To Claim His Highland Bride

Book Four In The Guardians of the Isles

Destiny claims they are mortal enemies, but their hearts say otherwise.

When Rowena MacLeod falls in love with the son of her family’s greatest enemy, her laird brother refuses to grant her hand in marriage until Marcus MacDonald can provide for his sister. Marcus, now penniless after being disowned by his clan, sets sail to seek his fortune as a privateer. Rowena waits faithfully for her beloved, but on the day Marcus returns, she’s kidnapped by a vengeful MacDonald.

Marcus lost many men while seeking his fortune, and he’s determined to make amends by sharing his wealth with their families. Believing he can now no longer marry, Marcus refuses to pay Rowena’s ransom, instead offering to take his cousin to Uamh Oir, the Cave of Gold, and relinquish any treasure found. When Rowena escapes, she insists Marcus marry her and take her aboard his ship. With their plunder, she’ll make a new life for herself far from him and her family—provided they don’t consummate their marriage.

As danger surrounds Marcus and Rowena, can they resist the love and desire that’ve been tangled up in family duty and betrayal?

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Rowena woke after a troubled night of broken sleep and rolled to her side, glancing at the door. Marcus was gone. His pillow and blanket were neatly folded and set on the table in the centre of the chamber. Disappointment flared before she caught the emotion and forced it deep inside. Marcus had work to do on this vessel. And now, thanks to her persistence last night, so did she.

At the memory of the feel of Marcus’s hard body beneath her own, her cheeks warmed. When he’d held her against the bed with his hands, warm shivers had radiated through every nerve. The hard contours of his body upon her own had seemed to merge with her softer ones in ways she hadn’t expected. Heat had radiated from the juncture of her thighs, matching the heat radiating from him. She’d had the strangest urge to raise her hips and match heat to heat, but a fearful uncertainty had kept her from moving.

She and Marcus had shared many breathless kisses in the past, embraces and explorative touches, but nothing like what had occurred on the bed in this cabin. Rowena threw her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, listening to the sound of the wind and rain as it hit the sails. She’d lay abed long enough. It was time to earn her keep.

It took her a few moments to steady herself against the rolling of the ship, but once she rediscovered her equilibrium she quickly dressed in a simple rust-coloured gown with white pintuck lace at the sleeves and bodice. Grabbing a shawl, she left the chamber.

The rain had stopped. Between the wind and the swaying of the ship Rowena had difficulty making the short trip to the quarterdeck. Wind whipped the tendrils of her hair about her face and tugged viciously at her long skirts as she peered out across the lower deck, searching for Marcus.

The ship rose and fell with the waves. Each downward motion brought a new surge of tangy sea spray over the bow of the ship. The overpowering scent of salt assailed her nostrils. Sea mist stung her cheeks, forcing Rowena to shield her face as the ship crested each new wave stirred up by the storm. An errant cord whipped against the masts as wave after wave slammed the deck. The ship creaked and groaned under the assault but kept trudging on towards the endless horizon and into the morning light.

With the sound of the waves echoing in her ears, she mused at how, along with this ship, she was journeying to a new horizon for herself. She had to find purpose beyond what had always been comfortable for her at Dunvegan. Finding the treasure of Uamh Oir would provide her with a new life, the purpose she sought, and the freedom she’d always wanted. With no one else responsible for her or her choices, and self-imposed exile in her own cottage, it meant she would never be hurt by others leaving her again.

With a renewed sense of determination, Rowena scanned the ship below for Marcus, to no avail. Only a few sailors scurried across the deck, and one stood on the forecastle, manning the tiller. Rowena frowned. Was Marcus below deck?

She pulled her shawl tightly about herself to keep out the damp morning air and sea spray, and with her feet braced, she leaned against the railing, watching the activity below as more sailors reappeared topside, most likely relieving the night watch.

As the salty air rejuvenated her, Rowena relaxed into the moment. Before she knew it, the sun rose higher in the morning sky and the rough waters calmed, rocking the boat gently. Open water stretched in every direction she looked. Instead of the disquieting feeling she would have expected, the isolation brought her a sense of peace. Rowena closed her eyes and listened to the song of the wind stirring the sea.

Back at Dunvegan she’d always felt restless and without any particular direction. Her brothers loved her but failed to either understand her or guide her in any way. Most likely because they’d been absent during her formative years. Yet today, she felt herself changing, though she could not say precisely how except that she felt stronger, more in control of her life. Rowena opened her eyes and smiled. She was happier, too, happier than she had been for a very long time. Was it because for the first time in her life she felt she had a purpose?

Leaning her elbows upon the railing, she gazed at the green water. The voices of the crew working below blended together into a low and steady hum. Rowena blocked out the noise, concentrating on the water, allowing her mind to be at peace.

A sharp noise from above crashed through her thoughts. Rowena straightened, looking for the source of the noise. From out of nowhere a huge black form swung from the sky, aimed straight for her head. Before she could react, she felt a strong pair of hands about her waist. She fell backwards, hitting the wooden deck with a thump. A suffocating weight enveloped her. She could not move, could not breathe.

Desperately, she clawed at the cold, wet canvas that pinned her to the deck. An ominous tearing sound rent the air and the cloth surrounding her went slack. She hauled in a breath of the salty air, grateful to once again be staring at the morning sky.

“Rowena?” Marcus pushed the heavy canvas aside, then stood. “Are you unharmed?” he asked as he sheathed his sgian-dubh.

“I—I believe so.” Rowena accepted Marcus’s outstretched hand and he helped her to her feet. He pulled away, but a sudden trembling overcame her limbs, leaving her unable to stand on her own. He pulled her against him once more. “What happened?”

“The mainsail broke free. It must have been damaged in the early morning storm.” He studied her, deep concern drawing his brows together. “Are you certain you are well?”

She nodded. “Where did you come from? I came up here to search for you and could find you nowhere on deck.”

“It was the changing of the watch. I only came above deck a few moments ago. When I saw you standing at the rail, I was on my way to you just as the sail collapsed. I’m grateful I came topside when I did.” His voice sounded strained.

“So am I,” she said as her trembling eased. Rowena took a step back, out of his arms, and gazed at the man who had saved her. His dark eyes held concern, but also kindness and understanding, reflecting what she had always known. This was a man she could trust. From the day they had met, she had always known there was goodness in Marcus’s heart despite the fact he was a MacDonald.