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Authors: Melissa Mayhue

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Warrior's Last Gift

BOOK: Warrior's Last Gift
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MELISSA MAYHUE

“An author with a magical touch for romance.”


New York Times
bestselling author Janet Chapman

WARRIOR’S REDEMPTION

Winner of an RT Seal of Excellence Award

“Melissa Mayhue brings the Scottish locale to life with a colorful vividness. . . . An emotional romantic adventure with unforgettable characters and a magically imaginative premise.”


Single Titles

“Fan favorite Mayhue’s time-travel series certainly gives readers everything they want in a medieval and a time travel. Characters of vastly different backgrounds—Nordic and Texan—emotional turmoil, magic, and an ever-expanding love coupled with an unusual plot make this an extraordinary read.”


RT Book Reviews

“A wonderful job . . . fun, filled with action and danger.”


The Reading Café

“Marvelous, magical mayhem.”


Genre Go Round Reviews

“With strong characters, witty dialogue, and an easy to follow plot, what’s not to enjoy? A must read.”


My Book Addiction Reviews

“You can’t go wrong when you pick up one of Ms. Mayhue’s books.”


Night Owl Romance

HIGHLANDER’S CURSE

“An enthralling and captivating romance. . . . A page-turner if there ever was one!”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars)

“Time after time, Mayhue brings her readers tantalizingly close to emotional satisfaction.”


Publishers Weekly

HEALING THE HIGHLANDER

“Deeply moving characters, fraught with emotional turmoil, the subtle entwining of Faerie magic and a highly charged, ever-expanding romance. . . .”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars)

A HIGHLANDER’S HOMECOMING

Finalist for the 2011 RITA Award for Paranormal Romance

“Enthralling. . . . The combination of plot, deeply emotional characters and ever-growing love is breathtaking.”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars)

A HIGHLANDER’S DESTINY

“The characters are well written, the action is nonstop, and there’s plenty of sizzling passion.”


RT Book Reviews
(4 stars)

“This is one of those series that I tell everyone to read.”


Night Owl Reviews

A HIGHLANDER OF HER OWN

“Wonderful. . . . Melissa Mayhue captures the complications and delights of both the modern woman and the fascination with the medieval world.”


Denver Post

SOUL OF A HIGHLANDER

“Absolutely riveting from start to finish.”


A Romance Review

“Mayhue’s world is magical and great fun.”


RT Book Reviews

HIGHLAND GUARDIAN

“Mayhue not only develops compelling protagonists, but her secondary characters are also rich and intriguing.”


RT Book Reviews
(4 stars)

“A delightful world of the faerie. . . . Snappy dialogue and passionate temptations . . . are sure to put a smile on your face.”


Fresh Fiction

THIRTY NIGHTS WITH A HIGHLAND HUSBAND

“Infused with humor, engaging characters, and a twist or two.”


RT Book Reviews
(4 stars)

“Melissa Mayhue rocks the Scottish Highlands.”


A Romance Review

W
arrior’s
L
ast
G
ift

Melissa Mayhue

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WARRIOR’S LAST GIFT

for an exclusive sneak peek at Melissa Mayhue’s next captivating novel

W
ARRIOR
R
EBORN

Available from Pocket Books November 2012

Prologue

Castle MacGahan, Scotland

Autumn 1293

Jeanne MacGhie looked gratefully at the warrior standing in front of her. “I accept yer proposal, Eymer Horvesson. I only pray you ken what it is yer getting yerself into.”

“Good. Then I suppose there’s no reason for delay.” Eymer nervously clasped his hands together behind him.

“None,” Jeanne answered, meeting his serious gaze. “None at all.”

Eymer had good reason to be nervous. It was a huge step he contemplated.

“Yer sure you want to go through with this?” She had to ask him one last time.

“I am.” His head bobbed up and down to reinforce his words. “After what I’ve confided to you, surely you must ken it’s to my benefit as much as to yers. If, that is, yer sure you’ll no regret keeping the truth from Captain MacNicol.”

She was more sure of that than of anything else in her life. Though she loved Eric MacNicol deeply, he’d made it more than clear he had no place in his life for a wife and family. His devotion lay entirely in service to their laird.

“I am sure.”

She’d never been one to dally over her decisions. There were those who accused her of being rash, but she knew better. If something needed doing, the best course was simply to do it and get it over with. Even something that stole any chance of seeing her dreams come to life.

“It’s only that he might have spoken differently if you’d but told him of yer . . .” Eymer paused, a dull red coloring his neck and blotching his cheeks. “Yer condition.”

“No.”

In this she would not compromise. Jeanne had confessed her love for Eric this very morning, along with her desire to wed as soon as possible. Eric, it seemed, had other priorities in his life. Priorities he’d made abundantly clear in his crisp rejection of her suggestion.

“No,” she repeated. “I’d no try to force Eric from his honest desires.” She’d seen the results of such a marriage between her own mother and father.

Eymer, having overheard the whole scene between her and Eric, had followed her when she’d sought privacy beyond the castle walls. The very idea that someone had heard Eric’s rejection of a life with her was beyond humiliating, but there was no time now for self-pity. She had work to do and plans to make. Plans for a future that would not include Eric MacNicol, captain of the guard.

Again the pain bit into her heart, forcing her to close her eyes against it. When she opened them again, she found herself staring into Eymer’s concerned face.

“That being the case, I’ll speak to our laird this very day to see to the arrangements,” he said. “We should go back now. We’ve both much to do in preparation.”

Jeanne followed along, feeling the sting of rejection as he fastened his hands behind his back as if to avoid any physical contact with her.

She still wasn’t sure she believed all he’d told her, but it didn’t really matter. If he had spoken the truth, their actions this day would benefit them both.

For her part, she would put away her feelings. Seal them in the deepest, darkest corner of her heart behind a wall of solid stone. It was the least she could do to repay the debt of kindness she would always owe this man.

She should consider herself a fortunate woman. Eymer Horvesson was a good man. He’d make a good husband.

Even more important to her right now, he’d make a good father.

C
hapter
O
ne

Castle MacGahan, Scotland

Winter, 1294

Chewing her own foot off would be more pleasant than what she was preparing to do.

Jeanne MacGhie Horvesson lifted her chin and knocked upon the big wooden door leading to the soldiers’ barracks.

“Do I look to be a damned kitchen maid that I might wait upon yer every need? Can you no open the damned door for yer ownself, you lowlife—Oh.” The face of the big man who opened the door to her knock colored a dull red. “Begging yer pardon, Mistress Horvesson. I thought it one of the men who—How may I be of service to you?”

Jeanne wasn’t surprised by his reaction. Since Eymer’s death in service to their laird, all the men treated her with the utmost respect.

Respect she hardly deserved but was determined to earn.

“I wish to speak to yer captain.”

In truth, the captain was the last man she wished to speak with, but there was no one else for her to turn to. And she’d given her oath that she would do this.

“If you’ll but wait here, I’ll see if he’s yet returned from—”

“I’m here.” Eric MacNicol stepped from the shadows of the long hallway, his gaze riveted on her.

For an instant, it felt as though her foolish body had forgotten how to take its next breath. But then she remembered and forced herself to push aside the anxiety, shoving it back into the secret box where it dwelt. This wasn’t about her. She was here for Eymer.

The big guardsman dipped his head respectfully and made a discreet exit as Eric approached her.

“It’s well past time that I should have delivered my condolences on the loss of yer . . .” Eric paused, glancing down to his hands and back up again. “On Eymer’s death. He was a true warrior and a good man.”

“That he was,” she agreed. Perhaps the kindest, most caring man she’d ever known.

“Why have you come here? What would you have of me, Je—” He bit her name off, clamping his lips into a thin, straight line before he recovered himself and continued. “Mistress Horvesson.”

Jeanne hated the cold blanket of formality and disdain that lay between them, but it was for the best. Besides, she had no more control over Eric’s feelings than she did over her own. Were that the case, the last year and half of her life likely would have been a very different story.

She drew a deep breath, once again reminding herself that her visit here today was not about her feelings. Or Eric’s. She had a promise to keep.

“I’ve come to ask a boon of you, Eric MacNicol. A final boon on behalf of Eymer Horvesson.”

Eric’s expression blanked as if a curtain had dropped across his eyes, hiding any true emotion.

“Tell me what it is you’d have of me. I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Eymer’s wish, his one and only request of me ever, was that should he die, he wanted to receive a proper Viking burial. He wanted his body set adrift in a burning vessel dedicated to the patron god of his family, Thor.”

For just an instant, pity shone starkly in Eric’s face.

“You ken there’s naught I can do to make that happen for him, Jeanne. His body canna be reclaimed from the MacDowylt stronghold. His fate would await any who approached Tordenet’s gates.”

Did he honestly think her that stupid? She knew the laird who’d ordered her husband’s death would never release his body to them. But Eymer had considered such a possibility before he’d left Castle MacGahan on his trek north.

“Eymer fully accepted that his death could well come at a time and a place that would deny him that which he wanted most. He planned ahead for such an eventuality.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small cloth bag, holding it out in front of her like an offering in the palm of her hand. “Which is why he left this.”

Eric took a step back from her, holding up his hands as if to keep her away from him. “You canna think to influence the Beast of Tordenet with a treasure. He’s more silver than he needs now.”

Eric
must
think her stupid.

“It’s no a treasure for the MacDowylt I hold in my hand, but a piece of Eymer himself.” She opened the bag and slid the contents onto her palm. “A tooth. His tooth. I gave my vow that should anything happen to him, I’d see this bit of him delivered to the sea north of Skye, where his spirit might have a clear path back to the home of his ancestors.”

Eric’s jaw clenched in the manner she remembered all too well as he stared at the palm of her hand.

“We canna spare soldiers to traipse off on such a frivolous mission. There’s a war in the offing and we’ve hardly the men we need to protect the castle as it is.”

“It’s no men I’m asking for,
Captain
MacNicol.” She spit the title at him, hoping to remind him of his duty to his men. The dead as well as the living. “It’s yerself Eymer entrusted with this task. You to accompany me to see it done.”

Eric blinked. Once, twice, a third time, in rapid succession, as if she’d spoken a language his mind could not comprehend.

“You’ve gone mad, woman.” His hushed voice barely carried to where she stood. “That’s a trip of three to four days, easy, and that with good men riding hard, especially this time of year. You’d no last a full day in the saddle. Yer no strong enough for the hardships of such a journey.”

“I’m stronger than you credit me, Captain.” It took strength beyond any he could imagine to endure the heart-pain she’d suffered through and still manage to stand before him now.

He made no attempt to hide his look of skepticism. “What you propose is no a leisurely summer ride down to the loch for a day of pleasure.”

The shock of a shared memory tingled through her body and she steeled herself against the emotion it carried. Had he chosen a scene from their past to taunt her?

“I never supposed it would be.”

“No.” He crossed his arms over the broad chest she’d once dreamed of spending the rest of her days nestled against. “No. What you request is no possible. I’ll no be a party to it.”

“I suspected that would be yer response. I warned Eymer as much and bade him choose another. You are no the man to turn to in a time of need. No the one to depend upon.” She knew that better than anyone. With a withering look, she turned her back on him. “Dinna you bother yerself over failing yer man, Eric MacNicol. I’ll see it done myownself, I will.”

Before she managed two steps, his fingers clamped onto her upper arm, twirling her around to face him.

His eyes glowed with an uncharacteristic anger. “You’ve no call to say that of me, Jeanne. No call to think it. It’s no me who up and—” He caught himself mid-sentence, once again hiding every scrap of emotion before he spoke again. “You’ll do no such thing.”

She jerked her arm from his grasp, backing away. “I will do what I’ve sworn to do. I owe it to Eymer for all he sacrificed for me. I’ll seek an audience with our laird. I’ll go to Lady Danielle and beg her assistance. One way or another, I will see this done.”

Eric clasped his hands behind his back. “They’ll no more allow such a foolish errand than I would.”

“It makes no difference. If I have to sneak out in the dead of night and find my own way there afoot, so be it. I gave Eymer my oath to see his last wish carried out, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. With or without yer help.”

•   •   •

Eric stared after the retreating backside of the most determined, deceitful woman he’d ever met. Her visit had done nothing to resolve the question that had plagued him for the past year and a half. How could she pledge her love to him in one breath and then, within days, wed another? If it had been Eymer all along who’d held her heart, what did that say about what had passed between the two of them?

And yet, no woman—at least no woman he’d ever known—would willingly risk her life as Jeanne proposed doing for any man unless she truly loved him. And if she’d truly loved Eymer, that could only mean that she’d never loved him, in spite of her pretty words.

He huffed out his breath on a sigh and turned away from the sight of her. Jeanne was a part of his life he’d vowed to put away from him. The last thing he needed as he faced the coming war was a conniving woman filling his thoughts.

But that was exactly what confronted him now, leaving him no more choice in this matter than he had in any other.

Her visit forced him to action, though all he really wanted after two straight days in the saddle was to sleep. That wasn’t to be. First, he’d need to hunt down Malcolm’s brother. Patrick MacDowylt would understand and help him present his case to their laird before Jeanne had a chance to confront him. Once their laird had refused her request, Patrick would be the best to help him make the arrangements necessary to keep the stubborn woman alive.

Heading toward the keep, Eric rolled his shoulders, preparing himself for what was to come. Though he fully anticipated support from Patrick, and their laird himself, it was Jeanne’s threat to go to the lady of Castle MacGahan that concerned him. With Lady Danielle on Jeanne’s side, his argument, no matter how sensible, could well be to no avail.

Even without their lady’s backing, Eric had not one single doubt that Jeanne would do exactly as she’d threatened, setting off on this wickedly foolish quest all by herself no matter who might try to stop her.

She was without question the most impulsive, stubborn woman he’d ever known.

Unfortunately, she also had the distinction of being the only one he’d ever risked losing his heart to. And because of that, if nothing else, he was determined to do everything in his power to keep her safely here within the walls of Castle MacGahan.

BOOK: Warrior's Last Gift
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