The Princess and the Laird by C.A. Szarek
The Princess and the Laird
by C.A. Szarek
Prequel to the time travel, fantasy romance trilogy, Highland Secrets!
He’s a reluctant Laird…
Alex MacLeod always knew he’d be leader of his clan, but duty was thrust upon him before he was ready.
His father’s devotion to his sick mother is something to admire—or so he keeps telling himself. He regards the man above all others and can’t understand why he would forgo duty for love.
He teeters on the edge of selfishness—the drive for something more.
She’s a runaway Fae princess…
Headstrong Alana is used to disobeying her father, king of the Fae, especially when he commands her.
When she sneaks through the Faery Stones into the Human Realm, she never expects to run into the human laird. Despite her cousin’s warnings and her father’s wrath, Alana finds herself increasingly drawn to a man she can never have.
Together they share a forbidden union...
Alex and Alana find freedom in each other that they’ve never experienced with anyone else. They’re both running from something. Can the solace they find in each other overcome the danger that awaits in both their worlds?
C. A. Szarek's
The Princess and the Laird
Alex couldn’t give up his daily rides. So much so, he’d deigned to make them two times a day instead of just the early hours of the morn. He was now seeking the beach in the afternoon, too.
He couldn’t risk missing his princess, after all.
It’d been over three weeks since he’d seen her, but no amount of reminding himself time did nothing but creep forward would let him accept he wouldn’t see her again.
He refused to believe she was gone for good, even though defeat would settle low and dominate his body and mood alike when he went home emptyhanded each evening of his quest.
Alex had even sought the method of magical travel that brought her to the Isle of Skye—the Faery Stones—to no avail. He’d tracked the path she always took on the beach, but found no traces.
Then again, he didn’t know what he was looking for; he was just driven to find her. So perhaps he’d passed them a dozen times and not known it.
No matter how he examined things, he should go home. To Dunvegan with the rest of the MacLeods. And stay there.
He’d accused himself of being a coward and running from his clan. Recited every reason his actions were nothing but foolish. However, he couldn’t stop calling for his stallion to be readied and taking off when the need in his gut—and perhaps his heart—arose.
When confronted by anyone, he’d just stated he would address his duties as he saw fit and that he hadn’t failed anything yet.
Except finding Alana. That little tidbit he had to keep to himself, of course.
As laird, Alex refused to be questioned. So far, his hollering and bluster had worked, but knowing his family, it wouldn’t last.
Last eve, his mother had questioned him about his ‘secret lass’ when he’d visited her. Alex had wanted to murder Duncan on the spot for his big mouth, but his twin had just grinned and kissed their mother’s pale hand, then openly dared him to tell her about Alana.
It was quite the wonder, since he had nothing to say to his twin. Duncan had openly disbelieved his claims about the princess, yet he was trying to torture Alex in front of their mother?
What was he supposed to do?
He’d had to speak.
Alex had wished their father was still angry with his twin and had banished him from the castle—hell, the isle—for tupping too many maids.
They had family on Lewis, after all. Maybe the laird, their cousin, could use his troublesome brother. Duncan was good for collecting the rents and manual labor, after all.
Then their mother had smiled.
He had to swallow hard—then and now—and he hadn’t been able to help himself from launching into a tale about Alana.
Most of what he’d told her had been true—save that she was a Fae Princess—and as his mother had held a light carefree expression on her face, his eyes had smarted.
Afterward, he’d only wanted to maim his brother instead of kill him.
Alex hadn’t seen their mother look happy like that in a long time. Her hazel eyes had glowed, and she’d even had pink on her cheeks that wasn’t fever induced. Her light brown hair hadn’t looked so limp.
She’d had a coughing fit that had his pulse thundering when he’d been done with his recital, but the previous joy on her face had been worth revealing a little of his princess.
He and his brother had exchanged worried looks, but Lady Caitriona had stopped Duncan from retrieving Malcolm Beaton and asked for some water, which his twin had scrambled to get.
Alex had been grateful their da wasn’t in the room at the time; he wouldn’t have obeyed regarding not fetching the healer.
They’d managed to talk the retired laird into bathing and getting something to eat—something their father did less and less regularly, the sicker his wife got. He’d lost weight and his dark hair was graying more and more.
Lady Catriona didn’t like that anymore than Alex or his siblings. She didn’t want Iain to abandon caring for himself for her sake. She hadn’t wanted him to step down being the laird, either, but her protests hadn’t swayed his decision.
That just made Alex feel more guilty for wanting to flee.
He’d been given responsibilities his father had entrusted to him, and he’d rather be down on the beach, searching for a renegade princess he couldn’t possibly have for keeps anyway.
His name from the familiar voice made his heart skip and yanked him from the melancholy musings about his family.
Am I imagining her?
Had he been missing her so long he’d dreamed Alana up?
Was he that desperate?
He startled on Bán’s wide back and his eyes landed precisely on her, as if instinct. Alex frowned. Her guard was right behind her, and he tried not to hate that she wasn’t alone. His body mourned. He’d be unable to hold her, kiss her, if they had no privacy.
Alana jogged up to his horse before he could dismount. “I knew you’d be here!” She smiled, and it made his gut quiver. She was dressed head to foot in three or four different shades of purple again, like she’d been every time he’d seen her.
Her hair was braided in a thick plait today instead of loose, but little flaxen flyaways framed her pretty face as she peered up at him. The style made her look even more like her oversized protector. Her visage was bright, and those intriguing eyes twinkled.
Forcing a nod, Alex slid down Bán’s side and landed beside her in the rocky sand. His hands itched to touch her, but for the sake of her cousin, he kept them at his sides instead of cupping her face. “Aye, lass. I dinna chance no’ seein’ ye if ye came.”
Alana threw her arms around his neck and pushed to her toes to press her mouth to his.
He swallowed surprise and wrapped her in an embrace, leaning down to match her height. The fine material of her royal purple cloak distracted him for a second, but he got down to the business of kissing his lass—especially when her seeking tongue demanded entry in his mouth.
Her taste exploded and Alex groaned. It was the same summer berries and sweet wine, but somehow better, sharper. Need settled low in his groin; his cock and bollocks ached.
She buried her fingers in his short hair and kissed him harder.
Until her bodyguard cleared his throat.
Alex reluctantly parted their fused lips and shot the tall man a glance.
Xander had his arms crossed over a broad muscular chest and his eyes were narrowed. His thick plait swayed when he tilted his head, glaring.
“Sorry,” Alana whispered, looking over her shoulder at the fair-haired man, but she didn’t look it, and she didn’t loosen her hold on Alex.
Self-preservation told him he should move her away and prepare to defend himself, but he didn’t want to tear his eyes away from the princess who’d just kissed away his coherent thought.
Gorgeous was too weak a word.
Air was a foreign concept, and his lungs constricted, so breathtaking was more valid.
Her cheeks were flushed pink to her ears, and the little wisps of hair dancing around her face demanded his caress as much as her lips called to him to taste them again.
Alana’s body was still close to his—and it was a damn good thing, because if her bodyguard noticed his obvious erection, he’d likely try to lop it off, and Alex desired to keep his tender bits.
Get yourself together. Now.
He was going to need his wits.
Too bad they were still very much below his belt. His need wasn’t concerned with her cousin’s presence. However, brain reminded him the man carried a huge sword, likely the match in size to his claymore.
Alana didn’t look bothered by Xander’s being there, either.
That was bad for his efforts to clear the passionate haze from his head.
She pressed her forehead to his chest. “I missed you so much.” Her voice wavered as if she was about to sob, so he couldn’t release her.
Alex squeezed her against him with an uneasy glimpse to the warrior not ten feet from them.
Alana looked up and he fell into her violet eyes. They were indeed misty, and his heart stuttered.
It wouldn’t have mattered if an army marched the beach toward him. He couldn’t look away from his princess. “I feared I’d ne’er see ye again.” The truth breeched his lips and they sighed at the same time.
“You weren’t supposed to. But, Alex…I couldn’t stay away.”
“Thank Jesu,” he whispered.
She flashed another brilliant smile that made focusing on anything other than her a serious challenge. “Come, let us walk together.”
He nodded numbly with one last look at her guard.
“Don’t worry about my cousin, he’s not as mean as he looks.” Alana winked.
Xander grunted, but didn’t uncross his arms even as he took a step toward them, obviously intending to follow.
Alex hollered at himself again, but his senses were still off, and he struggled with getting his libido under control.
It was surreal, wasn’t it?
As if he’d willed her into appearing.
One kiss wasn’t nearly enough.
If her cousin wasn’t there, he would’ve stripped down her trews to finish what they’d started up on the ridge the last time he’d seen her. Perhaps it was for the better that the oversized man was present, as much as his cock hated the idea.
Alana left his side to stroke Bán’s neck, and his horse nickered, bumping her hand for more affection. “He’s beautiful. What’s he called?”
“Bán.” Alex cleared his throat and made a go for his stallion’s reins, brushing the thick gray mane out of the way.
“But he’s not all white, is he?” Alana’s mouth curved up again.
“Ye speak Gaelic?”
“Human Gaelic isn’t so different from Fae, really. Most of our words are close, or even the same.” She said what he could recognize as ‘hello, how are you?’ but the tone and some of the inflection was off. “Could you make out what I said?”
He nodded. “I’m fine, how’re ye?”
Alana grinned and he couldn’t help but return it. “See? Not so different.”
The cheerful look on her pretty face turned his brain to mush, and Alex had to concentrate to speak. “Well, aye, my horse was named for his hide’s color, but when he was wee, his mane and tail were white, as weel.” He pushed words out about his beloved mount, but he didn’t care to discuss the animal.
She reached for his hand. “Let us walk. Show me your isle.”
They talked about everything. Laughed together. Questioned each other about everything human, and everything Fae.
Alana had a bright curious mind and all the knowledge Alex had didn’t seem to satisfy her. In that, she seemed innocent, but he couldn’t call her naïve or childlike. Her beauty stunned him as much as the shot of energy when she put her hand on his arm so he could escort her.
The more her countenance displayed obvious excitement about mundane day-to-day clan life, the more his heart cantered. He wanted to mention his dreams, but her cousin followed their path, and took part in the conversation when Alana forced him to.
Alex respected him a notch for the distance he tried to keep to give them an air of privacy, but he wasn’t foolish enough to believe the man couldn’t hear everything that was said—another reason to hold his tongue on what he’d done to the princess in his sleep.
She told him of her realm—things of magic and wonder he couldn’t fathom being true, although Alex believed every word. Even about the orange and blue grass, and pink and purple trees.
His princess explained that her cousin was her sworn personal guard, and he was a renowned Fae winged Warrior.
He didn’t have his wings in the Human Realm, but she swore his magic and skills were still unparalleled. Alana stated there was less magic in Alex’s realm, which made the place undesirable for most Fae, and was the reason Xander had no wings.
Actual wings were hard to imagine, let alone a man flying, but when her cousin grunted and looked away from her praise, Alex had to smirk.
The affection they had for each other was obvious—there was no doubt the man saw her as more than a mere charge, and the princess felt the same. They resembled each other enough to be siblings, and he could tell they cared about each other as such, as well.
She explained that they’d grown up together, and been educated together, so it was only natural they’d stayed together when he’d finished his training as a Warrior and sworn himself to her.
Alex found it hard to tell her his mother was very ill, especially when her eyes watered for a woman she didn’t know, but he made his way through it, explaining how he’d ended up laird and telling her of Duncan and Janet. He talked about his family and his clan, as well as their proud stronghold, their castle.
Morning melted into late afternoon, and he didn’t want her to leave—ever.
He wanted to sweep her into his arms, steal her away to Dunvegan and keep her forever. He didn’t care that he hadn’t eaten since dawn, and his stomach was rumbling demands for food.
Alana squeezed his hand as if she could read his mind, and he slipped into those unusual eyes again. His gut shouted what she’d say before she opened her mouth.
“I…need to go. We’ve been here a long time.”
He swallowed a sigh and looked at her cousin. Offered him a nod. “Thank ye fer bringin’ her back ta me.”
She smiled and pulled his hand to her mouth, kissing his knuckles. “He couldn’t keep me away.”
Xander snorted and averted his gaze.
“Contention a’ tween ye?” he whispered.
Alana nodded “‘Tis dangerous…for me…us…to come here.”
Instinct said there was something she wasn’t saying, but he released a breath and tried to stave off the sorrow threatening to consume him.
She’s leaving me again.
Alex cupped her face and tugged her chin up so she had to meet his eyes. “I dinna want ye ta go.”
His need to kiss her burned, but he wouldn’t tempt a wager with Xander.
“I do not want to go, believe me. But…I have to.”
Alana closed her eyes and the raw emotion she was trying to hide just about slayed Alex. “It…should be.”
“But it willna?”
“I can make no vow to you, this day or any other.” When she met his gaze, her violet orbs were filled with tears she was trying hard not to shed. One slid down her cheek, and he thumbed it away.
“I shall make a vow ta ye, Yer Highness.” He kept his voice low, serious.
She startled in his grip, but made no move to break their physical contact. “Alex—”
“I will see ye again. I dinna accept anathin’ less.”
Alana whimpered, then slid her arms around his neck and tugged him down to her mouth.
He didn’t deny her—wouldn’t have been able to—but he kept the brush of their lips soft, tender and short, for her cousin’s sake. If Alex kissed her like she’d kissed him earlier, it’d just be more of a lure to steal her away. He didn’t need another erection he couldn’t use, either.
Xander had respected him; he owed him the same.
Even so, pulling away stabbed him in the gut—and maybe higher, in his heart.
“I don’t know if, let alone when,” Alana whispered.
More tears spilled now, and he wiped them away as they appeared. “Dinna worry, lass. I shall find ye.”
When her protector beckoned, she put her hand in his.
Alex watched until they’d disappeared from sight, his grip so tight on Bán’s reins his knuckles burned.
If he had to stalk the beach every moment of every day, he would see her again.
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