The Highlander

The Highlander

4.1 11
by Elaine Coffman

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When Tavish Graham stumbles upon the naked body of Sophie d'Alembert, he thinks she is dead. But it doesn't take him long to discover that Sophie is very much alive and more woman than he can handle, so he leaves her with his brother, James, the Earl of Monleigh.

Beautiful, young and French, Sophie finds herself in the wild, strange land of the Scots.

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When Tavish Graham stumbles upon the naked body of Sophie d'Alembert, he thinks she is dead. But it doesn't take him long to discover that Sophie is very much alive and more woman than he can handle, so he leaves her with his brother, James, the Earl of Monleigh.

Beautiful, young and French, Sophie finds herself in the wild, strange land of the Scots. Terrified and not willing to trust James, she fails to tell him that she is the granddaughter of Louis XIV—and that she is fleeing a forced marriage to the hated English Duke of Rockingham.

Reluctantly, Sophie begins to fall in love with the rugged Highlander. And before she can reveal the truth of her past, James discovers her royal connection, and wonders what else she is keeping from him. Can James resist her, or will he defy the might of England and France for a lover as wild and passionate as himself?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The bone-chilling dampness of Scotland and the crackle of a hearth fire are nearly palpable in Coffman's (The Italian, etc.) atmospheric 18th-century Highland romance. Desperate to escape an arranged marriage to the narcissistic English Lord Rockingham, legendary French beauty Sophie D'Alembert, granddaughter of Louis XIV, slips out of the country on a boat bound for Norway. Her circumstances change abruptly when the ship gets caught in a storm and wrecks off the coast of Scotland. Nearly dead from battling the frigid seas, Sophie is rescued by a gallant young Scotsman who entrusts her to his imposing older brother, Jamie, the earl of Monleigh. Uncertain of the earl's political leanings and unwilling to be sent back to France or to Lord Rockingham, Sophie feigns amnesia. Jamie mistrusts Sophie, but he's unable to resist his growing attraction to her. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the couple can't avoid Rockingham indefinitely. The manner in which Sophie and Jamie finally overcome Rockingham will make some readers raise their eyebrows in disbelief, but the events leading up to their confrontation are compelling. This lush, well-told tale will remind readers why the Highlands are such a popular and superb setting for romance. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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The Highlander

By Elaine Coffman


Copyright © 2005 Elaine Coffman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0778323919

Trust not the horse, O Trojans. Be it what it may, I fear the Grecians even when they offer gifts.

 — Virgil (70-19 B.C.), Roman poet.

Laocoön, from Aeneid, Book 2

Grampian Highlands, northwestern coast of Scotland, autumn 1740

She was not utterly naked. But she was damnably close.

He did not know why he chose to ride along the narrow strip of beach that day, for he usually took the winding track that curled through the rugged granite peaks nearby. Perhaps it was the working of divine providence that sent him cantering over the sand, then caused his horse to rear suddenly and turn sharply away.

Otherwise, he might have ridden right over the woman lying there.

Who was she? he wondered. Some mythological figure escaped from a Renaissance painting — one of the three Horae, perhaps? Clad only in a thin, wet shift, she lay in a cradle of rocks and sand, imbued with melancholic beauty, her body provoking, and yet chastely invisible. Still and pale, she reminded him of an ancient statue — for her beauty could have inspired some venerable sculptor to immortalize her in marble.

Tavish Graham dismounted and walked toward her, puzzled by this mysterious woman. How did she get here?

She had no name and nothing to identify her, nor was there any clue as to where she had come from — nothing, save the shift she wore and the pure lambent reality of cold, naked flesh. Incredibly young, and fair of face, she was slender as a reed, with a body to arouse envy in the female heart, and lust in her counterpart.

She did not move, even when he dropped down on his knees beside her. He put his head to her chest and listened, for he hoped to hear the beating assurance of a heart that said she lived.

He heard nothing.

He dusted the sand away and was about to listen again, when the exquisiteness of her face distracted him. She had a pureness of beauty quite unlike anyone he had seen. It brought to mind the dim, smoky light of taverns, where nudes reclined on canvas, and licentious thoughts were given free rein — to look, to touch, to make advances, or simply to toss the woman over the shoulder and carry her away.

She was far too lovely to die, he thought, as he lifted a bit of seaweed clinging to her pale lips. He inhaled sharply when he saw she was staring at him, as if just awakening from a deep sleep.

Her skin was like ice when he laid a palm along her cheek. "Who are you?" he asked. It was as if she came vividly to life before his eyes, and with elegant hands and masses of chestnut hair she modestly tried to cover her nakedness.

"Have no fear, lass. Ye are safe. I have come to help ye."

He saw a tear roll from her eye. She whispered something inaudible and closed her eyes.

She was not dead, thanks be to God, but she would be soon if he did not get her dry and warm.

He looked around him, but saw no signs of anyone having been here, nor did he see any bits of wreckage that could have come from the ship that went aground the night before.

He knew not where she came from, this nameless beauty shrouded in mystery. He only knew she had not been in the water long, or she would be dead.

Which she would be soon enough, if he did not get her warm.

He was puffing vigorously by the time he wrapped her in his plaid and carried her to his horse and placed her in the saddle. He mounted behind her and pulled her close against him, so the heat from his own body could offset the icy chill in hers.

He turned his horse, ready to continue on his way, when a moment of indecision furrowed his brow.

Where should he take her?

He feared it was too far to take her to his home at Monleigh Castle. With her so wet and cold, he doubted she would make it that far. His only hope was to make it to Danegæld Lodge. His brother Jamie had gone there two days ago to have peace and quiet.

Tavish did not stop to think how Jamie would react to having a half-drowned lass interrupt his quiet retreat, or left in his care. But then, Tavish rarely thought of such things for he was the youngest brother, and the one to use his charm to manipulate others — the one who saw his way as the right way.

Tavish turned his horse toward Danegæld and rode at a gallop, for he knew that soon the cold, dampening fog from the North Sea would begin to creep inland, and it would carry with it a cold chill.

As he rode, he thought about the woman in his arms, and the inexplicable aura that surrounded her. That he did not know her captivated him. He had been away at the university in Edinburgh for most of the past three years, so it was possible a lass or two could have escaped his attention — even one as bonnie as she.

Night descended upon them and the weather turned colder. Tavish pulled the plaid more tightly around her, until only her face and a few wet curls were visible.

"Clk…clk…" He urged his horse forward and kept up a steady pace, riding toward the dark edging of trees in the distance where a stingy moon hid behind the clouds, throwing everything below into deep shadow.

Soon, they began to climb the flanks of the mountains that rose like a buttress against the powerful North Sea, as if commanding the churning waters to come no farther.

The woman stirred and moaned something inaudible. He knew her position was not a comfortable one, but Tavish did not let a thing like pity slow him down. She needed a warm place more than she needed comfort.

Still, the knowledge that she might need soothing did not prevent him from offering a few sparse words of comfort in that awkwardly tender way men sometimes have — gentle words, gruffly spoken. "You are safe now, lass."

Her cold hand fell limply against his and he slowed long enough to tuck it beneath the plaid. Overhead, the moon outran the clouds to illuminate her blue lips, and fell with lifeless color upon a face as pale as ashes.

He could feel the cold numbness of her body reaching out to him through the plaid, and could only hope that some of his own body's warmth would pass into hers, before they both froze. He urged his horse into a faster pace.

The trail was uneven and rough, strewn with large boulders, some so close together there was barely enough room for a horse to pass through.

It slowed their progress, and his horse pricked his ears forward and stepped gingerly over the rocks, made slippery by a heavy mist that descended upon them.

Ahead of them, Tavish saw where the trail took a sharp turn and dropped steeply toward the river. Once they were around that, it would curve away and upward and they would begin to climb again.

"Hold on, lass. "Tis no' so far now."

A soft mist began to scatter droplets about, and he cursed his luck. She was wet enough. Saints above, the last thing she needed was more water.

The track dipped into a narrow ravine, and they rode along the river until they came to a shallow ford. He slowed his horse to cross with the hope no water would splash upon her, adding to her discomfort.

He paused a moment on the other side, hearing only the sound of the harsh breathing of his horse as he watched the steam rising from his wet hide. Tavish felt almost apologetic when he resumed his pace and urged his horse into a gallop along the narrow trail. He was thankful the lass in front of him slept on, for he knew if awake she would be complaining mightily.

Gradually he could feel the warmth beginning to gather between them, and he felt relieved that at least the part where their bodies touched was losing its chill. He tried to shift his position, but the lass was all dead weight.

"Och, yer a hard one to budge," he said, not really realizing he had spoken aloud until he heard her reply.

"Where are you taking me?"

Her voice was soft, and her accent went straight to his groin. Seductive as hell, it was. He glanced down at her, almost too astonished to answer.

"What difference does it make? You should be glad to go anywhere, as long as it is dry."


Excerpted from The Highlander by Elaine Coffman Copyright © 2005 by Elaine Coffman. 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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