Exclusive from Elisabeth Hobbes
You read it here first folks! PHS's exclusive Free Read this month is an extract from
Elisabeth Hobbes' book A Runaway Bride for the Highlander.
Lost in the Highlands. Found by the Scottish Earl!
Part of The Lochmore Legacy: a Scottish castle through the ages!
Far from her home in France, Marguerite Vallon escapes her arranged marriage to a man she despises. Stowing away in a stranger’s cart, she finds herself headed deep into the Highlands with Ewan Lochmore, new Earl of Glenarris! Ewan vows to protect her. But maybe the freedom Marguerite has been searching for can be found with this rugged warrior…
A small knoll of thick grass faced over the town below and it was here Marguerite spent her days. When she arrived now, she discovered it was already occupied.
The Earl of Lochmore was sitting on the bracken. He had his back to Marguerite and sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands cupping his chin as he stared out over Stirling. She would have fled, but he looked round as she approached.
They stared at each other.
‘Why are you sitting in my spot?’ Marguerite demanded. It was unbearable to think that her refuge had been discovered and invaded by this man of all people. ‘Are you spying on me?’
Lord Glenarris unfurled himself from his huddle like a long-limbed marionette being taken from a case. He faced her and ran his hand through his hair. ‘I wondered when I came here whether this was where you had been creeping away to. No, I’m not spying on you, or waiting for you.’
‘Then why are you here? Have you come to criticise my singing further?’ Her eyes fell on the bottle that was lying at his feet. It had crushed a posy she had left the previous day and she was filled with unreasonable anger that he had violated her sanctuary.
‘Or to pass judgement on my choice of flowers!’
He followed her gaze and unearthed the bruised bouquet from beneath his bottle. Marguerite was about to demand it from him, but paused. His lean face looked gaunt and he was lacking the vitality he had displayed so far. His blue eyes were startling in their brightness and rimmed with red.
‘Surprising though it may seem, you aren’t the only person in the castle who craves solitude on occasion. Even more surprising, you were not even in my thoughts when I set out.’
He held the posy to his nose and inhaled, then straightened one or two stems and held it out to her. She took the flowers from him, noticing how careful he was not to touch her. After Duncan’s constant fondling she appreciated the unexpected sensitivity. She tweaked another flower into place and he grinned.
‘I’ll admit to choosing the gate you used deliberately, but only because I was curious to see what drew you to it.’
He sat down again and looked out over the city towards the distant mountains. Marguerite stood, uncertain what to do now her plans had been thrown into disarray. He cocked his head back to her and patted the grass at his side. After hesitating for a moment she joined him, taking care to keep her skirts away from his legs.
‘I can see why you like it here,’ he said presently. ‘It’s very peaceful.’
‘I can think of home and don’t have to remember I’m in Scotland,’ she explained.
His expression darkened. ‘Aye, and you wouldna’ want to do a thing like that now, would ye!’
Marguerite had had enough of politeness with this man. ‘No. I wouldn’t. I did not ask to come here. I do not wish to be here. I would go home tomorrow if it was within my power to do so.’ She stood and gestured up to the castle walls. They loomed above the garden like a faceless ogre from a folk tale, dark and foreboding in the drizzle. ‘This grey drabness is stifling. It is not what I am used to. Do not condemn me for how I feel!’
‘You aren’t seeing the best of the country,’ he said. ‘Come with me and I’ll show you.’
Unexpectedly, he jumped to his feet and held his hand out. She should leave. To be caught alone with any man would be scandalous, but to be found with someone Duncan disliked would be disastrous. She eyed him fearfully, disinclined to obey. He stared back at her with such intense blue eyes and she recalled what he had suggested about making friends.
‘We won’t be walking far, if you’re worried about becoming tired,’ he said.
He had misinterpreted her hesitation and that decided her. ‘My lord, I can walk for hours without tiring.’
She reached out. His hand closed over hers and she tried to ignore the way her flesh seemed to grow warmer. He dropped her hand as soon as she was beside him and strode ahead. He seemed as unwilling to touch her as she was to be touched.
She followed Lord Glenarris further round the side of the hill, as he pointed out mountains in the distance with names that sounded harsh to her ears. They walked all around the castle and arrived at the gate. Marguerite glanced around, not wishing to be seen in his company but Lord Glenarris continued walking and climbed the steps to stand on the walls themselves.
‘You see nothing of beauty here?’ he demanded. ‘Have you ever seen mountains so imposing?’
The mist was thickening into fine rain, but Marguerite could see the hills beyond the flat plain in the distance. They seemed nothing compared to the jagged, snow-capped peaks that were visible from her home in Grenoble, but she admitted their beauty, which drew a smile from the Earl.
‘We have mountains, too, where I live,’ she told him. ‘I mean, where I used to live. Bigger than these. They tower to the sky and are white with snow until at least April. I wish I could return there.’
She sighed with longing and noticed from the corner of her eye his face was grave.
‘You said you are returning to your home tomorrow,’ she said.
‘Tell me about where you live.’
He chewed his thumb before placing his hands on the wall, staring out along the river. When he spoke it was grudgingly.
‘It is a high tower, built centuries ago when times were more dangerous. It has been changed over the years. It is not as large as this, of course. It’s on the coast, high on a small spit of land, surrounded on two sides by sand and rocks. The sea is rough at times and the sands are treacherous, but where the sea becomes a loch it is calmer. It’s beautiful when the sun sinks over the turrets and the water becomes gold and amethyst.’
Marguerite smiled. ‘That’s almost poetry.’
He grew serious again. ‘We’re not all the savages you seem to think us.’
She ignored his taunt. ‘Imagine if you could never see your home again, but were taken somewhere else against your will. You can go home tomorrow. I never can.’
He stepped towards her, but drew back. ‘Can’t you? Why not persuade your husband to take you after you are married?’
Marguerite bit her lip. ‘I don’t think so. He says the first place we will visit will be Berwick.
‘Berwick, you say?’ His head snapped up and he tugged her sleeve, staring keenly at her.
‘My lord! Please, release me.’
‘Forgive me,’ he said. His grip loosened and he stroked her sleeve back into place, smoothing it out before withdrawing his hand. It was a gentle gesture she could not imagine Duncan performing. She forgave the indiscretion immediately, wondering why Berwick was of such interest to him.
They stood side by side and watched the clouds growing dense and heavy over the distant mountains. The rain would become heavier and already there was dampness in the air.
‘At what hour do you leave tomorrow?’ Marguerite asked.
‘Soon after first light. My cart is already packed and ready.’ He pointed to the Outer Courtyard where coaches and carts were parked in rows. He singled out a sturdy looking four-wheeled cart with high sides and rough, homespun sacking covering the contents. ‘All I need is to collect the alms I am to take to my tenants.’
‘Then I shall say farewell now for I am a late riser,’ Marguerite said. ‘I do not expect we shall meet again.’
Impulsively she held her hand out to him. Lord Glenarris bent his head and brushed his lips across the back, keeping his eyes fixed on Marguerite’s. She curled her fingers around his hand and her nails grazed his palm. His head snapped up. His blue eyes looked grey in the dim light and were gazing at her with a look of longing almost as intense as Duncan’s. A delicious shiver raced over Marguerite’s skin. Her body wanted to answer the silent question his eyes asked. She would never willingly touch Duncan, whereas she almost craved the opportunity to do so with Lord Glenarris. She could enjoy the thrill of that unsettling reaction, but she would never have to act on it and submit to what she dreaded, with Lord Glenarris. Perhaps this was why she did not mind knowing that he found her attractive.
‘Thank you for showing me your country,’ she whispered.
His eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘I hope one day you will grow to love it. Farewell, my lady.’
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