Stealing the Bride
Kensington Zebra (April 24, 2012)
Print Release Date: April 27, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780758209436 ♦ ISBN-10: 0758209436
Acclaimed author Mary Wine proves that romance is never hotter than amid the rugged castles of distant Scotland…
Brawny and brave, Hayden Monroe is a laird in need of a wife and the beautiful Elspeth Leask shall be his. But he must bed her to wed her—and fully satisfy her deepest desires…
Note: “Stealing the Bride” has been originally published within the anthology UNDONE and is now available as stand-alone title.
Read an Excerpt
“Do ye nae think that is wee bit too much horse for ye, lass?”
The stallion’s front hooves came off the ground and he let out a shrill sound. Whoever had snuck up on her reached for the bridle but Elspeth pulled down on the reins, controlling the horse before her unwelcome company got close enough to do it. Stroking the stallion’s muzzle in a soothing motion, she peered over the thick neck of the animal at her company.
“Nae. ‘Tis not the first time I have ridden him.” And she didn’t care if she was being prideful in telling him that.
“Is that a fact?”
He sounded amused by her claim. There was only a small bit of daylight left and most of it didn’t make its way into the stable with its small windows. Whoever he was, he stood tall enough to have to watch the ceiling or risk knocking his head on one of the thick beams that supported the roof.
“It is nothing ye have to take my word for, stand there and ye can watch me mount him.”
She was going to waste the last of the day debating with a stranger when she had her brother’s permission to ride his stallion. Tugging on the reins, she led the horse through the doorway and out into the yard. With a carefully placed foot, she used the power in her legs to gain the saddle. The stallion danced with excitement, snorting in the evening air. But she felt the eyes of the stranger on her. She shouldn’t care what he thought, not when there were far more important matters for her mind to dwell on today.
Still, she couldn’t resist the urge to look behind her. He stood just outside the stable door and his head was even with it. The evening sun touched him and set his hair a glow, it was dark but with copper hiding beneath that dark sable mane. He had it pulled back from his face but the back of it rested on his broad shoulders. Even his beard had a touch of copper in its dark hue, the sun lit it. But it was the way he watched her that drew her attention. Something flickered in his eyes that filled her with confidence. There was no hint of disapproval for the way she sat atop the horse with her thighs gripping the saddle. In fact, it looked as though he approved of her approach to riding the stallion. Many would not. Half her own clan warned her that riding astride would make her sterile. The other half was quick to tell her that no man would have her to wife if she insisted on acting so dominating. For the moment she didna care. Quite possibly, that would be the best solution because then she would never have to marry and answer to another man. Dunmore was bad enough. The only thing that drove her towards considering Laird Hayden Monroe was the fact that her brother would marry soon and his bride would consider herself the mistress of the tower. An unwed sister wouldn’t be wanted. Which meant she had important things to think on.
“As you see, I know what I am about.”
“It does appear that way, but it does take a wee bit more to impress me than just sitting there.” His gaze moved over her, touching on the way her knees pressed into the sides of the horse, a flicker of approval lit his eyes. “A lad of ten could do as much as you’ve shown me.”
“Oh, I plan to do much more, sir.”
And she hoped that he enjoyed the sight of her riding away from him, the arrogant man. There was something about the way he watched her that made her quiver. A hint of command in his gaze that told her he was accustomed to getting what he wanted from everyone he met. Especially women. She was the lairds daughter, even if her father had been a poor laird. Most of her kin never looked at her like this man was doing. Like she was a woman that they found pleasing.
She shook the odd feelings aside, blaming Dunmore for opening her thoughts up to laying with a man. Now she couldn’t seem to control the urge to contemplate surrendering to passion.
Setting her heels into the belly of the horse she leaned low over his neck and smiled when she felt the powerful beast begin surging beneath her. Excitement filled her and the wind began chilling her ears and nose as the animal gained speed. Her heart accelerated and soon all she heard was the pounding of the hooves and the thumping of her heart. Everything else fell away behind her. The evening chill failed to bother her. Her heart was beating fast enough to keep her skin warm and her breath coming in small pants. The noose she’d felt tightening around her throat finally loosened giving her release from the sensation that she was being choked by all the expectations surrounding her.
A flash of lightning ended the ride as the stallion reared up into the darkening night, his front legs pawing at the air in front of him. Elspeth laughed and tightened her thighs around him. When his hooves hit the dirt she took the impact easily, the smile on her lips never wavering.
“All right, I’m impressed with ye, lass. I’ve seen full grown men tossed by a startled stallion.”
Her lips pressed into a hard line and she jerked around to stare at her company.
“I was nae trying to impress you. I don’t even know who ye are.” She felt the return of the pressure about her neck. “’Tis the truth that I wish ye were not here, I was riding out to think some matters through. Important ones.”
He sat very confidently atop a horse that was finer than the one she rode. It was obvious in the subtle darkness of the coat and the more noble lines of the animal’s face. The saddle was richer, too, with decorative tooling applied along all the edges. Its quality bespoke a man with money and position. It would seem that her brother’s plan had hooked the interest of Laird Monroe quite well, for the man was right on his heels. Elspeth struggled to draw her next breath, her throat tightening to the point that it was painful.
“You didna waste any time coming after my brother, Laird Monroe.”
He grinned, a smug little parting of his lips that his beard interfered with her seeing completely. Another flash of lightning illuminated him and made both their mounts dance. The scent of rain filled the air and thunder clapped loudly above their heads. But the man sat as content as might be, unconcerned about the rain that was beginning to soak him.
“I am not in the habit of wasting time, Elspeth. I agreed to come and meet ye, so here I am.”
“Nor are ye in the habit of being polite it seems.”
One of his eyebrows rose giving him an arrogant look. He pressed his knees into his stallion and guided the animal closer to her with a firm hand on the reins.
“Because I used yer name lass? Well now, yer brother told me ye were nay the sort of girl that is impressed with ceremony and titles.”
“My brother told you several things that you’d be better off not counting on.” Elspeth suddenly wanted to know what his face looked like beneath that beard. She scoffed at her self for thinking it, annoyed that she couldn’t keep her thoughts on the conversation.
“It that so?” Something flashed in his eyes that drew an answering flicker from deep inside her. She raised her chin, giving him nothing kind in her expression. But the egger looks on her brothers men’s faces returned to needle her. The man in front of her was powerful, insulting him was not wise.
That didna mean she was set to do what he wanted, hand fasting was sure to gain her nothing. She would have to think of a way to send him away without offending him.
“I came out here to think things through, and I’ve no had any time to do that just yet.”
“So I can leave, is that the way of yer thinking, lass?”
Her horse was nervous with the lightning still making jagged lines across the sky.
“Aye. For the moment. ‘Tis nothing against ye.”
He grunted. “Well now, Elspeth, I do believe ye are living up to the very image yer brother painted of ye.” His face darkened. “But I’ve come to meet ye and a bit of surly temper will nae send me packing.”
“Ye’re too accustomed to people pampering ye if you think I am being surly.”
He nearly choked on the word bringing a smile to her lips. Elspeth shrugged.
“Do you mean to imply that yer position dose nae bring many to you that do naught but agree with anything ye say?”
The rain began to soak her, a full downpour with no softness to begin it. Wild and harsh, the weather whipped against them, soaking her to the skin in moments. It suited her mood and she didn’t even raise the hood of her cloak but left it draping down her shoulders while the rain wet every inch of her head.
“You certainly don’t suffer from that need.” He sat as content as she in the rain, no hint of dislike for the cold water bathing him. It soaked his shirt, where the front of his doublet was unbuttoned. The fabric plastered itself to his from allowing her to see the firm ridges that coated his chest. Apparently he was a man of action. That was in his favor but it was not enough to gain him hers.
“As if I care what any man thinks of me.” Elspeth kneed her mount and the animal needed no further urging to break into a full run. She did not mind the rain, however her brother’s horse falling sick would mean trouble for her. But she did not mind taking a care with the stallion. Riding such a magnificent creature meant thinking of its health, too. That was the bond that yielded trust between horse and rider. It was getting colder by the minute, so she would have to take the animal back to its dry stable.
The ride back to the stable was very different from the one away from it. A strange awareness invaded her mind, interfering with her normal enjoyment. She couldn’t become one with the beast, couldn’t seem to forget that Hayden Monroe was behind her. She could hear the faint pounding of his horse’s hooves breaking through the thunder to tease her ears. For certain, men had flirted with her in the past, but this was different. She was acutely conscious of the fact that he was trailing her, actually chasing her for the purpose of bedding her.
That was a wicked thought if ever there was one. It bled through her like scarlet wine spilled on a cream colored table linen. You knew it would be impossible to remove completely but couldn’t help but watch in fascination as it was wicked further across the fabric.
She wanted to turn her head and look back. But that would only encourage the man. It would be the same as hoisting a flag of surrender. What did it matter if he was well muscled? She needed to recall her mothers words and the teaching of the church because hand fasting was considered pagan.
That was what she needed to do. She knew it and still part of her wanted to know laird Monroe better.
Elspeth snorted at herself. She gained the path that led to the tower and growled when she noticed the green and yellow flags of Monroe sticking to the stone of the walls. Even soaked with rain they still stood out, announcing the presence of the powerful laird.
But what enraged her was the looks she gained when she entered the yard. People poked their heads out of windows and doorframes. All of them looking at her expectantly. Her cheeks heated when she realized that they were wondering if she was still a maiden. Many of them looked at her dress, seeking out any little tattle tell sign that she’d already surrendered to Hayden Monroe.
Well, she would not be.
And that was that.