Highlander’s Stolen Heaven Preview

A Historical Scottish Romance Novel

 
 

About the book


No matter how many years passed, he would always love her…

Moving back to her home village after her abusive husband’s death, Even Johnstone focuses on her son only, as he is the most important person in her life. When she wins a lottery ticket to meet with the Laird, she is shocked to see the man she loved over a decade ago, all grown up…

After the only woman he ever loved got married, Laird Connall MacMillan devoted his life to his clan and his sick sister. He can’t believe Fate’s cruel tricks, when he sees her again all these years later...Yet his heart never forgot her…

Betrayal from both sides makes them resent each other. When Eve realizes that Connall never actually abandoned her, all her inhibitions are gone, and they are ready to live their happily ever after, finally. But what happens when Eve’s dark secret comes to light and threatens her blissful life?


Chapter One


She no longer had any scars.

It had been five years since, and the memories of the past had faded into nothing. Her scars had healed, leaving smooth skin behind, and Eve Johnstone touched her upper left arm, remembering the pain that had taken hold of her that fated night. The ghoulish past could no longer cling to her.

The smile on her lips widened a bit as she continued with her daily task of folding her son’s clothes and tying her hair into a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Blonde strands tumbled through her fingers, not willing to cooperate at all with the simple hairstyle she had done every day since she first moved out of her husband’s Castle.

After a few more seconds of trying, she stopped. Her hair fell around her shoulders. Her nerves tickled with a renewed surge of energy, and life.

For the first time in a long while, Eve felt truly free.

“Mam!”

The cry seemed to echo throughout the entire cottage, bringing a brighter smile to Eve’s face. She didn’t bother to turn around, knowing she need not bear witness to the young lad barreling into her chamber. Knowing very well that he wouldn’t stop himself in time, she took one step back and reached a hand down, preventing him from colliding into the opposite wall.

“Do ye wish to get hurt, Reggie?” Eve asked, finally looking down at the young lad currently blinking up at her in a semi-dazed state.

“Of course, nay!” he blurted out then slowly pulled himself out of her hold. “I couldnae stop myself.”

“Aye, aye, I believe ye.”

Reggie’s bottom lip popped out and he crossed his arms. The sight made Eve laugh. She turned her back to the mirror, watching as the young six-year-old lad trotted over to her bed to climb on top.

“Arenae ye ready, Mam?” Reggie asked, his arms still crossed. “We’re goin’ to be late for the fair.”

“The fair lasts the entire night, my dear. We willnae miss a thin’.”

“Have yet been to the village fair before?”

Eve shook her head. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to one.” She rubbed a hand over her chin as she spoke, and the frown on Reggie’s face brought a smile to her lips.

“Then you might be wrong, Mam.” His pout grew more pronounced as he looked her up and down. “Arenae ye ready yet?”

“I’m just about.” The impatience in Reggie’s brown eyes had laughter bubbling up her throat. He was a lot like her in that regard. But he was less willing to disguise it. “What do ye think? Should I tie me hair back, or should I let it down?”

“Down.”

“Oh?” Eve blinked in surprise. “Ye answered awfully fast.”

“Because ye look bonnie with yer hair down, Mam.” He scooted to the end of the bed, letting his skinny legs dangle over the edge. “Ye look bonnie with yer hair tied back too, but I like how ye look now. Is it because of the fair?”

“Aye.” Eve turned back to the mirror. “Among other things.”

A ghoulish past indeed. But through all the hurt and pain, she was given the greatest gift of all—who was currently sitting behind her trying to contain his excitement. Oftentimes, she would wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t been forced to leave her father’s cottage if her life would have turned out any better. But when she thought of the fact that she might not have had Reggie, the light of her life since the moment she gave birth to him, it made all that had happened feel less burdensome.

A small hand tugged on the skirt of her dress. “Mam.”

Eve looked down to see that Reggie had made his way next to her without her noticing. He stared up at her with those large, round, brown eyes, his curly blond hair falling past his ears.

That smile, that never seemed to be far away on days like this, appeared once more. “Yes, me love?”

“Are ye sad?”                                                                                    

No, but now I feel like crying. Eve shook her head, biting the inside of her cheek to keep the tears from falling. She was overjoyed, relieved, grateful. She was anything but sad right now. But, as intelligent as he was at his age, Reggie wouldn’t understand that.

So, she shook her head, then lowered to a crouch to meet him eye to eye. “I’m just excited,” she said to him, hoping he didn’t hear the crack in her voice. “It’s going to be me first fair in a long time and I get to enjoy it with ye.”

Reggie’s grin was quick, the worry on his face disappearing. “Does that mean we can go now? I can hear the flutes already.”

“All right, all right, let’s go.” Eve rose, taking his hand as she did. He was already dressed, looking rather adorable in his plain white leine and his tan-colored kilt. She had wanted him to wear his tam, but he hated having things on his head and the last thing she wanted was for him to be uncomfortable on a night like this.

And what a night it would be. The first fair she would attend in Hillwood Village in years. She couldn’t deny to him nor herself that she was excited. When was the last time I enjoyed any celebration since I returned?

She was always so busy worrying about Reggie, and trying to battle the awful flashes of her past she carried with her.

Hand in hand, Eve led Reggie out of her chamber and through the small living space they shared in within the cottage. The moment they stepped outside, the airy sound of the flutes coming from the village square grew louder and Reggie squirmed in anticipation. She used to be so much like Reggie—young and full of life, but experiences had changed her.

He could hardly keep himself still enough for her to pull the front door closed behind her before he went running down the front pathway, through the gate, and toward the festivities.

A gentle wind wafted past her face, brushing back the tears that had threatened to fall just a few seconds prior. Reggie made sure not to run too far, always taking the time to stop and ensure that he hadn’t gone too far ahead. Since they lived near the outskirts of the village, they would have to walk for a few minutes before they arrived in the square. Though, at the rate Reggie was moving, Eve didn’t doubt they’d cut that time in half tonight.

It wasn’t long before they came upon the first stall. By then, the music was loud, joined in by a hum of chatter, drums, and singing. Those who had visited from other villages and town made Hillwood Village far more crowded than she’d ever seen it and so Eve made sure to grab hold of Reggie’s hand again, fearing he might get lost.

“Eve! Goodness, I dinnae think I would see yer face around here!”

A sigh filled Eve’s lungs at the familiar voice. Dreading every second of it, she turned around to see Mrs. Henderson rushing forward, her ample bosom bobbing atop her tartan dress. As usual, her rosy face was filled with deceptive innocent and slight judgment.

When Eve first returned to the village, Mrs. Henderson was the first person to lend her a helping hand after her husband’s death.

 It didn’t take Eve very long to realize that Mrs. Henderson was only trying to get firsthand information for the gossip about who she really was that would spread around the village just a few days later. It has been years since then and Eve still hadn’t learned to trust her.

“Mrs. Henderson,” Eve greeted, forcing herself to smile. “I’m nae sure why ye thought I wouldnae attend but here I am.”

“Aye, here ye are.” She bobbed her head in a nod. Then, she turned her smile to Reggie, who only peered up at her with impassive eyes. “And here is this little sweetheart too. Would ye like a treat, youn’ one?”

“Nay, thank ye,” he replied in a soft voice.

“Oh, come now. Eve, ye shouldnae make him too wary of his neighbors, ye ken. How else will he make friends if he’s always this shy?”

“He does just fine, thank ye,” Eve responded. “Now, if ye’ll excuse—”

“How are ye, me dear?” Mrs. Henderson asked suddenly, her tone becoming concerned.

Eve paused, tightened her hold on Reggie’s hand. She knew that tone and she didn’t trust it. “What do ye mean?”

“Well, today is that day, isnae it?” Mrs. Henderson leaned closer, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Will ye finally tell Reggie—”

“I ken what today is. It is the day of the fair.”

“Oh, aye, but surely ye son is old enough to—”

“Mrs. Henderson. I’m nae sure what ye’re tryin’ to refer to.”

 “Ah, right, right,” she sang. “I understand ye completely, Eve. I wouldnae want the young’ one to hear about such somber things either. Especially nae about his faither. Ye two should just enjoy this night and try nae to think about anythin’ too terrible.”

What a miserable woman. Eve gritted her teeth, not bothering to force her own smile knowing very well it would only turn into a sneer. “We will. Now, please excuse us.”

Eve tried to step away, not wanting to give her the chance to say anything else. As if he sensed his mother’s annoyance, Reggie fell in step with ease. But before they got too far, Mrs. Henderson called out to them again, her shrill voice ringing out within the noise around them.

“Perhaps if ye’re lucky, ye will find a nice man tonight. Heaven kens ye and the youn’ one need someone to take care of ye. I ken how hard it can be just being on yer own.” She paused, cocking her head to the side—and not at all perturbed by the ice in Eve’s eyes. “Well, considerin’ who ye were married to before, I suppose ye dinnae have anythin’ to worry about in that regard, do ye?”

And with that said, she took her leave, a crafty smile playing around her lips.

 Eve sighed and returned her attention to Reggie tugging her skirts. “What are they sellin’, Mam?”

“Come let’s go find out.”

They reached the front line in seconds, and Eve scooped Reggie into her arms.

The lady gave her a slight look of impatience. “How many do ye want?” she asked tersely.

“Oh, uh, one please,” Eve responded with a blink.

“A doyt.” The lady on the other end of the counter, scribbled something on top, and then handed it to Eve. “Here ye are. I wish ye all the luck.”

“Thank ye very much.” Eve looked at the piece of paper. It said ‘456’. “May I just ask what exactly this ticket is for?”

“Ye dinnae ken?” she asked, her brows twitching, and Eve shook her head. “It’s a competition, and the winner gets the prize.”

“My son and I barely come around these festivities,” Eve explained with a nervous smile.

“Well ye’re in luck, lass. The prize is an entire day with the Laird, now scoot along, let me attend to others,” she replied, shooing Eve away with a wave of her hand.

“Wait, what Laird?”

“Up in the big Castle?” Both Eve and Reggie asked at the same time.

“Aye, in the big Castle, all right. A day with Laird Devlin.”


Chapter Two



“Stop sulkin’.”

“I am a grown man. I dinnae sulk.”

Connall MacMillan, Laird Devlin, felt his sister’s eyes boring into the side of his face as she studied him intently. He tried to school his expression, to hide the fact that he was downright miserable thinking about what he would soon have to subject himself to, but he also knew it was impossible trying to keep anything from her.

“Ye ken this is what is best for the Clan right now.” Nieve’s voice was gentle, if not a bit weak. She waited a moment before she continued. “And I think you could find it fun if you would simply give it a chance.”

“I fail to see how paradin’ meself around for all to see could be deemed fun.”

“Perhaps if ye were to take off yer leine and put on a funny hat, ye could see the charm in it.”

Connall paused in the process of adjusting the pin at his breast to look at his sister. As usual, she appeared as fragile and as delicate as ever lying in bed, but there was good-natured mirth in her eyes and a smile playing around her lips.

“I think ye find me discomfort more entertainin’,” Connall grumbled.

“Aye, ye do have a way of makin’ the most mundane of tasks seem like ye are movin’ mountains. It is quite a marvel I must say.”

“Ye are pokin’ fun at me.”

“That I am. Willnae ye smile, at least?”

Instead, Connall sighed. Fed up with the task of pinning the Clan’s crest to his chest, he went over to the side of his sister’s bed and sat in the chair next to her. Nieve had been lying in bed all week, burdened by a terrible cough and exhaustion. Even now he could see the fatigue lingering behind her eyes as she looked up at him.

“Willnae ye take me place?”

“I dinnae think I will put on as good a show as ye could, dear brother. As I said, all ye need to do is take yer leine off and the entire fair would have been a success.”

“And what of ye? Men have been longin’ to have yer hand in marriage ever since ye came of age. I have nae doubt ye would be just as popular.”

“Neither do I,” Nieve said with a tired smile. “Ye ken I would be at that fair if I had the strength.”

Connall nodded. He made sure not to show his concern, knowing it would only upset her. But he wasn’t entirely confident that some of his worry didn’t slip into his voice when he said, “How do ye feel?”

“A little better,” she said softy. “I havenae coughed a single time since ye entered the room.”

“That’s good. Ye should have yer medicine before ye go to bed. And sleep early tonight.”

“Aye, aye. It’s been so long since I’ve been like this that it’s impossible nae to remember.”

She said it in jest, but Connall couldn’t bring himself to laugh. He rested his hand atop her dark hair, grimacing at the heat radiating from her skin. If he hadn’t touched her, she wouldn’t have let him know that she had a high fever. As if she knew what he was about to say, Nieve took his hand from atop her head and put it aside.

“Dinnae worry about me,” she said gently. “I will be fine. Just like I always have. For now, yer only concern should be the Clan and the Lairdship. Ye ken why ye have to do this. Otherwise, ye wouldn’t be subjectin’ yerself to it in the first place.”

“It is one of the banes of being a Laird, I fear.”

“And yet ye wouldnae have it any other way.” Nieve’s brows knitted together for a brief moment and Connall instantly knew that she was trying to hold back a cough. “Ye should go or else ye will be late.”

“I’m sure I can spare a few more minutes,” Connall sighed.

“Surely, ye dinnae want to be at the receivin’ end of Gregor’s anger, now do ye?”

He was trained in the art of battle, a skilled hunter, and a great negotiator. He’d learned all that he needed to know from his father. But dealing with his advisor Gregor’s anger was a feat he had yet to master.

“Very well,” he said, running his hand through his hair. “I shall take me leave then. If I linger here any longer, Gregor shall surely have my head.”

“And it would be a sad sight to see ye go,” Nieve responded with a small giggle.

“Yet ye dinnae sound as sad as ye should.” Connall shook his head in mock disappointment. “Me own sister has betrayed me.”

“It is the way of the world.”

At that, he laughed, then finally made his way toward the door. He met Gregor outside the Castle and forced on a smile.

“Connall, why are still lurkin’ around here? Dinnae tell me ye intend to not show up for the fair?” Gregor’s lips formed a thin line, and his eyes drifted over Connall’s. Connall found that as much as he dreaded Gregor’s company and the scolding he received from the man each time he tried to evade his duties, he was still grateful he had him around to make certain he did the right thing.

“I wouldnae do that… I ken how much effort ye put into this,” he replied and started down the path leading to the gate.

“I shall be there in time for the announcement, ye shouldnae worry about anythin’.”

Gregor’s smile showed his excitement, but Connall didn’t share in it.

I do this for you, Nieve, and no one else, he thought grimly as he mounted his horse and rode to the village square.

By the time he was entering the village, a crowd of screaming villagers had already swarmed him. He smiled at them, all the while making sure no one was foolish enough to throw themselves in the path of his horse. The good mood he had been forcing slowly began to dwindle as well. He loved his people, but Connall was not good at dealing with attention.

Even so, he kept up appearances. The fair was rather lively and became even more so as he neared the village square. Atop a large wooden stage was a ragtag group of people playing different instruments, creating a lovely tune that greatly complemented the singing woman standing in the center. The moment she saw him approach, she began to sing louder, the band playing harder. People began to cheer, rushing in to meet him. Connall simply didn’t know what to do with himself at that point.

Luckily, Gregor knew exactly what he was thinking and led the charge. Upon reaching the stage, he dismounted first and created a path toward the small steps to the left, making it easier for Connall to make his way to the top. The singing woman was grinning from ear to ear when he approached, her cheeks flushed red. She cut her song short and made a sloppy curtsy.

“’Tis a pleasure to meet ye, Me Laird,” she said hurriedly, her words slurring. That made Connall smile. Clearly, she has been enjoying herself throughout the night. “Me name is Barbara Henderson.”

“And I am Hector Henderson.” A man approached them, lowering the fiddle in his hand. “I am the village head. This is my wife.”

“I am pleased to meet ye both,” Connall responded, slipping into his diplomatic voice. “I take it ye two will be conducting the event for tonight.”

“Of course, My Laird—” Mrs. Henderson hiccupped, then quickly covered her lips in shame. Connall resisted the urge to laugh. “I mean, aye. Me husband shall be the one to call tonight’s winner.”

“Well then, Mr. Henderson,” Connall said in response, facing the village head. “I shan’t make ye wait any longer.”

“Ye havenae made me wait at all, Me Laird.” Mr. Henderson seemed far calmer than his wife, who couldn’t stop herself from hiccupping and filling the air around them with the smell of wine. “But aye, I believe it is time that we begin.”

And here comes the very thin’ I’ve been dreadin’.

Connall didn’t show his discomfort. He stood back, accepting the chair that was brought out for him, noticing that Gregor was given one as well. He watched as Mr. Henderson stepped out to the front of the stage to loudly address all who had gathered, which seemed to be almost everyone in the village and the rest of the Clan. A hush went over the crowd as they listened to him speak, explaining the rules and the ticketing system.

It was simple—one number, one ticket, one winner.

And a day with the Laird. Oh joy.

“I shall now do the honors,” Mr. Henderson bellowed. His wife came up to him, swaying her hips from side to side as she held out a small bag. Connall watched with disguised displeasure as the village head dipped his hand into the bag and pulled out a piece of paper.

“And the lucky winner of today’s prize… Laird Devlin… is number 456!”

Connall’s eyes instantly went to the crowd of people, waiting for the winner to step forward. His gaze suddenly landed on a woman, familiar face, and brown eyes he had never forgotten for one day.

Oh, my God, it’s her.


Chapter Three


“Number 456? Where are ye?”

Eve put her finger to her chin, cocked her head to the side, and let out a heavy sigh. She couldn’t decide between the seasoned sausages or the buttered biscuits. So different, but both so good.

“Number 456?”

She crossed her arms. She’d never been very good at decision making, especially when it came on to one of her true loves—food.

“Number 456! This is the last call!”

“Mam!”

“Aye, Reggie?” She didn’t look at him, too preoccupied by the weight of her decision to be bothered by him pulling on her skirt. “Which would ye prefer to have? The sausages or the biscuits?”

“Mam, they’re callin’ for ye?”

“The sausages, arenae they? Aye, they do look quite delectable.”

“No, Mam, the man on the stage.” Reggie stopped pulling on her skirt and tugged on her purse instead. Since it was strapped to her waist, that finally got her attention.

“Reggie? What has gotten into ye?”

The young lad didn’t answer. He stuck his tongue out as he pushed his hand into the purse, digging around for something. After a second of searching, he withdrew a small piece of paper, held it up, and bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Number 456 is right here!”

“Reggie, what are ye doin’?” Eve gasped, shocked at the outburst.

He turned his round eyes to her. “Daenae ye remember buyin’ the ticket, Mam? And look, ye’re number 456. Ye won!”

“Won?” Won… no, but then that would mean

Suddenly, she felt the eyes. Everyone was staring at her. Reggie had successfully captured the attention of nearly everyone in the village square and she was now the subject of envy from nearly every woman in attendance. Eve wished she could hide, wished she could go back in time and refuse to buy the ticket in the first place.

This wasnae supposed to happen. I wasnae supposed to win.

Reggie tugged on her skirt again, trying to get her attention, but Eve felt herself going into a daze. Out of pure instinct, she reached out to take his hand, pulling him closer to her side. She wanted to run. She didn’t want to be seen by so many people. She didn’t want to be seen by him.

But it was already too late. Mr. Henderson’s strong voice was already calling out to her. “Number 456, please come up to the stage.”

I cannae.

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, Reggie started running ahead, pulling her along with him. Eve couldn’t bring herself not to follow. She felt a hum in her ears, a chill over her skin. And she didn’t dare to look up at the stage.

The Laird of Devlin. The Laird of Devlin… goodness, why me?

She didn’t want to see him. When she thought to come back to the village, she didn’t think she ever would. Hillwood Village was small, an hour away from the Castle, and the Laird was always too busy. Eve thought she could live her life without the memory of her past.

She didn’t think it would follow her here.

Reggie kept pulling her forward, far too excited to notice her reluctance. A path parted through the crowd, envious eyes watching her go by. Complete silence had fallen over the lot of them, much to Eve’s surprise. She’d been the subject of so much gossip since she’d returned to the village that she’d expected them to have much to say about what was unfolding before their eyes. Or perhaps she was simply in too much shock to hear any of it. God knows she could hardly feel her feet.

Somehow, Reggie managed to drag her to the side of the stage and up the steps. The silence was so deep that she could hear their footsteps on the wood.

“Eve Johnstone,” Mr. Henderson greeted. He’d always been kind to her, and his tone tonight was no different than usual. “It appears ye have great luck tonight.”

“I suppose ye would see it that way,” she mumbled. She focused her attention on his lined face. She didn’t dare to look at anyone else on the stage.

Mr. Henderson chuckled, then faced the crowd. “Why daenae we give a round of applause for tonight’s grand winner?”

The applause that ensued was slow to begin, gaining traction after a few seconds. Eve hardly heard it, her heart pounding so loudly in her ears.

When it was over, Mr. Henderson faced her again and gestured a hand to the side. Then, she heard footsteps. Reggie began to squirm by her side, though he remained hidden behind her skirt. Eve forgot how to breathe.

How do I face him after all these years? And why do we have to meet in front of all these people?

She felt her cheeks burn from the heat rising inside her, and she pretended to cough, hoping it would ease the sudden tightness in her throat.

“Mrs. Eve Johnstone.”

His voice was just the same, as smooth as silk and as commanding as ever. Her first instinct was to ignore it, to turn and walk away. But her body did not listen to her mind and she looked into the eyes of the man she’d told herself she would hate forever—Connall MacMillan.

His voice was the same, but he had changed in so many other ways. Somehow, he’d gotten more attractive, his dark-brown hair tied to the nape of his neck and his green eyes framed with thick lashes. His face was that of a man, built with stone and fortitude, with a small scar lining his jaw. He wore a leine, his kilt the color of the Clan, and despite the layers Eve could see the press of muscles that laid underneath. Then there was those lips!

But the way he looked at her… she’d never seen that look in his eyes before. With complete aloofness.

It should have dispelled the feeling simmering in the pit of her stomach—something she hadn’t felt in years. A part of her womanhood she’d thought had long since disappeared.

It forced her to face him, raising her chin. “Laird Devlin.”

“I must congratulate ye on winnin’ tonight’s prize. I assure ye that I fully intend on bein’ an hospitable host and wonderful date for our day at the Castle.”

The chill in his voice could have frozen them both to the spot. But she wouldn’t be outdone. After all, she was the only one who had reason to be this way. “I daenae doubt it, Me Laird.”

He said nothing in response and so neither did she. For a few seconds, they just stood there staring at each other. Eve almost forgot the fact that they were being watched.

“Shall we step away, then?” he said finally. “So that the festivities may continue.”

Eve blinked. She noticed then that Mrs. Henderson was glaring holes into her, and everyone else seemed rather intrigued by the unusual contention between them. So, she nodded. “Very well.”

Connall stepped to the side and gestured that she take the lead. She didn’t know where she was going, but anywhere would be better than in front of the entire village.

She hurried off the stage, keeping Reggie close to her side and very much aware of the man who trailed behind her. She kept walking, heading toward a secluded spot within the square where she knew they wouldn’t easily be overheard. Thankfully, there was a group of young lads she recognized playing with sticks. Eve lowered to a crouch in front of her son. “Why daenae ye go and play with yer friends over there? Just until I’m finished speakin’ with the Laird. Then we can get back to the fair.”

Reggie peered up at Connall, a silent statue behind her, and then looked back at his Mam with a nod. He knew better than to question her at that moment, even though Eve could tell he’d rather stick close to the god-like figure that was the Laird of Devlin.

She watched as he ran off, easily joining in the play fight with the other lads. She continued to stare after him, refusing to face Connall.

“Will I have to speak to yer back the entire time?” he said finally, his voice brusque.

“Forgive me. I shall be with ye in a moment.” She needed a moment to compose herself, to gather her approach. She hadn’t prepared herself for this, after all.

Eve heard him shift before he said, “I see that yer mouth is as smart as ever.”

She slowly turned to face him, then instantly regretted it. Here, alone, she was no match for his cold demeanor, no match for the smoldering eyes that seemed to see into her very soul. But she wouldn’t let him see that.

Eve drew in even breath then met his eyes “Forgive me if I may sound impolite, Me Laird, but I have nae intention of goin’ to the Castle or spendin’ the day with ye.”

“Then why would ye join the competition if this isnae what ye wanted?”

“I dinnae ken what I was buyin’ at the time. Reggie got so excited that—” She broke off, annoyed by the fact that she was explaining herself to him. “It matters nae the reason why. I hope ye understand that I simply do nae wish to subject meself to this.”

Connall shook his head, crossing his arms. He turned away from her, wandering over to a nearby tree before leaning against it. Eve tried ignore the way his forearms bulged—and the way her insides tightened at the sight. “I’m afraid it willnae be that easy.”

She nearly mimicked him by crossing her arms, but she clasped her hands in front of her instead and pretended to be the picture of calmness. His jaw ticked at that. “And why is that?” Eve questioned.

“Because people are expectin’ it to happen.”

“Ye’re the Laird, arenae ye? Cannae ye simply say that I did not wish to participate?”

“Come now, Eve. I ken ye’re smarter than that.”

The condescending tone had her gritting her teeth. “Let’s pretend that I’m nae,” she pushed out.

Connall’s heavy gaze didn’t lift for a second. “Why else would I agree to this if nae because it will benefit me image? And what do ye think people will say if the person who bought a ticket and won decided that she dinnae want to do it anymore?”

“I dinnae care what people say.”

“I do. Me advisors do. And so should ye.”

She raised her chin. This felt familiar and she hated it. She hated how easy it was for him to pull her in like this. “I’m afraid it doesnae matter to me. Now, if ye will excuse me—”

Connall shifted his eyes to a spot over her shoulder. “And what of yer son? Would he think the same?”

Eve stepped to the side, blocking his line of vision. “My son and I are none of yer concern, Me Laird.”

“Ye’re perfectly right about that.” He raised his hands in submission, but the coolness in his eyes did not abate. “I willnae try to convince ye any longer. Just ken that rejectin’ this opportunity will be as bad for ye as it will be for me.”

“As I said, I am none—”

“Aye, aye, I understood the first time.” Suddenly, he pushed himself away from the tree and slowly began to approach her. Eve refused to move. Every nerve in her body began to scream in protest, begging her to put distance between them. But the closer he came, the more difficult it was to think. “I dinnae think I would see ye again. Least of all in a place like this.”

Eve feigned confusion at that. “I dinnae ken what ye mean. Have we met before?”

Something flashed in his eyes, which gave Eve far more satisfaction than she wanted to admit. She hadn’t planned on pretending not to know him, but now that she had, she would simply continue. Perhaps getting away from him would be easier that way. After all, it had been ten years. And even though she could have spotted him a mile away, they had both changed in ten years.

She held her breath as he leaned closer, standing hardly an inch away from her. “Do nae pretend, Eve,” he murmured. The low timbre of his voice, and the heat it brought shook her to the core.

What is this reaction? she thought, stifling it down. But he was too near and all she could smell was the familiar scent of mint that clung to his breath. Just like when they first met.

For her own sanity, she took a step back. “Ye must have me mistaken for someone else. Now, I would like to take my leave.”

He reached out to touch her, and she evaded him quickly, not wanting to remember what his hands felt like on her cheeks.

Connall straightened, studying her for a few seconds longer. Then he nodded, as if confirming something to himself. “I’m glad to see that ye’ve been happy and well, Eve,” he said in a low voice. “I would have expected no different.”

She chose not to respond to that, and pretended that she could have found something to say if she truly wanted to.

Connall paused like he was waiting for an answer. “Enjoy the rest of the fair, Eve,” he finally said and strode away. His shoulders flexed as he walked, and her teeth sank into her lower lip.

Eve watched him go, her body shaking. She didn’t know if it was the anger he’d built in her, the slight chill in the air, or the shock of seeing him after so many years.

But the moment she was alone, Eve knew one thing for certain—he still affected her, in the same way no other man had.

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk

~ Cicero 


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