To Hell with a Highlander (Preview)


Scottish Highlands, June 1431

Joan of Arc was dead. The English had burned her thrice over and raked the ash with spears to make a bold showing that she had not survived, and so that nobody could claim she had escaped by the grace of God, and thus preserve her mythos. After it was done, they dumped her ashes in the Seine, so that her bones could not be made into relics. Millions mourned her. Thousands took up arms in her name, and hundreds died for it, again, and again, and again.

And so, the wars of the continent raged on. England and France, Burgundy and Castille, the Emirates of Iberia, and the patchwork of German duchies that some called the Holy Roman Empire tore themselves and each other into pieces, put themselves back together, and then went at it again.

A constantly shifting patchwork of alliances kept the losers propped up, and held the winners back, and so what history would come to define as the Hundred Years’ War continued to grind down the populations of these nations, consuming their resources and their patriotism, disrupting their economies, devastating their farmlands, and violently paving the historical path toward the Age of Enlightenment.

Scotland had never been a world leader, never a top contender or a main combatant, but she was fierce, proud, and not a hundred years before, she had won her independence through brute force, strong leadership, and the sheer willpower of her people. Now, she endured a new era, one of finding her place in the scheme of global politics, governing her people without incurring the title of tyranny, and defending her hard-won borders.

At the center of the continental wars were the battles betwixt England and France, or more appropriately, the battles between the House of Lancaster, and the House of Valois, respectfully. Everyone around them was swept up in the colossal conflict, and Scotland was no different, and it was no surprise that she sided with the House of Valois, eager to keep England in a diminished state.

Scottish mercenaries sailed to France and found among that war-torn world steady work and a mutual hatred for the English. They swung their swords and thrust their pikes among the backdrop of burning churches, ruined villages, and boggy battlefields; and many fell.

It was that support for the French that saw a rise of English raids across the border into the Lowlands, and then in turn, Scottish raids into Northumbria. And so, while the nation of Scotland was not at war, the people of Scotland were. Mercenaries returned home with wounds inside and out, and young men rode the border with spears and swords in hand, dealing out death and meeting it with regularity.

It was a dark time, and a sad world, full of strife and suffering, violence and cruelty, but amidst all the doom and gloom brought on by royal ambition, there were still sparks of happiness. They were hidden away in the vast Highlands, untouched by the conflicts of the continent, spared from the roaming bands of soldiers and their veracious appetite for villagers’ cattle and grain.

One of these places was a particularly bright spark of late, for they were preparing festivities, and all the residents were elated. It had been some time since they last gathered in good cheer, and the premise of a party was exhilarating, especially with news from France drifting in piecemeal, darkening moods and dampening spirits, and so to bustle about, moving hogs and working looms with the thought of celebration driving them, the spark burned even brighter.

It was that bustle and hum of happy energy that the warrior looked down upon as he crested the last rise, his ragged highland hair whipping around in the rough wind, his brow furrowed as he squinted through the wind and the bouncing pale light. There were a few scattered scars across his cheeks, caused by the shattering of arrows on plate armor and the shrapnel of the shafts flying up in the fray of battle. His eyes were resting hawks, ready to fly from their perches at the drop of a pin.

He wore a fine tunic embroidered with a fleur-de-lis, which would have marked him out as a Frenchman were it not for his brooding Scottish smile, his flowing red hair, and his broad, solid build that was synonymous with Highlanders. His horse held a great sword on one side of the saddle, and a shield on the other side, battered and brutalized from combat, but he had no baggage train.

There was no wagon to carry crates of armor, or spoils of war. There was no escort, no entourage of compatriots that had stood beside him in the battle lines, and absolutely no grandeur to his return, but that was the way he had intended it. There was no need to make a splash. All he wanted to do was to return home and see his brother married.

He spurred his horse down the dirt track toward the village, and the keep standing above it, a fine, six-story tower with a small wall encompassing the base. He had seen many castles throughout Europe, and even England, that would put the small keep to shame, turn it into a symbol of backwater towns, an irrelevant place for an irrelevant Laird. But to the warrior, it brought only a bright smile, for he was almost home, and home was all he had wanted for a long time.

As he approached the village, he began to draw a few eyes, and then a few more, and soon enough there was a small throng of people in the main thoroughfare, bringing down their hoods and hats as they murmured to each other about his identity. Some recognized him immediately, others doubted it, his appearance undeniably changed by his violent travels, and so they bickered in hushed tones as his horse strolled into the center of them.

The warrior took note of an older woman, who had a black armband fastened upon her clothes, and a smaller child clutching close to one of her legs. The Scottish wind picked up once more as he drew to a halt, whipping the woman’s hood back up against her hair, and the crowd fell silent as he looked to her from horseback.

“For whom d’ye mourn?” the warrior asked, his eyes dark and piercing above his scarred cheeks.

“For me son,” she replied, and then lifting her chin with a bit of pride, she added, “and the lady Joan,” making a cross as she spoke. “God rest her soul.”

“God save ye,” the warrior replied, his voice solemn and his eyes suddenly sad. He reached into his coin purse, fastened close beneath his riding cloak, and fished forth a roughhewn coin of the French crown. He leaned down and handed her the coin, a hefty piece of metal that was worth more than what she could earn in a week at the looms.

“Bless ye, Laird,” the woman said, bowing her head low.

“It is him,” a villager muttered loud enough for the warrior to hear. “He’s back!”

“Bless ye for yer suffering,” he said beneath his breath as he sat upright once more in the saddle.

“The Laird’s brother has returned!” went up the cry, and many of the village folk began rejoicing, hugging one another, and waving their hands in the air in cheer.

“Welcome home,” the woman said, and he saw her son’s reflection in her eyes, another Scotsman who would take the low road back home, who fell in a foreign land for a fight not his own.

The warrior lifted his chin, looking ahead to the keep as the crowd cheered alongside him. There were banners waving in the strong breeze, but not from the wall. The stables were crowded. Guests had come for the wedding. No doubt there would be plenty of neighboring Lairds, little in their power but great in their expectation for hospitality. The keep would be packed, and the hall would be bustling.

“What did ye expect?” the warrior asked his horse, aptly named Gaisgeachd, for the bravery he’d showed in battle. “We knew it was a wedding.”

Man and horse advanced through the town, slowly leaving the host of happy villagers in their wake. The road to the keep was low and winding, sloping up from the market and the huts below to the small hill it sat atop. It would never stand up to any kind of siege weapon, that was not what it was truly for. It was more a symbol of stature, a sign for all the village folk to look up and say, “Och, that is the man that leads us.”

It had seen better days, the warrior noticed upon the approach. There were a few birds’ nests tucked about the stonework, and the remnants of last night’s rain clung in clumsy puddles all around the low wall. There were a few guards at the gate, leaning up against the support beams of the gatehouse, and they shuffled to attention as he approached, straightening themselves as much as possible and trying to quickly appear formidable.

“Halt there!” one of them barked, stepping forward, holding up his spear.

“I am here for the wedding,” the warrior said, pulling his horse to a halt at the gate.

“Well, sure ye are,” the guard snarled. “And who might ye be then?”

The second guard realized the answer to the question before the warrior answered, and his face went pale, instantly regretting his leader’s gruffness. He shuffled up behind the lead guard and whispered something into his ear, who also paled.

“M’Laird,” he said, lowering his weapon. “Forgive me, I dinnae recognize ye.”

“Ye are forgiven,” the warrior said with a smile. It had been a long time, after all.

“Open the gate!” they hollered up, and shortly the steel bars rose with a great groan, and the wooden doors behind it were unbarred and let open.

The warrior rode into the yard and drank deep the smell of the hilltop breeze that ran around the length of the outer wall, watching the bustle of the keep unfolding around him. There were plenty of villagers running about, rolling barrels, and hauling tarps, hitching ropes, and tamping dirt.

It wasn’t hard to spot the Laird himself, standing up on a small crate, directing the movement of a large wooden table and the erecting of the pavilion. He was a large man, no longer as tough in the middle as he used to be but he wasn’t fat by any sense of the word.

His hair was tied back neatly and fell in two long sections over each of his shoulders, complementing his freshly groomed beard and his fine clothes. His tunic was accentuated by the way he puffed out his chest and held up his hands, waving the villagers about as they strained beneath the great wooden table, trying to set it just right beneath the pavilion.

“Just there!” he bellowed. “No, come on, a little tae the left! Come on now!”

“Och, leave it, Watt!” the warrior bellowed, dismounting near the gate, and advancing on foot toward the Laird. “It looks just fine!”

The Laird stopped, frozen by the warrior’s voice. He turned slowly, his hands still raised up, and a look of giddy excitement quickly taking over his face. He stopped when he locked eyes with the advancing warrior, his eagerness quickly breaking out into a wild smile.

“I dinnae believe it,” the Laird said, his smile now as big as it could be. “Me brother Bryce! Back from France! Come here, ye blaigeard!”

Watt jumped down from the crate and bounded the rest of the distance to Bryce, taking fast hold of his shoulders, and staring deeply into his eyes as he held him there in the yard.

“I am glad tae see ye, Bryce,” Watt said softly, his grip relaxing a little bit.

“Did ye think I would miss yer wedding?” Bryce asked in a teasing tone, his own smile beginning to take hold. There was a small cluster of peasants gathering around the reunion, looking upon the Laird’s long-lost brother, smiling and patting one another on the back at the warm moment.

“I dinnae ken if I would ever see ye again,” Watt said, squeezing Bryce’s shoulders once more before finally letting go. “When I heard of the Lady Joan, I feared the worse.”

“Well, here I am,” Bryce said. “Ye’ve certainly got this place in a tizzy, have ye nae?”

“Och well,” Watt said with a casual shrug. “A spectacle is good for morale.”

“Aye,” Bryce chuckled. “In that, ye may be right.”

“Come! Come inside!” Watt said, throwing his arm around Bryce’s shoulder. “D’ye have nae trunks? Let’s get ye sorted.”

“It is just me and meself,” Bryce answered, pacing alongside his brother toward the keep. He looked back to see that Gaisgeachd was taken care of.

“What o’ yer armor?” Watt asked, raising an eyebrow. “Yer clothes?”

“I sold everything,” Bryce replied. “Save me sword.”

“Always the odd one, were ye nae?” Watt asked. “How was the voyage?”

“Rough seas up the coast,” Bryce replied, now walking in stride with his brother. “But a fine ride from there.”

“The rain never did bother ye,” Watt said as they approached the keep’s door.

“It’s just rain, is it nae?” Bryce shot back, and they crossed the threshold into the keep.

“Ye will be a light at the feast,” Watt went on, leading his brother up the stairs. “Everyone will want tae hear of France.”

“Then everyone will be disappointed,” Bryce said. “I have nae wish tae speak on it.”

“Bah, ye’ll come around,” Watt said with a laugh. Bryce frowned as he took another step. He did not think he would come around. There were things he had seen, things he had done, and other things he had endured, that never needed to come into conversation again. At least, that was the way he felt about it. France had been a nightmare from which he had only just clawed his way out, and he hastened to leave it behind. There had been more than one reason for his return. “Everyone loves a war hero.”

“I’m nae a hero,” Bryce mumbled, coming to a halt behind his brother on the second landing. His mind flashed briefly back to the fields of France, and he could almost smell the thatch rooftops catching fire, almost hear the wailing of the horses and the clambering of men. He did not feel like a hero. Instead, he felt as if he needed to wash. But he had tried that. Many times.

“Ye remember the McAdams lass?” Watt asked, turning to face him on the landing.

“Little Lorna?” Bryce replied, smirking as a few scattered memories floated through his mind. “What about her?”

“Nae so little anymore,” Watt said, rolling his eyes. “She’s here, along with all the other local notables.”

“D’ye have enough ale?” Bryce asked.

“Time will tell,” Watt replied and then paused. Wincing, he said, “She still loves me, I think.”

“Poor ye,” Bryce laughed, clapping his brother on the back. It was good to speak of light things. Happy things.

“Will ye do something for me?” Watt asked, his face growing serious for just a moment in his whirlwind of festivity.


“Keep her company tonight,” Watt said. “If me bride sees her fawning, it may get me in trouble, and I dinnae need that on me wedding night.”

“Yer serious?” Bryce asked, surprised. He had never known his brother to take such things into consideration.

“Aye, I’m serious,” Watt said with a nod. “Will ye do that fer me?”

“Of course,” Bryce said with a foolish grin. It was touching to see his brother so concerned with his bride to be, and to be so aware of the small social scene. Time had indeed changed.

“Good man,” Watt said, clapping his hands. Then he began leading Bryce down the corridor off the second landing. “Yer chambers are untouched, I hope ye can make yerself right at home again.”

“It shouldn’t be too hard,” Bryce replied.

“Right then,” Watt said, and they drew to a halt in front of Bryce’s door. “I shall see ye tonight.”

“And I ye,” Bryce said. They shared a quiet moment in front of the door, and Watt clapped Bryce once more on the shoulder.

“It is good tae have ye home,” he said at last, and then went off into the keep.

Bryce stood alone in the corridor for a moment, looking at the door to his chambers. It looked the same as it ever had. He pushed it open tentatively, looking into the small room. There was a bed, a table, a water basin, and a hanging dish of coals for light and warmth. The hearth was wide, and a fire was already crackling inside. It was exactly as he had left it. It stood like a time capsule, a memory of a long-lost time, a time before all the chaos of the continent.

It was a comfort, and it was haunting. Even riding through the village, he had seen that nothing had changed, and now standing in his chambers, the feeling was driven home with a heavy thump. It was still and quiet, like a tomb of his old life.

Bryce walked slowly to the window and opened the shutters. He looked down upon the yard, and slowly lifted his eyes up to the wall, and then out to the villages, and ultimately the Highlands beyond. For better or for worse, he was home.

Chapter 1

Lorna McAdams paced fervently in the guest chamber that she and her friend occupied, wringing her hands, and picking at the ends of her flowing blonde hair. She was of medium height, with a short button nose that complemented her brown eyes and elegant frame. But she could not sit still for even a moment. There was too much at stake.

“Will ye stop toying with yer hair?” her friend and lady’s maid, Kyla, asked, sitting up a bit in her chair. “I’ve only just got it sorted!”

“Och how can I, Kyla?” Lorna fussed, walking over to the water basin and splashing a little bit of the cool liquid on her face. “It’s all just happening so fast! I donnae ken what tae make of it!”

“Donnae make anything of it,” Kyla scoffed. Kyla was smaller than Lorna, with red hair and freckles, and an adoring, sly smile. “Why do ye always have tae fuss?”

“Fuss?” Lorna scoffed. “How can I nae? He’s getting married in a matter of hours! Just look at him down there!” Lorna returned to the window, glancing down, watching Watt pointing around, guiding the peasants carrying a large wooden table.

“He certainly looks the part,” Kyla remarked, walking up beside Lorna at the window. “What a fine tunic,” she teased.

“Yer nae helping anything,” Lorna said bitterly, her hands coming back together in frustration.

“And neither are ye!” Kyla shot back. “We’re going tae the wedding, and ye’re going tae enjoy yerself!”

“Och come off it,” Lorna said, her eyes lingering on Watt down in the yard. She had loved him for years, wrapped up in his charisma and kind eyes, and now she had to watch him be married. She had confessed her love to him once, but he had rebuffed her, and she had carried that around for several years.

“I am going down tae talk with him,” Lorna said, biting her lower lip.

“Ye are nae,” Kyla replied, casting a tough look her way. “Ye need tae be realistic.”

“Realistic?” Lorna laughed. “What is realistic, is that after he is married, he will never speak tae me again!”

“Ye are being childish,” Kyla said in a higher, taunting tone. “This love ye hold for him is nae real love.”

Lorna ignored that. Kyla didn’t understand anything about how she felt about Watt. She never had. “I have tae talk with him. One last time,” Lorna insisted. “It is the only way!”

“Way for what?” Kyla asked. “Ye will never be married tae him, ye need tae let it go! Turn yer eyes tae someone else, someone who cares for ye. Yer parents would want that!”

“Cares for me?” Lorna laughed. “And who in the next hundred miles does that? Besides him there.” They both turned back to the window and watched Watt for a moment more as he stood up on a crate to better direct the wedding preparations.

“He is handsome, though, is he nae?” Kyla murmured, and they both watched for a while longer, Lorna still wringing her hands together. Then their eyes were caught by a lone rider entering the yard, strong and stoic. He dismounted and approached Watt, and the two embraced, the rider’s hood falling down to his back, and both of the women took a breath.

“My God,” Kyla whispered. “He’s back.”

They both watched silently as Bryce and Watt conversed briefly and then began to walk towards the keep.

“Little Bryce MacDowell,” Kyla said as they passed out of view and entered the keep. “He certainly has grown.”

“He has been gone for years,” Lorna said.

“I heard he fought with Joan of Arc at Orleans,” Kyla went on.

“One hears all kinds of things,” Lorna said bitterly, her cheeks turning a bit red.

“What’s the matter?” Kyla asked. “Ye’re not happy he’s back?”

“He was never kind tae me,” Lorna said, trying to stop blushing.

Why did he have tae come, today of all days?

“Times change,” Kyla mused, looking Lorna up and down. “Perhaps his time abroad has made him something new.” Kyla had no clue how correct she was, and no framework to conceptualize the depths of his transformation. They lingered on the thought of Bryce for a time, until Lorna’s mind quickly turned back to Watt, and she felt the urgency of his wedding once more.

“I have tae speak with him,” she said again, trying to refocus her efforts. She had a job to do, and she was going to do it, or else the moment would pass forever, and he would forever be out of reach.

“Lorna!” Kyla said, reaching out to grab her arm. “Ye will nae!”

“I will!” Lorna said, pulling away. If Lorna was one thing, it was determined. When she decided to do something, she did it, no matter what was in her way.

“Lorna!” Kyla tried again to call out, but Lorna was through the door, hustling toward the stairs with her skirts held up to avoid tripping.

She went down the corridor, passing the fading tapestries that hung over the tight brickwork, and reached the third landing. Then she stopped. She didn’t know if Watt’s room was up or down, but him being the Laird, she decided it was unlikely he would have to walk up so many stairs every day, so she went down to the second landing, where more chambers could be found. But she wasn’t even sure he would be there yet. Surely, he would be speaking with his long-lost brother after such a time. She turned back and ran down the lower corridor. One of the doors opened to her right, and she collided unceremoniously with the person exiting.

“Oh!” Lorna exclaimed, stumbling backward, and catching herself against the corridor wall, feeling a strong hand on her waist keeping her from falling. “Pardon me, I-,” and as she looked up at the individual, she froze.

Bryce stood there in the doorway, looking solemn but a little surprised, and as they locked eyes, his face curled into a gentle smile. She could feel his hand still holding her side, and she gripped his thick wrist and swiftly pushed it away. He seemed to find it amusing, to judge by the smirk on his face.

“Lorna McAdam,” he said smoothly, looking her up and down, and Lorna found herself blushing once more, caught off guard by both the collision, and the appearance of her childhood acquaintance.

“I saw ye ride in,” she said, straightening up and brushing her gown straight with a quick movement of her hand. “Welcome home.”

“Thank ye,” he said, stepping into the hallway and slowly shutting the chamber door behind him. He seemed taller and bigger than when she’d seen him last. Hardened in muscle and in other ways by the glint in his eye. They stood silently for a pause, trying to sort out what to say each other. Bryce cleared his throat and shuffled his feet a little as he squared himself in the hallway.

“Ye’re all grown up,” he said awkwardly. Clearly his time away had not made him more socially adept.

“As are ye,” Lorna said, and still the awkwardness dragged on. “It’s been a long time.”

“Six years,” Bryce said, loosening his posture just a little.

“I heard ye fought with Joan of Arc,” Lorna said, remembering that Kyla had mentioned it earlier, and at a total loss for what else to say; but as she said it, she saw his face darken, and he seemed to withdraw into his own mind.

“Well then,” he said, shaking his head a bit. “Where were ye off tae in such a hurry?”

Lorna hesitated. He was not the boy that had left, now he was a tall, strong, mysterious, and the encounter had completely thrown her from her mission of intercepting Watt before the wedding. She felt a bit foolish and found she could not tell Bryce the truth. What ever would he think of her?

Then she thought of all the horrible pranks he had played on her when they were children being raised together and questioned why she even cared about what he thought.

He is the last person whose opinion I should care about!

“Nowhere in particular,” she said, deciding on a change of course, lifting her chin just a little bit higher, but it did nothing to compete with his brawny height and wide shoulders.

“Just hurrying along, eh?” he asked, slowly letting his smile creep back onto his face which made him look a little devilish.

“I suppose,” she answered, looking for a reason to leave, feeling the awkward moment compounding into an uncomfortable situation.

“Ye ken,” Bryce said, leaning up against the wall while he shifted his feet a bit. He crossed his arms, and Lorna’s eyes flicked over the width of his chest before returning to his face. “Me brother asked me tae keep ye company tonight.”

“He did what?” Lorna asked, suddenly intrigued once more and slightly embarrassed to be the center of Bryce’s attention, or Watt’s, for that matter.

“He said ye were still in love with him,” Bryce went on, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, as if he found all of this slightly funny. “Is that true?”

“What?” she asked, blinking in surprise. She felt herself blushing again, and she squirmed against the wall, trying to edge back toward the stairwell. “No, that is nae true. How could that be true?”

“Well, I donnae ken,” Bryce said. “How could it be?”

“This has all been very nice,” Lorna said, planning her escape. Her voice was higher now, and she could feel it trembling. She now felt duped, like a character with one line in a play, only put there to make the lead actors shine, and she was blushing uncontrollably as her hands came back together in a nervous expression.

“I shall see ye tonight,” Bryce said a little louder as she turned and bid a hasty retreat toward the stairs.

“And I ye,” Lorna replied, throwing a quick look over her shoulder as she went.

“Wait!” Bryce called, and she paused on the landing while he held her glance a moment longer. “Were ye nae going the other way?”

“Nae,” Lorna said in a hurry, looking away before the embarrassment became any more overwhelming. She hurried back up the stairs, leaving Bryce standing awkwardly in the hallway with a stupid smirk on his face. She went back up to the guest chambers and shut the door behind her, leaning against the door as it closed.

“Well, that was fast,” Kyla said, looking up from the water basin. “And so, what did he say?”

“He didnae say anything,” Lorna said shaking her head and trying to put some of her hair back into place. Why was her heart fluttering like mad?

“Is that so?” Kyla asked coyly, crossing to Lorna at the door. “What did ye say?”

“I didnae speak with him!” Lorna snapped, feeling hot and uncomfortable.

“Well now!” Kyla said with a smirk. “That’s good news.”

“I donnae want tae talk about it!” Lorna snapped, breaking away from Kyla and going to the window, looking down at the big tent that had just been raised.

“Fine then,” Kyla scoffed. “Have it yer way. Ye will drive me mad with this nonsense, ye ken.”

Lorna said no more, she just stared down at the pavilion, feeling lost and defeated. It was humiliating. Bryce had always been dogging her ever since they were children. Here they were again, on the eve of Watt’s wedding. Watt was still ignoring her, and Bryce was still following her around, looking at her as if she was a complete and utter fool. Had nothing changed?

She had hoped to come to this celebration, and through her fiery spirit and determined attitude, dance away with the man of her dreams, who would cast off his betrothed, and realize his love for her. Then they would live happily together as Laird and Lady MacDowell. She let out a breath, and she closed her eyes when it sounded more like a quiet whimper. How could she have been so foolish?

She thought of Bryce and his transformation in the years he had been gone. She had hated him as a child; well, hate was a strong word, but she had never necessarily enjoyed him being around. There was something different about him now. He had grown up, but there was more, something behind his eyes, something in his soul that had been changed irreparably. Though it was intriguing, she found him dark and brooding from their brief encounter. She dreaded spending an evening with him dogging her once more, while she looked on at Watt and his underserving lass with her bland personality. She put her hands together once more as she looked down, cracking her knuckles in one of her nervous tics.

“Are ye all right, love, truly?” Kyla asked, coming up behind her, and gently laying a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Lorna answered, watching another barrel of ale being rolled into the pavilion over the moist earth. “Tonight is going tae be just fine,” she said without really believing it, and frustrated that there was a little skip in her heart at the thought of spending the whole evening in the company of Bryce MacDowell.

Chapter 2

French wine was something all Scotsmen enjoyed. That was the one thing Bryce had chosen to put in his bags when he left France. He wanted to give a bottle to his brother as a wedding gift, and so he’d instructed a servant to leave it in the Laird’s chambers. Judging by his older brother’s current waistline, Watt was no stranger to imbibing. There was the church wedding and then the feast when the barrels of wine and ale had been officially tapped, and they were set to flowing.

Bryce was enjoying one such cup of wine on the edge of the festivities. He kept his eyes on the people that filled the space under the canvas pavilion. Night had fallen, but the heat from the day still lingered in the air. The alcohol and dancing were keeping people warm as well. His eyes moved from one happy figure to the next, judging, assessing. He couldn’t help it. After so many years in battle, one had to learn to size up one’s enemies. It was all part of the terrible “game” that he’d had to learn.

At least he didn’t get any bad feelings watching the dancers and musicians. The whole scene was filled with happiness and celebration. His brother was sitting at the head table, his arm around his young pretty wife, Lilias, daughter of a neighboring Laird. They were looking into each other’s eyes and smiling. Bryce watched as Watt leaned close to Lilias and whispered something in her ear.

Bryce tore his eyes away, an old feeling of desire for companionship running through him. He hadn’t thought of it in a long while, but now watching his brother as happy as he was, the traitorous feeling had returned. Just as quickly, Bryce squelched it down. His eyes landed on Lorna, and the heavy dark brooding feeling lifted with surprising ease.

Lorna was watching Watt and Lilias too, and suddenly, Bryce remembered his duty. He left the side of the festivities and walked up to Lorna. When he arrived at her side, she turned to him and shrank back, as if he was a dangerous animal ready to bite her.

“Och, here ye are then,” she said with a tiny blush in her cheeks.

Bryce chuckled, despite his earlier low mood. “Aye, as I said I would be. I couldnae find ye in the church, so I waited until the feasting time. Will ye nae eat?” He asked, looking around at the tables piled high with food.

Lorna shook her head with a frown, and Bryce was given a view of the shimmer of her blonde hair in the torchlight. It was golden of varying hues, and he was amazed at how much more grown up she’d become in the last six years. When she looked at him again, he could see the same gold flecks in her eyes, and he could feel himself sucking in a breath. The lass was beautiful, a fine lady, and she had filled out in all the womanly areas, making a man’s desire easily grow.

What is bloody wrong with ye? Ye have a job tae do, tae keep her away from Watt, nae lust after her.

“Have a drink then,” he said, and he led her to a table and bid her to sit, pouring her a cup of wine and putting it before her.

She snickered, “Are the servants nae supposed tae do those types of things? A Laird’s brother and famed warrior reduced tae pouring wine for the wedding guests.”

He grinned. Lorna had grown an even sharper tongue in the past years as well. He sat down across from her. The space was loud, full of laughter, footsteps, clinking of cups, and music, but sitting down, they seemed to have the room to themselves. He let his eyes drag to Watt and Lilias at the far end of the pavilion, and his brother was giving him a grateful nod.

“Pouring wine is hardly an effort. I will gladly do it anytime. For meself or a bonny lass.” He smiled again, catching Lorna’s eye, and she blushed, her lips parting. His eyes moved there.

Bonny mouth too.

He shook his head, trying to get himself under control. He hadn’t drunk this much in a long time. Perhaps it was the drink which was making him think things and notice things he hadn’t noticed earlier when bumping into her in the keep’s corridors.

She took a sip of the wine, looking at Watt and Lilias with a sigh. “I suppose it really was a fool’s errand after all. Kyla was right.” Bryce winced when he thought he could see Lorna’s eyes fill with tears.

“Kyla?” he asked softly, and she didn’t look at him.

“My companion. She told me it was foolish tae try my last chance tae convince Watt of me love.” She blushed deeply, looking up at Bryce. “I donnae ken why I am telling his brother, though.”

He shrugged, happy for the confidence. “Might as well. Ye return tae yer family tonight, aye?”

“Aye,” she said with a nod.

“Then all will be forgotten, and ye can move on with yer life. Watt and his bride will be here, and ye will be there. All will be finished. Ye donnae even have tae see him again if ye donnae wish.”

Lorna nodded sadly, and Bryce wondered if he’d said the right thing. She took a long draught of her wine, nearly finishing the cup, and Bryce felt a little guilty, belittling her affection for his brother. He’d known that she’d always looked at Watt with a sort of affection when they were younger, but he hadn’t thought it would ever grow to this sort of pining. The way she looked at Watt made Bryce’s chest tighten.

No woman had ever looked at him like that. Watt was a lucky man to have two beautiful women watching him as if he was Jesus incarnate. Bryce decided that a change of subject would do them both well. His head was swimming with all the wine he’d drunk, and he’d rather get away from all the noise and commotion. It brought up too many memories of warfare, and he’d rather forget all of them. Leave them like the ashes of Joan of Arc in the flowing, gray waters of the Seine. He was attempting to break from the past by returning to Scotland, but images still flitted through his brain.

He cleared his throat. “Do ye have a carriage tae take ye tae the McAdam keep, lass?” he asked, brushing a hand on the back of his neck. Being around Lorna again was making his neck itch. Especially since he didn’t know exactly how to speak to her now that she was a full-grown woman. And one full of sorrow.

“Aye.” She finished the rest of the wine and began to watch the dancers. Their boots and slippers were scudding across the pounded earth at the center of the pavilion. The rain from the night before had finally dried up, but it was still moist enough to keep the dust from rising at the fury of the dancer’s feet.

“Well, the night is upon us now,” he said stupidly, his eyes looking out at the darkness beyond the keep’s torchlights. “It isnae safe for a lass tae travel on her own.”

Lorna shrugged. “I will travel with my companion. The carriage will be ready for us.”

He swallowed and tried again. Something inside him was bidding him to do this. He wanted to help her, of course, but he also had no interest in staying in the castle with his brother the few days after his wedding, if Watt and Lilias were going to look at each other as they were. Besides, Watt would want him to do this. It would be distracting Lorna, would it not?

“Let me take ye, lass. Let me accompany ye. For safety.” He knew that it wasn’t exactly a profound explanation, but it would have to do. He had no intention of telling her how likely it was that Watt would appreciate his assistance.

She turned to him finally, and he could see the acceptance in her lovely, gold-flecked brown eyes. “Fine, then. Ye will accompany us. I would be happy for the added safety.”

Bryce grinned, and he finished the rest of his wine in one swig.


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

  • Enjoyed the first two chapters. Looking forward to reading the book.The bit of fighting with the French is a good background for the Scots and French history.

  • I appreciate the foreword giving historical context to this work and look forward to the publication.

  • I loved the first two chapters and I cannot wait to read the rest of the book. Thank you for sharing.

  • I am looking forward to reading your new book. So far it’s a gripping story well written with an eye for detail. Cannot wait!!!

  • Your history lesson provided an informative backdrop to Bryce’s story. He will have to keep on his toes with Lorna. Maybe she will help to assimilate Bryce back into civilian life, or fill that unoccupied hole in his heart. Super start to their story, Juliana.

  • Your book caught me in the first two chapters. I will purchase when it comes out. I read a lot of Highland boos yours has a new twist. I like it. Hope to Read it soon.

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