Highland Brides of Skye Book 1
by Tarah Scott and April Holthaus
Genre: Historical Romance
Over the years, many lasses have found refuge in the Scottish Highland’s Glenwood Abbey. But for three young ladies, sanctuary becomes servitude, with master puppeteer Malcom Donald using them in his plan to rule the Isle of Skye.
When a return trip home from a clan meeting ends in a bloodbath, Laird Caeleb MacLeod begins his search for the clansman who betrayed them. Little does he know he need look no further than his bed.
As the housekeeper for Laird Caeleb MacLeod, Gwendolyn is in a position to learn many things important to her master, Malcom Donald, captain to the Donald laird. Now she must choose between destroying the man she loves and saving the sister being held hostage by Malcolm.
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AS TREASURES OF SKYE
Highland Brides of Skye Book 2
For years, master thief Helena Donald has lived at Glenwood Abbey and submitted to Malcolm Donald’s bidding. Desperate to break free of his control, Helena agrees to steal the MacLeod Faire Flag for Malcolm for she intends to sell the flag and start a new life far from Malcom. When Helena is caught in a blizzard, she prefers to die in the cold wasteland rather than return to the abbey.
Kaden MacLeod has chosen a solitary life in a cabin on the shore of Loch Haven. But a woman’s scream during a raging snowstorm sends him racing to rescue Helena from the frigid waters of the frozen loch. When he learns that this beautiful young woman is about to commit the same crime for which his father, Laird MacLeod, hung Kaden’s younger brother, he’ll stop at nothing to prevent her from facing a similar fate.
Highland Brides of Skye Book 3
Betrothed to Lady Allison, the granddaughter of the dying MacKenzie laird, Jacob MacKinnon stands ready to do his duty and unite their two clans. But enemies watch, and plan to prevent the uniting of those two powers.
After an attack on his betrothed’s carriage leaves only Lady Allison alive, Jacob is determined to find her would-be killers.
Linnae Donald is a lowly serving girl. How is she supposed to tell Laird MacKenzie that the granddaughter he’s mistaken her for died when their carriage was attacked?
She can’t break a dying man’s heart. Neither can she do what Jacob MacKinnon asks and help him prevent a war by pretending to be Lady Alison…and marrying him.
Best-selling author Tarah Scottcut her teeth on authors such as Georgette Heyer, Zane Grey, and Amanda Quick. Her favorite book is a Tale of Two Cities, with Gone With the Wind as a close second. She writes modern classical romance, and paranormal and romantic suspense. Tarah grew up in Texas and currently resides in Westchester County, New York with her daughter.
April Holthausis an Award-Winning Author for her Scottish Historical Romances. For more than ten years, she has worked full time in the direct marketing business, but developed a passion of historical romances through her love of reading, history and genealogy. When she is not working or writing, April loves to spend time with her family and traveling.
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Excerpt 1 (sensual)--
Linnae understood what passed between a man and a woman. She just wasn’t certain she was ready for it to pass between her and Jacob.
The women had stripped her, washed her, and put her between warm sheets naked. She lay, the covers clutched to her neck, and eventually began to sweat in the warm room. How long before Jacob would come? She knew wedding celebrations could last into the wee hours of the night. Twice, she nodded off and jarred awake at sounds she believed she’d imagined.
A shout caused her to jump. More shouts followed, mingled with laughter. The men approached.
Would they all burst into the room?
Would they insist upon witnessing the consummation of the marriage?
She had heard of such happenings.
Linnae began to tremble. The voices grew closer. When they reached the door, she scooted back and sat up against the headboard, the covers up over her shoulders.
The door burst open and she tensed at sight of a dozen rowdy men pushing through the doorway with Jacob in the lead.
He whirled and shouted, “Back, lads, or I will have you whipped, one and all.”
Raucous laughter followed, along with shouts of, “There she is,” and “She’s ready for you, Jacob,” and, “If he’s too drunk to satisfy ye, lass, I can take his place.”
Jacob shoved the two closest men and they fell back into the crowd. He slammed the door, threw his weight against the wood, and shoved the bolt into place.
The door groaned against the weight of the men and a myriad of shouts and threats ensued. Jacob turned, met her gaze, and grinned. “You must forgive them. They drank too much wine and ale.”
She nodded but could find no words.
His expression gentled. “I imagine the lasses left you in a state desirable to me, but perhaps not so desirable for you.”
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, a man will always delight in finding a beautiful naked woman in his bed. But the woman may not care to be that naked woman.”
“I am your wife. It is my duty to submit.”
He grimaced. “A woman--particularly a naked woman in a man’s bed--should not be there because she must submit.”
“But it is a wife’s duty,” she said.
“So the priests teach,” he said. “But, Linnae, do ye no’ think that mutual liking will make for better lovemaking?”
Lovemaking? Her stomach did a flip. She hadn’t thought of it in that light. How had she thought of it? As she’d said: duty.
“You’re clearly terrified,” he said.
“Terrified?” she blurted. “I am not terrified.”
“Lass, you are clutching that sheet as if ye expect me to eat you alive.”
That wasn’t far from the truth. But her pride was pricked and she threw back the sheet and leapt to her feet.
His brows shot up. ”Ye have nothing to prove, lass. You didnae expect to be married. I’m willing to give you time to adjust to your new state.”
Her cheeks flamed, but she said, “You promised me if we wed, it would be a real marriage—you swore before God and witnesses that I was your wife.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Are you challenging my word?”
Linnae lifted her chin. “I am.”
“A man can’t let such a challenge go unanswered.”
Excerpt 2 (clean)--
Linnae kept her attention on the scenery passing outside the carriage and pretended not to notice the other two maids’ giggles.
“Cook said that Jacob MacKinnon can make a lass swoon simply by looking at her,” the younger maid, Rebecca, said.
Lady Alison shifted on the carriage seat beside Linnae. “Perhaps it is true,” her mistress said. “Such a man would only marry a beautiful woman.”
Linnae hid a smile. Lady Alison referred to herself, of course—and failed to add that her grandfather, Laird MacKenzie, had betrothed her to Laird MacKinnon in order to bind the MacKenzie and MacKinnon clans. Lady Alison could have been horse-faced and Laird MacKinnon would have married her. Lady Alison, however, was not horse-faced. No doubt, Laird MacKinnon would be more than pleased to have the flaxen-haired beauty as his bride, even if she was only fifteen.
“I believe Linnae is laughing at me,” Lady Alison said.
Linnae looked at her and said in an innocent voice, “Nae, my lady, I would never do that.”
Lady Alison arched a haughty brow. “Do you know the penalty for laughing at your mistress?”
Linnae dropped her gaze. “A lashing.”
“A tongue lashing, ye saucy maid.” Alison bumped Linnae’s shoulder with her own.
Linnae looked up and widened her eyes. “And you are very good at dosing out tongue lashings, my lady.”
Lady Alison grinned. Linnae didn’t miss the roll of Rebecca’s eyes and Dina’s answering look, but didn’t care. They were simply jealous of the friendship that had sprung up between Linnae and her mistress. No one was more surprised than Linnae that the spoiled noblewoman had taken to her with such force. After nearly two years of Linnae’s service, Alison rarely went anywhere without Linnae.
When Lady Alison had received the message from her brother David that their grandfather had betrothed her to Jacob MacKinnon, her one condition of acceptance was that Linnae go with her. He’d sent Dina and Rebecca, as well, for David MacKenzie wouldn’t have it said that he’d sent his sister to marry the MacKinnon laird without at least three maids in attendance. Of course, he didn’t accompany them, just as he hadn’t been home for more than a few weeks during the last two years.
“ ‘Tis warm for that cloak you’re wearing, do ye not think, Linnae?” Dina said.
Before Linnae could answer, Lady Alison said, “Hold your tongue, Dina. Ye are just jealous because I gave the dress and cloak to Linnae.”
Dina’s eyes widened.
Alison tossed her head. “I might decide to send ye back to my brother’s home.”
Tears filled Dina’s eyes.
Alison rolled her eyes. “Good heavens, do no’ cry. ‘Tis your own fault for being cruel to Linnae.”
“She wasnae really cruel,” Linnae said gently. “And she is right. The carriage is warm. But I admit, I like the brush of fine cloth against my arms.”
Alison’s eyes narrowed and Linnae feared she had miscalculated. Alison was loyal to a fault, but that fault often came in the form of a childish demand to be obeyed. She might insist Dina had been cruel and deserved punishment.
Dina stared at her hands clasped in her lap and said in a small voice, “The rich purple of the dress does flatter your hair, Linnae.”
“Just as I knew it would,” Alison said. “Linnae and I have the same fair hair.”
Dina looked up, eyes wide, but said nothing.
“I saw Laird MacKinnon once,” Rebecca said, in an obvious attempt to divert Alison’s attention. “He is perfect.”
Linnae sighed. More talk of Jacob MacKinnon wasn’t wise, at this point.
“He can break a tree in half with his bare hands,” Rebecca went on.
Linnae snorted. She knew nothing of the man save the gossip that had swept through the castle when word of the betrothal had reached them a month ago—and would wager neither did Rebecca. It was irrational to believe that a man—or a beast, for that matter—could break a tree in half with his bare hands or make a woman swoon at the sight of him. If such a man existed, he wouldn’t live among mortals. As long as a man had a good name and a good family, an honest woman needed nothing more. Lady Alison should be so fortunate to marry such an esteemed laird.
Rebecca giggled. “Ye are very fortunate, mistress.”
Alison’s fingers groped for Linnae’s on the seat beside her. Linnae grasped Alison’s hand and gently squeezed. True to her station in life, Lady Alison was a maiden. Her apprehension about arriving at her grandfather’s home to immediately marry and be bedded by a man she hadn’t seen since she was six years old had grown into an anxiety that had kept her awake the last two nights.
Linnae once again turned her attention out the window and Lady Alison rested her head on Linnae’s shoulder. Their carriage curved along a steep incline and Linnae peered out the window into a deep ravine. Patches of bluebells, primroses and hyacinths colored the landscape.
Linnae’s stomach churned. Her own anxiety had grown along with Lady Alison’s.
After the wedding, Jacob MacKinnon would take Lady Alison away from Eilean Donan Castle to his home on Skye. Linnae hadn’t been on Skye since she ran away from Glenwood Abbey two and a half years ago. In truth, she hadn’t planned on ever returning. Dunakin Castle, seat of the MacKinnon clan, commanded the strait of Kyle Akin between Skye and the mainland. From the tower, she would be able to see the loch and hills as far as the eye could reach. That would be as far into Skye as she dared venture for--
A deafening cry drowned out her thoughts, causing Linnae to jolt in her seat. The carriage listed to the right and the other three women slammed against Linnae’s side of the coach. One woman crashed into her. Linnae’s head struck the side of the carriage and dull pain throbbed. The vehicle righted and the women scrambled back into their seats.
“Holy God, what happened?” Lady Alison demanded as she leaned toward the window.
Linnae reached for her. “Nae! My lady,” she cried, but her warning came too late. The carriage began to tip.
The other women screamed and slid against the wall again. The carriage crashed onto its side—then began to tumble. Linnae’s head slammed the cushion, then she was thrown against Lady Alison. Her ladyship flailed. They struck the front of the carriage as it came to a grinding halt. And silence.
Her head pounded. Linnae raised her hand to her head and drew a breath at the pain. Her heart thrummed in her ears. What had happened?
Angry male shouts mingled with the clash of steel. She tried to concentrate on the noise, but it seemed to come from a distance. Linnae grasped the door handle and dragged herself to a sitting position. Her head spun. She squinted in an effort to discern her surroundings. The interior of the carriage swam into blurry focus. Two of the women—one Lady Alison—lay motionless beside her. Linnae groped for a pulse at Lady Alison’s neck. Tears pressed against the backs of her eyes when she detected no heartbeat.
“Ye cannae be dead, my lady,” she said through tears. “Wake up.” But the young woman remained motionless.
Linnae brushed Lady Alison’s hair from her face and searched for any signs of life in the eyes that stared up at her. This wasn’t possible. Her mistress couldn’t be dead. Tears streamed down her face, but she forced herself to examine the other two women. Dina lay with her neck at an odd angle. Linnae wasn’t surprised when she felt no pulse in Dina’s neck, but her stomach churned and she forced back tears as she felt for a pulse on the young Rebecca’s neck. She, too, was dead. Linnae rose and realized she stood on the roof of the carriage. She edged past her mistress to the door and shoved it open, nearly falling out. She caught herself and straightened. She gasped at sight of the carriage walls crushed inward like paper.
Shouts yanked her from the shock. She stumbled around the side of the carriage, then stopped. The horses lay in a tangle of leather and harness. Shouts yanked her attention up where a dozen men fought atop the hill. Her eyes tracked the skid marks the carriage had carved from the top of the hill to the steep ravine. Sweet heaven, how had she survived?
Two men dismounted their horses and began scanning the ravine. She ducked behind the carriage, then stilled for three heartbeats until her head cleared. Carefully, she peered around the edge. Her heart beat wildly. The men had started down the hill.
Her mind muddled. What was she to do? She thought of her female companions—and Lady Alison’s bag, which carried her mother’s ruby necklace and the gold band she was to give Laird MacKinnon when they married. Linnae forced back tears and sent up a quick prayer for the women’s souls, then quickly retrieved Lady Alison’s satchel. She pressed a kiss to Alison’s forehead, then climbed out of the carriage. With trembling fingers, she felt for the knife sheathed and strapped to her belt and nearly burst into tears when she found it hadn’t fallen out during the accident. With a prayer that she wouldn’t have to use it, she stumbled toward the trees.
Keeping out of sight of the road, she stayed inside the tree line and continued away from the clang of steel-upon-steel. Sounds of the fighting waned, and the thunderous pounding of horses’ hooves racing along the high road above drew nearer.
The trees began to thin and she reached a stone arch bridge that crossed a creek. She started across then froze at the sound of riders approaching. Cloak gripped tightly about her, she scurried down the incline and under the arch. Her heartbeat matched the thunder of hooves as they galloped past. Loose dirt fell like rain into the rapid waters below. With trembling hands, she clung to the cloak until quiet reigned.
Fear cramped her stomach, but she picked her way back up the incline and ran across the bridge. Night would soon be upon her and sleeping in the woods without food or protection wasn’t a fate she wished to consider.
“This way!” a man shouted.
Linnae whirled. Three men trekked through the brush toward her. How had they found her? She caught sight of her small footprints in the moist ground.
Oh, sweet Heavens!
Linnae whirled and barreled into a broad expanse of plaid. She leapt back and jerked her gaze up to the face of a tall man with stormy blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. She froze. Bootfalls sounded behind her. Linnae clutched the satchel close to her breast. Three other giant brutes came into view.
The first man eyed her like a wolf about to attack. Linnae broke eye contact as the others circled her.
She yanked the knife from the sheath strapped to her belt. “Take another step closer and I will kill ye.” The trembling inside her stomach began to work its way through her body and she prayed her hand wouldn’t betray her terror.
“Ye need no’ fear us, lass,” the first said.
The concern in his voice surprised her. She stared.
“I am Laird Jacob MacKinnon. My men and I were expecting you this morning. When ye did no’ arrive, we began searching for you. I am only sorry we arrived too late.”
Laird MacKinnon? Lady Alison’s betrothed. Memory flashed of the women’s description of him, tall, muscular and handsome. Lady Alison would never see him for herself.
Tears sprang to her eyes and she dropped the hand gripping the knife to her side. “The carriage went off the cliff. The others—” She broke off.
“We saw the others, my lady,” he said in a soft voice. “I am sorry.”
A lump formed in her throat.
“We must go,” he said.
She slid the knife into its sheathe, then remembered the men. “I saw men fighting on the hill.”
His mouth thinned. “Aye. We chased the curs. They attacked your party.”
“Attacked us? Why?”
“I dinnae know, but we will find out soon enough. Come, we will escort ye home. Our horses are just over the hill.” He winged an am arm toward her.
Linnae slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. He covered her fingers with his large warm hand and squeezed. She clutched close the satchel and was grateful for the warmth of his hand on hers as they tramped through the woods. Linnae hurried to keep up with his long strides until they reached the top of the hill. Half a dozen other men waited with their horses.
“Let me take your satchel, lass.”
Before she could respond, he took the satchel and hung it from the pommel, then grasped her waist and hoisted her onto the horse’s rump. He mounted in front of her and clicked his tongue. The horse lurched into motion. Linnae threw her arms around his waist, cheek pressed against his back, and hugged him tight in order to keep from slipping off. The scent of musk and burnt wood filled her nostrils. His stomach muscles flexed beneath her fingers.
This man would have soothed Lady Alison’s fears. Memory of Alison’s motionless body brought tears. Silently, Linnae gave into her sorrow and cried into Laird MacKinnon’s plaid.