Highland Brides of Skye by Tarah Scott and April Holthaus Book Tour and Giveaway :)
Highland Brides of Skye Book 1
by Tarah Scott and April Holthaus
Genre: Historical Romance
Over the years, many lasses have found refuge in the Scottish Highland’s Glenwood Abbey. But for three young ladies, sanctuary becomes servitude, with master puppeteer Malcom Donald using them in his plan to rule the Isle of Skye.
When a return trip home from a clan meeting ends in a bloodbath, Laird Caeleb MacLeod begins his search for the clansman who betrayed them. Little does he know he need look no further than his bed.
As the housekeeper for Laird Caeleb MacLeod, Gwendolyn is in a position to learn many things important to her master, Malcom Donald, captain to the Donald laird. Now she must choose between destroying the man she loves and saving the sister being held hostage by Malcolm.
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AS TREASURES OF SKYE
Isle of Skye, Scotland, 1321
Not one man remained on the battlefield. Not even the dead.
After nearly a fortnight away from home, and a three-day-long battle, they were going home. But this was not a day to rejoice. Seventy of the two hundred MacLeod warriors who’d fought would be brought to their final resting place within Dunvegan’s chapel cemetery. Another thirty-five would be buried at their respective homes, scattered across MacLeod land.
“It’ll take a week to bury them,” Tommen muttered as he rode alongside Caeleb.
Caeleb’s chest tightened. A week of unbridled sorrow.
The taste of defeat rose like bile, and for the thousandth time he envisioned the missive Tommen had delivered to him only hours before the Donalds attacked.
The Donalds plan to attack Laird MacLeod on his return from MacKinnon territory.
No one had seen this friend. The message, discovered on a table in the great hall, had plagued Caeleb since Tommen met him and his men with another hundred and fifty warriors only hours before the attack. Who was this friend—how did they have such easy access to Dunvegan—and how had they known the Donalds would attack?
In the two years since Caeleb had been laird, he’d stood ready to defend the MacLeods against the Donalds—just as the MacKenzies did and even the MacKinnons, for they were allied with the MacKenzies here on Skye, and the Donalds hated them for it. The discord between the Donalds and the other clans had existed since before Caeleb’s birth. But, in his arrogance, he’d thought he could avoid an all-out war with the Donalds.
Damn ye, Kaden, he silently cursed his cousin. Kaden was to have taken his father’s place as chief, but when the old chief had hanged Kaden’s brother for treason, Kaden had disappeared, forcing Caeleb to step in as laird.
“I should have sent for more men to meet us,” Tommen said, his tone flat.
“They wouldnae reached us in time.”
“Nae,” Caeleb cut in. “Ye did the right thing. You couldn’t leave Dunvegan unprotected.”
“Even another fifty men would have turned the tide in our favor,” Tommen whispered.
“They outnumbered us, and we sent them running with their tails between their legs,” Caeleb said.
Tommen looked at him. “At what cost?”
Caeleb’s gut twisted when another cart filled with the dead rumbled past. At what cost, indeed? Bodies lay stacked like logs on a pyre, covered by plaids. His heart lurched at recognition of the unruly, dark red hair visible beneath three larger bodies.
God help him. The boy was but sixteen. Caeleb had ridden to a pre-arranged meeting with the MacKinnon chief. Royce had accompanied them to visit his sister in Pitmorth. None of them had expected to see battle on the journey home.
“It matters not how long it takes to bury them,” he murmured. “We will give them a Christian burial, one and all.”
“They will not stop,” Tommen said.
Caeleb fixed his gaze on the cart bearing their dead. “I will stop them.”
At last, the towers of Dunvegan Castle came into view. The silence that had fallen upon them since leaving the battlefield had grown so heavy, Caeleb nearly bowed under the weight. Even the injured hadn’t uttered so much as a moan. They understood too well their good fortune. They would live another day to right recent wrongs. Another day to cry, to love, and even forgive. To fight, if the need arose. And the need would arise.
They reached the village, Caeleb in the lead, the dead between him and the remaining warriors. Many villagers ran out to greet them. Cries of joy and wails of sorrow filled the air. Hugs, kisses, and tears were shared amongst the returning warriors. Caeleb envisioned Royce, and he couldn’t help but scan the crowd for the boy’s mother. To his shame, he was relieved not to see her. He would visit her, but not today.
Caeleb continued up the hill to the castle, Tommen at his side, the warriors who resided in the castle close behind.
“When we arrive, close the gates,” Caeleb told Tommen. “Spread it about that we want to secure the castle against attack.”
“That isnae the case?” Tommen asked.
“Aye, it is. But, just as important, I want to know who comes and goes. Pick a dozen of our most trusted men. Gregory, Angus, Jonathan and Henry can lead them. Send them immediately to patrol the borders. They are to tell no one they are going. Ground the monks’ birds. I don’t want a single hawk leaving the falconry until we find out who this friend is. I will talk with Jon. No horses leave the stables without your or my say so, and put a watch on the boats.
Tommen nodded, and they fell silent again. Moments later, they passed through the gate. Tommen and the other warriors stopped for the throng that had gathered to welcome them home, but Caeleb urged his horse toward the stables. The hum of voices grew quieter as he left the courtyard behind.
Jon, the stable master, emerged from the stables when he neared. “‘Tis good to have ye safely home, laird,” he said as Caeleb brought his horse to a halt beside him.
Caeleb swung his leg over the animal’s hindquarters and stepped from the saddle. Jon took the reins Caeleb handed him and said nothing about the battle as he ran a gentle hand along the horse’s neck. But Caeleb knew the question on the tongue of every MacLeod: how had a peaceful visit to the MacKinnons turned into a war?
“I imagine all of Dunvegan knows that someone warned us about the attack,” Caeleb said.
Jon grunted. “And probably half the MacLeod clan by now.”
“That will make it harder to catch the traitor.”
“Ye are sure they’re a traitor?” Jon asked.
Caeleb released a breath. “I am no’ sure of anything. But this friend is privy to the Donalds’ goings on. Who among the MacLeods can say that?”
Jon’s frown deepened. “I admit, ‘tis strange.”
Caeleb agreed and he didn’t like strange.
“I suggest a feast tonight to honor our fallen,” Jon said.
Caeleb started to disagree.
“Dinnae be so quick to say no,” Jon said. “Our fallen should be honored, their stories of valor shared. Our friend will feel safer if he thinks we aren’t focused on him.”
Caeleb placed a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “As always, ye are right”
Minutes later, Caeleb pushed open the door into the castle’s kitchens. He stopped short when two maids carrying a large bucket of water bumped into him. They cried out as the bucket cracked against the stone floor. The bustle in the room halted. Water splashed his boots and snaked along the stones’ mortar seams.
“Forgive us.” Moira, the eldest of the girls, hurried to the counter where another servant stood, her fingers wrapped around the bread dough she’d been kneading on the flour-strewn table. Moira grabbed two cloths and returned to where Ana remained unmoving.
As one, the servants resumed their work when Moira and Ana knelt and began soaking up water. Caeleb sidestepped the two maids and scanned the room. Gwen wasn’t among the women. He glanced toward the small hallway leading to the scullery. Might she be there?
“Where is Gwen?” he asked.
Moira paused and looked up at him. “I havenae seen her since she went away.”
“Away?” he blurted. His heart began to pound. “Where did she go?”
The room again fell silent.
“She went to visit Lana MacLeod in Eldaum,” said the maid working the bread dough.
Eldaum. That was a day’s ride. Fear lanced through him. She’d left him.
From the corner of his eye, Caeleb glimpsed a small figure emerge from the scullery. She halted just inside the kitchen.
Tendrils had escaped her long auburn braid. It took every ounce of will not to yank her into his arms and crush her close.
“Morning, laird,” she said in a cool voice that gave away none of the intimacy they shared as lovers. “ ‘Tis good to have ye safely home.”
“You have been away,” was all he could manage.
She nodded. “Lana MacLeod fell sick after the birth of her latest child. I took food for her and stayed with her for a day.”
He wanted to demand why the women in Lana’s village couldn’t have tended to her, why Gwen had ridden half a day’s journey to help the woman, why she had refused his offer of marriage half a dozen times. The questions only died in his throat.
Instead, he said, “Tonight, I wish to have a feast for the men.” It felt like years since he’d last touched her.
She nodded again. “I will see to it. Will there be anything else?”
He noted a slight flush in her cheeks. “I am in need of a bath,” he said. “Please have water heated for my tub.”
“Right away,” she said, but didn’t move.
His heart thudded. Had she missed him as much as he’d missed her? Guilt stabbed. He still had a chance at love while those being buried didn’t.
Highland Brides of Skye Book 2
For years, master thief Helena Donald has lived at Glenwood Abbey and submitted to Malcolm Donald’s bidding. Desperate to break free of his control, Helena agrees to steal the MacLeod Faire Flag for Malcolm for she intends to sell the flag and start a new life far from Malcom. When Helena is caught in a blizzard, she prefers to die in the cold wasteland rather than return to the abbey.
Kaden MacLeod has chosen a solitary life in a cabin on the shore of Loch Haven. But a woman’s scream during a raging snowstorm sends him racing to rescue Helena from the frigid waters of the frozen loch. When he learns that this beautiful young woman is about to commit the same crime for which his father, Laird MacLeod, hung Kaden’s younger brother, he’ll stop at nothing to prevent her from facing a similar fate.
Kaden pulled aside the fur curtain and gazed out the window of the croft. Yesterday’s storm, which had left them covered in snow, had begun again. Tall drifts had accumulated in spots around the small croft. Just his good fortune. The snowfall was the worst he recalled in his lifetime. After being gone for two years, what had induced him to return?
He knew the answer. The ambush of his clansmen four months ago by the Donalds.
But the men were no longer his men. His cousin Caeleb had taken Kaden’s place as leader of the MacLeod clan two years ago. Which is why returning had been foolish. He was no longer a member of the MacLeod clan—much less their leader. Never again would he stand with the men he’d grown up with or fight alongside them. Especially those who’d died at the hands of the Donald dogs.
Anger flared, as it did too easily these days. Had Jacob MacKinnon betrayed them to the Donalds? Did Caeleb suspect the MacKinnon? Why hadn’t Caeleb retaliated? The questions bounced off the inside of Kaden’s skull. So many questions and too few answers. None of it was his business anymore. He’d given up the right to demand answers the day he’d betrayed his brother.
Curse his father for hanging his youngest son, Kaden’s only brother. Curse this damn feud that had embroiled the clans of Skye for an entire generation. And curse this bloody storm. Once the story ended, he would leave. Isn’t that what he did best? Leave, when things became difficult?
A fierce down-draft blasted through the chimney, causing the fire to dance wildly on the logs. Kaden released the curtain and turned back toward the room. His gaze caught on the sparse stack of logs stacked in the corner. The wood wouldn’t last the night.
Kaden grabbed his boots from near the hearth and sat on the bench. He laced them, donned his fur, then piled on more fur to cover his head and neck. Like a large beastly bear, he pushed open the door and stepped outside.
He waded through knee-high snow around the building to the shed in the back. He pulled the cart from within the shed, then slung the rope over his shoulder and continued toward the trees. Thankfully, his brother had long ago replaced the cart’s wheels with wooden slats.
With care, Kaden kept between the frozen shore of Loch Haven and tree line of the forest as he pulled the cart to where he’d stacked a load of wood. The remaining wood in the cottage was the last of that which he’d stacked near the shed. He reached a tall, snow-covered mound and dug through to the logs, then filled the cart. At last, the cart full, Kaden grabbed the rope and began to retrace his steps. His teeth chattered, and his nose had long ago turned numb. A rumble, then a woman’s shriek broke the eerie silence. Kaden stopped. A woman? Out here? Impossible. Another scream was followed by a loud splash of water.
Kaden dropped the rope, then ploughed through the snow like a battering ram against the knee-high wall of snow between him and the loch. An instant later, he spotted the break in the white surface of the snow-covered loch. His heart lurched. It might already be too late.
He halted at the cluster of saplings that marked the water’s edge, dropped to his knees, then onto his belly. Snow collapsed in around him. He fanned his hands out around him, as if swimming, and shoved aside the snow as he wiggled onto the ice. Twice, he looked up over the snow to ensure he was on course, snorting out snow when it filled his nose.
The snow abruptly opened up to the break and he thought for one horrible instant he would slide into the dark water. He threw his hand out and caught his palm on the edge of the broken ice. His legs swung to the side, but then halted. Kaden plunged his arm into the frigid water. Cold pierced bone-deep. His fingers closed around an arm. He dragged the woman up onto the ice and shimmied back toward the shore. God’s Teeth, her soaked fur cloak and thick skirts made her weigh as much as an ox. They reached the shore and he dragged her off the ice, his breath coming in labored gasps.
Kaden shoved onto his knees and was startled when he glimpsed the woman’s curves. When he’d grasped her thin arm, he thought her a young girl. He pressed two fingers to the pulse point at the neck and cursed. No heartbeat. He placed an ear against her chest. Through the thick fabric of her bodice, a faint heartbeat thumped against his ear. He whipped off his coat and quickly wrapped her in the coat. Stinging cold whipped across the exposed flesh of his neck. He lifted her limp body in his arms and started back toward the croft. By the time he reached the cottage he was shivering.
He unclasped her cloak and let it drop to the floor, then hoisted her over his shoulder and threw back the blankets. Kaden started to lay her on the bed, then stopped. Her dress would soak the blankets. He had to remove the dress. Kaden hesitated, then shook off his worry. Her anger was preferable to her death. He slid her down into his arms, sat on the bed, then fumbled with the laces of her bodice. He cursed. His large fingers couldn’t grasp the tiny, wet knots. He pulled his dagger from its sheath and cut the tight lacing. Her bodice expanded. He slid the knife back into its sheath, shimmied the skirt up her thighs then, careful to keep his gaze on her face, dragged the dress up and over her head.
Eyes tightly closed, he grimaced at the press of her soft flesh against his fingers and cursed the pulse of his cock as he twisted and laid her on the bed. Kaden opened his eyes, glimpsed creamy white breasts in the instant before he yanked the blanket over her. Quickly, he covered her with several more blankets, then shed his furs and added enough logs to the fire that the room would soon be as warm as a midsummer’s day. He draped her dress and cloak across the bench near the hearth, then returned to the bed.
Her eyes remained closed. With a feathery touch, Kaden swept her long copper-colored hair from her face, then touched her cheek. Still too cold for his liking, and she’d begun to shiver. She shifted and her arm slipped from the bed and dangled over the side. Kaden grasped her wrist and noticed several dark purple and blue bruises along her forearm. Checking her other arm, he found the flesh also marred with bruises. He made a tight fist and noted how his fingers were aligned. Glancing back at the bruises, there was no doubt the bruises were made by a man’s fist. Anger shot through him. Only the worse sort of whoreson hit women. Maybe that man was the reason she’d been alone and on foot in a snowstorm. That took courage. Or desperation.
Kaden gently tucked both arms beneath the blanket, then rose and pulled sage and honey from a cupboard. He filled a small cauldron with water, then set it on the table. He retrieved his mother’s journal from the night table and settled in front of the fire.
As the night wore on, his eyes grew heavy, but he forced himself to stay awake and checked on the lass twice before his gaze caught on the stack of wood. He sighed. He’d left the cart full of wood on the path.
Highland Brides of Skye Book 3
Betrothed to Lady Allison, the granddaughter of the dying MacKenzie laird, Jacob MacKinnon stands ready to do his duty and unite their two clans. But enemies watch, and plan to prevent the uniting of those two powers.
After an attack on his betrothed’s carriage leaves only Lady Allison alive, Jacob is determined to find her would-be killers.
Linnae Donald is a lowly serving girl. How is she supposed to tell Laird MacKenzie that the granddaughter he’s mistaken her for died when their carriage was attacked?
She can’t break a dying man’s heart. Neither can she do what Jacob MacKinnon asks and help him prevent a war by pretending to be Lady Alison…and marrying him.
Linnae kept her attention on the scenery passing outside the carriage and pretended not to notice the other two maids’ giggles.
“Cook said that Jacob MacKinnon can make a lass swoon simply by looking at her,” the younger maid, Rebecca, said.
Lady Alison shifted on the carriage seat beside Linnae. “Perhaps it is true,” her mistress said. “Such a man would only marry a beautiful woman.”
Linnae hid a smile. Lady Alison referred to herself, of course—and failed to add that her grandfather, Laird MacKenzie, had betrothed her to Laird MacKinnon in order to bind the MacKenzie and MacKinnon clans. Lady Alison could have been horse-faced and Laird MacKinnon would have married her. Lady Alison, however, was not horse-faced. No doubt, Laird MacKinnon would be more than pleased to have the flaxen-haired beauty as his bride, even if she was only fifteen.
“I believe Linnae is laughing at me,” Lady Alison said.
Linnae looked at her and said in an innocent voice, “Nae, my lady, I would never do that.”
Lady Alison arched a haughty brow. “Do you know the penalty for laughing at your mistress?”
Linnae dropped her gaze. “A lashing.”
“A tongue lashing, ye saucy maid.” Alison bumped Linnae’s shoulder with her own.
Linnae looked up and widened her eyes. “And you are very good at dosing out tongue lashings, my lady.”
Lady Alison grinned. Linnae didn’t miss the roll of Rebecca’s eyes and Dina’s answering look, but didn’t care. They were simply jealous of the friendship that had sprung up between Linnae and her mistress. No one was more surprised than Linnae that the spoiled noblewoman had taken to her with such force. After nearly two years of Linnae’s service, Alison rarely went anywhere without Linnae.
When Lady Alison had received the message from her brother David that their grandfather had betrothed her to Jacob MacKinnon, her one condition of acceptance was that Linnae go with her. He’d sent Dina and Rebecca, as well, for David MacKenzie wouldn’t have it said that he’d sent his sister to marry the MacKinnon laird without at least three maids in attendance. Of course, he didn’t accompany them, just as he hadn’t been home for more than a few weeks during the last two years.
“ ‘Tis warm for that cloak you’re wearing, do ye not think, Linnae?” Dina said.
Before Linnae could answer, Lady Alison said, “Hold your tongue, Dina. Ye are just jealous because I gave the dress and cloak to Linnae.”
Dina’s eyes widened.
Alison tossed her head. “I might decide to send ye back to my brother’s home.”
Tears filled Dina’s eyes.
Alison rolled her eyes. “Good heavens, do no’ cry. ‘Tis your own fault for being cruel to Linnae.”
“She wasnae really cruel,” Linnae said gently. “And she is right. The carriage is warm. But I admit, I like the brush of fine cloth against my arms.”
Alison’s eyes narrowed and Linnae feared she had miscalculated. Alison was loyal to a fault, but that fault often came in the form of a childish demand to be obeyed. She might insist Dina had been cruel and deserved punishment.
Dina stared at her hands clasped in her lap and said in a small voice, “The rich purple of the dress does flatter your hair, Linnae.”
“Just as I knew it would,” Alison said. “Linnae and I have the same fair hair.”
Dina looked up, eyes wide, but said nothing.
“I saw Laird MacKinnon once,” Rebecca said, in an obvious attempt to divert Alison’s attention. “He is perfect.”
Linnae sighed. More talk of Jacob MacKinnon wasn’t wise, at this point.
“He can break a tree in half with his bare hands,” Rebecca went on.
Linnae snorted. She knew nothing of the man save the gossip that had swept through the castle when word of the betrothal had reached them a month ago—and would wager neither did Rebecca. It was irrational to believe that a man—or a beast, for that matter—could break a tree in half with his bare hands or make a woman swoon at the sight of him. If such a man existed, he wouldn’t live among mortals. As long as a man had a good name and a good family, an honest woman needed nothing more. Lady Alison should be so fortunate to marry such an esteemed laird.
Rebecca giggled. “Ye are very fortunate, mistress.”
Alison’s fingers groped for Linnae’s on the seat beside her. Linnae grasped Alison’s hand and gently squeezed. True to her station in life, Lady Alison was a maiden. Her apprehension about arriving at her grandfather’s home to immediately marry and be bedded by a man she hadn’t seen since she was six years old had grown into an anxiety that had kept her awake the last two nights.
Linnae once again turned her attention out the window and Lady Alison rested her head on Linnae’s shoulder. Their carriage curved along a steep incline and Linnae peered out the window into a deep ravine. Patches of bluebells, primroses and hyacinths colored the landscape.
Linnae’s stomach churned. Her own anxiety had grown along with Lady Alison’s.
After the wedding, Jacob MacKinnon would take Lady Alison away from Eilean Donan Castle to his home on Skye. Linnae hadn’t been on Skye since she ran away from Glenwood Abbey two and a half years ago. In truth, she hadn’t planned on ever returning. Dunakin Castle, seat of the MacKinnon clan, commanded the strait of Kyle Akin between Skye and the mainland. From the tower, she would be able to see the loch and hills as far as the eye could reach. That would be as far into Skye as she dared venture for—
A deafening cry drowned out her thoughts, causing Linnae to jolt in her seat. The carriage listed to the right and the other three women slammed against Linnae’s side of the coach. One woman crashed into her. Linnae’s head struck the side of the carriage and dull pain throbbed. The vehicle righted and the women scrambled back into their seats.
“Holy God, what happened?” Lady Alison demanded as she leaned toward the window.
Linnae reached for her. “Nae! My lady,” she cried, but her warning came too late. The carriage began to tip.
The other women screamed and slid against the wall again. The carriage crashed onto its side—then began to tumble. Linnae’s head slammed the cushion, then she was thrown against Lady Alison. Her ladyship flailed. They struck the front of the carriage as it came to a grinding halt. And silence.
Her head pounded. Linnae raised her hand to her head and drew a breath at the pain. Her heart thrummed in her ears. What had happened?
Angry male shouts mingled with the clash of steel. She tried to concentrate on the noise, but it seemed to come from a distance. Linnae grasped the door handle and dragged herself to a sitting position. Her head spun. She squinted in an effort to discern her surroundings. The interior of the carriage swam into blurry focus. Two of the women—one Lady Alison—lay motionless beside her. Linnae groped for a pulse at Lady Alison’s neck. Tears pressed against the backs of her eyes when she detected no heartbeat.
“Ye cannae be dead, my lady,” she said through tears. “Wake up.” But the young woman remained motionless.
Linnae brushed Lady Alison’s hair from her face and searched for any signs of life in the eyes that stared up at her. This wasn’t possible. Her mistress couldn’t be dead. Tears streamed down her face, but she forced herself to examine the other two women. Dina lay with her neck at an odd angle. Linnae wasn’t surprised when she felt no pulse in Dina’s neck, but her stomach churned and she forced back tears as she felt for a pulse on the young Rebecca’s neck. She, too, was dead. Linnae rose and realized she stood on the roof of the carriage. She edged past her mistress to the door and shoved it open, nearly falling out. She caught herself and straightened. She gasped at sight of the carriage walls crushed inward like paper.
Shouts yanked her from the shock. She stumbled around the side of the carriage, then stopped. The horses lay in a tangle of leather and harness. Shouts yanked her attention up where a dozen men fought atop the hill. Her eyes tracked the skid marks the carriage had carved from the top of the hill to the steep ravine. Sweet heaven, how had she survived?
Two men dismounted their horses and began scanning the ravine. She ducked behind the carriage, then stilled for three heartbeats until her head cleared. Carefully, she peered around the edge. Her heart beat wildly. The men had started down the hill.
Her mind muddled. What was she to do? She thought of her female companions—and Lady Alison’s bag, which carried her mother’s ruby necklace and the gold band she was to give Laird MacKinnon when they married. Linnae forced back tears and sent up a quick prayer for the women’s souls, then quickly retrieved Lady Alison’s satchel. She pressed a kiss to Alison’s forehead, then climbed out of the carriage. With trembling fingers, she felt for the knife sheathed and strapped to her belt and nearly burst into tears when she found it hadn’t fallen out during the accident. With a prayer that she wouldn’t have to use it, she stumbled toward the trees.
Keeping out of sight of the road, she stayed inside the tree line and continued away from the clang of steel-upon-steel. Sounds of the fighting waned, and the thunderous pounding of horses’ hooves racing along the high road above drew nearer.
The trees began to thin and she reached a stone arch bridge that crossed a creek. She started across then froze at the sound of riders approaching. Cloak gripped tightly about her, she scurried down the incline and under the arch. Her heartbeat matched the thunder of hooves as they galloped past. Loose dirt fell like rain into the rapid waters below. With trembling hands, she clung to the cloak until quiet reigned.
Fear cramped her stomach, but she picked her way back up the incline and ran across the bridge. Night would soon be upon her and sleeping in the woods without food or protection wasn’t a fate she wished to consider.
“This way!” a man shouted.
Linnae whirled. Three men trekked through the brush toward her. How had they found her? She caught sight of her small footprints in the moist ground.
Oh, sweet Heavens!
Linnae whirled and barreled into a broad expanse of plaid. She leapt back and jerked her gaze up to the face of a tall man with stormy blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. She froze. Bootfalls sounded behind her. Linnae clutched the satchel close to her breast. Three other giant brutes came into view.
The first man eyed her like a wolf about to attack. Linnae broke eye contact as the others circled her.
She yanked the knife from the sheath strapped to her belt. “Take another step closer and I will kill ye.” The trembling inside her stomach began to work its way through her body and she prayed her hand wouldn’t betray her terror.
“Ye need no’ fear us, lass,” the first said.
The concern in his voice surprised her. She stared.
“I am Laird Jacob MacKinnon. My men and I were expecting you this morning. When ye did no’ arrive, we began searching for you. I am only sorry we arrived too late.”
Laird MacKinnon? Lady Alison’s betrothed. Memory flashed of the women’s description of him, tall, muscular and handsome. Lady Alison would never see him for herself.
Tears sprang to her eyes and she dropped the hand gripping the knife to her side. “The carriage went off the cliff. The others—” She broke off.
“We saw the others, my lady,” he said in a soft voice. “I am sorry.”
A lump formed in her throat.
“We must go,” he said.
She slid the knife into its sheathe, then remembered the men. “I saw men fighting on the hill.”
His mouth thinned. “Aye. We chased the curs. They attacked your party.”
“Attacked us? Why?”
“I dinnae know, but we will find out soon enough. Come, we will escort ye home. Our horses are just over the hill.” He winged an am arm toward her.
Linnae slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. He covered her fingers with his large warm hand and squeezed. She clutched close the satchel and was grateful for the warmth of his hand on hers as they tramped through the woods. Linnae hurried to keep up with his long strides until they reached the top of the hill. Half a dozen other men waited with their horses.
“Let me take your satchel, lass.”
Before she could respond, he took the satchel and hung it from the pommel, then grasped her waist and hoisted her onto the horse’s rump. He mounted in front of her and clicked his tongue. The horse lurched into motion. Linnae threw her arms around his waist, cheek pressed against his back, and hugged him tight in order to keep from slipping off. The scent of musk and burnt wood filled her nostrils. His stomach muscles flexed beneath her fingers.
This man would have soothed Lady Alison’s fears. Memory of Alison’s motionless body brought tears. Silently, Linnae gave into her sorrow and cried into Laird MacKinnon’s plaid.
Best-selling author Tarah Scott cut her teeth on authors such as Georgette Heyer, Zane Grey, and Amanda Quick. Her favorite book is a Tale of Two Cities, with Gone With the Wind as a close second. She writes modern classical romance, and paranormal and romantic suspense. Tarah grew up in Texas and currently resides in Westchester County, New York with her daughter.
April Holthaus is an Award-Winning Author for her Scottish Historical Romances. For more than ten years, she has worked full time in the direct marketing business, but developed a passion of historical romances through her love of reading, history and genealogy. When she is not working or writing, April loves to spend time with her family and traveling.
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