Rose: A Scottish Outlaw, Book 5


Highland Outlaws Series, Book Five

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Book Five in the bestselling Highland Outlaws Series

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Rose stands on her rock and gazes out to sea, her calm expression masking the fire that burns inside her restless heart. Filled with longing, she waits and yearns for more.

But now, she is done waiting.

She sets sail, leaving behind her Highland home, determined to make her own destiny.

In her travels, she meets Tristan Thatcher, a handsome and wealthy sea captain. They strike a deal that will change Rose’s life forever. Everything she has ever wanted may at last be hers, but only if she has the courage of a Scottish Outlaw.

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Enjoy an excerpt from Rose: A Scottish Outlaw, Book 5

Tristan Thatcher once again read the saccharine words scratched by his father’s hand on the rumpled missive delivered that morning when his ship pulled into Port Rìgh on Skye.

Dear Tristan,

I have the most joyous news to share with you, my son.

“Joyous, indeed,” Tristan muttered angrily, his brow furrowing deeper still.

With regard to procuring for you a wife, I have made the most propitious match.

“Favorable for all involved accept me,” he scoffed and lunged to his feet, continuing to read.

Prepare yourself, my son, for good tidings.

Tristan skimmed through the next several paragraphs summarizing Baron Roxwell’s poorly managed estates and dwindling coffers, for which Tristan’s father could not be more delighted—the reason for his glee was where Tristan started to read more closely.

Baron Roxwell’s daughter, Abigail, is a comely enough lass.

“What does it matter when her heart’s as black as soot,” he snapped angrily at the parchment, which refused to satisfy his temper with a reply he could shoot down. Resisting the urge to crumple the already abused paper in his fist, he read on.

Baron Roxwell has consented to a betrothal between you and Abigail. Thus, uniting our families and making you Lord Tristan Thatcher. It is a dream come true.

A sharp rapping sounded at the door the instant before it swung open and a tall, slender man entered Tristan’s cramped quarters.

“This is a nightmare, but one from which I cannot wake,” Tristan growled to his quarter master.

Philip leaned against the door. “Can I assume you have not figured a way out of your betrothal?”

Tristan held up the parchment. “I have read my father’s letter countless times, hoping I somehow missed the jest.”

Philip shook his head. “I believe your father is gravely serious. Unfortunately for you, he means every word. I’m sorry, Captain, but you’re as good as married.”

Tristan sat down at his small desk, determined to read the letter again. “We must have missed something. My father cannot mean to have betrothed me without my consent—while I’m leagues away. I am five and thirty. Fathers do not betroth their grown sons.”

He had no wish to disrespect his father, but he also refused to be a pawn in Owen Thatcher’s pursuit of something that was contrary to Tristan’s beliefs. It was not marriage itself that he opposed, although as a sailor he never fancied the idea of marrying a woman only to leave her alone most of the year. It was his father’s desire for an aristocratic title that Tristan fundamentally opposed.

He had never understood his father’s fascination with the peerage. Tristan saw the lot as lazy and entitled leeches who thrived off the labor of others. Unlike the Thatcher family, Baron Roxwell had not earned his esteemed position in society. He had simply been born to it. In contrast, Tristan’s father had started out a penniless London dockhand. Over the years, Owen worked his way to Captain. And when Tristan came of age, he had propelled the family business forward. Now, they were some of the most successful merchants in Christendom with fleets of ships that traveled from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Still, somehow this wasn’t enough for Owen.

Another knock sounded. “Enter,” he barked.

A thin, freckled face slowly peered around the door. “Sorry, Captain. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Tristan took a deep breath. He could tell his brash tone had startled his cabin boy. “You needn’t apologize, Simon.” He held up the letter in his hand. “A matter of grave importance has vexed me, but it is my problem, not yours. What do you have to report?”

A smile replaced Simon’s frown. “Nelson has spotted something drifting toward us.”

Tristan dropped the letter on his narrow bed. “Let us go see what he has found.”

Both Simon and Philip backed into the hallway, allowing Tristan to take lead up the stairs. Stepping onto the main deck, Tristan scanned his ship. His crew lined the starboard side, clearly struggling to see what Nelson had spotted from his high perch.

Tristan cupped his hands around his mouth. “What do you see, Nelson?”

A thin, grizzly face with a nearly toothless grin smiled down at him over the sides of the crow’s nest, but, an instant later, his smile vanished as the line he held slipped from his gnarled fingers. Quickly, Nelson scampered from his perch and nimbly crossed the yard, seizing the line before he climbed back into the lookout. Tristan grinned up at the ancient sailor whose wiry body moved like a man a quarter of his age.

Again, the weathered face peered down from above. “Can’t say for certain yet, Captain, but there’s something adrift out there.” Then he pointed up to the twilight-blue sky. “’Tis a blessing it be summer, and the moon is full. Whatever sails this way will not be able to sneak up on us. I’ll see it first.”

“Good man,” Tristan called. “Keep your eyes starboard. I wait for your report.”

“Aye aye, Captain.”

Tristan crossed the main deck and climbed the stairs to the forecastle and was soon joined by Philip. Keeping his eyes trained on the shadowy sea, Tristan said to his quarter master, “I must find a way out of this betrothal without shaming my father.”

“Shaming him?” Philip said, the incredulity in his tone drew Tristian’s gaze. “Captain, if you refuse this betrothal, your father could be thrown in the stocks or imprisoned. By the Saints, you speak of breaking a contract with nobility. His very life may be forfeit and yours.”

Tristan gripped the ship’s rail, releasing a frustrated growl. “There must be a way. You know Baron Roxwell’s character. He’s a deplorable man. His own gambling and greed have brought his family low enough that he would consider betrothing his daughter to a commoner.”

Philip arched his brow at him. “You may not be of noble birth, but I would hardly call you common. You are wealthier than many lords.”

Tristan threw his hands up. “What does it matter? I refuse to bind myself to such a ruthless family. Baron Roxwell is the epitome of all I despise in their class.”

Philip looked at him dead on. “I’m sorry, Captain. The only way this match might have been avoided is if you were already married when the message arrived.”

Tristan fisted his hands together. “I’m not married as you well know. Do not tell me there is no other way.” He expelled a long breath, trying to regain control. Staring out to sea, he strained to see the object drifting near, but nothing broke the calm surface. Gentle waves lapped against the hull.

“You could always get married,” Philip suggested.

Tristan turned and raised a brow at him. “Isn’t it rather late for that?”

Philip shrugged. “As you’ve said, you are leagues away from London. No one of consequence could account for the last year of your life. Who’s to say you weren’t married when we arrived at Port Rìgh.”

Tristan shook his head. “I see where you’re going with this but let us hurry to the part where we dismiss your idea. If I knew a woman I wished to marry, I would have done so already. Anyway, you know my mind on marriage. I am a man of the sea.”

Philip crossed his arms over his chest. “Marrying anyone else would be better than Abigail Roxwell. I heard she had her serving maid flogged for plucking her eyebrows too thin.”

Tristan groaned and bent forward, letting his forehead rest on the rail. “I agree with your logic, but I refuse to be forced into one marriage to escape another.” Damn Owen and his stubborn hypocrisy. Tristan stood straight and raked his hand through his hair. “It astounds me that my father can be so sensible in every other regard but his ambition to elevate his family to nobility. He cannot see his own folly.”

“Mayhap, there is another way,” Philip murmured.

Tristan watched his quarter master slowly pace the forecastle. “Yes, indeed, it just might work.”

“What are you mumbling about?” Tristan said impatiently.

Philip whirled around, his eyes gleaming. “You could falsify a wedding.”

Had his quarter master gone daft? “What are you talking about? Falsify a wedding? What is that supposed to even mean?”

A slight smile curved Philips lips. “Yes!” he said, clearly approving his own plan before Tristan even understood it.

“Don’t you see?” Philip blurted, his face now flushed with excitement.

“No, I don’t see,” Tristan snapped. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

Philip grinned. “You could feign being married to someone.”

Tristan slowly shook his head. He couldn’t believe what Philip had just proposed. “You’ve lost your mind, old friend.”

“Do not dismiss my idea so quickly, not until you consider it from all angles.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are proposing I pretend to have a wife. From every angle that is lunacy.”

Philip shrugged. “Desperate times.”

Tristan raised his eyes heavenward. “The notion of a fake bride is ridiculous, not to mention blasphemous.”

“No,” Philip snapped. “You marrying Lady Roxwell is ridiculous, not to mention abhorrent, immoral, unthinkable—”

“Enough,” Tristan snapped. It pained him that Philip did not exaggerate. By all accounts, Abigail was entirely lacking in merit, which was no surprise to Tristan. He had witnessed precious little nobility among the noble class.

“There must be another way.” He looked out to sea. “Give me the answer,” he prayed aloud.

Philip moved to stand next to him. “Pray to the sea all you like, but the more I think on it, the more I am certain marital pretense is the answer.”

He scowled at Philip, then turned back to the sea and added to his prayer. “And find me a new quarter master.”

Philip flashed a wide grin. “You say that now, but once you think on it, you’ll realize my genius.” A moment later, Philip’s smile faded, and his countenance grew serious. “Tristan, this truly could be the only way to save your family and yourself. It is a simple enough plan. All you need is a woman.”

Tristan made a show of looking around the deck at the rough-speaking, weathered sailors, moving about their duties. “And where exactly am I going to find a woman?” he asked.

“Captain,” Nelson called down.

Tristan turned and looked to the top of the wide, square mast. “Aye, Nelson. What do you see?”

“Not sure, Captain,” came his reply. “But…but I think it could be…a woman.”

Tristan and Philip locked eyes. Both men stood frozen. Then, a slow smile spread across Philip’s face. “It looks like the sea has answered your prayer after all, Captain.”


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