THE ONLY THING MORE DANGEROUS THAN A LIE IS LOVE.
Scotland 1455 – The Douglas clan is at war with their king. To protect his lands from confiscation, Lord John Douglas, the dying Earl of Kildrummond, must find an heir that doesn’t carry his name.
A landless knight, Lachlan Ramsay expects no more of life than battles, blood, and the occasional warm bosom. But when Lord John makes him his heir, Lachlan has a chance at something he never dreamt of—a home. There’s just one condition: He must marry the earl’s bastard daughter, the fiery, eccentric Moira MacInnes.
Lachlan has no desire for a headstrong, sharp-tongued wife. Moira has no need for an arrogant, too-handsome husband. To save Kildrummond they will marry and seek an annulment immediately upon the earl’s death. But deception is never simple, and passion once inflamed is impossible to ignore. Soon they will no longer be deceiving the earl but themselves.
EXCERPT – CHAPTER 6
No sooner had the weak light of the winter morning spread across the snow-covered land than there was a furious thumping at the door of the MacCormack family’s hut.
“Can ye believe it?” Moira demanded as soon as a bleary-eyed Niall opened the door. “He’s only gone and said I must marry.”
“Good morning to ye, too,” he yawned.
Moira threw him a frustrated look and began pacing the narrow doorstep. Niall knew well enough not to interrupt her when she was angry. Instead, he folded his spindly arms over his chest, leaned against the doorframe, and prepared to wait out her tirade.
“He’s decided—ye’ll never believe this—he’s decided that no Douglas will inherit the earldom of Kildrummond. He’s leaving it instead to a Strathcairn. Lachlan Ramsay is his name, and he’s a landless viscount. But the man willna have Kildrummond unless he marries me. I mean, honestly Niall, who does that man think he is, giving my hand away like that to a perfect stranger?”
“Who does that man think he is? He’s the Earl of Kildrummond, and yer father. If one of those conditions doesna give him the right to give yer hand to whomever he chooses, then the other certainly does.”
“Ah, but how do we ken for certain he’s my father?” Moira pointed accusingly, as if it were Niall that were guilty of a crime. “The only reason we think that is because my mother said so. But how do we ken she’s told the truth?”
He shot her a pointed look. “Careful, Moira. That be yer mother ye’re talking about. I’ll no’ have ye speaking ill of the dead, especially no’ of Mistress Lilian.”
Chastened, Moira lowered her glare to her feet, scrutinizing them as she trod back and forth over the same, narrow strip. “Ye ken I didna mean that. No’ truly.”
“I do. Now will ye come inside? Ye’ll wear a pit into the ground if ye keep up that pacing, and I’ll be the one my mam’ll expect to bail out the water every time it rains.”
“This is serious, Niall. I willna be forced to marry. I’ll flee before that happens. Ye dinna think I will?” she challenged when he raised his brows.
“On the contrary, I’m sure ye will. But then ye’ll expect me to come wi’ ye, and then we’ll have to be married, and I’d rather no’, if it’s all the same to ye.”
Moira stared at him, her mouth agape. “I wouldna—” she stuttered before she saw his teasing grin. Defeated, her shoulders slumped. “Niall, what will I do?”
“Ye’ll come in out of the cold, for a start. A man could freeze to death while he waits for ye to finish yer ranting.” He stepped back, and when Moira crossed the threshold he closed the door after her.
Compared to Moira’s lowly dwelling, Niall’s family home was far more comfortable. Being the best and most sought after brewer in the village, Master MacCormack provided an admirable level of prosperity to his wife and children. Their main dwelling was sectioned into three distinct parts. The family area where they ate, cooked, slept and lived was situated at a distance from the stalls where they kept their modest collection of chattel. It was a luxury for which Moira inwardly yearned—the sounds and smells of animals sleeping could, on occasion, make for a long night.
The third section of the MacCormack family’s dwelling was a secure room where the fermenting barrels of ale and mead were stored until they were either collected for the castle, or ready to be sold on market day. Master MacCormack spent his days in the alehouse, a separate outbuilding behind the main dwelling, but the finished goods were not kept there for fear of thievery.
As she stepped through to the family’s living space, the rich, sour-sweet smell of yeast wrapped her in calm. It was a scent which she associated with the happy atmosphere of Niall’s home, for Niall’s home was indeed happy. Mary MacCormack, Niall’s large, robust mother was seated by a central fire pit. Her ruddy complexion and matching hair glowed in the firelight as she bent over, tending to a loaf of the family’s daily bread.
Beside her, Niall’s youngest sister Imogen smiled demurely at Moira. The nine-year-old was busy grinding oats into flour on the worn, circular grindstone. Moira returned the lass’s smile, cursing herself that she’d not done her own grinding yet. She’d been too preoccupied with the surprise her father had sprung that she’d rushed over to Niall’s to unburden herself.
“Moira, love,” Mary MacCormack greeted. “Come sit a while.”
“Thank ye, Mistress MacCormack. I am sorry to be upon ye so early wi’ my problems.” Moira crossed the space and took a spot beside Imogen. “Shove over,” she instructed the younger lass. Taking the handle of the stone from Imogen, she carried on with turning the half-ground grains into barley flour.
“Hush, now. We’ve been up wi’ the sun—well, all of us but Niall here. I must say, though, I dinna see what ye’ve got to be all worked up over.”
“Ye think his Lordship’s right, then?”
Mary MacCormack shrugged her soft, round shoulders. “Whether ’tis right or no, ’tis his Lordship’s right to give yer hand to whichever man he chooses.”
Moira slumped, and her hand paused in her work. “I dinna want to marry.”
“I ken, child. But ye canna pretend to be surprised. Ye’re of a marriageable age—past a marriageable age, actually—and the daughter of an earl. That ye live the way ye do now isna common, ye must ken that. His Lordship affords ye quite a bit of independence that ye’ve no right to expect.”
Moira hated the truth in what she said. She did not want to be any man’s property. She despised that the law of the land declared it so.
“Niall, how about ye fetch the lass a cup of mead?” Mary suggested to her son, who stood back from the fire, still half-asleep.
“Aye, get her bladdered. That’ll change her mind.”
Moira snickered, and Mary slapped at his knees as he sauntered into the aleroom. When he returned, he handed Moira a half-filled wooden cup and took the remaining space on the bench so that they were all nestled snugly together.
Moira let go of the grindstone handle to accept the beverage. Pressing her palms to the outside of the cup, she raised it to her lips. The mead had been spiced with cloves and thyme. She sipped at the sweet, luxurious flavour. There was a reason Master MacCormack was known as the best brewer in Moray, and his products sought exclusively by Glendalough Castle.
“Last of his Lordship’s honey, that,” Mary McCormack noted.
“Aye, Niall told me. Ye sure his Lordship willna mind?”
“Will his Lordship mind me offering a touch of his mead to his own daughter? Really, Moira!”
“Think on it as payment for making ye marry,” Niall jested, nudging against her playfully. “In fact, ye should demand a whole barrel. Ye and I can drag it down to the brae. We’ll get ye so drunk ye won’t even ken ye’re being wed. Problem solved.”
“Ye’ll do no such thing,” Mary objected. “Feeding his Lordship’s daughter mead is one thing, but letting her freeze to death down by the brae because she’s too drunk to help herself is quite another.”
“Give over, Mistress MacCormack, we wouldna freeze,” Moira joined in the jesting. “We’d have enough liquor in our blood to keep us warm.”
Mary snorted. “I feel sorry for whoever has been promised yer hand, for he’s been given no lady, that’s for sure.”
A brisk knock at the door interrupted the easy chatter. Prompted by a nod from her mother, Imogen went to the door. Dusting her hands on the front of her homespun gown, she opened it only a crack, just enough to peek her head through.
“Odd child,” Mary MacCormack muttered, shaking her head at her youngest daughter.
Low murmurs continued between the girl and whoever was on the other side. When Imogen was satisfied, she removed her head from the opening and peered back into the dim space.
“Mama, there’s a man here to see our Moira.”
“To see me?” Moira frowned.
She stood with Niall as Mary MacCormack bustled over to the door to see for herself who was outside. Pulling it open she stared, shocked, at the towering figure of Lachlan Ramsay.
“Can—can I help ye, sir?” she questioned.
“Yes, Mistress. I am Viscount Strathcairn. As I explained to yer wee one here,” he gave Imogen a silly grin that set her giggling, “I’ve come to have a word wi’ Lady Moira MacInnes.”
“Viscount? Oh, sir, please ye come in, and forgive my daughter her ill manners.” Flustered by the handsome knight, she waved her arm vigorously.
“I thank ye, Mistress—”
“MacCormack,” a red-faced Mary informed him with pleasure. “I am Mary MacCormack, and this here be my eldest son, Niall.”
“How did ye ken I were here?” Moira demanded acidly as soon as the door had closed again.
“Moira,” Mary reprimanded, horrified by her poor manners.
Moira scowled. Then, overly-polite, she amended, “Ye’ll forgive my rudeness, my lord. May I enquire as to how ye’d discovered where I were?”
Lachlan tilted his head, an unintentional grin playing at his lips. “When I didna find ye at yer own home, I asked about the village where ye might be. I was told I should come to the brewer’s home to find ye.”
“And how did ye ken where my dwelling is?”
“His Lordship told me.”
“Er… Mama, why dinna we leave Moira to speak wi’ her visitor?” Niall suggested when his mother continued to oggle the comely viscount with a daft grin.
“Nay, there is no reason for ye to go,” Moira objected.
Mary shook her head. “No, no, lass. Niall is right. We’ll just step outside for a touch, perhaps visit wi’ Mistress Douglas next door. Take yer time.”
Her eyes still trained on Lachlan and a silly grin still plastered across her face, Mary MacCormack curtseyed and pulled her daughter towards the door. Then she gave a commanding nod to Niall before slipping out of sight. Niall tossed Moira a devilish wink and departed after his mother and sister.
“Niall, no,” she hissed, but he closed the door. She stared blankly at door for long seconds before her eyes swung warily to the viscount knight across from her.
“Will ye sit, sir?” she mocked, bouncing a half-hearted curtsey.
Lachlan laughed, amused by her obvious effort to be contrary. He accepted her offer, and sat himself on the bench. She responded by rounding the fire and deliberately taking the stool on the other side.
He studied the lass’s determined scowl. “I’ve a question.” When Moira said nothing, he added, “May I ask my question, my lady?”
“By all means, my Lord,” she returned, syrupy sweet. “I dinna have a say in my own fate, after all. Why should I have a say in which questions I may hear and which I may no’?”
He ignored her provocation. “Very well, then. My question is this: have I done something to make ye hate me so thoroughly?”
This startled Moira. She pressed her lips together, relenting. “I dinna hate ye,” she sighed. “’Tis only that I dinna like being told what to do and who I must marry. Ye just happen to be caught in the middle of it all.”
“Let us be at ease wi’ each other then,” he suggested, offering her his most charming smile. When that seemed to put her off even more, he opted for frankness. “I can assure ye that I had no idea of Lord Kildrummond’s plan. And, as a matter of fact, I dinna like the idea any more than ye seem to. I’ll have ye ken I’m no’ the marrying kind.”
“Then I dinna see what there is to discuss.”
“On the contrary, we’ve much to discuss, my lady.”
His mocking tone matched her own from earlier. Moira sensed she was being toyed with. She narrowed her eyes, assessing her adversary. “And that is?”
“Kildrummond, of course. Ye see, if I dinna marry ye, I dinna get Kildrummond. And if ye dinna marry me, ye risk losing yer home if King Fiery Face decides to confiscate it as Douglas holdings. I’d say that puts us both in a quandary, wouldna ye?”
Moira glowered at the dirt floor beneath Lachlan’s boots. She hated to admit it, but the man’s logic was undeniable. “That may be. But I dinna see what could be done about it, if neither of us is inclined to marry the other.”
“Dinna play daft, lass. What’s to be done about it is that we marry.” When she snapped her head up with fresh anger, he pressed, “Consider for a moment, will ye? If we marry, it will be in name only. We’ll pretend to live as man and wife until such time as his Lordship passes. We’ll refrain from having…er, carnal knowledge of each other. When his Lordship passes, and I am made Lord Kildrummond in my own right, we’ll have the marriage annulled.”
“That’s all well and good for ye, sir, but what about me? What do I get in all of this?”
“I would have thought it were obvious. In return for yer cooperation, I promise ye that once the marriage is annulled, ye’ll be allowed to remain in Kildrummond for as long as ye wish—the rest of yer life, if it pleases ye.”
“Give over,” Moira dismissed.
“I am earnest,” Lachlan promised. “Ye can even stay in the castle, though I think ye prefer yer wee hovel, if I’m no’ mistaken. Ye’ll have all the benefits and comforts ye have now, and they’ll be guaranteed for the remainder of yer lifetime. We’ll part friends, and never have to spend time in one another’s company again.”
“I dinna ken.” Moira chewed her lip. “How do I ken ye’ll do as ye say?”
“Ye’ll have to trust me. Ye have no choice, lass.”
“I do so have a choice,” she contested hotly. “I can run. I can leave Kildrummond.”
“Moira,” Lachlan exhaled softly. She stiffened, wary at the softness in his voice. “I dinna ken ye very well, but I believe ye love yer home. Leaving Kildrummond would break yer heart.”
The pain look in her round, cerulean eyes confirmed he’d hit a nerve. “Think on it,” he urged. “Come to me this evening and let me ken yer decision.”
Then, leaving her to contemplate his proposition, he let himself out. She would be a fool not to jump at his offer, and this lass was no fool.
At least, he hoped she wasn’t. He needed her cooperation as much as she needed his.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
Hi there! I’m Veronica Bale, and I currently live in the inner workings of my imagination (read: I’m a writer). When I absolutely have to slug my way back to reality, I live in Oshawa, Ontario, a wonderful little community on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada. When I’m not writing, I’m a hockey mom, wife, and personal assistant to three very spoiled cats. I’m thrilled to be here on The Pen Muse today, and would like to thank you all for hosting me.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
A Noble Deception is my first book to be released with a publisher. I got my start in the writing business as a self-published author. Here, I learned the ropes on editing, social media and promotion. The release of A Noble Deception with Boroughs Publishing Group represents a huge step for me in my writing career. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m grateful to have such a wonderful team behind me at Boroughs. As a self-published author, I’ve grown accustomed to being the only one who is excited about my in-progress manuscript. Now, being a Boroughs author, I have a dedicated group of talented individuals behind me who share my excitement. Their enthusiasm and commitment to bringing A Noble Deception to readers has been overwhelming, and I couldn’t be more proud of the finished book.
How do you create your characters?
It’s a funny thing: I don’t create my characters, they’ve been friends that live in my head for a long time. One day they suddenly pop in to say hello, and there they are, content to stay. They belong to the stories I write the same way you might find a real-life person belongs in a history book. They’re just there, and they’ve been there all along. As I write their tales, these characters take their natural place in the story’s order. I’m just the one watching from a distance, scribbling madly, trying to get it all down so I don’t miss any of their antics.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I’ve always been a writer. In fact, in my sixth grade year book (who am I kidding? It was a laminated and stapled pamphlet of 11 x 17 copy paper) I was deemed to be “the next great writer.” I don’t know about the “great” part, but writer is right. Writing is a natural progression of the fact that I live in my own little world, imagining and reimagining stories for nothing more than my own entertainment. As long as I’m writing these stories in my head, I might as well get them down onto paper, right? Hopefully someone else might find them as interesting as I do.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write wherever and whenever I have the time. My laptop comes with me everywhere I go, as does a blank notebook. I do much of my drafting by hand (it’s a much different process than trying to type out the first draft of a manuscript), so I’ve always got a handful of easy-glide pens in my purse. There is one thing I love to do, and that is go out to breakfast at a great little vintage diner in Oshawa, where I live. I bring my notebook and my pen, and while I’m scarfing down a delicious, stick-to-your-bones breakfast (and I do mean scarfing) while surrounded by original décor from 1958, I write in my notebook. I can’t tell you how many patrons peer over my booth and say, “Getting some homework done?” I smile, and say, “Something like that.”
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Writing is just an extension of my hopeless daydreaming, really. I’m forever entertaining myself with stories that I enjoy and re-enjoy in my head. When I’m walking somewhere, driving, just before falling asleep – it’s like watching TV everywhere I go (it’s a marvelous skill to have, if I do say so, myself). I’ve been like that all my life, and have, in one way or another, been writing those stories down all my life, too. It was in university that I began to focus on the craft of writing, and earned my bachelor’s degree in environmental writing. That was the point at which I began to focus on getting all those ideas into a working manuscript.
What do you like to read?
Anything … is that an answer? Joking aside, I have a very eclectic reading palate. Anything with a love story is good reading – it can be something as romance-centric as Judith McNaught or Lisa Kleypas, or something entirely out of left field like Jack Higgins or Ken Follett. I also enjoy historical non-fiction. Henry VII, Ireland’s “The Troubles,” the Great War, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution—all of it. I love it. I love history!
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
That’s a tough one. On first thought, I’m thinking I should say something like “Never give up your dream,” or “make writing a habit in your life.” But I have to go with my gut. My advice to all authors and aspiring writers who don’t already know this is … being an author is as much about entrepreneurship as it is about actually writing. In today’s world of social media and a competitive publishing climate, you need to market yourself. You need to learn how to market yourself. Gone are the days where an author gets a signing bonus and the publisher does all the promotional legwork. Entrepreneurship is the difference between just a writer, and a career author.
Anything else you’d like to share?
A Noble Deception is my first novel released through a publisher, and the experience has been absolutely fantastic! I am excited to see where it all goes, and what you, my readers, think of the feisty, proud Moira MacInnes and the arrogant knight with a heart-of-gold, Lachlan Ramsay. These characters mean so much to me, and I can’t wait to see if they come to mean as much to you, too!