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Stolen by the Highlander

By: Terri Brisbin

Chapter One

Arabella Cameron understood how the layer of ice on a frozen lake felt. The smile she held on her face as another Mackintosh offered a poem about her beauty would crack soon, just as that brittle ice did when hit by a stone. She did not hold out much hope that she could keep smiling as the words reached a new level of ridiculous praise. The tip of her nose tingled and the worry over her face cracking disappeared when presented with the larger concern of laughing.

Drawing in a slow breath, she blinked several times, hoping the danger of being impertinent or disrespectful would pass soon. As she raised her eyes, Arabella was horrified to meet the dark and brooding gaze of Brodie Mackintosh. Seated at the end of the table to her right, the older of the two men who were possible heirs to The Mackintosh stared back at her, not flinching and not looking away. In the short time since they’d met, she did not ever remember him smiling.

Nothing in his mahogany-brown eyes gave her any indication of how he felt about these men regaling their clans with tales of her beauty and graciousness. Or how he felt about her. Or the possibility that they might, within a few months, be man and wife. Distracted by his intense stare, she had not noticed the poem had ended or that the room silenced in anticipation of her reaction.

Until he turned his glance away and angled his head towards... Towards the Mackintosh bard who had stopped speaking and now looked expectantly at her, awaiting her reaction to his words. Arabella nodded and clapped her hands.

‘I am honoured by your kind words...’ She could not remember his name.

‘Dougal was not being kind, Lady Arabella,’ Caelan Mackintosh interrupted. Seated to her left, he met her gaze and winked, knowing she’d forgotten the bard’s name. ‘He was speaking the truth as we all see it to be.’ She turned back to the man who’d spoken and nodded.

‘Still, I am honoured by your praise, Dougal. And I thank you for composing and sharing it with our clans.’

The bard bowed and returned to his seat amidst the cheering of those gathered for this feast. Caelan leaned in closer and whispered so that others did not hear.

‘You have bewitched all of the Mackintoshes with your beauty and grace, Arabella. The Camerons could have won this feud long ago if they’d used you as their secret weapon.’ He touched her hand, a slight caress, and then lifted his cup to his mouth, all the while his gaze never straying from hers. ‘You have bewitched me.’

She’d heard these words before. She’d been praised for her beauty, a gift from the Almighty that had nothing to do with her own accomplishments, all of her life. But watching Caelan’s piercing blue eyes deepen as he spoke now made her want to feel something for them. She wanted to believe them.

He offered her his cup, turning it so that her lips would touch the place where his had been. Arabella allowed this gesture, this small intimacy, from the man she might marry. The corners of his mouth curved into an enticing smile as she drank the wine. The heat that spread throughout her was not from the strong wine but from the way Caelan watched as she swallowed and licked her lip where a drop yet remained. He leaned closer as though he would dare a kiss, here, now, and she held her breath, waiting.

The crashing sound of metal hitting the stone floor startled her and she turned towards the interruption. Brodie leaned over and picked up his heavy cup and placed it back on the table. Whether done a-purpose or by accident, it had ruined the moment between her and Caelan. And any hopes of rekindling it were dashed when her father spoke.

‘Yer aunt awaits ye there, Arabella. Seek yer chambers.’

Although she might have challenged her father were they in their own keep and with only her clan present, she would never do so here and now. Not with so much depending on her being an obedient, dutiful daughter whose only task was to save their clan from continuing slaughter and destruction.

Forming that hated smile back on to her features, she rose and curtsied to her father and to The Mackintosh, before walking around the table and down the steps. Her aunt Devorgilla stood there, watching her every move. No doubt, there would be instructions this night about her behaviour and appearance. Arabella nodded and smiled at anyone who spoke or whispered her name as she passed and her graciousness, after so many hours of being forced to it, tired her.

With a servant leading the way with a torch, she followed through the corridor and up the stairs to the chamber assigned to her for her stay here. Once there, she waited for only a moment to pass after the door closed before collapsing on the bed, allowing her face to relax from the hours of tortuous smiling. Pressing her palms against her cheeks, she knew what would come next.

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