He'll help a woman in need, no matter where she came from...
Alysandir Mackinnon rules his clan with a fair but iron fist. He has no time for softness or, as he sees it, weakness. But when he encounters a bewitching young beauty who may or may not be a dangerous spy, but is surely in mortal danger, he's compelled to help.
She's always wondered if she was born in the wrong time...
Thrown back in time to the tumultuous, dangerous Scottish Highlands of the sixteenth century, Isobella Douglas has a lot to learn about her ancestors, herself, and her place in the world. Especially when she encounters a Highland laird who puts modern men to shame.
Each one has secrets to keep, until they begin to strike a chord in each other's hearts that's never been touched before.
Praise for Elaine Coffman:
"With an eloquent pen, Ms. Coffman weaves words into a tapestry." -RT Book Reviews
"Elaine Coffman touches the heart while making her readers laugh and cry." -Atlanta Journal
"Coffman's writing is deft, capable, and evocative." -Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Since her first publication in 1988, New York Times bestselling author Elaine Coffman's books have been on the NYT, USA Today Top 50, and Ingram's Romance bestsellers lists, and have won four nominations for Best Historical Romance of the Year, Reviewers Choice, Best Western Historical, and the Maggie. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
The Lanarkshire hills of Scotland lack the sharp and ridgy majesty of the rugged Highland mountains, for they resemble rounded loaves of bread fresh from the oven, all huddled together. The lonely hills are somehow irresistibly attractive, with their pasture-covered slopes and fairy-like meadows, where clear streams murmur through rolling undulations of thick woodlands, and the wood mouse and roe deer reside. Here, the sterner features of the north give way to a grace of forest and tenderness of landscape, where the gentle Douglas Water flows.
Alysandir Mackinnon thought it a good day as he rode across the rolling hills, accompanied by the rhythmic clang of his sword tapping against his spur, while larks, hidden among the leathery leaves of trees, broke into song as he passed beneath the heavy branches. A glance skyward told him the sun had passed its zenith, as it dipped behind a cloud to begin its slow descent into afternoon. Just ahead, spangles on the river danced and sparkled their way downstream.
Alysandir pushed back his mail coif. Sunlight brought out the rich darkness of his black hair and the vivid blue of his eyes. He turned toward his brother Drust. "We will follow the river until we find a place to ford."
Drust followed Alysandir's lead and pushed back his own coif, the shiny links of mail almost matching his silvery, blue-grey eyes. He wiped the sweat from his face and gave a silent nod. They continued and drew rein at a point where the terrain sloped gently downward toward the river, before it narrowed to make a meandering turn.
"This looks like as good a place as we have seen," Alysandir said, and he spurred his mount forward and plunged into the water. His horse staggered with the first splash and the water washed over his hocks, but Gallagher was a hobbler, a sturdy Highland pony known for its stamina and ability to cover great distances over boggy and hilly land at high speed. Alysandir only had to spur the horse lightly as he urged him slowly forward until Gallagher gained his footing as the water rose over the stirrups.
When they reached a point where the water became deeper than they expected, Alysandir was about to turn back, but Gallagher leaped ahead with a mighty splash, and they began the climb upward toward the opposite bank.
Wet and dripping, they rode into town and attracted a great many curious stares from villagers who gawked as if they rode into town to slay a dragon or two. Although a small town, Douglas was large enough to have a two-story tavern with a stable out back and streets that were fairly busy at this time of day. They rode between uneven rows of buildings stacked on each side of curving streets that had been laid out more than three hundred years before.
They passed a steep cobbled path that ran through an archway to a small, walled garden next to a house in ruins, and as they threaded their way among carts, wagons, barking dogs, clucking chickens, and the occasional darting child, they observed the slow progress of a lone rider coming toward them. He was leading a prisoner riding a hobbler, the unfortunate wretch bruised and blindfolded, with his hands bound behind his back. Alysandir wondered what the Highlander's crime had been-probably no more than trying to eke out a living in a harsh and unforgiving land.
Just ahead, near the center of town, stood St. Bride's Kirk, where mail-clad heroes of yesteryear lay entombed within, most of them with the surname Douglas. But Alysandir's fiery thoughts centered not upon the long-dead knights but upon his own desire to be away from the Lowlands, Douglas, and Lanarkshire, and back in the Highlands and his home on the Isle of Mull.
Drust, meanwhile, was giving his attention to a young lassie with copper-colored hair who was standing in the kirkyard and holding a bonnet full of eggs. Alysandir caught a glimpse of her standing beneath the graceful branches of an old tree and felt a strange yearning tug at him, but he hardened his heart and dismissed her. Aye, she was a beauty and his body stirred at the sight of her, but he still wasn't interested. The sound of Drust's voice cut into his thoughts.
"That lassie with the russet ringlets is a beauty, and she has taken a fancy to ye, Alysandir, for already she has wrapped ye in her tender gaze."
"I am leery of any lass standing under a wych elm," Alysandir replied.
"I know ye have no desire ever to have a woman in yer life again, but just suppose ye did find yerself in a position where ye were forced to take another wife. What virtues would ye seek?"
"Ye ken I have no desire to marry again. Not ever."
"So make up a list just to keep me happy. We've naught else to do right now."
Alysandir did not know why his brother insisted on having high discourse with him. Of late, Drust had been making too many inquiries as to Alysandir's unmarried state. "Ye are becoming a great deal of trouble, Drust. Next time, I will let Ronan or Colin ride with me."
"Fair enough," Drust replied as a wide smile settled across his face. "I will start the list. Loyalty would be one, am I right?"
Loyalty. The word evoked pain. "Aye."
"Ye canna stop there," Drust said with a teasing tone. "Give me the rest."
"I will give ye the virtues that any man should want in a woman, but only if ye promise to keep quiet the rest of our journey."
"Aye, I agree. Now, give me the virtues."
"Chastity, loyalty, honesty, wisdom, strength, courage, honor, intelligence, confidence, and a strong mind. A woman who knows when to yield as readily as she knows when to take a stand. A woman equal to the man in question, not in might but in nature, virtue, and soul. She would possess a true and steadfast love for him, and in return, she would have his undying love, respect, and honor."
"What aboot silence and obedience?"
"If a man had a woman's love in the truest sense of the word-which I have yet to see any proof of-then he would have all the others for they are but parts that make up the whole."
"I hand it to ye, brother. I didna think ye could give me one virtue, yet ye named many. Surely ye miss having such a woman."
Alysandir pinned him with a cold stare. "I never had such a woman, so how could I miss her?"
"Ye changed once. Perhaps ye can change again."
"Changed? In what way?"
"I remember when ye would as soon tryst in the kirkyard as in a hayloft. How is it that knowing what ye or any man would want in a woman, ye refuse to find her?"
"'Tis easy enough to answer, for such a woman does not exist."
The words were barely uttered when the faintest echo of a man's laughter reached their ears.
The sound of it seemed to break into a thousand pieces and fall like tinkling glass. Alysandir and Drust exchanged glances as the laughter faded and a slight wind stirred the heavy branches of the old wych elm.
As they rode on past St. Bride's Kirk, a tossing and rustling of the leaves sent a chill wafting down upon them. Across the way, a startled flock of sheep bolted, running across the meadow and up the hill to the pasture on the other side. The hair on Alysandir's neck stood, and his scalp felt as if it were shrinking.
"Did ye hear the laughter?"
"Aye, I heard it and felt the cold wind that blew through the trees. Unless my senses deceive me, there is an oddity aboot."
"What oddity is that?" Alysandir asked.
"We are riding by the crypts of the ancients. Perhaps they wish us to pass by quickly and not linger."
Alysandir laughed. "Perhaps ye are letting yer imagination take the lead. The Mackinnons never had a quarrel with any Douglas, living or dead."
"What aboot the laughter? Ye heard it as well as me," said Drust.
Alysandir's face looked drawn as he replied, "Mayhap it was the bleating of a winded sheep."
"Aye, and mayhap it was not." Drust gazed at the river.