THE wINTER lAIRD
MISTS OF Fate Book One
Successful matchmaker Brianagh O’Rourke believes in happy-ever-afters – just not her own. Though she thrives on helping her clients find the partner of their dreams, her own dreams remain firmly in her head, not in her life. She's fine loving only her business–at least, that's what she tells herself when she agrees to her lackluster boyfriend's proposal.
Laird Nioclas MacWilliam has big problems: His power-hungry, exiled father wants him dead, his clan is pressuring him to marry to secure a strong alliance, and he's been betrothed to the mystical O'Rourke daughter for years,
despite the fact that she’s been missing for most of them. When she appears the day before his nuptials to another, he offers a solution for the both of them: If she marries him and convinces the clan they are a love match, he gives his vow to help her return home in three months.
Brianagh wants nothing more than to return home to her family and her life. But as the days turn into weeks, their bargain becomes less about convincing the clan and more about what is possible. When the time comes, she must decide: Does she return to her life of stability and success, or stay in the past for a chance at true love?
With renewed purpose, Brianagh flung open her door and ran smack into a hard chest. Stumbling, he steadied her, and his touch traveled like lightening up her arms. Bri looked up…and up…and up.
The MacWilliam was one very big man.
The top of her brunette curls – which were still piled atop her head in that complicated way – didn’t even reach his shoulders. He wore no adornment on the leine wrapped about his chest, and his lower legs were bare except for the boots strapped to his feet, which had an assortment of knives tucked into them. His hair was restrained with a strip of leather, and his eyes were still the intense gray she remembered from her dream. His hands – big, strong, and calloused – were still holding her elbows…gently.
It was at odds with his rather fierce appearance.
He released her, then gave a swift bow and held out his hand. “Perhaps, my lady, you would humor me with a walk in my gardens.”
That wasn’t at all what she expected to hear coming out of his mouth. She stood there, trying to assimilate what he wanted, when he raised an eyebrow at her. “I won’t bite you, I assure you.”
She tamped down the thrill of excitement that kind of statement elicited and grit her teeth. When he offered her a smile, her knees weakened. Giving her head a small shake, she repeated to herself: Not going to get involved. Then, for good measure, she added, At all.
He still stood, his arm outstretched. Really, what else was she going to do? Slam the door in his face and hide in her room? At least this way, she could gauge her best attempt at fleeing.
“Okay?” he repeated as they walked down the hallway. “I’m unfamiliar with that word, but as it seems to agree with our walk, I won’t complain.” He led her down the circular stairway, then, at the bottom, signaled to a servant. “Bring me a woolen cloak for Lady Brianagh.” He glanced at her, adding, “Rather cold out today. November in Ireland tends to much colder, but we’re in a warm spell.”
The servant bobbed a curtsy and, a few minutes later, returned with a heavy, light-blue cloak, lined with fur. Brianagh allowed MacWilliam to fasten it about her shoulders, then they walked outside.
The cold blasted Brianagh and she shivered. “This is a warm spell?”
He chuckled. “Oh, aye. In January, sometimes it is so bitter I have my clansfolk sleep in the great hall instead of their houses in the village.” He nodded once to a guardsman standing near the wall, and the man nodded back before leaving. “Let’s discuss our concerns about this wedding.”
Brianagh, while relieved at his straightforward observation, had no idea what to say, so she just inclined her head.
“O’Malley has led me to believe you have a full life where you’ve been living, on the continent.”
She almost corrected him, but remembered that America hadn’t even been discovered yet.
“I have an idea that would benefit us both,” he continued carefully. “I was betrothed to another as of yesterday. She is unsuitable, but my clan leaders insist I marry to avoid other lairds forcing their daughters upon me in an attempt to gain our alliance.” Slanting a glance at her, he explained, “If I wed a lass outside my clan, our clans are allied, and my clansmen will battle alongside that clan, as they would for us. I’m already in alliance with the O’Rourkes, who are quite peaceful, and will not have to involve my clansfolk in any other battles for another clan.”
“I’m sorry, but –” she started, but he cut in quickly.
“Please, let me finish. In my clan, when you marry for love, or fall in love with your wife, you are not expected to marry once she’s dead.” At her gasp and step back, he put his hands up in a sign of peace. “No, do not misunderstand me, I have no reason to hurt you. You wish to return to the life you’ve built in your country, and I need my clan to stop forcing marriage, especially to very young girls whom I have no interest in taking as a lover or a wife. If you agree to stay for three months, thus allowing word to spread that I am married and no longer in need of a wife, and my clan perceives us as in love, I vow to return you to your home, unscathed.”
A fake wedding and marriage for three months?
She was a matchmaker by trade. She knew all the signs to look for in a match; she could certainly pretend most of them to uphold her end of the bargain. It seemed a small price to pay, to get back to her life…