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Authors: Margaret Mallory

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

The Warrior

BOOK: The Warrior
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The CHIEFTAIN

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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic
sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute
unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like
to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission
must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you
for your support of the author’s rights.

This book is dedicated to my dad,

Norman J. Brown,

who never, even when I begged, told a story
the same way twice.

He taught me all I needed to know about heroes.

I spend a lot of time with my fictional MacDonald heroes in sixteenth-century Scotland.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that my first thought when I received an offer
of help out of the blue from a Jamie MacDonald who was a descendant of the Lord of
the Isles and spoke Gaelic was that I was living in a time-travel novel. Fortunately,
Dr. James R. MacDonald turned out to be a real person with a PhD in Scottish studies
from the University of Edinburgh. I am very grateful to him and also to Sharron Gunn
for their generosity in helping me with Gaelic phrases and in answering my odd questions
about Scottish history. Any mistakes in the book, however, are mine.

The other new acquaintances I made in the course of writing this book include the
four-legged variety. I want to thank Mary Horton for letting a stranger into her house
to meet her incredible wolfhounds, Connery, Lena, and Galen. Mary was very kind to
answer all my questions about this wonderful breed and even invited me back to see
Lena’s puppies.

My heartfelt thanks, as always, to my editor, Alex Logan, and to the rest of the hardworking
and remarkable staff at Grand Central Publishing. The art department deserves special
mention for another gorgeous cover. (No, I don’t get to meet these guys—but I should.)

My love and thanks to my family, especially my long-suffering husband, for their support
and patience. I’m forever grateful to my friends Anthea Lawson, who is my critique
partner, and Ginny Heim, who has read my manuscripts for me from the beginning. My
warm thanks also to my agent, Kevan Lyon, for her wise counsel and enthusiastic support.

Finally, I want to thank my readers, who make the long days hunched over a laptop
worthwhile. Like a kid, I hang your messages on the fridge to keep me going on the
days when the words don’t come easy. Thank you!

Bidh an t-ubhal as fheàrr air a’ mheangan as àirde.

 

The best apple is on the highest bough.

Prologue

ISLE OF SKYE, SCOTLAND
1508

D
uncan MacDonald could defeat any warrior in the castle—and yet, he was powerless against
his chieftain’s seventeen-year-old daughter.

“As soon as my father leaves the hall,” Moira whispered, leaning close enough to make
him light-headed, “I’ll meet ye outside by the ash tree.”

Duncan knew he should refuse her, but he may as well try to stop his heart from beating.

“I’ve told ye not to speak to me here,” he said, glancing about the long room filled
with their clansmen and the chieftain’s guests from Ireland. “Someone might notice.”

When Moira turned to look straight at him with her midnight-blue eyes, Duncan felt
as if a fist slammed into his chest. That had happened the first time she looked at
him—
really
looked at him—and every time since.

“Why would anyone take notice if I speak with my brother Connor’s best friend?” she
asked.

Perhaps because she had ignored him the first seventeen years of her life? It was
still a mystery to him how that had changed.

“Go now—Ragnall is watching us,” he said when he felt her older brother’s eyes on
him. Unlike Moira and Connor, Ragnall had their father’s fair hair, bull-like build,
and short temper. He was also the only warrior in the clan Duncan was not certain
he could defeat at arms.

“I won’t go until ye say you’ll meet me later.” Moira folded her arms, but amusement
quirked up the corners of her full lips, reminding Duncan that this was a game to
her.

Yet if the chieftain learned that Duncan was sneaking off with his only daughter,
he would murder him on the spot. Duncan turned and left the hall without bothering
to answer her; Moira knew he would be there.

As he waited for her in the dark, he listened to the soft lap of the sea on the shore.
There was no mist on the Misty Isle of Skye tonight, and Dunscaith Castle was beautiful,
ablaze with torchlight against the clear night sky. He had grown up in the castle
and seen this sight a thousand times, but Duncan was a young man who took nothing
for granted.

His mother had served as nursemaid to the chieftain’s children, and he and Connor
had been best friends since the cradle. From the time they could lift wooden swords,
the two of them and Connor’s cousins, Alex and Ian, had trained in the art of war.
When they weren’t practicing with their weapons, they were off looking for adventure—or
trouble—and they usually found it.

Moira had always been apart, a coddled princess dressed in finery. Duncan had little
to do with the lovely, wee creature whose laughter often filled the castle.

Duncan heard the rustle of silk skirts and turned to see Moira running toward him.
Even in the dark and covered head-to-toe in a cloak, he could pick her out of a thousand
women. Though she could not possibly see what was in her path, Moira ran headlong,
expecting no impediment. No stone tripped her, for even the faeries favored this lass.

When Moira threw her arms around his neck, Duncan closed his eyes and lost himself
in her womanly softness. He breathed in the scent of her hair, and it was like lying
in a field of wildflowers.

“It’s been two whole days,” she said. “I missed ye so much.”

Duncan was amazed at how unguarded Moira was. The lass said whatever came into her
head, with no caution, no fear of rejection. But then, who would refuse her?

The chieftain had sent Duncan to attend university in the Lowlands with Connor and
Connor’s cousins, and he’d learned about Helen of Troy there. Moira had a face like
that—the kind that could start a clan war. And worse for his jealous heart, she had
lush curves and an innate sensuality that made every man want her.

The other men only lusted after her for her beauty. But for Duncan, Moira was the
bright spark in his world.

Moira pulled him down into a deep kiss that sent him reeling. Before he knew it, his
hands were roaming over the feminine dips and swells of her body, and she was moaning
into his mouth. They were in danger of dropping to the grass at their feet, where
anyone could happen upon them, so he broke the kiss. One of them had to keep their
head—and it wouldn’t be Moira.

“Not here,” he said, though he knew damned well what they would do if they went to
the cave. Anticipation caused every fiber of his being to throb with need.

For the first weeks, they had found ways to please each other without committing the
last, irrevocable sin—the one that could cost Duncan his life if his chieftain knew
of it. He felt guilty for taking what rightfully belonged to Moira’s future husband.
But it was a miracle that he’d held out against her as long as he had.

At least he was confident that Moira would not suffer for what they had done. She
was a clever lass—she would not be the first to spill a vial of sheep’s blood on her
wedding sheet. And Moira was not one to be troubled by guilt.

Once they were inside the cave, they spread the blanket they kept there, and Duncan
pulled her onto his lap.

“The Irish chieftain’s son is rather amusing,” Moira said, poking her finger in his
side.

Moira’s father had not taken another wife after Connor and Moira’s mother died. So
when they had guests, Moira sat on one side of her father, charming them, while her
older brother Ragnall sat on his other side, frightening them.

“The man was looking down the front of your gown all through supper.” And Duncan thought
Moira let him. “I wanted to crush his head between my hands.”

All his life, he’d minded his temper, both because he was bigger than other lads and
because his position was precarious. He hated the way Moira made him lose control.

“That’s sweet.” She laughed and kissed his cheek. “I was trying to make ye jealous.”

“Why would ye do that?”

“To make certain ye would meet me, because we need to talk.” Her voice was serious
now. “Duncan, I want us to marry.”

Duncan closed his eyes and, for one brief moment, let himself pretend it was possible.
He imagined what it would be like to be the man so blessed as to sleep with this lass
in his arms each night and to wake up each morning to her sunny smile.

“It will never happen,” he said.

“Of course it will.”

Moira was accustomed to having her way. Her father, who had no other weakness, had
spoiled her, but he would not give in to her on such an important matter.

“Your father will never permit his only daughter to wed the nursemaid’s bastard son,”
he said. “He’ll use your marriage to make an alliance for the clan.”

Duncan pulled out his flask of whiskey and took a long drink. With Moira talking such
nonsense, he needed it.

“My father always lets me have what I want in the end. And what I want,” she said,
her breath warm in his ear as she ran her hand down his stomach, “is you, Duncan Ruadh
MacDonald.”

With all his blood rushing to his cock, he couldn’t think. He pulled her into his
arms, and they fell across the blanket, their legs tangled.

“I’m desperate for ye,” she said between frantic kisses.

He still found it hard to believe Moira wanted him—but when she put her hand on his
cock, he did believe it. For however long she wanted him, he was hers.

 

* * *

Duncan ran his fingers through Moira’s hair as she lay with her head on his chest.
He fixed every moment of their time together in his memory to retrieve later.

“I love ye so much,” she said.

An unfamiliar sensation of pure joy bubbled up inside Duncan.

“Tell me ye love me,” she said.

“Ye know I do,” he said, though it made no difference as to what would happen. “I’ll
never stop.”

His feelings didn’t come and go like Moira’s. One week, she loved her brown horse,
the next week the spotted one, and the week after that she didn’t like to ride at
all. She had always been like that. They were opposites in so many ways.

Duncan forced himself to sit up so he could see the sky outside the cave.

“Ach, it’s near dawn,” he said and cursed himself. “I must get ye back to the castle
quickly.”

“I will convince my father,” Moira said as they dressed. “He’s no fool. He can see
that one day you’ll be a famed warrior known throughout the Western Isles.”

“If ye tell your father about us,” he said, cupping her face in his hands, “that will
be the end of this.”

Moira could not be as naïve about it as she pretended.

“He would let us wed if I carried your child,” she said in a small voice.

Duncan’s heart stopped in his chest. “Tell me ye are taking the potion to avoid conceiving?”

“Aye,” she said, sounding annoyed. “And I’ve had my courses.”

He brushed his thumb over her cheek. It was strange, but he would love to have a child
with her—a wee lass with Moira’s laughing eyes. He had no business having thoughts
like that. It would be years before he could support a wife and child, and he’d never
be able to provide for a woman accustomed to fine clothes and servants.

The scare she gave him made him resolve, yet again, to end it. Moira could hide the
loss of her virginity, but a child was another matter.

“If my father won’t agree, we can run away,” she said.

“He’d send half a dozen war galleys after us,” Duncan said as he fastened her cloak
for her. “Even if we escaped—which we wouldn’t—ye would never be happy estranged from
our clan and living in a humble cottage. I love ye too much to do that to ye.”

“Don’t doubt me,” Moira said, gripping the front of his shirt. “I’d live anywhere
with ye.”

She believed it only because she’d never lived with hardship. Duncan had known from
the start that he could never keep her. Moira was like a colorful butterfly, landing
on his hand for a breathless moment.

The sky was growing light when they reached the kitchen entrance behind the keep.

“I love ye,” Moira said. “And I promise ye, one way or another, I will marry ye.”

Duncan was a lucky man to have her love, even for a little while. He pulled her into
one last mindless kiss and wondered how he would last until the next time.

He lived on the precipice of disaster, never knowing which would befall him first—getting
caught or having her end it. And yet, he had never felt happier in his life. He had
to stop himself from whistling as he crossed the castle yard to his mother’s cottage.

Damn, there was candlelight in the window. Duncan was a grown man of nearly twenty
and didn’t have to answer to his mother. Still, he wished she were not awake to see
him come in with the rising sun. She would ask questions, and he didn’t like to lie
to her.

Duncan opened the door—and his stomach dropped like a stone to his feet.

His chieftain and Ragnall sat on either side of his mother’s table with their long,
claymore swords resting, unsheathed, across their thighs. Rage rolled off them. With
their golden hair and fierce golden eyes, they looked like a pair of lions.

Duncan hoped they would not kill him in front of his mother and sister. Though he
did not take his eyes off the two warriors dwarfing the tiny cottage, he was aware
of his mother hunched on the floor in the corner, weeping. His eleven-year-old sister
stood with her hand on their mother’s shoulder.

“The old seer foretold that ye would save my son Connor’s life one day.” The chieftain’s
voice held enough menace to fell birds from the sky. “That is the only reason I did
not kill ye the moment ye walked through that door.”

Duncan suspected he would be flogged within an inch of his life instead. But a beating,
however bad, meant nothing. He was strong; he would survive it. What weighed down
his shoulders was the realization that he would never again hold Moira in his arms.

His chieftain was speaking again, but Duncan found it hard to listen with the well
of grief rising in his chest.

“I suspect Connor and my nephews knew ye were
violating my daughter
!”

When the chieftain started to rise from his chair, Ragnall put his hand on his father’s
arm.

“We are taking Knock Castle from the MacKinnons today, so fetch your sword and shield,”
Ragnall said. “As soon as the battle is over, you, Alex, and Ian will sail with Connor
for France. Ye can hone your skills there, fighting the English.”

“By the time ye return,” the chieftain said, his eyes narrow slits of hate, “Moira
will be far from Skye, living with her husband and children.”

Duncan had known from the start that he would lose Moira. And yet, he felt the loss
as keenly as if he’d been the expectant bridegroom whose bride is torn from his arms
on his wedding night.

The bright spark was gone from his life forever.

BOOK: The Warrior
8.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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