Popping in today to share the first chapter to my highlander book, Bound To a Highlander! I just loved this book from the very moment the plot came to me. It released in 2013 and since then I've had SEVERAL requests for the next book and I've made the mistake of telling readers it would be soon, but soon has turned into a year and a half unfortunately. However, I will say this, the next highlander book is currently in the works :)
I do want to clear up some confusion though. My highlander books are all stand-alones, but they are related. So there is no sequel to Bound To a Highlander. The next book has characters from the first book, but there is no plot relation to the first book. The second and third books will actually relate more than any of the others (as they are currently plotted) but they will all remain stand-alones.
As the next book progresses I will post more. Until then, happy reading!
“Rosin!” Donnal McPherson called after his daughter, but she didn’t stop nor heed him.
“By God, you will come back here and obey our father, Rosin!” Roark bellowed after her.
“Why?” She whirled atop the stairs leading up from the great hall. “No word of mine will he hear,” she yelled down at her older brother. “No matter what I feel, what you two conspire at will still be done and to no avail!”
“Sister,” Roark began again, reprovingly, crossing a set of steely arms across his chest, leveling a hard gaze on his fiery tempered sibling. “This is merely talk. Do you truly think we care so little for you?”
Rosin tilted her chin defiantly in answer, light-green eyes beseeching him. She would wish for death before she agreed to their plan!
For years a feud had raged between her clan and the McBray, dwindling down to an occasional lifting of livestock, a practice in the Highlands as common as breathing. However, this last year, when the idea of a marriage to unite the clans had first been talked of, the raiding had gotten much worse. For a time her father gave up any thought of wedding her to the McBray, but now they were desperate for any recourse.
Rosin’s gaze fell on her father then and he met her with quiet entreaty.
“Come back down, child. I am an old man. Canna you see this vexes me?” Donnal crossed to the hearth, bracing himself against the breadth of chiseled stone, both arms stretched wide, his graying head hung low. “We’ve little choice, daughter. You must be reasonable for the sake of our clan. You are the daughter of a laird, what else did you expect in life but an arranged marriage?”
Rosin’s eyes flared with the sting of her father’s uncaring words. With a gasp, she took flight up the stairs.
They thought to barter her, to put a stop to the lifting and the bloodshed. As Roark said, the wellbeing of their clan rested squarely on her shoulders. Well, she wouldn’t stand for this. Not when it wouldn’t do a thing to help their plight. All this marriage would do was see her dead.
She fled, rushing through the corridor.
Surely she could accept such if she trusted the McBray would hold their word, but this was not the way. The McBray would never honor a marriage between the clans.
Aye, she wanted to help her people. Yet, how could she do this when it might be their very undoing? And to hear Roark speak of going into their midst-to speak of a treaty-filled her with sheer terror she’d never experienced before. Her chest tightened so much Rosin had difficulty breathing as she reached the end of the hall.
All she could think about was of what had happened to her grandmother all those years ago. The McBray had returned her to them injured and nigh starved.
Rosin threw the door open and rushed to the top of the keep. She breathed deep, looking over her Highland homeland. A momentary reprieve came with the freedom carried on the brisk late-Autumn air, at the utmost heights of the keep, where she braced herself there at the edge.
Yet, despair crept back into her heart as she happened upon the sight of the burnt huts still heaped on the edge of the forest which surrounded their walls: remnants from the McBrays’ last raiding.
She thought of those who had lost their homes. Her heart sank low as she remembered those who lost their lives this last year.
Aye, she would give her soul if it would help her people. Alas, she feared what the McBray might do to use her against her people once they had her in their midst. Not for her own well-being, yet that her kin could not withstand any more bloodshed or treachery.
“Chriost’s blood!” Donnal swore, tossing his head back with closed eyes. His face mottled with anger and pain as he whirled on his son. “She acts as though I am offering her up to the devil himself, as if I want to do this. As if I have the choice! It gives us all a black rage to be the first to bend to their will,” he blustered at Roark, spittle catching on his beard. The older man threw his arms wide.
Despising their predicament as much as the next man, even Roark would agree there was little else to be done, especially since they knew not what had begun the more intense raiding of late. Just yestreen they lost two crofters when a hut had been burned. All swore it was McBray colors the raiders wore. Their stocks were already low after losing the north fields to fire, timed just before the harvesting too. The bastards! But should they attack the storehouse next . . . .
Roark drew a hand over his eyes and then crossed his arms over his chest, rocking back on his heels.
Alas, after losing so much over the years, they were not strong enough for a decent retaliation. And whether or not he liked his sister being wed to a man more likely to mistreat her than not, this thing would have to be done. Rosin would have to marry a McBray. Not the laird himself, old and decrepit and already long wed, but one of his sons. Most likely, the eldest of them as Gorath McBray remained unwed, despite no longer being considered a young man, nor was he considered to be looking for a wife.
Roark sighed heavily, hearing a door slam somewhere above. He scanned the rafters, silently shaking his head. Oft Rosin’s actions were rash and much too feisty for the daughter of a well-respected laird.
A heavier sigh rushed from him as all her antics rushed through his mind. He rather pitied the unlucky bastard wed to her for this treaty, and wondered, too, if this were the wisest course of action.
Roark turned to regard his father. “Were there McBray daughters I would take this task, Father.”
Donnal straightened from leaning against the hearth. “She’s only a girl, we canna expect much more. She probably fears the marriage bed or some such thing,” he muttered. “Without her mother Rosin has lacked feminine guidance. Did’na you have Lillith explain to her these things?”
Roark winced, his cheeks heating a degree. Speaking of his sister’s marriage bed was not a subject he liked to discuss. “Aye. Methinks she believes this will’na change our circumstances for the better.” Roark started from the room. “I will speak with her,” he assured.
With long strides, he left the hall and cursing their misbegotten luck all the way, he took two stairs at a time. Above, he began searching out his sister. “Rosin,” he called into the empty chambers as he passed them. Seeing she wasn’t in any of the rooms down the length of the short passage left nary other place for her but the top of the keep.
“Fool-headed, willful, red-haired . . . .” His muttering trailed off as he opened the heavy door and hurried up a short flight of steps banked into the open stairwell which led up to the top of the keep.
Roark’s shoulders slumped as he stepped into the coolness of the late fall morning. A cool pink-gray brushed the sky. Mist clung around the ground, blanketing the land like a plush cloud, bringing a softened veil to swathe the rugged terrain around them. His eyes remained on the wee back facing him as remorse swelled within. Roark took a shuddering breath, braced for his sister’s anger, reminding himself that what his father proposed was simply the way of their people.
Just as taking his father’s place as laird would be his birthright someday, wedding whomever their father chose for her was Rosin’s.
Nay, marriage that would end bloodshed and suffering was more than a birthright.
It was her duty to her clan.
This union would liberate their people if the treaty went well. Doing so could very well be their last hope. She was all they had to offer for a truce after these past years, and he would say they offered more than their enemy deserved. How he wished she were ugly or an old spinster, but alas, Rosin was a jewel.
Their father, by God’s teeth, the old man still insisted on riding into battle, no matter the consequences to his health. Couldn’t she see her selfishness alone was an unjust burden upon him? Aye, she saw and she knew.
Roark shook his head at the stiffness of her back and narrowed his eyes, hardening himself.
It was this, or they would all perish.
Rosin must see this is the only way for them, and he would be the one to convince her of what she must accept. Mayhap in time, she might even come to like her new life among the McBrays and her husband too.
Steadily, with quiet steps, Roark approached Rosin where she looked out over their lands. A beam of sunlight filtered through the clouds, touching Rosin’s hair and lit the flowing skein of tousled silk like a burst of flame.
“You must do this for them, sister.” He gestured to the crofters working in the shadow of the keep. “This marriage will turn our fortune prosperous once again. Our kin no longer need live in fear.”
She angled her face to him. “Only I should live in fear is what you mean. You would barter me like a slave?”
“No, as a wife. How dare you speak of such! You’ve never been a slave, nor a wife. Don’t attempt to liken them to make me feel worse than I already do,” he spat. “No need for you to guilt me for what already weighs heavily upon my heart.”
He’d never seen her react so selfishly and if he didn’t know better, he would be truly angry with her. But deep down, Rosin had already admitted to herself that this was what must be done, just as he had admitted it. She loved and cared for their clan, she wouldn’t turn her back on them now. However, she would give him the devil’s time while adjusting to the idea of the union.
She whirled on him. “How can you feel bad? You’re not the one being turned over to the enemy.”
“Aye, the McBray are the enemy, but with this truce our freedom from this feud can be won.”
“Bartered for!” The bitter rejoinder sizzled the friction between them. Rosin narrowed her eyes accusingly.
Like thunder breaking and snapping in the heavens, Roark’s anger exploded. “Do you want all these people to die by the cut of McBray steel?” He took her arm in his hand, holding her so she was forced to look him in the eyes as he spoke. “I know you, Rosin. You are not one to turn away when others need you. And these people need you desperately. I need you. Do you want to see our father fall from his horse because he is too stubborn to let the younger men fight alone?
“He won’t give up defending them so long as they need him. He has been fighting this feud his whole life. Let him rest now. Give him peace and let our people begin anew.” Roark let her go, yet his stare still bored into hers. Pure condemnation for her defiance against their father and himself charged between them. “Were it I, I would do this with no hesitance,” he added on a softer note. “But the McBray has no daughter to be wedded to.”
Rosin quivered. “It is easier to take a wife than to accept life with a husband you are being forced upon. Surely there is another way.”
Roark scoffed in response and Rosin turned to face the land once more, her breathing deep, and if he weren’t mistaken, her shoulders slightly shook under the weight of her fear.
“What is this?” he asked, as though halfway teasing to break the barrier and weight of their strife. “Och, is my wee sister crying?”
“Nay, you giant oaf!” She swung on him once more to push him back before crossing her arms, a violent glare storming within her eyes. She again gave him her back.
“Och, sometimes I swear you’ve the temper of the Irish!” Roark chuckled.
“I ought to box your ears for that,” Rosin said in a small, but vehement, voice.
“Aye and there’s the bold Scotswoman I love.” He quickly grabbed her up in a lopsided bear-hug, then dropped her to her feet so he could muss her hair. Rosin swatted him away.
She forced down a laugh. “Well, you better be glad I love you too or I’d never consider forgiving this.”
Her words sobered him. “Are you afraid then?” Roark asked with all sincerity, sensing a hint of submission. Lifting a strand of fiery hair, he lightly tugged the end. He wished she would turn to face him. “You’ve every right to be and I wouldn’t blame you any. But you must ken I would ensure your safety before-”
“How?” she interrupted. “Are you going to live with me there amongst the enemy?”
She spat the word so disdainfully the sound made Roark’s stomach twist sickly. Could she really hate this marriage with so much conviction?
“What could you really do, Roark?” she asked. “Throw me to the wolves and then come to collect the scattering of my bones once I’m dead? Avenge me, mayhap?” She tsked with a twinge of despair rattling her tone. “It would be too late then, brother. You ken they will not honor a marriage.”
His eyes glittered dangerously. But she was right. He couldn’t deny such. It would be too late if her fate came to such ends, and there would be little else he could do about it. Damn them all, he would fight until his last breath if the McBray so much as harmed one hair on her head. Especially after seeing Rosin put up such a fight against this proposal. Continuing with the treaty proposal weighed heavily on his heart.
“This doesn’t have to be about life and death. It is about a new beginning.” Roark thrust his hands into his hair and threw his head back, whispering a curse. “Chriost! Canna you see this is tearing me asunder? I need your word, Rosin, but I must do this. For our clan. When I speak to the McBray, if I so much as feel the slightest worry or doubt, you have my word I will not offer you.”
Rosin shrugged. “You and Father are set on this, what word do you really need from me then?”
Roark clamped his teeth, his jaw working against his building anger. “If you’re so against this, then I suggest you take up the sword, Rosin! Our people are tired of fighting and losing the ones they love! You go then and ask your servant Mary what she thinks. Her husband is still warm in his grave from the last attack.” He threw his arms and hands into the air. “Ask and see if she thinks we should continue this madness when we have a chance for peace.”
Rosin turned and faced him with an expression mirroring all confidence. “I think if you have to wed me to anyone it should be Liam.”
“Oh, God above, Rosin! Give those girlish notions up.” Roark placed his hands on his hips and began to pace. Liam McLoughlin would never be a husband to any woman, as his tastes lay elsewhere.
“If you love me as a brother should, then listen. Please, Roark,” Rosin begged, but even in such a tone, her temper still shone through. “They could strengthen our clan and the McBray would never dare attack us again. It would be far better than sending me off to certain misery or even death!”
The sob that entered her tone tore at his heartstrings. “You are a wise lass and you ken the McLoughlins are little stronger than we are. All that wedding on of them would serve to do is piss the McBray off and lengthen an already too long feud.” He paused, wishing peace between himself and his sister. “You are bonny-perhaps too bonny-any one of the McBrays will be proud to call you wife. You needn’t fear for your safety there.” Roark sighed heavily. “It is time for you to wed anyway.”
“Don’t do this, Roark!” Rosin stomped her foot, balling her fists tightly at her sides. “I am begging you! I loathe them all and the only way I will enter their clan is to kill them. I swear it! Besides, I canna imagine any McBray would have me.” She poked a slender finger in his chest, unshed tears brightening her light eyes with hate. “Should you wed me to that barbarian, offering me as a sacrifice, I swear it, the gods will frown upon you! And let the same which started the feud happen a second time!” She began to flounce away, but Roark caught her up by the arm and pulled her about to face him.
“Nay, take those hagborn words back. Now!” he bellowed so likely the whole clan stopped in their tasks to see what was about. As they stood on the top of the keep, they were in plain enough view.
Rosin tilted her chin, but kept her lips tightly compressed. Her pallor suddenly faded to ashen.
As her stare wandered over his shoulder, he lightly shook her once to get her attention back. He’d not meant to frighten her so, but God above only knew how she’d just riled him.
“Mark my words, Rosin-” his tone now chillingly grave, as nothing compared to the sorrow in his heart for forcing this upon her “-this will be done. I will send an emissary come the morning.”
Rosin swallowed hard as she looked away again, her body racked with sobs as she struggled to breathe. Tears welled in her eyes and she shook her head in denial, clutching his shirtfront as she jerked her gaze back. “You won’t have to,” she whispered. “The McBray have come here.” Rosin frightfully looked over his shoulder again as a villager’s terrifying scream resonated to them.
Roark released her, jerking himself around.
“Och, Chriost above!” he swore, dread filling him as his hand instantly went for his sword. When he looked over the palisade, Highland warriors, battle ready, raced the hill leading down to McPherson walls-surely their number was twice as strong than last they attacked.
©2013 Kerri M. Patterson
©2013 Kerri M. Patterson