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Claiming the Highlander’s Heart (Book 4 of the Townsends)

Georgina Townsend has never behaved like a “proper” lady. Her family accuses her of being impulsive, sometimes to the point of recklessness. And they must be right. Because when a band of Highland outlaws steals Georgina’s late mother’s music box, instead of letting the proper authorities take care of the matter, she disguises herself as a Highland lass and joins the group of outlaws to find the stolen item. She certainly doesn’t plan on falling for their charming leader…

Malcolm Stewart has never met a more bold and captivating woman than the mysterious lass who suddenly shows up to join his small band of outlaws. But while she fits in easily, she’s more distracting than he expected. When he returned from the war to find his life destroyed, Mal decided to get revenge on the Highland landlords, whom he blames for the death of his family. Falling in love isn’t part of that plan—especially not with the sister of one of the very landlords he’s sworn to fight against.

 

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If anyone had asked Malcolm Stewart what he was, he wouldn’t have said an outlaw; he would have said a king.

A king of bandits, a little island, stolen sheep, smuggled goods, and a few motley cattle. But in Mal’s opinion, the size of one’s kingdom didn’t matter as much as the devotion behind it, and he had devotion, if any man ever did.

Some kings measured their worth in riches and land. Mal measured his worth in sheep stolen, in successful operations, in nights spent under the trees and the stars, in the number of Highlanders he’d paid with his ill-gotten earnings.

“Did you cheat?” he heard Lachlan ask Ewan.

“No.”

“But you never win!”

Ewan grunted as Lachlan elbowed him.

“Can we get back to the game?” Andrew looked on dispassionately, apparently bored with the other men’s antics.

They were playing cards, while Mal sat a little apart from the three of them. It was a clear, still night, and the fire crackled.

He studied his men for a moment. He’d found them all, or they’d come to him, like strays. And then, before Mal really knew how it happened, he wasn’t alone anymore. Instead of a solitary outlaw, he’d become the leader of outlaws, responsible for their safety, for their lives.

It wasn’t a responsibility he’d asked for, but it wasn’t one he took lightly, either.

Lachlan threw his cards down, ignoring Ewan and Andrew’s protests, and lowered himself down on the fallen log beside Mal. “Are you still thinking about the last raid?”

“Aye,” he said.

“It’s fine,” Lachlan said. “We’ll do better next time.”

But it didn’t really have anything to do with them. Rumors of their exploits had been spreading, and their targets were more alert. Warier. Every raid became more dangerous, no matter what precautions Mal and his men took.

He didn’t know how many next times there would be. For his men, at least. He didn’t care so much about his own fate—death had stopped scaring him a long time ago.

“Ewan tripped,” Lachlan pointed out.

And he’d nearly been caught, because the shepherd they’d targeted had had extra men with him.

“Ewan isn’t the problem.”

Lachlan was silent for a moment. “What are we going to do, then?”

“A bigger raid,” Mal said. “A final one, hopefully.”

If they could make enough, his men could take the money and settle down somewhere. They could have lives. Maybe even families.

They could have everything Mal didn’t.

Mal stared into the fire, into the writhing orange and yellow flame, thinking about what he’d do once his men were settled, when, on his other side, Laddie’s ears perked up and his tail thumped against the ground.

It was the only warning Mal had that someone was approaching. While Laddie was excellent at herding sheep, he liked people too much to be a good guard dog.

A few seconds after Laddie directed his attention past the fire, a woman materialized.

Materialized seemed an odd word to attribute to a flesh-and-blood person, but it was the best word Mal could think of. One moment he and his group were alone, and the next, she was there, as if she’d been drawn from the night itself, composed of shadow and peat smoke and the distant music of late-night revels.

She emerged from the darkness, silent as a ghost, solemn as the grave. She approached slowly, and then stopped and stood a few feet away, preternaturally still, lit by fire.

For a second, Mal blinked, thinking he might be hallucinating. But he blinked again, and she remained. He didn’t see a boat, but she must have come in one and hidden it under the brush somewhere.

She was below average in height, above average in curves, wearing a blue dress with a plaid shawl wrapped around her shoulders and pinned at her throat with a brooch. Messy, dark hair framed a lovely oval face. Even from a distance, he could see that pockmark scars dotted her cheeks, but that telltale sign of an illness didn’t make her seem fragile. Her eyes, pale and direct, were too fierce for that, her stance too unyielding.

She looked…she looked like a dream come to life. A dream he hadn’t even known he’d had.

***

 

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A Scot’s Surrender (Book 3 of the Townsends)

When his brother leaves him in charge of Llynmore Castle, Robert Townsend is determined to make everything go smoothly. What does it matter if he’s inexplicably drawn to Ian Cameron, the estate’s stoic steward? Robert is sure he can ignore the way the Highlander’s apparent dislike of him gets under his skin. They’ll muddle along just fine so long as they avoid one another. An excellent plan…until a fire forces Ian into the castle—and Robert’s personal space.

Ian Cameron has worked for everything he owns, unlike spoiled Robert Townsend. And he may not have friends, but he has the Highlands and the stars, and what more could he really need? But when a guest’s stolen possession appears in his room, he doesn’t have much choice but to admit to the handsome and aggravatingly charming Townsend brother that he needs help. To solve this mystery, they’ll have to put aside their differences. And as Ian learns more about Robert, he’ll have to guard his heart…or it may be the next thing stolen.

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Just as Robert was stepping inside, a dark, wet blur shot past his feet and sent him sprawling. He fully expected to land face-first on the hard stone of the great hall, but Cameron’s hand caught his arm and hauled him up roughly.

“Watch yerself.”

Watch himself? It wasn’t Robert’s fault the bloody cat was a menace. The servants’ door had a hole cut from the bottom, specifically so the cat—named Willoughby by Annabel—could come and go, and he still insisted on using the entrance to the great hall instead.

A bit high in the instep really, that scoundrel Willoughby.

Robert didn’t dislike cats, but he’d always been more of a dog person himself—one knew where one stood with a dog. They didn’t stare at a person with those unreadable, impassive eyes. With cats, it was impossible to tell if they liked you or if they might be plotting your murder.

Rather like a certain person he knew. Except that was more of a debate between complete and utter indifference or murder.

He pulled his arm from Cameron’s grasp. Too quickly. Too abruptly. “Thank you,” he said, trying to sound calm.

He usually got along with people much better than this. He usually had no trouble being charming enough to get past their defenses when he chose to. And he’d tried. He couldn’t say he hadn’t tried. Cameron was either all defenses, or he just didn’t like Robert very much.

Robert didn’t know why he let it bother him—he shouldn’t care about the opinion of one lowly factor.

But around Ian Cameron, Robert felt like a piece of refuse, and he was starting to hate it.

And the feeling was made all the more potent by the desire that he couldn’t seem to shake.

He turned toward the man. His hair was slick with rain, curling into wet tangles at the nape of his neck, and darkened, like red-black velvet. “Why do you dislike me?” Robert blurted out. “I’ve never been unkind to you, have I?”

Cameron cocked his head. There was an expression, there and then gone. Robert didn’t have time to decipher it.

“Dislike ye?” He almost sounded amused. His lips were curved slightly, more of a smirk than a smile. Cameron seemed incapable of a pure smile, of happiness without a touch of derision. “Why do you assume I think of you at all?”

Robert felt heat crawling up his throat.

Before he could even figure out how to respond, Cameron was speaking again. “Thank you for the coat,” he said, as pleasantly and formally and coolly polite as though the last few seconds hadn’t even occurred.

He dropped the cloak into Robert’s hand, leaned against the wall to peel off his muddy shoes, and then strode away without a backward glance.

Robert felt like he’d just been dismissed by someone of higher rank. Theo really shouldn’t employ someone who was so…undeferential. Of course, maybe he was perfectly deferential when Theo was around. Maybe it was just Robert.

Why do you assume I think of you at all?

His grip tightened on the cloak. The silk lining was still warm from the heat of Cameron’s body, from sleep-warmed skin. He quickly draped it over a hook.

Why, indeed.

***

Content Copyright Lily Maxton