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Allura McClellan is horrified by her father’s decision to take out an ad in the Times awarding her to the man strong enough and smart enough to win her hand and uncover her secrets. She’s an intelligent young woman who takes great delight in the freedom allotted to her by her father. She’s well aware that marriage would effectively curtail the adventures she’s shared with her sisters and cousins.
Hunter Gray is nothing like the other men who’ve arrived to vie for Allura’s hand in marriage and everything that goes along with it. However, he is the first to refuse to concede defeat and pursue her despite her attempts to disguise her true appearance. It’s her temperament that is of more concern to him than her looks. Hunter has worked all his life with the hope of someday owning his own land. Now that it looks like there’s a very real possibility that everything he’s ever wanted is within reach nothing is going to deter him – including Miss Allura’s disagreeable disposition.
Eddington, Scotland 1815
"You can’t plan to wed me to that--that man down there!" Allura McClellan’s heart thundered and lodged in her throat. Balled into fists her hands trembled. "You promised I could marry for love. I thought when the last man failed to discover this imaginary secret you think I have, you would stop this craziness. I thought you would take the ad out of the Times and the other papers."
From the boxing ring below, fist met flesh, the sound echoing throughout. Hunter Gray whirled and ducked. He guarded his face to block the stinging blows his opponent rained down upon him. He spun and ducked again. The man he fought countered the attack, but he did not move fast enough. Hunter’s next jab was so fast and so hard the other man didn’t block the punch. The man staggered backwards, blood running from his eye. Men yelled and cheered for the two combatants. Hunter paused and spoke to the man he practiced with before the match continued once more.
Allura saw her life as she had planned it slip away as if it was grains of sand in an hour glass. She stopped pacing and watched the men below. She turned on her father. "The ad in the Times--giving me away to any man--you have gone too far. A marriage of convenience is barbaric. You promised." For a moment, she closed her eyes. She did not want to acknowledge anything that went on here. It was not her fault she could not find a man she loved. What horrific bit of bad luck had found her?
The laird cleared his throat. "Perhaps I have not gone far enough or soon enough. And the ad did not promise you to just any man. He must be strong enough and smart enough to win your hand."
It was not Allura’s nature to allow others to rule her fate. “These men,” she waved her hand in the air, frustration sweeping recklessly within. "They don’t want me. They come for one reason only. They are greedy and hungry for power. You have taught me everything I need to know. I can run your estate and all of your holdings. I’ve studied endless hours. I know the men who work for you. I swear I’ll defy your wishes. At the altar I will say no."
The McClellan’s grin faded as quickly as it had appeared and without further thought, he said, "Perhaps not, you are beautiful lass--one with rare promise. And," he stroked his chin, "no matter how much book learning a woman has she cannot dictate her own life. It is up to the men in her life to make sure she is happy and provided for."
A strained silence followed. She sagged against the stone wall. As if sensing her vulnerable position, she stiffened. Outraged and furious she looked upon her father. "They are money grubbers and want your land--our land. They have no right to any of your estate."
The McClellan held back for a moment, seemingly aware there was more than just a little truth in what Allura said. "How indeed?" he questioned her. Yet his smile was tight, forced. "I grow old. I only want this land secured and my daughters happy before I die. You are twenty-two. I have given you ample opportunity to fall in love. I thought it time to bring new blood to this land, a new man. I thought perhaps one would take your fancy."
"That man," she began. Her hand shook when she pointed at the man who danced and whirled avoiding each blow as if he dallied in child's play. She trembled so violently she could not speak. “Is an Englishman.”