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Michelle Willingham

Seduced by Her Highland Warrior

Seduced by Her Highland Warrior

Series: The MacKinloch Clan - Book #2

Click here to read Chapter 1

Glen Arrin, Scotland - 1305

Soldiers gripped spears in their palms and charged forward, their weapons aimed at his wife and daughters.

Blood dripped from a wound on his forearm, but Alex MacKinloch wouldn’t stop running. A primal roar resounded from his mouth as he lifted his sword and hacked his way toward the women. His lungs burned as he fought, the battle haze clouding his awareness of reality. In the distance, he saw his wife Laren’s gleaming red hair as she struggled through a water-filled ditch. Her skirts weighed her down, and she held their younger daughter in her arms. She didn’t see the dozens of soldiers approaching as she tried to evacuate the fortress.

I have to reach them. Or they’ll die.

It was a reality he didn’t want to face, and the thought of Laren falling beneath a soldier’s blade was a horror he couldn’t grasp. His arm ached with a vicious pain, but he fought a path toward his family. The soldiers blocked his line of vision until all he could see was a swift storm of arrows.

A pulse thundered in his ears until he realized the arrows were coming from their younger brother Callum, who was guarding the women and children. Flames erupted from the wooden keep that stood high above them, like a dying sentry.

The fortress was going to fall. He ran as hard as he could and heard his kinsman Ross breathe, “Mary, Mother of God.”

As Alex rushed forwards, he heard the cracking of wood.


“Callum, dive!” a man’s voice shouted from behind her.

Laren MacKinloch struggled through the forest, her skirts sodden with water as the keep surrendered to the flames and collapsed. She stared through the trees, in shock at the sight of her home.

Gone now.

And what of Alex, her husband? Terror caught within her at the thought of him dying.

“Take Mairin and Adaira,” she begged Vanora, handing over her daughters. “I’ll join you in a few moments.”

“You can’t go back,” the older matron warned. “This isn’t over yet.”

“I won’t leave the trees,” Laren promised. I just need to see him. I need to know if he’s safe.

She didn’t wait for Vanora’s reply but moved back to the forest’s edge, holding on to a slender birch tree for balance. Her breath frosted in the evening air as the cold settled around the glen.

When English soldiers surrounded the men from both sides, she felt her heart branching into silent pieces of terror. Dear God, no.

She couldn’t tell what was happening, but the look of grim finality on Alex’s face meant that the worst was near. As she stared from her hiding place, the years seemed to fall back. No longer was he a powerful chief but instead, the man she’d once loved. The fist of heartbreak caught her, and tears dampened her cheeks. They’d grown so far apart over the past two years, and now she didn’t know if she would see him alive again. If she had one last moment with him, there were too many words to speak. Too many things she’d locked away in her heart for far too long.

Her palm pressed against the tree bark. Though Alex couldn’t see her, she kept her gaze fixed upon him, as if she could memorize his face and hold it forever.

A fiery pain blasted through her right side. Laren’s knees buckled beneath her, and she gasped in shock at the arrow embedded within her skin.

The searing agony stunned her, and she could barely keep her senses about her. Though it was a shallow wound, piercing the soft skin sideways, near her ribs, she’d not realized how close she was to the battle.

She forced herself to snap off the feathered end, sliding the arrow free of the wound. Blood poured from her side and she pressed her dark cloak against the flow, fighting the dizziness.

You have to go back to your girls, her mind warned. She couldn’t stay, no matter how much she feared for Alex’s life. One of them had to live, to take care of their daughters.

It wrenched her apart, having to choose between her husband and her children, but she forced herself to continue. If the English gained the victory, they would come looking for the survivors. Her daughters needed her, and she had to protect them.

She struggled up to the top of the ridge. Each step sent another wave of pain raging through her side, but she ignored the wound, hiding it beneath her dark cloak. There would be time to tend it later.

When she reached the girls, her elder daughter threw her arms around her waist, weeping. At the ages of four and not quite two, Mairin and Adaira weren’t old enough to understand what was happening. Laren caught her breath, keeping Mairin’s hands away from the injury while she spoke soft, reassuring words.

“Where is Da?” her older daughter demanded. “Is he safe?”

“I don’t know.” Laren’s throat tightened with fear, her eyes burning. “But we have to wait here for him, away from the soldiers.”

“I’m afraid,” Mairin sobbed.

Laren brushed a kiss against her daughter’s forehead. So am I.


The earth trembled as dozens of horsemen surrounded their army on both sides. Robert Fitzroy, Baron Harkirk, watched in fury as more of the Scots poured in, reinforced by the French. His hand tightened upon the hilt of his sword and he wanted nothing more than to bathe his weapon in their blood.

The MacKinlochs were supposed to die this day. Hadn’t he burned their fortress to the ground, slaughtering their kinsmen? He’d already planned to set up an outpost here, to secure more land for King Edward Plantagenet, but he could see his victory fading away like smoke.

“Pull back!” he ordered and his soldiers obeyed. Though it splintered his pride, he hadn’t survived half-a-dozen battles by making foolish decisions that would endanger his neck.

As they retreated into the hills, Harkirk cast a backwards glance. This wasn’t over. Not by half.

He vowed that the next time he looked upon the face of a MacKinloch, it would be mounted upon a pike outside his gates.


It took a quarter of an hour to reach the ridge, and Alex helped his brother up to the top of the hill. Bram had been fighting for hours now, and the man's expression held the madness of battle. His brother's wife Nairna appeared worried, for although they had survived with only minor injuries, Bram had hardly spoken a word. But Alex felt certain that once they brought him home, his brother would make a full recovery.

When they reached the clearing, the first glimpse of Laren sent a roaring breath of relief back through Alex’s lungs. The instinct pulled at him, to go to her. He needed to hold his wife and breathe in the scent of her skin, touching her soft red hair.

Laren started to take a step toward him, but she abruptly stopped, her face ashen. Her hand pressed to her side and then she turned her attention to their girls. Their clansmen were watching, and when Alex took a step toward her, she shrank back.

He couldn’t understand why. Aye, they’d grown apart over the past two years, but why had she turned away when all he wanted to do was embrace her? The pain in her eyes bothered him, for he didn’t understand it. Wasn’t she glad to see him alive?

Though Mairin and Adaira called out, Laren bent and spoke quietly, as if to prevent them from running to him. Adaira clutched Laren’s leg, burying her face in her mother’s skirts.

A thousand moments passed by in a single second. Pride froze out the aching emotions, and Alex stared back at his wife, wishing she would meet him halfway. But she merely gave him a nod and moved away with the girls, unable to face him.

Something was wrong. She’d closed herself off again, and he didn’t know why. His hand tightened on the door frame and he forced himself to look after his brother. “Will you be all right with him?” Alex asked Nairna, who had helped her husband to sit upon their bed.

“Aye.” She poured water into a basin and retrieved a cloth to tend Bram’s wounds. When she had wrung out the cloth, she sent Alex a pointed look. “Go to Laren. She needs you.”

He left them alone, watching the way Nairna cared for her husband. The deep love in her eyes and the answering look in her husband’s face brought a surge of envy. He wanted to be with Laren right now, to shatter the invisible wall between them.

The thought became a thorn, digging deeper into his pride. She was the woman he’d pledged to protect. Years ago, she would have thrown herself into his arms, not caring what anyone else thought. She’d have clung to him, whispering words of how she’d worried.

But now she kept her distance from him, almost as if they were strangers.

His frustration strung tighter as he walked among the survivors, asking about their welfare. During that time, not once had Laren moved toward him. Her face was white, as though she were too timid to move.

Damn it all, he didn’t care if she no longer wanted him. They’d survived their brush with death, and right now he wanted to hold her. He needed her in his arms, whether or not she was too shy to answer the embrace.

He crossed through the people, moving directly toward her. Without voicing a single word, he pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly. She let out a slight gasp, but her hands moved up to his shoulders, resting there. He didn’t speak, didn’t reveal any of the thoughts coursing through his mind. Adaira and Mairin each grabbed his legs, but right now, he needed Laren.

Dimly, he was aware that she wasn’t quite holding him in return. Her hands were there, but there was no warmth, no answering embrace. His heart numbed when he pulled back to look at her, his hands resting at her waist.

He’d mistakenly believed that if he made the first move she would welcome him back, that the past two years of distance wouldn’t matter any more, because they were alive. But she didn’t look at him, as if she were too shy to speak.

He let his hands fall away, saying nothing. The girls were chattering, asking him questions about when they could go home, where they would sleep, and he couldn’t give them an answer.

His kinsman Ross came near, and asked, “Do you want to bring your family to our home for the night?” Since Ross’s home was on the opposite side of the fortress, it had escaped the fires.

Alex never took his eyes from Laren, but agreed. “Aye, if it’s no trouble to you.”

“Not at all. Vanora will want to fuss over the wee ones, as she likes to do.” His gaze grew somber, while they stared at the smoke rising from the valley below. “You’ll be needing a place to stay until you can rebuild the keep.”

“I’ll take the girls there now,” Laren said quietly, “if you think it’s safe to return.” Her voice was shaky, but at his nod she guided their daughters away from the crowds. As they disappeared into the forest, Ross was saying something else to him, but Alex didn’t hear a word of it.

His wife was behaving strangely and he didn’t know why. Then his gaze drifted down to his hands. Blood stained his palms from where he’d held his wife.

It was Laren’s blood.


Laren held Adaira’s hand as Mairin skipped forward. She kept her head held high, even though the tears flowed freely down her face. She kept her hand firmly upon the bleeding wound at her side, trying not to take deep breaths. When Alex had held her, his hands had pressed against it and she’d nearly passed out from the pain. The injury felt like an aching fire, but she refused to pity herself.

She’d said nothing of it to the girls. They were frightened after the battle and the last thing she needed was for her daughters to start crying again. Right now it took her full concentration to keep from breaking down in front of them. She’d never known that a minor wound could hurt this badly.

Now that the enemy soldiers were gone, she could return to Glen Arrin for a little privacy to tend it. The wetness against her hand told her that the bleeding had started again, and stars swam in front of her eyes.

You should have told Alex, an inner voice chided. The very thought of her husband sent a quiet ache of regret through her. When he’d taken her in his arms, the urge to cling to him and sob out her miseries had been so tempting. But the last thing he’d needed was a hysterical wife bleeding all over him in front of everyone. He had to be strong in front of the clan, to be the leader they needed in this time of crisis. There was time to speak of it later, when they were alone.

Laren took a deep breath, wiping the tears away. For now, she had to bring the girls to Ross’s home for shelter.

“Why are you crying, Mama?” Mairin asked, coming to her side. “Are you sad?”

“I’m just tired,” she lied. She had to hold herself together right now. Alex would be busy sorting out places for the rest of the clan to live; likely, he wouldn’t join them until later tonight.

“Da!” Mairin shouted, breaking free of her. Laren turned and saw Alex striding toward them. Her heart sank, for he looked furious. Instinctively, her hand went back to her wound, pressing against the flow of blood.

“Are you all right?” he demanded, raising up his hands. Upon them, she saw her own blood. "Why didn't you tell me what happened?"

“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’ll be fine.” To the girls she said, “Mairin, I want to talk to your father for a moment. Take Adaira down to the bottom of the hill and wait for us.”

Her daughter paled at the sight of Alex’s face and didn’t argue, retreating with her sister.

“Where were you wounded?” he demanded.

“It was just an arrow. It pierced the skin here…” she pointed to her bleeding side “…but it’s only a small wound. I’ll have Vanora help me with it.”

“Why didn't you tell me?” In his voice, she heard traces of fear, mingled with his anger.

Her emotions were so raw, she couldn't stop the flow of tears. “You had too much on your mind and I didn’t want to be a bother, not when it’s something so minor.”

“You were shot with an arrow, Laren. Why in the name of God would you think I wouldn’t want to bother with that?” He appeared aghast, but she didn't know what to say. Instead, she wiped her tears away and steeled herself.

“The girls have lost enough this day, without having to be afraid for me.”

“And what about you?” he demanded, his voice falling into a harsh whisper. "What if I had lost you?" He reached to cup her face and Laren instinctively drew back. If he touched her right now, the control over her feelings was going to shatter. She could guard herself against anger, but not his kindness.

“I’ll be all right,” she managed. She started to walk away, but when she glanced back at him, there was disbelief mingled with his frustration. He followed her and when they reached the girls at the bottom of the hill, he bent down to lift Mairin into his arms. He gave their daughter a tight hug as he examined her. Then he turned to Adaira, lifting her into his other arm.

He loved their girls. There was no doubt in her mind that he’d lay down his life for them. With Mairin and Adaira, he softened, letting them see a father who cared about more than their welfare. And, in return, they adored him.

“Are you well?” he asked the girls. “You’re not hurt, are you?” He inspected them and then his gaze moved to her, as if in accusation.

Laren met his eyes and pronounced, “They’re all right.” But although her husband had muted his anger in front of the girls, she sensed it simmering beneath the surface.

Adaira started to fuss, reaching towards her. When Laren stretched to take her, Alex held their daughter tight. “Stay with me, sweet.”

She was grateful for it, for she didn’t think she could bear the weight of Adaira, not with the wound.

“Have you eaten?” Alex asked, reaching into his pouch for some dried meat. The girls each took a piece and started gnawing on the venison. Though he offered her a piece, Laren refused it. The very thought of food made her ill.

He set Mairin down, keeping her hand in his as they moved to the far side of the fortress.

At the sight of Glen Arrin, Laren’s face turned grim. The keep was a burned mass of wood and hot coals, the dark smoke rising from the damaged structure. Every possession she had, save the clothes on her back, had been in the keep. The tapestries she’d woven, the girls’ gowns. The bed that Alex had made for them when they were first married.

“What will we do?” she asked her husband, knowing that his pain was as deep as her own.

His emotions remained tight, his jaw clenched at the sight of the ruins. “Bury the dead. And start again.”

Alex led them away to Ross’s house and ensured that it was safe before he allowed the girls to enter the small thatched dwelling. He remained outside and Laren couldn’t read the emotions in his stare. Without asking, he pulled back her dark cloak. The blood had soaked through the woolen gown she wore and he ordered her, “Don’t move. Vanora!” he called out, hurrying toward the matron who was approaching from the hillside. “Laren was hurt. We need your help.”

The older woman hastened to reach her side and when Alex pulled back the cloak again, Laren’s cheeks flushed. Though she’d planned to ask Vanora for her help anyway, Alex was behaving as if the injury were life-threatening.

“Oh, my dear, what happened to you?” Vanora helped her unfasten her gown, peeling it back to reveal the wound. Laren covered her breasts, closing her eyes as the woman fussed over her.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Laren said quietly when the woman went to fetch her needle and linen to bind the wound. The dark look in Alex’s eyes told her that he didn’t believe a word she was saying.

Vanora stitched up the wound and wrapped a linen bandage around it before Laren pulled up her gown again. Her husband was making her nervous with the way he hovered over her. “You should go and look after the others,” she suggested. “The clan will need you to guide them now.”

He ignored her, his gaze fixated upon her blood. “I’m not leaving you when you’re hurt.”

“Please, Alex,” she whispered again, “it’s truly nothing to worry about.” She was holding back her pain by a thread and she didn’t want to show weakness in front of him. Swallowing hard, she added, “The clan needs you now.”

“And you don’t?”

There was a bitterness behind his words that she didn’t understand. When she couldn't find the right words to say, he sighed. “If you want me to leave, then so be it.”

Between them, the cool distance seemed to magnify. Laren wanted to ease his mood, to make him understand that she wasn’t trying to push him away.

Though he’d already left, she struggled to catch up with Alex. “I’m sorry about what happened to Glen Arrin.” The words were inadequate and they didn’t begin to touch the way she was feeling now.

He spun, advancing upon her. “I couldn’t give a damn about Glen Arrin right now. You were shot and tried to hide it from me.”

Laren took a step back, not at all sure of how to respond. Alex caught her shoulders before she could retreat, drawing her to face him. She didn’t want to bear the brunt of his anger, not when she was hurting so badly. But when she finally risked a look in his eyes, she saw the raw fear.

“You could have died today,” he said. “And you think I’m worried about a pile of burned wood and ashes?” He raked a hand through his hair, struggling to push away his temper.

She didn’t move, couldn’t speak. Beneath his choked anger was a man who cared about her. The realization seemed to cut off the air in her lungs, for she hadn’t known it. Over the past few years, their marriage had deteriorated until now she rarely saw him during the day or even at night. Being together had become a habit instead of a necessity.

“I’m all right,” she whispered.

“Are you?” His stare was harsh, disbelieving.

Her cheeks were wet and she didn’t know what to say or do. It was then that she noticed a reddish stain seeping from her husband’s sleeve. From the hardened look on his face, it had to be hurting him, yet he’d said nothing at all. Neither of them was willing to admit to injury, she thought, with irony.

“What about you?” she ventured. “Do you want me to look at your arm?”

“No. See to the girls and their needs.”

Not mine. She heard his unspoken words, and they cut her heart a little deeper. Once, he’d have let her touch him, and though she wasn’t the most experienced healer, he’d have submitted to her ministrations. No longer, it seemed.

Laren moved closer. She wanted to tell him that she would stand by him through this catastrophe. She wanted to reach out, to let him know that she still cared.

He looked back at her and in his eyes she saw the magnitude of his loss. She knew that he wouldn’t come home until late at night, after she was already asleep. Though she wanted to hold him, to rest her head against his chest, he had other, more important duties as the MacKinloch chief.

A hard lump gathered in her throat, but he lowered his head and turned away from her.

The selfish part of her heart wished he’d chosen to stay.


Alex walked across the fortress, his mind caught in a fog of helplessness. The scent of smoke permeated the air, choking his lungs. But even as he approached his brothers, he couldn’t stop thinking of Laren.

Confusion and anger collided inside him, along with a heavy fear. The arrow could have pierced a vital organ, spilling her life blood. The thought shook him deeply, for although he’d grown distant from his wife, he didn’t want to lose her.

It felt as though he’d been clubbed in the stomach. She hadn’t wanted him to stay or to help her. But why?

“Are you all right?” his youngest brother Dougal asked. “I thought you might want help.” At the age of four-and-ten, Dougal had never witnessed a battle like this before—only cattle raids and clan skirmishes. There was a new maturity in his brother’s eyes, along with a sadness that mirrored his own.

Alex nodded, grateful for the distraction. “We should bury the dead.”

Within minutes, they were joined by their other brother Callum, who had recently been freed as a prisoner of war. Callum hadn’t spoken a single word since his release.

Alex bent down and picked up one of the bodies. His brothers helped and they began the gruesome task of gathering up the fallen into a cart. Dougal hitched up a horse to the cart, and they walked alongside one another outside the fortress. The faces of friends and kinsmen haunted him, and Alex wished he could have done something more to protect his clan. But he revealed none of his grief to his brothers, keeping his expression guarded.

He seized a torch and a few shovels, following his brothers. He chose a spot where the ground was soft and balanced the torch within a pile of heavy stones. He adjusted the makeshift bandage on his arm, so it wouldn’t bleed while he worked. Though it had grown dark, the three of them began digging a burial pit. The backbreaking work was what he needed right now to distract him from the sense of overwhelming loss.

He was the chief of the MacKinlochs. They would look to him to make the decisions, to know what should be done next.

You were never meant to be leader, an inner voice taunted him. His father Tavin had chosen Bram to be his successor. As the second-born, Alex had listened on the outskirts, drinking in all the knowledge, never dreaming that he would have to use it.

He’d made a thousand mistakes in the early years. But he’d learned from them, and never once had he revealed his frustrations…not to his kinsmen, and not to Laren. It was easier to pretend that all was well, for they needed a leader of strength. The men had come to trust him, knowing that they could bring their troubles and he would find the answers they needed.

He swore he’d find a way to rebuild what had been lost. Somehow.


Over the next hour, he worked with Callum and Dougal at his side. Having his brothers with him brought him a slight reassurance. Even if their lives had fallen apart, their keep lying in ashes, at least they were together.

Once the pit was finished, they buried the men and spoke a prayer for their souls. “Do you have a place to sleep tonight?” Alex asked his brothers.

Callum nodded and pointed to one of the other houses that had been untouched by fire. Dougal joined his brother and added, “Bram offered, but he and Nairna—” His words broke off, his ears turning crimson. Alex could guess that the two young men had no desire to dwell with a husband and wife who were trying to start a family.

“Walter has no wife and he offered to let us stay in his home,” Dougal finished.

Since everyone had a place for shelter, Alex picked up the torch. “Get some sleep while you can. We’ll start again in the morning.”

They walked back to the fortress and Alex glanced up at the clear skies. Stars gleamed against the midnight blackness and there were a few hours before dawn. The faint scent of peat mingled with the night air, a familiar aroma that welcomed him towards Ross’s home. When he opened the door, he saw his friend and Vanora sleeping on the opposite end. Laren rested upon a pallet, the two girls in her arms.

Alex stretched out on his side behind her, studying his wife as she slept. Her red hair hung over her shoulder and she slept in the bloodstained gown she’d worn all day. She’d removed her cloak and spread it over the girls as a blanket. Even in sleep, she guarded and protected their daughters. She’d always been a good mother to them.

He reached for a strand of her hair, curling the silken lock over his hand. Laren stirred in her sleep, moving restlessly.

“It’s just me,” he murmured. He released her hair, his hand clenching into a fist.

She finally did roll on to her back. In the dim moonlight he spied the gleam of tears on her cheeks. From the tension in her posture, he saw that she was trying to brave her way through the pain.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I’m all right.” She kept her voice low, so as not to wake the children. But when she turned back to her left side, it occurred to him that their polite, quiet marriage had shifted to unstable ground.

The arrow might well have pierced his own flesh, awakening him to the reality that his wife didn’t confide in him any more. If she felt unable to reveal a wound, what other secrets had she kept?

Laren disappeared each day for hours on end, never telling him where she was going or what she was doing. A tightness clenched his throat, for he’d never asked her. He’d been so busy worrying about the keep and its occupants, he’d forgotten about his wife. At the time, he’d believed he was merely giving her the freedom to come and go as she pleased, not wanting to make demands of her.

Perhaps at a deeper level, he hadn’t wanted to know why she was leaving, for fear that she wanted to avoid being with him.

He stared up at the ceiling of Ross’s home, knowing he wouldn’t find sleep this night. It had taken a single arrow to crack his illusions apart. They didn’t have a true marriage any more, only the barest shadow.

In the darkness, he rolled over to watch his wife trying to sleep. He couldn’t imagine a life without her in it.

But he didn’t know what he had to do to get her back.


As a powerful Highland chief, Alex MacKinloch bears the responsibility of his clan—but he doesn’t know how to heal the invisible wounds of his marriage. He loves his wife, but over the years, they have drifted apart.

After a heart-wrenching loss, Laren finds solace in making stained glass, a secret she has kept from everyone. Her painful shyness makes it difficult for her to be lady of the clan, and she struggles to find her own strength.

But Alex is determined to bridge the distance between them and rekindle the love they once shared . . . even if it means seducing her back into his bed!
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