Mad, Bad, and Dangerous in Plaid

By: Suzanne Enoch

Today the old, fortified sprawl boomed and shook with the noise of an additional two dozen Englishmen and women and servants—Sassenachs, all of them. She’d arranged that, and however put out her brothers might feel, making English friends could only benefit them. Even better, they might decide they approved of whichever man she decided to marry. At the least her brothers couldn’t be supporting Lachlan any longer—and if they were, she needed to set them straight. Why he’d felt the need to inform her they wouldn’t suit she had no idea, since she’d realized it months ago. And he’d clearly never thought of her romantically at all.

She’d made it halfway through the long portrait-lined gallery upstairs when a strong hand grabbed her shoulder and yanked her sideways into the armory. “What the—”

“Ye’ve ambushed us, ye know,” Bear rumbled, releasing her. In his left hand a claymore swung loosely, and from the look of the tree stump they’d somehow dragged into the room while she’d been away, he was annoyed at something. Her, apparently.

“Ranulf got here three days before we did,” she returned, smoothing the sleeve of her new riding habit. “And since he ordered us to pack up and follow him north, you can blame him.” She narrowed one eye. “Or blame Arran, since he’s the one who headed north when we still had three weeks before the end of the Season.”

“Dunnae ye try to fancy up the tale, piuthar. Ran didnae invite half the Mayfair fancies to join him at Glengask. That was yer doing.”

“Yes, it was.”

“Ha! Ye admit to it.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Do you know what they call women your age who haven’t married?”

He cocked his head at her, a lock of his too long black hair falling across one gray-green eye. “Desperate?” he suggested.

“That, too. They call them ‘spinsters,’ and say they’re ‘on the shelf.’ You’re only six years older than I am, Munro.”

“Dunnae ye worry, Winnie. Lachlan’ll get through his h—”

“Lachlan MacTier is not going to marry me,” she cut in, ignoring his frown. “Yes, I know we all assumed it would happen, but Lachlan didn’t. And I was stupid to think my wishing for it would make it so.”

“I’ll talk to him, then.”

That would be a disaster. “I already did. Or he came and found me, rather, to tell me I’ve been wasting my time and that we would never be a match.” She shrugged, a part of her still surprised that it had hurt as little as it had. Evidently a lifelong dream could be set aside as if it were nothing. Because it had been. She’d done it. “And don’t go punching him for being honest.”

“Ye seem to be taking this bit of news fairly well,” the brother closest to her in age mused, studying her face.

“I gave him up a week after I left here,” she returned. “I’m a fine lass, Bear, and I have better things to do than pine after a man too … thick to appreciate me.” She gave a twirl in her fashionable habit. “He had his chance, and given his complete lack of passion and romance, I’m glad nobody means to hold me to something I thought made sense when I still believed in unicorns.”

She’d told just that to herself multiple times, and the more she repeated it, the more she remembered just how little regard Lachlan had ever had for her, the more sense it made. And saying it aloud now only served to put an official end to the story of Lachlan and Rowena, the fairy tale of a naïve young girl who’d finally grown up to see that her prince was a stupid block of wood.

Bear regarded her for a long moment. “So these fancy lads are here fer ye to assess?” he finally asked. “Ye’d marry a Sassenach who’d take ye away from the Highlands?”

That was the one thing that troubled her. As much as she’d wanted to escape Glengask three months ago, as tired as she was of how set in their ways everyone was, how sophisticated she felt with her careful accent and clothes from Paris, she would miss her brothers. “I don’t know,” she answered truthfully. “For love, I think I would.”

He cursed in Gaelic. “I dunnae like that,” he said unnecessarily. “Are ye certain ye didnae invite those pretty lads here just to make Lachlan notice ye?”

“Oh, for Saint Bridget’s sake. Don’t be absurd, Bear.” Perhaps she wasn’t above demonstrating to Lord Gray that other men found her intriguing, but that was just pride. “These people are all potential allies for Ranulf. You don’t drag an aristocrat a thousand miles to make someone jealous; there would be repercussions. And why would I invite female friends if I were looking to make a man notice me?”

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