Authors: Kerrigan Byrne
AMAZON KDP EDITION
Unwilling © 2012
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Cover Art © 2012
Kelli Ann Morgan
To my love. Thank
you for holding me up.
To the Writer’s of
Imminent Death, the bright spot in my work week.
To my fellow
Musketeers, Athos and Aramis, aka Cindy Stark and Tiffinie Helmer. Thank you
for taking this journey with me. Above that, thank you for being the stars I
follow in the darkness.
To Lynne Harter at
Your patience is
legendary and your talent extraordinary.
*Kerrigan donates a percentage of all book sales to
to help the
innocent survivors of global war and oppression
Scottish Highlands, Autumn 1411
“I want his death to be quick and
painless. He’s my brother, after all.” Rory MacKay didn’t meet Connor’s eyes
as he said this. Instead, he tracked the armored coach trundling along the
river Tay where the water ran into the loch, which boasted the same name.
Connor MacLauchlan knew it was
around noon, though storm clouds hid the sun. From their vantage point in the
trees above, he counted twenty mounted highlanders in the coach’s vanguard.
Twenty he could kill on his own, but it would be a blood bath. “I take
pleasure in the death, but no’ in the killing. It willna take long once I
Rory winced, but nodded. His doe-brown
eyes closed as he took a bracing breath.
Considering the second born twin of
the MacKay nobles, Connor worried about his conviction. Rory’s bronze hair
matted to his handsome face where fat rivulets of rain had plastered it. He
was a strapping lad, but even in his heavy hide cloak he didn’t compete with
Connor’s own bulk. This was a good man doing evil for the sake of his clan.
Yet the blood would stain his hands, just like it would saturate Connor come
“If yer having doubts, now would be
the time to voice them,” Connor prompted. “We can ride away from here and
never speak of this again.”
Rory’s shoulders slumped. “Nay.
Since yer brother, Roderick, defeated our father at Aberdeen, Angus has been
raiding all over Argyll. He’s split our clan and made us weak. Anyone who doesna
swear fealty to him is terrorized. He’s pillaged and burned farms and houses…
wi’ people still inside. I didna want to believe what I was hearing, but a
woman begged refuge for her and a bairn at the Keep. She said he ran her
husband through the belly with his sword, then made the dying man watch as he…took
her.” Rory’s throat visibly worked over a swallow. “Angus is my twin. We
used to protect each other from our brutal father. We used to play together in
the fields and ride our horses along the coast until we could see the end of
the world…” His eyes hardened. “He canna return to Dun Keep, MacLauchlan. I
willna let him be the ruin of my clan. No more innocents can bear his tyranny.”
A tear escaped the corner of the young man’s eye and he swiped it away with his
Connor’s saddle creaked as he
reached out to clap Rory on the shoulder. “I have a brother of my own,” he
said. “I’d die for him.”
Rory nodded his head in
appreciation, his jaw working back strong emotion. “Actually, I thought it
would be Roderick who answered my missive, what with you being Laird and all.
Oh, and a Baron now, besides.”
“My brother is newly married. He
promised his bride he’d build her an apothecary in Strathlachlan. There’s no
tearing him away from her side for the time being.” Connor huffed out a
chuckle at the memory of his brother following his wee curvy mate about the
Keep like an addled puppy, a load of planks on his broad back. God save him
from the same fate. Roderick was patient and steady as the day was long. Connor
didn’t have the temperament to deal with a wife.
Besides, courting a Berserker could
be deadly. And he had enough blood on his hands already. Better not to risk
“I see,” Rory let his mouth relax
into a faint smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “There’s another conundrum of
mine. The next Laird of our clan is betrothed to Lindsay Ross.”
“The Regent’s niece?”
“Aye. I’d not see her in the arms
of my brother, royal beauty that she is.”
“I heard she’s also a royal pain in
Rory shrugged. “I’ve never met
her. But I wouldn’t give an animal I liked to Angus, let alone a noble
“Right.” Connor turned his
attention back to the road. The Mackay had almost reached the foot of the
loch. They would angle southwest, then, following the road along the river.
“They mustn’t reach Loch Lomond.”
Rory pulled a heavy purse out of his saddlebag and handed it to Connor, who
“I’ll get them at Benmore. There’s
forest for ambush and caves where I can camp for the night. Besides, Lomond’s
too close to MacLauchlan land for my comfort. I’ll no’ let him get close to my
Pulling his hood up against the
rain, Rory turned his horse.
“Go to a busy tavern tonight,”
Connor ordered. “Buy everyone there a pint and maybe tumble a lass or two.
Make sure you’re seen.”
“All right,” Rory nodded. “And…
Godspeed Connor MacLauchlan.”
“I doona need yer God’s blessing,”
the berserker murmured as the other man rode off into the rain. “I have a
Goddess to keep me.”
When the berserker rage took him,
he became lost in it. It was as though another beast lived dormant inside of
him and burst free at the sight of blood. Only, Connor never disappeared into
the grey oblivion. Nor was he merely a spectator. He became a mass of rage
and wrath and indiscriminate destruction. Every man possessed some part of the
spirit of the berserker. For some it was a whisper. For others a roar. But
the nature of humanity tempered the beast with reason, logic, fear, love, and
For a few ancient blood lines,
Freya, the Norse Goddess of war, unchained the beast within chosen warriors of the
line and gifted them with unnatural strength and speed. The part of the mind
that processed logic, consequence, and emotion became chained but never
Connor turned and watched the heavy
coach make its unhurried pace through the late afternoon. Closing his eyes he
waited to feel the requisite thrill before a good battle. God help the
marauding tyrant within. For once his Berserker beheld the first hint of
blood, there would be no survivors.
Endless hours in the stuffy coach
made Lindsay Ross squirm with restlessness. She couldn’t read to pass the
time, for within minutes of bouncing through the mud-rutted roads she’d be
green as Irish moss and her afternoon meal would make an unwelcome reappearance.
She’d rather have ridden out in the
fresh autumn air with her vanguard, but her uncle forbade it. In fact, he’d
forbidding since taking her father’s place as Regent of
Scotland. Every time their last discussion ran through her head, she could
feel the embers of her temper ignite all over again.
“There’s nothing I can do to help
ye, Lindsay,” he’d said with a dismissive wave. “The betrothal contract was
signed between yer father and the senior Angus MacKay in agreement for a trade
of MacKay lands and their swords against the Donald. Both men who signed the
contract are dead now. I canna go against yer departed father’s wishes. Ye’re
Laird has sent for ye. Ye’ll go to Angus the Younger and be an obedient wife.”
“But the late Laird Angus was a
traitor and ended up fighting for the Donald. Surely that negates the
contract.” Lindsay had argued.
“There’s still the land. The
agreement stands.” Robert Ross had folded portly arms over his belly and
jutted the foremost of his chins out at her. The movement reminded her of the Neapolitan
Mastiffs he kept as hunting dogs. There were many jests about the Scottish
court as to how much dogs and master resembled each other.
“You would trade your niece for a
few paltry acres of peat moss and heather?” she’d asked, aghast that her uncle
could care so little for her. She’d been a good companion to his ailing wife
for some time. That, at least, deserved some deference. “I’ve heard that Angus
is a brute. Would you have me treated unkindly?”
“I’d have ye do yer duty to clan
and country. If yer father hadna waited so long to marry you off, he wouldna have
had to settle on the MacKays. But because ye were a raven-haired beauty like
yer mother, he couldna bear part with ye and die alone.” His eyes had narrowed
into red-rimmed slits of cruelty. “Yer no’ the first noble girl who had to lie
beneath a husband she didna like, and you willna be the last. Show a little gratitude.
There are several lassies who’d slit yer throat to take your place.”
“Then let them,” she’d spat.
“Doona tempt me!” He’d thrown her
out of his richly appointed study, then. Ultimately, she’d ended up stuffed
with a fraction of her belongings into what the MacKays had dubbed a “gilded
coach” and surrounded by dozens of reeking highlanders.
Lindsay looked around the cracked
and peeling interior of the conveyance. Perhaps it had been grand once. Last
century. At least she’d been allowed her privacy. And, her betrothed hadn’t
come to collect her, himself. He’d sent this sinister looking band of brutes
to conduct her from Inverness to Dun Keep, the MacKays’ highland castle on the
other side of the bloody isle. She parted the dingy curtain of questionable
color and tried to let some fresh air into the close interior.
A nebulous and sinister mist had
abruptly rolled off one of the many nearby lochs and blocked out the autumn afternoon.
Lindsay could taste the moisture of it on her tongue and breathe it into her
lungs. It smelled of ripe berries and freshly fallen leaves.
Squinting through the soupy swirls
of silver and gray, she assumed she was looking north, as they’d endlessly been
traveling east to reach Dun Keep. It was hard to tell though, as the trees,
rock formations, and the river all lay hidden in the fog.
The sounds of anxious horses and
the low murmurs of her vanguard caused the fine hairs on her body to rise with
awareness. She could see the forms of the three closest men to the coach. The
flashes of their green kilts and drawn swords would sometimes come into view
before disappearing back into the thick cloud.
“Is everything all right?” she
asked the closest highlander. A scrawny man whose age remained indeterminable
beneath his shaggy locks and what had to have been a summer’s worth of grime.
He shifted his horse closer and leered
at her, revealing that he’d lost most of his teeth and all of them on left
side. Whether from rot or battle, she couldn’t be sure, but the effect was
most unsettling. “Nothin’ ta fash yerself with, lass. Just a bit o’ fog makes
the horses jumpy. Ye never know if there be a wolf or what not in the woods.”
“Oh.” His words didn’t relieve her
worry. Something about
particular mist was unsettling. Maybe a
bit unnatural. It slithered around them, its silver fingers reaching through
her clothing to leave a cool sheen on her flesh.
If yer in need of diversion. I can
come in there, teach ye a few things.” His tongue made an alarming appearance,
though he kept his teeth clenched.
The burly warrior next to him
smacked the back of his head. “Ye canna be saying those things to the lass!”
he chided. “She’s wedding the Laird. Angus’ll cut off yer sacs and feed them
to his dogs while ye watch… and that’s just fer lookin’ at her sideways.”
The scrawny lad had the decency to
look stricken. “Ye’ll no’ be mentioning it to ‘im, will ye lass? Ye know I
meant nothing by it.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” she
shrugged. Best not to antagonize the fellow. Who know what a desperate man
“Yer lucky she’s a sweet wench.”
The other burly man cackled. “Or ye’d likely not live to see yer next—”
An axe imbedded in his skull,
effectively cutting off the rest of his sentence.