Conquered by a Highlander

( 33 )

Overview

BOUND BY DUTY

Colin MacGregor was born to fight-for his beliefs, his king, and his family's honor. After years away from his beloved Scotland, he yearns to return to its lush, green hills-and he can, after he completes one final mission for the king. Sent to infiltrate a traitor's home, Colin is determined to expose the treasonous plot and triumph on the battlefield . . . until he meets a sensual lass who ...

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Conquered by a Highlander

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Overview

BOUND BY DUTY

Colin MacGregor was born to fight-for his beliefs, his king, and his family's honor. After years away from his beloved Scotland, he yearns to return to its lush, green hills-and he can, after he completes one final mission for the king. Sent to infiltrate a traitor's home, Colin is determined to expose the treasonous plot and triumph on the battlefield . . . until he meets a sensual lass who tempts him towards other pursuits . . . .

BETRAYED BY PASSION

Lady Gillian Dearly is no stranger to temptation. Cast out of her family for bearing an illegitimate child, she's now the ward of a barbarian conspiring against the king. Her only desire: freedom for her son and for herself at any cost, even if it means making a deal with the devil. Yet when a mysterious Highlander appears in their midst, his braw strength and smoldering gaze give her hope for a future beyond the castle walls-and promise a desire unlike any she's ever known. But passion comes at a price . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Quinn’s fourth and final Children of the Mist romance (after Tamed by a Highlander) brings 1688 England to life, complete with espionage, treachery, uprisings. Colin MacGregor, a supporter of the Catholic king, James Stuart, infiltrates Dartmouth Castle, pretending to be a supporter of William of Orange. Colin, a seasoned warrior, is unprepared for his attraction to Lady Gillian Dearly, the cousin of the lord of Dartmouth. Colin’s interaction with Gillian and her young son, Edmund, is laced with emotion and causes Colin to question his mission as a spy, as does his slow realization that James is as guilty of wrongdoing as William. Readers will adore Gillian, a woman who has honed her survival techniques in a society where women had few rights. Rich, evocative historical detail and enthralling characters fill the pages of this fast-paced tale. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger Agency. (June)
RT Book Reviews
"4 1/2 stars! Top Pick! Scottish romance at its best: captivating, tender and sensual with characters readers care about. While fascinating as a romance, it also delivers a message about moral courage. Definitely a keeper."
From the Publisher
"Rich, evocative historical detail and enthralling characters fill the pages of this fast-paced tale."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"4 1/2 stars! Top Pick! Scottish romance at its best: captivating, tender and sensual with characters readers care about. While fascinating as a romance, it also delivers a message about moral courage. Definitely a keeper."—RT Book Reviews

RAVE REVIEWS FOR PAULA QUINN AND TAMED BY A HIGHLANDER:

"Another winning mix of fascinating history and lush romance...Readers will be captivated by the meticulously accurate historical detail including cameos by various famous figures and Connor and Mairi's searing passion."
Publishers Weekly starred review

"Top pick! This fast-paced tale of political intrigue populated by sensual characters with deeply rooted sense of honor and loyalty is spellbinding. Quinn delivers top-notch Highland romance!"
RT Book Reviews

SEDUCED BY A HIGHLANDER:

"Seduced by a Highlander is sparkling, sexy and seductive! I couldn't put it down! Paula Quinn is a rising star!"
—Karen Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author

"Scottish romance at its very best! Deliciously romantic and sensual, Paula Quinn captures the heart of the Highlands in a tender, passionate romance that you won't be able to put down."
—Monica McCarty, New York Times bestselling author

RAVISHED BY A HIGHLANDER:

"Deftly combines historical fact and powerful romance...There's much more than just sizzling sensuality: history buffs will love the attention to periodic detail and cameos by real-life figures, and the protagonists embody compassion, responsibility, and unrelenting, almost self-sacrificial honor. Quinn's seamless prose and passionate storytelling will leave readers hungry for future installments."
Publishers Weekly starred review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446552356
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Series: Children of the Mist Series , #4
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 242,512
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn lives in New York with her three beautiful children, three over-protective chihuahuas, and a loud umbrella cockatoo. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.

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Read an Excerpt

Conquered by a Highlander


By Quinn, Paula

Forever

Copyright © 2012 Quinn, Paula
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446552356

Battle Born

Chapter One

DEVON, ENGLAND

SPRING 1688

Hand over that bag and I won’t run you through.”

Colin MacGregor smiled behind his hood and slowed his mount to a leisurely canter. He wasn’t far from his destination, a league or two at best. He could smell the sea on the crisp morning air. It put him in a good mood, inclining him toward mercy to his present company. “I should warn ye,” he called out to the man hurrying to keep up with him on foot. “Ye’re the seventh thief who thought to rob me this day. The six before ye are already dead.” His smile, slight as it was, remained intact as he turned in his saddle. “I’ll grant ye a moment to reconsider yer course.”

The thief chuckled and continued on foolishly. “I’ll take the horse too.”

“Will ye now?” Colin brought his mount to a full stop and swept his hood off his head. “I’d like to see ye give it a try. Only, be quick about it. I’d like to reach Dartmouth before they break fast. I’m hungry fer a decent meal.”

The thief did not oblige but jammed two fingers into his mouth and whistled instead. From beyond the trees five more men appeared, each eyeing Colin with snarls while they pointed their weapons at him.

“One of yer companions seems to be missing,” Colin pointed out, glancing about briefly before returning his steady gaze to the leader.

The thief surveyed his small troupe, then, realizing Colin was correct—but not catching what it meant—shouted for the sixth robber to quit pissing and get ready to fight.

’Twas unnecessary really, as Colin shot the man dead when he emerged from behind a tree, the thief’s own pistol in one hand and the laces of his breeches in the other. Two other men carried pistols but they didn’t get the chance to fire them, or even aim, in the time it took Colin to shoot one with a second pistol he kept tucked in his boot and to fling a short sword at the other, catching him in the center of his throat. The leader watched in horror as three of his comrades fell all in the space of a few breaths. When Colin leaped from his horse, the four remaining thugs shared a fearful look between them and then, realizing his pistols would have to be reloaded before he could use them again, drew their blades and attacked.

The men were poorly lacking in any kind of skill, which didn’t surprise Colin in the least. He could have shown them mercy, as he had to their leader, by letting them live a bit longer, but he was a warrior, not a priest. He’d known he was being followed since entering Devon. He’d known how many men were tailing him and where they would likely make their move. ’Twas no astounding feat he possessed to be aware of such things. ’Twas what any well-trained soldier should know.

And Colin had been training for battle since before he could remember. The desire to conquer set fire to his veins since the day he was old enough to hold a blade in his hand. He was born to fight, and as he grew older, he grew more ready and eager to go to war for a cause he believed in. The Stuart throne had become that cause. The Catholic king James Stuart, to be exact, kin by marriage to the MacGregors of Skye. A man who had gained Colin’s friendship, loyalty, and finally his respect when James first took the throne three years ago. But the king had become a tyrant lately and Colin had grown more uncertain if his liege was any less guilty and unfit to rule the kingdom than his enemy William of Orange was.

That indecision was what had led him on his journey home to Camlochlin before embarking upon this latest task: to end the threat of the Dutch prince once and for all.

He’d enjoyed his trip home more than he’d expected and suspected that the memory of the visit sparked the thread of compassion he felt now, for he made a quick end of his attackers.

Then again, he was damned hungry.

He wiped his blade on the fallen leader’s tunic, then sheathed it and leaped back into his saddle. The dead were no longer his concern… or the concern of any other decent man traveling this road.

Setting his course straight ahead, he returned his hood to his head and his thoughts to his purpose of stopping Prince William from taking the throne.

A general in James’s Royal Army, Colin had taken the lives of many in the past three years, though few of his enemies died on the battlefield. His victories were mostly silent, purely political ones that required the sharp edge of his mind, as well as his blade. He honed each with equal diligence. He’d traded in his warrior blood and become the king’s assassin, sent to mete out justice to the guilty.

There was no one guiltier than the man who’d once ordered the massacre of an abbey full of nuns. A self-righteous, falsely pious prince who not only planned the demise of every Catholic in the kingdom, but also schemed against his wife’s own father. Aye, no matter what doubts Colin was beginning to harbor toward his king, he would see his task through to completion. He would have his war.

Rubbing his growling belly, he watched the sheer fortress wall of Dartmouth Castle rise over the rocky cliff tops in the distance. The round battlemented tower and high lookout turret appeared to pierce the charcoal clouds. A gloomy sense of isolation began seeping through his mantle along with the briny scent of the Dart estuary rolling in from the southwest. He didn’t mind being alone. In fact, he preferred it over the feigned niceties of court.

A cool trickle snaked down his back, but he resisted the urge to shiver.

He wasn’t just the king’s executioner, he was a spy. And a damned good one. He was about to change his identity, including his religion, his moral code, and his entire past, in order to fit in with his enemies and learn their secrets. He wouldn’t let his nerves get the better of him. He never did.

This wasn’t the first time he would be living as Colin Campbell of Breadalbane, cousin to the Campbells of Glen Orchy. The information he had gathered at various tables from France to Scotland about secret correspondences between England and William in Holland had all led back to Geoffrey Dearly, Earl of Devon and lord of Dartmouth.

Approaching along the cliffs, Colin took in the structure before him. Dartmouth was more of a fort than an actual castle. Built in the fourteenth century to guard the mouth of the estuary, it lay deep within Protestant territory and ’twas a good enough place to land an army of ships if a certain Dutch prince wished to invade England.

This was it, Colin was sure of it, the last time he would have to sit in the company of his enemies and speak like them, laugh with them. If he was correct about Devon’s alliance with Prince William—and Colin was certain he was correct—the earl was going to need every available sword for hire when he betrayed the king. Fortunate for him, the deadliest mercenary ever to wield a blade or fire a pistol was about to land on his doorstep.

He scanned the gun tower and surrounding gun platforms adjoining the round tower to the square. Pity, there were no fearsome-looking guardsmen patrolling the walls. He ached for a decent fight when the time finally came. Until then, he would befriend them, and then butcher them in battle.

A movement high atop the turret caught his eye, and as he focused on what it was, his thoughts of victory scattered to the four winds.

’Twas a lass, her long flaxen tresses and flowing white gown snapping against the bracing wind as she stepped up onto the edge of the crenellated wall. Was she a woman about to leap to the jagged rocks below or an angel readying to take flight? He waited, his heart beating more wildly in his chest than it had in years, to see what the answer would be. If she was a woman, he could do nothing to save her if she fell. He had seen death, had caused much with his own blade, but he had never been witness to someone taking her own life. Why would she? What in hell was so terrible that hurling herself over the edge was a better alternative?

When she bent her knees, his heart stalled in his chest.

Damned fool. He couldn’t catch her.

But she didn’t jump. Instead, she nestled herself into the groove of a merlon. He watched her, unnoticed while she wrapped her arms around her knees and set her chin toward the estuary. She reminded him of a painting he’d seen in King Louis’s court, of a woman looking out toward the sea, waiting for her beloved to return to her. Something about this lass above him stirred him in the pit of his gut. Was she waiting for someone? Mayhap a guardsman from Devon’s garrison? She looked small and utterly alone surrounded by stone, water, and the vast sky behind her. Who was she?

A better question was, what the hell did he care who she was? He didn’t. ’Twas the most vital part of this duty he was born to carry out, what made him better at it than anyone else. He attached himself to no one. Mercy could get him, or worse, the king, killed. He didn’t need friends, since the men he’d been sitting with over the past three years had been traitors to the throne and could never be trusted.

What he felt in his belly were hunger pangs.

Pulling his hood back over his head, he looked at the lass one last time. She dipped her head, catching his movement. When she scrambled to her feet, he clenched his jaw to keep himself from calling out. Thankfully, she stepped back down off the wall and disappeared.

Left with nothing but the passing memory of her, Colin returned his thoughts to the duty at hand and cantered his horse through the yard of St. Petroc’s Church, where a dozen or so of Devon’s men were loitering and looking bored until they saw him.

Dismounting, he pushed back his hood and held up his hands as the men raced toward him.

“Stranger.” One stepped out from among the rest. He was tall and broad shouldered in his stained military coat. His dark, oily hair fell over gray, bloodshot eyes, which hardened on Colin’s face first, and then on the swords dangling from both sides of Colin’s hips beneath his wind-tossed mantle. “What brings you to Dartmouth?”

“I seek an audience with the earl.”

The man’s gaze settled on the flash of a dagger hidden within the folds of Colin’s open vest and the pistol tucked under his belt. “You carry many weapons.” He dipped his gaze to Colin’s leather boots next, where more daggers and his second pistol peeked out, and licked his lips, which had apparently gone rather dry.

“The roads are perilous,” Colin explained with a slight crook of his lips, still keeping his hands up. This ill-prepared soldier was afraid of him… and that made the soldier dangerous.

“So is straying into a place you don’t belong,” the speaker countered, reaching around his belly to the hilt of his sheathed sword. “Who are you and what do you want with the earl?”

“I’d prefer to tell that to yer highest in command.”

“Well,” the soldier said, puffing up his chest, “I’m Lieutenant Gilbert de Atre, and you’ll tell it to me or you’ll hop onto that paltry mare you rode in on and leave while you still can.”

Colin knew hundreds of men just like this one. He’d seen that same challenging smirk dozens of times before. He wasn’t sure what it was about him that made some men want to test him. Mayhap ’twas his weapons and the way he carried them, or the cool, composed indifference of his expression. He feared little and it intimidated less formidable men. Usually he ignored such bravado, especially when his task was to make nice and fit in. This time though, he had to fit in to an army, not at a noble’s table. He would need to earn their respect before they trusted him. Colin didn’t mind having to fight to prove himself. In fact, he looked forward to it. A test of his skill would provide an excellent opportunity to learn what he was up against, and also to show these men that he would be an asset to their company. He would go easy on them all, of course. No reason to reveal too soon what they were up against.

His expression remained impassive, save for the spark of something feral in his eyes when he glanced at his horse and then back at de Atre. “I take offense to ye insulting my horse, Lieutenant.”

“Then do something about it,” de Atre said and laughed, exposing a row of yellow teeth. “But first, remove all them daggers and pistols you have hidden on you. I don’t trust any Scot with two hands.”

Stripping himself of his extra weapons, Colin promised himself that de Atre would be among the first to feel his blade the instant he revealed his true purpose for coming here.

“Come, stray, let us see what you’ve got. But be warned, I’ve sent all your brothers back to their mothers castrated and broken.”

Colin’s lip curled as he readied his blade. “Not my brothers, ye haven’t.”

His metal flashed as it came up, blocking de Atre’s next strike above his head. He parried another hit, and then another, scraping the edge of his blade down de Atre’s. Pushing off, he stepped back, loosened his shoulders, and rolled his wrist. The blade danced with fluid grace beneath the sun, casting a flicker of doubt in de Atre’s eyes.

Not yet.

He tightened his stance, as if suffering from a bout of nerves at what he was facing. De Atre advanced and swung wide. Colin avoided the slice to his belly with a step to his left. He ducked at a swipe to his neck and parried a number of rather tedious strikes to his knees. After a few moments, it became clear that he could fight the lieutenant while he was half-asleep. He suppressed the urge to yawn, thinking about what kind of beds were given to the garrison soldiers. Hay would be a welcome reprieve from the hard, cold ground he’d been sleeping on for the past se’nnight.

A spot of bright military blue and white lace crossed his vision and he followed it while he blocked another blow. The captain of the garrison caught his gaze across the crowded courtyard and held it a moment before ordering both men to cease.

“You there,” he called an instant later. “Come forward.”

Colin flicked his gaze to the captain, taking in polished black boots, crisp breeches, and a clean military coat adorned in lace. He was older than the lieutenant, mayhap in his fortieth year, clean-shaven and lithe of build.

“I am Captain George Gates,” he said when Colin reached him.

“Captain.” Colin met his level gaze.

“Your name?” the captain asked, scrutinizing him with narrowed eyes the same way his lieutenant had, but with interest rather than challenge.

“Colin Campbell of Breadalbane.”

“What do you want here?”

“I wish to offer my sword to yer lord.”

Gates arched his brow at him. “Why?”

“Because my cousin the future Earl of Argyll assured me that Lord Devon would soon need more men to guard his castle.”

“Did he?” the captain asked with skepticism narrowing his eyes. “What else did Argyll tell you?”

Almost everything Colin needed to know. The Dutch prince had begun to assemble an expeditionary force against the king. But he wouldn’t attack without penned invitations from England’s most eminent noblemen inviting him to invade. According to Argyll, Dartmouth was to be the host of the invading Dutch army, and Lord Devon, the man arranging it all. Colin’s task was to discover who among King James’s vassals signed their names to the invitation, when the prince meant to invade, how many men he would bring with him, and then to kill them all. His glorious war.

Colin almost couldn’t help smiling slightly at the thought. “He told me why.”

Gates’s subtle reaction was exactly what Colin expected. A hint of surprise that a mercenary would know a prince’s intentions, and then a nod of acceptance because the only way he could know it was if a prominent ally such as Duncan Campbell of Argyll had told him.

“Very well,” the captain said. “I’ll take you to the earl. If you wish to fight for him, let him decide if you are worthy.”

“My thanks,” Colin offered. He retrieved his daggers, ignored the glare de Atre flung at him, and then followed his escort toward the entrance in the square tower.

At the doors, Gates stopped and turned to him. “So that we are clear on this: I did not train or choose my lieutenant. If you are here for any other purpose than the one you claim, I will personally remove your head.”

He waited until Colin nodded that he understood and then led him inside. The ground floor was smaller inside than it appeared from outdoors. The narrow windows afforded little light and were used mainly as gun ports; there were seven that Colin could count from his position.

“Gillian!” The thunderous shout reverberated through the long halls, scattering servants every which way. “Gillian!” the voice bellowed again, followed this time by the pounding of boots down the stairs. “Answer when I call for you, bitch! Ranulf! Where are my musicians, my wine?”

Colin looked up at the tall, lanky nobleman stomping toward them. His dark, perfect ringlets bounced around the shoulders of his crisp justacorps. His complexion was pale, as if painted, but not. His dark gray eyes darted about the hall before coming to rest on Colin.

“Who are you?”

“My lord Devon”—Captain Gates stepped forward—“this is Colin—”

“Captain Gates.” The earl shifted his haughty gaze to the captain, his interest in the mercenary standing in his hall already gone. “Where is my cousin? I’ve been calling for her. Your duty is to guard her. Why are you not with her and bringing her to me?”

“She was asleep when I left her, my lord.”

“Well, wake her up! And her bastard with her! No reason that brat should sleep all day.”

Captain Gates offered him a brisk nod, then started toward the stairs.

“There is no need to fetch me, my good captain,” came a soft voice from the top of the stairs.

Colin watched the woman descend, her pale, wheaten waves falling lightly over her white, flowing gown. ’Twas the woman from the battlements.

She didn’t look at him. Her eyes, like twin blue seas, churned with a frosty glitter as she set them on the earl.

“I hope my lord will forgive me for sleeping while he bellowed for me.”

Colin was tempted to smile at her. Her ability to speak such a humbling falsehood and sound so convincing while doing it impressed him. The truth lay in her eyes if one but looked.

“I won’t show you mercy next time, Gillian,” he promised, gloating at her surrender. “Now make haste and bring me some wine from the cellar.” He lifted his manicured fingers and snapped at his captain. “Go with her, Gates, and make certain she doesn’t dally or it will cost you a month’s wage.”

Lord Devon watched them leave the hall on their errand, and then settled his gaze on a serving girl on her way to some chore. He snatched her arm as she passed him and yanked her into his arms.

“What are you still doing here?” he demanded, lifting his mouth from her neck when he saw Colin. “Who are you?”

Verra likely yer worst enemy. Colin granted his host his most practiced bow. “I am the man who will lead yer army to victory.”

Chapter Two

Lady Gillian Dearly looked over her shoulder on the way toward the wine cellar at the stranger standing with her cousin Geoffrey. She knew by his dark hooded mantle that he was the man who’d watched her from the cliffs. Who was he and what had he been doing resting on the cliff side staring up at the castle? At her? Had he told Captain Gates that he’d seen her in the turrets?

She hoped not. The only thing worse than the captain discovering that she had risked her virtue alone in the halls was Geoffrey finding out the same. She wasn’t permitted to roam about unescorted for fear that one of her cousin’s hired mercenaries would abduct her. It was an irrational fear—for the most part, at least. Though the men held no particular allegiance to God, the king, or the Earl of Essex’s daughter, they were all too afraid of Captain Gates to touch her. In that, her constant chaperone performed his duties well. She didn’t want to get him into trouble or, Heaven forbid, wake up to find one of her cousin’s other men tailing her, but sometimes she needed the rush of the wind through her hair and the vast horizon filling her vision. She escaped to the turrets often to imagine a different kind of life. Truly, there was no harm in it, but if either man suspected her of possessing a more cunning nature than what she portrayed, they would watch her more intently.

Both with a completely different purpose.

George Gates was her cousin’s highest in command, charged from the day she’d arrived here four years ago with the duty of guarding her virtue… or whatever was left of it. But he didn’t protect her from the hounds simply because he’d been hired to. He had become her friend. The only man left in the world that she trusted.

When they reached the upper cellar, she dipped a silver pitcher into a keg of aged wine and filled it. “This keg is almost empty. We will need another brought up from below.”

“Where were you when he was calling?”

She looked up at him leaning his back against the door, watching her with pity softening his expression. She didn’t want it. It did her no good, save to tempt her to weep—and she would never, ever do that.

“As I said, I was asleep in my bed.”

Gates regarded her in silence for a moment, knowing full well that masking her expression was a feat she’d never master. Everything, damn her… everything was always right there on her face to read. “If Devon thought for an instant that you looked for a way out…”

“You know I would never think of running away,” she told him, wiping the lip of the pitcher with her apron and avoiding his gaze while she passed him on her way back to the door. Oh, but how many hundreds of times had she contemplated it, dreamed about it? Not of running—for where could she go alone and with a three-year-old babe at her hip? Edmund: the reason she breathed, schemed, and risked her life sending missives to William of Orange. No, she wouldn’t run. She hoped to walk out of Dartmouth with her head held high and the power of a new king at her back, a new king who, thanks to her, knew the truth about her cousin.

“Where would I take him?” she asked softly, pausing in the hall at the bottom of the stairs and looking up longingly to where her babe slept soundly in his chamber. “I cannot return to my father. Nor do I ever want to.”

“Someday”—George moved up behind her and placed a tender hand on her shoulder—“when he has forgiven you…”

“Forgiven me?” She angled her chin to have a good look at her friend, and then to offer him a disparaging sigh. Was every man her judge, even the ones who didn’t condemn her? Aye, she had a child out of wedlock. Was that a good enough reason to abandon her to hell? “And how long should it take me to forgive him for casting me and my son into my cousin’s cruel hands? When should I forgive my mother for caring more about the haughty opinions of her peers than about the welfare of her youngest daughter and grandchild?”

Her captain looked away from the cold, hard truth of it. Gillian didn’t blame him. She wished she could, as well. She’d been found guilty of falling foolishly in love and sentenced to live under lock and key inside a fortress overlooking the sea. But she and her child would be free. She would see to it, and then she would never be so foolish again.

“Let us not speak of my parents anymore.” Gillian lifted her hand to his lapel and brushed a mote of lint away. “Or of me trying to escape Dartmouth. I am strong, and I shall continue to find the strength to wake each morning because of my son. Now come, I would see to Geoffrey’s thirst before Edmund wakes from his nap.”

He nodded, his composure disintegrating a little at the smile she offered him.

“About the man who arrived earlier.” He coughed into his fist and led her down the hall.

Gillian kept her even pace as her heart quickened along with her breath. Had the stranger told him where he’d seen her then? She’d assured George the last time he caught her alone in the turrets that she could handle any man who came upon her. He’d taught her well enough how to use her dagger. But she knew he worried about her, and she didn’t want him to.

“He might be remaining here,” he continued, urging her to pick up her pace. “If he does, I want you to tell me if he makes any advances toward you.”

“Of course,” she promised quietly. It was the same promise she made to him whenever any new guardsman joined the garrison.

“Be wary of him. He arrived as if on thin air.”

Or from the sea, Gillian corrected silently. “Who is he?”

“Colin Campbell, relative of the Campbells of Argyll.” He grew quiet for a moment as they walked the hall. Then said, “I don’t trust the Campbells, and this one carries a great number of weapons, all of which I’m certain he knows how to use with great skill, despite his claims to the contrary.”

“What purpose would he have for disguising his skill?”

“I’ve no idea.” The captain shared his thoughts with her because there was not a man in his garrison whom he had ever befriended. He was as alone here as she. “But I will tell you this,” he continued absently. “I’ve never seen a man strike, block, and parry while not even looking at his opponent. I will be watching him closely if Devon accepts him for hire.”

“I will be wary of him,” Gillian promised. Another dangerous mercenary. One more to aid Geoffrey in his quest to see William of Orange take the throne. She was glad for it. The sooner Prince William arrived, the better. She didn’t care about religious upheavals or who sat on the throne. Three and a half years of obeying a cruel madman had hardened her heart to everything but her son. She would do anything to keep Edmund safe, including betraying King James and tolerating her cousin when she had to. She had learned to bend, but by God, she would never break.

They searched for Geoffrey and finally found him waiting above stairs in his solar with Colin Campbell.

“Ah, finally, my dear cousin tends to me.” From his seat beside the hearth, Geoffrey lifted his hand and motioned for her to come to him.

Gillian hesitated. She knew she shouldn’t, but the thought of being close to him made her ill. The Earl of Devon, son of her father’s brother, had demonstrated an unnatural attraction to her from the time they were children and she’d been sent to spend the summer with her relatives. It was the worst summer of her life, having to continually fight off Geoffrey’s advances. She thought he’d forgotten her as the years passed, but when she confessed her delicate condition to her father, Geoffrey had been only too eager to take her under his care. In exchange for hiding away her shame, her father had offered him his troops when Prince William came to England.

Life at Dartmouth was a nightmare in different shades of gray. Bleak and oppressive, it was no place to raise a child. Geoffrey wanted her for himself and he hated her for letting Edmund’s father spoil her. His words were never tender. His breath always stank of sour wine, and often the scent of sex and sweat clung to his clothes. But she didn’t hate him for those things. She hated him for hating her son.

He beckoned again, and this time she moved. He didn’t appear angry. She was grateful for that at least. It wasn’t that she was afraid of his temper. She could take the worst he had to offer. But once his mood went sour, there was no peace to be found until he retired to his bed. She did what she could to avoid another miserable day listening to him shout and spew threats at her.

“Pour us some wine, Gillian.”

She did as she was told, keeping her eyes averted from his challenging grin and lusty gaze.

“I will decline, lady. ’Tis too early in the day.”

She glanced up from the cup she offered to the mercenary and went still as her level gaze met his. Enraptured like an insect to a flame… or a pair of them, she forgot everything, including the need for breath while she stared openly at his beautiful face. His eyes were the only source of light against his dark, flinty visage. Ringed by raven lashes and painted in a dozen different shades of green and gold, they shimmered with a power that, for a moment, made her feel sorry for any who came against him. Oddly, his voice was just as beguiling. It covered her like a thick blanket, warm and husky, with a slight melodious burr belonging to the Scots. When Geoffrey announced his declaration to be nonsense, he blinked slowly, breaking the spell his penetrating gaze had cast over her.

“It is never too early to drink from my fine cellar. Isn’t that correct, Gates?” While he spoke, Geoffrey moved his palm over her knuckles and she gritted her teeth, trying not to shiver as if the cold claws of death had just come for her.

Pushing off the door, Captain Gates nodded and stepped forward to take the pitcher from Gillian and pour his own drink.

Her task done, she moved to step back, but Geoffrey’s hand on the small of her back stopped her. “Unless it is tainted with poison. Captain,” he said, without taking his eyes off hers, “you drink it first.”

Gillian wanted to laugh in his face, though the thought of poisoning him had crossed her mind a number of times. Unfortunately, there were little or no plants in the vicinity that she knew of that would do the trick. He remained silent while George downed his wine. A moment later, when the captain didn’t crumple to the floor, clutching his throat, her cousin smiled up at her. “You don’t have the courage to kill me, do you, Gillian?” He traced his fingertips over the curve of her hip, then up her arm, to a curl dangling beneath her breast.

“If that is all,” she murmured, stepping away from him and doing everything in her power not to bolt out of the solar, out of her gown, and into the nearest cesspit to cleanse herself of his touch, “I will go tend to—”

“You will remain exactly where you are, wench. And don’t speak again.” The desire in his eyes turned dark with malice.

She tightened her jaw, keeping the hatred she felt for him from spilling forth. That was what he wanted: for her to lose her control and give him an excuse to take Edmund from her. The bastard was jealous of her son—and with good reason—and since he had the power to make her worst nightmare come to pass, she did as he ordered. For the time being. Besides, she didn’t mind keeping quiet, since she had little to say to him, save to tell him to rot in hell.

“You will tend to me,” he warned her quietly. “Your bratling sleeps, does he not? And in a soft bed, because of my mercy. Do not tax me or I’ll have him put out with the horses.”

Her fists trembled at her sides, but she kept them there instead of around Geoffrey’s throat. She suspected he knew that if he harmed Edmund, she would kill him. Still, that didn’t stop him from threatening her babe every chance he found. He didn’t need her here. He had servants to do his bidding and to see to his private needs. He simply enjoyed keeping her from the one thing that gave her any joy.

“Pay no heed to my cousin.” He offered the mercenary an apologetic smile for the interruption. “She may appear a noble woman, but she is nothing more than a common whore with a bastard chained to her ankles. I was kind enough to take her in when her father cast her out and she does nothing but defy me.”

Gillian breathed slowly, willing herself not to flinch. This was nothing she hadn’t heard a dozen times before—spoken in front of anyone who cared to listen. Geoffrey did all to strip her of her dignity, even laughing when his men whispered the same. How else would any woman want him unless she was nothing more than a broken, empty shell?

Well, he was a fool if he thought she would ever become that woman.

“My lord,” Mr. Campbell said softly, “I would prefer not to speak of war in a lady’s presence.”

It must have been his sheer boldness that made Geoffrey laugh. The Highlander didn’t smile back. In fact, if not for the twitch of his tightened jaw, Gillian would have thought him to be carved in stone.

“Regardless of what you would prefer,” Geoffrey said, sobering when the mercenary didn’t share his humor, “she will remain.”

“As ye wish.” Campbell offered him a slight nod, then caught her gaze with an intensity that threatened to consume her and everything around her.

She felt George’s hand on her arm, pulling her to stand closer to him. She went without argument, lowering her gaze, sacrificing her pride for peace and quiet, for her son’s sake.

“Captain,” Geoffrey said, his anger mollified for now, “Mr. Campbell here thinks to take over my army.”

“I did not say that, my lord,” Mr. Campbell corrected him coolly.

“What then did you say?”

“I can lead ye to victory.”

“Against the king?” George put to him bluntly.

“Aye, I know the numbers of his army, his navy, and, most important, his Royal Life Guards. I know who among his highest ranking officers commands his loyalty and who does not.”

Gillian listened with one ear. As many of Geoffrey’s hired army already had, this mercenary, too, could provide her with useful information she could send to William. She’d found favor with the Dutch prince after corresponding with him for the last year. He confessed to owing her much and promised to free her and Edmund from her cousin’s care. She hoped he would keep his word. But her hope was a fragile thing. She didn’t trust men and their words. A lesson she had learned well so far.

“How do you know these things, Campbell?” Geoffrey queried, examining his fingernail.

“I fought alongside many of them as a soldier in the Life Guard.”

“Why did you leave?” Captain Gates asked.

“Because when he captured the Earl of Argyll after my cousin’s failed rebellion, the king executed him.”

Geoffrey laughed and downed his wine. “You Scots are a loyal bunch of barbarians.”

Campbell crooked his mouth ever so slightly. “Not a poor combination to have at yer back.”

“Indeed,” Geoffrey agreed and motioned to Gillian to refill his cup. “You will begin your training tomorrow. My steward will pay you at the end of each month.”

The men continued to speak about what needed to be done to restore the kingdom to its proper glory. With Geoffrey’s attention on his soon-to-be, hopeful victory over the Catholics, Gillian was free to give closer inspection to the stranger.

She liked the way he wore his dark hair sheared close to his head. It gave him a cleaner look than the rest of Geoffrey’s guardsmen. He wore no beard to catch bits of his food, but a shadow remained along his jaw, defining harsh, unrelenting lines and a slightly darker dimple in his chin. His expression didn’t change all that much whether he spoke of battle or his family in Breadalbane.

George was correct about him. He did carry a great number of weapons. There were two daggers—that she could see—tucked into each of his black leather boots. Two pistols in his belt and another dagger tied to his hip beside one of his two swords. Good Lord, was he readying for an all-out war that he meant to fight on his own?

Gillian sighed and looked toward the door, hoping Edmund hadn’t awakened yet.

A knock sounded, startling her.

“Your pardon, my lord.” Margaret, Geoffrey’s favorite serving wench, curtsied after he allowed entry. “The boy awakens.”

The boy. Even the servants didn’t give Edmund a name. Gillian nodded, thankful to be leaving. When she moved to go though, her cousin’s fingers around her wrist stayed her.

“Captain,” he said, holding her still. “See to the child. Take Campbell with you and show him his sleeping quarters. I would have a word with my cousin.” When George hesitated, Geoffrey’s expression hardened. “I’ll send for de Atre to bring her to you when I’m done with her.” When neither man moved, he stood. “Leave us!”

Gillian watched the men leave from beneath the veil of her lashes and thought for a moment that the stranger might turn and give her another look before walking out the door, but he didn’t. She watched the door close, leaving her alone with Geoffrey, his thumb sliding across her palm.

“You know, my dear”—his stale breath along her cheekbone made her want to retch—“life would be more pleasant here for you and your little bastard if you would simply submit to my requests and desires.”

When he pressed his lips to her temple, she pulled away. “And if I submit, how do you think my father would react when he learns that I carry your child?”

He laughed, cooling her blood. “Better than that commoner you let defile you. But soon, it will not matter what you or your father want. When Prince William is king he will give you to me.”

No. No, he won’t. He vowed it.

“We are cousins,” she reminded him, disgusted.

“You forget that William is wed to his cousin?”

Gillian closed her eyes to hide the moisture in them blurring her vision. She would die first. She would hurl herself into the sea, and Edmund with her, before she went to her cousin’s bed. Please God, she prayed silently. Please, please rescue us.

Chapter Three

Colin shut the door to the solar, then turned to have a look at it. Whatever was going on inside was not his concern. He’d achieved the first part of his task, and ’twas simple enough. He now belonged to Devon’s garrison. Gates had all but admitted that they planned to overtake the king—although Colin already knew as much. He would proceed with what he’d come here to do and not waste his time on other thoughts. Besides, this wasn’t the first time he’d witnessed a lass being poorly treated. He’d sat at enough tables in England’s courts and in her pubs to know that the courtly customs from his mother’s knightly tales had died long ago. He’d always remained untouched by what he saw. Granted, he’d rarely seen such fight in any lass’s eyes, or such mastery at holding her tongue. But what did it matter? He wasn’t born to save damsels in distress.

“Campbell?”

He turned away from the door and looked at the captain. Gates had been angered by the lass’s humiliation, but he hadn’t intervened. Colin wouldn’t either.

“He will not put his hands to her.”

Colin nodded and stepped away, putting aside the memory of her gazing out over the sea and the unassuming self-control she possessed not to rip out Devon’s eyes.

“He knows I will cut off his hands if he does, and yours, as well.”

Colin held up his palms, having no intention of ever touching her. Gates cared for her then. Did she go to the turret to await the return of the father of her child, or was he standing here before Colin now? It didn’t matter. The intricacies of relationships here were of no concern to him. The less he knew about any of them, the easier it would be to deceive them and to betray their trust.

Clearing his thoughts, he looked around, familiarizing himself with his surroundings. They were in the round tower. There was a stone stairwell that he knew led to the square tower, where they were heading now, and another stairwell, illuminated by daylight, leading down to the timber-framed opening outside the river. Possible entry and escape routes were vital in his line of work. The interior was smaller than Camlochlin. Dimly lit corridors led in every direction, east and west, north and south, with plenty of shadowy alcoves where one might rest and listen to covert talks about battles to come. The absence of tapestries and sufficient fires in the hearths lent to the castle’s cold ambience. The smell of ale and wine permeated the air like stale breath against a fair lady’s cheek…

“You will take your meals in the Great Hall with the rest of the garrison and Lord Devon,” Gates said, interrupting his uninvited thoughts.

“The earl eats with his men?” Colin asked him.

“It affords him a feeling of safety.”

“Does he have many enemies in the surrounding counties, then?”

“Less than he imagines. There are very few Catholics left in Cornwall and Essex.”

Aye, Colin knew that well enough after having fought in the Battle of Sedgemoor with the king’s Royal Army when they quelled the Monmouth Rebellion three years ago. So, Devon was mistrustful and mayhap overly cautious. It could serve him well to sit every night with the earl.

“You’ll be sleeping in one of the two barracks in the lower part of the square tower. Lady Gillian and her son’s rooms are on the landing above.” The captain turned to him when they entered the square tower. “You may not venture to their rooms without me. Do you understand?” He waited until Colin nodded. “I will show you to the Great Hall after I see to Edmund.”

Colin assumed Edmund was Lady Gillian’s son. Hell, why hadn’t anyone ever mentioned a lady and her babe lived here? He wasn’t so merciless to allow either to be slaughtered along with the rest of Dartmouth when he sent for his men. He would think on what to do about them later. Now he had more important discoveries to make.

“Ye are a soldier in the Royal Horse Guards,” he said, looking over Gates’s blue coat as they climbed the stairs. Unlike himself, a general in the red-coated Life Guards whose duty was to serve the king, the Blues were independent troops scattered throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland, serving Parliament.

“Did ye fight at the Battle of Sedgemoor when the Duke of Monmouth was captured then?” Colin studied Gates’s appearance more closely. They were of the same height, though the captain’s build was a bit leaner, more elegant in his crisp uniform. His hair was the same color as the sand beyond the rocky cliffs, just like hundreds of other men, Life Guards and Horse Guards alike, who had fought at Sedgemoor to protect the king. Even if they had seen each other during the battle, Colin did not recognize him, and he was fairly certain Gates did not recognize him either.

Gates shook his head as they walked together down the hall. “I did not. Though at the time, the Horse Guards did support the king.”

“How did ye come to reside here then, with mercenaries under yer command?”

The captain paused for a moment to glance at him and to consider his next words.

“I was in service to Lord Algernon Dearly, Devon’s father, for many years. I remain with his son for another purpose.”

“To lead William to victory?” Colin pressed innocently.

“No. As a chaperone to the daughter of his uncle, the Earl of Essex.”

So, the captain’s loyalty did not fall to Devon but to Lady Gillian… or her father. Essex was rumored to be a supporter of William of Orange, but Colin pressed no further, seeing that Gates was clearly uncomfortable with the topic.

The captain motioned to follow him to a door at the top of another stairway, but said nothing else. When they reached it, he pushed on the latch and stepped inside.

Colin leaned around the doorframe and looked into the room to find the bulky captain lifting a small boy from his bed with gentle, tender hands. He did not caress the child to his chest, but held him slightly away, smiling, but looking ill at ease. “We’ll keep him with us until his mother returns, and then you can fill your belly.”

Colin nodded and stepped away from the door when Gates exited, the child squirming in his outstretched hands.

“Do you have a wife?”

“No,” Colin answered, straining his voice over the lad’s wails.

“I met my Sarah in Essex. Alas, she is barren.”

That accounted for his unease with the boy. Was he not the father then? The captain was wed, but Colin knew that wasn’t enough to stop most men from taking another to their bed.

“Do you have many bastards?” The captain pulled his head back just in time to avoid a small fist to the lip.

“Only nephews that I recently visited.”

“Good. Here.” Gates shoved the boy at him. “Your first duty is to make him cease that ungodly screeching.”

Colin didn’t mind holding the lad. In fact, he’d enjoyed carrying his sister’s and brothers’ bairns around—when they let him—on his last visit to Camlochlin. “Ye don’t want to be carried, do ye, Edmund?” He set the babe on his feet and took his hand. The boy stopped crying immediately.

“No.” The child tugged on Colin’s arm, then tugged again until Colin squatted before him. “Who are you?”

His gaze level with Edmund’s, Colin was struck by the boy’s beauty. With his crown of soft yellow curls and pale blue eyes, he resembled his mother… and a chubby angel Colin had seen once in a painting in France. “I’m Colin.”

“Where’s Mummy?” Edmund lifted a dimpled fist to wipe his teary eye.

“She’ll be along any moment now. Will ye be a big lad and wait fer her?”

Edmund nodded and shoved his thumb into his mouth.

“I’m impressed,” Gates told him when he straightened.

Colin shrugged off the compliment and picked up his steps. “They don’t like to be treated like babes.”

“They grow quickly,” Gates agreed, giving the boy a loving look.

Colin followed his gaze and let it settle on Edmund’s tiny hand in his. “Shame,” he said quietly, thinking of his kin at home on Skye. He was glad he’d returned to Camlochlin before coming here. He’d never met his nephews or nieces before that day and it had pained his heart just a little that they didn’t know him. They reminded him that he was more than a warrior. He was a man. Mayhap, someday, a father. But not anytime soon.

“I’m hungry,” Edmund said over his thumb.

Colin looked down at him and rubbed his growling belly. “So am I. Would ye care to join me at the table?”

Edmund nodded and the three of them made their way down the stairs to the Great Hall.

There were still a few men loitering about when Colin and his party arrived. The fiery-haired serving girl whose gown Devon had been tugging on after his cousin left to fetch his wine earlier served them each a bowl of cold mutton stew, stale bread, and a hunk of hard cheese. They ate in silence for a good twenty breaths before Colin realized the oddity of the quiet at this table. Weren’t wee lads supposed to make a clatter? Hell, the constant noise from his nephews at his father’s table had been enough to give a man a sore head, but Edmund did not make a sound. Colin looked from the captain to the child. Edmund’s back was arrow straight in his chair. One hand was neatly tucked into his lap while he carefully spooned his stew into his mouth with the other without losing a drop down his chin. His table manners were impeccable.

Colin scowled. ’Twas unnatural. “Do ye like swords, Edmund?”

“I like puppies.”

Colin scowled harder. What good would puppies do the lad if he ever found himself pressed against a wall by an enemy’s blade? He glanced around the Hall, surprised to discover that there were no other children in attendance. Who did the boy play with? A better question… why the hell was he giving his thoughts over to things that were not important to the task at hand? He looked down at his spoon, then shoved it into his mouth. He didn’t like distractions. He didn’t like the unnatural silence even more.

Relinquishing his spoon, he slid a dagger from beneath his vest and jammed the tip into the wooden table. Gates sprang to his feet and drew his sword, but Colin held up his other palm to stave off having his throat cut while Edmund stared wide-eyed at the shiny hilt. Aye, ’twas a nice piece of metal, given to him by King Louis of France.

“Ever play Naughts and Crosses, lad?” He turned an amicable look at Gates. “ ’Tis merely a game I wish to show him, Captain.”

Edmund shook his head and watched him dig four grooves into the surface of the table—two vertical, and two horizontal.

“My nephews play this often,” Colin said, sheathing his dagger and breaking off five small chunks of bread and five pieces of cheese. He handed the cheese to Edmund and grinned at the captain, who took his seat but left his blade in his lap. “Ye will be naughts and I, crosses. I will place my bread here.” He set his piece in the center of the crisscrossed grooves. “Now ye must place yer cheese somewhere in these boxes. The first to place three in a row this way, this way, or that”—he traced a vertical, horizontal, and diagonal line with his finger—“wins. Understand?”

Edmund nodded.

“Good. Yer move.”

Edmund thought about it for a moment, then leaned over the table and set his cheese in the top left-hand corner of the makeshift board.

“Captain, ye mentioned yer wife,” Colin said, placing his bread to the right of his first piece. “Does she reside here?”

“She does not. She prefers to remain in Essex. I visit her whenever I am able.” He pointed to the game as Edmund placed his cheese left of his center bread. “What happens if neither of you is able to form a row?”

“Then ’tis a draw.” Colin placed his bread in the upper right corner, giving Edmund the win if the boy placed his next piece correctly. “Nae doubt, she will worry over ye when Prince William finally returns to our shores to claim the throne.”

“What makes you so certain he will?”

“I hope he will,” Colin said, glancing at him. “Many of us do.” ’Twas not an untruth. He wasn’t there to stop the invitation to William, but to discover as much as he could about the coming invasion. King James was wise enough to know that being well prepared for battle might be their only chance for victory. If Colin stopped whatever letters went out to William, by whoever signed them, the Dutch prince would make new plans that could take Colin years to discover.

Gates’s only response to that was a noncommittal nod. Then, “She does not worry. If the prince returns, I don’t think there will be much resistance.”

Colin smiled slightly at the makeshift board when Edmund dropped his cheese in the correct space and won the game. There would be more resistance than the captain realized. “Well done.” He gave the lad a wink and then looked up to find Lady Gillian hurrying toward the table with Lieutenant de Atre keeping close pace at her side.

Was it Lady Gillian? She looked completely transformed, wearing a smile now and glowing at her son. Colin studied her as she approached, taking in the delicate angles of her face, the shapely curves of her body softly defined in her coarse wool gown. She moved with long, purposeful strides, allowing nothing to come between her and her destination. Hell, she was bonny, with skin like ivory, smoothed and softened under a master carver’s hand. But even the defiant tilt of her chin in Devon’s solar earlier did not compare to the radiance of her unguarded, genuine smile now. The transformation made him curious about the kind of battle taking place within her. Being a soldier himself, he couldn’t help but admire the strength she’d called upon while she was being mocked earlier. That strength hardened her. But now, here she was, stripped bare of her defenses and undeniably captivating. He realized he was staring at her and blinked his gaze away, only to find Gates staring back at him.

“Did you sleep well, my darling?” Her voice was soft, as tender as a harp string.

Colin wasn’t certain if it was the sound of it, or her words that drew his gaze back to her. She had gained the seat closest to Edmund’s, opposite Colin, and took her son’s small face in her palms to kiss each cheek with loving affection. “You did not give Captain Gates a difficult time again, did you?”

“I’ve learned today,” Gates told her, “that Edmund does not like the way I carry him.”

She arched an amused eyebrow at him. “I would have thought that was obvious after three years of toting him around like a foul-smelling skunk, Captain.”

“I can be dense, lady. I would have thought that was obvious after almost four years together.”

Colin watched their interaction with a bit more than mild interest. Their gazes were affectionate but not intimate, an assessment that shouldn’t have caused him any sense of relief, but somehow did.

“He was hungry,” Gates informed her. “Mr. Campbell has been entertaining him while we supped.”

She turned her gaze to Colin, her smile still intact enough to cause his words to falter—had he been any other man. “I hope he was no trouble to you.”

“None at all,” Colin assured her magnanimously. “I’ve been teaching him Naughts and Crosses.”

“I bested him, Mummy!” Edmund turned his eyes, just as wide as his mother’s, on Colin and held up two chubby fingers. “Two times!”

Lady Gillian seemed to melt at the sight of the boy’s grin. “May I watch you best him three times?”

“Again!” Edmund squealed, snatching up his cheese.

They played another game, with de Atre joining to watch. Lady Gillian studied each move with her chin resting in her palm, taking great pleasure in her son’s intelligence when he blocked Colin’s bread. She looked only slightly unnerved when de Atre sat his arse on the table rather than in a chair and slurped up his stew. Stealing glances at her from time to time, Colin let Edmund win again before Captain Gates rose from his seat and announced it was time for Edmund’s studies.

“De Atre, show Campbell to his lodgings,” the captain commissioned. “I will be along later.”

“Let me have a go at this,” de Atre said, falling into Edmund’s chair when the lad left it and gathering up the cheese.

Colin watched Gates leave with Lady Gillian and her son, his gaze following the luminescent tumble of her blond tresses all the way to her hips.

So she was bonny and strong-willed. He knew a dozen lasses just like her. He’d never let any one of them sway his thoughts from his task. She was no different. He denied himself physical pleasure more often than most, for battle was his one true love, and victory, his mistress. He desired nothing more.

But as they were about to exit the Hall, Edmund turned and waved him farewell.

Colin smiled at him before he could stop it and waved back.

“Explain the rules to me,” de Atre said, studying the board and then Colin. “But first let me explain the rules of Dartmouth to you.”

Colin sat back in his chair and listened, not caring for the glint in de Atre’s eyes.

“Captain Gates will slice off your balls if you ever touch her.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Wise.”

“Does he love her then?”

De Atre shook his head. “No. He is burdened with the task of keeping eyes on her. She’s pleasing to the eye and Lord Devon wants to ensure that she gives birth to no more bastards while she’s here.” He set a piece of cheese in the bottom left corner and crooked his mouth into a nakedly male grin. “Not that I wouldn’t like to get her fat with my own. She’s a cold bitch, but I’m sure I could pull a few screams out of her. Repeat a word of that to Gates and I’ll have your balls.”

He winked at Colin, who fought the urge to smash the lewd lieutenant’s head against the table and use his teeth for his next move.

Colin offered him a friendly smile instead. “It seems to me that more of yer attention is paid to her than to the army we will soon face in England. Thankfully, ye’ll have William’s navy at yer back if ye’re caught off guard.”

De Atre looked up at him from the game he’d just lost and sneered. “I won’t need them. Come outside and I’ll finish showing you.”

Colin stood from his chair and swept his arm out before him. “After ye, Lieutenant.”

Chapter Four

Sunlight puddled through the sparse trees and fell on the small bench in St. Petroc’s churchyard, where Gillian sat with her son on her lap. With her lips pressed to Edmund’s downy head, she read to him from Gildas’s De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae of Aurelius Ambrosius, who fought against the invading Saxons. Her voice blended with the clank of wooden swords coming from across the yard and the gulls screeching over the crashing surf beyond the cliffs. She lifted her head and looked to where the new mercenary practiced his swordplay with Lieutenant de Atre while the others looked on blandly. A cool breeze wafted through the centuries-old cemetery, lifting her hair from her face and refreshing her as she returned to her book and softly recited Gildas’s accolades for a hero long dead. Men like Aurelius Ambrosius no longer existed, but she didn’t allow that to stop her from believing that Edmund could someday be a good and honorable man, just like him. Of course, it would help if he were being raised with the correct guidance from a good father. But if it was up to her to act as both parents, then she would.

She looked toward the lists again when she heard de Atre call out another challenge to his opponent. She didn’t hear what it was, but set her gaze to the cliffs beyond, where the crashing waves brought a smile to her face and inspired a new melody she would put to her lute later. After Edmund, her lute was the second thing she loved most at Dartmouth. She’d had it since she was a child, when she preferred practicing over more practical things like sewing and manners. She’d learned to play quickly, for everything stirred her; the twinkling of a certain star amid the rest, the gentle music of rustling leaves just before the violence of a storm. She composed melodies in her head that always moved her heart. Unlike her two older sisters, she had no use for the disingenuous structure of her noble life, with all its grand motions and meaningless encounters at this ball or that. She preferred to dream of the profound and thought she’d found it in Reggie Blount, the son of one of her father’s tenants. He wasn’t a peer, but Gillian thought him infinitely more exciting than the sons of barons and earls.

When she learned she was carrying Reggie’s child, she wept for three days before she asked herself, What is more miraculous than a babe growing in her belly? Reggie didn’t agree about it being a miracle. He called it a curse and then dashed her dreams to pieces. Oh, she mended, even after her father tossed her out. But none of it mattered when Edmund was placed in her arms. She had a son and in an instant, he gave her life a new meaning and filled her heart with joy.

She longed to give him a better, more vital life than this one, surrounded by tombstones and walls, with no men of dignity from which to learn.

But she didn’t need them. She didn’t need a husband or a father for her son. She’d given up those girlish dreams long ago. She would be whatever Edmund needed. She would do whatever she must to keep him safe, whatever it took to keep him with her. She didn’t need a hero, but she did need help… and she needed Prince William to make haste and get here.

“Mummy, I want to play with Colin.”

She stroked her son’s head and let her eyes drift to Colin Campbell again, now fighting two more soldiers.

“Perhaps later, my darling.”

She knew much about the art of battle, for while Geoffrey didn’t permit her to touch a weapon, Captain Gates did not deny her private lessons in the abandoned church. She knew how a sword should be handled for the best outcome. She surveyed the stranger. He appeared quite at ease while wielding his heavy, carved blade, though he fought mostly in defense against his three opponents. He was curious, that one, shifting from shadows to light with a slant of his lips. In Geoffrey’s solar, his steady gaze had reminded her of a wolf, the hungry kind that came silently in the dark and sank its teeth into its victim’s throat. When he played his game with Edmund though, she’d seen something else entirely, something less guarded. Both were equally alluring.

A swath of dark blue blocked her vision. She blinked up at Captain Gates and realized she had stopped reading.

“Gillian, put whatever you are entertaining away. No good can come of it.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

His broad shoulders straightened beneath his military coat, as if resolving himself to continue. “I mean Mr. Campbell. I see the way he draws your eye. There is nothing he can offer you without your cousin’s consent, and you will not get it. Consider your son and the chance that you might only end up incurring your father’s wrath once again.”

Gillian set Edmund on the bench and rose to her feet. She did not raise her voice or speak in a caustic tone. She was too hurt and insulted to feel angry. Many cold, unfeeling things were spoken to her here, but never before by her captain. “Captain, my every thought, word, and action is in consideration of my son.” She took a step closer to him and looked up into his gray-blue eyes. “And if you are going to suggest that I would cast his well-being aside for a hired henchman, please do not do so in front of him.”

He looked away, down at his boots. “My apologies.”

“Do you truly think so little of me?” she asked him, the dread of it saturating her voice. He was her only friend here in this dreary dungeon. He cared for her. He defended her when he could, but how long could any man listen to her cousin’s vile words against her without coming to believe them? Oh, she couldn’t bear the thought of George thinking poorly of her, turning his back on her, as the other men in her life had done. Was her captain capable of betraying her? Was that why she had never told him about her secret correspondence with Prince William? “Has Geoffrey’s poison infected you as well, old friend?”

“No, never,” he hastened to assure her, scowling fiercely at the unshed tears blurring her vision. “I worry over you and the boy. You mean much to me.”

Aye, he did worry over her, and with good reason, with men like de Atre snapping at her heels—directly behind her cousin. She shouldn’t doubt him. Not George.

Letting go of the matter, she reached for Edmund’s hand and then looked down when he didn’t take it. “Edmund?” Her eyes searched the churchyard, but did not see him. She turned toward the rocky bluff and her heart seized with terror. “Edmund!” she screamed and took off running.

“Edmund, come here!” The captain’s commanding tone spun her on her heel to see her son running toward the lists. She nearly fell unconscious with relief, but then she saw the danger in where he was headed. He was either too far away to hear the captain’s call, or he simply refused to obey it. Gillian wasn’t about to wait to find out which and sprinted after him. If the men didn’t see him coming… and one of them swung his weapon…

Colin Campbell reached him first. Gillian didn’t know how he managed it, but one instant he was fending off four attackers, and the next, they were picking up their swords from the ground and turning to watch him run. Scooping the child up in his arms, Colin carried him a safe distance away.

George reached them the same time Gillian did—his face, equally pale. “Boy, you know better than to walk among the men while they’re practicing!”

Gillian offered the mercenary a brief but grateful smile while she took her son from his arms. “Edmund, my heart, what have I told you about minding me and Captain Gates?”

“I wanted to play Crosses and Bread with Colin, Mummy.”

She caught the stranger’s slight smile at Edmund’s incorrect name of his game. He looked quite harmless when he smiled.

“Games!” George looked heavenward, then cast her a harder look than she was sure he had intended. “Now I understand why your cousin frowns upon them.”



Continues...

Excerpted from Conquered by a Highlander by Quinn, Paula Copyright © 2012 by Quinn, Paula. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 33 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 22, 2012

    Loved it!

    This was a great book and continuation to this series, that started with the parents and now continues with their kids, in this book, Colin MacGregor. The book does not disappoint as you find yourself in a different world with heroes and villians. I am always amazed by how immersed you become in the lives of the people in these books. Colin is in a difficult spot where Gillian is concerned, and the situation with Gillian and her son is heartbreaking. Despite Colin trying to maintain his distance, he is unable to do so because of the nature of Gillian's situation with her son, and Gillian's very cruel uncle, an Earl. This is a story of a damsel in distress, the internal struggle between doing a job versus letting go and doing what is right. A really good read and another really good book in this amazing series. Loved it and highly recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Conquered by a Highlander by Paula Quinn

    HIGHLY RECOMMEND... ADD TO YOUR "MUST READ" LIST. AWESOME !! YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PUT IT DOWN UNTIL THE LAST PAGE....PLACE IT ON THE TOP OF MUST BUY....

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

    One of the Best!

    The 4th book comes to an end, how sad! There is a short story left after this one about Finn-A Highlander for Christmas. This story about Colin is one of my favorites. So much excitement, anxious moments and much love that makes me sad this series is at an end, which means Ms. Quinn did an amazing job in telling the Children of the Mist stories. I loved Gillian, Edmund and Captain Gates character's too. I know some say the books can stand alone, but to get a true picture of all the crossover character's from all the books, I feel should be read in order. If you love Highland Romance, this is a fantastic series! ( ljb)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    CONQUERED BY A HIGHLANDER by Paula Quinn is an exciting Scottish

    CONQUERED BY A HIGHLANDER by Paula Quinn is an exciting Scottish Romance/historical romance.Book#4 in the Children of the Mist series,but can be read as a stand alone. See, “Book 1, RAVISHED BY A HIGHLANDER,In Book 2, SEDUCED BY A HIGHLANDER,and In Book 3, TAMED BY A HIGHLANDER”. What a conclusion to this fast paced,adventure filled story with characters that jump off the page and will capture your heart. Follow Lady Gillian Dearly and Colin MacGregor as they find passion,desire,love,betrayal,and bound by duty.They must navigate treachery,as Colin serves his King and brings Lady Gillian and her young son to safety. Another Scottish Romance hit for this author. “The Children of the Mist” has been a wonderful series,I hate to see the end to the MacGregor’s. What strong,sexy,tough,duty bound warriors they are and the women who love them is feisty,passion filled. What a delight to read “Conquered By A Highlander”. Ms. Quinn knows how to write Scottish romance that will pull the reader into the story and hold them there. A must read! If you enjoy Scottish highlanders,treachery,treason,warriors,feisty lasses,English lady’s,clans, and a delightful tale of love and romance, this is a title for you. Received for an honest review from Net Galley and the publisher. Details can be found at Forever, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, the author’s website,and My Book Addiction and More.


    RATING: 4

    HEAT RATING: MILD

    REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    How historic romance novels should be!!

    Conquered by a Highlander (Children on the Mist, Book #4) by Paula Quinn Rating: 4.5 Genre: Historical Romance During the reign of the Catholic King James Stewart in 1688, Colin MacGregor, a general in James's Royal army, is sent on a secret, and hopefully his last, mission to gather as much information as possible in regards to the enemy Dutch Prince, William of Orange. Under the alias Campbell of Breadalband, Colin plans on infiltrating the Garrison of the Earl of Devon in Dartmouth Castle in hopes of preventing, at all costs, the threat of a royal take-over. Yet, when confronted by the strong-willed Lady of the castle, Gillian Dearly, Colin never thought he could be so easily impressed by her no-surrender mannerism and her sweet-tempered son. Having always thought that his kin/clan, training for battle, and the "desire to conquer with a blade in his hand" were the most important parts of life, Gillian truly catches him by surprise and that seriously bothers him. Colin just isn't the type of man who rescues damsels (or their children) in distress since his sole mission is to prevent William of Orange from arriving on this English shores. Cousin to Geoffrey Dearly, the cruel Earl of Devon, Gillian Dearly is all but condemned to Hell by her father due to a past mistake (i.e. child out of wedlock). Under the protection of Captain George Gates, Gillian is attempting to properly raise and educate her three-year-old son, Edmund, while in this confining way-of-life forced upon her. Even though a new mysterious mercenary arrives at Dartmouth Castle, who adds excitement to her and Edmund's days, Gillian continues to secretly exchange correspondences with the Dutch Prince in Holland, in hopes that he can aid her in escaping this nightmarish lifestyle for a brighter future with her son. The sooner William of Orange arrives the better, since Gillian and her son are in desperate need of a rescue. In my opinion, this is how historic romance novels should be!! A rugged warrior plus a jaded lady equaling a truly refreshing tale full of suspense, great historical details, and a sweet budding romance. The overall story flowed so smoothly that I quickly found myself absorbed in the struggles of the characters late into the night. I really enjoyed the trust barriers that the protagonists had to overcome as well as their internal struggle with keeping secrets. From a readers perspective, their weaknesses really made them believable and even more likeable. The family aspect in this book was really interesting as well. It really make evident the broad range of some of the best and worst family traits: abandonment vs. compassion or arrogance vs. encouragement. All in all, a great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    Recommended

    Love this story as well as the rest of the series.
    'Laird of the Mist' will always be my fav tho..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2012

    Quinn never disappoints! This is a great finale for my favorite

    Quinn never disappoints! This is a great finale for my favorite Highland series! Start from the beginning - Laird of the Mist - and read all of them through. You won't be disappointed!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2012

    DEFINITELY RECOMMEND - LOVE THE WHOLE SERIES, ALL AS GOOD AS TEH NEXT.

    I first read one the the later books in the series and loved it so much I had to go back and read the series from the start. I loved each book as much as the previous one. So much so that I pre-ordered the new one coming out. Can't wait.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2015

    Great series!

    These books have been so good & this was a winner. P.Q. doesnt dissapoint. Waiting for more stories! Thx

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  • Posted October 28, 2013

    This was really good. Highly recommend. I've read all of the ser

    This was really good. Highly recommend. I've read all of the series and am torn as to my favorite. Love them all! Can't wait for more!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2012

    Recommend

    I enjoyed this entire series.... Best if read in order, in my opinion, but each book can easily stand alone as a good book if you like historical romance... Personally I really enjoyed them all.

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  • Posted July 1, 2012

    How can you not love this book. It was a fantastic end to all th

    How can you not love this book. It was a fantastic end to all the kid's stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    Awesome

    Another awesome book in the series! Sorry it ended. Can't wait for her next book!

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    Posted September 27, 2012

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