Chapter One

forest looking for inspiration, and she found it. A high canopy of birch leaves flamed overhead, orange and red against the blue autumnal sky. It cast an umbrageous light on the woodland below, and in the golden play of sun and shadow, leaf and stone, she saw faeries and goblins, gnomes and elves. A world of enchantment that had her fingers itching for a quill.

She’d promised a story to the Ladies’ Weekly in just a month’s time, and though she should have written it before she left home, she’d put it off, thinking the journey through the Highlands would be the perfect thing to stimulate her creative mind—she so rarely escaped the dreary confines of Grislow Park. But after days of being cramped in a coach beside her brother Percy, subjected to hours of Mother and Aunt Cynthia’s idle chatter, she’d started to doubt the wisdom of her plan. Her mind was wrung out and dull.

But this wood . . . oh, there were stories here.

A small path branched away from the main trail, perhaps leading to the clandestine lair of a noble highwayman, or a band of nefarious thieves. Up ahead, a boulder loomed, twice as tall as she was. Rough stone draped in a thick carpet of moss. Maybe a troll lived inside, his front door accessed through the deep crevice that cleaved the rock’s center. Or even better, this was the trysting place for the daughter of the king and her forbidden lover. He was the highwayman, of course. A gallant knight who’d been forced into hiding by the evil—

Cybil’s heart stopped.

There was a man—a
real man—crouched in the shadow of the boulder. He’d concealed himself in the crevice, and he was barely visible. All she could make out was his silhouette.

Was he watching her?

She swallowed, frozen to the spot. The small Highland village where they’d stopped for the night seemed a quaint, happy place, and the innkeeper had assured her that the path through the wood could be safely traversed by a woman alone.

So who was this man?

He was as still and silent as the craggy rock he’d concealed himself in. Surely, if he’d wanted to, he could have attacked by now, demanded her money or jewelry, yet he hadn’t. He just stood there, looking at her.

Almost as if he were enchanted himself.

Cybil’s pulse pounded. She couldn’t see his eyes—they were pools of darkness—but something about them drew her in. Heedless of the danger, or perhaps because of it, she took a step forward. A prickling sensation ran up her spine, through her scalp. The feeling echoed in her chest, her nipples, between her legs. Another step. Unbidden, an image flashed into her mind—of his rough hands on her, pushing her against the hard stone, then lifting her skirt. The feel of her bare skin hot on the cool rock. The weight of him as he filled her again, and again and again. The scent of rotting leaves. Moss digging under her fingernails as she grasped for purchase, and he bored into her without mercy . . .

Cybil couldn’t breathe. The man was still at least ten feet from where she stood, shrouded in shadow, but his hair, she now saw, was unruly and dark, his hat a bit threadbare over prominent, looming brows. His lips were soft against the hard planes of his chiseled features—

Dear God.
Cybil’s hand flew to her mouth. It was Will Chisolm, her brother’s friend who, along with his two children, was accompanying the family to Percy’s wedding in the Highlands.

Heat bloomed on her cheeks. She barely knew this man. He’d ridden in the other carriage and had scarcely said a word to her in the four days since they’d been introduced and set out from Glasgow. How had she let her wanton imagination get the better of her, with
him of all people?

“Mr. Chisolm, I’m—"

His eyes widened, and he raised a finger to his mouth, commanding her silence. At the same time, his lips curved into a small smile.

What on

out, Da. This isna fun,” a childish voice echoed from up the path, then Rose, Mr. Chisolm’s daughter, came into view. She was a girl of six or seven, with a long, blonde braid and pale skin. Her eyes were wide and fearful.

She hastened her steps toward Cybil, talking all the while. “Lady Falstone, have you seen my father? He said we’d play hide-and-seek, but I canna find him and—oh . . . I’m afraid somethin’s happened.”

From Cybil’s vantage point, she could see both Rose and her father. She dared a look at the latter, and he shook his head, his grin growing wider.

“I’m sorry, my dear. I haven’t seen him.” Cybil smiled at the child. “But I’m sure he’s somewhere nearby. Is your brother out looking as well?”

“No,” the girl replied flatly. “Nat says he’s too old for games. He’s gone back.” She gestured down the path, to where Cybil knew it looped back to the innyard. “I’ve looked everywhere. I canna think . . . are there
wolves here?” She peered up at Cybil entreatingly. Her chin trembled, and she was blinking away tears.

The poor child really was panicked.

“No.” Cybil sounded as reassuring as she could, though really, she had no idea if there were wolves. “I’m sure he—”

Ha!” Mr. Chisolm leapt out of his hiding spot onto the path.

Rose shrieked, then burst out crying. “Da!” She rushed to him.

The jovial expression on Mr. Chisolm’s face melted as he wrapped his daughter in his arms. Clearly, this was not the reaction he’d hoped for. “Rosie, Rosie, I was just tryin’ to have a bit of fun.” He stroked her hair. “It’s alright,”

Rose pulled away to look up at him, her face streaked with tears. “I thought—I thought you’d been eaten by wolves.” Again, she buried her face in his chest.

“No wolf wants me. I’m tough as an old hen.” Mr. Chisolm’s attempted joke did nothing to calm his wailing daughter.

“I’ll just . . .” Cybil began walking backward. Mr. Chisolm’s eyes rose to meet hers. There was no heat in them now, and no fun, only resignation and some kind of sadness she didn’t quite understand. Nor did she want to. “I’ll just be going.”

He nodded, then turned his attention back to his daughter.

Cybil turned and walked toward the inn. As she strode away, she heard Rose’s muffled voice. “Never do that again, Da. Please.”

Her father sighed wearily. “Very well. We’ll find other games.”


The two coaches arrived at Darnalay Castle three days later, just as the gloom of a murky day darkened into night. A cold rain spattered the carriage window as they turned into the castle’s drive, but Percy was so excited to see his betrothed, Lady Jane Dunn, that the sun might as well have been at its zenith. Lady Jane came out to greet them, or to greet Percy, as it were. He was out of the coach and in her arms before they’d even rolled to a stop. The auburn-haired Lady Jane barely took her eyes off him to greet Cybil when Percy introduced them, though she did have a friendly smile. Cybil suspected once the flush of new love wore off, they would be friends—which was a good thing, as Lady Jane would soon be the new mistress of Grislow Park. Jane’s brother, the newly dubbed Earl of Banton, emerged just as the passengers from the second coach were disembarking. He proved a more attentive host, smiling broadly then commanding everyone to call him Cameron, before ushering the crowd of guests inside.

They were shown into what must have once been the great hall of the castle but was now furnished as a sitting room—an enormous sitting room. Everything about it was oversized, from the massive logs crackling in the towering fireplace, to the soaring height of the ceiling and impossibly large beams that held it up. It made Cybil feel a bit like a girl in a fairy tale, a wee child in a castle made for giants.

“It’s just as I imagined.” Aunt Cynthia, a cup of steaming tea in hand, joined Cybil. Her eyes were sparkling. “Like the Castle of Dunbayne, is it not?”

Cybil nodded absently. Her aunt often tried to draw her into conversation by appealing to her literary side, but Aunt Cynthia had decidedly old-fashioned tastes in reading. Cybil had little patience for those aged Radcliffe novels, though she supposed this
was something like the Castle of Dunbayne. One wouldn’t be surprised to find tunnels hidden beneath it, or secret passages threading through the walls.

Her aunt’s attention snagged on something across the room, then quickly returned to Cybil. She leaned in. “Mr. Chisolm looks dreadfully uncomfortable. Why don’t you go talk to him?”

A nervous flutter rose in the pit of Cybil’s stomach. She didn’t move her head, but she let her eyes roam the crowded room until they landed on Will Chisolm. He did, indeed, look uncomfortable. He was standing by himself, watching his children who, for once, seemed to have forgotten their father and were chasing each other around the room. Mr. Chisolm’s prominent brows were drawn into an expression of wary apprehension, his arms were crossed, and a mirthless smile played awkwardly on his lips. He looked out of place, like a schoolboy too shy to join in a game.

Cybil hadn’t said two words to him since that odd episode in the forest. It wasn’t that she’d avoided him exactly, but she hadn’t sought him out either. She couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d somehow seen into her mind in that moment, when she’d let her imagination run away with her. Her cheeks heated at the thought, and the fluttery feeling increased . . . But of course he
hadn’t. How would he? And anyway, embarrassing encounters aside, she’d had no reason to speak with Mr. Chisolm in the last few days. She’d been preoccupied with her aunt and Mother, and the story she’d finally begun. He’d been busy with his children and in conversation with Percy. And it wasn’t as if they shared any interests. His speech and clothing clearly indicated he came from the lower classes, and though Cybil didn’t hold that against him—just two generations ago, her own family had been nothing more than tenant sheep farmers—it was clear they had nothing in common.

“Cybil?” Aunt Cynthia’s voice cut through her thoughts. “Do go talk to him. You’re close in age. I’m sure there’s something you have in common.”

Cybil resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Her aunt was serious, and one couldn’t just say
no to Aunt Cynthia.

“Very well.” She sighed.

She crossed the room, weaving her way through the crowd. Percy, she noticed, had removed himself from conversation and was now circling the room dreamily, taking it all in. Dratted boy—he got to be in love,
and he wasn’t forced into awkward small talk. His eyes met hers, then darted to Aunt Cynthia, then Mr. Chisolm, then back to her with a knowing grin that only a brother would dare. He’d obviously guessed at their aunt’s directive.

did roll her eyes at him.

Then, “Good afternoon, Mr. Chisolm.” She forced a polite smile.

“Lady Falstone.” He nodded, then blinked twice. Even out of the shadows, his features were like chiseled stone.
Rough-hewn. Yes, that was the word. Like a primitive wall made of crudely shaped fieldstones. Except for his lips. There was nothing rock-like about them. They were soft, pillowy, sensuous . . .

Cybil cleared her throat and dragged her gaze up to meet his. Her cheeks warmed. “’Tis a wonder we made such good time from Inverness, is it not?” She waited for a response, but he said nothing. “The weather’s dreadful,” she prompted.

“A wonder.” Mr. Chisolm stared at her, then blinked again. His brows lowered and drew together, causing two parallel furrows to appear.

“I do hope tomorrow’s weather improves,” she ventured.

“Mmhm,” he agreed.

“At least there’s plenty of room here for the children to run about.” She gestured to Rose and Nathan, who were now exploring the outer reaches of the room. “’Twas quite a long journey for two so young.”


Another dreadful pause, longer than the last, dilating until it threatened to swallow all pretense of easy conversation.

Cybil caught her aunt’s gaze. Cynthia raised her brows and nodded, smiling encouragement.

Then she looked back at Mr. Chisolm, and without warning, something fractured inside her, then relaxed into place
. This was absurd. What was the purpose of acting like a girl just out of Miss Pugel’s Academy? She’d witnessed this man playing hide-and-seek, for goodness sake. Surely, he wouldn’t mind a bit of fun. And even if he did, what did it matter if he thought her a ninny? Better that than a light skirt.

“I do hope the dragon doesn’t escape the tower tonight.” She spoke in the same polite tone she’d used to talk of the weather. “’Twould be a shame if any of the guests were eaten alive before my brother is properly wed.” She paused, cocked her head as if in thought, then added, “Or burned to death.”

Mr. Chisolm’s eyes widened, and the two vertical furrows gave way to a plethora of surprised, horizontal ones. “I—I beg your pardon?”

dragon.” She allowed a tiny smile to slip through. “I said, I hope it doesn’t escape . . .” she leaned in ever so slightly, daring him, “and eat someone.”

Mr. Chisolm stared, expressionless. His eyes were green, she noticed, but muddied with brown.

She’d just given up on a response and was about to apologize for her silliness when he spoke, as serious as ever. “Forgive me, Lady Falstone. I hadn’t heard about the dragon.”

He’d agreed to play the game.

Cybil willed her face to remain placid, though inwardly she bubbled with glee. “Oh, haven’t you?” She batted her lashes in mock femininity. “He’s quite fierce, I’m told. His lair is the highest level of the tower.” She paused dramatically, widening her eyes. “But woe to him who goes near.”

Mr. Chisolm shook his head sternly, lips pressed together. “Couldna compare to the dragon of Strathfarrar. Now
she is a brute. Too big by far to live in a castle like this one.” He snorted derisively. “Hers is a cavern behind a linn . . . she used to fly over my house when I was a lad, breathin’ fire in the night sky and makin’ all the wee bairns cry out in fear.”

“Breathing fire?” Cybil scoffed. “The dragon of Darnalay was never so common. His scales are made of molten gold. They spark flame as he flies, and it rains down from the firmament.” She rolled her eyes up to the heavens. “An incandescent blaze of menacing fiery light.” She grinned at him. A nice phrase that—she’d write it down later.

Mr. Chisolm blinked. “You mean . . . ’tis

Involuntarily, Cybil let out a peal of laughter, which she quickly reined in to a giggle. Mr. Chisolm grinned in response, and his grin—it changed everything. She had to check her impulse to lean in, to examine the details of the dimple that marked his left cheek, the sunburst of creases that appeared at the corners of his eyes.

She took a step backward, wrestling her expression into one of polite interest.

“My aunt,” she nodded almost imperceptibly at Aunt Cynthia, “asked me to come talk to you. She thought you looked uncomfortable.”

“Hmmh.” Mr. Chisolm’s grin disappeared. He seemed to consider the new information. “She was right. I havena had much practice at . . .
this.” He looked around at the guests, all happily chatting, then he leaned in slightly, cupping his hand to his mouth in an exaggerated whisper. “I’m not the genteel type, ye ken?”

A shiver went down her spine as the whispered brogue swirled around her, rough, as if it scratched an itch she hadn’t known she’d had. Cybil swallowed, then pushed the feeling away.
Polite conversation. That was what she was here for.

“Consider yourself lucky,” she said lightly, widening her eyes to accentuate the droll comment.

But instead of an amused chuckle, or a wry smile, Mr. Chisolm narrowed his gaze, almost menacingly. He peered at her as if he could see right through her. “I do,” he murmured.

They were close enough now that she could see his eyes in more detail—a rich, dark amber around the irises, giving way to soft green on the periphery, and sprinkled with gold, like stars. His lashes were long for a man’s, thick and curled like his hair.

Another silence ensued but of an entirely different nature. It was as if everything around them disappeared, they were back in the forest, and he
knew. He knew exactly what was in her mind.

Her nipples chafed against her stays. Her belly turned hot, and all she could do was gaze at the man before her, luxuriating in the warmth that flowed between them. She wanted to step into that luscious heat, to draw it around herself like a cloak until it surrounded her, filled her, and she could think of nothing else . . .

But then Mr. Chisolm blinked, and she remembered where they were. Who
he was.

What was she doing?
This was her brother’s wedding. Her entire family was here. And he was her brother’s friend. He knew quite well Cybil was married.

She looked away, searching for an escape. Her eyes fell on the table by the hearth that had been laden with tea, scones, and a decanter of whisky. “I—would like some tea,” she stammered. In truth, she wanted the whisky.

“Oh.” Mr. Chisolm seemed similarly disconcerted. A flush spread across his cheeks. “Of course. I’ll ge—”

“No,” she cut him off. “I’ll go.” She turned and left him standing alone once more.


Chapter Two

“Lady Falstone?”

Cybil looked up from the manuscript to find Mr. Chisolm standing awkwardly in front of the garden bench where she sat. The man really must not have many clothes. He had on the same coat and trousers he’d worn the day before in the great hall, and all the days of their journey—though she had to admit, his broad shoulders filled out the threadbare coat nicely. He held his hat in his hands, and the sun gleamed off his curly chestnut hair. His face had the paleness of any city dweller, but the chill air had put some color on his cheeks. His mouth was a perfect curve, like a parenthesis turned on its side. And his eyes . . .

Cybil blinked and pulled herself out of her daze. “Mr. Chisolm. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”

“No—you didna.” He shook his head, as if to banish some errant thought. “I’m sorry. You’re readin’—I’ll—” He turned to leave.

“Stay,” she called after him. “I’m not as impolite as that. My reading can wait. Sit with me.” She set the manuscript to one side and patted the other side of the stone bench.

Hesitantly, he sat. It was a small seat. They weren’t quite touching, but she could feel the heat of him through her clothing. She looked down at her lap, trying to compose herself, only to be mesmerized by the firm length of his thigh next to hers. The solid contour of muscle was just visible through his trousers. All she’d need do is lift her hand, place it on his leg, and—

She jerked her head up. Trained her eyes on some flowers across the way.

Silence fell between them, broken only by the trilling song of some Highland bird.

was this? Did he feel it too? Certainly, Cybil was prone to lascivious fantasies, but this . . . this was more.