The Viper (Highland Guard Series #4)

The Viper (Highland Guard Series #4)

by Monica McCarty

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Overview

The war for Scotland’s sovereignty rages on—as Robert the Bruce is crowned king and the Highland Guard, his elite fighting force of legendary warriors, battle for land . . . and love.
 
Prized for his snakelike stealth and deadly strikes, Lachlan “Viper” MacRuairi is a warrior to enlist but not to trust. His only loyalty is to his purse, his indifference sealed by bitter betrayal. All that changes when Lachlan is tasked to protect and deliver Bella MacDuff to the king’s coronation—and the proud, lushly sensual countess unwittingly challenges him to his greatest battle yet: to love again.

Passionate and devoted, Bella has defied Britain’s king and her own husband to place the crown on Bruce’s head, and for this she pays a terrible price: Losing her daughter and her freedom to her husband’s vengeance. Imprisoned with barbaric cruelty, she vows to reclaim her child, even if it means selling her soul—and her body—to a dark, lethal warrior whose eyes glint like steel, but who makes her skin tingle and her breath race. Together they embark on a rogue mission with sinister twists and turns that threatens not only Bella’s gamble to save her daughter—but also her heart.


From the Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345531476
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/18/2011
Series: Highland Guard Series , #4
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 41,131
File size: 990 KB

About the Author

Monica McCarty is the bestselling author of The Arrow, The Raider, The Hunter, The Recruit, The Saint, The Viper, The Ranger, The Hawk, and The Chief, the Highlander trilogy (Highlander Untamed, Highlander Unmasked, and Highlander Unchained), and the Campbell trilogy (Highland Warrior, Highland Outlaw, and Highland Scoundrel). Her interest in the Scottish clan system began in the most unlikely of places: a comparative legal history course at Stanford Law School. After a short but enjoyable stint as an attorney, she realized that her career as a lawyer set against her husband’s transitory life as a professional baseball player was not exactly a match made in heaven. So she traded in her legal briefs for Scottish historical romances with sexy alpha heroes. Monica McCarty lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their two children.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue
 
“Because she has not struck with the sword, she shall not die by the sword, but on account of the unlawful coronation which she performed, let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.” --  Order of Edward I imprisoning Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan
 
Berwick Castle, Berwick- Upon- Tweed, English Marches,
Late September 1306
 
They’d come for her.
 
Bella heard the door open and saw the constable fl anked by a handful of guardsmen, but her mind still didn’t want to accept the truth.
 
This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening.
 
In the weeks it had taken them to build her special prison, she’d told herself that someone would intervene. Someone would put a stop to this barbarity masquerading as justice.
 
Someone would help her.
 
Perhaps Edward would relent, as he’d done for Robert Bruce’s daughter and wife, and send her to a convent instead? Or maybe Bella’s erstwhile husband, the Earl of Buchan, would see beyond his hatred and plead for mercy on her behalf?
 
Even if her enemies did nothing, surely she could count on her friends? Her brother might use his influence as a favorite of the king’s son to help her, or Robert . . . Robert would do something. After all she’d risked to crown him king, he would not forsake her.
 
In her weaker moments, she even convinced herself that she might have been wrong about Lachlan MacRuairi. Maybe when he heard what Edward planned to do to her, he would come for her and find a way to get her out.
 
She told herself these men wouldn’t leave her to this horrible fate.
 
But no one had come for her. No one had intervened. Edward intended to make an example of her. Her husband despised her. Her brother was a prisoner, even if a favored one. Bruce was fighting for his life. And Lachlan . . . he was the one who’d put her here.
 
She was alone, but for her cousin Margaret, who would serve as her attendant. The one concession Edward had made to her noble blood.
 
The constable of Berwick Castle, Sir John de Seagrave, one of Edward’s commanders in the campaign against Scotland, cleared his throat uncomfortably. He wouldn’t meet her gaze. Apparently even Edward’s lackey didn’t approve of his king’s “justice” this day.
 
“It’s time, my lady.”
 
The flash of panic came so hard and fast it stopped her heart. She froze like a doe in the hunter’s sights. But then instinct set in, and her pulse exploded in a frantic race. She felt the overwhelming urge to run, to flee, to save herself from the arrow aimed at her heart.
 
Perhaps guessing her thoughts, one of the guardsmen stepped forward to grab her arm and hauled her to her feet. She flinched at his touch. Sir Simon Fitzhugh, the cruel captain of the guard, made her skin crawl with his florid, sweaty face, stale breath, and lecherous stares.
 
He pulled her toward the door and for a moment her body resisted. She leaned back, her feet planted firmly on the stone floor, refusing to move.
 
Until she saw him smile. The excited spark in his eye told her this was what he wanted. He wanted her to resist. He wanted to see her fear. He wanted to drag her across the bailey in front of all those people and see her humiliated and humbled.
 
The stiffness slid from her limbs as the resistance went out of her. She gave him an icy stare. “Get your hands off of me.”
 
He flushed with anger at the haughty contempt in her voice, and Bella knew goading him had been a mistake. She would pay for her words later, when she was completely at his mercy. He wouldn’t abuse her person. Though she’d been branded a rebel and found guilty of treason, she was still a countess. But he would find millions of ways to exact his punishment and make her life miserable over the next . . .
 
Her heart caught in another hard gasp of panic. Days? Months? She tried to swallow. God help her, years?
 
She pushed back the bile that rose in her throat, but her stomach clenched as she followed the constable out of the small room in the guardhouse that had served as her temporary prison.
 
The first thing she noticed on stepping outside after over a month of imprisonment wasn’t the brightness of the daylight, the freshness of the air, or the vastness of the crowd gathered to watch her torment, but the sharpness of the wind and the piercing, bone- chilling cold. The heavy layers of wool she’d donned as protection felt as gossamer as the linen of her chemise.
 
It was freezing, and it was only September. What would December be like—January?—when she was perched high on the tower with nothing to protect her from the brutal east wind but the cold iron bars of her prison cage? A shiver ran through her.
 
Her tormentor noticed. “Feels like an early winter this year, doesn’t it, Countess?” Simon sneered the last, and then pointed up in the direction of the tower. “Wonder how cozy that cage of yers will feel in the sleet and snow?” He leaned closer, his fetid breath singeing her skin. “I might be willing to help keep you warm, if you beg real nice.”
 
His eyes dropped to her breasts. Though she was covered to her neck in layers of thick wool, she felt unclean. As if the lust in his eyes had somehow touched her, and no amount of bathing would remove the foul stench.
 
She shuddered with revulsion and fought the urge to follow the direction of his hand. Don’t look. She couldn’t look. If she looked at the cage she would never be able to do this. They would have to drag her across the courtyard after all.
 
She swallowed the knot of fear, refusing to let him know that he’d gotten to her. “I’d rather freeze to death.”
 
His eyes blazed, hearing the truth in her words. He spit on the ground, inches from the gold- embroidered edge of her fi ne gown. “Haughty bitch! You won’t be so proud in a week or two.”
 
He was wrong. Pride was all she had left. Pride would keep her strong. Pride would help her survive.
 
She was a MacDuff, from the ancient line of Mormaers of Fife—the highest of all Scottish noble families. She was the daughter and sister of an earl, and the disavowed wife of another.
 
An English king had no right to pass judgment on her.
 
But he had, in a particularly barbaric fashion. She was to be an example. A deterrent to the “rebels” who’d dared to support Robert Bruce’s bid for the Scottish throne.
 
Her noble blood hadn’t saved her, nor had her sex. Edward Plantagenet, King of England, didn’t care that she was a woman. She’d dared to crown a “rebel” king, and for that act she would be hung in a cage on the highest tower of Berwick Castle, open to the elements so that all who passed by could see her and be warned.
 
Bella never could have imagined how much that one act would cost her. Her daughter. Her freedom. And now . . . this.
 
She’d wanted to do something important. To help her country. To do the right thing. She’d never wanted to be a symbol.
 
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
 
God, what an idealistic fool she’d been. Just like Lachlan had accused her. She’d been so smug. So self- assured. So bloody certain that she was right.
 
Now, look at her.
 
No! He wasn’t right, he wasn’t. She couldn’t let him be. Then it would all be for nothing.
 
She couldn’t think about the brigand. It hurt too much. How could he have done this?
 
Not now. Later, there would be plenty of time to curse Lachlan MacRuairi back to the devil that had spawned him.
 
She fisted her hands at her side, trying to muster strength. She wouldn’t show fear. She wouldn’t let them break her. But her heart drummed in her throat as she marched slowly across the courtyard.
 
It took her a moment to realize what was wrong. The crowd gathered to witness her punishment should be shouting, jeering, taunting, calling her names, and throwing rotten fruit and scraps of food at her. But it was deathly quiet.
 
The people of Scotland’s once greatest market town were intimately familiar with the King of England’s ruthlessness. Ten years ago, Berwick had been destroyed and its people massacred in one of the greatest atrocities committed in the long and destructive war between Scotland and England. Women, children—no one was spared in the sacking of Berwick, which had lasted for two long, bloody days and claimed the lives of thousands.
 
The crowd’s silence was a protest. A condemnation. An admonition to King Edward of the horrible wrong being done this day.
 
Emotion swelled in her chest. She felt the heat of tears burn at the back of her eyes, the unexpected show of support threatening to snap the fragile threads of pride barely holding her together.
 
Not everyone had deserted her.
 
Suddenly, she caught the flash of a movement out of the corner of her eye. She fl inched instinctively, thinking someone had finally decided to throw something at her. But instead of an apple or a rotten egg, she glanced down at her feet and saw the bud of a perfect pink rose.
 
One of the guards tried to stop her when she bent down to pick it up, but she waved him off. “It’s only a rose,” she said loudly. “Does Edward’s army fear flowers?”
 
The jab was not lost on the crowd, and she heard the murmur of jeers and snickers. Edward’s knights were supposed to be the flower of chivalry. But there was nothing chivalrous about the deed being done this day.
 
Simon would have ripped it out of her hand, but Sir John stopped him. “Let her keep it. For pity’s sake, what harm will it do?”
 
Bella tucked the rose in the MacDuff brooch that secured her fur- lined mantle, and then bowed her head to the crowd in silent acknowledgment of their solidarity.
 
The rosebud—insignificant though it might seem—gave her strength. She hadn’t been forsaken by everyone. Her countrymen were with her.
 
 

Customer Reviews

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The Viper: A Highland Guard Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 115 reviews.
bookholiday More than 1 year ago
i enjoyed this and hope another comes out soon
RebeccaTX More than 1 year ago
so far this is my FAV of the series, very raw, more real but with the same amazing style of writing we love from Monica. VERY excited abotu the next one
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love Monica McCarty books try get each one that published. would recommend each and everyone that even written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish they would write more books like this one. The whole series keeps you on edge with suspense; very well written and I love that the characters (and story) are loosely based on history.
FastReaderMJ More than 1 year ago
I love this author. She makes you feel like you are right there without filling the story full of unnecessary internal thoughts/feelings of the characters. This whole series is incredible. In fact, all of her books are good. I have read every one. Start this series from the beginning with "The Chief"...all the main characters stories connect. The background of this book is laid out in the previous ones. Read it! If you like historical romance/adventure you will love this book.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1306 Bella Comyn sits in a cage hanging high over Berwick Castle ever since she crowned Robert Bruce as King of Scotland. King Edward of England uses her as an example of those who betray him; and her abusive spouse John who wanted to be the Scottish ruler encourages him. Her only regret is she misses her daughter. Six months earlier, Highland Guard mercenary Lachlan MacRuairi arrives at Belvedere Castle to escort Bella to Scone to coronate Robert Bruce as the Scottish king. Time runs out on them when John arrives. Lachlan forces Bella to leave her twelve year old daughter behind. They escape, but she is angry with him. John follows them so Lachlan has them hide in a cave. He wants the Countess but distrusts women since his wife betrayed him and his clan. They leave for Scone with Lachlan killing several enemies. They make it safely to Scone but too late for the coronation at a time when Bruce's claim is shaky due to a betrayal. Bruce asks Lachlan to escort nine women and three children to his brother. Lachlan reluctantly agrees. On the journey Lachlan and Bella fall in love, but upon arriving at their destination, she believes he betrayed them to her husband. More historical than romance, the early fourteenth century era with betrayal and distrust as common traits comes across vividly described. The lead pair is fully developed, but besides an attraction and a few kisses deftly avoids each other; thus rightfully so the romantic subplot is almost non existent. Although there is an odd major gap in time towards the end, readers will enjoy the tale of two supporters of Robert The Bruce. Harriet Klausner
Mirabelle8 More than 1 year ago
is a great medieval romantic suspense starring two lead characters who find love Great characters, a tight plot, an atmospheric historical setting, and of course, true love. And smokin 'hot sex. I was hooked from the first page and Could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant get enough of these books! Right now this is my favorite in the series. To see one character have such a change occur in just under 320 pages is great! I adore the journey these novels take me on!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I enjoyed every minute of it. This series is wonderful and I can't wait to read the next installment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story! You have to read all books to better appreciate Lachlan's character. A complicated and absolutely lovely HERO!
atzbech More than 1 year ago
Good story. Tiny bit too much battling for my taste. Can't see why women would be interested in that. I do like Monica McCarty's books and have spent many a pleasant day reading her stories. This Highland Guard series have been most enjoyable and am waiting the publication of The Saint to finish off.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Memorable. One I shall remember for quite awhile.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
These are possibly my favorite series books in a long time. The stories are great and you fall in love with the characters....not to mention the steam! Loved them and cannot wait for the next book release.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This wasnt my favorite. Its well written but bella was extremely irritating to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Exciting highlanders and great romance create a vivid page turner you never want to put down - i can't wait for the next book in the series! A must read for historical romance lovers - you won't be disappointed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OMG!! The best ine by far l love Lachlan! I think Alex (Dragon) marries Joan!
lisibear More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. It appears that each book is better than the last. I couldn't put it down and the accuracy of the historical scenes are amazing. I am totally spoiled by her books and I can't wait to read the next one. She is very good.
Wicked68 More than 1 year ago
I waited a LONG time for Lachlan's story to come out and it did not disappoint. Loved everything about it. To me it was very well written. Can't wait for The Saint to come in March. To bad we have to wait that long!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
#4 good good . Now#5
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As one reviewer put it, this book is more "raw" than the prior three. I think this approach is more fitting with the character. With the first book, I was interested in reading "Viper's" story. He was a memorable character & this story is intriguing. I have to agree it was a bit long, with a number of escapes and close calls, but overall it stands up well with the others. You also get better introduced to some of the members of the guard, to prep you for their stories. I like the connection to history with some alternative interpretations. I can see why some readers either loved this one or didn't like it as much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best i have read in all the books , i have read from her. :):)
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the part where Laclan was comforting Bella when she started crying after he told her she couldn't go to the castle to see her daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago