Zazie Beetz
Social psychology

Taming the Highlander

By: Terri Brisbin

Prologue





Scotland, 1352


He knew his wife was dead when her body hit the fifth step below him with a sickening thud. Connor MacLerie watched as the awareness and acceptance of her fate was replaced in her eyes by the dull glaze of death. Kenna never screamed as her body fell, and now all he heard was the bone-breaking thump as she landed at the bottom of the tall stairway of stone steps.

She may not have made a sound, but he did—roaring out his fury in a burst that brought family and servants from the great hall. They gathered below him, staring and pointing, already certain of the way things had happened here since undoubtedly some had heard the argument from the beginning. Connor closed his eyes for a moment and then he turned and walked away.

And, in that moment when his wife died, the Beast was born. His reputation spread through the Highlands—his wife’s last words pleading for his pardon and his refusal to attend her burial only added to the tales of his cruelty. Mothers feared for their daughters, fathers wondered about the rumors and maidens from all the neighboring clans prayed nightly that they would never be part of any treaty or bargain that placed them at his questionable mercy.

Less than a year after his first wife’s death, Connor took over the high chair upon his father’s passing, becoming laird of the clan MacLerie. A bride was now a necessity. And so the Beast prowled the Highlands searching for a mate.





Chapter One





Three Years Later


“Is there no other way then?”

She fought not to let the trembling show in her voice. Jocelyn clenched her hands together tightly and pressed her nails into her skin to keep herself from fainting at the news.

“Nay, lass. He specifically asked for you. ’Tis the only way to save yer brother’s life.”

Her father would not meet her gaze now. ’Twas over. The Beast had made his wishes known and since refusal to agree to his demands was impossible for her clan, she would be sacrificed to save another.

“Mayhap, he will fill ye quickly with a son,” her mother whispered from her sickbed. Turning to face her, Jocelyn felt the blood drain from her face as she realized the result of this agreement would give her, body and soul, to a man whose physical desires and cruelty was rumored throughout the Highlands. “If ye give him the son he craves, he may be merciful to ye.”

She fought to maintain some sense of calm, but the soft sobs that followed her mother’s words made it impossible. The tremors shook her and she feared fainting, something she swore she would not do in front of the MacLerie’s emissary. Dragging in a deep breath, she turned back to her father and his councillors.

“You do not need my consent for this, Father, so do as you must.”

Nodding to him and the MacLerie’s man, she drew herself up as straight as she could and walked slowly from the room. The urge to run and hide almost overwhelmed her as her mother’s crying became louder. But, she was the daughter of the MacCallum, and she would not disgrace herself in this, even if he had. A few more steps and she was out of the solar and in the great hall. Looking around, she noticed a few servants at work, cleaning the tables from the noon meal. Jocelyn realized that word of her betrothal would spread quickly once the meeting was ended and she knew that she had to be the one to tell Ewan.

Taking the shorter way through the kitchens, she left the keep and walked to the practice yards. Shading her eyes with her hand, she searched through the various groups of men until she found him.

Ewan MacRae. Her first love.

The man she thought she would marry.

Now, she was faced with the task of telling him they would never be husband and wife. He met her gaze with a smile and a wave as he walked to meet her.

“Good day to you, Jocelyn,” he said, his deep voice so familiar to her.

“Ewan, we must speak,” she said, motioning to him to follow her.

Ewan climbed over the fence and walked silently at her side until they were away from the training yards. She turned to face him now with the news that would change both of their lives. Her throat and eyes burned with tears that threatened to spill, but she gathered her control and looked at him.

“Jocelyn. What is it? Your face has lost all its color and you are shaking.” He took her by the shoulders and pulled her close. Improper as it now was, she stayed in his embrace, savoring the warmth and protection and affection that she knew she would never feel again. After a few moments, she stepped out of his arms and faced him, her face now wet with the tears she’d fought to keep inside.

“My father has betrothed me to someone else, Ewan. We cannot be together as I’d hoped. I’m to marry the…Connor MacLerie.”

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