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“A good meal in a Highland pub seems like a fitting end to two glorious weeks in Scotland.” Rebecca laced her fingers with Grey’s as they strolled down the high street in the village of Glenlaig in search of sustenance.
“I hope we’ll be able to get one. Seems like there’s something going on.”
Cars lined the street and there seemed to be an unusual number of people out and about for a village this size. At least, compared to the others they’d traveled through over the course of their honeymoon. Grey had seen that they’d taken the road less traveled, exploring the parts of Scotland that weren’t on all the tourist maps. Rebecca had loved every minute.
A carved wooden sign stuck out from a two-story stone building. The Stag’s Head.
“This seems promising.” Grey pulled open the door and held it for her.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized the interior was packed with people. “Might be awhile. Do we have time?”
“Sure. Our flight’s not for another seven hours. We can wait.”
A middle-aged woman with silver-streaked red hair pulled into a braid came bustling by, a pitcher of beer in her hand. “Table for two in the far corner there. Be with you when I can.”
They navigated their way through the crowd to the tiny table next to the end of the bar. She stripped off her coat and settled into the chair, letting the cacophony of voices wash over her in a delightful muddle of Scots accents. They’d heard so many on this trip, and she’d been fascinated by the wild variance over such a small geographic area. As she scanned the laminated menu, she tried to identify what she was hearing.
“Sure, and you’ll be wanting the fish and chips or the steak pie.”
She glanced up at the old gentleman at the bar. He wore a kilt and a tweed jacket. A hat—oh, what had she learned they were called? A tam?—in the same plaid sat on the bar beside him. His hair was a shock of white, thinning on top, but the blue eyes he turned in their direction were sharp.
“Are those the house specials?”
The old man nodded. “Reliable as the sun, they are. And plentiful, which is helpful with the rush.”
She stuck the menu back between the salt and pepper. “What’s going on? We noticed all the people.”
“Oh, well, we’re just having a wee ceilidh to celebrate an upcoming wedding.”
If this was a “wee” party, Rebecca couldn’t imagine a big one.
“Somebody important in the area?” Grey asked.
The old man turned on his stool to face them, a half-drunk pint in his hand. “Well, you could say that. It’s a three-hundred-year-old marriage pact that’s finally being fulfilled.”
Rebecca goggled. “Three hundred years! How does that work?”
“Well, it’s like this, you see. Around four hundred years ago—”
“Three-hundred eighty-nine!” someone else piped up.
The old man rolled his eyes. “As I said, around four hundred years ago, a lad named William Lennox won the favor of the king.”
Delighting in the obvious start to a story, Rebecca shifted toward him. “How’d he do that?”
“Saved his life, he did. Rescued him from being skewered by a wild boar. The king was, as you might expect, grateful for William’s intervention, and he granted him lands in the area and a title of Baron to go with them.”
“That’s a hell of a boon,” Grey observed.
“Aye, it is. Now, as you may be aware, this area belongs to Clan MacKean. Their holdings go back nearly nine-hundred years and were passed down from laird to son all that time. Now Robert MacKean, the laird at the time, had no respect for William Lennox. He was a farmer who got lucky with that boar. What did he know of running an estate? William, as you might expect, didn’t appreciate the lack of recognition from the MacKean and so a feud was started. It went on for a few generations before the heads of the respective families decided there’d been enough bloodshed. They signed a marriage pact stating that the marriageable heirs on either side would wed and end the feud.”
“A classic marriage for political reasons.” She nodded, understanding. “But how is it that it’s only just now being fulfilled?”
“Ah, well, that’s the thing. Once the pact was signed, a series of accidents, mortal illnesses, and flukes of birth befell the families. Of those heirs who lived, all of a particular generation were the same gender for the past three centuries. Until now. It’s become something of a legend around these parts, so the fact that the MacKean son and the Lennox daughter have made it this close to the altar is big news and cause for a village-wide celebration.”
“Wow.” Rebecca’s romantic heart wanted to swoon a little, but she was too practical for that. “Do the bride and groom actually want to get married?”
“Want’s got nothing to do with it. They’ve known all their lives that this was their duty. If they dinnae go through with it, both estates revert to the crown.”
“Angus, quit bending their ears.” The red-headed server stopped by their table. “What can I get you?”
They ordered fish and chips and pints of the local beer. By the time the server walked away, Angus had wandered over to join a group on the far side of the pub.
A little sad not to have more of the story, Rebecca turned back to Grey. “Can you imagine being caught up in an arranged marriage in this day and age?”
“I definitely would not want that hanging over my head. Talk about baggage. But maybe if they’ve known each other all their lives, and known this was coming, they’re good with it.”
“Maybe.” She couldn’t help but feel sorry for this bride and groom who seemed to have had their choices cut off merely by the circumstances of their birth. Real life was a far cry from the historical romances that made arranged marriages seem like a good idea.
The food, when it came, was excellent. After they’d finished, Grey paid their bill and helped her on with her coat. They stepped out of the pub, into the summer sunshine that was so much cooler here than in Tennessee.
Grey paused, smiling down at her. “Are you ready to head home?”
“Definitely not. It’s been an amazing two weeks, and I’m not quite ready for the honeymoon to end. But we’ve got a flight booked, anyway, and the plane’s taking off tonight, one way or the other.”
He slid his arms around her, drawing her in for a lingering kiss. “Gotta get back to real life sometime. But we’ll do this again. I want to show you more of the world.”
“I’m holding you to that, Captain Greyson.”
His eyes sparkled. “Anything you want, Mrs. Greyson.”
They strolled arm-in-arm down the high street toward where they’d parked their little rental car. Footsteps sounded behind them on the cobblestones, coming fast.
Rebecca looked back to find a young woman with a panicked expression rushing toward them, a small suitcase in her hand and a backpack slung over one shoulder. She was dressed as any tourist might be, but something about her manner belied that impression.
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear. You’re headed to the airport?” Her voice carried a soft Scottish burr.
Grey tensed a little, shifting into what Rebecca had come to realize was action mode. “Yes. In Glasgow.”
She cast a furtive glance around. “I realize this is a strange request, but is there any possible way I could hitch a ride?”
Rebecca stepped toward her. “Honey, are you in trouble?”
The blonde exhaled slowly, then squared her shoulders. “Yes.”
“What’s your name?”
Lennox. Rebecca would’ve laid money that this was the intended bride, and she definitely didn’t look like she wanted to go through with the wedding. There were consequences for that, but it sure as hell wasn’t their place to judge. All Rebecca saw in this moment was a frightened woman making a desperate choice. She understood what that was like.
Looking back to her husband, she made a silent plea with her eyes.
Grey unlocked the car. “Get in.”
* * *
Thank you for reading this conclusion to the Bad Boy Bakers series! I know you’re eager to find out what’s next. I’ll give you four hints:
- It involves my favorite country in the world.
- It was totally supposed to be a standalone.
- It’s definitely NOT a standalone.
- It involves a bunch of hot guys in kilts.
That’s right! We’re jumping across the pond to go hang out in the Highlands of Scotland for a while in my new upcoming Kilted Hearts series! The prequel, Jilting The Kilt, is already available and is free everywhere ebooks are sold!
Arranged marriages are so three centuries ago. But that doesn’t stop Afton Lennox from being bound by one. All her life she’s been pledged to wed Connor MacKean. It’s the only way to save both their families’ estates, and they’re friends, after all, so it won’t be that bad. Right?
Hamish Colquhoun has spent his entire adult life trying to find a way to liberate his best friend from a marriage he doesn’t want. If it also spares the woman he’s secretly loved for years, it’s of no mind to him. He’s already got a wife and family of his own. Freeing them both is just the right thing to do.
But with the wedding just days away, time is running short. Afton and Connor are prepared to do their duty, fulfilling the pact made by their long-dead ancestors. There’s one option Hamish hasn’t mentioned. It would only buy some time at best and risk everything at worst. But as Afton begins to question everything, Hamish finds he can’t stay silent.
God save them all.
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And you can already preorder Cowboy in a Kilt, Book 1 in the Kilted Hearts series!
A cowboy without a home
Robbed of the family ranch that should have been his legacy, Raleigh Beaumont is a man with no roots and no purpose. When a friend drags him to Vegas, he figures he’s got nothing to lose. But after a hell of a lot of whiskey and a high stakes poker game with a beautiful stranger, he finds himself the alleged owner of a barony in Scotland.
An heiress with a crumbling heritage
When her brother’s bride disappears just days before the wedding that’s meant to save their ancestral home from the mad marriage pact that’s held their family captive for generations, Kyla McKean believes they’ve been granted a reprieve. Until she finds out about the new, single—male—owner of Lochmara and knows she’s next on the chopping block or ownership of both their estates reverts to the crown.
A modern answer to a three-hundred-year-old problem.
Raleigh’s lost his land once. He’s not about to lose it again. Not even because of some lunatic pact made centuries before he was born. Kyla’s desperate to save Ardinmuir. She agrees to marry him on one condition: They wed for one year to satisfy the pact, then get a quick and quiet divorce. There’s no stipulation against it, and they’ll both get what they want.
But this displaced Texan and his fiery bride are about to find so much more than they bargained for.
Cowboy in a Kilt releases January 13, 2023, so preorder your copy today!