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WINNER: Best Historical, National Readers' Choice Awards
The Wrong Bride
by Gayle Callen
Book 1 of the "Highland Weddings" trilogy
USA Today bestselling author Gayle Callen creates an unforgettable story of mistaken identity and irresistible attraction in this first in a wonderfully engaging series set in the Scottish Highlands.
Shaken from sleep during the night, bundled off to the Highlands by a burly Scot, Riona is at first terrified, then livid. Hugh McCallum insists they were promised to each other as children to ensure peace between their clans. The stubborn laird refuses to believe he’s kidnapped the wrong Catriona Duff. Instead, he embarks on a campaign of slow-burning seduction…
At first, Hugh cares only what their marriage can do for his people. Now he’s starting to crave Riona for her own sake. But her true identity jeopardizes his clan’s contract. And unless she chooses to risk all to be his bride, he’ll lose the only thing he prizes more than the lands he’s fought so hard to save—the passionate marriage they could have together.
"Callen's unusual and moving story is enhanced by the realism of her characters,
"A captive/captor tale sure to delight fans…
"This touching romantic novel is a beautifully perfect love
story. Her sassy, argumentative heroine can't deny her irresistibly sexy hero,
bringing heat and passion to the reader...I devoured it in one sitting. An excellent Highland romance with sizzling
passion, loyalty, and love that is guaranteed to capture your heart."
"Readers will love coming along for the ride."
"Unique, full of adventure and mystery...a truly
endearing love story"
"A great historical romance that showed that even
the biggest mistake
"Well-developed characters who showed solid
growth and growing connection"
"A great beginning to a new series."
"I loved this story. I couldn't read it quickly enough."
"Ms. Callen did a great job of showing how an improbable
"They sparkle and sizzle and you can't help but root for
their happily ever after.
"Beautifully written...Witty, fun and ultimately satisfying, the Wrong
Bride is everything a historical romance fan expects."
EXCERPTS(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
Riona Duff was startled out of a deep sleep, groggy and uneasy. For a moment she didn’t know where she was. A single candle burned in its holder on the bed table, so she could see the wavering glow of light illuminate the canopied bed and part of the door.
This wasn’t her room. Where was she?
And then she remembered—she wasn’t in London anymore, the city where she’d spent the majority of her life. She’d gone north to York with her uncle’s family while her own parents and sister traveled to the south of France to improve her sister’s fragile health.
Something creaked, and she froze, for it sounded like a door. The one beside her was firmly closed, so that meant—
A large, male hand suddenly covered her mouth.
Riona’s eyes went wide and she screamed, but the sound was muffled. She smelled horses and sweat and her own fear. Though she tried to buck and slide away, she was hampered by the bedclothes, and then the man’s other arm across her body, pinning her down. Her heart seemed to be dancing in her chest, racing with terror and making her light-headed.
“I’ll not harm ye,” he said softly, gruffly.
He spoke with the Scottish accent that still lingered in her father’s speech even after so many years in England.
“Just do as I say,” he continued, “and I’ll free your mouth if ye promise not to scream.”
Her eyes darted frantically about, and though she could see the outline of his shaggy head, the candle was behind him and his face was a mass of shadows. He loomed over her like a mountain, a stranger who’d dared breach her bedroom from the balcony. He could want—anything.
He gave her a little shake that made her squeak with fright.
“Do I have your word, lass?”
Having no choice, she nodded. The hand slid away, but the arm across her body did not, a heavy, threatening weight that made her feel fragile.
“What do you want?” she choked out, her voice trembling. “I’ve nothing of value. They’ll catch you if—”
“Silence.” Though soft, his voice was deep and full of a threatening growl. “Ye’re coming with me.”
He took her by the arm and pulled her upright, her arm like a twig in his massive fist.
“But—where are you taking me?” she demanded, aghast.
Drawing her closer, he gave her another shake. “I’ll answer all your questions later. But not another word from ye until we’re away.”
He raised her to her feet, hands on both her arms, like she was a stuffed doll. And that made her realize how truly large he was, towering well above her, the width of his body an impenetrable blackness. She was trembling so badly she swayed. Her only hope now was that someone came to rescue her, but her attacker had made little sound, and she knew no one would be checking on her. She was only a niece, tolerated out of family duty and little else. Her cousin Cat would have cared, but she was away in the countryside with friends.
“I’ve brought ye clothes,” he said, shoving a bundle against her stomach. “Put them on.”
Her mouth sagged in horror, and then she closed it with a snap and tried to make herself sound braver than she felt. “I will not disrobe in front of you.”
“Och, I’m not asking ye to. Keep your nightshift on then, and wear the gown over it. I even brought ye a petticoat, since I ken ladies need them.”
“My own garments—”
“—are too fine and will draw attention to us. Hurry, unless ye want my help.”
She held her breath for a suspended moment, then let it out when he dropped his hands from her. Snatching the bundle from him, she turned away, dropping it on the bed. There were no stays, which would make her a very loose woman, but she could not bring herself to ask about their absence. She stepped into the rough linen petticoat and tied it above her hips. There were no hoops stitched in place, as she had inside her own petticoats. Her face felt hot at knowing this man, this stranger, stood behind her and watched such an intimate act. Her maid would have gently lowered the garments over her head. She wasn’t used to dressing alone.
She had to hurry, or he might go through with his threat to help her.
She could feel that the gown was made of plain wool with a square décolletage. No open front or stomacher to pin into place. His choice was practical. As she settled the gown over her petticoat, she was surprised to feel his hands tugging at the lacing at her back. Gritting her chattering teeth, she felt forced to allow this intimacy.
When he was done, he put both hands on her shoulders and pushed her toward the French doors leading to the balcony. She took two steps, and suddenly images flashed in front of her eyes, of being kidnapped, assaulted, her body degraded—her body never found. Ransom might be asked from her uncle, who didn’t care about her, and her parents, too far away to respond. Did the man even have a weapon? She hadn’t seen one, and that knowledge made her suddenly bold.
Riona flung herself sideways, startling him enough that he let go. She stepped on the edge of her skirt trying to straighten up and run for the door, only to have the man grab her around the waist and lift her off the ground, her back to his chest. She kicked backward with her legs, even as his other hand covered her mouth again.
“That’s enough,” he said sternly into her ear.
He carried her to the glass door. All she could do was swing her legs at him, but his legs felt as unaffected as the trunk of a tree kicked by a bird. She reached behind to grab at his hair with her free hand. Though he swore, he didn’t stop his inexorable stride out into the cool summer air on the balcony. She was used to the sounds of London, carriages at all hours of the night, the calls of street vendors and their customers even before dawn. But away from the town center, York was as silent as the moors, as if they were the only people left in the world. She felt an ache of desperate loneliness.
When her captor went right to the edge and leaned over it, she gasped as the half moon illuminated a steep drop into the shadows of the garden. Her head reeled with dizziness. He couldn’t possibly have forced her to dress only to push her to her death.
And then she saw the flash of a lantern signaling them from below before being quickly shuttered, followed by the dark, boxy outline of a coach. Two black horses pulled it forward into the moonlight, away from the building, and then the well-trained animals went utterly still.
“I’m going to lower ye to the coachman,” the man said in her ear. “If ye fight, ye might fall, and we don’t want that. Do ye understand?”
She nodded, but when he removed his hand from her mouth, she spoke hoarsely, quickly. “Why are you doing this? I’m not worth anything to you. A ransom—”
“I want no ransom. Quiet.”
The first tears spilled down her cheeks as he pulled up a rope affixed to the stone balustrade. Had he climbed up that way? She couldn’t possibly do the same!
“There’s a loop at the bottom. Ye’ll stand in it and I’ll lower ye. Now up on the balustrade.”
She gasped when he put both large hands about her waist, then lifted her until she was forced to stand on the narrow stone or risk tumbling and breaking her neck. With a groan, she closed her eyes, swayed, and was actually grateful the man kept a firm hold of her hips.
“None of that,” he ordered sternly. Then he sighed. “This won’t work, I see that now.”
“Then let me go and I won’t tell anyone what happened here!”
She opened her eyes, then reeled as the shadowy walled garden seemed to expand into darkness, and the wind picked up. She felt dazed with shock and disbelief.
“I’m not letting ye go. Ye’re my future, lass.”
His future? But she didn’t have time to even guess what he meant when he suddenly vaulted onto the balustrade beside her, his movements catlike for a big man.
“I’ll just have to carry ye then. Now don’t move, or ye’ll kill us both.”
Horrified, she began, “Carry me—”
Then he tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain, and she landed with an “oomph” that surely bruised her stomach. She was hanging upside-down, the world spinning around her, the rough wool of his coat against her mouth, his arm across the back of her thighs as he bent to grip the rope.
“Hold on, lass, or it’ll end badly for ye.”
For the first time, he sounded truly menacing, as if he didn’t want her antics to send him hurtling down with her to an ugly death. She could feel the muscles of his chest and back tense with strain as he began to lower himself down the side of the balcony, using his feet to brace himself, and then only his arms as the rope swayed in mid-air.
She closed her eyes and clutched his coat with both hands, too terrified to do anything other than pray. And then it was over, and she thanked God for solid ground. Not that she felt it with her own feet, because she was suddenly tossed into the interior of the coach, where she landed hard on a leather-covered bench. As she scrambled to sit upright, her captor looked through the doorway, his shoulders blocking the meager moonlight.
“Be a good lass and keep quiet if ye don’t want company tonight,” he warned in a hard voice.
Then he slammed the door shut. There was no lantern lit, and both windows had a curtain drawn down over them. She was in absolute blackness. Hands fumbling, she found the door handle, but somehow it was jammed from the outside. She shook it in frustration, then sank back and just hugged herself. The coach lurched into motion, the wheels clattering repetitively on the cobblestone street outside her uncle’s town house.
She was too numb and disbelieving for tears now. She was the prisoner of two men, and didn’t have any idea what they might do to her. Unless someone had seen what had happened—and there was no sound of pursuit—she was alone against these strangers. She could sit here and wallow in fear—or she could find a way to free herself.
Riona and Hugh are on the road, and some of my favorite scenes in historical romances are when they’re forced to share a room, something so forbidden in their society—and so fun to read!
How was Riona supposed to bathe like this, right beneath his knowing gaze?
As if reading her mind, Hugh said, “I’ll keep my back turned, but do be quick about it, my lady. I’d like my bath to be middling warm.”
She was too dazed for words—and then she realized she could not unlace her gown alone. “I need to call a maidservant,” she said, heading for the door.
For a big man, he moved with speed. He reached the door before she could.
“None of that,” he said.
He turned her about like she was a child’s doll and started unlacing. It seemed to take too long, and soon he began to grumble.
“Damned wet laces.”
She bit her lip, saying nothing, feeling every tug as if he stroked her skin. She’d never felt like this before, so aware of someone so close to her. No man ever had been. She knew she was not ugly, but her cousin Cat was vivacious and cast a long shadow that hid other women when she was about. And then there was Riona’s constant care of Bronwyn, nights when her cousin attended a soiree alone since Riona had to attend her sister.
But now … this Highlander thought he would marry her. He thought he had the right to put his hands on her, to undress her. Everything inside her wanted to rebel, but it was useless, and tears burned her eyes. The moment her laces loosened, she fled across the room, holding the bodice in place.
He watched her, hair loose about his shoulders, eyes as smoldering as the peat fire. Bare legs, big strong feet, and callused hands meant for war. He could do anything he wanted to do to her—would she really make things easy by disrobing in front of him?
For a long moment their gazes held, and something hot seemed to uncurl down in the pit of her belly. She couldn’t breathe deeply, couldn’t blink, and only when he turned away did she take a deep breath.
He went to the hearth and sank down in a chair, and without turning his head, said, “Aye, we’ll have a good marriage, my lady. I can already feel what’s between us.”
“Between us,” she echoed with disdain. “You are mistaken. There is hatred and anger inside me, nothing else.”
His head turned now, and she caught his profile, the heavy brows, the strong nose, the firm mouth.
“Your anger lights your eyes with a green fire that I find enthralling. I can mold that fire, my lady, see if I don’t.”
And he turned away again.
She wanted to scream at him, to deny everything he said, but he wanted that kind of emotion from her, and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Keeping her gaze on his every move, she pulled off her gown and left it in a heap, followed by her petticoats and then her chemise. By now she was trembling, although the room was warm enough. Practically tripping in her haste, she stepped over the edge and sat in the tub, cursing that the water barely covered her breasts, no matter how deeply she sank.
She was naked in the same room with a man who was nearly so, a man who intended to force her into marriage. She grabbed a facecloth, lathered a poor amount of strange-smelling soap, and began to rub her skin. The feel of being warm and clean was glorious—if only she could revel in it. But she felt like a rabbit tiptoeing past a wolf, desperate to finish before she was noticed.
A first kiss is always such a fun scene to write. They’re usually filled with conflict and chemistry and confusion—the three Cs!
Riona shivered, but it wasn’t from the bathwater’s chill. It was from the frightening realization that there was something powerful between them, something that called to her, that made the risks Hugh had taken to have her for himself seem arousing, not just self-serving. There was a place inside her she’d never sensed before, surely a recklessness, a weakness.
“Ye’re strangely quiet, lass,” he murmured.
His gaze lazily moved over her face, dipping to her breasts, where the upper curves were displayed above the soapy water. Her skin felt … prickly, sensitive, even inflamed.
“I’m not done fighting you,” she said at last, almost wincing at how breathless she sounded.
A slow grin curved his mouth, even as he reached his hand to cup her face and tilt it toward him. The shock of his warm palm settling so gently on her skin made her tense, but she didn’t pull away, as if that would show that she’d given up, that she was afraid of what he could do to her … what he could make her feel.
He leaned over the tub and kissed her, his palm guiding her head. She wanted to show him he didn’t move her, that this display meant nothing to her. But his lips were warm, and glided over hers with purpose, parted gently as if he wanted to taste her. She’d never been kissed … She felt her head swim at the sensation that seemed to travel down her body, to her breasts, to the pit of her stomach and between her thighs as if he’d touched her in her most secretive places.
When his tongue traced her lower lip, she jerked back in surprise. He didn’t laugh, just studied her with those gray eyes that were considerably warmer. He kept his hand on her face, and his thumb caressed her cheek over and over.
“Our first kiss bodes well for the future,” he said.
He glanced down to her breasts again, and she stiffened. With a faint smile, he let her go and stood up.
“Dry off,” he said, back to ordering her around. “We have things we need to discuss.”
Not the topics she wanted to discuss, apparently, but she didn’t argue. He turned his back and went to the window, while she hastily dried herself and pulled on a dressing gown Mrs. Wallace had laid out for her, trying to forget the feel of his mouth on hers, and how instead of being afraid or disgusted, she’d felt … aroused. Her cousin Cat had told her one could feel overwhelmed when in intimate situations with a man, and Riona hadn’t been able to understand what she meant. She did now, and felt a new kind of fear—fear of her own reaction and response to this compelling persuasion of his.
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