The Highlander's Fight – Excerpt

As she glanced at her father, Anais smiled. She loved him. Yet she disliked when he planned aspects of her life. Like now. She still had no idea why he had decided on matching her with a Scot. Their two countries were allies, and Papa knew the laird of the MacTavish clan, but why now? Why the laird's nephew and not someone from her own country?

Galloping horses nearby broke her reverie. She glanced out the window and saw the riders approach the carriage. Anais held a breath, afraid. Recalling her small pistol in her purse, she steadied her gloved hand upon it. Then a young man with short, sun-kissed, curly hair rode up to them.

"My apologies." He spoke with a thick, Scottish brogue. "We are here to escort you safely to Castle Dunsmuir."

"Are we in danger, monsieur?" She needed to know.

The handsome man rode his chestnut steed closer. His aquamarine eyes locked with hers. She stilled when he lifted the corners of his delicious mouth. "The English are patrolling the area. 'Tis better to keep ye both safe."

"Thank you," she replied.

The Highlander tilted his head and rode away.

Anais sat back in the seat while she willed her heart to its normal pace. Curious, she peeked her head out the window. Around them, she counted five Scottish riders, all dressed in their colorful kilts and tartans. Proud warriors. Papa had told her about the Scottish people. She admired them. Despite the constant presence of the English army, the inhabitants of this beautiful land had managed to keep their culture and their country. But for how long, she wondered. Papa had told her once that knowing the English and what their King George would do to keep his ass on the throne, there was no telling how long the Scots would be able to maintain their way of life.

Sadness filled Anais. She knew a thing or two about losing her way of life. All she knew had to be left behind. No more strolling in the park or along the Seine. No more wearing the finest gowns from the best Parisian couturières. With a sigh, she resolved herself to make the best of the situation like she had promised her mother.

As the carriage slowed, Anais looked out the window. They passed a stone archway and rode down a muddy path. The rain had ceased, making way for the sun through the clouds. Despite the clearing sky, she couldn't find the light in her heart.

"We are here," one of the riders announced.

The carriage entered the crowded courtyard. Scents of manure and thick mud reached her nose, making her nauseated. Anais crossed herself. Where the hell was she?

The carriage pulled to a stop, and the door opened. Papa stepped out first.

"Come along, daughter." Papa offered his hand.

Anais stared at his fingers. Her body froze. She wasn't ready for a new home or a new life. She wasn't ready to let go.

"Come now!" Papa spoke in French.

Anais saw a mixture of anger and pain in her father's eyes. Before she embarrassed him too much, she took his hand and placed a heavy foot onto the carriage step. She glanced around and felt all stares on her. Before stepping out, she swallowed hard against the lump forming in her throat.

"Welcome to you both to Dunsmuir Castle." An older man walked toward them. Dressed in a fur-trimmed coat and a dark plaid kilt, the man stopped and bowed his head. "I hope ye've had a pleasant trip."

Papa gently pulled her out of the carriage and turned. "Yes. Thank you, my laird." Her father released her hand and clasped the other man's fingers.

As the two men shared greetings like old friends, Anais looked at her surroundings once more. Despite the rustic stones and pungent smells, the MacTavish estate held a great charm. Yet it couldn't compare to their own estate or Versailles. Would this be her new home?

"Come, ma petite. I would like you to meet the laird of this castle, and my old friend, Domhnall MacTavish."

Anais curtsied. "Pleasure meeting you, my lord." She hoped the laird didn't notice her French accent too much.

"'Tis a pleasure meeting you, my lady," the laird replied with genuine kindness. "Come. Let us gather inside."

As they crossed the courtyard, Anais glanced around, hoping to see the handsome Scot who rode with them earlier. But he had gone. It was for the best, she reasoned. She was betrothed to another man, soon to marry a stranger. Her heart sank at the thought.