'She was a thief. She was a liar. She was his prisoner. And he'd just broken every rule in the book and kissed her.'
Laird Anndrais McWilliam knows his father was murdered. He might not have been struck with a sword or pushed down stairs, but the woman who stole money from their clan killed him as surely as she'd stabbed a knife through his heart. And McWilliam has vowed he'll to do anything to bring her to justice, even if it means breaking the law...and his own heart.
After Miss Rosa Blair receives a letter threatening her cousin's life if Rosa doesn't confess to a crime she didn't commit, she doesn't hesitate to turn herself over to the authorities. That is, until one bull-headed Scotsman the size of a bear kidnaps her in the name of justice. McWilliam is insufferable, refusing to listen to her pleas of innocence. Nothing she says will convince him her cousin is in mortal danger.
Rosa knows McWilliam is standing between her and freedom. McWilliam knows Rosa is a thief and a liar. At every turn they clash, so why do they keep finding themselves locked in each other's arms?
'I rarely find books on wattpad that COMPEL me to comment and I stayed up all night to read this. It was so good. From the first moment spider-crawling up a drainpipe to throwing herself off a horse... these two made my stomach flutter.'
--Review by a-bit-peaky
'Just finished reading The Highlanders Thief. It was wonderful! One of the best stories that I've read on wattpad. Keep up the good work!'
--Review by admiralqueenie
22 April 1739
Why the hell did every story ever told make shinning up a drainpipe sound easy?
‘Bull,’ McWilliam cursed under his breath as his hand slipped for the third time, and he grazed his knuckles on the wooden wall. Deserting the drain, he slipped his foot to the right, shifting to the windowsill. The ledge creaked under his weight, but held.
Pressing tightly to the wall, he stood, reaching above his head with one arm. Despite his height, he was too short to reach the third storey.
Half clambering, half jumping he just managed to find enough of a handhold to climb to the next sill.
A dog barked, and he glanced down—the dark alley remained deserted. An image of himself flashed through his mind as if he stood below looking up: a six-foot tall, tartan-clade Scot clinging to the outside of an English pub like a giant spider, dammit, in the middle of the night.
God help him. What was he doing?
His heart tightened.
He sought justice.
* * *
Rosa woke with a start, the coarse woolen blanket pooling at her waist as she sat up. Her heart raced. This wasn't her bedchamber.
No. Her shoulders dropped as memory returned. Through the gloom she could just make out the claustrophobically small room of the coaching inn, barely large enough to fit a single bed. A crack of light leaked under the closed door, and the floorboards of the landing creaked as though the Bow Street Runner standing guard shuffled from foot to foot.
How had her life come to this? Arrested for theft and currently being escorted to prison by a truncheon-carrying, hatless Runner, who was basically the equivalent of a bounty-hunter.
Rosa lay back down as a light breeze pulled at the fine hairs at her hairline. She hadn't left the window open, had she?
A hand clamped down over her mouth, large fingers blocking her nose. She kicked out, but the blanket tangled between her legs. Her hands jumped to her face, and she pulled at the fingers over her mouth with a grunt of effort. Nothing happened.
She couldn't breathe.
Where was the dunce of a Runner when she needed him?
"Stop struggling, wee lass,” said a deep, brogue voice beside her ear.
A Scotsman! Rosa redoubled her efforts.
“That’s enough.” This time his whisper was deadly calm; his voice filled with darkness and the promise of pain.
Her head spun, and her lungs burned.
This lunatic was going to kill her. Her eyes darted frantically around the room seeking a fire poker or hairbrush or anything she could use to hit him. The room was empty but for the bed.
"Better." He leant half an inch closer, bringing his face into her peripheral vision. She could just make out his silhouette against the backdrop of the open window and the faint moonlight. Broad shoulders, a light scattering of hair over checks and chin, and a white cotton shirt. And big—bigger than the average Englishman. He loomed over her like a mountain.
She bit down on his palm, hard.
He barely flinched, but moved his hand down, freeing her nose. She pulled in a breath of air, filling her lungs.
“Let go!” she demanded against his hand, but her words were indistinguishable.
The floorboards outside the bedchamber creaked again, and the Scotsman grimaced.
“Keep quiet,” he hissed, his lips pressed so close to her ear she could practically feel them move with each word. And, as he slipped back into view, she saw the truth of her fears reflected in his eyes. He wasn't here to save her from prison. He was here to punish her.
A tremble raced down her spine.
With lightning speed she hadn't expected possible from such a giant, he tore a strip of cloth from the bottom of his shirt and stuffed it into her mouth. He then wrapped a second piece over her lips, tying the ends firmly at the back of her head.
She couldn't talk. She couldn't make a sound.
* * *
Time was running out. If the Runner caught McWilliam in here, his whole mission would be ruined, and he'd never get another chance.
They had to get out of here before she made another sound.
He scooped up what seemed to be a ladies’ traveling cloak from the end of the bed. Her eyes darted towards the abandoned stays, petticoat, stockings, garters and gown, but he ignored her. It would simply take too long to dress her in all those layers and McWilliam was anything but impractical, especially when he finally had his eyes on the end prize.
Shoving her arms through the sleeves, he attempted to button the mantle but his fingers fumbled with the minute buttons that fastened the garment around her neck. He shrugged—it mattered little. It was a relatively warm spring and a little brisk night air wouldn’t kill anyone.
She tried to pull back, but he kept a tight hold of her wrist with one hand as he shoved on her serviceable ankle boots. Skin to skin he could feel the shivers racing through her body. The lass was afraid of him. Good.
Standing back up, he wrapped his hands around her petite waist and flung her over his shoulder. She barely weighed anything—the girl who'd nearly bankrupted his entire estate, again, was nothing more than a wee slip of a thing.
McWilliam ground his teeth, holding her legs with one hand and using his other to navigate his way to the open window.
She kicked against his chest. Her feet barely made a dent, but if he made one false move, dammit, they'd both fall to their deaths.
"Did ye really want to kill us both?" he hissed, turning so he faced the room and giving her a perfect view of outside and the way down.
She stilled, her body tightening and her hands gripping the back of his shirt.
Down was a little easier than up. Even with the thief slung over his shoulder, McWilliam was able to navigate alternately between the windowsills and the drainpipe until his feet touched solid ground once more.
His horse nicked softly at him, the reins dangling loosely over her neck.
McWilliam tried to lift the lass onto the saddle, but she wiggled from his grasp, slippery as an eel, attempting to dart away down the alley.
As he grabbed her upper arm, she spun around to slam both her fists into his chest and, from the flicker of the oil lamp at the end of the alley, he got his first proper look at the English criminal that was Miss Rosa Blair.
Soft strands of hair had slipped from the simple braid that lay across one shoulder coming to a stop at her waist. Her face betrayed her fear from the flush of color high on her checks to the fluttering of her eyelashes. The traveling cloak did nothing to hide her curves—if anything, the knee-length article accentuated the contrast between waist and hip.
Perhaps dressing her only in a nightdress and mantle had been a bad idea after all.
Then again, he reminded himself, he wasn’t attracted to criminals no matter how alluring their flawless skin or the tempting flick of their tongue over their lips.
Rosa. He let out a huff of air. How could anyone name their child after a plant with such a sharp bite? Sure, the flowers were considered beautiful, that was until you tried to touch them and then your fingers bled from the sharp prick of the thorns.
Perhaps it had been a prediction. Perhaps her parents had known just how hard she'd learn to bite. His gaze darted to her fingers. Did she have the claws to match? She certainly hadn’t been afraid to lash out at him.
She faltered under his unblinking gaze, and he seized his opportunity, lifting her up onto his horse.
Rosa glared down at him, the strips of his shirt masking her fiery words. And he was under no misconception that they were anything but fiery. Despite her obvious fear, her sky-blue eyes were practically shooting daggers at him.
He mounted behind her, reaching around her waist to the reins. “Buckle up, Thistle,” he breathed into her ear. “It’s going to be a long ride.”
* * *
Rosa’s captor nudged the horse into a trot, leaving the damp alley and dingy coaching inn behind.
She shook her head, her braid catching on his shirt buttons. Pinpricks of pain spiked along her scalp; although she hardly noticed. She couldn't leave. This had gone too far. She needed to get back! She couldn't abandon her cousin. Not again.
She jammed her elbow back, catching him in the ribs. He grunted, then silent laugher vibrated down his chest and along her back. She did it again, but this time he leant to the side so her elbow brushed by harmlessly.
She was no match against his strength.
He wasn’t confining her hands anymore, so she ripped off the gag. "I need to go back! You cannot take me with you!"
"I should have tied your hands as well."
"I have to go back!"
His chest was hard and hot against her back. Her nightdress didn't do anything to block the heat of him from burning her skin. She leant forward, trying to put as much space between them as possible. If she couldn't out-muscle him, then she'd have to out-think him.
Her first priority had to be getting back to the coaching inn before morning when Runner Smith would check on her again. She glanced skyward. The moon had just crested the sky and was beginning its downward descent which meant it couldn't be any later than two in the morning. That gave her approximately four hours. But with every minute that passed, the horse took them further from the inn.
She had to make her move, and she had to make it fast.
Surely it couldn't be too difficult escaping a Scot. He was in foreign territory. He didn't know the nature or the manner of the English streets like she did. Rosa had grown up in London—Bradford was a just a baby in comparison and would be no match for her.
Once she’d made her way back to the coaching inn, she’d climb the drainpipe—he'd made it look so simple, and what a Scotsman could do, she could do better—and then slip back into bed without anyone being the wiser.
What's going to stop him from stealing you back again? her common sense seemed to ask.
Rosa's shoulders dropped. She'd have to tell the Runner—that is, if he didn't already know. She'd be punished—her sentence would probably be increased—but it would be worth it.
As they rounded another corner, one of the streetlamps spluttered, and Rosa felt his arms loosen ever so slightly as he threw a glance towards the cast iron lamppost. She let her body fall limp, slipping to the side in a ‘faint’.
Muttering in Gaelic, he jumped from the horse, keeping a hand on her waist as if intending to help her down after him.
Rosa grabbed the reins and kicked the horse forward. For Amelia!
The mare took a couple of halfhearted steps forward, then turned to look back over her shoulder at her Scottish master.
"Really!" Rosa demanded of the horse as her captor tugged the reins back out of her hands.
Cover by Melody Simmons