The Highland Laird (Lords of the Highlands #8) - Amy Jarecki

Chapter One

July 29, 1714

Achnacarry Castle

The Scottish Highlands

Emma Grant gripped the silk ribbon tied around her sister-in-law’s waist while she hastened forward. “You’re walking too fast!”

A plethora of guests crammed the passageway, the boisterousness from their conversations almost deafening.

She tightened her fist. “Janet! Did you hear me?”

No reply came as someone shouldered Emma aside, making her lose her grasp on the ribbon. A chill pulsed through her blood.


“Janet?” she called, the crowd forcing her against a wall.

“Robert!” She shouted her brother’s name while people brushed past as if she didn’t exist.

“Help,” Emma whispered, almost too terrified to raise her voice. Was she safe here? Robert had insisted she would be, but after a lifetime of being hidden away from society, years of pent-up fear crept across her skin.

Unable to utter another sound, she clutched her trembling fists around her medal of Saint Lucia and squeezed her eyes shut. Robert would find her just as soon as he realized they’d been separated.


“Miss Emma?” a voice murmured beside her.

The deep tenor made her heart beat faster. A different type of chill raced up her spine. But this was a much more pleasant sort of racing. “Ciar? Is it you, sir?”

Warm hands wrapped around her fingers, which were still clutching the medal of her patron saint. “Aye, lass. Whatever are you doing standing in the passageway? With this many people milling about you could be trampled.”

“I-I was with Janet and Robert, but we were pushed apart.”

“Not the best place to lose your guide,” he said, his tone teasing a bit while he moved her palm to the crook of his elbow. “Allow me to escort you the rest of the way.”

With Emma’s next breath, her fear vanished. Thank heavens for Ciar MacDougall, chieftain of Dunollie.

My knight in shining armor.

“Thank you,” she said, letting him take the lead. Dunollie was her brother’s greatest ally, and Emma trusted him implicitly.

With her next step, the floor changed from stone to hardwood. The scent of roasted lamb and fresh bread enveloped her. “Have we entered the hall?” she asked, her mouth watering.

Ciar gave her arm a reassuring pat. “Indeed, we have.”

“Do you see Robert and Janet? By the rumble of the crowd, I fear there are so many people in attendance I’ll never find our table.”

“Not to worry. I see them already.” Ciar tugged her a few steps to the right. “It must be difficult to travel away from Moriston Hall.”

“Och, is that not the truth? Wedding feasts would be so much more enjoyable in Glenmoriston, where everything is familiar.”

“Agreed.” Ciar slowed the pace. “Good Lord, your brother looks as worried as a mama goose who’s lost her gaggle of goslings.”

Emma chuckled at the notion. Robert might be a laird, but he never ceased to worry about her. “Good. In their haste to reach the hall, he and Janet left me in their wake.”

“Hardly likely, knowing Robert. I’ll wager he came close to losing his mind when he realized you were no longer behind him.”

“He most likely did. He’s so overly protective, ’tis very like him to do so.” Emma gave her escort a nudge. “Does he see us now?”


“Is he smiling?”

“Not exactly.”

She waved and grinned as wide as her cheeks allowed. “I do not want him to think I was afraid.”

“You? Afraid?” Ciar’s deep chuckle rumbled through her. “Och, Miss Emma, you’re the bravest lass I ken.”

“Hardly,” she said, though a bubble inside her chest swelled. Dunollie thought her brave? Did he truly, or was he simply trying to make her feel more at ease? She certainly hadn’t felt brave standing in the passageway gripping her medal of Saint Lucia and praying she wouldn’t be trampled.

“We’re approaching the stairs.” Ciar slowed the pace. “Take hold of the railing at your right. There are three steps. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” Holding her head high, she collected her skirts, shifted them to the side, and ascended. One. Two. Three. Thank heavens for Ciar. Even though he was an important man, he’d always been ever so thoughtful.

“Emma,” Robert barked, his footsteps pounding the dais. “What happened? One moment you were right behind us and the next you’d completely disappeared. Are you hurt? Are you ill? Did you fall?”

Ciar’s arm dropped away and was replaced by her brother’s firm grasp, nowhere near as pleasant or alluring or enticing, and in no way did her heart palpitate.

Wanting to thank Dunollie, Emma reached for him but only managed to pass her hand through thin air while her brother pulled her forward. “I lost my grip