A Library Journal Best Book of 2015
A Library Journal Summer Spotlight Title
They're rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards-dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster, in the stunning debut historical romance The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne.
Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of Victorian London's wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who've wronged him...and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception-and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands...
But Farah is no one's puppet. She possesses a powerful secret-one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he'd long thought dead?
About the Author
Whether she's writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan Byrne uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in every book. She lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains with her handsome husband and three lovely teenage girls, but dreams of settling on the Pacific Coast.
Read an Excerpt
By Kerrigan Byrne
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Kerrigan Byrne
All rights reserved.
Scottish Highlands, County Argyle, 1855
Blood ran down Dougan Mackenzie's forearms as he crouched against the ancient stone wall separating the grounds of Applecross Orphanage from the wild mountains beyond. None of the other children ventured here. The wall protected the stooped and faded headstones that rose from thick carpets of moss and heather fed by the bones of the dead.
Chest heaving, Dougan took a moment to catch his breath before sliding down to sit with his knobby legs drawn against his chest. Carefully, he opened his palms as far as the broken skin would allow. They hurt worse now than when the sharp switch had bitten into them.
Black emotion had kept him from crying out as Sister Margaret tried her level best to break him. It kept the tears from falling until now. He'd met her cold, bright eyes with his own, unable to stop his blink as the strap had come down again and again until the welts on his palms had split and bled.
"Tell me why you're crying."
The slight voice seemed to calm the intemperate wind into an invisible ribbon that carried the gentle words to him.
The craggy black and green highland peaks jutting from behind the gray stone of Applecross formed the perfect backdrop for the girl who stood not three spans away. Instead of lashing at her, the stormy wind tossed and teased at ringlets so astonishingly blond, they appeared a silvery-white. Round, pale cheeks, slashed with red by the cold, dimpled over a shy smile.
"Go away," he snarled, tucking his smarting hands beneath his arms and kicking a clod of dirt at her clean black dress.
"Did you lose your family, too?" she queried, her face a study in curiosity and innocence.
Dougan still couldn't manage to form words. He flinched as she lifted the hem of her white apron to his cheek, but he let her ever so carefully wipe at the tears and grime she found there. Her touch was light as butterfly wings, and entranced him so thoroughly, he stopped trembling. What should he say? Dougan had never spoken to a girl before. He could answer her question, he supposed. He had lost his mother, but he wasn't an orphan. In fact, most of Applecross's orphans weren't children but terrible secrets, hidden away and forgotten like the shameful mistakes they all were.
Whose secret was she?
"I saw what Sister Margaret did to you," the girl said gently, her eyes gleaming with pity.
Her pity lit a fire born of humiliation and helplessness in Dougan's chest and he jerked his head to the side, avoiding her touch. "I thought I told ye to leave."
She blinked. "But your hands —"
With a savage snarl, Dougan surged to his feet and lifted his hand, ready to strike the pity from her angelic features.
She cried out as she fell backward on her rump, cowering on the ground beneath him.
Dougan paused, his face tight and burning, his teeth bared and his body coiled to strike.
The girl just looked up at him, horrified, her eyes locked on the bleeding wound on his open palm.
"Get out of here," he growled. She scrambled away from him, gaining unsteady feet, and scampered a wide berth around the fenced graveyard, disappearing into the orphanage.
Dougan slumped back against the rocks, his trembling knuckles brushed the back of his cheek. The lass had been the first person to ever touch him in a way that wasn't meant to hurt. He didn't know why he'd been so nasty to her.
Dougan ducked his head against his knees and closed his eyes, settling in for a right proper wallow. The chilly moisture on the back of his burning neck felt good, and he tried to focus on that instead of the stinging pain of his hands.
Not five wretched minutes passed before a bowl of clean water appeared in the space between his feet. A cup, this one full of a liquid the color of caramel, joined it.
Astonished, Dougan looked up to find that the girl had returned, except now she brandished a long and dangerous-looking pair of scissors and a determined wrinkle between her brows.
"Let me see your hands."
Hadn't he sufficiently frightened her away? Dougan eyed the scissors with suspicion. They looked both gigantic and sharp in her tiny hand. "What are those for? Protection? Revenge?"
His question produced that gap-toothed smile of hers, and his heart did a little leap and landed in his stomach.
"Don't be silly," she chided gently as she set them aside and reached for his hands.
Dougan jerked them both away from her reach, and scowled as he hid them behind his back.
"Here now," she coaxed. "Give them over."
Her brow puckered further. "How am I supposed to doctor your wounds if you insist on hiding them from me?"
"Ye're not a doctor," Dougan spat. "Leave me be."
"My father was a captain in the Crimea," she patiently explained. "He learned a little about doctoring cuts so they didn't fester on the battlefield."
That arrested his attention. "Did he kill people?" Dougan asked, unable to help himself.
She thought about this a moment. "He had good many medals pinned to the coat of his uniform, so I think he must have, though he never said so."
"I'll bet he used a rifle," Dougan said, diverted by thoughts he deemed manly and grown-up. Thoughts of war and glory.
"And a bayonet," the girl supplied helpfully. "I got to touch it once when he was cleaning his weapon by the fire."
"Tell me what it was like," he demanded.
"Let me tend your hands, and I will." Her sea-storm eyes sparkled at him.
"Very well." Cautiously, he pulled his wounded hands from behind him. "But ye have to start from the beginning."
"I will," she promised with a solemn nod.
"And doona leave anything out."
"I won't." She picked up the cup of water.
Dougan leaned forward and extended his palm toward her.
She winced at the broken flesh, but cradled his wounded hand in both of hers like one would a baby bird, before reaching for the bowl of water to trickle it over the cut. When he snarled in pain, she began to describe her father's rifle to him. The way the little coils fit together. The clicking noises of the levers. The silt and stench and sparkle of the black powder.
She poured the alcohol over his wounds, and Dougan hissed breath through his teeth, trembling with the effort it took not to snatch his hands away from her. To distract himself from the pain, he focused his blurring vision on the droplets of moisture collecting like diamonds in her abundant curls. Instead of making her hair heavy and straight, the rain seemed to coil the ringlets tighter and anoint the silvery strands with a darker gloss of spun gold. His finger itched to test the curls, to twirl and pull them, and see if they bounced back into place. But he kept absolutely still while she wrapped the strips of her petticoat around his palm with painstaking care.
"Tell me yer name," he demanded in a hoarse whisper.
"My name is Farah." He could tell the question pleased her because a tiny dimple appeared in her cheek. "Farah Leigh —" She cut off abruptly, frowning at the tidy knot she'd just produced.
"Aye?" he said alertly. "Farah Leigh — what?"
Her eyes were more gray than green when they met his. "I've been forbidden to utter my family name," she said. "Or I'll get me and the person I told into trouble, and I don't think you need any more trouble."
Dougan nodded. That wasn't so uncommon here at Applecross. "I'm Dougan of the Clan Mackenzie," he announced proudly. "And I have eleven years."
She looked properly impressed, which ingratiated her to him even more.
"I have eight years," she told him. "What did you do that was so wicked?"
"I — swiped a loaf from the kitchens."
She looked appalled.
"I'm so bloody hungry all the time," he muttered, not missing her flinch at his profanity. "Hungry enough to eat the moss off those rocks."
Farah tied off the last bandage and leaned back on her knees to inspect her work. "This is a lot of punishment for one loaf of bread," she observed sadly. "Those welts will probably scar."
"It's not the first time," Dougan admitted with a shrug more cavalier than he actually felt. "It's usually my arse that gets blistered, and I'd rather that. Sister Margaret said I'm a demon."
"Dougan the Demon." She smiled, thoroughly amused.
"Better than Fairy-lee." He chuckled, playing with her name.
"Fairy?" Her eyes twinkled at him. "You can call me that if you want to."
"I will." Dougan's lips cracked, and he realized that for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was smiling. "And what will ye call me?" he asked.
"Friend," she said instantly, pushing up from the damp ground and brushing loose earth from her skirts before she picked up her bowl and cup.
Peculiar warmth stole into Dougan's chest. He didn't quite know what to say to her.
"I'd better go inside." She lifted her wee face to the rain. "They'll be looking for me." Meeting his eyes again, she said. "Don't stay out in the rain, you'll catch your death."
Dougan watched her go, suffused with interest and amusement, he savored the feeling of having something he'd never had before.
* * *
"Pssst! Dougan!" The loud whisper nearly startled Dougan out of his skin. He whirled around, ready to deflect a blow from one of the other boys, when he spied a pair of owlish eyes sparkling at him from ringlets spun of moonbeams. The rest of her was cleverly shadowed behind a hallway tapestry.
"What are ye doing out here?" he demanded. "If they catch us, they'll whip us both."
"You're out here," she challenged.
"Aye ... well." Dougan had tried to fill the emptiness of his stomach with water. Two hours later, while tossing in bed, the plan had somewhat backfired and he'd been chagrined to find that someone had hidden the chamber pot, forcing him to go in search of the water closet.
"I have something for you." Merrily, she hopped from behind the tapestry and linked her elbow with his, careful not to touch the bandages on his hands. "Follow me." A door at the end of the hall sat slightly ajar, and Farah shoved him through, closing it softly behind them.
A lone candle flickered on one of several small tables, the light dancing off walls comprised entirely of bookcases. Dougan wrinkled his nose. The library? What would induce her to bring him here? He'd always avoided this room. It was dusty and smelled of mold and old people.
Pulling him toward the table with the candle, she pointed to a chair tucked in front of an open book. "Sit here!" By now she was nigh on quivering with excitement.
"Nay." Dougan scowled down at the book, his curiosity dying. "I'm going to bed."
"And ye should, too, before they catch ye and flay yer skin from yer hide."
Reaching into her apron pocket, Farah produced something the size of a tin of potted meat wrapped with linen. Setting it on the table, she uncovered a half-eaten slab of cheese, some dried roast, and most of a bread crust.
Dougan's mouth watered violently, and it was all he could do not to snatch it from her.
"I couldn't finish my supper," she said.
Dougan fell upon the offering like a savage, seizing the bread first, as he knew it would produce the most filling effect. He could hear the rooting, growling noises his throat produced around gaping mouthfuls, and he didn't care.
When she spoke again, her voice was full of tears. "Dear friend ..." Her little hand pressed against his hunched back and patted it consolingly. "I shan't let you starve again, I promise."
Dougan watched her reach for the book as he shoved as much of the roast in his mouth as would fit. "Waff's tha?" he asked around the food.
She spread her tiny, pale hands to carefully smooth across the open pages, and nudged the tome toward him. "I felt bad for not knowing enough about the rifles this afternoon, so I spent all evening searching, and look what I found!" She mashed her wee finger next to a picture of a long Enfield rifle. Beneath it were smaller pictures of different parts of the disassembled weapon.
"This is a Pattern 1851 rifle," she offered. "And look! Here are the bayonets. The next chapter is about how they're made and how one affixes them to the top of — What?" She'd finally glanced over at him and something in his expression caused her to blush.
Dougan had almost completely forgotten about the food, for his entire body was suffused with the most intense and exquisite sensation he'd ever known. It was something like hunger, and something like fulfillment. It was wonder and awe and yearning and fear encapsulated in a tender bliss. His chest expanded with it until it pressed against his lungs, emptying them of breath.
He found himself wishing there was a word for it. And maybe there was, lost in all these countless books for which he'd never before had use.
She turned back to the pages, clearing her throat. "They noted all the names of all the different components right below the pictures, see?"
"How do ye know?" He peered down at where she pointed and noted the markings below the pictures, but, to him, they were meaningless.
"It says right here. Can't you read it?"
Dougan filled the silence by tearing off a chunk of cheese and popping it into his mouth, chewing furiously.
"Did no one teach you?" she asked astutely.
He ignored her, finishing off the crust of bread whilst staring down at the pictures, wanting very much to know what they were about. "Will ye — read them to me, Fairy?"
"Of course I will." She leaned forward on her knees, the table too tall for her to sit on the rickety chair and see over the top. "But tomorrow when we meet here, I'll teach you how to read them for yourself."
Feeling full and satisfied for the first time in as long as he could remember, Dougan began to point to pictures, and she would tell him the caption beneath while he savored the cheese in little crumbles.
By the time they got to the chapter on bayonets, Farah's head had sunk to his shoulder as they huddled around their book and candle. He used one finger to point tirelessly at picture after picture, and the other found its way into one of her ringlets, idly pulling it straight and letting it bounce back into place.
"I was thinking," he said some time later as she paused for a drowsy yawn. "Since ye doona have any family to love anymore, ye could love me ..." Instead of meeting her gaze, he studied the way the pristine white of her petticoat bandage made his hand look that much grubbier. "That is, if ye wanted."
Farah buried her face in his neck and sighed, her lashes brushing against his tender skin with every blink. "Of course I'll love you, Dougan Mackenzie," she said easily. "Who else is going to?"
"Nobody," he said earnestly.
"Will you try to love me, too?" she asked in a small voice.
He considered it. "I'll try, Fairy, but I havena done it before."
"I'll teach you that, as well," she promised. "Right after I teach you to read. Love is quite like reading, I expect. Once you know how, you can't ever imagine not doing it."
Dougan only nodded because his throat was burning. He put his arm around his very own fairy, reveling in the fact that he finally had something good that no one could take away from him.
* * *
Dougan learned much about himself in those two blissful years with his fairy. Namely that when he loved, he did it nothing short of absolutely. Obsessively, even.
She told him how her father had been exposed to cholera while visiting a friend at a soldier's hospital and had brought it home. Farah Leigh's older sister, Faye Marie, had been the first to die, and her parents had followed in short succession.
He told her that his mother had been a maid in a Mackenzie laird's household. She'd borne one of the laird's many bastards and he'd lived with her for about four years until she'd died violently by the hand of another lover.
One of the things Dougan had realized from an early age, which set him apart from other people, was that he remembered almost everything. He even recalled conversations he and his Fairy had a year later, and would shock and delight her by reminding her of them.
"I'd forgotten that!" she'd say.
"I never forget," he'd boast.
The ability made him a quick study, and he'd surpassed her reading skills quickly. Though he always sat attentively while she taught him, even when he didn't want to. Besides, she picked books that he would be interested in, ones about ships, cannons, and a barrage of historical wars from the Romans all the way through Napoleon. His particular favorite was one on the maritime history of pirates.
Excerpted from The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. Copyright © 2015 Kerrigan Byrne. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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