Hannah Dounreay has no time for suitors who only seem interested in her family’s land, which she manages as well as any man. If she marries, she wants to be loved for the educated, independent woman she is. But when a strong, silent—and spectacularly handsome—Highlander saves her from a violent attack, her heart is stirred. Who is this man? And if he asks for Hannah’s hand, will she be able to resist him?
Alexander Lochlannach, Laird of Dunnet, has no time to lose. The Highlands are in an uproar as clans battle for land—without mercy—and Alexander can’t afford to fall for the wildly attractive, strong-willed Hannah. What’s more, he has a desperate secret, one that could destroy them both. But as their attraction turns into an all-consuming passion, Alexander has no choice but to prove to Hannah that he’s the only man for her—body and soul…
Barrogill, Caithness County, Scotland
She should look away. Really, she should. But Hannah Dounreay could not tear her gaze from the sight of the enormous man striding onto the field of combat like a war- rior of old. It could have been the glorious fall of inky black curls riffling in the breeze, or the breadth of his shoulders, or the sharp cut of his chin . . . or the rippling muscles of his bare chest, swathed only with the Sinclair plaid. But something had captivated her attention.
He stood, tall and proud, bare legged in the traditional kilt, head and shoulders above the other men. He was even taller than her father and Papa was not a small man.
Hoots and hollers rose from the throng as he surveyed the pile of logs—taunts from his competitors, who, one and all, wanted to break his concentration. They did not. His biceps bunched as he braced his thick legs and hefted a caber. Hannah sucked in a breath at the undeniable evi- dence of the sheer power of this man. An unfamiliar flut- ter danced deep in her core.
It was a shame he was too far away for her to make out the details of his face.
His body stilled, his energy hummed, as he studied the clutter of tossed cabers and took his aim. The catcalls rose. He ignored them and heaved back. With a great growl, he let fly. The log wheeled through the air like an arrow, arcing past all the others to fall with an enormous thud that shook the earth. A plume of dust rose, along with the cheers of the crowd.
Though she wasn’t a fan of male posturing and ridicu- lous, archaic games such as this, Hannah couldn’t deny she was impressed. This man had easily trounced all the others.
Her father approached him and clapped him on the back in congratulations. Papa said something and the tall, strik- ing man threw back his head and laughed.
Hannah’s heart hitched. The sound was like music, rising above the cacophony of the fair-like atmosphere, dancing on the wind to her ears. He turned then, and she caught a glimpse of his face. Hard. Harsh. As craggy as the moors. But, lit with his grin, striking.
Ach. She really should look away. But she couldn’t. “Husband shopping?”
Hannah whirled to frown at Susana. Heat prickled at her nape. First of all, because she’d been caught ogling. And second of all, she was tired of her sister’s teasing about her reluctance to settle on a suitor.
Susana excelled at teasing.
And on the topic of suitors, there was much fodder.
“I have no idea what you mean.” Hannah tried not to speak in a defensive tone but failed.
Susana smirked. “He’s a fine bonny lad. I couldna blame you for drooling.”
“I wasna drooling.” And he wasn’t a lad. He was a man. “Although he’s hardly your . . . type.”
Hannah snorted. She had no “type.”
“I mean, look at him.” Too late. She already was. Again. That Susana was now ogling him as well sent an odd ripple of annoyance through her. “Tall. Powerful. Domineering. It’s written on every line of his face. That is a man you could never control.”
“I doona need to control everything.” A mutter.
There was no call for Susana to laugh as she did. Up- roariously. The sound captured the attention of every male on the field. But then, it would. Of the three Dounreay sisters, Susana was by far the prettiest, statuesque and curvy. Her hair, a riotous fall of red, was her crowning glory. Lana, the youngest, was very pretty too, with honey- blond curls and sweet, delicate features. They each took after their father, but as they had had different mothers, they were very unalike in looks and temperament.
Beside them, Hannah felt like the cuckoo in the nest. She’d inherited her mother’s coloring of dark, black tresses and pale white skin. Her eyes were too large and her mouth had a crooked slant. She was hardly stunning. Plain was a better word for it. Aside from all that she was, well, plumpish. Perhaps it was a blessing that, as the eldest, she also came with the fertile strip of land and bustling fish- ing village.
Likely, without that she couldn’t catch a husband at all. Certainly not the kind of husband she would want.
It was quite lowering to be desired only for one’s or- chards. Well, there was the castle too. And the loch. And the lucrative salt mining.
Though it was naïve in this day and age, and probably ludicrous given what she saw in the mirror, Hannah reviled the prospect of marrying a man who only wanted her land. Deep in her heart she longed for a man who might want her for herself.
And, if she had to marry, she wanted what Susana had had with Gilley.
But she was not Susana. She was naught but a pale shadow in comparison. She was hardly a woman to engen- der blind devotion. When she married, her husband would, no doubt, see her as chattel, as a broodmare. He would ex- pect her to follow his orders rather than issuing her own.
She’d never been adept at following orders and she’d certainly never met a man to whom she would willingly surrender her freedoms. And a husband would expect that, she supposed. The thought made her shudder.
Hannah frowned and turned her attention back at the field, where other men were now stepping up to try their luck. She winced as her gaze tangled with his. Indeed, he’d been watching her with a scorching stare that was fierce and assessing, almost hungry. And Susana was right. As attractive as he was, he was not what Hannah was look- ing for in a husband. Not that she wanted a man she could control. Above all things, she craved a sweet and roman- tic man, one with whom she could share confidences, laughter, and late-night chats. A man with whom she could have a connection.
This man was a warrior. There was probably not a ro- mantic bone in his body.
Still . . . that body. Heat blossomed on her cheeks at his frank survey and she yanked her attention to something else. Anything else.
Unfortunately, it landed on Niall Leveson-Gower, who was also staring at her. His attention made her uneasy. Then again, Niall always made her uneasy. He offered a toothy smile and she nodded in response but quickly looked away. She didn’t want to encourage him. Niall was one of her suit- ors. His father, the Marquess of Stafford, had made no se- cret of the fact that he wanted to acquire Reay, a feat that could only be accomplished through marriage. To her.
Aside from the fact that she found Niall physically re- volting, there was a greater peril to consider. The marquess had followed the example of the southern lairds and cleared his land, evicting his tenants to import sheep; should Reay fall into his hands, he would, no doubt, do the same there, destroying everything her family had built for generations.