Highland Rebel: A Tale of a Rebellious Lady and a Traitorous Lordby Judith James
In a world where family and creed cannot be trusted, where faith fuels intolerance and war, Catherine and Jamie test the bounds of loyalty, friendship, and trust...
Judith James has worked as a legal assistant, trail guide, and counselor. Living in Nova Scotia, her personal journey has taken her to the Arctic and the West Coast. Her writing combines/strong>… See more details below
In a world where family and creed cannot be trusted, where faith fuels intolerance and war, Catherine and Jamie test the bounds of loyalty, friendship, and trust...
Judith James has worked as a legal assistant, trail guide, and counselor. Living in Nova Scotia, her personal journey has taken her to the Arctic and the West Coast. Her writing combines her love of history and adventure with her keen interest in the complexities of human nature and the heart's capacity to heal.
"Ms. James makes this an unforgettable tale. " - The Romance Studio
"Upscale historical romance at its best! Highly recommended." - Historical Novel Review
"A heartwarming and daring story of the past, it's sure to please." - The Long and Short of It
"Exceptional... " - Unabashedly Bookish
"What I love about reading a Judith James book is her attention to detail. Always thorough and grabs the reader. " - Anna's Book Blog
" [T]he romance is tender, yet molten hot... Highland Rebel is a historical romance treat you won't want to miss." - Wendy's Minding Spot
"The emotion that James writes with and the ability she has to draw you into the story, making your heartbeat rapidly was just amazing." - A Journey of Books
"[A] wonderful read for those who like a little history mixed in with their romance reads." - The Burton Review
"[Jamie and Catherine's] verbal sparring, at turns funny and biting, were my favorite parts of this excellent novel. Add the sweeping vistas of the Highlands and the lush valleys of Ireland and you have a winning combination." - The Tome Traveller's Weblog
"This is one of the rare couples that I feel really develops a bond over the course of the novel that will actually last... great development of both individual characters and the relationship between them. " - Medieval Bookworm
"Ms. James, you are the queen of Pulling My Emotional Heart Strings! Thank you!" - Cindy Reads Romance
"[T]he historical details are truly excellent." - The Curious Reader
"[G]reat history, interesting characters, and a wonderful sense of adventure." - The Misadventures of a Super Librarian
"Judith James writes with meticulous detail, gleaned from intense research." - Libby's Library
"Highland Rebel is definitely a book for all those readers of Historical Romance who like their history as much as their Romance" - Dear Author
"What a lush, provocative story Judith James has written. The setting is rich with history and the characters are different from the usual fare historical romances serve up. " - Leslie's Psyche
"Highland Rebel is highly entertaining, and so very romantic... " - Drey's Library
"[A] rich, historical feel, the characters are well drawn, their emotions are palpable. " - Musings of a Bibliophile
"There are twists, upsets and adventures - enough to make Highland Rebel much more than the usual historical romance." - Starting Fresh
"[A] spellbinding historical tale that's large in scope, richly laced with adventure and the political intrigue of Cromwell's Britain and a cast of unforgettable characters - a combination that makes Highland Rebel one of the year's best historical romances. " - BookLoons.com
"Judith James created a delicious "cat and mouse" game filled with bantering back and forth between the two. " - The Book Faery
"A beautifully penned, passionate romance. " - Happily Forever After
"Highland Rebel [is] be a book that I could read again and again." - Once Upon a Romance
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Read an Excerpt
By Judith James
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Judith James
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJamie Sinclair pushed back his visor and surveyed the field. The air was crisp, sharp with the acrid smell of smoke and the bitter taste of winter. A cold sleet was falling, and icy drops of water slithered down his back. His jaw tightened with annoyance as wet strands of hair plastered against his neck. The leaden sky hung low, heavy with cloud, and a tattered curtain of smoke-tinged fog rolled across the valley, obscuring the horizon, parting now and then to reveal a grisly scene. The once bucolic setting of rolling hills, hedgerows, and square tilled fields was afire with burning buildings, and littered with the sad and twisted corpses of broken horses and men. It was peaceful in a peculiar way. Silent ... still ... and oddly serene.
The strident cries of bickering carrion birds jerked him from his reverie. He hadn't slept in over two days. Fighting a wave of dizzying fatigue, he shifted in his saddle, trying to ease the strain in his shoulders and trying his best to recall why he was there. He'd shifted allegiance and religion so many times he sometimes forgot which side he was on. What with these mad Stuart kings-Protestant one day, Catholic the next-a fellow needed to be quick. Fortunately, he was: quick witted, quick with a sword, and more importantly, quick to recognize which way the wind wasblowing. Possessed of a cynic's keen perception and willingness to shift with the political tide, he switched masters, mistresses, and religions whenever the need arose. Military prowess and ruthless charm had helped secure him a place in the court of Charles II, and they would do the same in the court of his brother, King James. He was Catholic now, and James II was his master. It mattered little to him so long as it relieved his boredom, served his best interests-and he got paid.
His decided lack of commitment in religious matters was of great concern to Father Francis, the little Spanish priest who traveled with them and imagined himself in charge of Jamie's soul. Never one to miss an opportunity to instruct, he sidled over to Jamie's side and motioned toward the battlefield below. "A great victory, my lord."
Jamie eyed the man with distaste, noting his jeweled rings and blooded mount, wondering why so many of those who made it their profession to decry the accumulation and enjoyment of worldly pleasures seemed to enjoy them so much.
"What? You mean our glorious smiting of yon farmers and sheepherders? Why do you bother me, priest? Shouldn't you be off somewhere tending to the wounded, or saying prayers for the dead?"
"I tend to the living as well. Those men were heretics and traitors. Sinners who turned their back on God's word."
"As opposed to us, Father? Godly men the lot of us. Get away from me. I've work to do."
"Have you no faith then, my lord? Are you hypocrite as well as sinner?"
"I have faith that if there is a god, he's a reasonable fellow, and not some bloody-minded fanatic who would approve of this," Jamie said, annoyed with the priest's prattling.
"Your lack of faith is the devil's work, my lord. You must strive to correct it."
"Is it, Father? Some might argue the reverse. Some might say the fervor you so admire is a devilish thing, encouraging intolerance and divisiveness and discouraging critical thought. Some might even say it's the root of much evil in the world. What do you think?" he asked with a wicked grin.
The priest blanched, crossed himself, and edged away.
"No? You don't agree?" Jamie called after him. "Run, Father! Run back and minister to Gervaise and his holy butchers and leave me in peace."
He watched with amusement as the priest hurried away, then narrowed his eyes, his gaze caught by a flash of steel and a commotion down the hill toward the river to the south. It appeared Gervaise and his men were all atwitter about something. He sighed and wheeled his mount. He supposed he'd better investigate.
The king, intent on restoring Catholic rule, and lacking the charm, wit, and political acumen of his older brother Charles, relied on intimidation and military might to guard his throne and bully his recalcitrant subjects into obedience. He'd built himself a standing army, a cause of great concern to many so soon after Cromwell's, and he wasn't above the judicious use of foreign mercenaries. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French, some were highly skilled professionals, but most were murderers and thugs.
Sent to act as nanny over just such a ragtag coalition of butchers, commissioned to hunt down Covenanters, a species of Scots Presbyterian rebel His Majesty particularly abhorred, Jamie was not to interfere with the killing and debauchery-effective tools, after all-for cowing those who would oppose their rightful rulers. His orders were to help where needed, ensure no grievous insult was given to their more important allies, and oversee the distribution of spoils, making sure His Majesty's rights were always respected.
Accountant and minder for a rabble of killers, criminals, and petty thieves. The whole business was distasteful. He'd much preferred Charles and his spaniels to the new king and his pets, but beggars can't be choosers, and he was a beggar-his ever-loving sire had seen to that.
He picked his way carefully down the hill toward the riverbank, skirting past squabbling groups of soldiers, camp followers, and ravens fighting over ragged mounds of corpses. The Scots had fought valiantly. There'd been Highlanders in the mix, he was certain of it. They'd stood out, fierce mountain men roaring their battle cries and wielding wicked claymores. Strange, that. They'd appeared from nowhere, rode screaming into battle, fought like demons, and just as suddenly melted away. Why would they come to the aid of Protestant rebels? He shook his head to clear it. It made no sense. If they had come to help, why did they leave before the battle was over? They'd stayed long enough to give even Gervaise's hardened mercenaries a fright, and then they'd disappeared like smoke into the misty hills and mountains of the Highlands and the north country, leaving the desperate Covenanters behind.
Gervaise was a butcher and a pig, but an efficient and reliable one. His men had shown the remainder no mercy. Once their savagery was loosed, they'd taken no prisoners. Jamie knew from past experience they'd be regretting it now. Simple brutes, easily entertained and just as easily bored, they'd be missing some hapless victim to torture and torment this eve. He dared to hope he might finally have a solid night's sleep, uninterrupted by the screams and pleadings of Gervaise's unfortunate captives.
Hearing the clash of steel on steel, he urged his horse forward, pushing his way through a gathering crowd. A fight between the men? No ... it appeared a good night's sleep was too much to expect. They'd found a victim. A young lad, by the look of it. Surrounded, the youth wheeled his horse in a tight circle, sword drawn, fighting to keep the jeering mob at bay. Jamie remembered him from the battle-one of the Highlanders, if he wasn't mistaken. They'd engaged in a quick skirmish before the melee had torn them apart. He'd been surprised by his opponent's agility and slight stature.
He felt a twinge of pity. The lad could hardly be more than a boy. They were playing with him like a cat with a mouse. When they tired of it, they'd strip him of his armor, strip him of his dignity, and then, very slowly, strip him of his skin. It was a harsh world, and youth and courage wouldn't save him. There was nothing Jamie could do to help. He spat and looked away. His orders were clear. He was not to interfere. His Majesty couldn't trust all who swore him allegiance, but he trusted those he was paying good coin. He needed these men.
He nudged his horse and moved away, noting with approval that Gervaise had already set the men to work making camp, though they seemed to have abandoned their duties for the moment. Placed next to the river, the camp had been well fortified, surrounded by trenches, artillery, and sentries to guard the perimeter. These men were savages, yes, vicious and venal, but they knew their business.
He could see his man Sullivan on the far bank, setting up a square-walled tent. He was an island of sanity in a sea of chaos, mud, and blood. Jamie had laughed out loud when he'd first set eyes on him. With hunched shoulders, head too big for his slight body, and a long neck that thrust forward when he walked, he'd reminded Jamie of a turkey, until he'd seen the sad, sweet face and felt ashamed to be comparing him to such an ungainly beast. A perverse impulse born of boredom, curiosity, and something he'd refused to examine had prompted him to pluck the man and his mother from a pitiful stream of Irish prisoners headed for transportation or hanging. It had proven a sound investment. Though his mother had never aspired to be anything more than an opinionated bully and an indifferent cook, Kieran O'Sullivan had become squire, butler, and friend.
Jamie closed his eyes a moment, fighting to stay awake. The sooner he was quit of this place the better. He'd return to London soon and make his report, and the last six months of fighting, filth, and blood would all be worthwhile. The king would reward him as he'd promised, binding him close, helping him find a Catholic wife, helping him find an heiress. God knew his late father hadn't, and without one, without funds, he would always be the cur of one man or another.
He urged his horse into the river and started across, looking forward to Sullivan's cooking, a pint of ale, and blessed sleep, but the sound of the crowd behind him was growing steadily louder, and halfway across he pulled up his mount and wheeled around. A large group of men were hooting and yelling, taunting the boy amidst howls of laughter, their voices shrill with excitement and something else. Wondering what was so fascinating they'd left off stripping and looting the dead, Jamie ignored his horse's impatient fretting and stayed to watch.
Their hapless captive was bound by his wrists, with another rope pulled taut around his neck. They were dragging him to the river-intent, it seemed, on drowning or strangling him. The boy was struggling for his life, but his movements only drew the thick hemp tighter, choking off his breath. He couldn't know it was a kinder fate than many that might await him. His struggles knocked his helmet from his head, and Jamie watched, stunned, as chestnut hair tumbled loose to f low past his shoulders. There was more hooting as they pulled off his breastplate. Good Christ! It was a woman! What in God's name?
Taunting and leering, they pulled her into the fast-moving river and started dragging her across.
"Have a care, boys!" Gervaise shouted from the far bank. "I promise you it's a better ride if they're still alive. The fun won't start until we've tidied up here, though, so those that's got jobs to do best get to them. The rest can escort the ... lady ... into camp."
A group of men detached themselves, grumbling under their breath, while the rest hauled the girl across the river, pulling her up by the rope around her neck when she stumbled and fell, and manhandling her gleefully in the direction of the mess tent. Jamie followed, with Sullivan, who'd rushed from the tent at his master's approach, close behind.
Coughing and retching, raging with thirst and wheezing for breath, the girl tried to swallow some water as they pulled her across the river, but the rope was too tight, and all she managed were a few drops. She'd been relieved of her weapon and armor, and as they climbed the bank and approached the center of camp, the men spun her about, pushing her from one to the other and tearing at her clothes. Dizzy and wet, she dropped to the ground and scrambled to an overturned wagon, pressing her back into it and hugging her knees, teeth chattering, lips blue with cold.
She struggled to gather her wits and catch her breath. The battle had exhausted her. She was bruised, battered, and very afraid. She prayed her uncle's men had escaped. She prayed for strength and tried to conserve what little she had left. She knew what happened to women in war. She had no illusions. What she did have was her father's dagger, thrust in her boot. When they tired of playing with her, when they moved in to take the spoils, she'd have one chance. If they wanted her they'd have to kill her, and she'd take one or more of them with her.
Jamie beckoned Sullivan, dismounted, and handed him the reins. He'd played many roles in his ill-spent youth: adventurer, gambler, courtier, and spy. Now he played the arrogant, cold-blooded aristocrat. There was nothing like disdain and a hint of menace to put a certain kind of man in his place, the kind a fellow needed to keep at his feet, lest they leap for his throat. He'd yet to assert his authority with this lot, choosing to mind his own business and let Gervaise and his men mind theirs, but he flexed it now.
She watched his approach, turning to look to her right, though she'd barely enough strength to lift her head. Fine-featured and graceful, he was tall and lean. His dark hair was tied in a queue, and he was dressed as a cavalier. He looked as if he'd just stepped from a drawing room or a dance floor, not a battlefield. As he approached, he shook out the lace from his wrists, motioning the men back with a curt wave of his fingers. Despite his languid manner, his eyes were sharp, his face was harsh, and other men moved aside when he passed. He stopped a few feet away from her, planting his sword tip in the ground, resting his hands on the pommel as if it were a walking stick. Looking down his aristocratic nose, he regarded her coldly.
She blinked, perplexed. Who was he? A dark angel? One of Lucifer's minions come to collect the dead? He was as incongruous as a f lower on a dunghill. He should have looked ridiculous, but he didn't. He looked dangerous and cruel.
Amused by her incredulous perusal, Jamie suppressed a grin, cocked his head, and examined her carefully in turn. She was wet and bedraggled, there were rope burns on her neck and wrists, and her face was battered and covered with blood. She was shivering, whether from fear or cold he couldn't tell. Despite years of hard work to suppress them, his quixotic tendencies had the rude habit of surfacing at the oddest and most inconvenient times. There was no denying the wench was a damsel in distress. He felt a twinge of annoyance. Damned foolish chit! The last thing he needed right now was complications.
The men were crowding in, grumbling and sullen, fearing he meant to rob them of their toy. He hefted his sword, testing its weight, and turned to face them, silencing their protests with a dismissive gesture. One of them left on the run, looking for Gervaise, no doubt.
Returning his attention to the woman, Jamie took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. "Sullivan!"
"Fetch food, a blanket, and water."
"Right away, sir." He got down on one knee and reached out to brush away a mat of tangled hair, trying to get a closer look. She shuddered and flinched, and he felt a stir of pity. "Easy, lass," he said softly in French. "I'm not going to harm you." Taking her by the chin with gloved fingers, he turned her face sideways, noting the livid bruise across her jaw. "Tsk, tsk." He turned her jaw the other way and a tired sigh escaped him. "What a pity. These brutes have only one way of dealing with a woman, I'm afraid. What's your name, child?"
She stared at him, blank-faced, then pulled her head away. He felt a moment's disappointment. He'd been hoping she spoke French. It would have been a sign of education, quality and breeding, something to assist him with the plan fast forming in his mind. She was likely some luckless camp follower, who'd stolen horse and sword in a desperate bid to escape.
Well, heiress or whore, it hadn't done her any good, and she was in far more trouble than she knew. Wondering if she was in shock, he tried speaking in English. "What's your name, girl?" He gave her head a shake. "Your name!"
"Catherine ... Drummond," she said through gritted teeth, then spat full in his face.
Excerpted from Highland Rebel by Judith James Copyright © 2009 by Judith James. Excerpted by permission.
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