The Groom Wore Plaid
Highland Weddings Series
By Gayle Callen
February 23, 2016
Mass-Market ISBN: 9780062268006 * $7.99
E-ISBN 9780062268013 * $5.99
Falling in love means tempting fate in this passionate new novel in USA Today bestselling author Gayle Callen’s Highland Wedding series.
Maggie McCallum’s dreams about her new fiancé aren’t the romantic sort. It’s not just that she was bartered to Owen Duff like a piece of property to end a clan feud. She’s also haunted by premonitions of his death on their upcoming wedding day. Yet the exasperating Highlander won’t let her call it off, even though his life and his clan are both in jeopardy.
Owen has wanted Maggie in his bed since he first glimpsed her years ago. If their union restores peace between their clans, so much the better. But while lusting after another chief’s sister had its risks, growing to trust Maggie is far more dangerous. Owen is falling deeply in love with the one woman he cannot hope to claim…and survive.
THE GROOM WORE PLAID –
THE GROOM WORE PLAID on Goodreads
HIGHLAND WEDDINGS series on Goodreads
After a detour through fitness instructing and computer programming, GAYLE CALLEN found the life she’d always dreamed of as a romance writer. This USA Today bestselling author has written more than twenty historical romances for Avon Books, and her novels have won the Holt Medallion, the Laurel Wreath Award, the Booksellers’ Best Award, and been translated into eleven different languages. The mother of three grown children, an avid crafter, singer, and outdoor enthusiast, Gayle lives in Central New York with her dog Uma and her husband, Jim the Romance Hero. She also writes contemporary romances as Emma Cane.
Visit her website at www.gaylecallen.com.
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Maggie McCallum was only sixteen and Owen Duff eighteen the autumn their families spent in Edinburgh. Her mother had said she was too young for courtship, but Maggie secretly scoffed at that. Men looked at her now, and she was finally allowing herself to give a flirtatious look back.
And then at a dancing assembly, she saw Owen, Viscount Duncraggan, heir to the earldom of Aberfoyle. She’d met him only once before, at a dinner with their parents. She’d been twelve, he fourteen, and he’d ignored her. Now a friend giggled and pointed him out.
“He’s from the Duff clan,” the girl said. “Even I ken that the McCallums and the Duffs have always despised each other.”
Maggie nodded without really listening. She was staring at Owen with wide, curious eyes. He did not wear a belted plaid as so many of her family did, but an expensive tailored coat and waistcoat over knee breeches, and the polished sword at his hip sparkled in the candlelight when he strode across the dance floor to bow to a blushing girl. He had a thin face and bony shoulders that hinted at the broad strength of the man he would become. His sandy hair was gathered in a haphazard queue on his neck, loose strands brushing his cheeks as if he were too busy to be bothered fastening it more securely.
“Isn’t your brother to marry his sister? Ye’ll be practically family.”
Family or not, Maggie knew better than to be the McCallum who approached a Duff in public, right in front of her mother. She thought of her brother’s misery at marrying a woman he didn’t know or love, the way he’d done foolish, reckless things in anger when he’d first discovered his fate at thirteen. Maggie had pitied him, and felt guilty that she was secretly glad it wasn’t she forced to marry a Duff.
Her next meeting with Owen wasn’t auspicious—she merely passed him on the stairs outside her flat on High Street, as dusk settled in dark waves on Edinburgh. The tall building with a dozen floors housed all manner of people, from the chimney sweep in the cellar to the dancing master in the garret. The best floors were reserved for noblemen, and though her father didn’t have a title, he was the chief of the Clan McCallum. Her mother had leased the flat to be near the earl’s family, since her son was marrying into them, but she did not want her daughter involved beyond what civility expected.
Upon seeing Maggie, Owen came to a stop on the stairs and grinned that grin that lived in her dreams for many years to come. His warm brown eyes made her think of the chocolate English ladies favored for their morning drink, and as they took her in, skimming her form, she felt as suitably overheated as that cup she’d only once clutched in her hands on a cold winter morning in the Highlands.
She wanted to scold him for his bold gaze but then she saw the round tube he carried.
“Is that a telescope?” she demanded.
Those eyes now brightened with more than warmth. “Aye, I’m heading out to gaze upon the stars. Have ye looked through one before?”
She shook her head. She’d done nothing more intellectual than read passages from the Bible—she hadn’t been allowed more, had no access to other books. Knowing there was a whole world of knowledge out there made her ache with regret and frustration.
He held out a hand. “I’m Owen. Do ye want to come?”
She hesitated, realizing he didn’t recognize her. In that long moment she thought of her grandparents already preparing for bed, the fact that she’d just seen her mother into a sedan chair to meet with friends, and that her brother lived in his own flat near the university. She was alone.
Owen stood a couple stairs below her, and that put them at just about the same height. She stared into his eyes again, and the admiration and curiosity made her unfurl like a blossom in springtime.
But she had to be honest. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I’m Maggie McCallum. ’Tis my brother who’s to marry your sister.”
He looked at her for a long moment, and the first feelings of regret and resignation washed through her.
But Owen didn’t rush away, only extended his hand closer to her. “Nice to meet ye, Maggie. Do ye still want to come with a dreaded Duff?”
She bit her lip to keep from giggling like a foolish girl. She was sixteen, a woman now. He obviously didn’t remember her from four years before. Maybe that was for the best. Putting her hand in his, she let him lead her out into the twilight.
During the next few weeks, Owen was the excitement in days that were once dreary and repetitive. Sneaking away to ride down to the shore at the Firth of Forth, boating, exploring the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, or even meandering through shops seemed like wild adventures when she was at Owen’s side.
Rather than deter her, the very forbiddance of a friendship between them caused her to be far too reckless. He was so very different from the men she knew. He discussed physics and chemistry and astronomy as if she was as smart as he. She saw his wonder in the world, but when she asked if he would be a scientist, his expression turned hard as he said his father had forbidden it. He was the heir to an earldom, and would be educated as such. If he didn’t study the classics, his father would refuse him attendance at university next year.
Maggie sympathized, and distracted him from his sad and angry thoughts, but she could not stop dwelling on her own confusion. Every moment she spent in his company, Owen seemed more and more familiar to her, as if they’d met much earlier in their childhood, though he swore they had not. Sometimes it was as if a ghost of a dream teased her from just beyond the shadows, and she shivered.
Her dreams were nothing to make light of. More than once, she’d dreamed something that eventually came true. The family of a little boy in her clan had thought him drowned and were about to give up the search, when a dream led her to the bedraggled boy huddled beneath a cliff. Another dream foretold the suicide of a young woman whom Maggie’s father had abused. Maggie hadn’t understood what she was seeing until it had actually come true, which was often the case. And then it had been too late to help the girl. Maggie’s mother had taken her away from Larig Castle and back to Edinburgh, to keep her safe from her father.
But Owen? Could he have been part of a dream she couldn’t remember? The puzzle of it flooded her mind when she was separated from him, but the hours they were together were full of happy laughter, insightful discussion, and endless moments where she stared into his face when he wasn’t looking and imagined herself married to him. Maybe her mind was simply trying to tell her that he was her destiny, that they were meant to be together. She wanted him to kiss her, but he was ever the gentleman—or maybe he assumed that the centuries-old feud between their clans meant they could never share a more intimate relationship. It seemed to be a forbidden topic between them.
But he touched her, and each time she could have surely melted with delight. He would take her hand running across a field, guide her by grasping her elbow, put his hand gently on her waist when they stood watching the sun set amid beautiful orange and pink clouds adorning it like trailing scarves.
Two weeks into their friendship, they were carrying a luncheon basket along the river, Water of Leith, on a particularly sunny autumn day, when Owen suggested they look for mussels and Scottish pearls. This was no mere meandering in ankle-deep water, and soon they were both dripping wet, pearl-less, shivering as they crawled back up the grassy bank, laughing.
Owen lay down in the sun, and feeling reckless, she did the same, eyeing him boldly since his own eyes were closed. His queue had come undone, and long strands of his hair, dark brown with water, covered his cheeks. Without thinking, she came up on her elbow and used a trembling finger to move the locks away from his face.
His eyes snapped open, and she expected him to laugh up at her, but he seemed to concentrate intently on her face just above his. Everything external seemed to go silent as they shared a hot, meaningful gaze. She was focused on the rough sound of her breathing, the moisture beaded on his skin, the way she could feel his heart pounding in his chest when she rested her trembling hand there.
And then he cupped her head and brought her down for a kiss. His lips were cool from the water, yet softer than she imagined a man’s would be. Such boldness made her dizzy—or was it simply nearness to Owen? Her hand still on his chest, she lifted her head and stared down at him uncertainly, but he only brought their mouths together again. He parted his lips, and the shock of his tongue sliding between hers made her start with surprise and wonder. Her cool, wet skin seemed to heat, the warmth spreading out from her mouth and down her chest. Her trembling was no longer from the cold, but she didn’t know why her limbs seemed so restless. She wanted to be touched—needed it with a desperation new to her. But she was afraid to do more than brace herself against his chest as he explored her mouth and taught her to explore his.
The world shifted as he rolled her onto her back. It was his turn to rise above her, his intense face framed by blue sky and towering autumn-hued trees. She had no time to think as he kissed her again and began to touch her. His hand on her body was a hot, welcome presence, and with each touch she felt more and more as if she couldn’t lie still. His caresses journeyed across her wet clothes from her hip and upward. And when at last he touched her breast, pushed upward by her stays, she moaned against his lips and shuddered with each delicate strum across her nipple, as if he made her an instrument of desire.
Their shared world of passion was suddenly overwhelming, and she pushed against him before it was too late to stop. Owen lifted his head and stared down at her, his breathing as erratic as hers.
“We cannot do this,” she said with a trembling voice. Not that she regretted any of it, she realized, staring at his mouth and wishing to feel again the pleasure he’d given her.
Owen was looking at her mouth, too, and he practically growled, “I knew ye’d find out. Forgive me. I didn’t ken how to tell ye.”
“Find out what?” she demanded.
“Owen Duff, ye have to tell me now.”
“My father betrothed me some years ago to the daughter of a Lowland clan. Even now, they journey here for us to meet.”
The last warmth from their kiss deserted Maggie. Shivering, she sat up and scooted away from him, covering her chest as if it was bared to him.
“Why did ye never tell me this?” she demanded. She’d let herself get lost in the fairy tale of their friendship, and the romance she’d thought had been blossoming. Now she knew she was simply a fool.
Owen tucked his hair back into the queue, as if he needed something to do with his hands. He didn’t look at her, and his face was as red as hers felt, but she didn’t feel any sympathy for him.
His words came out slowly at first, before tumbling over each other as fast as the rippling water behind him. “At first, I thought we were simply friends, and to know ye were a McCallum made it daring. But the need to kiss ye has been dominating my thoughts more and more.”
He met her gaze at last, and she felt like she’d never forget the heat she saw there, the passion he was showing just for her. But he was betrothed, and a lump rose high up into her throat, shutting off any words. She scrambled to her feet and backed away from him before she would embarrass herself more by crying. “I—I have to go.”
“Let me walk ye back,” Owen said.
He didn’t try to change her mind, or promise to end the betrothal. The first tear fell down her cheek and she angrily wiped it away.
She held up a hand. “Nay, I—I don’t want to see ye again, Owen.”
His expression twisted with pain, and she knew she’d hurt him. She didn’t trust easily, not with a drunkard for a father, and she felt the worst kind of fool for trusting a stranger—a Duff. They’d exchanged so much about their lives these last few weeks, but not the most important detail of all, at least in a woman’s eyes.
She barely remembered the journey home, for she ran part of it, and even tripped on her skirts and bruised and bloodied her palms. She avoided supper with her mother by claiming a headache, then curled up in her bed and cried like she hadn’t allowed herself to all day. Her last conscious thought was how foolish she’d been. She wasn’t sure if she was crying over the loss of the friendship more than a romance, because she knew she couldn’t trust him again.
As if the floodgate of her emotions had opened up a deeper place inside her, she dreamed that night, one of the vivid dreams that felt so real to her. She saw Owen, but he wasn’t looking at her. Instead, there was another girl at his side, red-haired and freckled and lovely. They were being presented to each other. Light reflected strangely off a ring, and it seemed to pierce Maggie’s eyes as she looked at it.
Then the scene disappeared and Maggie saw the redhead again, staring at her with intent. But the girl’s face was waxen, her clothing soaked, and water puddled around her.
Maggie awoke with a start, gasping for breath. Her whole body shuddered with chills, as if she, too, were soaked and freezing. She knew what the dream predicted—Owen’s betrothed would drown. Covering her face, Maggie rocked in the bed, telling herself she was being ridiculous—but this was not the first time she’d dreamed of a death before it happened. The first time, she’d been uncertain and afraid, and had watched in horror as it had all come true. This time, this time she wouldn’t bury the blatant warning.
After a restless night, she slipped out of their flat at dawn and went outside. She couldn’t knock on Owen’s door, but she could wait for him, and by mid-morning, he appeared, thankfully alone. She caught up with him by the end of the block.
He turned around with a start and simply stared at her, his expression impassive, not glad, yet not uncomfortable either. She was so confused that she didn’t know what she wanted him to feel. Maybe sorrow, because that was what she felt.
She twisted her hands together as she faced him, not having realized how difficult it would be to reveal her secret, to risk his derision, or even his pity. She almost turned away—until she remembered the dream girl’s waxen face and aggrieved eyes.
“I—I didn’t want to approach you,” she said, “after— after everything that happened yesterday.”
He gave her a formal nod as if they were strangers. “I don’t blame ye. I didn’t think to tell ye a truth that still doesn’t seem real to me.”
“What is her name?”
“The girl ye’re to marry. What is her name?”
“I don’t see why it should matter, but she’s Emily.”
Maggie nodded, because hearing the name made Emily seem more real. “Can I speak with ye in private about her?”
Owen hesitated, and now he finally did look uncomfortable. “Maggie, what is there to say? I should have told, ye, aye, but—”
She waved away his words. “It’s not that. It’s—” She looked around, feeling as if everyone stared at them. “I cannot say it here, not like this.” She pointed down the wynd, the narrow lane that led between the town houses. “Come with me, away from prying eyes. Please, Owen.”
To her relief, he didn’t protest again. They walked silently until they’d left behind the fenced close at the rear of the town house, and out into a lane that led into the countryside.
At last she stopped beneath a tall larch tree. She was nervous now, and his air of impatience wasn’t helping. She’d been angry he hadn’t told her about his betrothal, but then again, she hadn’t told him about her dreams. But how did one confide such a thing and not be thought crazy? Scotland had always had its seers, but she did not wish anyone to believe she was such an outcast. And the whispers of “witch” could be a woman’s end.
Could she trust her secret to a man who’d already been proven untrustworthy? But she didn’t have a choice.
Maggie stared into his chest, at the embroidered waistcoat of a viscount. It reminded her that they were very different. “I—it’s hard for me to say this. I don’t tell many people, but . . .” She trailed off, her throat closing up as she realized she was risking her future.
“Maggie, just say it,” he said with exasperation.
As if he was already done with her and wished to be gone.
She took a shuddering breath. “I . . . dream things, and when they’re vivid and real to me, they . . . come true.”
She met his gaze at last, and he eyed her with growing amusement.
“Och, Maggie, ye had me going with nerves there,” he said, shaking his head. “I spent all night wondering how to apologize to ye.”
“Owen, this has nothing to do with apologies!” she cried. “I’m not telling tales. I had a terrible dream last night, and your Emily was in it.”
His brown eyes narrowed. “Ye can’t have seen her. They haven’t arrived yet.”
With a groan, she flung her arms wide. “I haven’t seen her, Owen, not in truth. But in my dreams I saw her presented to ye. I saw a ring.”
“There’s always a ring—why are ye doing this to us, Maggie? Hurting us both for no reason.”
“I don’t want anyone to be hurt and that’s the point. I didn’t just see her with ye, Owen, but I saw her wet, puddles of water around her, her face cast white as death. And she was staring at me, as if she needed me to do . . . something about it.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Ye’re making no sense.”
She winced, feeling his disbelief like the cold chill of a late summer evening, the breath of approaching winter. Her voice grew rough. “When I see a person wet, Owen, it means they’re going to die by drowning.”
He said nothing at first. She could hear chickens in the distance, the low of a cow, but no human voices. No one was overhearing them to understand her secret—only Owen. And he looked at her now with pity, and even a little disgust. She closed her eyes so she didn’t have to see it.
“This isn’t worthy of ye, Maggie,” he said. “I didn’t think ye’d let jealousy make ye tell lies.”
“This isn’t jealousy! Owen, please, ye must believe me, for Emily’s sake.” Her voice faded into a whisper, because she knew it was too late. He didn’t believe her; he thought her a pathetic liar and a fool.
“Good-bye, Maggie.” He turned and walked back down the wynd toward High Street.
“Owen, warn her, please,” she cried, taking several steps as if to follow him before halting, unable to embarrass herself further.
He didn’t look back at her; he didn’t stop. She hugged herself, feeling more alone than she ever had in her life.
Two weeks passed, and Maggie never saw Owen on the stairs again. He lived in the same building, but he might has well have been in London. At another assembly, she saw him dancing, but not with the redhead from her dreams. Maggie prayed that she’d been mistaken, that no one would die.
He never looked her way. And the anger she’d kept buried finally rose up, and it took everything in her to remain calm. She hadn’t deserved any of his treatment of her.
And then she heard the gossip at the dressmaker’s shop before any announcement made the newspaper. Lady Emily Douglas had been boating with her family and drowned in the firth.