To Steal a Highlander's Heart

BOOK: To Steal a Highlander's Heart
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To
Steal a Highlander’s Heart

Samantha Holt

Copyright
2012 ©Samantha Holt

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed
as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to Eileen for ensuring I stayed true to
her Scottish heritage and answering all my silly questions. I must also thank
Joy who has helped me out with countless books and continues to tolerate
endless emails of nonsense as I work things out. I also owe Sue lots of love
and thank yous. You’ve been a huge support to me and I will always be grateful
that I ‘met’ you. I will love you always.

 

 

Prologue

Moray,
Scotland 1231

Morgann
grimaced as floorboards creaked and he paused and listened. He swallowed, the
sound loud in his ears but he heard no one approach, no heavy footsteps
pounding up the stairs. Beneath him, the feast continued. Raucous shouts and
laughter rang out. He slipped across the solar, skirted the wide blue bed and
paused in front of a carved chest. It had to be in here. He'd snuck into the
laird's chambers with Alana enough times and they both knew her father kept his
most precious belongings in there.

Crouching,
he lifted the lid, gently resting it back. Furs and blankets hid the box but he
managed to find it even in the dim moonlight. He freed the small silver box,
stood and held it up to the window.
Damnation
. It was locked. He tried
to pry it apart with his fingers but it refused to open.

He
glanced around and sighed. Alana would probably come looking for him soon and
he really didn’t want to her to find out what he was doing. Having her think
him a thief would be bad enough but he could not let her know the truth about
her father. The lass loved him dearly.

Morgann
shook his head. He wished Alana wasn’t so trusting and sweet sometimes. Too
often, she sought to see the best in people. Even him. And she forgave him far
too readily for his flaws. She tolerated too much nonsense from him. Ach, what
foolish talk. Alana was perfect. Sweet, understanding, funny and tolerant. Perfect
wifely material.

He
shook his head again and turned his attention back to the box. When a large
burst of laughter sounded, he smashed the edge against the stone window ledge.
The metal crumpled but refused to give way. He tried again and again. Finally
the lid split from the base and he prized it apart. He grinned in triumph as he
spotted what he'd been searching for.

His
mother’s ring.

Folding
it into his fist, he felt the reassuring weight and considered with grim satisfaction
what would happen to his stepmother now he’d found the ring that had supposedly
been stolen. How would she explain how it happened to end up in Laird Dougall Campbell’s
hands?

Before
he made his escape, a hand came upon his shoulder. He leaped around, fists
ready but several men surrounded him. Two pinned his arms behind him, stealing
his chance at a fair fight and one plunged a fist into his stomach, forcing him
to double over. He coughed and pulled himself up straight, straining against
the hands that held him captive.

Laird
Dougall pushed through the men and ran his gaze over him. Morgann cursed aloud
as his hands were shackled behind him even as he fought to get free.

The
grey-haired man loomed over him. “What are ye doing here, Morgann?”

“Getting
what’s mine,” he snarled, unintimidated by Dougall’s superior height. Though
the man was one of the tallest Highlanders he knew, he was still aged and
Morgann could take him in a fair fight.

“I
knew ye were up to something. I could tell. Ye cannae fool me, MacRae. Ye’ve
been looking at me like yer ready to slice my head off all eve.”

A
warrior pulled the ring from Morgann’s palm and handed it over to Dougall. He
lifted it and eyed it with a tight smile. “Been thieving have we?”

“That’s
my mothers and ye know it.”

“But
‘twas given to me. A gift.”

Morgann
clenched his jaw. “From a woman who has no rights over it. ‘Twas a promise ring
between my father and my mother. My stepmother should never have given it to
ye.”

Dougall
laughed. “Yer stepmother gives me many things. Quite a woman that one. I'll
look forward to the day when she's mine.”

“Yer
welcome to her, but ye'll never get yer hands on MacRae lands too.”

The
older man’s smile expanded as he clenched the ring. “So ye have me figured do
ye? Yer a smart lad, Morgann. Too smart really. Ye’d have been better off just
letting things run their course.”

“And
what happens when Alana finds out just what yer up to?”

Dougall’s
eyes narrowed. “My daughter is none of yer concern. Ye’ve always paid too much
attention to her. Ach, I was even considering giving her to ye. Once I've
married yer stepmother and taken yer lands, it seemed only right that ye at
least have something.”

“Alana
will be heartbroken when she finds out what yer up to.”

“As
I told ye,” Dougall ground out. “‘Tis none of yer concern. I dinnae do this to
hurt her. ‘Tis the way of the world, lad. Surely ye can see that? If I want to
be sure of providing her with all I can and the only way I can do that is by
holding onto power. Ye wouldnae want to see her penniless now would ye?”

“That
would never happen, Dougall. I wouldnae allow it.”

“And
I willnae allow ye to see her again. I'll no’ have ye poisoning her against me.
Yer banished from Dunleith. Ye and all the MacRaes.” He stepped closer. “I love
my daughter and I’ll do all I can to protect her. Including keeping ye away
from her. Ye step foot on my land again and ye'll be dead, understand?”

Releasing
a growl, Morgann yanked at his restraints. His captors held him tight as he
fought against their hold. Ach, but he’d failed. Failed to get the proof he
needed and now he’d never get another chance. His gut burned with frustration.

“I'll
no’ let ye take the MacRae lands, Dougall.” He yanked forward, throwing all his
weight into the movement and the men’s grip loosened enough for him to smash
his head into Dougall's face. The man dropped to the floor, eyes wide as he
clutched at a bloody nose.

Morgann’s
head pounded and he briefly saw stars but the men were upon him again, holding
him tight. Dougall clambered to his feet and Morgann released a grin at the
sight of blood streaming down his face.

“I
tried to make it easy on ye, lad,” Dougall pressed through gritted teeth. “Ye’ve
only yerself to blame. Take him to the blacksmith’s to be branded. He's a thief.
He should be punished accordingly.”


A
mheapain!”
Morgann spat as the warriors dragged him across the room. Morgann
was strong but no match for two fully grown men. He forced down the bile rising
in his throat. He’d seen animals branded. The press of hot metal on skin would
be excruciating.

To
his shame they hauled him down the stairs and past the revellers, including some
of his kin. He only hoped they were sent away peacefully and none decided to
fight. They were sorely outnumbered. Alana rose from the table, a hand to her
mouth as she watched them pass.

Morgann
sagged into his captors’ hold when they stepped out into the bailey.
Little
use fighting now.
A feminine voice sounded behind him and they all paused.

“What
are ye doing, Da?” Alana hurried across the mud, skirts in hand. “Why do ye hold
Morgann prisoner? The MacRaes are baying for yer blood. I’ve told them Morgann
must have been playing tricks again.”

Dougall
crossed his arms over his chest. “‘Tis naught to do with ye, Alana. Go back inside.
I’ll deal with the MacRaes when I return.”

She
turned her gaze to Morgann. “Morgann?”

He
swallowed. Funny, he’d never realised how pretty the lass was. Aye, she’d had
her fair share of interest from suitors but there was something about her pale
hair in the moonlight and the hint of womanly curves under her gown. And now
her wide gaze latched onto his, begging for the truth.

He
sighed. “Naught, Alana. ‘Tis between us men. Go inside. I’ll speak with ye soon
and explain.”

She
nodded slowly, her brow still furrowed. “Aye, as ye will.”

“Go
now,” her father commanded sharply.

Darting
a look between both of them, Alana snatched her skirts once more. “Come to me later,
Morgann.”

A
faint growl came from Dougall but the man clearly didn’t want to upset his
daughter so allowed Morgann to respond quietly, “Aye, later, lass.”

As
he was dragged to the blacksmith for his punishment, all hope fled and his
heart sank. He doubted very much he’d ever see Alana again. And the future of
his clan looked bleak indeed.

Chapter One


Tis
time the sidhe repay their debt,
the faerie thought as she cracked open a
shutter and peered at the sleeping woman. Aye, she was a pretty one. Not like
herself, but beautiful enough. A plan had been hatched long ago but now was the
time to put it into motion. Both were ready for it and if she did not take
action soon, then there would be no going back. The fate of many souls rested
in Tèile’s hands. She smiled to herself as she flew up above the keep. The
sleeping spell was ready. The woman’s clan would not have the slightest clue
what had happened. Her grin widened. She so enjoyed toying with humans.

***

Wisps
of mist rose from the ground and swirled around Alana’s ankles. She thrust out
a foot to watch the white haze dance about her before glancing over her
shoulder at the keep in the distance. Tucked against the mountain and cut off
by a shallow river, the tall stone castle seemed almost insignificant. She blew
out a long breath and watched as it too misted.

Though
pleased to be free from the keep, and her father’s watchful eye, a sense of
foreboding struck her. Alana frowned as she tried to recall why she had come out
onto the moors. In truth, she barely remembered getting dressed yet here she
was, in her pale blue plaid, hair braided, drawing in the early morning air.
Only the foggy remnants of a dream remained, something that beckoned for her to
come here.

And
how was it there were no men to stop her from leaving?

A
strange occurrence indeed, for her father never left the castle walls
unattended. It had been deathly quiet. A morbid thought occurred to her and she
wondered why she did not check that all was well. Had they been attacked
overnight? Were her kinsmen dead? Nay, surely not, for there would be
triumphant victors crowding the halls of Dunleith Keep by now and she would
either be killed or captured.

The
whole morning had been strange. Her first clear memory was standing in the
moors and staring off into the distance as if awaiting something. A prickle
danced over her skin and she spun wildly, feeling as though fingers had tickled
down her spine. Ach, either someone played games with her or her mind was
addled. She huffed. Too much time spent cloistered away.

Specks
of orange sunlight filtered across the mountains, dancing between the cracks
and valleys and Alana tilted her head. The urge to keep going, to see what lay over
the other side warred within her. She so missed being outside, missed her
freedom.

Da
would have a fit.

With
a sigh, she turned back to the castle, the stone tower seeming more grey and
oppressive than ever before. Hitching up her skirts, she strolled leisurely
back, taking her time to admire each wild flower as she went. She ought to walk
quickly. Should her father discover her absence, he would no doubt lecture her
on the dangers of her actions and would certainly remind her their enemies were
everywhere. Ach, she saw no—

She
spun wildly as the heavy thud of hooves sounded. A brown horse bore down upon
her, barely a few paces away. Alana squeaked in surprise as the rider snatched
her plaid and hauled her into the saddle in front of him, not even slowing the
mount as he positioned her firmly in his arms. She scarcely comprehended how it
had happened. One moment there had been no one and then suddenly… A ghost mayhap?

She
tried to wriggle in his hold but a strong arm pinned her to his chest. “Release
me, ye fool.”

“I
think not, my lady.”

Alana
scowled as the deep timbre of his voice singed through her, setting her senses
on fire. There was something wildly disturbing yet familiar about it. Her heart
hammered heavily as fear penetrated her surprise at being caught unawares. If
he were an outlaw or an enemy clansmen she was as good as dead.

“Ye
cannae kidnap me on my own lands!” she protested. “My da will have yer head,
just ye see.” Alana tried to keep her voice strong but even she heard the
wobble in it.

“Be
still,” her captor commanded as she fought against his hold, the growing distance
between her and the castle stealing her determination. “Ach, I told ye—”

The
press against her chest loosened marginally and the world rushed past as she
dropped to the ground. Dirt scraped across her face and hands as she tumbled
along and a sharp pain slammed up her wrist as it jarred in an attempt to brace
herself. The back of her head crashed into the ground and her vision clouded as
she skidded to a stop.

Sweet
Lord, was she dead? She ached everywhere. Alana blinked but the world remained
out of focus. A shadow came across her and a jolt of panic flew through her.
She attempted to turn onto her side but she could not. Her body refused to
move.

“Alana?”

She
blinked again, drawing in harsh, raspy breaths.

“Ye
daft lass, ye could’ve killed yerself.”

Who
was this man and why was he lecturing her? What did he expect would happen when
he tried to kidnap her? That she’d sit there like a mild and meek woman and
play captive? And
how
did he know her name?

Vision
clearing, she squinted up at the Highland warrior towering over her. Broad
shouldered and thick through the chest, he peered at her down a long, hawk-like
nose. Set in a strong jaw surrounded by too much dark stubble were firm lips,
currently pulled into a twisted smile. Thick, black hair—
too much of that
too
—curled at his neck, slightly shorter at the front.

Alana’s
jaw dropped. “Morgann MacRae.”

He
knelt, plaid stretching with the movement of his muscles, and touched a
callused finger to her forehead. Heat pulsed through her skin and she flinched,
the ache in her head pounding in response and making her wince.

“So
ye do remember me.”

“What
are ye trying to do? Kill me?”

“Nay,
‘twas not my intention. But yer the one who threw herself from a perfectly good
horse.”

She
groaned as she attempted to sit and he flattened a hand to the back of her head,
cradling it in his huge palm.

“I
wouldnae jumped had ye no’ snatched me. What are ye playing at, ye great fool?
I’ve no time for games, Morgann.”

“Ach,
‘tis no game I play, no’ like when we were bairns. Anyway ye looked like ye had
all the time in the world.”

Aye,
he was certainly no lad. Not anymore. The sweet lad she from some eight summers
ago was gone, replaced with a flesh and blood man. A raw, rough, handsome man.
Her body pulsed in response to the predatory glimmer in his dark gaze.

“My
da will be missing me,” she said weakly, wincing as he pulled her to sitting.

He
ignored her and thrust his thick fingers into her hair, probing her skull. She
whimpered as he found a tender spot at the back of her head.

“Ye’ve
a nasty bump. Are ye hurt anywhere else?”

Alana
forgot to respond. That rough jaw sat a mere breath away as he knelt beside her
and pressed his hands over her arms, checking for injuries. Morgann MacRae? She
had not seen him in so long, not since…

“Ow!”

He
released her wrist and cradled it carefully in his palm. “Forgive me. Yer wrist
is swollen, can ye move it?”

I
should swing it at his head,
she
thought, pleased to note some of her spirit had returned. Instead of voicing
her discontent, she twisted her wrist and released a sharp hiss as throbbing
pain ran through her arm.

“‘Tis
nae broken,” Morgann concluded.

“How
would ye know? Yer no healer.”

His
dark eyes clashed with hers, surrounded by thick black lashes. His gaze was
intense and powerful and made her suddenly breathless. “I’ve seen enough
injuries.”

“Have
ye?”

“Aye.”
He looked down but not before Alana noted the flicker of something painful in
his eyes.

He
drew his fingers down her side, prodding at her ribs. The shock of his touch
through her clothing sent her rigid and dumb even though she knew she should be
fighting him off or at least scolding him for such familiarity. It was the fall.
Aye, that was it. It had stolen all sense from her.

“We
must get ye aid, ye’ve taken a nasty tumble and I think yer a wee addled.”

“I
am not addled!”

His
lips quirked. “Well yer no docile lass, I’ll give ye that.”

Before
she could protest, he’d scooped her into his arms and lifted her over to his
waiting mount. His solid chest pressed to hers, the rough fabric of his plaid
rubbing under her palm and the undulation of muscles made her head swim. Eyes
wide, she gaped up at the man who stood in the place of her childhood friend. Ach,
mayhap she was addled

***

Morgann
tensed his jaw as Alana’s soft body chafed against him and that doe-eyed green gaze
settled on his face. Hell fire, she had taken him by surprise. Aye, she’d been
a bonny lass but he’d never thought just eight years would have her growing
into such a fine creature. A willowy figure, glossy golden hair the colour of
the sunset and a delicate face with a stubborn pointed chin. Aye, very bonny.
He flicked his gaze to her lips and the rest of his body tensed too. Those lips
were currently pursed into a pout of dissatisfaction but it did not disguise
their succulence.

Hell
fire.

She
stiffened as he ordered his mount to lower. “Ye cannae take me to my da, he’ll
have yer head.”

“I’ve
little intention of taking ye to yer da or losing my head.”

Morgann
climbed onto his chestnut mare, Caraid, and settled Alana across his lap. She
cradled her sore wrist and it was clear she was in more pain than she’d
revealed. Stubborn lass. Ach, but he was a fool. He didn’t even know what had
come over him when he’d seen her, only that this was his one opportunity to finally
reveal the truth and by God he was going to take it.

Why
exactly had he been trespassing on Dunleith land again? He frowned as he tried
to recall.

“What
are ye planning to do with me, Morgann?”

He
liked the way his name rolled off her tongue. Sweet like honey, yet spicy and
inviting. What was he planning to do with her anyway? Ransom her? Mayhap. Or at
least use her as a bargaining tool. Or keep her forever…

He
shrugged off the thought.
Fool
. If he was to ever reveal the truth to
his father, he needed every advantage. Even if it meant kidnapping the Laird of
Dunleith’s daughter.

“I’ll
take ye to Glencolum. We’ll get ye back to full health there.”

She
wriggled against his hold but her injuries must have weakened her and now he
was ready for a fight, he held her easily.

“Ye
were
trying to kidnap me!” she exclaimed with a huff of frustration.

He
shrugged as he directed the horse northwards to Glencolum Keep and his family
lands. Back to safety.

“Ye,
Morgann, are naught but a lowlife criminal. A barbarian scoundrel. Return me
home, ye bloody fool. Ye’ll be beheaded for this, just ye see. My da will come
get me and he’ll kill all of ye. Ye and yer kinsmen. Put me down!”

Morgann
grunted as a pointy elbow connected with his stomach. “Keep still. Yer lucky ye
didnae kill yerself with that fall. I dinnae want to be returning ye to yer da
in pieces.”

In
truth, he didn’t want to be returning her harmed at all. The lass was fortunate
she’d not done any real damage. A sprained wrist and a bump to the head was naught
compared to what could have occurred. But, by God, she was spirited. What happened
to the sweet little lassie he’d known? Insulting him? She’d never have done
that before.

“Be
still,” he tried again as her bottom wriggled against him. He bit back a grunt.
He’d not had a woman in far too long. She had no idea what kind of trouble she
was getting herself into. “Alana, if ye dinnae be still, I swear I’ll put ye
over my knee.”

She
gasped. “Ye wouldnae!”

“I
would.”

“Ach,
I dinnae believe ye. Ye always said a man who beat a woman was no man at all. I
remember,” she replied smugly.

Hell,
she had him there. What else did the lass remember? What else did she know?
He’d not seen her since that night when the tentative peace between the MacRaes
and the Campbells had ended. All thanks to him.

She’d
asked him how he knew her wrist wasn’t broken. Well, he had seen many injuries
far more grievous than a sprained wrist in the years since. The fighting had been
brutal and bloody. Now both clans kept their distance, afraid of any more
losses. Both too stubborn and proud to even think of forgetting the past hurts.
Not that he would ever forgive Dougall Campbell. Aye, he’d left them well
enough alone recently but given the chance the man would snatch his lands from
underneath him.

Ignoring
her pointed statement, he kept his focus on the ragged horizon. And not on the
supple little body pressing into him. Nay, he wouldn’t think on that and how
perfect she felt.

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