The Highlander’s Sinful Bride (Preview)

Don’t miss your link for the whole book at the end of the preview.

Chapter One

Castle MacLeod, Isle of Skye

The Western Scottish Highlands, 1308

The tranquility of the summer eve was torn apart by the ringing clash of metal against metal, the dull, woody thud of shield ramming shield, and the grunting and panting of men fighting.

“Come on, Braither, dinnae be a killjoy and come tae the tavern fer a pint or two of ale, eh?” Arne MacLeod said, his tone persuasive through heavy, panting breaths. He sheathed his sword and pushed up his vizor to wipe a powerful forearm across his sweating brow. “I’ll tell ye what, we’ll go and get Haldor and bring him along too. We’ll make a night of it, three braithers together. What d’ye say?”

Despite his own ragged breathing, Arne’s elder brother Ivar MacLeod laughed from beneath his helmet, a strangely mirthless sound. “I wish ye good luck with that,” he said gruffly. “But I’ll have a wee wager with ye that Haldor will turn ye down, for he’ll nae leave Sofia, and Dahlia willnae let them go without her.”

“Then let her come, let them all come. We can have a family party. It’ll be grand. How long has it been since we’ve done something like that together?”

Ivar took off his helmet and shook his head, sending his long fair locks flying. His expression had turned grim at his brother’s words. “Nay. They’ll nae come, and I’ll nae come either,” he replied dully.

Arne took off his helmet and threw it on the ground along with his targe, the small round shield the Highland warriors used in battle and in training.

“Ach, come on, Ivar,” he cried, his exasperation evident. “Ye cannae keep on like this. We’re all grievin’ Thor’s loss, but d’ye think he’d be happy if he was here now and could see the way ye’re actin’?”

Ivar shot him a warning look, but in his frustration, Arne ignored it.

“Ye cannae spend yer whole life mournin’ fer him. Thor wouldnae want that at all.”

“Shut yer hole, Arne,” Ivar retorted angrily. “Ye dinnae ken how it feels tae lose yer twin. When Thor died…” Ivar wondered for a second how to expresses the torturous feeling. “It was like some sorcery was done and part of me went along with him.”

“He was me braither too, Ivar, and—” Arne tried to protest, but he was cut off by his brother.

“Ach, can ye nae see what a hypocrite ye are? Ye dare tae speak tae me like this when ’tis obvious tae everyone how ye’ve been affected by Thor dyin’. Bloody hell, man, ye’ve just named yer bairn after him! I still catch Dahlia cryin’ over him at times. Haldor’s just as bad. Ye see how he loses it when someone mentions Thor’s name. All of us have our own ways of dealin’ with it, and ye’re try tae tell me I cannae mourn him in me own way?”

“I’m nae sayin’ that and ye ken it,” Arne argued, picking up his helmet and targe. “But ye dinnae seem tae ken how ye’ve changed. ’Tis nae just me that’s noticed. Ye used tae like a joke and a laugh, but these days, I hardly recognize ye. Ye’re right when ye say a part of ye died with Thor, and what’s left is dark and cold. Ye’re rude and harsh when folk try tae talk tae ye. People are afraid of ye now, did ye ken that? By the Wee Man, ye’ve even shut out yer own family!”

“All this because I dinnae want tae go drinkin’ at the tavern,” Ivar growled, starting off across the training yard towards the castle. Arne followed him, keeping pace.

“All ye dae is train, train, train. Every day. That’s yer whole life now. I bet ye wish we could have a war so ye could get out on the battlefield and hammer some poor bastard intae the ground.”

“I dinnae want tae speak about this anymore,” Ivar said, letting out a string of colorful words as he strode along. But however hard he tried, he could not shake his brother off.

“Jaysus, Ivar! Ye cannae go on like this, livin’ only fer battle. The day is gonnae come when ye have tae marry, have a family, even if ’tis only fer the sake of the clan.”

They had reached the armory, and Ivar scoffed loudly as he violently shouldered his way through the door, making it bang against the wall. “Dinnae hold yer breath on that score, Arne, because I’m nae plannin’ on it anytime soon.”

Other soldiers inside the armory looked over and stared as the brothers barged in and practically threw their targes and helmets to the young lad responsible for their storage. Clutching the equipment, he backed away like a startled foal.

To Ivar’s annoyance, Arne did not seem about to give up, staying hot on his heels, following him out into the courtyard and all the way to the entrance of the keep. All he wanted to do was get to the privacy of his chambers, where he planned to spend the evening until dinner honing his blades and, yes, brooding the loss of his twin.

But they had not gotten within twenty feet of the keep when their sister came hurrying out, her head turning left and right, clearly searching for someone. When she spotted them, she came rushing to meet them. As she drew near, Ivar noticed the anxious expression on her angelic face.

“What is it, Dahlia,” he asked, instantly concerned. He hated to see his soft-hearted sister upset. She began to walk back with them toward the keep doors.

“’Tis Haldor. He wants tae speak with ye both in his study,” she said, an edge of worry in in her voice.

“I’ll be there as soon as I’ve cleaned up,” Ivar told her, but she shook her head. “He says he wants ye there now.”

“Ach, Jaysus,” Ivar muttered irritably. He was hot and sweaty and angry. He needed peace and quiet to calm down!

“What’s it about?” Arne asked as they passed through the pair of guards at the doors and went into the castle’s impressive vestibule.

“I dinnae ken, but he says ’tis urgent,” Dahlia told them.

They turned left and took the long, tapestry-lined hallway heading towards their brother’s study.

They reached the door to Haldor’s study and halted outside. Ivar rapped on the door, but it was not latched and it swung open. They entered together, and when Ivar saw his elder brother standing by the hearth with a parchment in his hand, a prickling sensation ran up his spine.

Haldor looked at them, and the expression on the laird’s face gave Ivar the feeling it was not going to be good news. Dread knotted in his gut when they joined Haldor, and Ivar spotted the King’s seal attached to the parchment. He had a sense of having lived that moment before, when a letter had arrived that had changed the course of all their lives. The last time it had happened, the letter had also been from The Bruce, commanding Haldor’s arranged marriage.

The atmosphere in the room pressed down upon him, and Ivar felt as though the three of them were collectively holding their breaths. Dahlia was standing as if frozen, clutching her hands in front of her chest. Ivar realized Arne must have felt the same as him because he swallowed loudly and asked with a tinge of resignation, “Who is it this time?”

Haldor gave a bitter little smile and laid the parchment down on a nearby table before regarding Ivar with his shrewd blue eyes. “The eldest,” he said in his deep, gravelly voice.

The world seemed to fall away from beneath Ivar’s feet. He did not know how he kept upright, for the room began spinning, and he thought he might retch.

Arne turned to him and he vaguely heard his brother say, “I told ye yer time would come, did I nae?”

Ivar ignored him and tried to pull himself together. “Who’s me bride?” he managed to get out, finally meeting Haldor’s eyes.

“The daughter of Laird Matheson.”

Chapter Two

One month later, The MacLeod Arms Inn, the Isle of Skye

“I am never goin’ on a ship again as long as I live,” Catalina Matheson declared with feeling, turning up her neat nose at the full plates of her fellow diners as they sat around the table in the inn’s rough and ready dining room and bar. “Ever since I got off that damned thing, I’ve felt sick. I dinnae ken how ye can eat a thing!”

“We can eat because we’re hungry,” her sister Anastasia replied in her usual calm, sensible tone. Stately in her elegant beauty, she appeared unaffected by the sea sickness that had assailed her younger sister so violently. She was delicately yet determinedly picking her way through the large serving of venison steak, mashed turnips, and greens in front of her. How she could do so considering the circumstances was beyond Catalina. But then, they were two very different people despite being sisters.

“Ugh!” Catalina said, her irritability heightened by the lingering nausea she could not seem to shake off. It was annoying to see everyone else tucking in with relish when all she could do without throwing up was to sip at a half pint of small beer.

“Ye could ask tae have some toasted bread maybe. That might settle yer stomach,” Anastasia suggested.

“Aye, ye should try tae eat somethin’ fer yer sake. And fer ours.” That was their guard, Dunstan, who was overseeing the sisters’ journey to the island for Anastasia to meet her betrothed, Ivar McLeod of Harris, the next in line to his brother, Laird Haldor MacLeod of Harris, at their castle.

“Dunstan, dinnae provoke her. She’s feelin’ poorly, and ye ken what she’s like.” Anastasia told the guard, yet the mild rebuke was accompanied by a sad smile for the handsome, dark-haired soldier. He looked back at her soulfully with his dark brown eyes.

Catalina could not help but notice the subtle exchange between the pair Anastasia and Dunstan had grown up together and were close friends—it was natural they would be sad about having to part when Anastasia left home to live with her husband.

But her bad mood had no mercy, and she snapped back at Dunstan without thinking. “And ye are lookin’ more miserable than me, Dunstan.”

“That’s enough, sister. Curb yer tongue,” Anastasia gently scolded her. “The folks hereabouts will be watchin’ us. I’m supposed tae be the happy bride-tae-be, on me way tae marry their laird’s braither. Ye goin’ around with a face like a funeral doesnae exactly make a good impression.”

Catalina was about to bark back that Dunstan’s face was as long as a horse’s too, but then she was suddenly gripped by guilt. She realized that in her distress, she was not being the supportive sister she should be at a time when Anastasia needed her most.

“I’m sorry, Ana, Dunstan, I forgot mesel’ fer a minute,” she apologized, hiding her blushes behind her mug of ale and sipping at the contents. Back at home, the sisters had already had words about Anastasia’s politically motivated marriage.

“How can ye marry him? Ye’ve never even met the man! He’s a stranger tae ye. Why, ye dinnae even ken what he looks like!” Catalina had said accusingly to her elder sister in the privacy of Anastasia’s chambers, shortly after the news of the betrothal had come through.

“How can I nae?” Anastasia had replied sadly, brushing out her long, dark tresses before the looking glass. “As ye well ken, the marriage has been arranged by King Robert the Bruce himself.”

“But ye dinnae love him. Ye’re seriously tellin’ me ye’re happy about spendin’ the rest of yer life with a husband ye ken naethin’ about?”

Anastasia gave a low groan of frustration. “Ach, Cat, ye dinnae ken the first thing about anythin’. Whatever I might feel about it, ’tis nae me place tae question the king’s word but tae obey, fer all our sakes. Besides, ’tis what Faither wants, fer the good of the clan.” She turned from the mirror, hairbrush in hand, to give her sister a warning look. “And it’ll dae you well tae keep yer mouth shut on the matter and keep yer opinions tae yersel’ afore ye go about spreadin’ rumors and ruinin’ people’s reputations with yer flights of fancy.”

“I’d never marry a man I didnae love,” Catalina said defiantly from where she was lounging on Anastasia’s bed. In her naivety, she was careless of her sister’s feelings. It did not make sense to her that Anastasia should be taken away from her and forced to marry this Ivar MacLeod, nor that she should accept it so calmly. “Ye should just go ahead and run away somewhere,” she suggested, finding the idea intriguing. “They couldnae do anythin’ about it then.”

“And where would I run tae? Ye’re spoutin’ nonsense again. And anyway, if I did run away, it would put ye in line tae take me place as Ivar’s bride,” her sister pointed out. She turned back to the mirror and began brushing her hair again, her beautiful face a tragic mask.

“Oh.” Catalina had not thought of that. She considered it for a moment or two, and then her natural bravado made her say, “Nay matter, fer I definitely would run away, somewhere where they’d never find me.”

Anastasia let out a small laugh, which belied her grave expression. “’Tis touching how ye still seem tae believe we women have any say in such matters. Daughters of laird’s are pieces in a board game, tae be moved about by men fer political advantage. If it makes ye happy, just keep on thinkin’ ye have some freedom tae choose. But I warn ye, yer turn tae be wed will come soon enough, ye’ll see, and if ye love yer husband, then ye’ll be damned lucky.”

It was now a month since their father, Laird Matheson, had received the letter from Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, commanding the union. Catalina had been shocked at how calmly Anastasia had taken it. But that was Ana, gentle and dutiful, so unlike herself.

So, here they were, in Skye, the epicenter of MacLeod land, dining at the inn a few miles from castle MacLeod. Poor Anastasia was preparing to set eyes on her prospective husband for the first time on the morrow. Catalina could not even imagine how she must be feeling. She simply felt enraged on her sister’s behalf, because the compliant Ana seemed unable to be angry herself.

Catalina and Anastasia’s father, Bertram, Laird of Clan Matheson, had set out the plan for Anastasia’s marriage to Ivar MacLeod at a family meeting in his study a mere four weeks ago.

“I’ve arranged with Laird Macleod for Anastasia to meet her betrothed at his family’s castle on Skye a month before the wedding. Ye’ll be accompanyin’ her, Catalina.”

“Aye, Faither.” She had supposed it was not surprising that she should go to support her sister, and she was not unwilling to have a little adventure away from home. It was quite an exciting prospect. However, secretly, she intended to make this Ivar and his family understand how much she disapproved of the forced match.

“The ceremony will take place here, so, Anastasia, ye and Ivar will have a month tae get tae ken each other before he and his closest family accompany ye home for the celebrations.”

“Aye, Faither,” Anastasia had replied meekly, head bowed.

“But why, Faither? Why does she have tae go through with it? She’s never even met this Ivar. He could be a monster,” Catalina protested on her sister’s behalf.

“Hush, Catalina,” her father had said with annoyance. “Ye ken the situation very well.”

She had had no choice but to cease her questions, but that did not mean that they stopped gnawing at her.

Back at The MacLeod lands, chastened somewhat by her sister’s uncharacteristic rebuke, Catalina remained silent while Anastasia and Dunstan finished their meals, giving off an air of somber stoicism.

“’Tis getting’ late,” Anastasia said solemnly at last, finishing her small beer and moving to rise. Dunstan was on his feet at once, pulling out her chair. “Thank ye, Dunstan. I’m goin’ tae retire tae our chamber.”

“Aye, I think I’ll go and check on the horses and then turn in as well,” the guard said dully in his deep voice.

“Are ye comin’ up, Cat?” Anastasia asked, looking over at her. The sisters had taken a double room and would be sharing the bed.

Catalina, temperamentally incapable of pretending she was happy, even for Anastasia’s sake, turned up her nose again. They had inspected the room earlier, and she had not been impressed with the standard of cleanliness or comfort. She was not looking forward to having to sleep in the bed provided, for she suspected it might have bugs living in it.

“I still dinnae understand why we have tae stay here tonight when we’re only a few miles away from Castle Macleod,” she burst out irritably, her queasiness still plaguing her. “If we hadnae stopped here then we could have been there in a couple of hours and slept in comfort.”

“Again, we decided it would be best tae spend the night in the village out of consideration fer yer hosts,” Dunstan told her, his harsh tone finally betraying how frayed his nerves really were. “Ye ken we had a rough voyage and arrived later than expected. It would hardly be good manners tae go bowlin’ up tae the castle in the middle of the bloody night, disturbin’ the family and likely pullin’ them from their beds, now would it?”

Catalina opened her mouth to answer back, but her sister quickly intervened.

“Ach, all right, all right ye two. Stop yer snipin’, will ye?” she said with uncharacteristic impatience, her finely arched brows meeting in a frown. “Well, I’m tired. Are ye comin’ up or nae, Cat?” she asked again. She looked wan and miserable, and it made Catalina angry just looking at her.

“Nay, I think I’ll stay down here a little longer, at least ‘til me stomach settles a bit. Ye go on up tae bed, and I’ll come up a wee bit later,” she replied, thinking it was better not to inflict her sour mood on Anastasia any further for the time being. Besides, she relished the idea of being alone with her thoughts for a while. Tomorrow was going to be a difficult day, and she was dreading it.

“Very well. I’ll see ye later. But dinnae stay up too late. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow,” Anastasia reminded her in a weary tone before she and Dunstan left together.

Catalina remained at the table, watching their retreating backs. Once they had vanished from sight, she glanced covertly around the room. There was no clock, so she had no idea what the hour was. But she knew it was late because it was summer, and darkness lurked beyond the murky windows of the inn.

Most of the clientele had gone. Save for the potboy going from table to table, collecting up mugs and tankards, and the innkeeper wiping a dirty cloth over the counter, there were only a handful of patrons lingering, most of them snoring in their cups.

With nothing to do and still feeling slightly sick from the voyage, she thought she would go outside for some fresh air and try to walk it off before retiring. She took her shawl from the back of her chair and looped it around her shoulders as she rose. Heading for the door, she opened it and went outside, standing on the threshold of the inn for a few moments to get her bearings.

A half-moon and the stars illuminated the unfamiliar landscape with silvery light, lending it an almost magical air. Skye was famously beautiful, and she looked forward to exploring the island in daylight. She only wished they were there in happier circumstances.

At that moment, neither the darkness nor what might lie concealed within it troubled her. As she stepped out onto the packed dirt forecourt of the inn and began walking towards some nearby woods, it did not occur to her that she could be in any danger. He father had made sure that both she and Anastasia could defend themselves well with a knife, and Catalina took pride in being able to take care of herself. She always carried the dirk he had given her on her fifteenth birthday. At that very moment, it was tucked beneath her skirts in her garter just in case. Woe betide any man who tried to attack her.

She followed a little path that led into the wood, taking some simple pleasure in the soughing of the trees, the nearby hooting of an owl, and the small rustlings of the nocturnal creatures going about their business. The moon sent shards of clear, bright light down through the canopy of leaves as she entered below. It dappled the undergrowth surrounding the narrow path, so she could see her way quite clearly as she wandered between the trunks.

Her thoughts drifted back to the upcoming wedding. Of course, she understood how important it was to the future of her clan, but that did not make it any easier to swallow the fact that she would soon lose her sister and dearest confidante to marriage. She was going to be awfully lonely and would miss Anastasia terribly.

They had never really been apart for any length of time. Her sister had already told her she could come and stay at Castle MacLeod as often as she liked. But that would leave their parents alone, and as their last surviving daughter, she did not want that either.

It was at that moment that she thought she heard a high-pitched whimper somewhere off in the near distance. Her hackles rose at the eerie sound, and she stopped in her tracks to listen. There it was again… and again. It sent shivers up her spine, and she recognized it at once as the sound of an animal in distress, the sound of fear.

Catalina could never stand the thought of an animal suffering, so with her ears cocked, she stealthily moved closer to the source of the pitiful sounds. But a few moments later, she froze again. Loud rustling could be heard nearby, and a heavy tread that cracked the twigs and leaves underfoot. There was something else moving about amid the trees, something big.

Warily, she slipped her hand beneath her skirts and pulled out her dirk. Creeping forward as quietly as she could, she came to a place where the trunks thinned out slightly where they bordered a small, grassy clearing just a few yards wide. She remained in hiding while she scanned the area, which was brightly illuminated by the moonlight.

What she spied a few yards away from her made her put her hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp of shock.

There was a man, a giant of a man, she estimated he must be over six feet tall, clad in leather trews, a padded, buff-skin coat, high-top boots, and he was armed with a sword. Long, fair hair hung down past his shoulders, concealing his face.

At first, she had trouble seeing what he was doing because he was turned slightly away from her. He was crouching, his arms outstretched either side of him. She could hear him talking in a low, deep whisper, but she could not make out any words.

There came another shrill bleat of fear, and a small movement at the base of the tree showed her that the heart wrenching sound was coming from a fawn. She had to put her hand over her mouth to stifle the gasp that threatened to burst out as her heart flooded with pity for the helpless little thing.

It was lying on the ground backed up against the tree, its liquid eyes wide with fright as it struggled to get up. But its front leg appeared to be hurt, and it could not stand. Its cries of pain and fear tore at Catalina’s heart. How could anyone wish to harm such a beautiful creature?!

The monstrous man was clearly responsible for its injury. Most likely he had shot at it with an arrow and injured it, and it had tried to escape a horrible fate. Now, he was trying to corner the poor little creature, intending to kill it. Cold fury flooded her limbs at his brutality. She clenched her teeth and gripped the dirk tightly in her fist, determined to stop him.

She stepped out from her hiding place into the clearing, brandishing her dirk. “Leave it alone, ye bastard!” she growled angrily in a low tone, not wishing to scare the injured fawn further. “Back off right now, or ye’ll be sorry!”

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

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

  • Excellent preview!! I can’t wait to read the rest of this book and to read the outcome of the injured fawn!!

  • This book was so wonderful I’m truly looking forward to reading the complete book! The storyline and characters are so good and you are pulled into this storyline wanting more!

    • Thank you so much for the feedback, my dear Michelle! I hope you’ll enjoy the story! ❤️

  • >