The Weddingby Julie Garwood
Journeying from England to Scotland, Lady Brenna has resigned herself to an arranged match with a highlander. But when a band of fierce, painted warriors captures her en/b>/i>
#1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood brings the soaring adventure, love and rivalry of medieval Scotland to glorious life in this classic historical romance.
Journeying from England to Scotland, Lady Brenna has resigned herself to an arranged match with a highlander. But when a band of fierce, painted warriors captures her en route, she fearlessly meets their demand to instead marry their leader—her betrothed’s sworn enemy—the quick-tempered Connor MacAlister.
Brenna harbors no illusions that her husband is in love with her, but their shared past gives her hope. Maybe the laird who once visited her father’s castle and charmed her with a dazzling, unexpected smile remains underneath Connor’s stern exterior.
But as she sets out to win the man whom she has come to adore, a legacy of revenge ensnares Brenna in a furious clan war—and only her faith in her new husband can save her...
Includes an excerpt of another beloved Julie Garwood highland romance, The Bride
Praise for #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Julie Garwood
“[Garwood] attracts readers like beautiful heroines attract dashing heroes.”—USA Today
“Julie Garwood creates masterpieces every time she writes a book.”—The Kansas City Star
“The talented Ms. Garwood keeps you enthralled.”—Rendezvous
“Undoubtedly Garwood is a pro.”—Kirkus Reviews
“If a book has Julie Garwood’s name on it, it’s guaranteed to be a meticulously written...and thoroughly engaging story.”—Sun Journal (ME)
Rendezvous "Her gifted prose is always a treat."
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Read an Excerpt
What a great time it is for booklovers. There are so many ways for us to read books from our favorite authors these days. Until recently, I never left home without a book in my bag. Now, thanks to my e-reader, I can carry hundreds with me.
My contemporary novels have all been formatted as e-books, and I’m delighted that most of my earlier historicals can now be downloaded, too. I had so much fun writing these stories, and I hope you enjoy them.
I am often asked which of my books is my favorite. It’s difficult to pick favorites. Whatever book I am writing has my undivided attention, so my favorite characters are usually the ones I am spending the most time with. For that reason, I am most excited about Sweet Talk, which Dutton will publish in August 2012. So before you dip into this earlier book of mine, I have included the first chapter of Sweet Talk here. It is the only place you can get a sneak peek at my new book, and I hope you love these characters as much as I do. As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts about all of my novels on Facebook or on my website (www.juliegarwood.com).
I am grateful that you have purchased this book, whatever the format. Happy reading!
Olivia MacKenzie was certain she would have been offered the job if she hadn’t punched the boss during the interview. But knocking the man senseless turned out to be a real deal breaker.
The CEO of one of the largest investment firms in the country, Eric Jorguson, was now being questioned by an FBI agent. He wasn’t cooperating. The agent had taken Jorguson to the opposite side of the terrace and was trying to get him to calm down and answer his questions. Jorguson was busy screaming at Olivia, threatening to have her killed and also sue her because she’d broken his jaw. She hadn’t done any such thing, of course. The man was exaggerating. She’d smashed his nose in, not his jaw. A waiter wearing the name tag TERRY pinned to his black vest stood next to her trying to soothe what he referred to as her extreme case of nerves. She wanted to punch him, too.
“You’re in shock,” he told her. “That’s why you look so calm. The guy tears your dress and gropes you, and it’s only natural for you to go into shock. Don’t you think? That’s why you’re not crying and carrying on.”
Olivia looked at him. “I’m fine, really.” Now please leave me alone, she silently added.
“Hey, look,” Terry said. “They’re arresting Jorguson’s bodyguard. What’s the guy doing with a bodyguard, I wonder.” A few seconds later he answered his own question. “He must need one. Especially if he attacks other women the way he attacked you. You think you’d like to go out with me sometime?”
She smiled to ease the rejection. “I don’t think so.”
“You’re still in shock, aren’t you?”
Olivia was angry, not hysterical. She stood by the table with her arms folded across her waist as she patiently waited for the FBI agent to get to her. She had been told it wouldn’t take long.
Terry tried twice more to engage her in conversation. She was polite but firm each time he attempted to get personal.
She watched the agents while she tried to figure out how she had gotten into this bizarre situation. Job hunting wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. She had already interviewed with three other Fortune 500 companies without incident. Before she had gone to those interviews, however, she had done quite a bit of research. She didn’t have that luxury with Jorguson Investments. Because the position had just become available, she’d had less than a day to study the company’s prospectus. She should have looked more closely before she agreed to the preliminary interview. Should have, could have, she lamented.
She hated job hunting and all the inane interviews, especially since she really liked her current job and the people she worked with. But there was talk of cutbacks. Serious talk, and according to some of the other employees, Olivia didn’t have seniority. She would be one of the first laid off. It was important to her that she stay in her current job until she accomplished what she had set out to do, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. The only constant in Olivia’s life right now was the mortgage. It had to be paid, no matter what, which was why she had to have job options.
She had gone to the office an hour earlier than usual this morning, finished two case files by noon, and headed over to Seraphina, a lovely restaurant with a stunning view. The five-star restaurant overlooked a manicured terrace, with tables strategically placed under a canopy of tree branches. Beyond was the river. Lunch was going to be a treat. She’d never dined at Seraphina because of the expense, but she’d heard that the food was wonderful. Grossly overpriced, but wonderful. No peanut butter and jelly sandwich today.
The hostess showed her to a table on the south side of the terrace. It was such a beautiful day with just a slight nip in the air, perfect for lunch outside.
The preliminary interview with Xavier Cannon, the company’s lead attorney, had gone well, she thought, but he hadn’t answered some of her more pressing questions and had suggested instead that she ask Jorguson. Cannon also mentioned that, if Jorguson liked her, he would offer her the job during lunch.
Jorguson was waiting for her. She spotted him across the busy terrace. He held an open folder in his hand and was reading a paper inside it. As she drew closer she could see that it was her résumé.
For about twenty seconds she thought he was quite a charmer and a rather distinguished-looking man. He was tall and thin and had a bright, white smile.
He stood and shook her hand. “Bring the lady a drink,” he snapped impatiently to a passing waiter.
“Iced tea, please,” she said.
The waiter had already moved her chair for her, and she sat before Jorguson could come around the table to assist her.
Jorguson’s cell phone rang, and without offering an apology or an excuse for the interruption, he turned his back to her and answered. His voice was low and angry. Whoever he was talking to was getting a dressing-down. His vocabulary was crude.
So much for charming, she thought. She tried to focus on her surroundings while she waited. The linen tablecloth draped all the way to the ground, and in the center of the round table was a crystal bowl of fresh-cut flowers in every color. She looked around her and smiled. It was a really pretty day.
Jorguson finished his call. He slipped the phone into his suit jacket and gave her his full attention, but the way he was staring at her quickly made her uncomfortable. She was about to ask him if something was wrong when he said, “You’re stunning. Absolutely stunning.”
“You’re very beautiful,” he said then. “Xavier mentioned how pretty you were, but I still didn’t expect . . . that is to say, I wasn’t prepared . . .”
Olivia was horrified by his close scrutiny. His leering inspection made her skin crawl. Jorguson wasn’t just unprofessional; he was also creepy. She opened her linen napkin and placed it in her lap. She tried to turn his attention so he would stop gawking at her.
Typically she would have waited for him to lead the questioning, but the awkward silence and his inappropriate behavior compelled her to speak first.
“This morning I had a few minutes, and I pulled up your prospectus. Your company is quite impressive,” she said. “But there was a note that last year you were investigated by the FBI—”
He rudely cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Yes, but of course nothing came of it. It was simple harassment.” He continued, “They didn’t like some of my clients and wanted to make trouble, which was ridiculous. I should have sued, but I didn’t have the time.”
Sue the FBI? Was he serious or just trying to impress her with his power. His arrogance was overwhelming.
“You’re a brand-new attorney, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Only two people ranked higher than you on the bar. I cannot tell you how remarkable that is. Still, you don’t have much experience with contracts.”
“No, I don’t,” she agreed. “How did you find out about my scores? That’s confidential—”
He waved his hand in the air again, dismissing her question. The gesture irritated her. She admitted then that pretty much everything about the man irritated her.
“There were quite a few others who applied for the position, and most of them have more experience than you, but when I discovered you were Robert MacKenzie’s daughter, I moved you to the top of the list.”
“You know my father?” She couldn’t hide her surprise.
“Everyone who’s anyone knows who your father is,” he replied. “I know people who have invested in your father’s Trinity Fund and have made a handsome profit. Very impressive,” he stated with a nod. “I’m considering adding the fund to my own portfolio. No one plays the market like your father does. He seems to have a knack for choosing the right investments. If you’re half as clever as he is, you’ll go far, young lady.”
Olivia wasn’t given time to respond. He’d already moved on. “You’ll be wonderful working with our clients. With that smile of yours, you could get them to sign anything. Oh yes, they’ll be as dazzled by you as I am,” he gushed. “And I have several powerful clients. Xavier will guide you. Now then, what questions do you have for me? I have a potential client meeting me here at one, so this will have to be a quick lunch.”
“Did the SEC investigate when—”
He interrupted. “No, the SEC will never investigate me,” he boasted. “I’m protected there.”
“You’re protected? How?”
“I have a friend, and he has assured me . . .”
Her eyes widened. “You have a friend at the Securities and Exchange Commission?”
Color crept up his neck. His eyes darted to the left, then to the right. Was he checking to make sure no one was listening to the conversation?
He leaned into the table and lowered his voice. “I don’t have any worries there. As I just said, I won’t be investigated, and since you’re going to be working closely with me, I don’t want you to be concerned.”
Working closely with him? That thought made her cringe.
“About this friend . . .” she began.
“No more questions about the SEC,” he snapped. He wasn’t looking into her eyes now. He was staring at her chest. The longer he stared, the more indignant she became. She considered snapping her fingers several times in front of his eyes to get his attention but, wanting to remain composed and professional, decided to ask a question about the investments he’d made.
Jorguson was slick; she’d give him that much. He danced around each question but never really gave her any satisfactory answers.
The topic eventually returned to the SEC. “Who is your contact?” she asked, wondering if he would tell her. He was so smug and arrogant, she thought there was a good chance he might. She also wanted him to assure her that everything he did was legal, and she thought it was odd that he hadn’t offered any such affirmation.
“Why do you want to know? That’s confidential information.”
He was staring at her chest again. She folded her napkin, smiled at Terry the waiter when he placed her iced tea in front of her, and handed him her menu.
“I won’t be staying for lunch.”
The waiter hesitated, then took her menu, glanced at Jorguson, and walked away.
Olivia was disheartened. The salary at Jorguson Investments was good, really good, but it had taken less than five minutes to know she couldn’t work for this man.
What a waste of time, she thought. And money. She could have worn one of her old suits, but she’d wanted to stand out, so she bought a new dress. It was expensive, too. She loved the fit and the color, a deep emerald green silk. It had a high V-neck, so there was no need to wear a necklace. Diamond stud earrings, which were so tiny you could barely see the sparkle, and a watch were her only jewelry. She wore her hair down around her shoulders and had taken the time to use a curling iron.
Olivia looked at Jorguson. The degenerate was still staring at her chest. And for this she had curled her hair?
“This isn’t going to work,” she said.
She tried to stand. Jorguson suddenly bolted upright, grabbed the top of her dress, and ripped it apart. The silk material tore, exposing her collarbone and part of her black bra.
Appalled, she slapped Jorguson’s hands away. “What do you think—”
“Are you wearing a wire? You are, aren’t you? That’s why you asked me who my contact was. That investigation stalled, sweetheart. It’s not going anywhere. The FBI’s been after me for two years now, and they’ve got nothing. I know for a fact they’re following me. They won’t ever get anything on me. They like to go after successful entrepreneurs. I’m an honest businessman,” he shouted into her chest. “Now where’s the damn wire? I know it’s in there somewhere.”
Olivia was so shocked by his behavior, she bounced between disbelief and outrage. She shoved his hands away, pulled her top together, and said, “If you try to touch me again, you’ll regret it.”
He tried again, and she retaliated. She heard a crunching sound when she punched him and felt a good deal of satisfaction. It was short-lived. A giant of a man with a thick neck and bald head appeared out of nowhere. He was wearing a tailored black suit, but he looked like a thug. He was at the other end of the terrace and heading toward her. As Jorguson was screaming and holding his nose with one hand, he was waving to the big man and pointing at Olivia with the other.
“Martin, see what she did to me?” he howled. “Get her, get her.”
Get her? Was he twelve? Olivia could feel her face turning red. She kept her attention centered on the bodyguard as she jumped to her feet. His suit jacket opened, and she saw a gun. He hadn’t reached for it, though, and was glancing around to see how many people were watching.
She was in trouble, all right. She thought about taking off one of her stiletto heels and using that as a weapon, but she decided she could do more damage with it on. She spied Terry watching from the doorway with a cell phone to his ear. She hoped he was calling the police.
“Do you have a permit to carry that gun?” she demanded of the bodyguard, trying to make her voice sound as mean as possible. Now, why, in God’s name, had she asked that? What did she care if he had a permit or not? She was slowly slipping her hand inside her purse to get to her pepper spray. She couldn’t find it and realized then that, when she’d changed purses, she’d left the spray at home on her bedside table. A lot of good it would do her there.
The thug named Martin, zigzagging around the tables, was getting closer. The man was built like a sumo wrestler. Olivia figured she was on her own. The other diners were already beginning to scatter. She stepped back from the table, dropped her purse into the chair, and waited for the man to reach her. If he touched her, she’d kick him where it mattered most, and if he blocked her, she’d go for his knee or his midsection.
Jorguson, holding his bloody nose, was backing away but still pointing at her and shouting. “How dare you touch me. You’re going to be sorry. I know people who will hurt you. You don’t hit me and get away with it. Don’t you know who I am and what I can do? One phone call is all it will take,” he screamed. “You’re a dead woman, Olivia MacKenzie. Do you hear me? A dead woman.”
Of course she’d heard him. She thought everyone within a ten-block area had heard him. She refused to give him any satisfaction by reacting, though, and that was probably why he was becoming more outrageous with his threats.
Her attention remained centered on the bodyguard. She thought he would do his best to intimidate her in front of his employer, maybe even try to get her to apologize to Jorguson—hell would freeze before she’d do that—but he surely wouldn’t touch her. Not in front of all these people.
Or maybe he wouldn’t care who was watching. Jorguson had shouted his intent to have her killed. Would this bodyguard try to top that crazy threat?
There was a wall of windows in the restaurant facing the river, and diners were crammed together, their faces plastered to the glass. Some had their cell phones glued to their ears; others were using the cell phone cameras to record the incident . . . for YouTube, no doubt. Certainly, most of them had witnessed Jorguson ripping her dress and then screaming after she’d punched him. The man had howled like an outraged hyena. Surely they’d heard his ridiculous threats, too.
The bodyguard took Jorguson’s orders to “get her” to heart. He lunged. He grabbed her upper arm and twisted as he jerked her toward him. Pain shot up into her neck and down to her fingers. His grip was strong enough to break her bone.
He glanced over his shoulder at the crowd before turning back to her. “You’re coming with me,” he ordered.
A woman rushed out of the restaurant shouting, “You leave her alone.” At the same time, two men in business suits ran past the woman to help Olivia.
“Let go of me,” she demanded as she slammed the heel of her shoe into the top of his foot.
He grunted and let go. Olivia got in a solid kick, and he doubled over. But not for long. He quickly recovered and, roaring several grossly unflattering names at her, straightened and reached for his gun. His face was now bloodred.
Good Lord, was he going to shoot her? The look in his eyes suggested that he might. Apparently, Martin had forgotten his audience, or he no longer cared he was being watched. His impulse control had vanished. He had the most hateful look on his face as he pulled the gun from the waistband of his pants. The two businessmen coming to her aid stopped when they spotted the weapon.
“I said you’re coming with me,” he snarled as he lunged.
“No, I’m not.” She threw a twelve-dollar glass of iced tea at him. He ducked.
“Bitch.” He spit the word and tried to grab her again.
“I’m not going anywhere with you. Now get away from me.”
The gun seemed to be growing in his hand. She backed away from him, and that infuriated him even more. He came at her again, and before she could protect herself, he backhanded her. He struck the side of her face, his knuckles clipping her jaw. It was a hard hit and hurt like hell. The blow threw her backward, but even as she was falling, she didn’t take her eyes off the gun.
She landed on her backside, winced from the impact on her tailbone, and quickly staggered to her feet.
She understood what the expression “seeing stars” meant. Dazed, she tried to back away.
The thug raised his gun again, and suddenly he was gone. Olivia saw a blur fly past her, tackling the bodyguard to the ground. The gun went one way, and the thug went the other, landing hard. Within seconds her rescuer had the man facedown on the grass and was putting handcuffs on him while reading him his rights. When he was finished, he motioned to another man wearing a badge and gun who was rushing across the terrace.
With one of his knees pressed against the bodyguard’s spine, the rescuer turned toward her. She suddenly felt lightheaded. She could have sworn she saw an ethereal glow radiating all around him and the sound of a singing choir echoing overhead. She closed her eyes and shook her head. The blow to her jaw must be making her hallucinate. When she opened her eyes again, the vision and the choir were gone, but the man was still there, looking up at her with beautiful hazel eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked as he hauled the bodyguard to his feet.
“Olivia MacKenzie,” she answered. She sounded bewildered, but she couldn’t help that. The last few minutes had been hair-raising, and she was having trouble forming a clear thought.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Agent Grayson Kincaid. FBI. Are you all right?”
“I’ve been better.”
“Maybe you should sit down.”
The bodyguard finally found his voice. “I was protecting my boss.”
“With a Glock?” Kincaid asked. “And against an unarmed woman?”
“She kicked me.”
A hint of a smile turned his expression. “Yeah, I saw.”
“I’m bringing charges.”
“You attacked her,” Kincaid snapped. “If I were you, I’d be real quiet right now.”
The bodyguard ignored the suggestion. “Mr. Jorguson has known for a long time that the FBI has been tailing him and listening in on his private conversations. What you’re doing is illegal, but you people don’t play by the rules, do you?”
“Stop talking,” Kincaid said.
Another agent grabbed hold of the bodyguard’s arm and led him away. He didn’t go peacefully. He was shouting for a lawyer.
“Hey, Ronan,” Kincaid shouted.
The agent dragging the bodyguard away turned back. “Yeah?”
“Did you see it?”
Ronan smiled. “Oh yeah, I saw it all. After I put this clown in the back of the car, I’ll go get Jorguson.”
Olivia glanced around the terrace. In all the commotion she hadn’t seen him slip away.
Kincaid nodded, then turned back to her.
“The gun is under the table,” she offered.
“I’ll get it,” Kincaid said.
He walked over to her, and she flinched when he reached out to touch her. Frowning, he said, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to see how bad it is.”
“It’s fine,” she insisted. “I’m fine.”
He ignored her protest. He gently pushed her hair away from the side of her face. “Your cheek’s okay, but he really clipped your jaw. It’s already starting to swell. You need to put ice on it. Maybe I should take you to the emergency room, have a physician look at your arm, too. I saw the way he twisted it.”
“I’ll be all right. I’ll ice it,” she promised when he looked like he wanted to argue.
He took a step back and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to him faster.”
“You got here before he shot me. He really was going to shoot me, wasn’t he?” She was still astounded by the possibility and getting madder by the second.
“He might have tried,” he agreed.
She frowned. “You’re awfully nonchalant about it.”
“I would have taken him down before he shot you.”
Her cell phone rang. She checked the number, then sent the call to voice mail. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man rounding the corner of the building and glaring at her. He stormed toward her, just as Kincaid bent to retrieve the bodyguard’s gun.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” the man shouted.
Since he was wearing a gun and badge, she knew he was also FBI. “Excuse me?”
“You ruined a perfectly good sting. Were you wearing a wire? Did you get anything we could use? No, I didn’t think so. You weren’t supposed to be here until one. We weren’t ready.”
The agent screaming at her was an older man, late fifties, she guessed. His face was bright red, and his anger could light fires.
He moved closer until he was all but touching her, but she refused to be intimidated. “Stop yelling at me.”
“She’s not with the FBI,” Kincaid said.
“How . . .” The confused agent took a step back. He looked at Olivia, then at Kincaid.
“I’d know if she was. Your undercover woman hasn’t shown up yet.”
“Two months’ planning,” the agent muttered. He pointed at Olivia. “Are you wearing a wire? Jorguson seems to think you are. Are you with a newspaper or—”
“Poole, leave her the hell alone,” Kincaid said.
Poole was staring at her chest. Uh-oh. Olivia knew where this was going.
“If you think you’re going to look for a wire, be advised. I’ll punch you, too,” she warned.
Distraught to have his investigation fall apart, Agent Poole stepped closer and said, “Listen, you. Don’t threaten me. I could make your life a nightmare.” He put his hand in front of her face and unfolded three fingers as he said, “I’m F . . . B . . . I.”
She smiled. It wasn’t the reaction he expected. “You want to talk nightmares?” she said. She put her hand up to his face and unfolded her three fingers. “I’m I . . . R . . . S.”
Table of Contents
A Note from the Author about SWEET TALK
Excerpt from SWEET TALK
More books by Julie Garwood
Teaser chapter for THE IDEAL MAN
About the Author
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Excerpt from The Ideal Man copyright © 2011 by Julie Garwood All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
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For my sister and dear friend,
Mary Kathleen Murphy McGuire
The Highlands, Scotland, 1103
Donald MacAlister didn’t die easy. The old man fought to stay alive with every ounce of strength and every pound of stubbornness he possessed. Though he should have welcomed death as an end to the terrible pain and anguish he was enduring, he wouldn’t give in to his suffering yet, for there was still the most important legacy of all to pass down before he could close his eyes and rest.
His legacy was hate. The laird was consumed by hatred for his enemy. He needed to see his son burn with the fever for revenge, and until he was certain the boy understood the importance of righting the terrible wrong done this dark day, he would continue to fight death. And so he clung to life and to his son’s hand, so small and fragile in his big, leathery one, his black eyes boring into those of his only living heir, while the old man instructed him in his sacred duty.
“Avenge me, Connor MacAlister. Take my hatred into your heart, protect it, nurture it, and when you’ve grown older and stronger, use my sword to slay my enemies. I cannot die in peace until you’ve given me your word you’ll avenge this evil deed done to me and mine. Promise me, boy.”
“Yes, Father,” Connor fervently vowed. “I will avenge you.”
“Do you burn with the fever for revenge?”
Donald nodded with contentment. He was finally at peace, and if he lived long enough to give his son directions for his future, that was all well and good; but if the next breath he drew were to be his last, that would be acceptable to him too, because he knew his son would find a way to do what he must. Connor had already proven to be highly intelligent, and his father had complete faith in him.
’Twas a pity Donald MacAlister wouldn’t be around to see his son grow into manhood, but with a broken leg and a fair-sized hole near his belly, he knew how foolish it was to wish for impossible things. God was proving merciful, however. The pain had eased considerably in the past few minutes, and a blessed numbness was stealing up from his feet to his knees.
“Father, give me the names of the men who did this to you.”
“ ’Twas the Kaerns who attacked. They came down from the north and from too far away to want our land. They’re blood related to the MacNares, though, and I’ve a suspicion their laird had a hand in this evil. MacNare’s always been a greedy one. He’ll never be content. You’d best kill him before he causes you trouble, or his lust for more land will bring him to your doorstep. Don’t act in haste,” he cautioned. “Neither the Kaerns nor the MacNares are cunning enough to have planned this boldness. They must have acted under directions from another. I don’t know who the traitor is, but you’ll find out. ’Tis my feeling the enemy hails from within.”
“One of our own betrayed you?” Connor was stunned by the possibility.
“Since yesterday eve when they attacked, I’ve been considering that possibility. The Kaerns came in through passages only my followers knew about. They never would have found the entrances without direction. There’s a traitor all right, and it will be your duty to ferret him out. He’s one of us, Connor, of that I’m certain. God willing, he’s singing the death rattle even now on my own battlefield. You’ll bide your time until you have all the names. Then wreak vengeance upon all of those still living. Consider killing their sons as well, boy.”
“I will, Father. I’ll destroy all of them.”
Donald’s grip on his son’s hand tightened. “This be my final lesson to you. Watch me die and learn how to live as a warrior. When you leave me, go to the path in the forest. Angus waits there to give you instructions for your immediate future.”
The laird waited until his son nodded his agreement before speaking again. “Look around you and tell me what you see. Is it all gone? ”
Connor stared at the destruction surrounding him, silently weeping with anguish. The stench of burning wood and fresh blood made his stomach lurch.
“The keep is in ruins, but I’ll rebuild.”
“Aye, you will. You must make your fortress invincible. Learn from my mistakes, Connor.”
“I will make my keep stronger.”
“What of my loyal men?”
“Most are dead.”
The despair in the boy’s voice washed over the laird, and he immediately tried to reassure him. “Their sons will come back. They’ll wear your colors and claim your name. They’ll follow you as their fathers followed me. The time draws near for you to leave. Wrap a cloth tight around and around your injury to stem the blood before you stand, or more will be lost with each step you take. Do it now while I rest beside you.”
Connor hurried to obey his father’s command, though he didn’t believe his injury was significant enough to merit protection. Most of the blood covering his body was from his father’s wounds, not his own.
“You’ll have a scar to remind you of this black day,” Donald predicted.
“I need no reminder. I won’t forget.”
“No, you won’t forget. Does it pain you?”
Donald grunted with approval. The boy had never been a complainer, a fact his father found most pleasing. He had all the makings of a mighty warrior.
“How old are you, boy?”
“Nine or ten years now,” he answered.
“I’m thinking you might be older or younger. Your size tells me you’re still a boy, but your eyes have turned into those of a man. I see the bright fire of fury there, and I am pleased by you.”
“I could take you with me.”
“You will not drag a dead man behind you.”
“Do your injuries pain you, Father?”
“ ’Tis the truth I don’t feel anything now. I seem to have gone numb. A blessed way to die, I’m thinking. Some men would not be as fortunate.”
“I would stay with you if you . . .”
“You’ll leave when I command you to leave,” his father ordered. “You’ll save yourself so you’ll be able to keep your promises to me. The enemy has left, but make no mistake, they’ll come back to finish it.”
“We have time, Father. The sun is still high, and the enemy dragged your barrels of wine with them. They’ll be too thick-headed to come back before morning.”
“Then you may linger a moment more,” his father conceded.
“Will Angus send me to Euphemia to tell her what happened?”
“He will not. You will not tell that woman anything.”
“But she’s your wife.”
“My second wife,” he corrected. “Never trust a woman, Connor. ’Tis foolhardy to do so. Euphemia will find out what happened when she returns with her son, Raen. I want you to be well away from here by then. I won’t have you trained by her relatives. They’re all leeches.”
Connor nodded so his father would know he understood, and then asked, “Did you trust my mother?”
Donald heard the worry in his son’s voice and thought it was probably his duty to give him a kind remembrance of his mother. Still, the boy needed to hear the truth, and for that reason, he didn’t soften his answer, but spoke from his heart.
“I did trust her, and anguish was the result. I loved your mother. She was my own sweet, bonny Isabelle, and how was I repaid for my generosity? She up and died on me, that’s how, breaking my heart and leaving me desolate. Learn from my folly and save yourself the heartache. I never should have married again—I realize that now—but I am a practical man above all else, and I knew I needed heirs to follow after me in the event something foul happened to you. Still, it was a mistake. Euphemia already had one son from her past marriage, and one child was all she was capable of carrying. She did try though.”
Donald paused to gather his thoughts before continuing. “I couldn’t love Euphemia, or any other woman. How could I, after what my own sweet Isabelle had done to me? Still, I shouldn’t have ignored your stepmother. It wasn’t her fault I couldn’t care about her. You must try to make up for my wrong. Try to honor her and put up with her pampered son. Remember, your first loyalty must be to your own.”
“I’ll remember. Where will Angus send me? There is time for you to tell me,” he persisted. He was deliberately stalling so that he would have a few more minutes with his father. “Angus could have been killed before he reached the forest.”
“It would not matter. Do you think I would entrust such important orders to only one man? I’m not foolish. I told others what was to be done.”
“Let me hear the command from my laird.”
Donald relented. “There’s only one man I trust, and you must go to him. Tell him what took place here today.”
“Do I tell him everything you have told me?”
“Do I trust him?”
“You do,” he replied. “He’ll know what’s to be done. You must seek his protection first, then order him to train you in his image. Demand your right, boy. Pledge that you’ll be his brother until the day you die. He won’t fail you. Go now. Go to Alec Kincaid.”
Connor was stunned by the order. “He’s your hated enemy, Father. You cannot mean to send me to him.”
“I do mean to,” his father replied in a hard, unyielding voice. “Alec Kincaid has become the most powerful force in all the Highlands. He’s also a good and honorable man, and you need his strength.”
Connor was still having difficulty accepting the duty his father had just thrust upon him. He couldn’t stop himself from making another protest.
“But you warred against him.”
Donald surprised his son by smiling. “ ’Tis the truth I did. My heart wasn’t in the fight, though. Kincaid knew that. I tested him sorely and am proud to say I was the nagging thorn in his side. Our lands connect to the east, and so it was a natural inclination of mine to take some of his. He wouldn’t let me have it, of course. Still, he understood. Had he not, all of us would be dead by now.”
“He is that powerful?”
“He is. Be sure to show him my sword. Leave the blood upon the blade so Kincaid will see it.”
“Father, none of the MacAlisters will follow me if I go to their enemy.”
“You will do as I command,” his father said. “You’re too young to understand, and so you must trust my judgment. I want your promise that you will go to Kincaid now.”
Donald nodded. “The time has come for you to bid me good-bye. We’ve dallied long enough, and I’ve put off dying for as long as I dare. Even now I can feel myself slipping into sleep.”
Connor tried, but he couldn’t seem to make himself let go of his father’s hand.
“I will miss you,” he whispered.
“And I, you.”
“I love you, Father.”
“Warriors do not speak of such feelings. I love you too, son, but I won’t be telling you so.”
He squeezed Connor’s hand as a way of softening his rebuke, and finally closed his eyes. He was ready to let death have him, for he had seen the fire burning bright in Connor’s eyes, and he knew he would be avenged. What more could a father ask?
Donald MacAlister died a few minutes later, still clinging to his son’s hand. He died as he had lived, with honor, dignity, and on his own stubborn terms.
Connor lingered by his father’s side for as long as he could, until he heard someone whispering to him from behind. He turned to see a young soldier struggling to sit up. Connor couldn’t remember his name, and from the distance separating them, he couldn’t tell how serious his injuries were. He motioned to the soldier to stay where he was, then turned back to his father. He picked up the sword resting on his chest, bowed his head in prayer for his father’s soul, and then crawled away, clutching the treasured sword to his heart. He eased over hot, glowing embers that blistered his arms and the bloody remains of friends, which made his eyes fill with tears.
He finally reached the man who had called out to him and discovered the soldier wasn’t fully grown up, after all. Why, he couldn’t be more than two or three years older than Connor.
Thankfully, he remembered the soldier’s name before reaching him. “Crispin, I thought you dead. Roll onto your back so I may tend your injuries, or you will surely die.”
“There isn’t time. They came here to kill both your father and you, Connor. Aye, that was their purpose. I heard one of the bastards boast of it to another. Leave before they come back and realize they’ve failed.”
“The enemy rests now. They won’t come back until the wine they drink wears off. Do as I command you to do.”
Crispin slowly rolled over, visibly grimacing over the pain the movement caused.
“Is your father dead?”
“Yes,” Connor answered. “He lived long enough to tell me what I must do. He died in peace.”
Crispin began to weep. “My laird is dead.”
“Nay, Crispin. Your laird kneels before you.”
Connor wouldn’t allow him to argue with him, or laugh over his boast, but gave him duty upon duty while he bandaged him. He told the soldier how he could help to repay their enemy for this atrocity, and when Connor was finished binding his wound, he had given the soldier something more powerful than anguish to fill his mind and his heart. He had given him hope.
Although it was difficult because of his size, Connor eventually dragged Crispin to safety. He hid him away in the forest, well-protected by thick branches, and went back to the destruction twice more to drag out two others. One was Angus, the loyal soldier to whom his father had entrusted the duty of instructing his son. The other was a boy Connor’s age called Quinlan, who had only just arrived to begin his training the week before. His injuries were severe, and he was in such pain, he begged to be left alone. Connor was deaf to his pleas.
“I decide when you die, Quinlan, not you.”
The boy stopped struggling and even tried to help.
Connor desperately wanted to go back again and again to search for more, but the enemy had decided to return before nightfall, and even now he could see the shadows their horses made on the rise below. He knew he couldn’t chance being discovered. He still needed enough time to remove the trail he’d made. He immediately set about doing just that, and once he was satisfied the three he’d hidden away would not be found, he promised to bring help and ordered them to stay alive.
He was finally ready to do his father’s bidding. He rode his faithful mount half the distance to Kincaid land, but when he reached the steep ledges, he left the horse behind and climbed over the rock so that he could shorten the way.
Once he reached the flats again, he began to run. He moved over the land with the speed of a young buck for short spurts, and when exhaustion made his legs too weak to continue the grueling pace, he used his father’s sword and scabbard as his cane and slowed to a walk until he was able to regain his strength again. He wasn’t very strong yet, but his determination was that often grown men. He would not fail his father.
Connor felt nothing now, not the cold or the pain or the terrible loss. His mind was focused on one thought. He had to get to Alec Kincaid. Pledging his loyalty to the laird was the first step he must take to fulfill his father’s wishes, and Connor wouldn’t let anyone or anything stop him.
He lost track of time, and darkness was fast approaching. The sky was bright now with hundreds of orange streaks from the sun’s too-quick descent behind the twin peaks directly ahead of him, but in a few minutes, those brilliant banners would also be gone. His desperation mounted with each step he took. He had to reach Kincaid before night closed in on him because he knew he would never be able to find his way in the dark. If he continued in darkness, he ran the risk of going in circles, or worse, backtracking the distance he’d already covered.
He could not fail. He started running again. He thought he was close to the border between his father’s land and Kincaid’s, yet he couldn’t be absolutely certain. And then he heard shouts to halt from soldiers running toward him, but in his confusion he thought the enemy had chased him down and meant to kill him before he could keep his promises to his father. He staggered on until he couldn’t take another step.
Dear God, he’d failed. He hadn’t even begun yet and now he had failed. Kincaid was the beginning of his future, but Connor wasn’t even strong enough to get to him.
“Can you speak, lad? Can you tell us what happened to you? You’re covered in blood.”
The soldiers surrounding him were all wearing Kincaid’s colors. As that fact registered in Connor’s mind, his legs gave out, and he went down hard on his knees. He wanted to close his eyes for just a moment, but he didn’t dare. Not yet. He couldn’t sleep until he had spoken to Kincaid. He needed to tell him what happened. . . . He could trust him. . .. He must . . .
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, and then took a deep breath, threw back his head, and shouted, “Take me to my brother.”
“Who is your brother, lad?” one of the sentries asked.
“By my father’s command, from this day forward Alec Kincaid is my brother. He will not deny me.”
It was all right to close his eyes now. He had fulfilled the first of his father’s demands. The rest would come as soon as he had spoken to Kincaid. He would tell him where he’d hidden the injured soldiers, command that he go and get them . . . and he would tell his brother so much more . . .
Connor’s last thought before he lost consciousness gave him peace. His father would be avenged.
And so it began.
It wasn’t love at first sight.
Lady Brenna didn’t want to be presented to company. She had far more important things to do with her day. Her nursemaid, a dour-faced woman with God-fearing ways and clumped-together, protruding front teeth, wouldn’t listen to her arguments, however. With the determination of a hedgehog, she cornered Brenna in the back of the stables and then lunged forward. Never one to let an opportunity or a little girl slip past her, the nursemaid lectured her charge all the way up the hill and across the muddy courtyard.
“Quit your squirming, Brenna. I’m stronger than you are, and I’m not about to let go. You’ve lost your shoes again, haven’t you? And don’t dare lie to me. I can see your stockings peeking out. Why are you dragging that bridle behind you?”
Brenna lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “I forgot to put it back.”
“Drop it this minute. You’re always forgetting, and do you know why?”
“I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, like you tell me to, Elspeth.”
“You don’t pay attention to anything I tell you, and that’s a fact. You’re more trouble than all the others put together. Your older brothers and sisters have never given me a moment’s worry. Even your baby sister knows how to behave herself, and she’s still sucking on her fingers and wetting herself. I’m warning you, Brenna, if you don’t change your ways and give your parents a little peace, God himself will have to stop his important work and come down here to talk to you. Just how are you going to feel about that? You don’t like it much when your papa has to sit you down on his knee and talk to you about your shameful behavior, now do you?”
“No, Elspeth. I surely don’t like it. I try to behave. I really do.”
She peeked up to see if the nursemaid believed she was contrite. She wasn’t, of course, because she really didn’t think she’d done anything wrong, but Elspeth wouldn’t understand.
“Don’t you bat those big blue eyes at me, young lady. I don’t believe you’re the least bit sincere. Lord, but you smell. What have you gotten into?”
Brenna lowered her head and kept quiet. She’d been chasing after the piglets just an hour before, until the tanner put their mama back in the pen, and Brenna’s peculiar stench was just a small price to pay for all the fun she’d had.
Her torture had only just begun. Even though she had had a bath just a week before, she was bathed again, and in the middle of the day, of all times. She was scrubbed from head to toes, and so thoroughly she had to cry about it. Elspeth wasn’t at all sympathetic to her wails, and Brenna eventually got tired of crying. She barely struggled at all while Elspeth dressed her in a blue gown and too-tight matching slippers. Her cheeks were pinched hard for color, her whiteblond tangles were brushed into curls, and she was then dragged back down to the hall. She would have to pass her mother’s inspection before she could be left alone.
Her oldest sister, Matilda, was already seated at the table with her mother. Cook was there too, going over supper arrangements with her mistress.
“I don’t want to meet no company today, Mama. It’s sorely wearisome for me.”
Elspeth came up behind her and poked her in her shoulder. “Hush now. You mustn’t complain. God doesn’t like women who complain.”
“Papa complains all the time, and God likes him just fine,” Brenna announced. “That’s why Papa’s so big. Only God is bigger than he is.”
“Where did you hear such nonsense?”
“Papa told me so. I want to go outside now. I won’t run after the piglets again. I promise.”
“You’re staying right where I can keep my eye on you. You’re going to behave yourself today. If you don’t, you know what will happen to you, don’t you?”
Brenna pointed to the ground. “I’ll have to go down there.” She dutifully repeated the threat she’d heard over and over again.
The little girl didn’t have any idea what was “down there”; she only knew it was awful and she didn’t want to go there. According to Elspeth, if Brenna didn’t change her sorry ways, she was never going to get into heaven, and just about everyone, including her family, wanted to go there.
She knew exactly where heaven was because her papa had given her exact directions. It was right on the other side of the sky.
She thought she might like it, but really didn’t care. Only one thing was important to her now. She wasn’t about to be left behind again. She still had nightmares at least once a week over what her mama referred to as the “unfortunate” incidents. The terrifying memories were still lurking in the back of her mind, where everyone knew all little girls tucked away their worries, just waiting for the right opportunity to jump out in the dark and scare her. Her screams would wake her sister, of course. While Elspeth was busy soothing baby Faith, Brenna would drag her blanket to her parents’ chamber. When her papa was away from home doing important work the king could give only to someone as trustworthy and loyal as he was, she’d sneak into the big bed and cuddle up next to her mama, and when her papa was home, she’d sleep on the cold floor right next to Courage, his beautiful silverhandled sword Mama swore he loved almost as much as his children. Brenna felt safest when her papa was there because his loud snores always lulled her back to sleep. Demons didn’t try to crawl in through the window and nightmares about being left behind didn’t visit her when she was with her parents. Those horrors wouldn’t dare.
“Please tell Brenna to keep her mouth shut when company arrives, Mother,” Matilda requested. “She shouts every word. She does it on purpose. When will she stop the vile habit?”
“Soon, dear, soon,” her mother replied almost absentmindedly.
Brenna edged closer to her sister. Matilda was bossy by nature, but now that their brothers were away learning how to be as important to their king as their papa, her condition had worsened. She was becoming as bothersome as Elspeth.
“You’re a pain in the arse, Mattie.”
Her mother heard the remark. “Brenna, you will not use such common language again. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mama, but Papa says his arse is paining him all the time. It aches something fierce, it does.”
Her mother closed her eyes. “Don’t sass me, child.”
Brenna’s shoulders slumped. She tried to look pitiful. “Mama, I’m sorely weary of everybody telling me what to do all the time. Doesn’t anybody like me?”
Her mother wasn’t in the mood to placate her daughter. She waved her hand toward the cluster of chairs on the opposite side of the hall.
“Go and sit down, Brenna. Do not say another word until you are given permission to speak. Do it now.”
The little girl dragged her feet as she crossed the hall.
“Don’t make her sit there all alone too long, Mother. The unfortunate incidents have made her difficult. Papa says it’s going to take her time to recover.”
Mattie was defending her. Brenna wasn’t surprised by the show of loyalty. It was her sister’s duty to watch out for her while her brothers were away. But it made Brenna angry that Mattie had brought up the unmentionable. She knew how much Brenna hated being reminded of what had happened to her.
“Yes, dear,” her mother replied. “Time and patience.”
Mattie let out a loud sigh. “Really, Mother, how can you be so calm about it? Have you no guilt? Even I can understand forgetting one of your children on a single occasion, but twice? It’s a wonder the child lets you out of her sight.”
Elspeth moved forward to utter her opinion. “ ’Tis my fear you’ll never catch a husband for that one, mi’lady.”
Brenna put her hands over her ears. She hated it when the nursemaid referred to her as “that one.” She wasn’t one of the piglets, after all.
“I’ll catch a husband by myself,” Brenna shouted.
Joan walked into the hall in time to hear her sister’s boast.
“What have you done this time, Brenna?”
“Then why are you sitting all by yourself? You’re usually squeezed up next to Mother, talking her ears off. Tell me what you’ve done. I promise I won’t lecture you.”
“I sassed Mama. Did Papa catch your husband for you, Joan?”
“Catch a husband?” she asked. She didn’t laugh for fear of hurting Brenna’s tender feelings, but she couldn’t stop herself from smiling.
“I suppose he did,” she admitted.
“Did you help?”
“No. I’ll meet my husband on the day I marry him.”
Meet the Author
Julie Garwood is among the most critically acclaimed—and popular—romance authors around, published in thirty-two languages worldwide with forty million copies of her books in print. She is the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers, including Fast Track, Hotshot, Sweet Talk, The Ideal Man, Sizzle, Fire and Ice, Shadow Music, and Shadow Dance.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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It was refreshing to have a heroine that was not a bullheaded, pushy, arrogant female. Lady Brenna was real in a way that she was human: forgetful, thought out loud, loved her God, and cared for all the people in her life but wasn't afraid to be angry when she mad show her love in her innocent passion. As much as you might want to slap Connor until he realizes what he really has, he is a true warrior through and through. I couldn't put it down once I started it!!
I really enjoyed this book! I am glad Julie Garwood brought back some characters from The Bride for this book. I recommend reading The Bride first because then you have a better feel for some of the characters and the setting in this book. If there is ever a third book continuing this story, I will be sure to get it!
This is absolutely my favorite. I've read it so many times that I've lost count. It has a great combination of romance, suspense, drama, and comedy. I hope it comes out as an eBook as my copy is starting to fall apart. Love, love, love!!!
This book was great, Julie Garwood is a truly talented person. Both emotionaly and physicaly scarred men who can grow and learn and be putty with their women (in a good way) are a favorite of mine. Brenna is so forgetful that she leaves things in her wake (including shoes) how can you not love someone so absent minded with a huge heart.
This was my first Julie Garwood book. I had high expectations for this book, since I had read a lot of good things about this author. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment for me. Why did I dislike it? Connor, the hero, is a jerk. He's barbaric, obsessed with revenge, and just an overall miserable man. I don't understand how Brenna seemed to melt in his arms and then fall in love with him. Of course, by the end of the book, he becomes very soft and loving, but I just didn't feel that he deserved her. My actual rating for this book is two stars, but I gave it three stars because the overall writing is good, there's a decent mystery plot, good humor, and I liked Quinlan's (one of Connor's friends) character. I don't want to give up on this author yet, so even though this book didn't live up to my expectations, I will still try other Julie Garwood books.
I have read it four times and it never gets old. This is my favorite book by Julie Garwood and one of my top 5 reads. I laugh so hard reading this book. I tell everyone I know that reads books to read this!
This 1 of 2 of my favorite books by Julie Garwood, the other is 'The Bride'. I laugh so much when I read either one. I first bought the hard copies over I would say 10 to 15 years ago (maybe longer) but these books are the ones I go back to when I want a real good read and laugh. But since I purchased my Nook Tablet and now have them both on my Nook I 'love' them even more because I carry my Nook EVERYWHERE, it is so much lighter than a book, and now I may read at a railroad crossing or when stuck in a traffic jam. But I diverse, this book is good if you like strong will men and women along with some mystery. I must also admit I like Julie Garwood's early works so much but only because I don't care for modern day venues. Enjoy and try the book 'The Bride' and really you should read it 1st and then 'The Wedding". It won't find it a waste of time or money!
I love Julie Garwood books. I always finish with a happy feeling inside and in love with the characters. Unfortunatly this was NOT the case with this book. The hero was a jack-hole. He had no redeeming qualities. He was bossy. He cared about no one other than himself and revenge. He had no concept of feelings. His whole dialogue was telling her what she was doing wrong! You can't kiss me without permission. You can't talk about your family. You can't talk to me without permission. You can't sneeze without permission and for goodness sake don't EVER give me your opinion! I'm in charge and I'm in control of everything. I personally wanted to choke him out. The heroine of the book was no better. She'd give her opinion andthen when she was chastised for it she would second guess herself and think of reasons why she was wrong. THEN she would try to take comfort from him when he had done something horrible and just wrong! It wasn't even remotely believable. She was a push over. I like strong female leads. This was not one. By page 80 I was counting pages for when the book would be over. I kept thinking it had to get better soon because this is a Julie Garwood book! It didn't get better. I was screaming at my nook, "are you FREAKING KIDDING ME!" I FORCED myself to finish it. I gave the book 2 stars. I did this because the prologue was good and it really caught my attention. I also did it because the book got a little interesting with 100 pages left. (I know. I was counting.) But it still wasn't great. Julie Garwood books are amazing. She is a fantastic author with an amazing talent for telling stories. If you haven't read her before PLEASE don't start with this book. Try The Secret. That was a great book.
Not bad at all
This was a good book
This was the first Julie Garwood book I read and still my favorite! I'm a sucker for historical romance and Ms. Garwood is superb! Her contemporary romances are equally well written and entertaining.
I enjoyed this book very much! I only wish the ending have just a little more to the reader..
Julie Garwood is at the top of my must read authors. I have read most of her stories multiple times. I have been reading her work for many years and she just gets better.
This was a good read, but not close as great as "the bride". This is the second book in the seris. I enjoyed that alec and jamie are back for this one. There is no comparison. Alec was much more caring toward jamie than conor is to brenne. The villians were easier to know in this one as well. That being said, this book still made me laugh and was an enjoyment. But again read "the bride" first. Then enjoy this one because i've rarely read a garwood book i didn't like.
Lilililili Mmm M M M Rk.k.yvgn .. j. . . . . ?ghtenh N. Bb.h.lhml ?n Ln
Above statement says it all!
I LOVE TO READ JULIE GARWOOD BOOKS AND 'THE WEDDING' WAS VERY GOOD
Love this story!!! Must read!!