Authors: Allie Mackay
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
Highlander In Her Bed
With a twinge of regret, Mara pushed away from the bedpost. But when she turned to leave the antique shop, she slammed into a wall. A solid, well-muscled male wall. Quite possibly the most beautiful man she had ever seen.
His intensity wrapped around her, dark and seductive, his deep-seeing gaze seeming to burn away her clothes until she felt fully exposed. Naked. Perhaps even a bit… tingly. After all, it wasn't every day a man's mere gaze seared her into feeling devoured, and in the most rousing, delicious ways. She bit her lip before she could sigh and risk revealing her weakness.
More than his strapping build and handsomeness, it was the draw of his incredibly intense eyes that captivated her. Sea green eyes a woman could drown in.
But now his burning gaze held only arrogance. Annoyed, Mara drew a tight breath. He glowered at her as if she had the pox. Perhaps he'd heard her talking and didn't like Americans? If so, there was an easy remedy: she'd smother him with charm.
"Hi," she said, flashing her best smile. "I'm Mara McDougall."
He remained stony faced.
"Look, I'm sorry I bumped into you," she said. "It won't happen again."
"With surety, it shall not," he agreed. "The bed is mine, wench. Begone."
There was that accent again. Warm, rich, and buttery smooth. And so annoyingly sexy, just listening to him sent another rush of desire curling though her.
He narrowed his eyes. "You are a MacDougall. No one of that ilk will ever sleep in my bed. I forbid it…"
First Printing, November 2006
Copyright © Sue-Ellen Welfonder, 2006
With much love and affection, for Pat Cody and Karen D. Stevens, sister authors, the greatest of travel companions, and fellow paranormal enthusiasts. You are dear friends of immeasurable worth, and I wouldn't want to explore haunted places with anyone else.
For all the ghosting good times we've had stateside and across the Big Pond—
I thank you with all my heart.
Scotland is the wellspring of my inspiration, and on every visit there I am impressed anew by the beauty of the land and the ever-present pulse of its deep, ancient history.
Beguiling and magical, Scotland stirs passion with its misty hills, silent glens, and romantic castle ruins. Such passion runs deep in the blood of those of Scottish descent. There is always an ache, an irresistible pull to return. I know this yearning well: the great joy of being there and the sadness of having to leave.
This book allowed me to indulge two of my own fondest fantasies: to someday be able to stay in Scotland, and to have a yummy medieval Hottie Scottie materialize out of the mist at one of the remote castle ruins I so enjoy exploring.
Three women helped make this book possible, and I owe them my heartfelt gratitude: agent Karen Solem, for finding Alex the perfect home; agent, best friend, and personal champion Roberta Brown, for reading every line almost as soon as it was written and cheering me on; and my wonderfully skilled editor, Anne
Bohner, for loving Alex as much as I do and giving him this chance.
Also a loving nod to the real "Dottie," my friend Anne MacDougall Bryant's late springer spaniel, Dorothy Joy. A true MacDougall heroine, Dottie was a very special girl, gentle and precious. She lives on in our hearts, never to be forgotten.
Above all, my unending love and appreciation to my handsome husband, Manfred, for his support and unflagging enthusiasm, and to my own wee sweet muse, my little dog, Em. He is spoiled beyond measure and rightly so; I do not think I could write a single line without him.
West Highlands, near Oban, 1312
He'd known not to trust MacDougalls.
Would that he'd calculated their number.
Now, in the gut of a deep ravine, the most harrowing way into their benighted territory, Sir Alexander Douglas and his entire array faced their respective ends.
They were caught in the thickest of fighting, surrounded by dying, cursing men and screaming, frightened horses; their fate stood clear. Sealed by both ill fortune and poor judgment. His surety that none would suspect he'd choose such an ambush-prone defile as his path.
That, and the honor that forbade him to refuse a king's orders.
Furious, he swung his horse round, his blade arcing without cease, run red with blood and dripping.
And still it wasn't enough. Trapped indeed, he cursed every MacDougall to come at him, cutting down as many as he could, and glaring at the steep-sided gorge that had so quickly become a whirling turmoil of death and destruction.
On and on they came. An endless torrent of MacDougalls, streaming out from every hidden crevice and surging down the braeside in a savage, killing flood the likes of which he'd never seen.
And although his men were every bit as fierce, even superbly armed and accoutered, they did not stand a chance.
In only a few chaotic moments, a journey that should have held such promise came to a dizzying, brutal end. All around him, his entourage lay smashed and shattered, the lot of them unable to withstand the crushing ferocity of hurtled boulders, the MacDougalls' wild downhill charge.
Those who yet stood or sought to fight from the backs of their steeds knew well who'd won the day.
Then, from the midst of the sword-swiping clangor, a proud-faced MacDougall came spurring to within a few yards of Alex, a handful of hot-eyed, pike-bearing clansmen close at his heels.
"Hah, Douglas! I greet you!" the man called, his eyes flashing scorn. " 'Tis a fine day to die, is it not?"
"You do your line no service, Sir Colin," Alex shot back, recognizing the man from the bargaining table that had brought him to this wretched pass. "Rather death than to see my name sullied as you have now soiled yours."
Coldly arrogant, the MacDougall flicked a glance at Alex's sword, his sneer indicating without words that he'd not missed that the great brand's tip had snapped off.
"Drop your blade, man. 'Tis now as useless as your life," he scoffed, nodding approval when his henchmen advanced on Alex, pike shafts lowered, swords at the ready. "A pity you didn't know better than to come riding hotfoot into our territory."
Tight-lipped, Alex scowled defiance. They could slice him to ribbons before he'd reveal he'd known indeed. 'Twas his king, the Good Robert Bruce, who'd hoped for the MacDougalls' honor. A forgiving monarch, he'd trusted the querulous clan to grip a hand extended in peace and put an end to the long-running feud between the two great houses.
"Your error in judgment has sold your men's lives dearly," Colin taunted him. "Your own as well."
"And you shall suffer for your treachery, that I promise you!" Alex jerked, well aware of the growing silence and its foul portent.
There would be no winning away, no unexpected turning of his fortune, and, the Almighty as his witness, no yielding, either.
A Douglas stood until he fell.
" 'Tis you who shall regret!" One of the lance bearers urged his horse closer, jabbed his spear tip into Alex's thigh.
Ignoring the pain, Alex focused on their leader, meeting Colin's glare with a scalding stare of his own. A circular ruby brooch gleamed at the man's shoulder, its glittering gemstones the same deep red as the stain spreading down Alex's leg.
"With such fine plunder lying about, I dinna think we'll be a-bothering with much suffering." Colin gestured at the blood-soaked hillside, the deep ravine now littered with the corpses of Alex's men, the shattered remnants of his baggage train. "Aye, right good pickings."
Alex bristled, swallowed the bile in his throat. "Too good for the likes of you."
Already men scavenged, bands of them moving amongst the fallen to search for spoils worth harvesting. Rich booty indeed, much of it gleaned from the unwieldy cargo Alex had insisted on bringing despite the perilous journey.
The greatest prize, a magnificently carved four-poster bed, carefully dismantled for the journey and packed with all its luxuriant trappings.
His wedding gift to a bride he'd never see.
A token offering of goodwill for a wife he hadn't wanted but had given his oath to claim.
Gall near choking him, he flung away his tipless brand and made to hurl himself upon the MacDougall, ached to curl his hands around the other's neck, but a ringed phalanx of steel-headed pikes stopped him. In particular, the one pressing into the hollow of his throat.
Anger burning hot within him, he drew himself as upright as the thrusting spear heads allowed. "Your Lady Isobel sought this union, wished to see your house in the king's grace."
The men encircling him smirked at each other.
"So you say?" Colin raised his brows. " 'Twas her da who favored such an alliance, and he, God rest his soul, is no more. Besides, the Lady Isobel has been sweet on me since we were both in swaddling. 'Twas her own good self sent us to intercept you."
The back of his neck blazing, Alex fought to keep his wits, a near impossibility with the twisted body of his youngest squire sprawled not far from the MacDougall's feet, the poor lad's eyes staring unblinking at the sky.
Others of his retinue lay nearby, some heaped in mounds, all equally still. Good and proud men, slain in their dozens.
Alex shuddered, his stomach churning. "King Robert will see you swinging from the nearest gibbet," he swore, his voice sharp enough to cut granite. "Every last one of you."
Colin gave an exaggerated shrug. "That remains to be seen, but I think not. See here, this is the Bloodstone of Dalriada," he boasted, rubbing his knuckles over the brooch at his shoulder. "A sacred relic passed down from Kenneth MacAlpin, first King of Scots, and wrest from your own Bruce's cloak in a struggle at Dalrigh. Its possession is the pride of all MacDougalls."
Alex narrowed his eyes, his gorge rising. "I have no interest in your brooch, however it came into your hands."
"Och, but you should." The other's lip curled with malice. "See you, with you dead and no witnesses to naysay us, we will claim you absconded with the Bloodstone of Dalriada on the eve of your wedding. Not even your upstart king will avenge a man who'd so shame his bride."
"God's curse on you!" Alex cried, knowing the truth of the man's words.
Colin hooted a mirthless laugh, waved a hand at the growing pile of plunder. "Ahhh, Lady Isobel will be mightily pleased with your bride gifts," he jeered, a wolfish smile spreading across his face. "Yon bridal bed looks to be a fine piece. We shall use it well."
"You will not spend a single night in my bed," Alex hissed, rage surging in his chest. "Not in bliss. That I swear on my mother's grave."
Unfazed, Colin removed his brooch and tossed it to Alex. "Something better than a light-skirted bitch to swear upon."