Bride of the Viking Laird (Preview)

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Scotland 1307, Castle Mackenzie

Sofia’s deft strokes with the thin wand of charcoal brought the outline of the unicorn to life. Before reaching for her quill and inks she placed the charcoal in its box on the table and tidied her hands, doing her best to wipe off the black residue on her fingers onto a scrap of linen.

Brushing aside a strand of her long dark hair, she left a tiny smudge on her cheek.

Then, returning to her parchment, she took up the quill and, after dipping it into the inkwell, traced over the delicate charcoal outline. Concentrating hard, the tiniest tip of her pink tongue visible between her lips, she was lost in her vision. A tall, graceful angel standing beside a unicorn. In the background a beautiful valley, a river running through it, a sky filled with birds and flowers.

Smiling to herself, she eased herself against her cushions only half aware that one of her father’s manservants had entered the solar.

Frowning at the interruption she raised her eyes.

“Begging yer pardon milady. The laird, yer faither, wishes tae meet with ye in his study.”


The man nodded. “I’m afraid so, milady. I believe it is somewhat urgent. He asked that ye go as soon as possible.”

While the man waited, she cleaned her quill on the cloth and placed the cork stopper back in the ink bottle. She stood, straightening her kirtle and tunic, stroking both her hands over her glossy black hair, smoothing it into neatness.

Uncomfortably aware of the man’s closeness as he escorted her through the corridors to her father’s study, Sofia found herself wishing, for the thousandth time, that her father could allow her just a little freedom. Ever since she’d been returned to him after being held captive ten years ago, he had been forever anxious and fearful for her wellbeing, ensuring she was seldom alone. Her precious time in the solar, a guard always situated outside her door, was one of the few moments of solitude he permitted her.

Passing the guard stationed at her father’s door, she entered his study. It was a high-ceilinged room lined with wooden shelves holding old tomes and rolled parchments. The plastered walls were painted buttercup yellow and decorated with brightly coloured mythical creatures, ladies, flowers, knights astride their steeds, and banners flying. A welcoming fire blazed in the enormous fireplace.

Of all the rooms in Castle Mackenzie this one always made her feel safe and lent her the sense that it was here that she belonged.

Her father, the Laird Ian Mackenzie, was seated in front of the fire. Despite the early hour, he was clutching a glass of amber-coloured liquid. The whisky decanter stood half-empty beside him on a small table. The fumes from the whisky combined with the smoky-pine smell of the fire assailed her nostrils and Sofia issued a small cough.

“Come in, child.” He gestured to the adjacent chair. “Take a seat.”

Noting with surprise that his words were a little slurred she looked at him with concern. It was her father’s habit to never take whisky, wine, or mead before noon. What on earth could have induced him to break his sternly held rule this morning?

She perched a little uneasily on the chair, her heartbeat speeding up a little, as she waited to hear why he had summoned her.

“Is there a reason ye wished tae speak with me, Faither?”

He frowned, opened his mouth and then closed it again. He waved the hand resting on the arm of his chair in a vague gesture. He appeared both worried and uncertain.

Her stuttering heartbeat spiked again.

“Is it me dear sister Kayla? Has something happened tae her? Is she ill?” Her voice rose as she roamed across myriad possibilities. Her sister was recently married, and she and her father had been planning a visit to her and her new husband Payton MacDonell at Castle MacDonell. She offered up a silent prayer for Kayla’s good health.

Och please may Kayla be well. Keep her safe from harm.

Her father shook his head, raising a hand. “Nay. Yer sister is well. Dinnae fear on her account, lass.”

She swallowed a lump forming in her throat and leaned forward. “If Kayla is well, Faither, what is wrong? I’ve never seen ye take a whisky in the morning before this day.”

He groaned and took another gulp of the liquor. He reached across to the table and seized the decanter.

It was then that Sofia noticed a folded parchment among the other items on the table. The laird poured another generous dram into his glass and returned the bottle to the table. His fingers hovered over the parchment as if he couldn’t bear to pick it up.

“Is it a letter?” Sofia’s palms had grown moist. Her father’s anxiety and fear were catching on to her.

He shook his head. “Me dearest, I need tae tell ye something. I’ve had news…” he trailed off without finishing whatever he was trying to say.

It was too much. Without further thought Sofia reached over and claimed the parchment for herself. “Is this it? Is this what’s upsetting ye so?” He made no response other than to nod his head resignedly. She tilted her head. “I shall read it.”

He shook his head as she unfolded the important looking missive, noting the royal seal as she did so.

This letter had come from the King, His Majesty Robert the Bruce.

Her father groaned as she spread the parchment across her knee and began reading.

It started off with all the usual greetings of a king to one of his loyal subjects. He thanked the Laird Ian McKenzie for his ongoing loyalty to his Liege Lord and wished him well for the continued good health and prosperity of the Laird and his family. Sofia hurried over all these formalities and read on further, eager to find out what it was that had upset her father.

As she read “ye have yet another daughter of marriageable age…” she abruptly grew silent, the words boring into her skull like red, hot drills. That the King was aware of her existence made her hands tremble. That she might have drawn his attention to her unmarried state caused a stab of pain in her belly.

Her father sighed loudly. “Continue, lass. Read what he says next.”

Sofia skimmed the rest of the letter. “He commands the maiden daughters of three of his chiefs tae make haste and travel tae the Isle of Skye, where one of the maids will be chosen as the wife of Laird Haldor MacLeod of Harris and Skye.” Her voice trembled as she read on. “The three clan chiefs he addresses are Laird Baird Fraser, Laird Alasdair MacDonald…” She glanced up at her father whose head was turned away as he gazed into the fire. “… And Laird Ian Mackenzie.”

Her hand flew to her mouth and she gritted her teeth.

Her father groaned. Sofia jumped to her feet waving the parchment to garner his attention. “Yer sole remaining maiden daughter is meself, I believe.”

He groaned again, more loudly this time. “Indeed, lass. It is ye.”

“And I am tae travel tae the castle of this… this… Laird of the MacLeods, tae be paraded like a prize cow fer selection tae wed and bed this man, Haldor MacLeod.”

Her father inhaled a sharp breath. Now she understood the reason for his imbibing whisky at this ungodly hour. This was dire news. She reached over and snatched the glass from his hand and gulped down its contents before he could stop her. She grimaced as the strong drink went down.

“I’ll nay accept such a proposal, Faither.”

Now she had his full attention.

“Ye’ve nae choice, lass. This is nae elegant marriage proposal of a lad tae wed the lass he loves. This is a command of our Lord and King and ye may nae disobey.”

Her heart sank. She’d avoided all contact with men as far as possible since her rescue from a month’s captivity at the tender age of thirteen. She’d tried to suppress all memories of that hateful time but it had scarred her. She’d made a quiet vow to herself that she would remain unmarried, never to permit the touch of any man on her body. She hadn’t told anyone what happened all those years ago and where exactly she had been. Even her own sister, Kayla, was unaware as Sofia had refused to speak about it with anyone. At one point, both her sister and her father had stopped asking, giving her the peace she so desperately needed.

So far, she’d been safe in her seclusion. Any approach made to her father for his daughter’s hand had been speedily rebuffed. She had grown complacent in the fond belief she would spend the remainder of her days safely within Castle Mackenzie in gentle contemplation, indulging in the pleasures of drawing, painting and needlework, far from the boisterous and dangerously unruly intrusion of men.

A frightful thought tumbled into her head. “This Haldor MacLeod. He is the one they call the Viking Laird, is he nae?”

Ian nodded; his mouth turned down in dismay.

Sofia let out a loud squeak of alarm. “It cannae be, Faither. The man is old. He’s fought many battles and his reputation is known far and wide. He’s a feared brute. Kent tae show nae mercy tae his foes.” She wrung her hands, nervously twisting the fabric of her skirt. “Whether they be lassies or old men.”

Her father rose unsteadily to his feet and took her in his arms. She laid her head against the warmth of his chest, yet the familiar comfort was not to be found there.

“Is there naught ye can dae?”

“Nay lass. If I disobey the King, things could go badly fer me. Fer us.”

Tears burned behind her eyes as she looked up. As much as she might protest, her father spoke truly. She understood there could be no escaping the King’s command if they were to retain the Mackenzie lands and wealth.

Ian looked deep into his daughter’s fear-filled, dark eyes. “I want tae reassure ye, child. I dinnae believe ye should be afraid. Sure, we must make the journey. And I assure ye the laird isnae that old, yet he indeed has a cruel reputation. Mayhaps this will work out fer us. This man, Haldor MacLeod of Harris and Skye, is a bold leader, his family comes from harsh Viking stock. His lust will never be ensnared by a timid, gentle, wee lass such as yerself. He’ll choose another. A rowdy, feisty lass who’ll match him with her audacity and her daring.”

Sofia sighed, hugging her father. “I pray with all me heart that ye are correct and I will be spared from his choosing. I have nae wish tae bring trouble tae ye and the clan and I ken there’s nae avoiding what I must dae. I will submit tae our Lord the King’s command without further complaints. When dae we depart fer Skye?”

“Time is short. We must make preparations at once fer the journey. We are tae attend at Laird’s Haldor’s castle in less than one month’s time.”

Chapter One

One Month later

Castle MacLeod, Isle of Skye

Glancing below, Haldor MacLean halted his steps atop the giant stone staircase leading from the sleeping quarters above to the great hall. From there he had a clear view of the crowd gathering for the formal dinner arranged for that evening.

He grunted and shook his head. “Tell me again what this is about and why I agreed tae this madness?”

Beside him, his brother Ivar muttered under his breath. “Ye agreed tae this, Haldor. Dinnae complain about it now.”

Haldor ran stained fingers through his shoulder length hair, so fair in colour it was almost white. “Aye. Aye. But ye ken I agreed because we need the support of The Bruce. Our coffers are empty. If our King wishes our clan tae unite with the wealthiest of his loyal clans, we obey.” He sighed heavily. “Me marriage is the price we pay fer the King’s army on our side against our enemies Clan Mackinnon.”

Ivar, belying his usual tacit demeanour, spoke up. “Aye. But mayhap there’ll be a lassie who’ll get yer juices racing again. Ye’ll be wed fer the rest of yer days, so ye should choose yerself a beauty tae stir yer loins, if nothing else.”

Haldor pshawed. “It’s nay me manhood, but Clan MacLeod’s wealth that I wish tae swell with this union. Mayhap one of the lasses will stir me lust, brother, but never me heart. It is already taken.”

“Ye cannae grieve fer Astrid yer whole life, brother,” Ivar looked at him and it was as if he was looking right through Haldor, so he removed his glance.

“I can and I will. She was me first love, Ivar, and I lost her so many years ago, yet it bothers me all the same. There’ll be nae other.”

Ivar shrugged. “’Tis yer life, brother. Try tae choose well.” Since the death of his twin brother Thor, Ivar had withdrawn himself into his own distant world. No matter how many times Haldor tried to crack his icy façade, Ivar stayed as closed as ever. He rarely commented on the clan’s business and if the King wished them to unite with a wealthy clan, he saw no problem in that. If Haldor’s body and soul in marriage were what it cost, so be it.

A woman’s voice broke into their conversation, as Haldor heard their sister Dahlia coming from the hallway.

“Why are ye two dallying here?” she scolded. “Ye should be dressed and ready tae meet with yer guests by now. Ye’ll be insulting the lairds who are here already and seated at the long table awaiting the presence of yer tardy lordships.”

“Dinnae fash, sister,” Haldor managed a soft laugh. “We’ll be there soon enough.”

Dahlia looked him up and down as he towered over her. “Ye look like a common serf, nae me brother the laird.”

He threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I was at the training grounds, how should I look? ’Tis but the work of a moment tae wipe meself clean and throw on some new clothing. Ye go and entertain the throng. Arrange the minstrels tae sing and play while they wait.”

Frowning, Dahlia scurried off down the stairs as the brothers hastened on their separate ways, each to their bedchamber to prepare for that night’s celebration. After the feast, Haldor would choose the woman he would wed from among the three clans favored by The Bruce.

Dear Lord, how am I tae survive this evening?

Lost in thought, he failed to see the serving maid who crossed his path. The force of their collision almost bowled the young woman over. He reached an arm to circle her waist as she fell and pulled her to her feet before she struck the floor.

She was a true beauty. Her heart shaped face with its long-lashed dark eyes took his breath away. Her skin was porcelain smooth, unusual for a serving maid. Despite her rough-woven kirtle, he registered a slender waist and delicate curves. She was altogether far too elegant for a simple serving-maid. Stunned, he reacted by pulling her closer to him, unwilling to release her as her wildflower fragrance filled his senses.

The girl arched back looking at him, eyes wide with terror, before swinging back her arm and launching a ringing slap across his cheek. Her chest heaved. “Let me go! How dare ye hold me like that?!”

He instantly released her and stepped aside. “Ye ungrateful chit,” he rubbed his face. Despite her small size, the blow to his cheek was stinging. “Why would ye strike the man who saved ye from falling?”

The girl shook her head, brushing a long strand of dark hair from her eyes and tucking it behind her ear. Her hand shook. “It is wrong fer a man tae touch a woman’s body without her permission.” She looked him up and down. “Especially a soldier, sweating and filthy such as yerself.” She wrinkled her finely shaped nose. “Why, ye smell bad, sir, ye should clean yerself.”

Haldor smiled to himself, amused that she’d mistaken him for a common soldier. He was sure now she was a new addition to his serving staff, probably hired to assist the castle maids to take care of their guests. Yet, he felt like he’d seen her before. “So, what would it take fer a lady tae give her permission tae a man such as meself tae lay his hands on her body?”

She gave a haughty huff. “There are nae such circumstances. I would never permit a man tae touch me.” She studied him for a moment. “But, ye are right. I was hasty and ye did keep me on me feet. Fer that, I apologize.” A tiny smile curled her lips. “But if ye’d been watching where ye were going ye’d nae have bumped intae me in the first place.”

There was something about the maid that tugged at the edges of his mind. She seemed too familiar. He pushed the thought of her out of his head. It was not in the least surprising that one of the maidservants would be someone he’d seen before. All the same, he couldn’t help thinking it was not here, in his castle, and not recently, that he’d encountered this wee lass. She was somewhere swirling in the dark recesses of his past.

And was there just the tiniest hint of recognition in her eyes, also? His insides clenched. He wanted no memories of those days intruding into his present.

“Can ye tell me what name ye’re called by, lass?”

She shook her head, her fingers playing nervously with the fabric at her neckline. She appeared about to speak but then turned abruptly and scampered along the corridor and was lost to view.

Slightly bemused by this exchange and the terrified glance the lass had cast him, Haldor swiveled and continued towards his bedchamber.

The lass was right. He did smell bad. His clothing was stained with mud and slightly torn from his training practice in the keep earlier that day. Since his sister Dahlia’s abduction, the skirmishing and fighting with Clan Mackinnon had begun, as it was essential that his fighting men were kept at the ready. That meant hours each day devoted by the MacLeod brothers, Haldor, Ivar and Arne, to training their men in sword play and archery. And for a chosen few commanders, to gain an education in the tactics and strategies of warfare.

So far, although they had succeeded in rescuing their sister Dahlia, her abductor, Laird James MacKinnon, had continued to launch sorties against them. The man had sworn never to give up his vow to make Dahlia Mackenzie his wife.

Haldor stripped and entered the warm bath prepared by the servants. Such an important evening required special grooming.

After drying himself on a towel and combing his hair, he donned the fresh clothing his manservant had laid out. He donned the long white shirt, his black woolen jerkin, the knee-high leather boots and the deep blue and green length of MacLeod of Skye plaid that made up the great kilt. He adjusted the kilt, placing the last of the woolen fabric like a shawl over his shoulder and belted it at his waist. After securing it at his left shoulder with the gold brooch bearing the Clan crest and coat of arms, he was at last ready to face whatever fate had in store.

Before leaving the bedchamber, he fastened his sporran to his belt, placed his dirk in its scabbard on his boot and strapped on his sword.

As he walked towards the staircase, he made a silent vow to choose the woman least likely to place his heart at risk as his bride. He couldn’t bear having it broken for a second time.

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here

  • Let the games begin between strong-willed Sofia and grieving Laird Haldor. Who will be besotted first? You hooked me in, Kenna!

  • My mind is swirling! I will be thinking about this until I can get my eyes and mind in this book. I can’t wait Haldor has my attention all ready and Sofia sounds to be a spit fire. But where has he seen her before?

  • It certainly gives you something to look forward to and speculate on. I will be watching for the whole book!

  • Can’t wait to read the rest of this book. Going to be great with firey lady and handsome laird that wants nothing to do with ❤️.

  • I loved it. Can’t wait to read the whole story! Where Sophia and Dehlia abducted together? We’re they friends? Could the bond between. The girls help his courting her? The questions don’t end.

    • hahaha I am so glad you have many questions my dear Kimberly! Hopefully the book will help answer them!

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