Peril and passion on enemy seas…
Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For survival, she orchestrates the siege of a rival’s ship and now holds the devilish Scottish captain Aulay Mackenzie under her command.
Tied, captive and forced to watch a stunning siren commandeer the Mackenzie ship, Aulay burns with the desire to seize control—of the ship and Lottie. He has resigned himself to a life of solitude on the open seas, but her beauty tantalizes him like nothing has before. As authorities and enemies close in, he is torn between surrendering her to justice and defending her from assailants. He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable…
About the Author
Julia London is a NYT, USA Today and Publisher's Weekly bestselling author of historical and contemporary romance. She is a six-time finalist for the RITA Award of excellence in romantic fiction, and the recipient of RT Bookclub's Best Historical Novel.
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Lismore Island, The Highlands, Scotland, 1752
The Campbell men landed on the north shore of the small Scottish island of Lismore in the light of the setting sun, fanning out along the narrow strip of sand and stepping between the rocks and the rabbits that had infested the island.
They were looking for stills.
They also were looking for a ship, perhaps tucked away in some hidden cove they'd not yet found. The stills and the ship were here, and they would find them.
Duncan Campbell, the new laird of Lismore, knew that his tenants — some two-hundred odd Livingstones — were gathered to celebrate Sankt Hans, or Midsummer's Eve, a custom that harkened back to their Danish ancestors who had settled this small island.
The Livingstones, to the Campbell way of thinking, were laggards and generally far too idle ... until recently, that was, when it had come to Duncan's attention that this hapless clan had begun to distill whisky spirits without license. He'd heard it said in a roundabout way, in Oban, and in Port Appin. Livingstones were boastful, too, it would seem. Rumor had it that an old Danish ship had been outfitted to hold several casks and a few men.
Where the Livingstones lacked godly ambition, the Campbells fancied themselves a clan of superior moral character. They were Leaders of Scotland, Pillars of the Highlands, Ministers of Social Justice and they distilled whisky with a license and sold it for a tidy profit all very legally. They did not take kindly to illicit whisky that undercut their legitimate business. They were downright offended when someone traded cheap spirits against their superior brew. They disliked illegal competition so much that they took great pains to find it and destroy it by all means possible. Fire was a preferred method.
The Campbell men creeping along the beach could hear the Livingstone voices raised in song and laughter, the strains of a fiddle. When night fell, those heathens would be well into their cups and would light a bonfire and dance around it. Bloody drunkards. But alas, the Campbells did not make it more than a few dozen steps into their search when they heard the warning horn. It sounded so shrilly that it scattered rabbits here and there and, frankly, made Duncan's heart leap. He hardly had a moment to collect himself before buckshot whizzed overhead.
Duncan sighed skyward. He looked at his escort, Mr. Edwin MacColl, whose clan inhabited the south end of Lismore, and who was diligent in paying his rents and not distilling whisky. Duncan had pressed the very reluctant Scotsman into service by threatening to raise his rents if he didn't lend a hand. "That's it, then, is it no'?" he asked MacColl as another shot rang out and sent up a spray of sand when it hit the bit of beach. "They've seen us and warned the others."
"Aye," MacColl agreed. "They keep a close eye on what is theirs. As any Scot would," he added meaningfully.
Campbell recognized the subtle needling, but there was no opportunity to remind MacColl that illegal whisky was bad, very bad, because four riders appeared on the hill above them with long guns pointed at their chests. Naturally, Miss Lottie Livingstone, who, as daughter of the chief here, ran wild on this island, led them. If she were his daughter, Campbell would have taken her in hand and ended her feral behavior tout de suite.
"Laird Campbell!" she called cheerfully, and nudged her horse to walk down the grassy slope to the beach. "You've come again!"
Campbell groaned. "Must it be so bloody difficult to root out corruption and illegal deeds?" he muttered to MacColl. "Must the most beautiful lass in all of Scotland be the most unruly and untamed of them all?"
Apparently, Mr. MacColl had no answer to that, and in fact, he turned his head so that Duncan could not see his face. Duncan rolled his eyes and addressed the woman who lived like an undomesticated cat on this island. "Hold your fire, aye, Miss Livingstone? I am your laird after all!" As if that needed explaining.
"How can we help you, laird?" she asked.
"No' you, lass. I'll have a word with your father."
Her eyes sparked, and above another glittering smile she said, "Oh, but he'll be delighted, he will."
The lass had a way of giggling sometimes when she spoke that made Duncan wonder if she was laughing at him or was just a wee bit off her head. He called in his men, and motioned for them to follow along as he and MacColl trudged up the hill toward the Livingstone manor.
If they couldn't find the stills and Livingstone would not own to them, then by God, Campbell would inquire about the past due rents. He'd have something for his trouble.
Two weeks later The North Sea
The wind out of the west was light, but brought with it heavy clouds. Nevertheless, the Reulag Balhaire was sailing along just as she ought to be, the sedative dip and rise of the ship's bow into the rolling waves a steady reminder that all was right.
Captain Aulay Mackenzie listened to the sound of his crew calling out to each other as they manned the sails. He closed his eyes and felt the mist of the sea on his face, the wind ruffling the queue of his hair. It was days like this — well, he preferred those glorious, sun-filled days — days at sea, when he felt most himself. When he was most at home. He was in command of his ship, of his spirit, of his world. It was, perhaps, the only place in his life that was so.
It had been too long since he'd been at sea — a few months, but to him, a lifetime. Aulay chafed at life at his family's home of Balhaire. He had lived his entire adult life at sea, and every day away from his ship was a day something was missing. He was useless at Balhaire. His father was chief of the Mackenzie clan. His older brother, Cailen, was his father's agent, his face to the world. Rabbie, Aulay's younger brother, managed the day-to-day business of the sprawling estate of Balhaire, along with his youngest sister, Catriona. His mother was engaged in the social aspects, as was his sister Vivienne. And Aulay? He had no useful purpose there. Nothing worthwhile to occupy his days. He was merely an observer on land.
His father had begun the Mackenzie sea trade when he was a young man, and it had flourished under his clever eye, and as his sons grew, with them as well. Their trade had suffered in the wake of the Battle of Culloden some seven years ago. After the brutal defeat of the Jacobite uprising, the Highlands had been decimated first by English forces, and then by economics. The new economy was moving the Highlands from small croft farms to wide-ranging sheep herding. Great numbers of Highlanders, having lost their livelihood, were leaving for greener fields in Glasgow and beyond.
The Mackenzies of Balhaire had not been involved in the conflict, but nonetheless, they'd lost half their clan to it, had seen their livestock and a second ship seized by the crown. Still, they'd hung on to this ship and with it, a dwindling trade. With the last round of repairs, his father had wanted to end their trade business altogether. "It's no use," he'd said. "It costs more to sail than we bring, aye? We've lost ground to the MacDonalds, we have."
Aulay had panicked slightly at such talk. He didn't know who he was without a ship. He didn't know what he'd do.
But then a miracle had happened. Aulay, chafing at the loss of some trade, had gone in search of more. He'd struck an agreement with William Tremayne of Port Glasgow. William was an Englishman, but he was an agent with goods to trade and in need of a vessel to carry them. Aulay was a captain with an empty ship. It seemed a perfect match. And yet, his father and brothers had argued against the deal. It was too much risk, they said, to carry another man's cargo. Aulay had assured them there was no risk. Was he not a fine captain? Had he not delivered and brought home countless holds full of goods? He had prevailed in the end, but his father's skepticism was quite evident.
This was his maiden voyage for Tremayne. The ship was loaded with wool and salted beef, en route for Amsterdam, and then on to Cadiz where they would load cotton for the return.
The men aboard were in high spirits, as Mackenzie seafaring was their livelihood, and they needed the work. So was Aulay in a fine mood. He'd not been to Amsterdam in some time, and there was a wench there, a lass who had eyes like two obsidian rocks and a lush mouth upon whom he intended to call.
He was thinking about the way she moved beneath him when a boom startled him. It sounded a bit like thunder, but not quite that.
"Got a light on the starboard side, Captain!" one of the men up on the masts called down.
Aulay turned to the starboard side and was joined by his first mate, Beaty. It wasn't a light, precisely, but a glow. "That's fire, aye?" he asked Beaty, who was peering through a spyglass.
"Aye," Beaty grunted.
"Wind is rising, too," said Iain the Red, who had come to the railing to have a look. "They'll be naugh' they can do to stop the spread if it rises much more."
"Och, she's sailing toward land," said the wizened old swab, Beaty. His looks were deceiving — he was thick and ruddy, but still as nimble as he'd been as a lad some forty years ago. He hiked himself up onto a batten of the main mast, one arm hooked around a thick rope in the shroud as he held the spyglass with the other to have another look. "She's sailing at five, six knots if she's moving one. She'll make landfall ere it's too late if the cap'n keeps his bloody head."
"Is there a flag?" Aulay asked.
"Aye, a royal flag, Cap'n. Ship looks too small for navy, it does, but that's the Union Jack she flies."
Aulay gestured for the spyglass. He hopped upon the mast shroud with a sureness of foot that came from having spent his life at sea, and peered into the thickening gray of sky and ocean. He could make out men trimming sails to better catch the wind while others lowered buckets into the sea and threw water on the flames to douse them. Ships didn't generally catch fire on their own, not without a strike of lightning or some such, and they'd not seen any hint of that. Aulay studied the horizon, casting the spyglass in the opposite direction of the burning ship's course, trying to discern wave from sky —
"Aye, there she is, then," he said. He'd marked another, smaller ship. It appeared that it had lost the top half of its main mast. He pointed and handed the spyglass to Beaty, then hopped down from the shroud.
"My guess is a fly boat," Beaty said, peering at it.
"A fly boat!" Iain exclaimed, snorting at the idea of the small Dutch ship. "Ought no' to be in open sea, no' a fly boat. They're for sailing the coast, they are."
"We're no' so far from the coast," said someone else. "Perhaps she's adrift, aye?"
Aulay glanced around at his men, who had gathered round to have a look. It felt good to be on board with them again. It put him in good spirits, in need of a bit of adventure. "Shall we have a look, then?"
The Reulag BalhaiRe was not in the business of saving other ships. It was generally considered unwise to approach another ship unless one was prepared to have a hull shattered by cannon fire. But their curiosity was aroused. The burning ship was just a spot in the distance now, so they'd set course for the starboard side of the smaller ship, a gun pointed at the forecastle in the event there was trouble.
Aulay watched the smaller ship slowly come into view, its outline muted against the darkening sky, the clouds weighing down on the masts. It wasn't until they were almost on the ship that they could see it was listing.
Iain the Red was studying it as they approached. "No' a fly boat, no," he said. "A bilander."
"A bilander!" Beaty blustered. "What nonsense!"
Whether a fly boat or bilander, neither were particularly well suited for the open seas. "Is there a flag?" he asked.
"No." Iain the Red paused, then laughed. "Look at them now, trying to lower the sail." He laughed again with great amusement. "They look like children romping around a bloody maypole! Look at them trying to untangle those shroud lines, aye? They're twisted up every which way — oof, there went one, down on his arse!"
The men gathered at the railing to watch, and laughed at the blundering of the crew on the other ship as they tried to free a sail from a broken mast with what looked like a lot of pushing and shoving. "Aye, give it over, Iain, lets have a look," one said, and they began to pass the spyglass around, all of them doubling over with mirth.
The spyglass came back around to Iain, but when he held it up, he stopped laughing. "Diah, de an diabhal?" he exclaimed and lowered the instrument, turning a wide-eyed look to Aulay.
"What, then?" Aulay asked, feeling a mild tic of alarm, imagining a gun pointed at them, or a pirate's flag being raised.
"A lady," Iain said, as if he'd never seen one.
A lady? It was not unheard of for one to be on the high seas; wives of captains sometimes sailed with them. If it were anyone else, a lady of importance, she'd not be sailing on a rickety boat like that.
"In a proper gown and everything," Iain said, his voice full of awe.
Aulay didn't know what a proper gown meant to Iain, so he motioned for the spyglass to have a look. He could scarcely make her out, but it was definitely a woman standing at the railing, holding a white flag that almost matched the color of the hair that whipped long and unbound about her face. There were a few men beside her, all of them clinging to the railing, all of them looking rather desperately in the direction of his ship.
Aulay instructed Beaty to maneuver closer, and when there was nothing but a small bit of sea between the two ships, the men's frantic attention to the sail on the other ship was forgotten in favor of lowering a jolly boat down the hull. There was more chaotic shoving among them until four men scrambled down a rope ladder into the boat and began to row with abandon toward the Reulag Balhaire. The woman remained behind on the ship's deck with a few men, including one that was the size of a small mountain, towering a head above all the others.
When the smaller boat reached them, one of the men grabbed on to the rope ladder to steady them, and one rose to standing, bracing his legs apart to keep his balance. "Madainn mhath," he called up, and with an affected swirl of his hand, he bowed low. And very nearly tipped over the side when a swell caught him unawares.
"Scots, then," Beaty said. "That's something, at least."
"We are in need of your help, kind sirs!" the man called up, having managed to right himself. "We've been set upon by pirates, aye?" He spoke with a strange cadence, as if he were a town crier delivering this news to a crowded venue.
The men did not carry swords or guns that Aulay could see. It seemed all they could do to keep the jolly from tipping too far to one side. "That ship flew the colors of the king," he called down.
The spokesman looked startled. He squatted down to consult the other men in his small boat. A flurry of shaking heads and talking over one another ensued, until the man stood up again and said, "She flew no such flag when she fired, on me word, sir! She fired with no provocation from us!" He pressed his hand to his chest quite earnestly.
"No' bloody likely," Iain muttered.
"Why do I feel as if I am watching a theatrical performance?" Aulay asked idly. "What do you think, then, Beaty? Could a freebooter put his hands on a royal flag?"
"More likely a privateer," Beaty said, referring to those private ships holding a royal commission. "They're no' above a bit of pirating, are they? Might have nicked a flag, I suppose."
Perhaps. It was hard to argue who'd advanced on whom when they'd not witnessed it. But it seemed unlikely that a privateer or pirate would have engaged this ship. It was too small to hold anything of quantity or value.
Aulay leaned over the railing. "What have you on board that invited attack?"
"Naugh' but a lady, Captain!" "Who is the lady, then?"
That question prompted more spirited discussion on the jolly boat.
"What, then, they donna know the lady?" Iain snorted.
Once again, the man straightened up, put his fist to his waist and called out, "Our Lady Larsen, sir! We are carrying her home to her ailing grandmamma!" He paused, put a hand to his throat and said, "'Tis a journey of great and intolerable sadness, as the lady's grandmamma is no' expected to live!"
Larson. Aulay did not know the name.
Excerpted from "Devil in Tartan"
Copyright © 2017 Julia London.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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