Read Chapter One of Highlander Seduced



Stirling Castle, Scotland


February, 1452



THERE WERE TWO questions Iver Mackay didn’t like answering. The first was, why, at the age of five and thirty, he’d never married? And the second was, when was he planning on taking a wife?

But this evening, he hadn’t been able to avoid either—especially since it was the king who was asking.

Iver stiffened in his high-backed chair, his fingers tightening around the cup of warmed spiced wine he held. He’d been enjoying the heat of the roaring fire, and only half-listening to the talk of politics from the others in the solar, when James had blindsided him.

Recovering, Iver favored the young king with a polite smile. “Clan matters have kept me occupied over the years, Sire. I’ve no time to look for a wife.”

It was a weak excuse, and James snorted rudely. “Ye are at peace with yer neighbors these days, are ye not?”

“Aye, Sire.”

“Well, ye are well overdue starting a family then,” The king’s deep-brown eyes narrowed. “A laird needs a wife … and heirs to secure his line.”

This comment brought murmurs of agreement from the others seated around the hearth. Iver’s gaze traveled the chamber, and he noted his companions were now all staring at him.

After supper in the great hall, the clan-chiefs and chieftains who’d gathered at Stirling for three days of celebrations had retired to the keep. The spacious solar, with twin stag heads mounted either side of the fireplace and hunting tapestries covering the damp walls, was big enough to accommodate them all. However, the king had taken the best spot, right before the hearth.

The young man sprawled back in his carven chair, booted feet up on a settle.

Iver kept smiling, even as anger quickened in his gut.

He wasn’t going to argue with the king. Nonetheless, such a glib comment was easy for a man of two and twenty to utter—a man who’d married at eighteen, and who already had two bairns.

Life hadn’t kicked James in the bollocks repeatedly the way it had Iver.

“Well said, My Liege.” One of the clan-chiefs lifted his cup aloft in a mocking toast and flashed Iver a grin. “A man proves himself with his lineage, does he not?”

Iver clenched his jaw and took a large gulp of rich plum wine.

Christ’s blood. Can they just change the subject?

He then silently cursed his own clan-chief for sending him in his stead. He hadn’t wanted to make this trip to Stirling, yet it was Queen Mary’s birthday and the end of Lent.  After a frugal period—with no meat consumed and watered-down ale, mead, and wine—King James had decided to host three days of celebrations and feasting.

Of course, Niel had known that the king would want to talk clan politics at some point over the festivities. As one of the most powerful Highland clans, the Mackays needed to be kept informed. So, although Niel had no wish to make the long trip himself, he’d chosen an emissary. Iver had been the obvious choice as he ruled the southern branch of the Mackays, at Dun Ugadale on Kintyre peninsula. The trip to Stirling Castle wasn’t as long for him—and he’d report back to his clan-chief afterward.

“I have three younger brothers,” Iver replied after a lengthy pause, throttling his temper and focusing on keeping his tone smooth. “One of them will surely have sons. They shall keep the Mackay bloodline going.”

“Aye, but they won’t be yer sons,” the king pointed out unnecessarily.

Iver inhaled deeply before answering. “Such things don’t matter to me, Sire. I don’t care if a nephew, or one of my brothers, steps into my role once I’m gone.”

One of the clan-chiefs made a choking sound, while the man next to him muttered an oath under his breath. The tension in the solar was now palpable.

The embers smoldering in Iver’s gut flared to life once more; it was an effort to keep his smile in place now. He was aware such sentiment wasn’t popular. Many Highland lairds were obsessive about continuing their bloodline. His drinking companions likely thought he’d lost his wits.

Taking another gulp of wine, Iver cast a hunted look over his shoulder—to where one of his brothers lounged.

As always, Lennox preferred to sit in the shadows. Younger than Iver by three years, his brother reclined near the window—out of the circle of warmth cast by the hearth—cup of mulled wine in hand, long legs crossed at the ankles.

Catching Iver’s eye, he smirked.

Iver fought an answering scowl. At this rate, the only bairn his brother would be fathering would be a bastard. Like Iver, Lennox was unwed. But his choice was never questioned. He could fight, drink, carouse, and sew his seed far and wide without anyone criticizing him, for he wasn’t the chieftain of Dun Ugadale.

Iver had responsibilities, but Lennox didn’t.

Turning his attention back to the king and the men seated around him, Iver drew in a slow, deep breath. Stubbornness tightened his gut then. It matters not what the king, or anyone else, says.

Aye, short of ‘commanding’ him to take a wife, he’d not be swayed from his decision.

Iver would never ask a woman for her hand again.

However, as everyone’s focus remained on him, as if they were waiting for Iver to elaborate on his unpopular decision, he decided it was time to steer the conversation to other subjects.

Meeting the king’s eye, he asked, “Will ye be gathering yer council tomorrow morning, Sire?”

James huffed a sigh while his gaze remained narrowed. “No … the morning after. Mary has organized a masquerade ball for tomorrow, so we shall enjoy some revelry first … before talking politics.”

“A masquerade ball? I’ve never heard of such a thing, My Liege,” a big man seated at the back of the group spoke up then.

The king heaved a sigh and pulled a face. The expression twisted the vermillion birthmark upon his left cheek.

“Aye,” he muttered. “Mary tells me that these occasions … where guests don costumes and masks … are currently fashionable in France. She’s been eager to host one for a while.”

“Indeed, the queen and her ladies-in-waiting have spent the past moon fashioning masks for all the guests,” Duncan Stewart, the seneschal of Stirling Castle added with a smile. Seated at the back of the gathering of lairds, Stewart was a big man with red cheeks and a thick mane of greying black hair. “It should be quite an evening.”

Iver’s simmering irritation spiked once more. He didn’t care if masquerade balls were popular elsewhere. Frankly, he hadn’t come to Stirling for such foolish mummery. Yet, no doubt, he’d be expected to attend.

“There will be plenty of fine ladies in attendance tomorrow.” James turned his attention to Iver once more, pinning him under a penetrating stare. “If a man can’t find himself a wife amongst the best Scotland has to offer, he’s a fool indeed.”

Laughter rippled through the solar at this comment.

Iver flushed. He couldn’t rouse a smile; instead, he fought a deep scowl. Not only had the king brought the conversation right back to the subject he wished to avoid, but he was now ridiculing him.

His heart beat a tattoo against his ribs. Only the king could get away with such a slur—he’d have broken the nose of any other man who insulted him thus.

However, Iver wasn’t the idiot James clearly thought he was.  And as such, he held his tongue.


“The king was like a dog with a bone this eve.”

“Aye … he had his sights on me from the moment we entered.” Iver stalked down the hallway toward the stairwell, hands clenched by his sides. They’d just left the king’s solar and were making their way back to their bedchambers. “Just because he’s happily wed, he thinks everyone else should be.”

Beside him, Lennox snorted a laugh. “I wouldn’t idealize it. I’d wager Fiery Face thinks his clan-chiefs and chieftains won’t cause him trouble if they have a wife and a brood of bairns to contend with.”

His brother’s drawled comment made Iver’s step falter. Glancing around him, lest there be anyone lurking in the shadows who might have overheard the insult, he scowled. “Christ’s bones, Len. Lower yer voice when ye use that name.”

Lennox wasn’t the only one who called the king that behind his back. ‘Fiery Face’ didn’t just allude to his birthmark but also his hot temper. However, none were foolish enough to say it in his company.

Shrugging, Lennox flashed Iver a grin. “Don’t worry … we’re alone.” He paused then. “For what it’s worth, I thought ye handled yerself with grace in there.”

“Aye, well, it comes from years of practice.”

“Even so, it’s not wise to rouse the ire of the king. Maybe ye should find yerself a wife.”

Iver cut him a sharp look, yet Lennox just winked at him. “Ye’re not getting any younger, after all.”

Iver muttered a curse under his breath. “Don’t ye start.” It was bad enough that his mother continued to nag him about the subject whenever she got him alone. He didn’t need his brother to join the chorus.

The brothers enjoyed an easy relationship, but Lennox did like riling him—even more so these days, it seemed.

He’d always been wild, but of late there was a restlessness in him. Lennox brawled at the slightest provocation, had a barbed quip at the ready for most occasions, and didn’t bother to hide his disdain if conversation bored him.

Iver had asked him to accompany him to Stirling, although he wondered now if Kerr wouldn’t have been a better choice. Lennox was sharp-witted and an able negotiator, but Iver felt as if he’d just carried a cocked crossbow into the castle with him. Who knew what would come out of Len’s mouth, or whom he’d offend, especially when he was in his cups?

“Don’t mind me,” Lennox replied, a teasing light glinting in his eyes. “It’s the king ye need to worry about.”

“Aye, remind me to sit as far as possible from him at the banquet tomorrow.”

A familiar heaviness descended upon Iver then, at the thought of the coming festivities and council. Suddenly, he wished he were back in his own keep, chatting with all three of his brothers over a cup of wine by the hearth.

Suddenly, he felt weary.

As if sensing Iver’s change in mood, Lennox slapped him on the back then. “Cheer up, lad …  just two more days and we can go home.”

“Aye,” Iver murmured. “I’ll be relieved when this is all over with.”

The brothers took the stairs to the guest floor and walked along the corridor toward their bedchambers. Torches hung from chains on the walls, casting a warm light across the pitted stone.

A chambermaid hurried past them then, carrying a huge pile of fresh linen. The lass kept her face downcast. All the same, Iver noted that she was a pretty wee thing with flame-red hair.

Lennox winked at her, yet the lass kept her head bowed and scurried on, her feet whispering on stone.

“Careful, Len,” Iver muttered. “Try to keep yer slug in yer braies for once.”

In response, his brother merely barked a laugh.


Copyright © 2023, Jayne Castel

Preorder HIGHLANDER SEDUCED (release date, May 18, 2023