The wintry Scottish Highlands is the setting for Jackie Ivie's magical new novel of a man and a woman who battle the elements and each other to learn that the season's greatest gift is love. . .
A Reluctant Husband
Caught in a furious blizzard, battle-weary Myles Donal has only two options: die alone in the snow, or make his way home by order of his sire to marry a woman known as the Harridan of the Highlands. The warm glow of light in a small croft will only delay his fate. . .
A Rebellious Bride
Kendran is not about to share her hard-earned shelter with anyone, especially not a man! Running away from an arranged marriage was her only chance at freedom--and she'll not forfeit it to another arrogant male. . . even one as devilishly attractive as Myles Donal. . .
A Wedding To Remember
Snowbound and equally stubborn, Myles and Kendran engage in a battle of wills that quickly becomes a passion too fiery to ignore. "Wedded bliss" may be an abhorrent concept to both of them, but true love is not so easily denied. . .
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The Knight Before Christmas
By Jackie Ivie
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2006 Jacquelyn Ivie Goforth
All right reserved.
Chapter Onead 1455
The man's directions were as bad as his food.
Myles hunched down into his fur, pulled the woolens farther over his nose, swallowed the bile, and forced his belly to keep the reaction to the tavern master's fare at bay. He was rarely ill and now wasn't the time to test whether the reason was the good Scot fare that was always available at his own table, or not. Worse conditions than he was facing were hard to come by. The wind-whipped pelting of sleet he'd endured had changed into a thick-falling world of white, blanketing everything and making the path even harder to find than before. He couldn't be ill. Falling from his stallion would be carving out his own grave.
He shivered. Buried deep in layers of linen, woolens, trews that looked rather silly when worn with the kilt, and wrapped with two fur robes; he still shivered. That brought a frown to Myles's brow, which sent a corresponding tremor through him as snowmelt dripped from there onto his upper lip.
He shouldn't have taken the time last eve to hone a skean to razor sharpness in order to scrape at his beard. He shouldn't have left as he had, smiling to himself at the eight groaning lumps of plaide-covered misery that were what was left of his own honor guard. There wasn'tone of them who wasn't moaning and injured. It had been Myles's pleasure to leave them this morn to more of the tavern master's hospitality. It had been fated.
Now it just felt stupid. Worse than stupid. The entire venture was beginning to feel that way. What betrothed wanted a man who showed up unwanted, unheralded, unaccompanied, and fainting of weakness?
Certainly not the one his father had ordered him to report to. He didn't want her either. No one wanted the mistress of Eschoncan Keep, the land surrounding the rocky Fells of Eschon in Dumfries, or even the length of seacoast the family possessed. The woman was still untouched at a ripe age of a score and four because the man her family had betrothed to her wasn't interested in marriage. He wasn't interested in anything about her. Word throughout the glens was of the clansmen left cut and bleeding by just a touch of the sharpness of her tongue, and then blinded by her bulk and the plainness of her face.
Myles shivered again. He told himself it was reaction. He'd already wasted energy and blood on the fight over it. He'd taken to the field, fighting all comers to get out of this demon-inspired betrothal. It hadn't worked. He was still battered, bruised, and slightly disoriented from his fight. And his father had added insult. He'd sent the same men Myles had handpicked at puberty as the men he'd surround himself with for life. The laird of Donal had ordered his son's own Honor Guard into the fray. And he had even more men to send should his son still balk even after he'd fallen for the last time.
There was nothing for it. He could reach Eschoncan, wed the harpy, and then flee ... or he could waste more time meandering out in a winter storm while his horse plodded through ice-crusted drifts and he got weaker. He couldn't decide which was worse. As he huddled deeper in the mass of material and fur about himself, listening to the steady breathing of his horse, he realized the truth: either one was just as bad.
A glimmer of light touched the frost hovering in front of his face, turning the crystals red and then yellow, before going out. Myles blinked, shuddered at that slight movement and how it sent icy drops about his face, and tried to focus.
There hadn't been a sign of humanity since he'd left Aberdeen at first light. Laird Eschon hadn't left a croft untouched, or a body breathing, when he'd gone systematically about the glens, banishing and forcing off any crofter in the area known as a demesne. Such was the bane of having sided against yet another boy-king, a Stewart who demanded such a thing. Myles's own clan had only barely survived the same; and that was through marriage. High marriage at that ... with a traitorous Douglass.
Myles had laughed and jested and called the teasing words at his cousin when she'd been sacrificed on the marriage altar. What he wouldn't give to take all of that back, as he'd had to listen to it himself, just two short years later.
The glimmer of light came again, tormenting and teasing and making him catch his breath with the giddiness of actually finding shelter. Then, he had to deal with the icy shock of the air he'd inhaled and the heaving of his body as every part rebelled. That made the bruised ribs more painful and his grip on the rein precarious as he fought to stop the coughing spasm before it unseated him.
It was impossible. His mind was seeing things that his eyes were putting into existence in front of him. There wasn't a croft with anyone living in it between him and Eschoncan Keep. The alesman had warned him, but since he'd also been laughing as he had said it, Myles hadn't taken him seriously. It wasn't joint amusement. It was because he'd wheedled the reason behind who his guest was and already knew the acid-tongued skelpie who was waiting for him at the end of his quest.
The light came again, beckoning him, reaching out to him with the promised embrace of a mother's arms. Myles turned Rafe toward it. The animal didn't want to go. There was a hump of snow-covered deadfall between them and succor and Myles couldn't find the strength to compel Rafe. He had all he could do with holding his seat, keeping the sickness at bay, and forcing his bruised ribs to take one breath after the other, while his trembling increased.
Some bridegroom he was going to look at the altar. If he lived long enough to make the keep.
Rafe had decided the light really did mean warmth, shelter, and possible food, because he'd plodded to the end of the snow-covered fencing and rounded it. Myles forced himself to remain conscious. It really was a fence. At least, that's what it appeared to be. And fences meant people. And people meant life and warmth; mayhap even friendship. As much as he'd cursed God and claimed to want death rather than the hell his father was committing him to, it was a lie. Myles watched the round hump that became the front of a croft right in front of his eyes with something akin to shock.
It truly was a home. Further, there was light showing through the cracks of the shutters. Light meant warmth, and humanity, and by faith, he was tired of trying to pretend that he was strong and impervious. He wanted warmth, he wanted companionship, and he wanted time to recover-body and mind.
Rafe stopped, huffed a few times, and then turned his head to see what further his master was waiting for. Myles would have grinned at the steed but knew it would take too much effort. His face felt frozen into position. He let go of the reins and shifted his weight, preparatory to dismounting. All that happened was his entire snow-covered weight hovered for a moment in indecisive glory, before toppling into a heap at the horse's hooves.
At least the ground was soft. Myles found the stinging cold of all the snow coating his freshly shaven cheeks and chin and seeping down across his throat and into the opening of his shirt welcoming, and strangely reviving. He surprised himself by getting to his feet almost the moment the snow started melting, and then he was stumbling with a curse into the solid wood of a door jamb.
That hurt. Just about everything hurt, or had trembling attached to it, or was fevered, or was just too damn tender to touch. That's what came of taking on his father's entire clan before he'd accept the inevitable. He was being sacrificed to the witch of Eschoncan, because his father had promised it a decade earlier. And that because no one else would have her, and the Donals needed an ally with land, and that meant they wanted the dowry she came with.
The door had to have a handle, even though it was rough-hewn. All doors had handles. Myles shook his head in wonderment at the vagaries of fate that had brought him to a croft where light and warmth hovered just inside the portal and then kept him from claiming any of it because the door didn't have a blasted handle. Fate was fickle. It was also a hag of uncertain temperament and horrid shrieks of laughter that probably sounded like the ice storm had.
He backed two steps off, sucked in as much icy air as he could handle without having it burn a hole right through his chest, and rammed at the door.
The reason it hadn't had a handle was that it wasn't a door. It looked to be the remains of a wall; it had been propped into place, and it was now landing with a lot of noise, dust, and ceremony in the center of the one room. Myles shook his head slightly at the result of his act, watched the room reel at that, and gulped back the tavern master's fare yet again.
A gasp came from the loft and Myles forced himself to look up there, putting his hands on his waist in order to make the motion. It wasn't easy. His entire body was finding it difficult to maintain balance, and the only nonmoving spot looked to be right atop the planking at his feet. His head was hammering in time to his pulse, rivulets of snowmelt were just reaching his belt line and soaking into his drawers and undertunic, and his jaw dropped.
It was an angel. It had to be.
The lass looking down at him had the face of heaven, her reddish blond hair was of a length that would cascade well below her waist, if it wasn't falling forward over the edge of the wooden beam she was peering over, and she had the most luscious lips he'd ever seen. Myles knew then. He hadn't lived. He wasn't in a croft with heat at his front and a plank of wood at his feet. He was still outside, probably frozen stiff in position on his saddle, and regretting that he'd made Rafe suffer the same fate.
He just couldn't think of one thing he'd done to deserve such a heaven.
Then she opened her mouth and started such a screeching of noise, he stumbled back at the onslaught of it. She was calling out words of disdain, filling the small enclosure with a description of him that would have insulted the lowest village resident.
Myles's mouth shut. His angel wasn't an angel after all. She was more along the line of a banshee. This afterlife he probably did deserve.
She was asking him something. At least she'd stopped her tirade long enough to ask it. Myles shook in place, gulped down a too-dry throat as his head tried to lift from his shoulders, and glared back up at her.
"Are you going to come in out of the storm, or are you going to stand about like a dunce? Well?"
Her voice was rising again. Myles felt his shoulders hunching up as if to ward off her attack. He couldn't think. Steam was starting to rise from the melt of him as the heat she'd created in her home with the fire reached him. He moved his gaze to the hearth, ignoring the heaping of words she was still berating him with, and then he fell full out on what had been her door, right on his face. He only wished he'd reached unconsciousness before the pain hammered at him from bloodying his nose. Again.
Chapter TwoAt least it wasn't a wild beast. Kendran's heart took its own sweet time to calm and she used the time to size up her opponent. She already had him figured as such because that's exactly what he was doing-opposing her. The mass of fur-covered bulk could just move off the only available thing she had for a door, too. And then he could go about setting it back up. That's what he could do.
What he wasn't going to do was lie there, slumbering ... while icy snowflakes filled the entryway and sifted down to cover him. She sucked in air to screech that at him as well but had to let it go. It was futile to waste further breath on an unconscious man and her voice had cracked more than once at the strain. She was in danger of catching further sickness and he wasn't capable of understanding. He was either deaf, dense, or a foreigner. That was easy to ascertain because of the odd, amazed, and confused look in the eyes peering over the edge of his fur as he'd listened to her.
She was just going to have to do it by herself, just like always. Which shouldn't surprise her anymore, but it did. Stupid. That was it. She was getting stupid and having visions and shivering at the result of it. God knew why she'd had to take this wild ride! She'd known it was going to storm. She'd known it was going to be a bad one. She hadn't needed her younger, bastard half sister, Lady Sybil, to tell her about it. The woman had always called herself fey, which was incorrect and misleading. Cursed sorceress was what she was!
Kendran sighed, swallowed, and then grimaced at the soreness there. If he made her worse ill, she was going to shove him right out the doorway before she sealed it up this time! But first she had to get him off her door.
Kendran wasn't a small woman, being gifted with a head more height than every other female, and she had a man-pleasing frame to go along with it. Not that she cared for such things but mirrors didn't lie. Nor did they hide. She was also a physical woman, having taken up the sport of escape-by running the moment the fighting started-from the young age of three. That was the lone way she could withstand what would be a contest of her mother's ceaselessly barbed tongue, which was almost always accompanied by her father's brutish fists. Men! Mayhap her father should find a woman worthy of taking his seed and producing a male heir, if the ones he'd wed weren't good enough to do it!
Kendran was just surprised, as was everyone else, that her own mother had withstood his attacks, and even flourished, like a barb that festered if it wasn't removed, lingered on ... taking beating after beating, in order to hail sharp words on her husband's head. And everyone else in hearing distance.
All of which was getting their daughter absolutely nothing of import, while the weather this particular man had let in was warring with the huge fire she'd made, and the blizzom was starting to win. By all the saints! Men were such useless, tedious, whining creatures! God's curse to womankind! That's what they were ... and not much else.
She slid forward until her entire upper body hung from the rafter. Then she reached over, grabbed the beam in her hands, and swung herself into a hanging position that put her toes on the floor beside the man. She went into a crouch, in case he was waiting for just such an act. He didn't show that he'd heard her. He didn't even look like he was breathing. At least nothing about the mass of wet fur at her feet moved.
She shuddered. No wonder her mother was such a harridan. She was wed to a man. She had one for a husband. And that gave him the right to use his fists on her. Kendran stood, put both hands on her arms, enwrapping herself as she calmed her own tremors and reinforced her opinion of them. She knew men were of little use. The one at her feet was a prime example. Only this one was larger, heavier and more difficult to deal with than any she'd come across. Fair enough. She reached out and nudged him with a toe, watching as the moisture he was saturated with darkened the toes of her leather boots. And she'd just got them dried enough to put them back on! She ground her teeth, almost gave vent to the frustration, and knelt to shove him off the wood. He could continue his sleep on the sod floor. That's what he could do.
She had to get the yawning maw of a doorway covered and there was a man blocking that objective. There was always a man blocking things, and there was only one thing to do about it: remove him.
Kendran went to her haunches again, leaned forward, and shoved harder. He didn't move. Not even a little bit. She frowned at that. Men didn't come in quite this bulk. He might as well be a horse.
As if she'd said it aloud, a horse head appeared in the door, huffing his presence at her, which sounded annoyingly like he was lecturing her.
"Let me guess. You're a male, too," she said, as semi-intelligent eyes regarded her from a long distance up. The man's horse was a Clydesdale; very sturdy, very large, very strong. He was also moving to a broadside position, as if to block the elements. Kendran told herself she was being witless. It didn't help. She told herself that no horse had that much in smarts. That didn't work, either. She tried telling herself he was obviously getting what warmth he could since he wasn't capable of fitting through the door. But that wasn't true. The fire was going to go out if she dawdled much longer, and the horse really was blocking some of the elements with his size. She looked across at the back of her visitor's head. He'd actually had the sense to have a mount this intelligent? Maybe he wasn't a dimwit after all.
Excerpted from The Knight Before Christmas by Jackie Ivie Copyright © 2006 by Jacquelyn Ivie Goforth. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Reluctant Husband Caught in a furious blizzard, battle-weary Myles Donal has only two options: die alone in the snow, or make his way home by order of his sire to marry a woman known as the Harridan of the Highlands. The warm glow of light in a small croft will only delay his fate... A Rebellious Bride Kendran is not about to share her hard-earned shelter with anyone, especially not a man! Running away from an arranged marriage was her only chance at freedom--and she'll not forfeit it to another arrogant male...even one as devilishly attractive as Myles Donal... A Wedding to Remember Snowbound and equally stubborn, Myles and Kendran engage in a battle of wills that quickly becomes a passion too fiery to ignore. "Wedded bliss" may be an abhorrent concept to both of them, but true love is not so easily denied... While on his way to wed the "Harridan of the Highlands," Myles Magnus Donal gets lost in a snowstorm. When a silent beauty rescues him, he becomes convinced that she is his betrothed, and he does his seductive best to convince her to marry him by Christmas. When Myles arrives at his fiancee's home, he discovers the woman with whom he has been stranded is not his bride to be, but her sister. I got this book around Christmas when I was in the historical holiday romance spirit ;) It wasn't too bad of a read, but it did slow down around the end which threw me off. I liked a lot how right off the back it jumped into Myles and Kendran's relationship and focused solely on them. The side character, Lady Sybil, who is Kendran's half-sister and considered a sorceress was interesting as well, plus she added some fun twists to the story. Overall, The Knight before Christmas was enjoyable, but don't expect a great in-depth history packed tale . . . just an easy romance read. Likes: Myles & Kendran's interactions while holding out the snowstorm in the cabin was cute - like bean tossing, etc. Dislikes: The beginning of the book began with a bang, but it sizzled out in the end for me. Plus, the cover of the book isn't actually one where I feel comfortable reading in public.
The book was amzing and i loved it.. the thought of being snowed in with a man like that.wow!! the settin was great. i was sitting on the edge of my sit. that myles fell inlove beleiving that he has met his match the one he was betrothed to and it is not aso.. but i wont give away this great book. But if you love, romace, love, fighting, and justplain surprise you will love this book. i know i did and i cant wait for more.. great writing jackie..5++++
In 1455 Scotland his father demands Myles Donal marry the Harridan of the Highlands. Myles tries his best to stall his pending nuptials in the hope that his sire will change his mind or a miracle will occur, but he finally runs out of excuses so begins his hike into hell known as Eschoncan Keep------------------- However, he feels fortunate when a snow storm leaves him freezing and in need of having shelter. He manages to find it inside a small croft in which a female is also waiting for the storm to let up. Myles soon learns that the courageous feisty woman is his betrothed, Kendran Eschoncan. She is fleeing the arranged marriage her father agreed to with another Laird. She makes it clear she has no plans to marry anyone though attraction and ultimately passion flow Miles deems otherwise as he finds the élan of the ¿Harridan¿ desirable. However, at Eschoncan Keep, Myles learns that Kendran is not his intended instead another sister is. He and Kendran hide their feelings for one another and their prior encounter so no one¿s honor is destroyed however one of her sisters Sybil, who has the gift of sight, advises them to seek love not duty.------------ THE KNIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is an entertaining often humorous Scottish medieval romance. The story line is character driven as Myles struggles to cope with more than just a Harridan as he deals poorly with the Eschoncan sisterhood. Fans of delightful lighthearted romantic romps will want to read Jackie Ivie¿s fun gender war¿s tale as the hero learns where there¿s a will there¿s a way especially when an Eschoncan female leads.------------- Harriet Klausner
The story is set in the year 1455. Myles Donal is ordered by his father to marry the female nicknamed the Harridan of the Highlands. Having delayed as long as possible, Myles sets out for the Eschoncan Keep to meet and wed his betrothed. Yet before he can reach his destination, he becomes trapped in a furious blizzard. With no other choice, Myles stumbles into a small croft. He never expects to find a female already within, also riding out the blizzard. She has laryngitis and communication is all but impossible. Yet she is clearly high born therefore, untouchable. But when Myles learns she is the daughter of Laird Eschoncan, he does not even try to hold back his desire for her. ................... Kendran Eschoncan ran away from an arranged marriage. The blizzard traps her in a small croft and she has no choice but to wait it out. She does not expect to share her shelter with anyone, especially not a man! Men cause nothing but pain. Kendran has marks from her father's previous beatings to prove it. However, their battle of wills soon turns into passion. .................... When they eventually meet again at Eschoncan Keep, Myles learns that Kendran is the not the daughter he is expected to marry. To keep Kendran's honor intact, they can neither show their love for each other, nor admit to having met before. Through it all, one of Kendran's sisters, Lady Sybil, gives the two star-crossed lovers advice. Before it is over, they may have to admit that Lady Sybil is touched by the fey after all. .................. **** Author Jackie Ivie delivers a little magic, a little fate, and a lot of passion in this tale of Highland romance. I found some surprises and a twist or two as Myles and Kendran battle destiny. As for Lady Sybil, that character is more than meets the eye. I can hardly wait to dive into her story! Excellent reading here. ****