Powerful and dangerous highlander Dair Sinclair was once the favored son of his clan, The Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh. With Dair at the helm, Sinclair ships circled the globe bringing home incredible fortune. Until one deadly mission when Dair is captured, tortured and is unable to save his young cousin. He returns home breaking under the weight of his guilt and becomes known as the Madman of Carraig Brigh.
When a pagan healer predicts that only a virgin bride can heal his son’s body and mind, Dair’s father sets off to find the perfect wife for his son. At the castle of the fearsome MacLeods, he meets lovely and kind Fia MacLeod.
Although Dair does his best to frighten Fia, she sees the man underneath the damage and uses her charm and special gifts to heal his mind and heart. Will Dair let Fia love him or is he cursed with madness forever?
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About the Author
Lecia Cornwall is the author of Regency and Scottish romances, including Beauty and the Highland Beast and When a Laird Finds a Lass. Her books are known for their layered plots, humour, and intriguing characters. Lecia lives in Alberta, Canada with two adult children, four cats, a crazy chocolate Lab, the dozens of book characters who live in her head, and one very patient husband who endures it all with remarkable patience. Lecia is currently hard at work on her next book.
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Beauty and the Highland Beast
A Highland Fairy Tale
By Lecia Cornwall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Lecia Cornwall
All rights reserved.
Glen Iolair, Scotland
Laird Donal MacLeod watched unhappily as his daughters prepared to hang yet another tapestry in the great hall of his castle. Their needlework was a fine accomplishment to be sure, the stitches artful, the colors perfect. The trouble was that his hall was already filled with tapestries, and they adorned much of the rest of the place as well, since his talented daughters had nothing better to do with their time besides stitchery or mischief. There was far too much of both at Glen Iolair in Donal's opinion.
He suppressed an oath as Aileen and Meggie, his two oldest lasses, took the claymore of the first Fearsome MacLeod down from the place of honor it had held for over two hundred years to make room for their newest work. They nearly buckled under the weight of the great sword, the pride of the MacLeods — well, the pride of MacLeod men. Two of his younger girls — Gillian and Aeife — caught the weapon, one on either end, and carried it to the far side of the hall for removal to a storeroom.
Donal opened his mouth to inform them that the first MacLeod had earned the name Fearsome for his prowess in battle, using that very sword to kill his enemies, capture a rich bride, and lay claim to Glen Iolair itself, but he quickly shut it again. It wasn't the kind of story a man told daughters. Such bloody deeds would make them swoon. It was a tale a father passed on to his son — if he was fortunate enough to have one. Donal had not been so blessed. He was the last of his line, the final Fearsome MacLeod to rule over Glen Iolair, and to his shame, the hall of his castle looked more like a lady's boudoir than a warrior's stronghold. Donal sipped his ale and cast his eye over the new tapestry as it unfurled, and sent up a prayer that this one might at least be a hunting scene, with dogs tearing a bleeding stag, or Fearsome himself holding a great gory-beaked falcon as his clansmen brandished swords and spears in his wake.
Something manly for a change.
Alas, the gentle face of Saint Margaret, the blessed queen of Scotland, appeared instead. She was leading a line of rosy peasant children in a dance through a glade filled with sunshine and flowers. The only man in the picture was a weedy fellow playing a flute — a flute! Not even a proper set of bagpipes.
Donal shut his eyes tight. The only space left in the whole castle for tapestries, embroidered cushions, and colorful rugs was his own chamber, and he was determined not to let the lasses bring their fripperies in there, even if he had to barricade the door and guard it with the first Fearsome's bloodstained claymore.
He sighed. His lasses should be married, with homes of their own to adorn. When that happy time came, he hoped their husbands would be firmer with them than he was. He loved his lasses well. Too well — Aileen, his oldest lass, was six-and-twenty, had been wedded, widowed, and returned home. The youngest — wee Annie — was not yet three. His girls were all beauties, the products of eight different mothers. Donal had wooed and wed each of his wives in hopes of getting a son to inherit Glen Iolair and Fearsome MacLeod's terrible legacy — a braw, strapping laddie to wield the claymore, fill the hall with battle trophies, bloody tales, and manly noises. But each wife had given him only girls, until he had an even dozen.
Donal was young enough to marry again, still in his prime, considered by all who knew him to be a fine figure of a man. But what wife wanted to take on a castle filled with a dozen chattering, opinionated, bouncy, flouncy females? No, before he could marry again, he'd have to find husbands for all of them — well, most of them, he thought as his youngest, Annie, toddled into the hall and ran toward him with a bright baby smile. He scooped her onto his knee and realized that the task of marrying off so many daughters might very well take years. Especially since his lasses were stubborn about everything from gowns and ribbons to male admirers. He looked down at Annie's flaxen curls. Would he still be a fine figure of a man by the time this one married?
And he was picky himself. The men who married his daughters had to have certain qualities. They had to be the sons of allied clans with a fair fortune to call their own, born of good stock, with good character and good sense. They had to be fiercely brave, with kind hearts — but not too kind. Having a kind heart got a man into trouble. What other laird would allow a tapestry of frolicking children to displace the very symbol of his might and power? None of his acquaintance ...
"Do I have the honor of addressing the Fearsome MacLeod himself?" a male voice behind him asked.
Donal turned to regard the stranger standing in his hall unannounced, surrounded by half a dozen strong men, all armed to the teeth. The sett of their plaids and the sprigs of furze in their bonnets marked them as clansmen — or an invading army. No doubt Meggie had left the door wide open again, though he'd warned her time and time again that this was a fortress, not a cott.
Fortunately the man before him looked peaceful enough, if rather grandly turned out. The three feathers in his bonnet declared him a clan chief, and the intricate silver of his brooch, the fine weave of his plaid, the froth of French lace at his throat, and his embroidered deerskin boots confirmed it.
Wee Annie gaped at the stranger and his braw companions from Donal's lap, but the clansmen were staring at Aileen and Meggie, who were still standing on the table, putting the final touches on the new tapestry.
Donal bristled at their lusty scrutiny. "Aye, I'm the MacLeod. Who might you be?"
"Padraig Sinclair, chief of the Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh." The stranger's dark eyes were as busy as sparrows, darting around the room, taking everything in. They came to rest on Aileen. "I've come on a matter of great importance." He boldly looked Donal's daughter over from top to toe and back again. "I'm here for one of your daughters."
Donal's brows shot into his hairline. He handed Annie off to Aeife. "Go and fetch the whisky, lass," he said, and turned to the Sinclair. "Perhaps we'd better sit down."
He indicated a pair of chairs and two long benches by the hearth, right under Aileen. Donal caught her around the waist as he passed and lifted her down. Meggie climbed down by herself and joined Gillian, and all three of them stood and stared at the Sinclair clansmen, who stared right back with warm-eyed appreciation. In fact, the appreciation in the air was so thick he could have sliced it with the claymore — if the lasses hadn't taken it away.
"That'll do now. Go and help in the kitchen," he said to his daughters. As usual, they stayed right where they were.
"Please allow your daughters to join us," Sinclair said, gallantly indicating places on one of the benches for them. Aileen settled herself on an embroidered cushion, and her sisters stood behind her. All six Sinclair clansmen stepped forward and sat down across from them at the very same moment, like matched horses, and without taking their eyes off the girls. Donal and the Sinclair took their places in carved chairs — embarrassingly set with more cushions.
"As I said, I've come for one of your lasses," Sinclair said again. "A maid — she must be a virgin."
Donal folded his arms over his chest. "What for? Pagan sacrifice?"
Sinclair swung his gaze to Donal in surprise. "Nay, of course not. Marriage. To my son and heir."
"Marriage!" Aileen exclaimed. She jumped from her seat and hurried out of the room.
"Marriage?" Donal asked.
"Marriage." Meggie and Gillian sighed as one.
"Well, possibly," Sinclair said, looking from one girl to the next.
Donal squinted at the six clansmen. "And which of these lads is your son?"
Sinclair's mouth tightened, and a shadow passed through his eyes. "He's not here."
In unison, his clansmen shifted uneasily and looked away.
"But if —" Donal began, only to be interrupted when the kitchen door opened. Aeife and Aileen were bringing the whisky right enough. Trailing behind them were four more of his daughters — Cait, Marcail, Jennet, and Isobel. Their smiling faces were freshly scrubbed, their hair hastily tied up with ribbons, and they'd somehow managed to trade their workaday clothes for their best gowns in a matter of minutes. They looked like a garden of flowers on a sunny day. The Sinclairs rose, gaping.
"Now, what's this?" Donal asked, frowning at them. "This is a meeting of men. Back to the solar with all of ye."
Marcail frowned. "But, Papa, Aileen said that Chief Sinclair was looking for a bride for his son."
Donal raised his hand. "I'll handle this, if ye don't mind."
But the girls were already crowding forward. Isobel handed out the pewter cups, and Cait poured the whisky. The rest fluttered behind, daft as pigeons. The Sinclairs looked bewitched.
"I'm Aileen, and this is Isobel, Cait, Gillian, Meggie, Marcail, and Jenny."
The men grinned and introduced themselves.
"My!" Meggie exclaimed, staring at the row of men as if they were a plate of sweetmeats. Her sisters sighed like a warm spring wind over the loch.
Donal's frown deepened as he considered the situation. He could send his four oldest daughters upstairs this very minute to pack their baggage, and they'd happily go off with the handsome Sinclairs, two by two. Could it truly be that easy?
But Aileen was a widow, not a virgin, and wouldn't do. She was also his most sensible lass, and kept his home and her sisters in order. Meggie, sweet and lovely though she most certainly was, did not meet the Sinclair's single qualification. And Marcail was a gentle creature. She needed a gentle husband. Cait was bossy and pawkie, and he couldn't imagine her as the wife of a chief's son. The rest of his lasses were really far too young to marry in Donal's opinion, though he had no doubt he'd get an argument about that.
In truth, he simply did not know enough about the Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh to send any of his daughters off with them.
Padraig Sinclair cleared his throat. "My son has only recently returned from — well, a sea voyage. He was injured on the trip. That's why he hasn't come himself. Still, he needs a wife and an heir, and the matter cannot wait. I've come to you, MacLeod, because I was told you have a great number of marriageable lasses. I'm prepared to offer a good price to take one off your hands."
Donal stiffened. "Take one off my hands? They aren't bolts of cloth or barrels of ale. They're my daughters. I'd be a poor father to them if I simply sold them off to any stranger who happened to be passing by."
He wondered if the Sinclairs were less experienced in the ways of women than he was himself. A lass liked to be wooed, charmed, convinced. As his third wife had explained, a woman heard fairy bells ringing when the right man looked at her, and she looked at him. He'd heard them himself, each and every time he wed.
He glanced at his daughters. When it was right, a lass tilted her head and smiled at her man, all dew-eyed and knowing. She never looked away again after that moment. None of his girls looked dew-eyed in the least. This was mere flirtation.
"Perhaps your son can come and meet the lasses for himself when he's well again, and if there are —" He paused. He could hardly explain fairy bells to a bunch of warriors. "I've really only got four lasses old enough to wed. I have several younger lasses — perhaps you'd consider a long betrothal of ten or so years?"
Sinclair shook his head, his lips pinching.
Aileen put a hand on his shoulder. "Ye forgot Fia, Papa. Ye always do."
Now it was Donal's turn to pinch his lips shut. He had indeed forgotten his third lass. "Of course I haven't forgotten Fia. She willna do," he said sharply.
The girls glared at him, seven sets of glittering eyes pinning him to his chair. "Of course Fia would do. She's old enough," Aileen said.
"Fia?" Padraig Sinclair asked. The other Sinclairs regarded Donal expectantly.
"She's the fairest of all of us," Meggie said.
"And the kindest," Gillian added.
"Is she a virgin?" Sinclair asked.
"Of course she is!" Aileen said a trifle sharply, then tempered her rebuke with a smile.
"Nay!" Donal said. "Fia is ..." How did one describe Fia to a stranger?
There was no need to. The door burst open and the hall erupted in chaos. The room filled with the scrabble of claws, a pack of barking, snapping dogs, and the terrible, unholy din of utter destruction as stools and benches toppled, rugs went askew, and cushions were torn asunder, filling the air with feathers.
The lasses shrieked, and the Sinclairs bellowed their war cry and drew their swords, seeking an invading enemy amid the chaos.
Donal saw the white ball hurtling across the hall and felt his stomach turn with dread. "Move, man!" he bellowed to Sinclair, but it was too late. The cat was upon the chief, climbing him like a tree before springing off the poor man's forehead. Padraig Sinclair fell backward, arms flailing, as the creature landed on the tapestry and scrambled up to a roof beam high above them.
"What was that? A wolf? A wildcat?" the Sinclair asked, dazed.
"It's Beelzebub," Meggie said.
The dogs jumped onto the table, baying and growling, trying to follow the cat. The insolent creature stared down at them and calmly licked his paws.
Padraig Sinclair put a hand to his forehead and drew it back bloody. A long set of scratches marred his pate, and Donal winced.
The dogs boiled around the Sinclair clansmen, still straining to reach the cat, baying insults up at the insolent beast. Aileen was beating the largest deerhound with her slipper. Meggie was trying to drag the mongrel off the table. A pair of hounds eagerly lapped at the spilled whisky, and the last dog, a speckled creature with only one eye, had the fringe of the tapestry in his teeth, trying to bring it down. Everything was covered with feathers and fur.
Donal should have known what would happen next. Too late, he saw Fia rush past him, her eyes on the cat even as she vainly commanded the dogs to heel. She didn't see Chief Sinclair, who was picking himself up from the floor, until she ran into him.
Padraig Sinclair toppled backward yet again, and Donal hooked an arm around Fia to keep her from falling on top of him. The chief of the Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh stared up in stunned surprise.
Aileen smiled sweetly as she offered the fallen chief a hand up. "Here's Fia now. And her pet."CHAPTER 2
Fiona Margaret MacPhail MacLeod, simply known as Fia to her family, bit her lip as her father steadied her, and looked around at the mayhem. "I'm sorry, Papa. I didn't know you had visitors."
She stared at the man on the floor and blanched at the bloody scratches on his forehead.
"What do ye mean letting those dogs in here?" her father demanded.
Fia gave him her sweetest smile. "It couldn't be helped, Papa. I was bandaging Beelzebub's paw, and the dogs caught me at it. They thought they could take Bel in his moment of weakness, but he took it as a challenge. I had no idea he'd come through the hall. I do apologize."
She looked around at the strangers filling the room, all of them staring at the feathers, the blood, the broken furniture, and marveling that one cat could cause so much harm. At least they weren't staring at her. She took stock of the injuries. Two men had long, angry scratches on their arms and legs. Another had a tear in his saffron shirt. A fourth was sneezing, his eyes already swelling. And the man on the floor had a perfect set of three bloody gouges across his brow.
Fia cast a glance up at Beelzebub, who was regarding the scene from the safety of his perch. He winked at her and smiled a feline smile.
"Aren't you supposed to be helping Ada with the weaving?" her father asked.
"Ada's dying wool today, Papa," Fia said, and pulled her hand out from behind her back, showing him the damage since he'd see it for himself soon enough. She'd tripped and fallen into the vat, and her left arm was brilliant blue from fingertips to elbow. "Ada decided she didn't need my help after all."
Her father sighed and shook his head. "You're just like your mother, lass. She couldn't do a thing without tripping over her own feet or someone else's," he said. Fia felt her face fill with hot blood at the rebuke. "Now, don't fret. I didn't mean anything by that," he said soothingly, and patted her blue hand. "Come and meet our guests. This is Chief Sinclair of Carraig Brigh. Sinclair, this is my daughter Fia."
They were all staring at her now. Fia felt her skin heat.
She concentrated on the injuries. She approached the Sinclair and peered at the scratches. "It would be best to let me clean those for you. I'm sure they sting like the devil."
"Beelzebub," Sinclair muttered, scanning her face.
She wasn't used to such intense male scrutiny, and she turned to the other injured men. "The rest of you as well, of course. I have a salve made of herbs that will ease the pain. Beelzebub has very sharp claws. Fortunately, he wasn't at his best — he was injured recently in a fight with an owl."
"Poor bird," one of the Sinclairs said dolefully.
Aileen caught Fia's sleeve. "Chief Sinclair has come with an offer." She waggled her brows at Fia and smiled.
"Oh? And what —"
Her father caught her arm on the opposite side. "It's naught to concern ye, Fia. You go upstairs. Ada can take care of the injuries," her father said sharply.
Excerpted from Beauty and the Highland Beast by Lecia Cornwall. Copyright © 2016 Lecia Cornwall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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