From Chapter Six of E. Elizabeth Watson’s Twelfth Knight’s Bride
“Would it make any difference to ye now to ken that the mare ye ride is light of foot and won me a race in the Inverness games four seasons ago?” he diverted.
She glanced at him. “She is quite spry for her age. What does that have to do with clan rivalries?”
His semi-smile broadened, and he leaned down to her, lowering his voice as he wrapped his hands around his reins in preparation. “Absolutely nothing. I’m saying my horse could use a good jaunt, and since yer palfrey bears the record she does, how would ye like a wee competition? Up to the wood’s edge where it’s dense of trees and sparse of people?”
Her eyes brightened, and a smile of her own danced upon her lips as she looked ahead of them to get bearings on the mark. Just as he suspected. The lass, bold of tongue, was also competitive.
“I do believe I’m being challenged to a race by the enemy. More rivalry is what we need, then?”“Only a gentle bird frightened of losing would refuse,” he taunted, sitting upright again and staring down his nose at her like a haughty prince.
“Then I suppose the only way to silence ye is to put ye in yer place.” She giggled.
A giggle. His eyes dipped to her lips.
“What’s the boon for winning?” she asked.
“The chance to gloat that their clan is better, aye?”
She lifted her eyes heavenward. “Childish of ye, Jamie.” And damn, but the moniker again made his heart skip like an eejit.
She gathered her reins alongside her mount’s neck, patting the pretty beast. He grinned.
“Ye bring out the best in me, lass.” Turning to his nearby guardsman, he ordered, “Bother us nay. We’re off for a gallivant and will await the party from the forest’s edge.”
The knight nodded his nasal helm in compliance.
“Since ye challenge me, laddie,” she bated further, though he wondered if she, too, was anxious to break away from the party. “Ready…go!” she breathed, tapping her horse into motion, and launched ahead of him.
His grin never faltering, he shook his head and tapped Devil into a charge, overtaking her.
“I see ye’re a cheat, namhaid, jumping the start!” he taunted.
“As are ye!” she called back as her cloak billowed like shimmering banners behind her, and sakes, but a gorgeous, full grin had split her lips, the likes of which a man would want to litter with pecks as he acquainted himself to every secret within her kiss.
“Ye challenge me, and yet it’s ye who rides a prime stallion who isnae even exerting himself yet! Ye’re certain to win, and I needed the head start to even the stakes!”
He laughed, a husky, hearty sound. “I’d expect something so underhanded from a Grant!”
Her mouth dropped in feigned shock, though she laughed. “As I would from a MacDonald!”
“Careful, woman, ye’re one of my kind now!”
She urged her horse onward, overtaking him by a neck, which he leveled out easily, surging ahead.
“Cheat!” she called, inciting more laughter, and he glanced back to see plumes of powder rising in their wake as she made a champion’s effort to capture the lead.
Devil puffed onto the air, stretching his muscles after a day of lazing in the stable, and he indulged the horse, achieving the tree line several lengths ahead of her and jumping nimbly off his stallion before the beast had completely halted.
He dashed to a nearby tree while Devil panted, propping his shoulder against it, giving Aileana his back as she fast approached, and slouched, folding his arms and crossing a leg. Was he daft? Why was he playing at such sport with her–or anyone–when he, a grown man, had always been so serious? He’d had to be, as his father’s only son, and disdained by his stepmother at every opportunity. And yet it felt good to flirt. He harrumphed at that.
He peeked over his shoulder to see what Aileana was up to. She would need help down in her heavy layers of finery.
He yawned, stretched. “Ach, lass, I’ve been waiting for ye to catch me for so long, I must have dozed off–”
A hand ripped down the neck of his doublet, and an icy pillow of snow shocked his skin.
“Christ’s bones!” he cursed, jumping and whirling around as Aileana fell into a fit of laughter.
He shook out his doublet, feeling the snow melt down his back and soak into his tunic, and his shock slowly turned to mirth. Even in layers of beautiful but useless fabric, she was as nimble as he was, sneaking up on an enemy.
Giving her his full front, he smirked. “Would ye like to ken why they call me the Devil MacDonald?”
She righted herself, though her smile remained, as did a quiet giggle behind her pinched lips as he continued.
“Because of this!”
He swiped a branch of its snow and lobbed the powder back at her.
“Oh!” she jumped, the snow leaving a starburst upon her stomach.
He tipped his head back and guffawed a deep, rumbling laugh–A wad of snow hit him square in the jaw.
“Ach, naamhaid, ye’ll pay for besting yer laird,” he baited, and soon the two ducked and dodged each other, flinging up snow. Her hair was falling loose from her netting, and she didn’t seem to notice or care, as her face remained light with laughter, and his heart opened an inch farther to her. Snow landed upon her cheek. She smarted, backing up a step, then swooned playfully.
“’Tis a good thing I have yer flag of truce with which to wipe my brow.” She sighed, and withdrew his white kerchief from her sleeve to dab her face.
“Oh, ye insult the enemy by sullying his flag?”
She nodded, grinning, and scooped up another fistful to lob at him. He dodged it, withstanding a barrage of snowballs and guarding his face with his arm as he encroached upon her.
“Nay. . . ” she breathed at his approach, and took flight, tossing poorly aimed fistfuls at him. “Do nay capture me!”
He snagged her about the waist, spinning her around as a squeal escaped her throat, and they stumbled off balance. He caught her as she fell against a tree, barely catching himself before he crushed her to it.
“Do ye surrender, namhaid?” he breathed.
“Never, namhaid!” she declared, as if a valiant warrior going down a hero while he held her to the tree.
Their laughter subsided. He could feel her chest heaving for air against his abdomen, could smell the rosewater used to freshen her skin, could feel her body heat, steamy from their exertion and damp clothes. He took in her hazel eyes, glowing in the stark midmorning light, took in each fairy kiss upon her nose and the bonny wisps of escaped tendrils that hung loose around her face. Her lips parted, and his eyes dipped to them. Her smile fell, and her hands…sakes, he could feel her palms braced against his belly, palming him through his doublet. His mind ran wild with sudden thoughts of those hands, what they might feel like snaked beneath his coats and tunic, skin to skin, fingers inducing quivers of delight, burning patterns across his flesh. . .
Her breathing grew erratic, and uncertainty sprang to her face. Desire throbbed unchecked through his blood. His hands dropped his grip upon her shoulders and migrated to her hands, peeling them away and enfolding them, lifting them over her head and pinning them to the tree. Their bodies flush, her wedged beneath him, he stared at her lips as desire to taste them nearly overpowered him.
Could he steal a kiss? Could she not give him a sign as to whether or not she wanted one? For he wouldn’t kiss her otherwise.
Singing in the distance was faint but brought with it reality, and reminders that the Yule party would eventually join them. Yet he remained against her. She had yet to indicate she’d prefer him to relinquish her–a prize in itself, to have her acquiescence. But the singing grew louder, and as he glanced toward it, he could see Angus and the others approaching with a clear view. Had they watched the entire snowball spectacle? Jesu, they probably thought their laird had gone daft.
Aileana, too, seemed to come to, and she dropped her head. “Mary mother. . .” she prayed beneath her breath, wriggling her hands from his grip. He released them. “Ye’re nay like what I expected.”
Copyright © 2020 by E. Elizabeth Watson. Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Entangled Publishing.
Lady Aileana Grant just wants to help her starving clan at Christmastide. So she pilfers some vegetables from the bastard Laird James MacDonald–the Devil, they call him. When the Devil shows up and demands marriage as recompense for the thievery, Aileana can’t believe it when her brother agrees. Even if she’s able to negotiate a severance on Twelfth Night, that’s still two weeks to put up with the laird in enemy territory. She’s counting down the days, even if James isn’t quite the disgusting cretin she’d imagined.
James needs to marry an enemy bride in order to inherit his fortune. Cursed restrictions. He’d been unable to look away from Aileana’s untamed beauty ever since she squared off with him. He might as well handfast with the infernal lass. He’d get his money and perhaps some peace among the clans. He has a fortnight to win the heart of the lady with the voice of an angel despite her sharp tongue.
Twelfth Night is merry and bright as Aileana and James realize a true connection between them. But when Aileana discovers the reason the Devil forced her into marriage, how can she ever believe he truly wants her?
Romance Historical [Entangled: Scandalous, On Sale: November 16, 2020, e-Book, ISBN: 9781649370839 / eISBN: 9781649370839]
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About E. Elizabeth Watson
Elizabeth is convinced life is better with good coffee, chocolate, and a pair of hiking boots. Ever since her elementary school librarian “published” her epic childhood tales–complete with handmade covers–she’s enjoyed writing. She loves exploring history through literature, and the world through hiking. While studying prehistoric Britain at Newcastle University and roaming castle ruins and Hadrian’s Wall with her kids, Elizabeth found story inspiration in the tumultuous history of the British Isles and the folklore of Scotland.
A recovering archaeologist and biomed research coordinator, Elizabeth is known for her Ladies of Scotland series, as well as her HEA at USA TODAY-recommended Christmas Wore Plaid. She spends her days penning rugged heroes draped in tartan and chain mail, and the willful heroines who ensnare their hearts. She currently lives on a mountainside in West Virginia with her husband, sons, and various pets. Because she’s always honored to hear from readers, make sure to follow her on Facebook, Bookbub, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.