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Highland Sinner
     

Highland Sinner

4.0 92
by Hannah Howell
 

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In her captivating new novel, New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to the stark majesty of medieval Scotland and the realm of the unforgettable Murray clan, as a seductive knight and a mysterious young woman unite to stop a murderous enemy. Contains mature themes.

Overview

In her captivating new novel, New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to the stark majesty of medieval Scotland and the realm of the unforgettable Murray clan, as a seductive knight and a mysterious young woman unite to stop a murderous enemy. Contains mature themes.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Howell delivers another Highland classic that combines humor, adventure, mystery and a touching love story." ---RT Book Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452614748
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
06/30/2014
Series:
Murray Family Series , #16
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Highland Sinner


By HANNAH HOWELL

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2008 Hannah Howell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4201-0798-2


CHAPTER 1

Scotland — Early Summer 1478


What was that smell?

Tormand Murray struggled to wake up at least enough to move away from the smell assaulting his nose. He groaned as he started to turn and the ache in his head became a piercing agony. Flopping onto his side, he cautiously ran his hand over his head and found the source of that pain. There was a very tender swelling at the back of his head. The damp matted hair around the spot told him that it had bled, but he could feel no continued blood flow. That indicated that he had been unconscious for more than a few minutes, possibly for even more than a few hours.

As he lay there trying to will away the pain in his head, Tormand tried to open his eyes. A sharp pinch halted his attempt and he cursed. He had definitely been unconscious for quite a while and something beside a knock on the head had been done to him for his eyes were crusted shut. He had a fleeting, hazy memory of something being thrown into his eyes before all went black, but it was not enough to give him any firm idea of what had happened to him. Although he ruefully admitted to himself that it was as much vanity as a reluctance to cause himself pain that made him fear he would tear out his eyelashes if he just forced his eyes open, Tormand proceeded very carefully. He gently brushed aside the crust on his eyes until he could open them, even if only enough to see if there was any water close at hand to wash his eyes with.

And, he hoped, enough water to wash himself, if he proved to be the source of the stench. To his shame there had been a few times he had woken to find himself stinking; drink and a few stumbles into some foul muck upon the street being the cause. He had never been this foul before, he mused, as the smell began to turn his stomach.

Then his whole body tensed as he suddenly recognized the odor. It was death. Beneath the rank odor of an unclean garderobe was the scent of blood — a lot of blood. Far too much to have come from his own head wound.

The very next thing Tormand became aware of was that he was naked. For one brief moment panic seized him. Had he been thrown into some open grave with other bodies? He quickly shook aside that fear. It was not dirt or cold flesh he felt beneath him, but the cool linen of a soft bed. Rousing from unconsciousness to that odor had obviously disordered his mind, he thought, disgusted with himself.

Easing his lids open at last, he grunted in pain as the light stung his eyes and made his head throb even more. Everything was a little blurry, but he could make out enough to see that he was in a rather opulent bedchamber, one that looked vaguely familiar. His blood ran cold and he was suddenly even more reluctant to seek out the source of that smell. It certainly could not be from some battle, if only because the part of the bedchamber he was looking at showed no signs of one.

If there is a dead body in this room, laddie, best ye learn about it quick. Ye might be needing to run, said a voice in his head that sounded remarkably like his squire Walter, and Tormand had to agree with it. He forced down all the reluctance he felt and, since he could see no sign of the dead in the part of the room he studied, turned over to look in the other direction. The sight that greeted his watering eyes had him making a sound that all too closely resembled the one his niece Anna made whenever she saw a spider. Death shared his bed.

He scrambled away from the corpse so quickly he nearly fell out of the bed. Struggling for calm, he eased his way off the bed and then sought out some water to cleanse his eyes so that he could see more clearly. It took several awkward bathings of his eyes before the sting in them eased and the blurring faded. One of the first things he saw after he dried his face was his clothing folded neatly on a chair, as though he had come to this bedchamber as a guest, willingly. Tormand wasted no time in putting on his clothes and searching the room for any other signs of his presence, collecting up his weapons and his cloak.

Knowing he could not avoid looking at the body in the bed any longer, he stiffened his spine and walked back to the bed. Tormand felt the sting of bile in the back of his throat as he looked upon what had once been a beautiful woman. So mutilated was the body that it took him several moments to realize that he was looking at what was left of Lady Clara Sinclair. The ragged clumps of golden blond hair left upon her head and the wide, staring blue eyes told him that, as did the heart-shaped birthmark above the open wound where her left breast had been. The rest of the woman's face was so badly cut up it would have been difficult for her own mother to recognize her without those few clues.

The cold calm he had sought now filling his body and mind, Tormand was able to look more closely. Despite the mutilation there was an expression visible upon poor Clara's face, one that hinted she had been alive during at least some of the horrors inflicted upon her. A quick glance at her wrists and ankles revealed that she had once been bound and had fought those bindings, adding weight to Tormand's dark suspicion. Either poor Clara had had some information someone had tried to torture out of her or she had met up with someone who hated her with a cold, murderous fury.

And someone who hated him as well, he suddenly thought, and tensed. Tormand knew he would not have come to Clara's bedchamber for a night of sweaty bed play. Clara had once been his lover, but their affair had ended and he never returned to a woman once he had parted from her. He especially did not return to a woman who was now married, and to a man as powerful and jealous as Sir Ranald Sinclair. That meant that someone had brought him here, someone who wanted him to see what had been done to a woman he had once bedded, and, mayhap, take the blame for this butchery.

That thought shook him free of the shock and sorrow he felt. "Poor, foolish Clara," he murmured. "I pray ye didnae suffer this because of me. Ye may have been vain, a wee bit mean of spirit, witless, and lacking morals, but ye still didnae deserve this."

He crossed himself and said a prayer over her. A glance at the windows told him that dawn was fast approaching and he knew he had to leave quickly. "I wish I could tend to ye now, lass, but I believe I am meant to take the blame for your death and I cannae; I willnae. But, I vow, I will find out who did this to ye and they will pay dearly for it."

After one last careful check to be certain no sign of his presence remained in the bedchamber, Tormand slipped away. He had to be grateful that whoever had committed this heinous crime had done so in this house, for he knew all the secretive ways in and out of it. His affair with Clara might have been short, but it had been lively and he had slipped in and out of this house many, many times. Tormand doubted if even Sir Ranald, who had claimed the fine house when he had married Clara, knew all of the stealthy approaches to his bride's bedchamber.

Once outside, Tormand swiftly moved into the lingering shadows of early dawn. He leaned against the outside of the rough stone wall surrounding Clara's house and wondered where he should go. A small part of him wanted to just go home to Dubhlinn and forget about it all, but he knew he would never heed it. Even if he had no real affection for Clara, one reason their lively affair had so quickly died, he could not simply forget that the woman had been brutally murdered. If he was right in suspecting that someone had wanted him to be found next to the body and be accused of Clara's murder, then he definitely could not simply forget the whole thing.

Despite that, Tormand decided the first place he would go was his house. He could still smell the stench of death on his clothing. It might be just his imagination, but he knew he needed a bath and clean clothes to help him forget that smell. As he began his stealthy way home Tormand thought it was a real shame that a bath could not also wash away the images of poor Clara's butchered body.


"Are ye certain ye ought to say anything to anybody?"

Tormand nibbled on a thick piece of cheese as he studied his aging companion. Walter Burns had been his squire for twelve years and had no inclination to be anything more than a squire. His utter lack of ambition was why he had been handed over to Tormand by the same man who had knighted him at the tender age of eighteen. It had been a glorious battle and Walter had proven his worth. The man had simply refused to be knighted. Fed up with his squire's lack of interest in the glory, the honors, and the responsibility that went with knighthood Sir MacBain had sent the man to Tormand. Walter had continued to prove his worth, his courage, and his contentment in remaining a lowly squire. At the moment, however, the man was openly upset and his courage was a little weak-kneed.

"I need to find out who did this," Tormand said and then sipped at his ale, hungry and thirsty but partaking of both food and drink cautiously for his stomach was still unsteady.

"Why?" Walter sat down at Tormand's right and poured himself some ale. "Ye got away from it. 'Tis near the middle of the day and no one has come here crying for vengeance, so I be thinking ye got away clean, aye? Why let anyone even ken ye were near the woman? Are ye trying to put a rope about your neck? And, if I recall rightly, ye didnae find much to like about the woman once your lust dimmed, so why fret o'er justice for her?"

"'Tis sadly true that I didnae like her, but she didnae deserve to be butchered like that."

Walter grimaced and idly scratched the ragged scar on his pockmarked left cheek. "True, but I still say if ye let anyone ken ye were there ye are just asking for trouble."

"I would like to think that verra few people would e'er believe I could do that to a woman e'en if I was found lying in her blood, dagger in hand."

"Of course ye wouldnae do such as that, and most folk ken it, but that doesnae always save a mon, does it? Ye dinnae ken everyone who has the power to cry ye a murderer and hang ye and they dinnae ken ye. Then there are the ones who are jealous of ye or your kinsmen and would like naught better than to strike out at one of ye. Aye, look at your brother James. Any fool who kenned the mon would have kenned he couldnae have killed his wife, but he still had to suffer years marked as an outlaw and a woman-killer, aye?"

"I kenned I kept ye about for a reason. Aye, 'twas to raise my spirits when they are low and to embolden me with hope and courage just when I need it the most."

"Wheesht, nay need to slap me with the sharp edge of your tongue. I but speak the truth and one ye would be wise to nay ignore."

Tormand nodded carefully, wary of moving his still aching head too much. "I dinnae intend to ignore it. 'Tis why I have decided to speak only to Simon."

Walter cursed softly and took a deep drink of ale. "Och, a king's mon nay less."

"Aye, and my friend. And a mon who worked hard to help James. He is a mon who has a true skill at solving such puzzles and hunting down the guilty. This isnae simply about justice for Clara. Someone wanted me to be blamed for her murder, Walter. I was put beside her body to be found and accused of the crime. And for such a crime I would be hanged — so that means that someone wants me dead."

"That is true enough. Nay just dead, either, but your good name weel blackened."

"Exactly. So I have sent word to Simon asking him to come here, stressing an urgent need to speak with him."

Tormand was pleased that he sounded far more confident of his decision than he felt. It had taken him several hours actually to write and send the request for a meeting to Simon. The voice in his head that told him to just turn his back on the whole matter, the same opinion that Walter offered, had grown almost too loud to ignore. Only the certainty that this had far more to do with him than with Clara had given him the strength to silence that cowardly voice.

He had the feeling that part of his stomach's unsteadiness was due to a growing fear that he was about to suffer as James had. It had taken his foster brother three long years to prove his innocence and wash away the stain to his honor. Three long, lonely years of running and hiding. Tormand dreaded the thought that he might be pulled into the same ugly quagmire. If nothing else, he was deeply concerned about how it would affect his mother, who had already suffered too much grief and worry over her children. First his sister Sorcha had been beaten and raped, then his sister Gillyanne had been kidnapped — twice — the second time leading to a forced marriage, and then there had been the trouble that had sent James running for the shelter of the hills. His mother did not need to suffer through yet another one of her children mired in danger.

"If ye could find something the killer touched we could solve this puzzle right quick," said Walter.

Pulling free of his dark thoughts about the possibility that his family was cursed, Tormand frowned at his squire. "What are ye talking about?"

"Weel, if ye had something the killer touched we could take it to the Ross witch."

Tormand had heard of the Ross witch. The woman lived in a tiny cottage several miles outside of town. Although the townspeople had driven the woman away ten years ago, many still journeyed to her cottage for help, mostly for the herbal concoctions the woman made. Some claimed the woman had visions that had aided them in solving a problem. Despite having grown up surrounded by people who had special gifts like that, he doubted the woman was the miracle worker some claimed her to be. Most of the time such witches were simply aging women skilled with herbs and an ability to convince people that they had some great mysterious power.

"And why do ye think she could help if I brought her something touched by the killer?" he asked.

"Because she gets a vision of the truth when she touches something." Walter absently crossed himself, as though he feared he risked his soul by even speaking of the woman. "Old George, the steward for the Gillespie house, told me that Lady Gillespie had some of her jewelry stolen. He said her ladyship took the box that the jewels had been taken from to the Ross witch and the moment the woman held the box she had a vision about what had happened."

When Walter said no more, Tormand asked, "What did the vision tell the woman?"

"That Lady Gillespie's eldest son had taken the jewels. Crept into her ladyship's bedchamber whilst she was at court and helped himself to all the best pieces."

"It doesnae take a witch to ken that. Lady Gillespie's eldest son is weel kenned to spend too much coin on fine clothes, women, and the toss of the dice. Near every mon, woman, and bairn in town kens that." Tormand took a drink of ale to help him resist the urge to grin at the look of annoyance on Walter's homely face. "Now I ken why the fool was banished to his grandfather's keep far from all the temptation here near the court."

"Weel, it wouldnae hurt to try. Seems a lad like ye ought to have more faith in such things."

"Oh, I have ample faith in such things, enough to wish that ye wouldnae call the woman a witch. That is a word that can give some woman blessed with a gift from God a lot of trouble, deadly trouble."

"Ah, aye, aye, true enough. A gift from God, is it?"

"Do ye really think the devil would give a woman the gift to heal or to see the truth or any other gift or skill that can be used to help people?"

"Nay, of course he wouldnae. So why do ye doubt the Ross woman?"

"Because there are too many women who are, at best, a wee bit skilled with herbs yet claim such things as visions or the healing touch in order to empty some fool's purse. They are frauds and of times what they do makes life far more difficult for those women who have a true gift."

Walter frowned for a moment, obviously thinking that over, and then grunted his agreement. "So ye willnae be trying to get any help from Mistress Ross?"

"Nay, I am nay so desperate for such as that."

"Oh, I am nay sure I would refuse any help just now," came a cool, hard voice from the doorway of Tormand's hall.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Highland Sinner by HANNAH HOWELL. Copyright © 2008 Hannah Howell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.

Meet the Author

Hannah Howell is the New York Times bestselling author of over forty historical romance novels, including the Highland Brides series and the Wherlocke series. A two-time recipient of the Golden Leaf Award, she has been a RITA Award finalist and has garnered several awards from Romantic Times magazine.

Angela Dawe is originally from Lansing, Michigan, and currently calls Chicago home. In addition to audiobook narration, she has worked in film, television, theater, and improvisational comedy.

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Highland Sinner 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 92 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1478 Scotland, Tormand Murray is used to waking up with a hangover and a woman. However, a different type of ache in his head and the smell wake him up this time. His head has a large bump from where he either banged it or someone banged him; the smell comes from the woman sharing his bed as he recognizes the odor of death. Someone murdered his companion.

The witch Morainn Ross has been haunted of late by visions of murder and a hunk with two different eye colors. When she meets a bewildered Tormand she recognizes him as the man of her dreams. Tormand knows immediately the witch is his life mate. He needs to persuade his beloved they belong together and while keeping her safe investigate the homicide of his bed companion starting with how he got there and just who she is.

The latest Highland romance is a fun fresh tale that contains the usual premise of a wild Murray male meeting a brave female and knowing his true love instantly. The story line is refreshed by the homicide inquiry that is part dangerous, part loving and part amusing as if the Thin Man and his wife went back to the fifteenth century. Fans will enjoy Hannah Howell¿s Highland romance.

Harriet Klausner
wordwizard More than 1 year ago
Any book by Ms. Howell is a very good read. She fleshes out the characters fully, I can almost see them. Her story is always full bodied. This reader is an avid fan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One the best books I have read. Love the characters. Lots of adventure with a little supernatural thrown in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of Hannah Howell's since "Elfking's Lady", which I read when I was about eighteen, I am now in my thirties and still reading her novels. She has a wonderful ability to entrance the reader and keep them on the edge of their seat with her characters' adventures. I run to the book store to buy anything new that she has written, and am never disappointed. I love the scottish romance and the use of the scottish brogue makes the story that much more authentic to those times in history. Keep writing hannah, and I will keep reading!
MyBookAddictionandMore 9 days ago
Highland Sinner by Hannah Howell is #16 in her fascinating "Murray Family" series, but can be read as a stand alone. This is the story of Sir Tormand Murray, a rogue, who is being hunted for killings he did not commit. Whoever, is committing these crimes is out to have Tormand hanged. And, Morainn Ross, branded as a witch, a recluse with the gift of second sight. She and Tormand become instantly attracted after a horrific scene of a terrible crime. What they find together is danger, passon and strength. But will they be able to save each other from the rage, revenge and slight of another, from the one who is causing such distress and destruction to the village. Killing women who may have been one of Tormand's lovers in horrific deaths, by torture and destroying their beautiful faces and souls. But who could be causing such maliciousness and death throughout this small village. Easy to read, fast paced, heart-pounding story of secrets, twists and turns, treachery, betrayal and love. Hannah Howell is well known for her Scottish Romance, her vivid descriptions, her captivating characters and her intriguing storyline. She never disappoints me and I certainly found "Highland Sinner" a touching story with many surprises and an uplifting ending. An enjoyable and satisfying read! I received a complimentary copy. Rating: 4 Heat rating: Mild Reviewed by: AprilR
sportochick 5 months ago
Way before I wrote book reviews I feel in love with Hanna Howell's books but unfortunately I haven't read any recently, though I keep buying them and adding them to my To Be Read Book List. So I was excited to read this book and see what was up with the Murray Family. Author Hannah Howell continually surprises me with the variety of her stories. I can never get bored and this is why she is on my Must Read Authors list. Morainn Ross was perfect. Her strength of character and how she survived ostracization shows women that it it possible to be strong and stay true to oneself against all odds. Throughout the book she keeps her wits about her and though she becomes afraid she remains strong to her core. This is truly a women to admire and exemplify. This book had a little bit more violence than I like to read but it was so well written that I couldn't quit reading it. It wasn't the main focus of the story but it did a great job of setting up the plot. Sir Tormand Murray sure ah....liked his women and there was a part that had me laughing at his lack of control when they were around. But it was enduring to see how his family members and friends ribbed him about this and how the chain of events changed his life. I give this 4-1/2 STARS for it's ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout the book and it is quite a ride. Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
Dawncatlady 5 months ago
The reader is swept back to Scotland of the past to the world of the Murrays. Tormand is framed for a murder and must prove his innocence while on the run where he encounters Morainn Ross who may be the answer to his quest with her talents of seeing. Love the interactions of characters and the suspense and always enjoy this author. Ebook from Netgalley and publishers with thanks. Opinions are entirely my own.
TammyS32 6 months ago
This was a great addition to the Murray Family Series. I loved the characters as well as the story. Hannah never disappoints. The story was fast paced with lots of drama and suspense. The characters are fun and all alpha sexy. Morainn is a wonderful heroine, so kind and caring. I was hooked from beginning to end, excellent read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nothing much happened.
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Sentences too wordy. Good story line and live her Highlanders but sonetimes her sentences are repitious. Will always read her books though.
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You really must read this book. Its funny, romantic, and is simply put a damn good book.
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J-Rae More than 1 year ago
All of Hannah Howell books are great. The story of Tormand and Moriann is so interesting. There are many trials they must overcome to be together. Hannah Howell is a great story teller. I know when I get her books they will be interesting to read.
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