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Amanda Scott

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Copyright © 2005 by Lynne Scott-Drennan

Excerpt from
Lady’s Choice
copyright © 2005 by Lynne Scott-Drennan

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Warner Forever is a registered trademark of Warner Books.

Cover design by Diane Luger

Cover illustration by Franco Accornero

Hand lettering by David Gatti

Warner Books

Hachette Book Group, USA

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com
.

First eBook Edition: November 2005

ISBN: 978-0-446-51060-8

Contents

Raves For Amanda Scott And Her Spectacular Novels

Other Books By Amanda Scott

Dedication

Author’s Note

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

About the Author

A preview of Lady’s Choice

The Editor’s Diary

RAVES FOR AMANDA SCOTT AND HER SPECTACULAR NOVELS

LORD OF THE ISLES

“Ms. Scott’s diverse, marvelous, unforgettable characters in this intricate plot provide hours of pure pleasure.”

—Rendezvous

“Scott pits her strong characters against one another and fate. She delves into their motivations, bringing insight into them and the thrilling era in which they live, and proves herself a true mistress of the Scottish romance.”

—Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine

“Amanda Scott writes great tales during this turbulent time in Scotland’s history.”

—RomanceReviewsMag.com

“A fine fourteenth-century romance . . . Fans will appreciate this tale of marriage starring the wrong bride.”

—TheBestReviews.com

“A good book . . . a readable story with a well-done plot.”

—FreshFiction.com

“An interesting new variation on the arranged marriage theme . . . There’s plenty of politics and history woven into the narrative, giving it extra depth.”

—TheRomanceReadersConnection.com

“Ms. Scott’s storytelling is amazing and she has created a captivating tale of intrigue. She had me riveted to my chair throughout the book . . . This is a definite keeper.”

—CoffeeTimeRomance.com

“A wonderful look at the country and its people . . . An enjoyable read.”

—RoundTableReviews.com

“Has all of the elements that I like in a book—a good old-fashioned brooding man, a sweet, gentle, independent heroine . . . It is a fast-paced and smooth read, and put a smile on my face more than once.”

—RomanceReaderAtHeart.com

HIGHLAND PRINCESS

“Fast-moving, exciting, and soaring to heights of excellence, this one is a winner . . . I look forward to meeting some of these marvelous characters again.”

—Rendezvous

“A delightful historical starring two fabulously intelligent lead characters . . . grips the audience from the onset and never lets go.”

—Affair de Coeur

“Scott sets her new medieval series in the beautifully atmospheric Scottish Isles and creatively uses the political intrigues of the times for the plot . . . Perfect for readers who enjoy romances with a rich sense of history.”

—Booklist

“A fabulous medieval Scottish romance.”

—Midwest Book Review

“A marvelously rendered portrait of medieval Scotland, terrific characters, and a dynamic story.”

—Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine

“Great mix of romance, adventure, humor, courage, and passion—a very captivating read.”

—TheBestReviews.com

“A wonderful history of the Scottish Isles that carries through with its promises to the very end.”

—TheRoadToRomance.com

“As usual, the author has created a very believable set of characters, a vivid setting, and a wonderful love story.”

—RomanceReadersConnection.com

“Amanda Scott is one of the preeminent authors of Scottish historical romances . . . A lovely, lyrical romance brimming with seductive promise and high adventure.”

—RomanticFiction.Tripod.com

“Irresistible! . . . Passion, danger, and even a murder mystery are intertwined to create constant intrigue.”

—BookLoons.com

“Powerful . . . so exciting! . . . Wonderful! . . . Loved it!”

—RomanceReviewsMag.com

THE REIVER’S BRIDE

“Features the same intriguing mix of romance, adventure, and a sprinkling of magic as the ‘wee folk’ continue to play matchmaker with mortals.”

—Booklist

“TOP PICK! . . . With a master storyteller’s pen, Scott deftly melds witty dialogue, the majesty of Scotland, and a wee bit of magic in this excellent and imaginative romance.”

—Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine

“A wonderful tale that will have readers in stitches . . . Full of humor, courage, and passion . . . a must-read.”

—RomRevToday.com

“As always, the author manages to blend magic, mystery, romance, and adventure with a deft hand.”

—TheRomanceReadersConnection.com

“Fun and entertaining . . . combining suspense and romance, with a generous helping of magic.”

—Old Book Barn Gazette

O
THER
B
OOKS BY
A
MANDA
S
COTT

Lord of the Isles

Highland Princess

The Secret Clan: Reiver’s Bride

The Secret Clan: Highland Bride

The Secret Clan: Hidden Heiress

The Secret Clan: Abducted Heiress

Border Fire

Border Storm

Border Bride

Highland Fling

Highland Secrets

Highland Treasure

Highland Spirits

The Bawdy Bride

Dangerous Illusions

Dangerous Angels

Dangerous Games

Dangerous Lady

The Rose at Twilight

In Memory of Carolyn Hardy Leach,

With love and gratitude for the many good memories she provided several generations of Scotts, Drennans, Leaches, Clevengers, and all the other families she touched with her kindness, generosity, patience, good humor, and positive outlook. Rest in peace, dear one, and tell Mom we love her and miss her, too.

Author’s Note

St. Clair is pronounced “Sinclair.” It is the way the clan originally spelled its name.

Prologue

West Loch Tarbert, Scotland, October 1307

F
ingers of thick night mist crept in from the sea, shrouding the dark forests and glens of Knapdale and Kintyre in ragged cloaks of gray and veiling the stars and the slender crescent moon overhead as four ships, barely visible, passed one by one into west Loch Tarbert. Although their sails were furled for lack of wind to fill them, the ships moved silently on the inflowing tide, like hulking black ghosts.

The small watcher on the hillside, having successfully escaped the confines of his bedchamber to breathe the damp air of freedom, began to fear that if the mist rose much higher off the loch, he would not find his bedchamber again that night. The consequences of that might be painfully severe, but freedom from authority, even for an hour, was worth the risk, especially with ghost ships for entertainment.

Curious to learn how such large galleys could move so silently without wind to drive them or any splashing of oars, he moved quietly down the hill, nearer the shore. General visibility was even worse near the water, but he could still discern the ghostly black shapes through the mist.

Now, faintly, came the occasional splash of an oar, although not the heavy, rhythmic splat and splash one associated with galleys as their great banks of oars flashed in and out of the water to the beat of a helmsman’s gong. Nor did the ghost ships’ gliding progress resemble the speedy pace of those greyhounds of the sea.

A moment later, the curtain of mist parted enough to reveal that the ship directly in front of him followed a smaller towboat, the oars of which made little sound as they dipped gently in and out of the water. And if the mist was not distorting other sounds he heard, a second towboat moved between him and the bulk of the ship, telling him that smaller boats were towing the galleys into the loch.

The child frowned. Should he run and warn someone? Had the men-at-arms who usually guarded the loch entrance all fallen asleep? He could not imagine such a thing happening, not when the penalty for dereliction was a hangman’s noose and a speedily dug grave. But perhaps the wee folk had cast a spell over the guards.

He would face punishment if he told anyone, because then his father would find out that he had disobeyed him. But it was curiosity, not fear of punishment, that made him decide to follow the boats farther up the loch. Galleys required at least twenty-six oarsmen, sometimes four times that number, and might carry men-at-arms, too. Before he told anyone, he should acquire more information if he could.

Moments later, as he paused after scrambling around a boulder in his path, a rattle of stones behind him nearly stopped his breathing. Standing perfectly still, he fought to calm his pounding heart as his ears strained to hear more.

Another rattle, a scraping sound as if someone had slipped, and a hastily-suppressed cry brought a sigh of irritation when he recognized the voice.

He waited grimly where he was, blocking the way, until his small follower scrambled around the boulder. The result was a startled, louder cry when they met.

“Shut your mug or by the Rood, I’ll shut it for ye,” he hissed.

“Aye, sure, but ye scairt me near t’ death!”

“I’ll do worse than that if ye dinna hush up. D’ye no see them ships?”

“O’ course, I do. Whose are they?”

“I dinna ken,” he muttered. “But if any man wi’ them sees or hears us, he’ll likely cut off our heads and fling ’em in the loch so we canna tell anyone else.”

“Faith, why should anyone do that, when your own da’s wi’ them?”

The lad frowned. “He is?”

“Aye, for I near bumped into him when I ran through the hall t’ catch up wi’ ye. I had t’ dive under the high table whilst he rousted out some o’ his men sleeping on the lower-hall floor t’ go wi’ him and me own da’ t’ meet the strangers.”

“We’ll ha’ to get back quick then,” he decided, suppressing disappointment. “Sithee, someone will catch us if we don’t, and that’ll get us both skelped sure. I warrant we’ll learn all about them ships anyhow, come morning.”

But the next morning, when the sun shone brightly on the loch again, the ships were gone. Not a ripple remained to bear testimony to their passage.

Chapter 1

Scottish Highlands near Glenelg, July 1379

N
ineteen-year-old Lady Isobel Macleod, having escaped the confines of Castle Chalamine and her father’s carping criticism, rode her pony bareback and with abandon along the tree-and-shrubbery-lined river path through Glen Mòr toward the steep track that led down into Glen Shiel. The day was glorious, and the cool salty breeze blowing from the sea caressed her face as she rode. Wildflowers bloomed in vast, colorful splashes, and not another human being was in sight.

She had not yet found the lone isle of her dreams, with the solitary tower to which she had often told her sisters she intended to remove as soon as she had means to do so, but her morning ride would provide solitude for an hour or two.

She had a sennight more to endure at Chalamine before she could return to Castle Lochbuie on the Isle of Mull, her home for the past seven years. She missed the Laird of Lochbuie and his wife, her sister Cristina, and she missed their three bairns and her two favorite cats, Ashes and Soot, as well.

Although she had lived at Chalamine until she was twelve, it no longer felt homelike with only three of her six sisters remaining there. The eldest of the three, Adela, burdened at twenty with household responsibilities, was rapidly turning into a bitter woman, while Sidony and Sorcha, at sixteen and seventeen, were champing at the bit to find husbands and marry so they, too, could leave. Isobel, however, intended never to marry.

She could be grateful at least that her father, Murdoch Macleod of Glenelg, had given up making each sister wait until her elder ones had married. That superstition had died years before, along with her sister Mariota and Macleod’s dreams of a grand future for them all.

Firmly banishing further thought of Mariota or Macleod, Isobel considered her options for the next few hours. She could continue to Glen Shiel and Loch Duich or she could stay off her usual tracks and seek someplace new.

As she pondered the possibilities, movement above on a hillside to the north caught her eye. Thanks to Glen Mòr’s steep slopes and narrow floor—no wider in most places than the swift, tumbling river that flowed through its center and the narrow track beside it—the distance was not great, and she easily discerned two horsemen. When they disappeared into the dense shrubbery, she decided they might be following a track she had not known was there.

Curious to know if that was the case, she touched her pony with her whip, guiding it toward the nearest place where she could safely ford the river. Once across, she urged her horse up the hillside. Although she was no longer certain she would be able to find the exact place where the two had vanished, even a search for the track they followed gave more purpose to her outing than mere escape.

Ten minutes later, she entered a dense grove of aspens, oaks, and chestnuts that she believed was the one the men had entered, with a narrow burn wending its way downhill through the trees to the river. Riding into the shady woods, she drew rein and listened. She did not want to meet anyone, and it had occurred to her that the two men, having vanished nearby, might reappear at any moment.

Certain that anyone from a neighboring glen would know her, and that she need tell any stranger only that she was Macleod’s daughter, she felt no fear. Her sisters or father would have mentioned any feud that had erupted in her absence.

Hearing no sound but gurgling water and normal forest chirps and chatters, she urged her pony on and soon found the track she sought. That she had not come upon it before was no wonder, because it began at a narrow cleft between two huge boulders on the far side of the burn, led up and away from the water, and dipped into a ravine where it looked as if it might end. Instead, the passage widened, and shortly afterward, she came to a grassy clearing surrounded by more woods. Just beyond, a high, sheer, solid backdrop of granite rose forbiddingly toward the sky.

Seeing no sign of the riders she had followed, she rode across the nearly dry streambed that divided the clearing to see if the path continued on the other side. Entering woodland again, she savored its silence until a man’s scream shattered it.

The scream had come from a short distance ahead and did not repeat itself, so although she urged her pony forward, she did so with care, listening for any other sounds that might tell her more. The woodland darkness lessened, and hearing male voices, one speaking sternly, she drew rein. She could not make out his words.

“Doubtless we should leave,” she murmured to her pony. “Whatever is going on here is probably no concern of ours, but curiosity has always been my besetting sin, and I suppose it always will be.” With that, she slipped off, landed lightly on soft ground, and looped the reins over a nearby tree branch.

Patting the pony’s nose, she said softly, “No noise now, if you please.”

Knowing she could not depend on its silence, and recalling the many times her parents or foster parents had punished her for letting curiosity get the better of her, she sent a prayer aloft that this time no one would catch her. Then, carrying her riding whip, she gathered her long, dark-gray cloak closer around her so that it would not catch on any shrubbery and moved swiftly but quietly through the trees toward the voices.

Stopping behind a large chestnut tree near the edge of the woods, she peeked cautiously around it into the small clearing beyond and gaped at what she saw.

Six men had gathered around a seventh, who hung by tautly outstretched arms, roped to branches of two ancient, entangled oak trees. He was dark haired and wore only his breeks and boots. His muscular back and arms were bare, and blood oozed from four vicious stripes across his broad shoulders. As she realized what she was witnessing, one of the six raised a heavy whip and said grimly, “You’ll tell us soon enough, you know. It might as well be now whilst you can still talk sensibly.”

“Demons will roast you in hell first,” his victim said in a deep, vibrant voice that easily carried to Isobel’s ears. She did not recognize it or him, however, nor did she recognize any of the men watching. Under the circumstances, the hanging man’s calm demeanor astonished her, as did his educated diction.

“You know my skill,” the one with the whip said. “Faith, man, you screamed at only the fourth stripe. Do you dare to test me further?”

When his victim remained silent, he raised the whip again.

The victim’s muscles clenched, and Isobel’s did likewise as the lash descended. His scream of agony ripped through the air again.

“Well now, what ha’ we here?”

Startled, she whirled, raising her riding whip, but a large hand clamped hard on her forearm, and the black-bearded man whose hand it was growled, “Nay, lassie. Drop it, and be glad ye didna strike me. Lads, hold your whisst now,” he called out to the others. “We’ve an inquisitive lass here, come to amuse us all!”

Isobel sighed, but it certainly was not the first time God had failed to heed her prayers. Nor could she blame Him, since she was not always conscientious about honoring the promises she made when she hoped that one might sway Him.

She made no protest as her burly captor hustled her across the clearing to the others, but when he jerked her to a halt in front of the one with the whip, she said, “I don’t know who you are, but I am Macleod of Glenelg’s daughter, and you have no business here, certainly not to be doing what you are doing. If this man has broken a law, you should hail him before the laird’s court for a fair trial.”

“Aye, sure,” the man with the whip said, “but that depends on whose laws he’s broken, does it not?”

“The only ones that matter here are Macleod laws and mayhap those of the Lord of the Isles,” she said, but as she did, she realized she had misjudged the group. She had assumed that a band of local ruffians had attacked a gentleman, but hearing the chief tormentor speak as his victim did told her the assumption was wrong. Likewise, the tormentors’ clothing and weapons were not those of common folk.

Two of the henchmen wore swords that any of her father’s men-at-arms or those at Lochbuie or Ardtornish would have cherished, and the man with the whip wore a black velvet doublet and silk trunk hose of excellent cut and styling. A chill tickled her spine, but she ignored it, glared at him, and said, “Cut that poor man down at once.”

“Faith, lass, but you’re full of orders for one with no army behind her,” he said, adding as an aside to the others, “I warrant she’ll provide rare sport in bed.”

“Let her go,” his victim snapped. “She knows naught of what passes here, but she is clearly of noble birth, and if she goes missing, many will come searching for her. She may even have an escort nearby. Heaven knows, she ought to have one.”

Isobel could see his face now and thought it handsome despite his scowl. But when his gaze met hers, a wary tingle shot up her spine. He was tied up, helpless, and in pain, but the look he gave her reminded her powerfully of those she received from the formidable Laird of Lochbuie when he was displeased with her.

The leader jerked his head toward the trees where Isobel had been standing, and said to the man who had captured her, “Have a look, Fin.”

“But I saw no one with her,” the other said. “She were alone.”

“Look anyway, because he’s right. A lass like this is bound to have keepers.” Motioning to two of the others, he said, “Cut him down for now, and stow them both in the cave until we sort this out. I don’t want any more surprises.”

Despite her fierce struggles, the two men forced her toward the sheer granite wall and soon came to a high, narrow opening. Beyond lay the pitch blackness of an underground cavern. Isobel shut her eyes at the sight, gathering courage, telling herself that it merely led to another adventure and was not a gateway to Hell.

They paused long enough for one of the two to light a torch before entering. Fascinated despite her fear of such darkness, and wondering how such a cave could lie so near Chalamine without her ever hearing so much as a whisper about its presence, she soon saw that although the passage was narrow, the rough granite ceiling rose far above them. Clearly Nature, rather than man, had carved both.

Hearing footsteps behind them, she glanced back and saw by the light of a second torch that two others were dragging their bare-chested victim in her wake. Soon the two captives found themselves stretched out on the hard floor, securely bound hand and foot.

“I wish that horrid man had not pulled off my cloak to tie my hands behind me, because it’s cold in here,” she grumbled when the men had gone, taking the torches and thus all the light with them. “But I suppose I should be grateful that they did not gag us.”

“No one would hear us from here even if we shouted,” he said, his rich voice coming calmly to her through the dense blackness.

Although his voice was a comfort, she was testing her bonds and did not reply. She could not see a thing now that the light was gone, not even shadows.

“You’re mighty cool for a lass in such a dire predicament,” he said. “
Do
you have keepers nearby?”

She sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I came alone, and no one will look for me for hours. When they realize that I’m missing, however, many will search for me.”

“Is your father so powerful then?”

“Powerful enough,” she said, grimacing when the rope around her wrists pinched in protest of her squirming. “He is a member of the Council of the Isles. But my sister’s husband is even more powerful, and I have fostered with them these past seven years. He’ll soon join the search if my father’s men don’t find us straightaway, and he’ll find us, too, if those evil men haven’t murdered us first.”

“How is it that your foster father is more powerful than a Councilor of the Isles?” he asked, and she thought she detected amusement in his voice.

“He is Hector the Ferocious,” she said simply.

Silence greeted that information, and the amusement was gone when he said, “I think you will survive longer if you do not mention that detail to our hosts.”

“But why not? Hector terrifies most men.”

“Just so,” he said.

She thought about that. “You fear they might kill me rather than let him discover that they have done this to me. But they’d have to kill you, too, would they not, lest you tell him.”

He did not reply.

“Who are you that you’ve drawn their interest in such a way?” she demanded.

“You may call me Michael,” he said.

“I’ll call you anything you like, but your speech tells me you are educated and doubtless a man of more extensive identity than just Michael. Why have they done this to you?”

“Their reasons can be of no import to you,” he said.

“If they mean to kill us, I certainly want to know why!”

“They will not kill me—not yet—not intentionally, at all events.”

“It may surprise you to know that your fate interests me far less than my own,” she said tartly. “Am I more dangerous to them than you are?”

“Only if they learn about Hector Reaganach,” he said. “They do not fear me, you see, for I have taken care to give them little cause.”

“That man wanted you to tell him something,” she said, remembering.

He sighed. “You heard that, did you? If you are wise, you will not reveal that bit of information to them either.”

Others had said of her that she was wise beyond her years, but somehow that did not seem to be what he meant. In any event, she rarely took those words as a compliment, for too often the same people questioned her judgment and scolded her for trusting it. “Why don’t you just tell him what he wants to know?” she asked.

“Because I cannot.”

“Then we had better find a way to escape.”

Her companion’s chuckle reverberated from the cavern walls.

“I do not know why you laugh,” she said. “When one recognizes that a necessity has arisen, one should greet it with resolution and make a plan.”

“You’d better plan quickly then, mistress, because they’ll soon be back.”

She was still testing her bindings, seeking loose ends, but her sharp ears had caught no sound of footsteps or voices yet, and she could discern no light, so she still had time if she could just untie herself.

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