Highlander’s Sweet Vengeance (Preview)


Scottish Highlands

July 15, 1298

Elsy stared up at Connell, her green eyes welling with tears. She gripped his hands in hers, refusing to give in to sorrow no matter how much it threatened to swallow her whole. She could feel Laird MacArthur staring a hole in her back from behind. Nevertheless, she ignored him as she stood in the courtyard, where men were readying their horses, saying goodbye to their loves and their children, wishing them well.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father leaning against the stable’s door, his body thinner than before and his eyes sunken in. Rain drizzled from the heavens, soaking her garments. She knew she should return to the cottage, where it was cold and dry, but she couldn’t leave Connell, not when these were their last moments together. Something sparked in the dark, low hanging clouds in the distance, followed by low rumbling. The darkness hid any light the sun offered, which only made her worry all the more. The slight breeze chilled her skin and whipped her red hair lightly.

Connell stroked the hair away from her face. He gazed back at her with glimmering blue eyes, on the verge of tears, yet filled with adoration and love. His long dark hair was tied low at his nape and his leine and hose were covered in proper battle attire. Elsy thought it strange seeing him this way, given his gentle nature. She worried what battle would make of her love. Her gaze drifted to the sword resting at his hip and Elsy swallowed a sob as a dark thought incepted her mind, whispering to her what fate may bring them.

“Must ye go?” she asked, her voice no more than a whisper in the wind and her words trembling with the weight. What if he never returned? she wondered. It was a thought she kept pushing away, yet it returned no matter how much she tried not to think of it.

“Aye, my love,” said Connell, his gaze filling with sorrow as he continued stroking the side of her cheek. “Ye know I must.”

Elsy shook her head. “Don’t go.” She turned her gaze away from him, yet her hand remained fastened to his, knowing she would never be the first to leave him, not with death lingering on his shoulders.

“It’s for the best that I do,” said Connell, taking her chin and gently turning her face toward him. “Ye know we must break from England. Ye know I can’t leave my men to suffer on their own.”

“Aye, I know.” Elsy nodded vigorously. “But I still don’t want ye to go. What if ye never return? What if-”

“Do not fret about those things, my love.” Connell took both her hands, pulling her close to him and staring deep into her eyes. “If I am glorified in battle, Father will deny me naething. And then,” Connell smiled and pulled her closer.

Elsy closed her eyes as his lips pressed against her brow. All the tension in her shoulders loosened with that sweet, gentle touch and she released the breath she had been holding with a shudder.

“And then, we can finally be together, Elsy.”

His words made her heart flutter and her insides grow warm despite the cold. It was the only thing she prayed for—to be Connell’s wife. And it was the one thing they could never have. Elsy bit her bottom lip. A lone tear streamed down her cheek as she opened her eyes, her heart twinging as she met Connell’s beautiful gaze.

Elsy tried to memorize his eyes, his touch, the way his lips moved and how his voice felt against her ears. She wanted to remember everything about him, just in case he never returned. A sob threatened to overtake her, and her breath hitched as she tried to swallow it, finding it difficult.

“But we are together now,” she said, her voice quivering. “Can’t ye speak with yer father one last time? Maybe he will under-”

Connell’s slight shake of his head gave her words pause. She knew it didn’t matter, for she was nothing in the eyes of the great Laird MacArthur—Connell’s father. She was no lady. She had no dowry, no men, nothing. All she had was her love and her skill of healing, far too little in the eyes of a laird arranging his son’s future.

Her thoughts dissipated as Connell brought out a flimsy white handkerchief, given to him several summers before, soon after they met. That first moment their gazes fell upon each other, she knew they were destined to be and had spent her nights secretly embroidering the handkerchief. Her eyes caught on the red lettering: E.T. for Elsy Tandie.

“I will keep it with me, always,” said Connell while holding up the handkerchief between them.

Elsy forced a smile, yet she could not stop the worry and sorrow from filling her gaze. “May it bring ye luck,” she said while wiping the tears from her eyes. “May ye keep it close to yer heart always and know I will be praying for ye-” Elsy gasped, her hand flying to her mouth to prevent another sob from taking over, “for yer safe return home.”

“Connell!” a soldier in the distance shouted, sitting on his massive steed and dressed in battle wear.

Several men clad in similar attire strode past, carrying swords and spears, their faces grim. A woman wailed from the corner of the courtyard, making the hair rise on the back of Elsy’s neck. She ground her teeth, fighting the need to break down. She needed to be strong for Connell, to have faith he would return to her.

She bristled at the feeling of someone standing near her and turned, finding Laird MacArthur. He smiled grimly at his son, placing a hand on his shoulder before saying softly, “It is time, lad.”

Connell sighed, his gaze drifting to the mud at their feet before giving a slight nod. “Aye, it is,” he said softly. Quickly, before his father could say anything more, he pressed a chaste kiss to Elsy’s palm before releasing her. “Farewell, Elsy.”

Elsy’s throat seized as Connell slowly turned away from her, stepping toward his black steed. “Wait!” Elsy rushed out, grabbing his hand and making him pause mid-step. She didn’t care who was watching, only that she may never see her love again. Without thinking twice about her actions, or how they would be perceived by the laird and his men, she wrenched Connell toward her and captured his lips. Her eyes pressed closed as she savored the taste of him. It was short, yet it was exactly what she needed. What they needed. When she opened her eyes, she nearly laughed at the wide-eyed look Connell was giving her and the flush in his cheeks.

“Please, Connell,” she said shakily while stroking a stray strand away from his face. “Please, come back to me. I don’t know how I will be able to get on, if ye don’t.”

Connell grabbed her hand, a smile tugging at his lips as he stared down at her, his gaze filled with determination. “I will always come back to ye, Elsy. I swear it on my father’s life, I will.”

Chapter One

Scottish Highlands

August 3, 1302

Connell leaned against the stone wall. The coolness seeped through his leine, prickling his skin and brittling his bones. The wind swept through the holes in the rooftops while rain drops dripped within the dilapidated great hall of the stone fortress. He shifted against the wall, his right eye adjusting to the shadows. His left eye, stabbed through with a knife four years before in the Battle of Falkirk, was covered with a black eyepatch. The loathsome thing shamed Connell. He was damaged, vile, something no father would wish to pass on his lineage to. Thankfully, he’d found others like himself—just as damaged and worn, just as cruel and misshapen—to aid in his need for revenge.

The men, six in total, gathered at a large wooden table. It stood at a tilt, one leg cracked. Connell wondered when it would finally succumb and fall to the dirtied floor that was stained with old blood and smelling of mold. His men listened intently as Glenton prattled on about the details of their next duty. A letter had arrived from a scout no more than an hour before, with wonderful news. Connell would be able to exact his revenge. They were to leave before the sun rose and travel south.

His one good eye narrowed on Glenton, pacing back and forth, his stick clacking against the floor as he moved. Connell couldn’t fathom why Glenton didn’t remain still given the injury to his side, but he supposed his right-hand man thought and spoke better when he was moving. The dim glow from the candelabras made Glenton’s dour looks even more haunting. Connell tilted his head, his ears twitching with delight at the next words leaving Glenton’s lips.

“We have received word Lady Elisabeth McCormick is on her very way to the McKade clan,” said Glenton while holding up a crumpled letter within his white knuckled grasp. “We’ll ambush them at the crossroads.”

“Let us hope she’s bonnie,” called Logan, standing at the front with rotting teeth and matted hair. He sneered at his comrades, who broke into a fit of dark laughter.

Connell fought the need to shout and admonish Logan as he kicked away from the wall, standing to his full height. Silence fell in the shadowed room as he stalked forward, glowering at the men. He planted his hands on the table. The force made a loud resounding thump echo in the silence.

Connell scowled as he met each and every one of their frightened gazes. Despite his disfigurement, the men knew he could gut them before they even had a chance to reach for their swords. Losing his eye had marred his vision, yet it had also hardened him, making him spend hours upon hours, day after day, training in order to prove himself capable to those who deemed him weak. In the end, losing his eye had made him a warrior to be wary of, turning him into a swift and cunning killer. They swallowed their jeers, their mouths clamping closed and their eyes drifting to the floor as Connell looked around the room.

“This is nae laughing matter,” Connell said bitterly. “Lady McCormick is the only one who can provide proof of her husband’s treachery. She knows all of his misdeeds. This is an important duty. We will have vengeance for Scotland if we are successful in our endeavors.”

“Aye,” said Glenton while hobbling forward, leaning on his stick and clutching at his side. “And Connell will be leading the charge. Follow his lead, and everything should go right.”

“We will be attacking the soldiers first,” said Connell, straightening and positioning his hands behind his back. “Donald and Grant, I want ye both hiding in the trees. When the carriage arrives, ye will be attacking the guards in the back.”

Donald and Grant looked at each other for a moment, their ruddy faces and scraggly hair mirroring each other. They were scrawny and short, but known for their skills in blending into the shadows and killing their opponents swiftly. They gave Connell a curt nod in unison.

“Logan and Ian, I want ye scouting in the woods for any others who might come our way. Brann, ye will be with me.”

“But what does the lass look like?” asked Ian, his voice high-pitched and grating to Connell’s ears. He scratched the back of his head while looking around at the others. “What if she has an entourage of maids? Who should we grab then?”

Glenton chuckled and turned to the letter, straightening it and inspecting the words written. “She’s a young lass, bonnie, with eyes like the fields after a long rain,” Glenton said, his tone mocking and his smile bitter, “and hair like fire on a warm night.”

Connell frowned, his gaze going to the letter. From his distance he could not read the words written. Once, he had known a lass as pretty as the one Glenton spoke of. He could still recall the feeling of her hair, soft like a flower’s petals caressing his skin, and her eyes, green as the forests bordering the ancestral lands of his clan. Once, those eyes had gazed upon him, filled with such love and adoration. Thinking of those eyes now made his heart twinge and his body ache for what could have been. Her name had also been Elisabeth.

“Elsy,” he breathed, the name making him grimace as if a knife sliced through his heart.

Glenton turned toward him, his brows tenting as he stared up at Connell. “What did ye say, Connell?” He pursed his lips. “Something to add, per chance?”

Connell shook his head, cursing himself for being so foolish. “Naething. Continue.”

But Connell didn’t listen. He couldn’t. All he could think about was Elsy and where she could be. There had been a time he thought they would never be parted and yet here he was, without her in this shabby fortress, surrounded by brigands with their sneering looks and their bitter grins. It was his own fault for not returning, for allowing everyone to believe he had died in the Battle of Falkirk. Connell grimaced at the guilt stabbing through him as he thought of his father, of the MacArthur clan. He couldn’t return, he told himself, yet the guilt didn’t ebb. How could he go back with his eye gone and his honor lost? His father wouldn’t have accepted it.

But Elsy? His grimace darkened as he thought of her tears sliding down her cheeks, her grasp on his hand. Elsy would have loved him until the day she died, and that was just another reason he couldn’t return. She deserved better than him. She deserved a whole man, one who could provide for her, offer her all the love in the world. The battle had taken everything from Connell and left him with only his bitterness.

He was no longer the Connell from four years ago and, most probably, Elsy was no longer the woman he had fallen in love with. She was no longer his Elsy. He stroked his chin, wondering if she was still living with her father, or if she had married well. A genuine smile came to his lips regardless of the pain in his heart as he imagined her humming a soft tune with a babe in her arms. He hoped she had been able to find love again, despite how much it pained him now to think of it.

“Are ye prepared, Connell?” Glenton asked, calling him back from his thoughts.

The men were already filing out of the room, going to their chambers to get a good night’s rest. They would need it. Everything needed to go to plan. There could be no mistakes. However, something twisted within Connell, something he couldn’t put his finger on.

Connell bristled when he realized Glenton was still staring at him, his eyebrow rising in intrigue. “Aye, of course,” Connell rushed out, his face heating and his expression tightening into a deep scowl. “Why wouldn’t I be? I have been waiting for this day longer than ye.”

Glenton chuckled and hobbled toward the door, moving slowly due to his injured side. “Aye, ye have. I’m just sorry I cannot join.” Glenton’s smile left his lips and he frowned. “If it wasn’t for that blasted arrow.”

“Ye were fortunate.”

“Ha!” Glenton shouted while smacking his leg. “That arrow was meant for ye. If anyone had fortune on their side, it was ye, not I.”

Connell chuckled. “Aye, then ye were a fool. Wasn’t it yer idea to get in the way?”

“Aye, it was.” Glenton rolled his eyes. “Terrible idea that was. Perhaps, next time ye take an arrow for me, hmm?”

Connell shook his head. “Doubtful that will happen anytime soon, Glenton.”

“Where is the loyalty?” Glenton demanded, mock offended.

Connell chuckled while shaking his head. “Fled long ago, I fear.”

Glenton’s smile fell and his expression became serious as he nodded at the door. “Brann should be of some use. That lad, young as he may be, is mighty strong in battle.”

Connell caught Brann holding the door open for the other men, his gaze dipping to the stone floor while he shyly wished the others good eve. Glenton had a point. Though Brann was young, he was taller and broader than men well his senior. The sleeves of his leine, too tight for his arms, were stretched and fraying at the ends. Connell was surprised the fabric didn’t burst, but it wasn’t like they had larger garments at their disposal to give the boy. The only garments they had were the ones they stole and very few could fit Connell, let alone Brann.

As if the boy could feel Connell and Glenton’s eyes, he turned to them, nodding in farewell, his freckled face disappearing behind the door.

“Tis too bad that cursed Laird McCormick isn’t alive for ye to sink yer claws into, eh, Connell?” said Glenton as soon as the door closed.

Connell nodded, his thoughts once more going to McCormick’s widow. “I can settle for his wife.”

“Do ye think she’ll talk?”

Connell glanced at Glenton, a cruel smile coming to his lips. “Oh, she will tell all.”

Glenton chuckled. “I don’t think ye can use yer rugged good looks any longer, my lad.” He patted Connell’s back, making him grimace. “Given most ladies would shudder at yer loss of an eye.”

Connell sneered. “I don’t need her to like me, Glenton. I only need her to speak the words.”

“Do ye really think she’ll tell ye the truth?” Glenton asked. He crossed his arms, his head tilting.

Connell slowly closed the distance between them. Glenton was bent by the wound in his side, and Connell towered over him by a head. Glenton’s gaze narrowed as he jutted out his chin, refusing to be intimidated by Connell’s brute size.

“I will do everything within my power to see that she does,” Connell said darkly. “Even if that includes inciting a little pain.”

Glenton raised an eyebrow. “Pain, ye say?” He scoffed and turned his gaze heavenward. “Doubtful. I know ye, Connell. Ye won’t lay a finger on her.”

Connell opened his mouth to disagree, but Glenton’s next words stopped him.

“Enough talk on the matter. Let us pray all goes well tomorrow and ye are able to capture the lass.”

Connell’s mouth closed and he nodded. “Aye. Tis a hard task ahead of us. We may be outnumbered.”

“Or there will be more than Lady McCormick’s escort at the crossroads.” Sighing, Glenton leaned against his stick and continued on his path toward the door. Pushing it open, he paused for a moment, forcing a smile at Connell as he said, “I wish ye well tomorrow. Let us hope this will be the end of all our troubles.”

Connell turned away as Glenton left, not bothering to watch the door click closed. He stalked toward the large round table. The chair skidded across the floor as he grabbed it and sank his weary body onto the wood. The screeching of the chair’s legs echoed in the vast hall, his only company in the dark and dilapidated room. Old banners from long ago hung in rags off the walls. A hearth sat across from him, streaked with ash from years before when the English had slaughtered the fortress’s masters. Connell wondered bitterly if their remnants still littered the hearth’s floor or if the wind had swept them all away. He pushed those dark thoughts away, knowing they would do him no good.

He leaned back in his chair, frowning as he found his hand reaching into the pocket of his long, worn cloak. His heart fluttered as his fingers skimmed the familiar fabric, now frayed from years of abuse. He did not know why he kept the thing. It did little for him other than bring back memories he should forget. Yet, despite that, he found himself bringing the yellowed and torn cloth to his vision, staring at the faded thread reading: E. T.

Elisabeth Tandie, he thought. His heart twinged and he felt an unbearable ache take hold of him as he recalled their last moments together, when he was Connell MacArthur, future laird of the MacArthur clan and not the brigand he had become. Her voice echoed within his mind as he recalled her tears, the way she touched him, the way she stared at him as if he was the only man for her.

He should have stayed that day. He should have listened to her. Yet, it wouldn’t have mattered, he thought solemnly while shoving the handkerchief back into his pocket. It did no good to think of the past. All he had was the future.

Chapter Two

Elsy leaned back in her seat as the carriage continued on the path. Light streamed in through the cracks in the drapes. Her eyes lulled closed before snapping open. They had been on this path for more than a day and her bottom stung from sitting in the same place for so long. She wiggled and sat up straighter, grimacing at the numbness in her legs. It would be another four days of this until they reached the McKade’s clan and then she would be able to see Ava.

Elsy sighed. Thinking of her friend brought tears to her eyes. It had been too long since she last saw her, too long since she left the McCormick clan’s holdings. The last time Elsy had seen Ava was when she had left the MacArthurs. Elsy remembered hugging her friend tight, inhaling the sweet scent of honey clinging to Ava’s hair from her work in the kitchens. They had grown up together, often playing tricks on others, yet adulthood had taken them from each other. After leaving the MacArthurs, Elsy had spent her days safe within the McCormick walls, rarely leaving unless her husband permitted it. Thankfully, Ava had written, but never could Elsy go to her. She missed Ava’s birthdays, her wedding, even the birth of her first child.

Elsy remembered grimly the excuse her husband, the great Laird Alan McCormick, had given her. “There are dangers outside these walls. Many wish to see ye harmed and it is my responsibility to ensure yer safety, my lady.” Elsy’s frown deepened. Aye, the walls certainly kept me safe over the years, she thought dismally. However, it was difficult to feel the same since her husband’s death.

Her gaze drifted to the ring on her finger. The garnet, sitting in the middle, stared back at her. She remembered the day Alan gave it to her, yet those memories did not return to her as she gazed at the ring now. All she could see was his body from days before. The soldiers had brought him into the healer’s chambers, but nothing could be done. He had been dead for many hours if not the entire day. The flies had already begun picking at his body when they laid him out on the table.

Elsy gagged, remembering the smell of rot permeating that small room. Her hand flew to her mouth while she clamped her eyes closed. A shudder ran down her spine as images of blood and shredded skin assaulted her mind. No matter how much she desperately tried to push the memories away, they remained.

After seeing Alan’s body, a misshapen mess lying on the table, she’d known she must leave at once. She groaned as she opened her eyes and pressed her fingers against her temples, hoping it would help ease her mind and her aching body. Yet, despite her wishes, the memories continued haunting her.

A shiver ran down her spine as she recalled the way Alan’s mouth had hung open, his face mangled as if the horse had dragged him through the wood. Honestly, she hadn’t recognized the man the soldiers had brought to her, only knew he had been carrying his father’s sword, as he always did. It had been the only way she could identify the horror they had brought into the castle.

Better times were ahead, she told herself, straightening her shoulders and clearing her throat. She only needed to get to the McKade clan. The sooner, the better, she thought while turning away from the drapes and pressing her head against the cushioned seat. And then she would be with Ava and her family. The thought brought a smile to Elsy’s lips.

Her eyes slowly drooped closed, the rhythmic movements of the carriage lulling her to sleep. She was just about to drift away when the bumping and swaying came to an abrupt halt. Frowning, Elsy opened her eyes, straightening while her hands gripped each other in her lap. She listened for the coach driver or the guard to come to the small window. It’s probably nothing, she told herself, trying to push away the twisting in her insides. Perhaps there was a tree in the road, or someone had sighted a stag they could have for their evening meal. She waited patiently, her fingers picking at each other. Her eyes widened at the sudden ring of metal on metal. The stench of blood nauseated her senses.

“We’re under attack!” shouted a man, one she did not recall the name of. “We’re under a-“ Something hard thumped against the carriage, the man’s shouts lost to the chaos surrounding her. A sword plunged inside, tearing the wood, blood staining its tip.

Elsy held back her gasp as she lurched away from the door. Her hands searched the pockets of her cloak and dress, yet she found no weapon to arm herself with. The sword withdrew from her carriage as quickly as it had come. Her entire body shook with fear. She was weak as a foal learning how to walk. She knew she could do nothing to protect herself if the brigands searched her carriage, but she needed to do something. Her hands fisted at her sides, the way Connell had taught her once when they were young and in love.

Not now, she thought. She wouldn’t think of him now when death was knocking at her door. The carriage wobbled and she braced herself, waiting for the door to be thrown open. She stared at it as if it was calling her name, whispering to her what terrible futures were to come. A whimper crawled its way up her throat, but she swallowed it. She was no longer a little damsel in distress and she would fight these men to the death if needed. Better that than whatever vile things they had planned.

Silence deafened the air, making her hands shake. She listened, trying to hear breathing or whispers, yet there was nothing. It was like wraiths had seized her carriage, possibly stolen her things, and left her to live. At least she prayed for that to be the case. It didn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t they search the carriage? Her fingers inched toward the handle. Sweat dripped from her brow. She had to look, had to know if they were truly gone.

The door flung open, banging against the side of the carriage with a resounding thump. Elsy gasped, jumping backwards, a scream stuck in her throat while her hand flew to her chest. She wanted to move, wanted to fight, but she was frozen solid as the lochs in the winter.

A large, hooded man stood before her carriage door, taking up all space she could possibly use for escape. A cloth covered his mouth and nose; a patch hid one eye. The other: blue, filled with shock and alarm, stared back at her. The man did not move. His shoulders slumped in defeat. Any alarm once glimmering in his gaze was replaced by sorrow she did not comprehend. Why would a brigand ever feel remorse for his victims? she wondered as she stared back at the man. Perhaps he will leave me be, she thought hopefully.

Elsy’s hand slowly lowered. She inhaled deeply, trying to regain her sense of calm. “Ye-ye-” she stuttered weakly. She closed her eyes and fisted her hands, breathing in deeply in order to gather the strength she needed to speak to this man and send him off along his way. “Ye may take whatever ye want,” she said sternly while opening her eyes and flashing a determined look. “Although, I fear I do not have much.”

“Aye.” The man tilted his head, his fingers digging into the wood of the door. “Ye have exactly what I need,” he said gruffly, seizing her wrist and dragging her out of the carriage.

Elsy gasped. She was being taken away, she realized, fear making her body stiffen. She was being pulled from the carriage as if she was nothing more than a sack of potatoes. The sunlight blinded her, making spots blur her vision. She heard laughter all around her. Her heart thudded in her throat, and she felt bile rise. She didn’t know what to do, only that she couldn’t let these men take her.

Something animalistic and vile took over. She shrieked like a banshee in the night. She kicked and scratched, not knowing nor caring where her blows landed. Her elbow hit something hard, and she heard a grunt, her body falling as he tumbled backwards. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she ran, not knowing where, only knowing she needed to get as far away as possible.

She made it two steps before she was dragged back into another man’s arms, this one bigger and brawnier. His face was also covered with a dark cloth. Several men chuckled around her as she was forcefully turned around. The one-eyed brigand slowly approached her, a rope in his hands. Elsy screamed again, but the sounds were silenced by a hand over her mouth. She struggled, wiggling in his grasp while the other approached one step at a time.

“Are ye just going to stand there and watch?” asked the man behind Elsy, struggling to hold her still.

One brigand, standing further back and making himself cozy by leaning against a tree, chuckled while crossing his arms. “Aye, ye laddies seem to be handling yerselves well.”

Elsy bit the man’s palm, eliciting a groan. The hand on her mouth slid away, yet his arm around her waist tightened. “Let me go!” she shouted, looking around aimlessly for anyone passing through the crossroads, but there was no-one. There were only the horses, snorting and stamping in agitation, and the brigands cackling cruelly. The men who had been meant to guard her lay dead in the dirt.

“Please!” Elsy begged as the one-eyed man slowly approached her, rope still in hand. He was nearly upon her. She kicked her feet out, aiming for his belly, his chest, anywhere that would cause harm, yet he dodged easily.

“Now, now,” he said tauntingly.

“Please, I’ll give ye anything!” Elsy didn’t know what she had. She hadn’t taken much, only a few garments for the trip and a small bag of coin. She felt something dig into her finger as she wriggled in his grasp, and her eyes widened. “My ring!” she shouted. “Take my ring. It is yers if ye release me.”

With one slight nod from the one-eyed brigand, she was tossed forward. She barely had time to run before she was grabbed once again, her hands seized and quickly bound with rope. “Stop-” she could hardly finish her cry as a cloth was stuffed deep into her mouth. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she wiggled in her confines.

That lone blue eye held her gaze. There was something familiar in his stare, something she couldn’t quite place. She flinched as his hand reached round, pulling her closer. Her face flushed, as she felt his palm touch her waist, slowly going toward her bound wrists. She scowled up at him, fighting the heat his touch incited in her. Amusement and anger glimmered back at her as he stroked her fingers, searching for the small piece of jewelry she could offer him. He stilled and she knew he’d found what he desired as he pulled the ring from her finger and held it up between them.

The scowl left her gaze as she stared at the garnet glimmering in the light, the gold shining brightly. Yet, that was not what she saw as she stared at the trinket. Her husband’s mangled body filled her vision: his torn face, his bloodied fingers. A shudder took hold over her and a whimper escaped her lips. Pray this be enough for them, she thought while slowly closing her eyes, begging God to take pity on her.

Her eyes snapped open at the dark chuckle stinging her ears and she watched as the one-eyed brigand stuffed the ring into the pocket of his cloak. He leaned in close, his proximity heating her skin and making her insides twist. Her eyes widened as he whispered gravely, “Ye think we came all this way for a measly trinket?”

Elsy stepped back. There was something foreboding in his voice, something haunting, as if teasing what awaited her. This man hated her. He wanted to see her fear, her pain. But why? And who was he? She knew her husband had his enemies, which was why she’d left the castle as quickly as she did, knowing the McKades would be safer. How would anyone know of her leaving so soon? She hardly had time to write, hardly had time to pack. Her shoulders slumped and she sobbed into the rag. Unless there had been a traitor in her midst, she realized, the harshness of the thought making her head dizzy and her belly twist with nausea.

“We have come for ye, Lady McCormick,” the one-eyed man said harshly, spitting her clan’s name as if it tasted of rot on his tongue.

Elsy tried to scream, but the cloth swallowed her cries as he seized her arm and dragged her toward his large black steed. She shook her head, crying louder against the rag, yet there was hardly a whimper emitted. He grabbed her waist, his hands touching her gently despite the force of their encounter. She looked around, wondering if anyone would help her, but all the men were ignoring her as they strode toward their horses. Her body wobbled as the one-eyed man swiftly mounted his steed, his hand going to the small of her back to steady her. She screamed once more into the rag, her hands wiggling in their confines, her shoulder knocking into his chest as his arms came around her to grab the reins.

Where were they taking her? she wondered in fear. Looking over her shoulder, she watched the carriage growing farther and farther away. What would they do to her? She couldn’t stop shivering, couldn’t stop her mind from going to terrible places as a black and heavy cloth fell over her head, shrouding her vision in darkness.


If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

  • Well now I am totally hooked & can’t wait to see how Connell & Elsy get through all of these obstacles to a happy ending. I am wondering how long it will take her to recognize him since he seemed to know her right away. Guess he has to be rough with her so his men believe what he is doing. Exciting story already. Can’t wait for the whole book to come out! 😊

  • Can’t wait for the book to come out. These characters seem to be more mature in behavior which I am glad to see. Looks to be an exciting read. Good job.

  • Wow! The story is barely beginning and the suspense is quite the tease! I can’t imagine what’s coming for both Elsy and Connell. It’s like an inside out love story.

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