About the book
If he died, she would die with him...
Jonet MacTavish thought she had met the love of her life...until he died mysteriously. Three years later, she gets another chance at love, but he goes missing...Believing she is cursed, she vows never to marry again. Until fate comes knocking on her door.
Defrauder extraordinaire Matthew McDulaigh is ready for one final con that will win him his golden ticket: the daughter of the Laird of MacLagain. But once he sees her, he can’t keep his mind or his hands off her.
However, Jonet’s worst fear becomes reality when her curse returns to take Matthew. And as they both quickly realize, this curse has flesh, bones and a taste for blood. For one is an accident, two is a coincidence, but three is murder…
It was the summer heat that slipped the smile from Jonet’s face, despite the rush of happiness surging through her. A trickle of sweat ran across her brow and she wiped quickly at it, an absent motion that she was hardly aware of. Neither was she very conscious of the fact the heat made her blue woolen dress cling to her body, with her midnight black hair matted from the high heat.
“Aye, lass, right that way,” came a tender voice over her shoulder. “A little more and ye’ll be almost as good as me.”
“I cannae hope to compare,” Jonet said with a laugh. Without thinking, she wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, despite her hands being covered in white flour.
“Oh, dear,” the voice came again and the woman behind her stepped to her side. Jonet turned to face her, surprised at the amusement in her tone. Christal, the cook, grinned broadly as she wiped something from Jonet’s forehead and said, “Ye are the clumsiest lass I ken. Ye wiped flour all over yeself without noticin’.”
“Oh, did I? I dinnae notice.”
“Ye dinnae notice anythin’ unless it’s right before ye,” Christal said warmly. “But it doesnae matter. Ye continue doing what ye doin’ and I’m sure ye’ll get it soon.”
Jonet smiled and continued kneading the heel of her hand into the large bowl of flour. She had been at it since she had awoken an hour prior and was yet to produce the shortbread she was hoping for. Jonet did not consider herself a good cook. Not comparable to Christal in the slightest, that was certain, but she was determined to let the blue-eyed, grey-haired woman who dominated the castle’s scullery teach her how to make this simple pastry before her father and her betrothed awoke for the day.
The mere thought of the man she would soon marry, Murdock Anderson, had her smile returning with full force. Upon their betrothal, he had come to live in the castle alongside her and her father, the Laird of Maclagain, and had fallen so quickly for him that at times, it still surprised her.
Jonet had been nervous when she had first grown to know him, but what girl wouldn’t? With such beautiful sky-blue eyes, and that head of deep red hair, Jonet did not know many who would not become flustered in his presence. But that nervousness had melted away as they began to grow closer together, days that stretched into weeks filled with his sweet and kind personality. He was even quite playful, a man who looked at the world around him through bright, happy eyes. How could she not fall in love?
“Watch out, lass,” Christal called from the other side of the kitchen. “If ye keep smilin’ that way, ye face will be stuck that way.”
“Nothin’ wrong with that, Christal,” Jonet responded jovially. Her attempts to make this cake were continuing to fail, and the time she had left before Murdock awoke was growing lesser still. Yet she did not give in to the hurry. It was such a lovely day, even with the heat, that her good mood was only lifted at the thought of seeing Murdock again.
Jonet began to hum. It was a jaunty tune her mother used to sing to her at nights, one she had long ago forgotten the words for. As the sound of her humming filled the kitchen, Jonet’s mind drifted to the day she would finally be married to Murdock. She knew it would be such a beautiful affair. She truly believed she would never be happier than in that moment.
“Ah, well then,” came Christal’s voice.
Jonet blinked, coming back to the present. She had been so lost in her own mind that she hadn’t realized the flour she had been working on was now everywhere but in the bowl. It was all over her dress and the large plaid scarf that was draped around her shoulders, even splattered on her bare toes.
Christal shook her head, mirth shimmering in her eyes. “Cannae say I’m surprised,” she murmured.
“This is the third time! When will I learn me lesson?” Jonet’s cheeks warmed.
“One day, lass, but nae today, it seems.” Christal patted her tenderly on the arm, pushing her out of the way at the same time. “Ye intention is what matters in the end, after all.”
“Aye, but he won’t know me intention if I daenae bring him anythin’, ye think?”
Christal’s patience was truly admirable. Considering she had two little boys packed with energy, Jonet was not surprised. Still, she could not think of a single woman she would be comfortable being so absent-minded. When she was around Murdock, Jonet always tried her best not to appear too careless—sometimes overthinking her actions in the process. Though she supposed that her efforts were certainly paying off, since Murdock was not aware.
“Go on now, lass,” Christal told her, waving her hand towards the exit. “Ye go get changed and get ready for the day. Ye will be seeing yer betrothed later, ye ken.”
“Aye…” Jonet took a few steps back. She watched as Christal got to work, getting a wet cloth to fix Jonet’s mess. She did not look annoyed, but Jonet felt a stab of guilt even as she continued to leave the kitchen. With her failed attempt, it was best if she returned to her bedroom and changed her clothes before the rest of the castle awoke.
Turning, she made her way up the stone steps that led towards the banquet hall. She quite enjoyed the peace of the early morning and as she passed by the large windows, she noticed the soft glow of sunlight peaking over the horizon. Soon her father would have risen for breakfast and she would be able to see Murdock again.
Often she felt like a child, this giddy excitement in her a little more than she could handle sometimes. Jonet told herself that it was simply because she was unused to being in love, but she would have the rest of her life with her husband to grow accustomed. She couldn’t help smiling at the thought. Even though her hopes had been dashed, nothing could tamper her mood for today.
The trip to her bedroom was quiet and peaceful, her bare feet crossing the distance easily. Soon, she made it upon the tall wooden door barring her entrance and when she entered, her maid, Freya, was in the process of making the bed.
Freya looked up at her and gasped. “Miss Jonet!” she whispered fiercely, as if daring to say it any louder would alert the entire castle. “What happened?”
“I cannae do anythin’ right, Freya,” Jonet said simply, in a tone that belied how much it didn’t bother her. “Ye ken I’ve been tryin’ to make shortbread for Murduck, but it dinnae turn out so well.”
“Did ye just take fistfuls of flour and threw it at yeself?” Freya gasped. She abandoned the bed to take the shawl Jonet had slipped from her shoulders.
“Nae exactly,” Jonet said with a chuckle. “Though, I can see why ye look at it that way.”
Freya shook her head. Her blond hair was tied back into a long braid that laid heavily in the center of her back, tendrils of curls fringing her hairline. She always moved with a quiet urgency as if everything she was doing had to be done immediately, which was quite the opposite of Jonet. Jonet usually found her amusing, like the deep frown she wore right now.
“I daenae ken what possessed ye to do such a thin’ so suddenly,” she said, fussing over her like a mother hen. She fetched her a new dress, one that was a soft blue linen to go over the petticoat Jonet already wore.
“I wanted to surprise him,” Jonet responded conversationally. To be honest, having Murdock witness her as such a mess made her anxious. “That’s why I got someone like ye. To help me.”
“Aye, aye, I ken.” Freya sounded exasperated. Though they were close in age, she tended to act as if she were much older than Jonet.
“But I should know I cannae do well at such things. I should stick to the things I ken, ye think?”
“Aye, I do.”
Jonet nodded. Now that Freya was done helping her into her dress, and fetching her another heavy shawl, she sat to allow Freya to comb the bits of flour from her hair and redo her braid. “I cannae wait for the wedding,” she gushed, unable to help herself. “When do ye think me Faither will set the date?”
“I dannae,” Freya said softly.
Her lackluster response did not dim Jonet’s happiness.
“I should speak with him. I doesnae make any sense to delay it for too long.”
“Ye are right.” Freya stepped away, an indication that she was finished. Jonet rose and gave her a bright smile.
“Thank ye, Freya. Ye daenae think it would be too much if I went to see Murdock now, do ye?”
Freya’s eyes went wide. “N-now?”
“Oh, daenae worry,” Jonet said dismissively. “He’s a true upright man. I will send a servant to see if he’s awake, that’s all.”
Freya’s shoulders visibly relaxed and she nodded. “Aye, well, ye can do that. I daenae think I have the power to stop ye anyway.”
That made Jonet laugh. She lifted a hand in farewell as she made her way out of the door. By now, the sun had risen fully, leaving dawn behind, and Jonet could almost feel the castle waking up.
More servants were milling about, and she caught the attention of one to send to Murdock’s room, merely to inform him that she was waiting for him in the banquet hall.
Jonet made her way there and stood by the window while she waited. The broad expanse of land that surrounded the castle was a warm sight that filled her with happiness. There were rocky terrains dispersed throughout the sea of green, with tall grace that danced under the wind. The forest could be seen in the distance.
She loved her father’s land, loved the clan that lived in and around it. She could not wait for the day she would make them all proud once she was married.
The stretch of green grew blind to her eyes as her mind drifted elsewhere, Jonet became unaware of the time that passed. She was startled when the servant came rushing back to her, out of breath.
“What is it?” she demanded, alarmed by his flushed face and his horror-filled eyes.
“It’s terrible,” he gasped. “Murdock has been—he has been—”
Jonet’s heart seized in her chest. She gripped her shawl tighter to her body, trying to remain calm as she pushed out her next words.
“He is what?”
The man swallowed, straightening as he tried to pull himself together. Finally, he managed to get the words out.
“I thought he was asleep, but when I went nearer, I saw he wasnae breathing. He’s dead, Miss Jonet.”
That was when the world closed in on her.
Three Years Later
Jonet thought the hallways were a little dimmer. Colder, almost. She no longer enjoyed the feel of the smooth stone beneath her feet as much as she used to, though she did focus all her attention onto the feeling. When she concentrated on the floor beneath her, she successfully distracted herself from her destination.
Unable to hold back her sigh, she came to a slow halt and gazed out of the window. The morning sun was already drifting into the afternoon, but she had spent nearly all her time in her bedroom, as she had been wont to do since that fated day three years ago.
So much time has passed and yet it doesnae feel like it.
Her dear betrothed, Murdock Anderson, had been found dead in his sleep three years ago. He was the first man she had ever loved, the only man she had ever given her heart to and he had died so suddenly. Ripped from her side like a passing wind. Without a word, without a goodbye, without a warning. Though Jonet had recovered from the shock, she still had not moved on from her sadness.
Shaking her head, she tried to put the past to the back of her mind and continued along her path. Even though the death of her beloved still weighed heavily on her, she knew she had to put it aside. She still had the responsibility of carrying along the Lairdship and so she had to marry. Once she had finally made the decision to do so, it had not taken long for her father to find a partner for her—who she happened to be heading towards right now.
His name was Henry Luther and he was nothing like Murdock.
Murdock was kind, smart, and down to earth. Henry, though he did not strike Jonet as a bad person, was much more serious and strait-laced. He was even a twinge conceited since he was the son of a very wealthy Laird. Even though he was very handsome, and always did his best to treat Jonet right, he would fall short in one aspect: she simply did not love him.
She emitted another sigh as she neared the den where she knew her father and Henry would be. Freya had come to inform her that they wished to see her and, much to Jonet’s reluctance, she knew it would be unwise to neglect her betrothed. After all, her father was really looking forward to the marriage.
Upon entering, they were already deep in conversation, their heads tilted back in harmonious laughter. They did not see her come in, not until she was almost upon them.
“Jonet!” her father, Alexander McTavish, Laird of MacLagain, boomed. His deep brown eyes sparkled with happiness as he waved her over. As usual, he had a goblet of ale already in hand and he wasted no time preparing one for Jonet, his dark red hair sticking wildly into the air.
While Laird MacLagain poured the ale, Jonet plastered a smile onto her face and faced her betrothed, whose eyes had been watching her ever since she came into the room. As usual, she was struck by how smoothly handsome he was, with silky blond hair and deep blue eyes. If she did not know better, Jonet might have thought he was a stranger to hard work. Yet she knew that his skill at hunting was what made her father like him so much.
“It’s good to see ye, Henry,” she said with a kind voice, because that was all she could manage. For some reason, Murdock’s death weighed even heavier on her today.
“And it is always good to see ye, as well, Jonet,” Henry responded. She held out her hand he kissed it gently, not taking her eyes off him for a moment. “I havenae seen ye in quite some time. I wondered if ye were all right.”
Unlike Murdock, he did not stay at the castle, but visited her often while they aimed to get to know each other. Jonet was only half as excited about the prospect.
“I admit, I was feeling a wee bit unwell this mornin’,” she stated smoothly. “But then I realized stayin’ in bed wasnae doing me a lick of good.”
“Ye should get some fresh air, Jonet,” Laird MacLagain cut in, handing Jonet her ale. She did not feel like touching it. Not today.
“That’s the plan, Father,” she said with a nod. “I was thinkin’ about goin’ out to the loch and goin’ for a swim. Would ye both like to join me?”
“Ah, what I would give to relax like that right now,” her father responded. “But I daenae think I will be able to. I will be goin’ into the village today.”
“And I,” Henry jumped in. “Plan to go huntin’.”
Jonet blinked in surprise.
“Huntin’, ye say?” She glanced at Henry to see that he was looking very pleased with himself. “Again?”
“Ye can never hunt too much, ye ken,” Henry claimed, downing his ale with one gulp. Jonet almost giggled at the line of liquid along his upper lip. It greatly contrasted her father’s large, thick beard.
“I thought ye both went yesterday. Did ye nae catch anythin’? I find that hard to believe.”
Laird MacLagain laughed heartily at that, while Henry’s eyes twinkled. Jonet frowned, feeling suddenly as if they were sharing a private joke.
“I wish to hunt yer favorite meat, Jonet,” he said in a smooth voice. “I do remember ye being very excited when venison was served at dinner a few nights ago and so I want to make ye that happy again. But ye shouldnae worry for me. I will be just fine.”
“I ken ye will, Henry,” she responded. Though she knew he only said that last bit to boast his prowess at hunting, it did not dim his nice gesture. He was always doing such well-intentioned things for her during his visits to the castle. More and more, Jonet was beginning to see that being married to him would not be entirely bad, even if she did not love him.
“Of course, ye do,” Henry went on. “But I will prove it to ye, Miss Jonet. Ye only need to wait.”
“All right, all right,” her father jumped. “It’s clear that ye like her but ye daenae need to go off blubbering about everything ye can do.”
Jonet looked expectantly at Henry. She knew her father was only joking, in his blunt and harsh way, but she did not know if Henry was used to it yet.
He took it in stride, however, his confidence not wavering for a moment.
“A little reminder wouldnae hurt a soul, Laird MacLagain.”
“Aye, aye,” Laird MacLagain said in an idle tone. “Wait till she gets angry and ye’ll be seeing the dark side of Jonet ye never wish he did.”
Henry looked at Jonet, his deep blue eyes sparkling with surprise. “Truly?”
Jonet only shrugged one shoulder and finally took a sip of her ale. “I daenae ken what me faither is talking about.”
Larid MacLagain barked a laugh at that and so did Henry, though he looked a bit thrown by the odd information. Then, he said, “Well, I should be leaving. If I want to catch ye yer venison before dinner, then there’s nay reason standin’ around here.”
“Do ye want me to escort ye?” Jonet asked politely.
In truth, she was feeling a little guilty for not spending as much time with him today as she should have, even though he came all the way to the castle to visit.
“It would do me heart good to have ye see me off, Miss Jonet,” Henry declared with a broad smile. Laird MacLagain hankered down into a seat and waved them off, taking a large gulp of his ale.
Jonet left the room, feeling Henry right over her shoulder. He was a tall man, capable of making her feel small and fragile, and she knew he would do whatever he could to protect her. Despite his conceitedness, he was such a good man that she could not think of a single reason why they should not be married. After all, their marriage would build relations between her father and his. It would benefit everyone.
“Are ye truly all right, Miss Jonet?” he asked after a few moments of walking in silence.
Jonet clung to the scarf around her shoulders as she said, “I’m still feeling a wee bit unwell, unfortunately. I hope ye daenae mind.”
“Of course nae, Miss Jonet. I only wish to see a smile on ye face once more. When me huntin’ goes well today, ye will be as happy as a lark, I tell ye.”
“I look forward to it.” Jonet giggled. She could admit; she did find him funny sometimes.
That served to put him in a good mood and he whistled a tune as they continued along out to the stables where both their horses stood in wait. Henry’s horse stood idly outside in waiting and he jumped atop his mighty steed with a flourish, no doubt to impress Jonet. She gave him what he wanted with a broad, amazed smile. He was even more pleased by that and with a tip of his head, he raced off.
Jonet watched him go. He did appear very dashing riding off like that, the beat of his horses’ hooves echoing in the air around them. She found herself falling into the sight, taken so much by his bronze skin dazzling with a new sheen of sweat that she didn’t hear Freya’s approach.
“Miss Jonet,” Freya called. “Would ye like to leave now?”
“Oh, Freya,” Jonet gasped, her hand flying to her chest. “Ye frightened me. Ye must really say somethin’ before ye sneak up on someone like that.”
“That was me sayin’ somethin’, Miss Jonet,” Freya stated matter-of-factly.
“Aye, I suppose it is.” Jonet sighed. “Then, does that mean ye wish to accompany me now? When I first asked, ye seemed very opposed to the idea.”
“I…” Freya’s eyes darted away. “I thought about it and, well…the walk would do me good.”
“I’m glad ye think so.” Jonet frowned at her slightly odd behavior. “Are ye feeling unwell? Maybe me lies to me Faither and Henry resulted in getting ye sick in the process? Me sins might be catching up to me.”
Freya stared at Jonet for a moment before her serious countenance cracked into a smile. Jonet considered it a victory. Freya was always trying her best to appear the focused maid but, now and again, Jonet would succeed in bringing out the fun side of her. “Instead of ye but me, ye mean, Miss Jonet,” Freya said, sobering up quickly. “But, nay, I’m nae feelin’ unwell. I just want to get out of the castle.”
“If that’s the case then, let’s go. Would ye like to walk?”
Freya’s eyes went a tad wide, her cheeks growing pink. “M-Miss Jonet, ye should be the one to tell me that! Sometimes, ye make me wonder if I’m even yer maid.”
“But, ye’re nae,” Jonet smiled. “Ye’re me friend.”
“Oh, heavens, what will I do with ye?” Freya sighed heavily.
That made Jonet laugh. And just like that, the weight on her shoulders lifted. Freya always knew how to put her in a better mood and Jonet was suddenly happy she had offered to join her.
Together, they delved further into the stables, listening to the neighs and snorts of the horses her father owned. Jonet preferred one of them, her lovely Highland Pony that stood in her own stall on the farthest end of the stables. Her name was Fenella because of those broad white shoulders she boasted, which had drawn Jonet to her in the first place.
As she mounted Fenella’s back, Freya chose the gentle pony ahead of Fenella, the only one Freya was willing to ride.
The loch was within walking distance of the Castle—according to Jonet, anyway. Freya was not a fan of walking such a long distance, but Jonet always enjoyed how her mind had free reign to wander while she walked, letting the wind blow through her loose hair with the cool grass beneath her feet. Even though Freya would complain that it was too far a walk for anyone to undergo comfortably, Jonet always thought the time would pass much too quickly for her liking.
Today, however, she did not want her mind to wander. In fact, she was going to the loch because she wished to wash all her thoughts away. Dipping into the cold water, with its bottomless end and its looming lore, was bound to make her relax, and having Freya with her was even better.
The weight on her shoulders returned and it wasn’t until they had arrived at the loch that she realized it wasn’t only because she was remembering Murdock’s death, but because she had an odd feeling. As she stripped her clothes, she began to wonder if something was amiss.
Faither dinnae seem off when I spoke with him. Maybe I’m overthinkin’ things.
Telling herself that did little, but diving underneath the water did. She swam around with Freya lingering near the bank since she was not as strong a swimmer. Jonet tried her best to free her mind of the unusual feeling that was steadily growing stronger.
She spent so much time swimming that she hadn’t realized night was falling. When Freya called to her saying it was best that they return to the Castle before it grew dark, she finally climbed out. A chill brought goosebumps to her skin and Jonet quickly got dressed, unable to shake the bizarre sensation.
As they returned to the castle, she realized that the feeling had not been for nothing. The moment she walked in a servant told her that her father was looking for her in his den. Jonet glanced at Freya, who shared her fearful look, before she made her way there alone.
“Pa?” she called, entering.
Laird MacLagain was pacing the broad space in the center of the den, the pelt rug on the floor flattening under the weight of his stress. When he turned to her, Jonet saw a look in his eyes that she had only seen once before: when Murdock had died.
“Nay,” she breathed. She staggered forward, feeling as if her heart were about to jump out of her chest. As if to stop it, she clutched her clothes.
“We cannae find him, Jonet,” her father said, his voice soft and gentle. “But we will. We’ll find him and bring him back.”
They willnae find him. He’s a master hunter. If he’s missing then…
Laird MacLagain, as if sensing the direction of her thoughts, patted his large hand on her head in a rather awkward fashion, as was his way of doing. He had never been good at expressing emotions, though he had always tried to in place of her mother.
“We will find him,” he repeated firmly.
Jonet stared up at him, his image blurring through the haze of tears. Unable to speak, she only nodded.
Yet, coming as no surprise to her, her father was unable to keep that promise.
Three Years Later
The MacLagain Castle was something Matthew had always seen from afar. In his line of work, he knew better than to get too close to such a place, but he would often stare at the imposing building of stone jutting into the sky. He would let his mind wander to what his life might have been like had he been born the son of a Laird, destined to inherit the Lairdship when the time was right.
From what Matthew had heard, the Laird of MacLagain was a wealthy man surrounded by a healthy swarm of servants to take care of such a massive home. There were other things he knew about the Laird, other reasons he had to be envious of him, but for now, there was only one piece of information that mattered to him. The fact that he had an unmarriageable daughter.
Rumors had begun to swirl throughout the clan for some time, but Matthew had never heard them, not caring to be privy to internal gossip that did nothing for his line of work. Much like staying away from the Laird’s castle, he did not bother to listen to any information regarding him either. What good would it do a man like him?
Except when he had learned that the Laird’s daughter was unmarriageable, due to a curse she supposedly possessed, Matthew realized that this was his chance.
Once he was finally within sights of the men standing guard at the entrance of the castle, he came to a stop. They were watching him, but they did not bother to approach. Matthew took that as his chance to drink in the sheer size of the building before him, nearly salivating at the thought of it all being his.
“State yer business,” one of the men standing guard said when Matthew finally bridged the gap.
“I request an audience with the Laird,” he stated.
“What for?” asked the other in a very suspicious tone. “We havenae seen ye before.”
Matthew slid his eyes to him. “It isnae a matter I’m goin’ to speak with ye two about. Allow me to see the Laird.”
The two men stiffened at that. They exchanged glances and Matthew stood in silence. He knew they were debating whether it was a good idea to do what he asked of them or not and he hoped he seemed trustworthy enough not to be turned away.
For a moment, he considered telling them the true reason why he wished to see the Laird, knowing they could not possibly turn him away after that but then they lifted their chins, almost in unison and stepped aside, revealing the path through the large doors to him. Matthew nodded a polite thanks and pushed his way through.
The air inside the castle felt different. Or maybe it was he who felt different, knowing how close he was to the beginning of his new—and hopefully—final plan. He could not keep his eyes off the impeccable stone walls, the oversized windows, the hanging evidence of the Laird’s fondness of hunting. It was an opulence he had never been able to touch.
One of the guards came with him, slipping in front to lead the way. With the sheer size of the castle, Matthew did not see many others as he was led through the winding hallways. A few servants passed by and only glanced curiously at him before continuing on their way.
The guard trailed to a stop. Matthew, for the first time ever, felt nervous. This is it.
“Laird MacLagain,” the guard called as he knocked. “Ye have a man who wishes to see ye.”
There was silence on the other end of the door before a gruff voice called out, “Send him in.”
The guard looked at Matthew and jerked his head toward the door. Matthew took that as his cue, and he entered the room as the guard stood to the side.
Laird MacLagain was… very large. He seemed almost like a bear, draped in a large pelt that complemented his kilt and the bushy red beard covered half his face. He was stoking a crackling fire upon Matthew’s entrance but turned to look at him, running his gaze from Matthew’s head to his toes. For some reason, Matthew merely stood there and allowed him to do it.
“Who are ye?” the Laird asked after a moment. His voice seemed even deeper than it was from the other side of the door. “What do ye want?”
Though he was a part of the MacLagain clan, he was not surprised the Laird did not know him. “Me name is Matthew McDulaigh. I am but a merchant who wishes to speak to ye about a very pressin’ matter regardin’ yer daughter.”
“Me daughter?” Now, he had the Laird’s full attention. Somehow, he seemed even larger, as if he had risen to full height in his protectiveness. Beneath his bushy eyebrows, his eyes narrowed to slits. “What business do ye have with me daughter?”
Matthew steeled himself. He had gone over how to say this many times on his way to the castle, but now that he was standing before the Laird himself, he faltered.
“It is very simple, me Laird,” he began. “I wish to marry her.”
“Marry?” Surprise filled Laird MacLagain’s face.
Matthew forged on, “I ken I’m nae the most proper match for yer daughter, but I have enough wealth to take care of her, so you daenae need to worry. I have heard tales of her beauty across this land, Laird MacLagain. I couldnae do anything else but rush here hopin’ to witness it for meself.”
Matthew considered it a job well done when the Laird’s face filled with pride. That was the way to his approval, it seemed. Showering his daughter with praise.
“Aye, she is quite the beauty that lass is. She gets it from her mother. I never ken her popularity was so big.”
Aye, it is. Though it is not for the reason ye think.
“But of course, Me Laird. I wish to settle down and begin a new family and I hope ye will give me yer blessin’ to be wed to yer daughter.”
Laird MacLagain lifted his head, clearly in thought. He began walking back and forth and Matthew patiently waited for him to reach a conclusion. He knew that had it not been for the rumors surrounding his daughter, he would not have come this far. A merchant was no match for her, despite his proposed wealth, but Matthew was hoping for their desperation to be in his favour.
For a woman who could not be married due to a curse resulting in dead partners, the Laird would surely accept anyone who asked for her hand. Yet as the Laird continued to pace, glancing at Matthew from time to time, he wondered if he might have been mistaken.
Finally, Laird MacLagain paused and said, “Ye seem like a decent man. Strong, too. Can ye hunt?”
Matthew told the truth for once. “I can.”
He received another pleased look from the Laird. “Ye know I love me daughter very much. Ye must make sure to take care of her and make her happy, ye hear?”
“Aye, of course, Laird. I wouldnae dare to hurt her.” Matthew smiled happily, not missing the fact that the Laird failed to mention what had happened to his daughter’s last two betrothed, and he had a feeling he would not be hearing anything about that for now.
“Well, then,” Laird MacLagain said with a loud clap. “Would ye like to meet her?”
Matthew nodded, trying to tamper the joy of victory within him. He did wish to meet the woman who would change his life. A simple curse did not scare him, not when it meant it was a chance at putting aside his past for a new beginning.
“Aye, Laird MacLagain,” he answered with a grin. “I would love to.”
Rinalda MacTavish was a beauty, even when she was bedridden due to such a terrible illness. Her skin had grown pallid, a stark difference to the golden tone she once had when Jonet was much younger. She had lost quite a lot of weight, and her cheeks had hollowed out to make her cheekbones much sharper than they were before. Still she was beautiful, her canopy of long black hair fanned out beneath her and her brown eyes had never lost their luster.
Jonet had long since learned how to tamper her sadness when she visited her mother. Being such the kind and caring woman that she was, it would bother her greatly if she saw how her ill-stricken state affected Jonet. Jonet did not want anything to make her mother even worse than she already was and so, whenever she visited, she would put on a façade that all was well.
For once in nearly six years, Jonet actually felt like the ‘façade’ had become real.
“Jonet,” Rinalda sighed. “Ye are far too carefree for yer own good, ye ken.”
Jonet only patted her bony hand. “Ye daenae worry about me, Ma. Ye ken I can take care of meself.”
“Aye, I ken, but that doesnae stop me from worrying’ that ye will do yeself harm one day.”
Jonet laughed. She was not surprised her mother was growing so concerned that Jonet went swimming in the loch so often as of late. Rinalda was well aware that though the loch was quite close to the castle Jonet wasn’t the only one who liked to frequent it for a swim.
“Ma, ye worry too much,” Jonet said nonchalantly. “Ye remember what people are sayin’ about me? None will dare to come near me because they think I have a curse.”
“Oh, goodness.” Rinalda rolled her eyes. It made Jonet smile. “That is nonsense. Of all the lore I’ve heard in me life, I’ve never heard of anyone droppin’ dead from bein’ near someone.”
“Aye, well, look on the bright side, Ma,” Jonet quipped. “It looks like I’m the first one. Lucky, daenae think?”
Rinalda stared at Jonet with wide unbelieving eyes before she too chuckled. Jonet tensed when that short laugh erupted into a fit of wheezing coughs. She quickly brought a cloth to her mother’s lips, fearing as she always did, that she would see blood on it.
They were safe this time, but with her mother’s declining health, Jonet was afraid that one day, things would take a bad turn.
Once her mother had calmed down a bit, Jonet said, “I understand yer concern, Ma. I promise to never do it again without Freya with me.”
“That doesnae make me feel any better and ye ken it.” Rinalda only sighed.
Jonet kissed her gently on the cheek that had once been as rosy as Jonet’s. “Ye want me to stay in the castle forever and ever then, Ma?”
“From one extreme to the other, I see,” Rinalda mumbled.
Jonet laughed. She was in an extraordinarily good mood today and she could not think of a better time to spend it than with her mother. Ever since the death of Henry, she had taken to frequent trips to the loch to clear her mind—sometimes without Freya accompanying her. It was true that such a venture was not very safe, but it was also true that the rumors about her kept everyone away. It was Christal who had passed on the fact that she was said to be cursed but now, Jonet saw that as more of a blessing.
That way, no one else would die.
There came a knock on the door and after Rinalda’s feeble answer, Freya entered.
“Good evening, Miss Rinalda,” she greeted. “Miss Jonet, Laird MacLagain has requested that ye join him in his den.”
“Somethin’ tells me he wants to lecture me about goin’ swimmin’ too.” Jonet sighed.
“If that’s so, then good.” Rinalda’s voice was firm. “Ye need a good hit in the head to get the words through to ye, it seems.”
“Oh, Ma,” Jonet sighed, shaking her head as she rose to her feet. “So violent.”
Rinalda’s soft laughter followed her out the room.
Freya trailed behind her silently as she made her way to the den. She had been sticking close to Jonet whenever she could for the past three years, as if hoping to shoulder the burden Jonet carried. Jonet never thanked her for it because she never dared to talk about the bout of misfortune again, but Jonet could not have appreciated her more.
After Henry died, Jonet had not known what to do with herself. She had waited tirelessly for her father to return that night. He had finally done so quite early in the morning, bearing the bad news she had expected. Henry was nowhere to be found. He had simply gone missing and it wasn’t long before rumors began to be spread that he had died. Just like Murdock.
Cursed, they called her. No man wanted to be her husband. No one even dared to come near her. Jonet was only glad that she had friends like Freya and Christal, while the other servants seemed to treat her the same as well.
Putting the thought aside when she arrived at the den, she went into the room after a single knock. She had expected to see her father alone, sitting in his usual chair by the fire, but there was someone else in the room—someone who brought her to a complete stop.
He was terribly handsome. Almost unfairly so, rugged in a way that gave him a dangerous edge. His hair was a dirty blond that brushed the nape of his neck, his shoulders broad within the brown woollen coat he wore. Unable to stop herself, Jonet ran her heated gaze down the rest of him, down to the long legs under his kilt and the pair of boots he wore. Somehow, every inch of this man had her frozen to the spot, a wave of heat overcoming her with such force that she could hardly say a word.
“Jonet,” her father greeted. “Good, ye’re here. There is someone I want ye to meet.”
She managed to move forward, albeit on unsteady legs. The closer she came, the more she realized that his eyes were a mossy green and he had a splash of freckles across his nose.
“This here is Matthew McDulaigh,” her father introduced. “And he’s come to ask for yer hand in marriage.”
That snapped Jonet out of her reverie. She looked into the bright, hopeful eyes of the Laird. She knew he had been growing antsy for some time now since they were yet to receive another offer while she was only growing older.
“Me hand?” she echoed, incredulous.
He doesnae ken about me curse?
“Aye,” Laird MacLagain said with a confirmative nod. “He is a wealthy merchant and he’s come all the way here because he’s heard of yer beauty and such. He said he couldnae wait to see it for himself.”
Jonet narrowed her eyes slightly. Matthew only stared back at her. “Did he now?”
“Aye, Miss Jonet,” Matthew spoke up. Smooth as butter, his voice was. Perfect. It sent a shiver down her spine. “I couldnae think of a better woman I wish to be me wife than ye.”
Jonet studied him for a while longer. Then, she folded her arms and looked her father in the eye.
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