Robert MacAulay, heir to the influential Baron of Ardincaple, will risk everything to help his father and his clan. But when Rob becomes involved in a legal tempest stirred by an irresistibly maddening lady, his mission is threatened before it begins . . . RECKLESS LADY
Lady Muriella MacFarlan is impulsive, mercurial, and sometimes illogical. She is a spinner, not just of yarns and threads but also of stories. She can gild the lily or tell a half-truth. When her active imagination lands her in the suds, she's forced to turn to the ever truthful and blunt-spoken Rob for help. Their destinies now entwined, Rob and Muriella may discover that love is one truth that cannot be denied . . .
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The Warrior's Bride
By Amanda Scott
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2014 Amanda Scott
All rights reserved.
Tùr Meiloach, Spring 1426
The boy stood perfectly still as he scanned the high granite cliffs to the east and the barren rocky slopes below them for sign of the deer he had been stalking since dawn. Standing as he was at the edge of the woods, he knew that his dust- brown tunic and cap blended with the woodland foliage, making him invisible to man or beast above, had there been any to see him.
He saw no movement on the slope, only five or six hawks circling above.
His quarry had vanished without making a sound.
Bow in hand, his quiverful of arrows slung over one still thin shoulder, the boy reminded himself to be patient. The deer had come this way.
Behind him, stretching westward to the Loch of the Long Boats, lay his master the laird's land of Tùr Meiloach and the tower of that name where the laird's family lived. The name meant a wee tower guarded by giants, but the boy did not think the tower wee at all. It was five stories tall and large enough to need two stairways. However, if real giants did guard it, perhaps they considered it wee.
Not that he had ever seen any giants, for he had not. But the lady Muriella MacFarlan told stories about them, and if she said they were real, it must be so. Forbye, others told similar tales about Tùr Meiloach's land—many, many such tales. Even the laird said that the land was sacred and protected its own.
A distant, barely discernible rattle of stones drew the boy's attention upward to his left, northeastward, to movement in a scree-filled declivity there. It was not his deer scrambling up the slope, though. Deer did not dress themselves in pink kirtles.
"What the deevil be that pawky lass up tae now?" he muttered, echoing a frequent question of his favorite person at Tùr Meiloach.
Sir Magnus Galbraith-MacFarlan, husband to Lady Muriella's eldest sister, the lady Andrena, enjoyed the godlike traits of immense size—nearly large enough to qualify as one of Tùr Meiloach's guardian giants—a heroic repute for wondrous deeds, and the equally godlike habit of swift retribution to ill- doers, large or small. Sir Mag was a warrior exactly like the boy hoped to be, if his shoulders ever widened and grew muscles and he grew a bit taller ... well, more than a bit, then.
"She has nae good cause tae be there," he told himself. "What's more, the laird tellt her she were never tae venture near yon pass. I heard him m'self."
He was about to leave the shelter of the woods and follow her when his peripheral vision caught more movement above but southward, to his right. A man, a stranger, stepped briefly into sight from behind a boulder and vanished behind another one the size of a small cottage. Despite the loose scree the lad could see up there, the man made no sound. Nor did the gray, wolflike dog that followed him.
Alarmed now, because strangers were rarities on Tùr Meiloach land—most offlanders respecting tales they had heard of its ground opening to swallow whole armies and such—the boy hesitated where he stood. He had seen strange things occur himself, but the land held no terrors for him. He belonged there.
Looking northward again, toward the lady Muriella—for the figure in pink was certainly she—the boy stiffened, his alarm surging to fear. Another figure had appeared above her and was slinking from boulder to boulder down toward her.
Although she seemed unaware of both men, it occurred to the boy that she might have slipped out to meet one or the other of them. Some lassies did do that sort of thing now and now, he knew.
He dismissed the thought, though, because even he knew that Lady Muriella had small use for men. She cared only for her storytelling and assured anyone who would listen that she would one day be a seanachie, charged with passing the tales of Scotland's history and folklore on to future generations. Most of the seanachies he had seen were men, but her ladyship said she would be one, and he believed her.
The man above her was much closer to her now than the one to the south. Moreover, the chap above her was behaving in a way that suggested he had even less business showing himself on that part of the ridge than her ladyship did.
Frowning, eyeing the man with distrust while making his way toward the two, the boy realized that the man's voluminous plaid was familiar. So, too, were his long, dark hair and the arrogant way he straightened and stood, feet spread, his hands on his hips, watching her ladyship, as if he dared her to look up and see him.
All of these traits were familiar to the boy.
"That be the wicked Dougal," he murmured, walking faster. He took only a few steps, however, before he realized the futility of haste. Her ladyship was too far away for him to do aught if Dougal meant mischief to her, as likely he did, since he had threatened and created mischief for the laird's family several times in the past.
Thinking fast, the boy put two fingers to his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. When she looked back and he could be sure that she saw him, he shifted the strung bow to his forearm, cupped his mouth with both hands, and shouted, "Lady Murie ... the laird ... wants ye! He says ... come ... straightaway!"
She hesitated, and the man above her stepped out of sight again.
Looking southward, the boy saw that the stranger stood in plain sight, looking right at him. He was a big chap, not as big as Sir Mag, to be sure, but big enough to make the boy wonder again if he was friend or foe. He wore no plaid, just leather breeks, boots, and a leather jack over a tan shirt. He carried a bow and had a sword in its sling across his back, so he might be a warrior, or posing as one. The boy was a bit of a cynic about such things. He had seen much in his thirteen years.
Looking back toward Lady Muriella, he saw that she looked displeased, but at least she was scrambling down the slope toward him.
The man above her was still there, too. But Dougal—if it was indeed he—was moving upward, back toward the pass, and the hawks were circling lower as if to urge him on his way. So that was all right.
Striding to meet her ladyship, the boy saw as they drew closer together that he had underestimated the extent of her displeasure.
He hastily tugged off his knitted cap, freeing his unruly red curls.
"What are you doing up here, Pluff?" Lady Muriella demanded as soon as she was near enough to do so without shouting. "You should be minding the dogs and helping MacNur with the beasts."
"I did me chores earlier, m'lady. I saw deer tracks again and thought I'd fetch home some venison. Did ye no see the man above ye in yon rocks?"
"I suspected that someone was up there, because of the hawks. Who was it?"
"In troth, there be two o' them the noo," Pluff said. "One o' them were just yonder," he added, pointing to where he had last seen the stranger. "But the one above ye, 'less I be mistook, were that villain Dougal MacPharlain."
"How would you know Dougal MacPharlain?" she asked.
"I seen him last year when he come here wi' all his impertinence tae beg for the lady Lina's hand on the same day she married Sir Ian," Pluff said. "I'd seen Dougal afore then, too, now and now," he added glibly, seeing no point in saying more and hoping that she would not ask him to explain.
"Well, Dougal MacPharlain has no right to be on our side of the pass," she said. "And so I would have told him had he dared to accost me."
Pluff opened his mouth to remind her that Dougal was unlikely to heed such a warning but remembered in time that it was not his place to do any such thing.
She said, "Why does the laird want me, Pluff? Do you know?"
Much as he would have liked to make up a story to tell her, he knew that if he did, he would soon find himself in the suds. So, bracing himself, he said, "I only said that tae turn ye away from that Dougal. He's a gey wicked man, is Dougal."
"He may be, aye, but I can take care of myself," her ladyship said roundly. "And if my father does not want me, I have things I want to do."
"Ye'll no be a-going back tae that pass, will ye?" Pluff demanded daringly.
That his words irked her was obvious to one of Pluff's experience, but before she could voice her annoyance, a deep male voice behind them startled them both by saying firmly, "She will not."
Muriella whirled to face the man who had spoken and stopped with her mouth agape when she saw him in the forest shadows. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and looked as darkly tanned as if he had spent his life outdoors.
She could see that his hair was thick, shoulder length, wavy, and the soft color of walnut shells. His features were barely discernible under the shadowy trees, but there was something familiar about him even so.
Frowning, she said, "I know you, do I not?"
"We have met, aye," he replied evenly.
Her memory was excellent. Most people thought it was infallible, because she never forgot what anyone told her. But it was weaker when it came to faces. Although she could accurately draw from memory those that interested her and people she knew well, she did not remember every person she had seen or met.
His voice—liquid smooth, deeply vibrant, and musical to the ear—plucked a memory chord.
As if he knew she was studying him, he stepped into the sunlight, where his hair turned from light brown to golden brown with sunny highlights.
However, when he stepped closer, his eyes drew her attention, because in the stronger light, she saw that they were the soft green of forest ferns where sunlight touched them. They were set deep beneath dark brown, slightly arched eyebrows, and their lids boasted long, thick, dark lashes. They were, in fact, extraordinary enough to fill the gap in her memory.
Her first impulse was to tell him that she remembered exactly who he was. But, when she realized from his silence that he did not mean to identify himself, although courtesy demanded that he do so, a second, more mischievous impulse stirred to see what he would do if she prodded him.
Accordingly, she said lightly, "I do not know why you should think you have the right to make decisions for me when you stand uninvited on my father's land. Men have died for trespassing so."
"My business here is none of yours, lass. I spoke only to prevent you from making the grave mistake of confronting Dougal MacPharlain. Not," he added dryly, "that MacPharlain lingered after he saw me."
"He saw you?"
"Aye, sure, for I showed myself whilst you descended to speak to this lad. Not until I saw that he was departing did I come down here."
"I doubt that Dougal took fright merely from seeing another man on that hillside," she said, cocking her head to watch for his reaction to that statement.
He revealed no reaction but held her gaze as he said, "Mayhap he did not. Still, I'd wager he was merely indulging his curiosity in Tùr Meiloach and would have ventured no further down that slope had your presence not enticed him to do so." Gently, he added, "Do you often engage strangers in conversation, lass?"
"I would remind you that you inflicted your presence upon us," she said. "Sakes, you spoke to us first! I did not invite this conversation."
The green eyes narrowed, and Muriella was just congratulating herself on getting a rise out of him when Pluff said, "What did ye do wi' your dog, sir?"
The fascinating green eyes held hers for a moment longer before the man turned to him and said, "She stands yonder, lad. Would you like to meet her?"
"Aye, sure, if she's friendly."
"She is whatever I tell her to be," the man said, giving a snap of his fingers.
To Muriella's astonishment, an animal that looked more like a wolf than a dog emerged from the shrubbery and loped gracefully to stand before the man.
"Coo," Pluff said in a near sigh. "Are ye sure she's just a dog, sir?"
"I'm sure," the man said. "I cannot speak so surely of her ancestors, though."
"What d'ye call her?"
Impressed but skeptical, Muriella raised an eyebrow and said, "You named a dog descended from wolves after the most famous of the Celtic warrior queens?"
His lips twitched as if he were suppressing a smile. "I'd forgotten that you are the one interested in history and fairy tales."
"The one?" Muriella fought down the flash of irritation. He made her sound like some oddity of nature.
Robert MacAulay easily conquered his amusement. The lady Muriella had matured in the year since he had last seen her and had become more beautiful than ever, even with her fine flaxen hair in untidy loose plaits and her pink skirt and red underskirt kilted up to reveal shapely but mud-spattered lower legs and bare feet.
When he'd seen her earlier, he had not recognized her and had followed her only because he thought it reckless for any young lass to wander alone on such notoriously unpredictable terrain. As small and slender as she was, he had thought from the distance that she might be a child. Looking at her now, he wanted to ask why she was not wearing a cloak and boots on such a chilly morning.
In truth, though, she would one day make some man an enviable wife. If he'd had any inclination to assume such a burden, he might be interested himself, although he suspected that she would present a rare challenge for anyone who tried to domesticate her. That was, however, no business of his.
The only thing that concerned him was that she was either unaware of the danger she had courted or dangerously indifferent to it.
Speaking as evenly as he had from the start, he said, "I seem to have offended you. That was not my intent. People often speak of the MacFarlan sisters, and when they mention you, they talk of your flawless memory and your love of folklore and tales of Scotland's heroes. In fact, since you have such a fine memory, I suspect that you remember me perfectly well, do you not?"
"If you know who I am, then you should behave more courteously," she replied, raising her chin.
Glancing at the too-interested boy, Rob said quietly, "If you would like to throw a stick for Scáthach, lad, she will be happy to accept your friendship. She has not had much exercise yet today, so you would be doing me a good turn, as well."
"Aye, sure," the boy replied, grinning. Unstringing his bow, he rested it against a tree, quickly found a suitable stick, and heaved it away from the trees.
Scáthach chased it eagerly up the slope, tossed it high, caught it, and then turned back. When the boy dashed off to meet her and throw the stick again, Rob said to her ladyship, "You do know that you were in danger up there, do you not?"
"If you know who I am, why do you not address me properly?"
"Because you are not behaving much like a lady," he retorted.
Flushing scarlet, she gave him a look that he was sure she hoped would wither him where he stood. Her expressive, thickly-lashed, sky-blue eyes flashed sparks, and her kissable pink lips parted as if she meant to give him a piece of her mind. Wisely, she shut her mouth again without saying a word.
Then, when he remained silent, having no reason to say more than he had, she drew a deep breath and said, "You have not changed one whit since last year."
"So you do remember me."
"Aye, sure. You are Master Robert MacAulay of Ardincaple. You came here with my good-brother Ian. I did not think you were rude then, though, just a bit dull."
"But now you think me rude. Why?"
She rolled her eyes as if his rudeness should be self-evident.
He glanced toward the lad again, saw that his attention was wholly on the dog, and returned his own to the undeniably tempting but perilously saucy and naïve Lady Muriella. "Are you going to answer my question, lass? If you expect me to read your mind when you roll your eyes like that, you will soon learn that I dislike guessing games. If you want me to know what you think, you must tell me."
"I think that I do not want to talk to you anymore. In troth, since no one invited you here, I think you should go home."
"What makes you think no one invited me?"
Try though she did, Muriella could get no more than that out of the man. When she asked him if her father had invited him or even knew that he was on Tùr Meiloach land, Robert MacAulay said, "You will have to ask Andrew Dubh."
Irritated, and with her curiosity now aflame, she said, "If you will not talk to me, I see no reason to talk to you. You may therefore go where you will, but you should know that I mean to tell my father that you are trespassing on our land."
"You should tell him," MacAulay said. "Be sure that you also tell him where you were going and that Dougal MacPharlain was likewise on his land."
Tossing her head, she said, "I have no cause to say that Dougal was here. I did not see him."
"The boy did, though, and so did I," MacAulay said. "You would be wiser, I think, to tell your father about Dougal before one of us does. For now, I will see you safely back to Tùr Meiloach, since you refuse to promise to return on your own."
"Would you believe me if I did promise?" she asked, raising both eyebrows.
Excerpted from The Warrior's Bride by Amanda Scott. Copyright © 2014 Amanda Scott. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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