Authors: Marguerite Kaye
Scottish Highlands, 1703
As the new Alpha of the Faol, a legendary clan possessing the power of the wolf, Eoin Tolmach knows he should put the needs of his people before his own. Yet the former warrior cannot resist the challenge of rescuing kidnapped heiress Freya Ogilvie himselfâ¦or his unexpected attraction to her. Eoin admires her courage and sensual beauty, but she doesn't trust her own passionate instincts. Now Eoin faces his greatest test: convincing Freya to indulge their mutual desireâ¦.
Legend has it that one dark, stormy night many centuries ago, a small wooden craft got into difficulties off the West Highland coast, and broke its hull on the vicious outcrop of rocks called the Beathach, or the Beast. All aboard that storm-tossed night were lost save for one, a babe in arms, only child of the mythical Highland warrior known as The Fearless One. Still tucked up in the woven reed basket in which he had been sleeping, the child was miraculously washed ashore on the remote, uninhabited Isle of Kentarra.
Here, he was found by a wolf pack who, instead of tearing out his throat, suckled him and reared him as one of their own, initiating him into their ways, imbuing him with their qualities. He survived and grew to be a man. A man with the spirit of the wolf residing inside him. He eventually learned how to master his inner beast. And he learned howâand whenâto unleash its terrifying power.
From this extraordinary individual evolved a race of fierce warriors, the Faol, with their chilling clan motto:
Faiceallach! Tha mise an seo!
Beware! For I am come!
The Faol are feared and revered in equal measure throughout Scotland. Famed for their consummate skills in battle and reputed to be irresistible to mortal women, they live in uneasy symbiosis with their Highland neighbours. Their home is the remote island kingdom of Kentarra, where their unique culture is fiercely protected. The Faol rarely walk among humans, except on those occasions when a laird commissions them to deploy their prowess in battle to aid his cause. Such requests are often rejected, for the Faol are no mere mercenaries. Their code dictates that they offer their services only to just causes, and utilise the proceeds for the good of the pack.
Though the price demanded is high, those privileged few granted their services can have no doubt of victory. Once their promise is secured, the pride and honour of the Faol ensure it will be fulfilled.
Whatever the cost.
Scottish Highlands, 1703
Even by the standards of a Highland summer it was a wild night. Eoin landed the little boat with relief on the tiny beach which was the island's only safe anchorage. Hauling it clear of the foam-crested sea, he stood on the shingle, his heightened senses on full alert. Throwing back his head and closing his eyes, he blocked out the hiss of the breaking waves on the pebbles, the scrabbling and squeaking of the little night creatures, the lonesome cry of a far distant owl.
In the purplish gloaming light of a bruised sky, he was an impressive sight. Naked, save for the
his magnificent warrior's body glistened with the ocean's spray. Deeply tanned, his muscles clearly outlined under the sheen of moonlight on skin, rippling like the ebb and flow of the tide which pounded the beach, Eoin had about him an air of tightly-coiled power which signalled danger. His auburn hair, which fell in a wild tangle to his shoulders, gave him an untamed look. A smattering of darker hair covered the width of his chest, arrowing down in a thin path past the dip of his stomach to the broad leather belt with its jewelled buckle which kept his plaid in place. In the eerie light of the pending summer storm, his eyes, by daytime mossy green, had an iridescent, tawny hue.
Eoin breathed deeply and sniffed the air. He could detect them easily enough, the humans. Male. Overpoweringly male, that sharp, bitter scent. No trace of female. But then, if she was being held in some confined space, that was to be expected. He sincerely hoped she was on the island. It had been an arduous task, tracking his quarry clear across the Highlands, and it had taken longer than he had anticipated. Looking up at the night sky, he frowned. Only two more days until the full moon, which could prove a problemâbut he would worry about that when he had her in his clutches.
The castle, no more than a tower and a few rough buildings enclosed by a perimeter wall, stood on the highest point of the island. Granite-grey, the main keep was topped by battlements, though his razor-sharp night vision could detect no lookout. Behind the castle stretched moorland, desolate and rust-coloured. A bleak place. No Highlander could possibly have traced her here. It was why Laird Ogilvie had commissioned him for the task in the first place. Eoin smiled to himself. They were not expecting anyone. They were assuredly not expecting one such as he.
Moving stealthily towards the castle, he heard the faint noises of the men in their guard room. Three, certainly no more than four of them. Laughing. Relaxed. No sound from the turret. Was she imprisoned there? It was the obvious location. He was about to find out. Unbuckling his belt, Eoin unravelled his plaid, placing it behind a large rock along with his claymore and his dirk. He had no need of weapons.
He arched his back and stretched, the movement lengthening his torso, showing off the supremely masculine line of his body, the span of his shoulders, the swell of his chest as his ribcage expanded, the narrow waist, taut buttocks, lithe, athletic legs. He was also aroused. He was always aroused when upon the brink of change. For some, transformation was painful. For Eoin, it was invigorating in every way. His shaft jutted up, thick and potent against his belly. He stretched his arms higher, his eyes amber, glinting up at the moon, and threw back his head to summon his inner wolf.
His vision swam, bones cracking and reforming, his spine lengthening. The musky tang of his feral alterego filled the night air. Soft fur coated his body, his buttocks, his thighs, becoming tauter, the expanding muscles straining his skin painfully. A shiver of pure pleasure made his fur stand up in a ridge down his back. His heart felt as if it would burst as the familiar sparks shot like lightning bolts
through his veins. He dropped down on to all fours, and it was over. Man had become wolf. With a vicious snarl, Eoin sprang forward towards the castle and his prey.
Freya Ogilvie woke from a troubled sleep. The straw pallet which comprised her bed was uncomfortable and lumpy, quite unlike the feather mattress she was used to at home. The filthy blanket which was her only covering stank of horse. She was chittering. Though it was August, the keep was icy cold, the flagstone floors and rough walls of the room in which she was being held damp and dank. As usual when she woke, her head ached. The fear and despair she hid from her captors manifested itself each night in a tightly-clenched jaw.
The single rush light had gone out. Getting to her feet, she felt her way around the curve of the wall to the narrow window which granted her the only view of this desolate island which had been her home for nearly two months. It must be nigh on three since she had first been taken. Since then, there had been two visits from her loathsome captor, the impoverished Earl of Tarbert. Twice she had refused to consider his dastardly proposal. The first time had been easy, as she had been imprisoned for barely a week. On the second occasion she'd rebuffed him again, though truth be told she'd expected to have been rescued by then. The earl had been furious. She'd feared he would violate her, but at the last minute he'd thought better of it. “I will not endanger the legality of our union by forcing myself on you, but you will pay for that little bit of defiance when we are wed,” he'd said ominously, righting his plaid. “And wed we will eventually be, whether you wish it or no.”
Freya shuddered at the memory. By day she could persuade herself she would never submit. At night, locked in the turret room, whose every stone she knew intimately, she doubted her resolve. How much longer must she rot here? She massaged her throbbing temples. Sometimes she wished he would come, just so that it would be over.
Stop thinking like that!
Outside, the sky had a sullen, ominous look to it. The sea was angry. A summer storm brewing. A movement at the foot of the turret far below caught her attention. The glint of an eye. Standing on tiptoe, she strained to see. Was that dark shape a shadow, or something else? Her eyes widened as it moved with liquid stealth. A wolf. A huge wolf, a magnificent beast, crouched down on its mighty haunches. She could swear it was looking up at her. As if it was assessing her.
Her mouth dried. She held the animal's gaze. Or it held hers. She could not tear her eyes away. Surely there were no wolves on this island? The moorland was too bleak. There was not a tree or any other form of cover, save the castle. But wolf it was. Sleek, huge, beautiful. And savage. She could sense it, in the bunching of its muscles under that luxurious fur. Nature at its most perfect, and its most lethal. And its most enthralling.
Freya tried to haul herself up higher onto the window the better to see. Her calves ached with the effort. Being on the top floor of the keep, the window was not barred. As she leant out, the ground swooped up, making her dizzy. She closed her eyes until the dizziness stopped. When she looked down again, the wolf had gone.
She must have imagined it. A trick of the light, though it had seemed so palpably real. Then she heard the blood-curdling noises.
Eoin's wolf shuffled back on its powerful haunches, its ears flattened, its eyes fierce. It leapt, impossibly high into the air, its body stretching, arching, soaring through the opening in the tower and into the guards' room. Three of them, playing cards and drinking, their weapons carelessly discarded on the hearth. He was on the first one before he had even risen from the table, halting the scream in his throat with a vicious snap of his jaws. The other two grabbed their weapons, the blades of the dirks glinting
menacingly. Overturning their chairs to use as shields, the burly Highlanders stared at the wolf in horror. They edged nervously towards him. Eoin paused, his head to one side. Though he could kill them easily, there was no real need. The Highlanders may well consider his kind savages, but they were wrong. Faol never killed unless it was strictly necessary.
The bolder of the two men lunged at him with the dirk. Eoin avoided him easily. The man lunged again, and Eoin sprang, hurling the guard bodily across the room where he landed with a dull thud, unconscious. The third guard quivered as the wolf turned to face him. Eoin was already reforming. He saw the blurring of his wolf's body reflected in the terrified guard's face as he changed from wolf to warrior.
“Faol! Merciful God, Faol!” The Highlander dropped his dagger and fell to his knees muttering incoherent pleas for mercy.
Eoin looked about him for something with which to tie the trio up. The heavy drape which hung at the window to prevent winter draughts would do. Yanking it free from the rail, he tore strips from it and set about securing the men, using one strip to stem the bleeding of his first victim.
“Are there any other guards?” he demanded. A terrified shake of the head satisfied him. “And the woman?”
“In the small room at the top of the keep.”
“If you're lyingâ¦” Eoin left the threat unspoken. Tying the remnants of the window drape roughly around his waist, he strode out of the guard room. Raising his head, he caught her scent easily. Exotic. Flowery. Lighter than a Faol woman's, but heady all the same. At last! He could hear her breathing, shallow, muffled, obviously trying not to be heard. He padded barefoot up the spiral staircase, past the next floor and onto the next. The door was locked. He could have taken the key from the guard, but two hard blows, and the sturdy lock flew open.
Freya cowered at the window as the door crashed against the wall. Expecting a predatory wolf with fierce eyes and razor-sharp teeth, instead, she was confronted by a man. Tawny-haired, with fierce eyes right enough, but a man nonetheless. A really quite magnificent man. The scream died in her throat. “Who in the name of God are you?”
Eoin eyed the heiress with surprise. Though she had been described to him as a comely wench, he had assumed the description was influenced by her fortune rather than her face. But Freya Ogilvie was indeed a comely wench. Extremely comely, despite the toll which months of incarceration had taken on her appearance. A cluster of golden curls framed a face more sensual than beautiful. Dark brown almond-shaped eyes which had a slumberous quality, under finely arched brows. A soft curve to her cheeks which somehow enhanced this latent sensuality, and a plump mouth which begged to be kissed. More curves, the swell of her bosom as it rose and fell from the torn neckline of her gown, and the sweetest curve of all, the indentation from waist to hip. A pleasingly round bottom, he was willing to bet. His shaft stiffened. Shifting always made him hungry for a woman. He had not expected to find his desires sharpened by this one.
you?” Freya said again.
“I am Eoin Tolmach.”
“Tolmach? I have never heard of that clan.” His accent was strange. Neither Highlander nor Lowlander, it was deep, sonorous and less lilting than she was accustomed to. “What do you want? What happened to the guards?”
Eoin smiled. “I took care of them.”
“I saw a wolf. I suppose you'll tell me you took care of that too,” Freya said
with a disbelieving curl of her mouth.
Eoin's smile deepened. “I did, in a manner of speaking.”
His presence made her feel light-headed. It was too male. Something else too, something visceral. She would not let him intimidate her, though as with the wolf earlier, she couldn't take her eyes off him. If she did, she felt certain he would pounce. “Three guards
a wolf,” she said dryly, “and yet there is not a mark on you. No man would emerge from such an encounter unscathed.”
“True, but then I am no mere man,” Eoin said. Her scent was delightful. That mouth of hers looked sinful. Sumptuous, that was the word for her. She was made for sinking into. Soft where he was hard. And he was becoming very hard.
There was a sheen of sweat on his chest. Freya couldn't seem to breathe properly. Her mouth was dry. Fear? It should be, but it wasn't. Whoever he was, he was not come from the earl, that much was clear. “No mere man,” she said mockingly, “what's that supposed to mean?”
“I am Faol,” Eoin said proudly.
“Faol?” Freya had been trying to edge away. Now she stopped dead in her tracks. “A member of Clan Wolf? No, that's not possible. They are reputed to be able to turn intoâ
oh my God
!” Her voice rose with every word, but she was powerless to contain her shock. “You're saying that wolf was you?”
“And I am that wolf.”
She didn't like the way he was smiling. It was disturbing. It made her hot then cold. The way he looked at her too, disturbed her. And his proximity. More than a wolf. More than a man. My God, she believed him. “You have come to kill me,” she said, shrinking back.
His laugh was deep. “Kill you? On the contrary, I've come to rescue you. Your father begged for our help when no trace of you could be discovered after two months searching. Retrieving a kidnapped daughter is a just cause, worthy of the services of a Faol warrior. He was desperately concerned for your safety, as any father would be.”
“Concerned for my inheritance, more like. He would rather see it in the hands of his own kin than the Earl of Tarbert. That is the extent of my father's care for me.”
The bitterness in her voice surprised him. The toss of her head, the scornful curl of her mouth, almost fooled him, but the over-bright sheen in her big brown eyes, the telltale clenching of her fists, gave away her hurt. Eoin felt a stab of anger on her behalf. She was right, her sire had indeed seemed much more concerned for the fate of her wealth than her well-being.
But mortals and their motives were none of his business. “Your father wishes you returned safely to him, and that is what I have promised to do.”
“And why should I trust you?” Freya demanded belligerently. “How can I be sure that I'm not simply exchanging one abductor for another?”
Eoin's eyes narrowed. “You have the word of the Faol. You require no other assurance. I, on the other hand, do. I apologise, but your father was most insistent that I take every precaution. Show me your left foot.”