The Highlander's Bride

By: Michele Sinclair

Chapter One

Scotland, 1307

“Are you ever going to get married?” It was a tiresome question that had been asked too many times these past few weeks. Since his younger brother decided to wed, everyone assumed he should now want to as well. “Your turn, Conor!” was heard everywhere he turned.

Those who knew him, knew better than to ask, but those who didn’t eventually uttered the cursed question: “So, when are you going to get married?” By the time they had finally left the wedding to return home, he had probably angered more than a few with his replies of “When I damn well want to—never.”

“What say you, Conor—are you ever going to select a wife?” came a grating voice mimicking one of the many Scottish mothers he had encountered this past week. Quiet laughter buzzed from a group of men, all blue eyed and dark haired.

“He’s going to clobber you one of these days, Craig.”

“I hope he aims for Craig’s mouth,” chimed in one of the younger riders, enjoying that someone else was the object of his older brother’s ridicule.

Conor ignored the banter of his younger brothers and led the small group to a nearby river to refresh their mounts. This obligatory trip was finally coming to an end. In a few days, he would soon be on McTiernay land again and resume his duties as laird of his clan. “See to the horses. We’ll camp at the valley ahead.”

The men nodded and began to take care of their mounts. Tonight’s destination was several miles to the north and it would be nightfall before they made camp. While the valley Conor had chosen had not even a stream to alleviate the parched throat of man or horse, the small group of highlanders all understood his decision. None of them wanted to sleep too close to Douglass soil.

While only a small portion of Douglass territory bordered the allied land upon which Conor and his men currently rode, it was in a strategic location. Sheltered on two sides by large cliffs, only two sections needed to be fortified and protected. It was an excellent place to build a fortress, and that is exactly what the Douglass ancestors had done.

Conor thought on his brother’s question as they continued towards the valley. He was a large man, even by highlander standards. His dark brown hair was usually tied back in a manner atypical of Scottish soldiers. For years, women and their mothers had pursued him relentlessly, employing various tactics to persuade him into a commitment. The idea of becoming the wife of a powerful laird was too compelling, especially when that laird was young and exceedingly attractive.

Over the years, the artificiality of soft words whispered by pretty women had changed him. He was no longer considered the desirable highlander of his youth, but a cold, hard man without warmth to share with any woman. So while still a striking man, it had been some time since he had caught a lady’s eye, whether she might be sincere or not.

It mattered little, though, for Conor had no desire to marry. Most marriages were little more than contracts. They were only a means to ensure alliances, carry on family bloodlines, share work burdens, or to meet physical needs. His talent with the sword and the unswerving loyalty of his men gained him alliances enough. His many brothers would ensure the McTiernay name would continue for generations, and he had found that his physical needs could be met any time without the prerequisite of a marriage contract.

He could recall only one marriage—his parents’—that had been something more. His parents had forged a union         built on support, desire, and the assurance that—no matter what the circumstances—they would always believe and trust in each other. As a naive young man, he desired to find someone and create a similar life and bond.

After barely escaping one conniving woman, Conor began to look for pretense in women pursuing the idea of becoming Lady McTiernay. He was never disappointed. While most of his admirers were polite, not one had desired him for himself. When confronted about their title-searching designs, a few panicked and others cried. Some had called him cold, declaring him to be the only highland laird alive without a heart. After a series of disappointments and stomach-churning experiences, he decided the joy and bond his parents shared was a unique gift that would never be his.

As the group reached the valley and began to make camp, Conor refocused his attention from the past to the present and began to relax. The air was getting colder now and he was glad to be going home. There were many things to do before winter came upon his clan and, in a just a few weeks, his mountains would be covered with snow.

Conor casually observed his younger brothers building a big fire located in the center of the gathering. They were a small group, five of his six brothers and four of his elite guard. Rarely did Conor allow all of his family to journey beyond McTiernay borders, but weddings required family attendance. Conor had reluctantly agreed to allow even his youngest brothers to come since the journey was mostly upon lands of allies or neutral clans.