two.
With a cast of bad guys (and a bad woman), there is never a dull moment. The pace keeps the reader's interest, and there are enough twists to keep you guessing. As usual, Ms. Sinclair flexes her ability to write hot, steamy love scenes. With plenty of sexual tension beforehand, I worried my Kindle might melt when these two finally got together. If you like Scottish Historicals with lots of action and a satisifying ending, I highly recommend picking up My Wild Highlander." Derek Dodson
My Wild Highlander
Vonda's website: www.vondasinclair.com