Her Forbidden Highlander Husband by Allison B. Hanson
Standing outside the laird’s study, Evelyn Stewart took a deep, steadying breath before knocking. A summons from her father could mean anything from a request to have the maids change his bedding, to a lecture on her shortcomings for hours on end.
It all depended on his mood, which hadn’t been good of late. Last year, after assisting with the defeat of the McCurdy clan, her father and his men had come home to find the MacDonalds had taken the opportunity of their absence to raid the cattle. The laird blamed Evelyn, since she was in charge while the men were away. In his mind, she should’ve done something to stop them.
Had Evelyn known before the cattle were gone, perhaps she might have tried. But she hadn’t. Just as her father wouldn’t have been aware, either, had he been there, but that didn’t matter. She had failed him, yet again. In truth, his disappointment in her had started years before, after she’d run away and returned ruined and useless for his plans.
“Come in,” he bellowed.
“You summoned me, Father?” Evelyn asked. She bowed before him hoping this might be the time he returned to being the father she remembered of her youth. He scowled, which didn’t bode well for the rest of her visit.
She took her seat, obediently. Obediently was the way she did everything when it came to her father, ever since he’d accepted her back into his home.
While she wasn’t happy with the way her father handled everything, she had no right to complain given her position. She’d shamed him and wouldn’t give him further cause to throw her out of the clan. She couldn’t afford to be put out.
“I’ve made an arrangement with the laird of Clan Morgan.”
Ev blinked, trying to remember having met any of the Morgans. She didn’t even know where in the Highlands they resided.
The laird must have caught her confusion. “Their lands are in the northernmost part of Scotland.”
“And what do they offer?” She smiled at his smile. He was pleased she was aware of the politics involved in clan dealings. Everything in the Highlands was acquired through barter or alliance with another clan. Everyone needed something and had something to give in exchange.
Unfortunately, his pride in her was short-lived. It had been this way between them since she’d returned three years ago. Their relationship, once tender, was now strained beyond measure.
“They have the means to restore our stock of cattle, since you sat by as the MacDonalds ran off with our herd last year.” Of course, he had to take the opportunity to remind her of her failure yet again. Even if she’d been in the castle at the time of the raid, there weren’t enough remaining warriors to fight them off. Rather than try to defend herself, she sat silently and waited for him to continue.
“The Morgans will even deliver the cattle to us before autumn. It would take us many more years to get our stock back to what it had been before the MacDonald vermin attacked us.”
“And what will they take in trade?” She wondered how many barrels of whiskey her father planned to part with. She hoped once the trade was complete, she wouldn’t have to hear how she’d let him down again.
She choked on a breath. “Me?”
“The Morgan laird needs a wife for his heir. We’ve arranged it so you will marry when they bring the cattle south at summer’s end.”
“But I am ruined.” How desperate were these Morgans?
“About that. While it’s true your maidenhead is no longer intact, there’s no reason the bridegroom or his father need know that. Their clan is too far away to have heard what happened, and by the time they arrive it will have been more than four years.”
As if her virginity could grow back after four years. She bit her lip, trying to rein in her terror, but couldn’t help herself. “Father, I—”
He cut her off with a slice of his hand. “You are perfectly able to perform the role of wife to the Morgan heir and eventually become mistress of Clan Morgan. You’ve been raised for such duty your entire life. We’ll not let an unfortunate incident a few years past get in the way of that.”
“An unfortunate incident…?” Evelyn seethed but bit her tongue. It was much more than that. It had changed her life forever, yet her father continued to brush it aside. He wanted to pretend it hadn’t happened, and now he was making her play the part of the virginal bride when she couldn’t be further from it.
“You’ll remain chaste until they come for you.”
She might have been offended by his assumptions; however, she was numb to the things her father said to her by now. Once she’d been his most prized possession, a daughter he was proud of. But when she ran away and was captured by five McCurdy deserters, she became soiled, and no longer worthy of his affections.
“Of course,” she said, consenting to his terms of remaining chaste. That was one thing that was easy to agree to—she had no interest in touching or being touched by a man for the rest of her life.
Just the thought of it caused panic to return as if it was happening all over again. She could almost feel the cut of the rope on her wrists and smell the foul scent of sour ale and rotting teeth.
“That is all.” Her father dismissed her with a casual wave of his hand.
This hurt her the most. The way he cast her aside as nothing. Gone was the father who shared stories of his youth and planned a great future for her. The man had loved Evelyn’s mother to distraction and often spoke of Evelyn finding a man who would worship her as he had his wife. That dream had died at the hands of five monsters.
“Yes, Father.” She left his study feeling weighed down by her impending fate. But it was only just early May and the Morgans wouldn’t arrive until September at the earliest.
She had time to come up with a way out of this. She’d spend every waking moment focused on that task. One thing was certain, though.
She wouldn’t be marrying anyone.