Book One in The Highland Bachelors Series
After her father and brother disappeared, Lady Jane Lennox is managing Bellhaven Castle. Nonetheless, her aunt has invited six suitors to compete for the right to her hand—and to protect Bellhaven’s towers of cool pink-gray stone.
Among the six is Nicholas Kincaid, the one-time object of Jane’s affection. Two years ago, her brother banished Nicholas. A mere “sir,” in want of title or land, Nicholas was not marriageable material. Now, Nicholas will compete in challenges of wit and skill, rather than heraldry. But against noble swordsmen, dancers, and charmers, can he possibly win back her heart?
A Laird for Christmas is loosely based on the hit TV series The Bachelorette. Though I must admit that I have never watched an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, I found the high concept of the show fascinating. I started thinking about women over the ages and how they approached finding that special someone to spend their lives with. Women, especially in the time periods in which I write, did not always have the freedom to marry for love. Quite the opposite really, usually women were married to someone else in a business relationship born out of the need or desire for property, financial gain, or political alliance. Or in a less civilized manner, but just as effective at securing a bride was when men raided other villages for wives. Women did not have much say in the matter of marriage, and rarely was love involved in these matches.
But being the hopeless romantic that I am, I always want to find better outcomes for the characters in my stories. Yes, they still have tragedy, misery, and dark secrets in their lives, but the ultimate reward is…love. To me, the notion of true love’s kiss is really important in life and in fiction. Love is often the vulnerability of the bad guys in my books. They can’t love. The good guys win because they are capable of love. They can depend on each other. They trust each other. Love is the reward for the ultimate moral behavior. If love is putting someone else’s needs above your own then that is the ultimate. The ultimate magic that the good guy wields. It is something we are all capable of and it brings out the best in us.
In A Laird for Christmas you are introduced to six heroes who are all worthy of Lady Jane Lennox’s love, but only one of them can win her heart. But never fear, each one of the heroes, Nicholas, Hollister, Jules, Colin, David, and Bryce will find their own true love in the end.
I hope you enjoy the first story in The Highland Bachelors series.
“Highly romantic … The dreamy Christmas motif makes this a nice fit for curling up by the fire on a crisp night.” — RT Book Reviews
“If you like books that will make you feel good and make you fall in love with the characters while they are falling in love with each other then this is the book for you. A Laird for Christmas is heartwarming and pleasant.” —B. McCarthy, reader
“This witty and well-written romance is a great read with lots of character development and suspense. The very idea of a testosterone-fuelled competition for the hand of the vulnerable Ms. Lennox is inspiring and exciting. It plays on our emotions and what we want the outcome to be. I look forward to seeing more of Gerri Russell’s additions to the Highland Bachelor Series which adds a Scottish twist to romantic fiction in a new and seductive way.” —A.M. Boughey, reader
“A thoroughly entertaining read. A Laird for Christmas was warm and funny. I can’t remember how many times I actually laughed out loud. It was a sweet story with fun, unexpected surprises, mystery, love, friendship, multiple Heroes and twists and turns throughout.” — Momma K, reader
“Who doesn’t love a good romance for Christmas? A Laird for Christmas really surprised me with its wit, action, devilishly handsome men and scenes that will surely steal your heart. [This is] my first read by this author, and I must say it won’t be the last.” — Theresa Studer, reader
Jane gathered her heavy cloak about her shoulders as she leaned against the cold stone of one of Bellhaven’s north tower. She peered through the stone crenellations to the castle’s approach. Snow had fallen last night, leaving a chill in the morning air and turning the landscape beyond into a blanket of white. Over the pristine whiteness paraded a column of men on horseback that stretched from the borders of Bellhaven to the lowered drawbridge below. Her army had arrived, an army made up of six men’s retinues.
Jane released a ragged sigh. This was madness. She did not want to pick a husband from a group of men. Margaret had not elaborated on who the men were, other than her cousin, but they would be men she had met before. There was not a single male in her past she would consider marrying…except perhaps…. Jane straightened. No, she would not consider such a thing.
There had to be a way out of this arrangement Margaret had concocted. Scottish law allowed for a woman to inherit her father’s lands if there were no male heirs in the direct line. Her father might not deem her worthy, but she had run Bellhaven in part for many years, though fully over the last two while her father and brother had been too busy with their warring to care about the castle and its inhabitants.
In their absence, she had proven herself a capable heiress. But inheriting Bellhaven would not be any easier than living with her father had been. She knew the provisions he had left behind—a will specifically stating that if her father were declared dead, she must marry by Christmas Eve in order to inherit, or the land and title would go to her cousin Bryce.
The courts would see Bryce MacCallister as the indirect heir no matter if she contested his claim. Jane leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The only way for her to stay in her home and protect her people was to choose one of the other suitors Margaret had provided.
“There you are.” Margaret’s familiar voice sounded in the morning coolness.
“I needed some air.” Jane opened her eyes, returning her gaze to the men below. “Do I truly have to pick a husband from these men?”
“There is no other way.” Margaret brought her hand up to stroke Jane’s cloak-covered shoulder. “The sooner you accept the need, my dear, and turn your mindset to one of pleasure and discovery, the better this competition will go for you.”
Jane groaned. “I have so many other bigger problems at present.”
“Such as?” Margaret asked lightly.
Jane frowned. How could the woman be so annoyingly happy when Jane’s own world was about to end? “My need for an army.”
She waved a hand to the crowd below. “They are here.”
“The rumors of my wanton reputation spread by—” Jane broke off as memories surged to the front of her mind, so powerful, they stole her breath. How could a man she had trusted with her whole heart and soul say such horrible things about her?
A look of understanding crossed Margaret’s face. “I know what you are thinking,” she said softly. “There has to be an explanation. Give him the chance to explain.”
“Nicholas is here?”
Jane tried to find words, any words, but all she had were memories and stark, sudden fear. Only moments ago she had wondered what it might be like to have him here, to see him again, but now in the face of that reality she trembled. “No, I cannot face him.”
“Yes, Jane, you can. You are stronger than that.”
In her mind she saw Nicholas as he had been when he had left her two years ago—the dark-haired handsome hero who had stolen her heart and kissed her for the very first time. Then came the hurtful memories, the ones that lingered long after he had gone. Jane forced those thoughts away and raised her chin. Nicholas was here. She would see him again, and she would show him was a woman now, not the girl he had left behind. “You are right, Margaret. I have learned to be strong in the past two years.”
Margaret smiled. “Yes, you have.”
Jane returned her gaze to the men below. “Nicholas and Bryce. Who are the others?”
“You will find out soon. But every one of those men arrived one day ahead of schedule.” She winked. “They are eager for you as their prospective bride.”
That left her ten days to choose one of them as her new husband. Jane tensed, angry that Margaret could talk about this with pleasure. She was angry at herself for not having another option. But she was angriest of all that she felt so terribly alone. She wished for a crazy, desperate minute that she had not been born as Lady Jane Lennox, subsequent heir to the Bellhaven fortune. These men were not eager for her. They wanted what she would bring to the winner.
Jane’s throat thickened. She swallowed against it, finding no relief. Then again, who else would she be? And if she was not Lady Jane, she would not have Margaret in her life. Margaret was more than her aunt, she was her closest friend. And she needed a friend right now. Her aunt was only ten years her senior, yet she had taken on the role of mother after Jane’s own mother had died. At times, Jane forgot how young Margaret truly was, but at the moment she was grateful for her aunt’s friendship above all else.
Jane turned to her aunt with a tremulous smile. “Have I ever told you how grateful I am that you are in my life?”
“Many times.” Margaret opened her arms, and Jane immediately went to her, folding herself into Margaret’s strength and faith and love. Tears came to her eyes. “Oh, Margaret…. ”
“I know, dear.” Her aunt hugged her all the harder.
Jane knew Margaret understood what she did not say. Her aunt realized this moment was about more than just the suitors below. It was the first time Jane had cried over the loss of her father and brother. If she must be without them, then at least she was fully in charge of her own life. Whatever good or sorrow came to her from this point on would be a result of her own choices. The thought was a heady and terrifying mix.
“The six men below are a gift, one that will offer you a chance at happiness once more,” Margaret said in a soothing tone.
Jane pulled back, her hands still resting on Margaret’s waist. “Marriage does not necessarily bring happiness. You and I both know that all too well.
Margaret sighed. “Yes, but marriage can bring happiness, no matter how fleeting that emotion.”
Jane knew her aunt referred to her own short marriage, but Jane’s thoughts moved to her parents. “I am not sure my father was ever happy with his choice.”
“You and I do not know what happened between your father and mother. However, you are in control of what happens to you, at least when it comes to choosing a partner for the rest of your days.”
Jane bit down on her lip. “What if I do not want to marry any of them? Or what if none of them fancy me after they get to know me better?”
Margaret smiled and her eyes twinkled once more. “Now you are merely making up obstacles where none exist. These men all accepted the invitations. They like you, Jane, or they would not have come. You should be more worried about what you will do when they all fall in love with you. I have a feeling it will be you who will be breaking a few hearts before Christmas Eve.”
Margaret took one of Jane’s hands in her own. “Come now, my dear. Let us go below stairs and prepare to meet the men who will court you.”
Jane’s earlier trepidation was replaced with a small bubble of hope. Her aunt had said she would know most of the men below stairs, and they knew her. She should be thinking of this as more of a reunion than a sacrifice of the virgin bride. The thought pulled up the corner of Jane’s mouth in to a half smile. “Very well,” she agreed. “They did travel all this way.”
Margaret smiled. “That’s the right spirit for this competition.” She gestured toward the door and together they proceeded down the stairs, through the hallways of the castle, and finally to the stairway that led to the great hall.