"The Wolf of Kisimul Castle was a delight to read. It was heartwarming, had me laughing and crying. This book is a must read!" - USA Today bestselling author, Madeline Martin.
Mairi Maclean is kidnapped on her wedding day by the enemy of her groom. Taken north to the water-surrounded Kisimul Castle, she is held captive in the name of retribution. But The Wolf of Kisimul Castle soon learns Mairi is not a docile pawn in this game of war between neighboring Scots. Nor will she be frightened into walking down the aisle to wed the fierce Highland chief.
Alec MacNeil is set on revenge for the murder of his wife. And Mairi is how he
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Kilchoan Castle — West Coast of Scottish Highlands
Mairi Maclean stared at the reflection of her friend in the polished glass. "Why would my groom send someone else to kiss me before our wedding?" she asked.
Ava Maclean, Mairi's sister-in-law, laughed. "It was actually Tor's idea last night over too many whiskies. Geoff slurred something about thinking you didn't want to marry anyone, especially him. So your brother —"
"Your husband," Mairi returned, throwing the blame of Tor's foolish idea back on Ava.
Ava grinned. "Tor said that Geoff should send his most handsome friend to kiss you before the wedding. If you still walk down the aisle to Geoff after that, then you really do want to wed him."
"Drunken plans should not be made the night before weddings," Mairi said, twisting in her seat. "Do ye think Geoff will do it? Send someone to kiss me?" The idea was ludicrous.
Ava shrugged. "But if you're wondering about the marriage at all, you might want to refuse it." Her face grew serious. "Mairi, Tor said you don't have to wed the new MacInnes chief to help the Maclean clan. Just being at Kilchoan Castle again must ..." She looked around the small room. "It must bring back horrible memories of your first marriage here."
Mairi had wed the elderly Fergus MacInnes, at her father's request, to strengthen the ties between their clans. While her husband was away on raids against other clans or English regiments, his son, Normond, had made life miserable for Mairi as he stalked her. The castle at Kilchoan had become a prison, forcing Mairi into the role of hiding mouse to avoid rape. But now there was a new chief in charge of the MacInnes of Kilchoan, and Mairi was once again marrying to secure an alliance with the Maclean neighbors.
"Which is why I told Geoff I'd be sleeping in a different room from the chief's." Too many ghosts in that room down the hall.
Ava fixed a few curls intertwined with the pink roses crowning Mairi's head. She sighed. "I don't know if I could go back to Somerset where my bad memories live."
"Memories can't hurt ye, if ye push them down deep enough," Mairi murmured. She took a deep breath and released it. "I will go through with the wedding, but this is the last time I will ever say vows. If this husband dies, I'll just become an old maid and spin wool alone in a cottage at Aros Castle. And I'll take in kittens, aye, kittens."
Ava tsked. "You're only twenty-three years old, and there's no reason that Geoff MacInnes will die before you are both old and gray. You two could fall in love and be blissfully happy."
Mairi stared into the reflection of her own eyes. Could others pick out the disappointment hidden in the grayish green? It didn't matter. Determination, to be an asset to her family, overrode her childhood dream of foolish love. "'Tis better to guard one's heart, for it is easily battered."
"True," Ava said. "But what good is a heart if you keep it locked up? Sometimes the walls that protect can imprison."
Mairi smiled wryly. "Ye sound like an old sage."
"Really, Mairi. Even if something dreadful happens to Geoff, you must leave yourself open to other possibilities. Where there is life, there is hope. Surely you'd want to marry to have children." She glanced at the angel sleeping in the wooden cradle, her two-month-old daughter, Hazel. "They are a blessing."
"One can have a child without wedding," Mairi said, looking up from under lowered lashes.
Ava met her gaze, her smile chiseled down to seriousness. "I was born illegitimately. It can be done, but it is easier for you and the child if you have a father around. I don't know what I'd do without Tor helping me."
Mairi's brother was an exceptional father and regularly walked around the castle blurry-eyed from taking turns with Ava when Hazel fussed through the night.
"I think Geoff MacInnes could make a fine father and husband," Ava said. "He's young, handsome, and strong."
"At least he doesn't leave food in his beard," Mairi murmured as she stood to smooth the green fabric of her full skirt where it flared out from her narrow waist. Her first husband had worn his meal half the time.
"Knock, knock," called Ava's half sister, Grace Ellington, as she walked into the room.
"Shhh," Ava said and indicated the sleeping babe. A look of apology collapsed Grace's smile, quickly to be replaced by a new one as she walked over to Mairi.
"You look lovely," Grace whispered.
"You can talk normally," Ava said. "Just don't shout. She was up most of last night again."
"Maybe you need to keep her awake during the day," Grace suggested. "We could poke her," she said with a teasing smile.
"Humph," Ava said, "Some godmother and auntie you are."
"You know that I love little Hazel with all my heart," Grace said, bending over the cradle to inhale. She turned her face up to Ava. "And she smells delicious." She looked at Mairi. "I just love sweet baby smell."
Ava walked around Mairi. "I think you are complete." She smiled broadly. "You look beautiful."
"Just make sure to smile," Grace said. "A happy woman is radiant."
Mairi turned to the polished glass. The dress was green with pink roses embroidered down the V-shaped stomacher to match the fresh roses in her crown. The sleeves were fitted to the elbows where they flared out into points of fine gauze. Gold braid lined the square neckline and stomacher. The full skirts enhanced her small waist, the ribbons cinching it in the back. Her wavy hair had been left to flow freely about her shoulders. Ava had pinched her cheeks, but the blush couldn't hide the freckles that spotted across her nose. Geoff had met her before. He knew what he was getting, in temperament and in freckles.
She forced her lips into a smile and leaned toward the polished glass. Radiant? Hmmm ... I am happy. I am happy. If she thought it enough, it would be true. Right?
"Ava and I need to go to the chapel," Grace said and gave Mairi's hand a squeeze. "Ooh, your hand is bloody freezing." She rubbed it between her own hands.
"Let's leave the foul talk tucked inside today, Grace." Ava said and crossed to pick up Hazel from the cradle, snuggling her against a shoulder. The sweet girl's little mouth opened and closed as if she suckled in her dreams.
"Sorry," Grace said, but didn't look repentant, bringing out a genuine smile on Mairi. "It's all the warriors around me up here in Scotland."
Grace walked out with a little wave, and Ava looked back at Mairi. "Geoff's man will come retrieve you," she whispered over Hazel's tucked head. "And if we don't see you at the chapel, we'll know Tor's foolish idea was, in actuality, quite excellent."
Mairi rolled her eyes.
"What do you mean, not see her at the chapel?" Grace asked from the hall.
The door clicked shut behind her friends, and Mairi turned to the window overlooking the courtyard below. It was summertime, but the herbs hadn't been tended, and they looked scraggly amongst the stones lining a walkway. Two running hounds and a shorter mixed breed stood tethered to a tree. They strained at their ropes, and Mairi didn't see any water source nearby. Did Geoff know his hounds were thirsty and held captive? She frowned.
The door behind her opened, and she turned. "We must first take water down ... to the ... courtyard." Her words trailed off at the sight before her. Ballocks. Geoff had sent a dark-haired, handsome giant to kiss her.
Tall and broad, his shoulders and chest tapered down to a narrow waist. Legs braced, as if for battle, he stood with a sword in hand, the weight making his arm bulge, the muscle straining against the linen of his tunic. His body took up the entire entryway.
"May I enter?" he asked, his voice hushed and deep.
"Aye, come in."
He shut the door with a soft click. Mairi's heartbeat pulsed into a gallop, and she watched his dark brows slant inward over serious eyes as he searched the room. Wavy hair matched a cropped beard covering a strong jaw. And his lips ... Mairi wet her own and swallowed against the dryness of her mouth. They were lush, sensuous, and absolutely perfect for kissing. When his gaze rested on her, Mairi inhaled and squared her shoulders.
"I doubt it will sway me, but do what ye've been tasked to do," she said. Her words held indifference, which was a complete farce. She dared any woman to encounter a man of such raw manliness without being affected by the idea of kissing him.
He crossed to the window without a word and looked out at the courtyard, his eyes scanning beyond. "Where is everyone?" he asked.
"At the chapel, I assume," she said, stepping closer. He probably smelled of sweat or ale. She inhaled. Nay. She smelled pine and the sea and fresh air on him.
He turned, and she rubbed her nose to hide the action of sniffing him. His gaze dropped to her as if her nearness surprised him. "We will go," he said.
Mairi sighed. "I won't have Geoff wondering if I would have failed his test, so go ahead." She let her eyes flutter shut and waited.
"Go ahead?" he repeated, and she blinked open.
"Aye," she said, starting to feel foolish. "Kiss me, if ye're going to. Otherwise take me to the chapel."
The only change in the man's devilishly handsome face was a slight rise in his brows, his clear blue-gray eyes widening the smallest amount. Those damnably tempting lips opened and closed, and his gaze drifted to the shut door before returning to her. He stared at her, as if he were delving into her thoughts.
The idea shook Mairi, and she frowned. "Well, if ye're not —"
The man wrapped his hand around her arm, slowly reeling her in with constant, gentle pressure until she had to tip her head back to see his face. He radiated authority and determination, as if he could order the mountains to move, yet chose to hold her instead. Her heart hammered in her chest as he set his hand on her cheek.
"A kiss, and then we go," he murmured, moving his thumb across her jaw. She had time for only a quick inhale as he descended.
Mairi had expected a bruising press of his mouth like Geoff had given her when he'd asked her to wed. But this man's kiss was gentle and warm. With slight pressure, he tipped her head to seal their lips together, moving against her as if tasting an aged whisky. Heat flowed down through Mairi, wiping away all rational thought. Her knees numbed, but the man seemed to accept her weight easily as he held her against his hard body. His height made him loom over her, but Mairi felt safely surrounded by power instead of fearful. Her fingers reached behind his head to feather through his wavy hair. They were still woven in the dark mass when he gently pulled back, ending the most sensuous kiss Mairi had ever experienced. What bloody foolishness was Geoff thinking?
Her traitorous body begged for more, but she stepped back, hands to her flushed skin above her low neckline. The man adjusted himself through his kilt, proving that he too had been affected by the kiss.
"Who are ye?" she asked.
His inhale seemed to help him gain his senses, and he returned to look out the window at the courtyard. "Your escort."
"I mean your name," she said. Could she really go through with wedding Geoff now that she knew such kisses existed? Damn Geoff.
The man turned back to her, an intense hardness to his features. "Alec."
Alec? She didn't know the name. Hadn't she met all Geoff's men at Kilchoan?
Without a word, he grabbed her hand, pulling her toward the door.
"Wait," she said and grabbed the bouquet of pink roses from off the bed as they passed. Although, the word meant more than a simple pause to collect her favorite flowers. Because hadn't she just failed Geoff's test? She dug in her heels, jerking back. "I said wait."
He turned to her. "There's no time."
She huffed. "Something like this can't be rushed. I mean, do ye live here? Why haven't I seen ye before? I don't know if I can —" Her words cut off as his hands encircled her waist. In a fluid motion, as if she weighed no more than a suckling pig, he lifted her, setting her over his shoulder.
"God's ballocks," Mairi cried out and thrashed him on the back with her bouquet, scattering pink petals. "Put me down."
But he didn't comply. Instead, he strode with purpose out through the decorated, vacant, great hall. Her outstretched hand hit the tower of spiced cakes sitting on a table by the exit into the courtyard. Arching upward, she watched them topple. With it came the realization that she was not being taken to the chapel.
"I said put me down." She sucked in sporadic inhales as he carried her slung over one massive shoulder. He pulled his sword as they neared the dogs and lowered her feet to the ground. With a furious look, he raised his sword with the hand that wasn't anchoring her to him. For an instant Mairi wondered if he'd slaughter the dogs, but he sliced through their ropes, freeing them.
"If ye don't walk, I will carry ye," he said.
"Who the bloody hell are ye?" she asked, her rose crown hanging before her eyes. She slapped it back and quickened her steps to prevent him from dragging her. On the other side of the garden gate, in the thick wall surrounding Kilchoan, sat two men on horses in a dense stand of young trees. They wore green plaids, making them hard to spot. A white horse with roses in its mane stood to the side of the pebbled road next to an unconscious man tied to the trunk of an oak. This was definitely not a foolish prank or loyalty test.
She turned to Alec, a thousand questions on her tongue. What was happening? Who was he? "Why did ye kiss me?" fell from her mouth. Of all the questions, she'd chosen the most foolish of them all.
"Ye kissed her?" the warrior with red hair asked, his eyebrow rising high.
The other man scrunched his face. "That wasn't part of the plan."
"The plan changed," Alec said.
"But the plan never changes," red hair said, scratching his chin. "Unless it involves dogs." As if on cue, the three freed dogs ran up to the horses, tails wagging. Some watchdogs they were.
"I can't believe he bloody kissed her," the other man said, a grin spreading across his lips.
Without another word, the large warrior hoisted her up onto his black horse and climbed behind her. He pulled her up against his hard chest. "I have a right to know who is stealing me away," Mairi said, twisting to peer up into his face. A glint sharpened his steely blue-gray eyes. "Who are ye?" she whispered.
Without warning he clicked his tongue, and his horse took off, making her turn forward to grasp the pommel. His lips, the ones that had made her question meeting Geoff at the end of the aisle, came up next to her ear. "I am Alec MacNeil, and ye are Mairi Maclean MacInnes ... my new wife."
Alec had to admit that the idea of wedding the old bastard's widow was growing on him. He knew Mairi MacInnes was young, and she was renowned for her temper and quick wit, but no one had told him that her kisses could sear a man on contact. From her lush curves that had pressed against him, to the intriguing sprinkle of freckles across her narrow nose, and her bonny hazel eyes, everything about her piqued his interest.
"And there was no one there with her?" Kenneth asked, looking behind them as they followed the path they'd ridden in on from the shore. Finally, they'd had a turn of luck. Abducting his enemy's widow was proving much easier than Alec had anticipated.
"I am most certainly not marrying ye," Mairi said. "I'm marrying Geoff MacInnes or I'm ..." She stopped in mid sputter, her bouquet clutched in her hands, smashed against the saddle horn. "Or I'm raising kittens." Her last words came in a near shout, prompting Kenneth to toss him a clean rag.
Alec tried to ignore the soft floral scent coming from her skin and the roses in her hair as he pulled her back to work the rag between her lips. "Then until ye wed me, ye are my prisoner," he said. Mairi fought back with her rose bouquet that had become a thorny mace, twisting to glare at him as she hit him about the head.
"She's a right vicious lady," Kenneth said with the hint of a grin and reached over to yank the bouquet from her hand, tossing it far back into a briar patch. "She drew your blood." He brushed his own cheek to show Alec where a thorn had stung him.
"The hounds are following," Alec's best friend, Ian MacLeod said from up ahead where the dogs dodged the horses.
"MacInnes had them tied in the yard without provisions. I can see their bones and the smaller one has welts on her back. He deserves to lose them," he said, tightening his hold on the slippery woman before him. He leaned closer. "If ye don't sit still, I'll tie ye, stomach down, across the saddle. I'd rather not see Sköll kick your bonny head when he gallops."
Excerpted from "The Wolf of Kisimul Castle"
Copyright © 2017 Heather McCollum.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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