There has been a lot happening in my world. The most exciting is the release of Highland Revenge as a single (paperback and ebook) and the upcoming release of Highland Echoes (available at a special low price for pre-order). Both are available exclusively on Amazon.
Excerpt from Highland Echoes:
Soaked by the late spring rain and chilled to the bone, Bram Sutherland thought the gates of home had never looked so inviting. It had been a long, wet ride from Castle MacKay. The skies had only cleared in the last hour. They would have been welcome to stay another night waiting out the storm at Naomh-dùn, the MacKay stronghold, but thankfully his father had declined. Bram couldn’t stand the thought of spending another minute there. His betrothed had married Eoin MacKay. Bram hadn’t wanted to linger and be reminded of his loss.
Letting Fiona MacNicol go had been the right thing to do but that didn’t make it less disappointing. Until yesterday he hadn’t even met her. But once he had, he found her not only beautiful, but strong, loyal, and possessed of a loving heart—a heart that was, unfortunately, deeply in love with Eoin MacKay. Even though Bram had been tempted to force the terms of their betrothal contract, her heart would never belong to him and he couldn’t bear to see her unhappy.
They slogged into the courtyard. His father gave his mount to the care of a stable hand. “Son, I expect supper is nigh on the table. Leave yer beast to one of the lads. We’ll fill our bellies with good food and ale and try to put this mess behind us.”
Bram generally preferred to care for his own horse and while he had been looking forward to the warmth of hearth and home for hours, arriving at the start of the evening meal had disadvantages. He was less than anxious to face the onslaught of questions about what had happened and why they didn’t have Fiona MacNicol with them. “I’ll see to Goliath myself but I won’t be long.”
“Bram, ye could have had her. The law was on our side.”
“Nay, Da, we have been through this. It would have been wrong. Fiona and Eoin love each other.”
“Bah. Love. Kentigern MacKay would never have stood for this.” His father’s tone of voice clearly conveyed how unimportant that detail was.
“Perhaps not, but he is dead. Eoin is laird and in spite of being solid allies for years, if we had forced the issue, he would have become a mortal enemy to the Sutherlands until either I lay dead or he did. Not to mention the fact that I would be married to a woman who would have hated me forever. This was the right course.”
“Whether it was or wasn’t, it’s done now and we’ll need to find another way to ally with the MacNicols. I think I must consider Bhaltair’s daughter for Boyd, and the sooner the better. We need to get that sorted while they are young—before either of them gets any foolish notions about love in their heads.”
Bram just shook his head at his father’s utter dismissal of the emotion. Bram had understood from an early age that he would marry a woman of his father’s choosing, a woman who strengthened clan ties. He hadn’t thought much about love and perhaps had discounted its importance as thoroughly as his father had. That was until he saw Fiona and Eoin together. He didn’t want to admit it, but he envied them.
His father must have taken his silence for agreement, because he continued, “Aye, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced. I will take care of it as soon as Laird MacNicol has recovered. And we will find a bonny bride for ye too, Bram. That young Anna MacKay is quite a pretty thing, even if she is a bit too bold for her own good.”
“A bit too bold? That is an understatement. Whoever marries her will have his hands full. I’m not sure I’m up to the task. Besides, she is very young.”
“Seventeen is not that young. But there is also Annice…”
“Nay, Da, please, can’t this wait? I don’t wish to discuss another betrothal at the moment and I need to see to Goliath.”
“Fine, we won’t discuss it now. It can wait…a few days. Don’t dwell on this, Bram.”
His father turned toward the keep, calling as he went, “Don’t be all night. Yer mother will want to hear every detail of what happened and I don’t have the patience.”
By all the saints, Bram loved his mother but he didn’t have the patience for an inquisition tonight either. Bram led Goliath into the stable, removed his tack, rubbed him down, and fed him an extra portion of oats. When he had finished, he was still not anxious to face the crowd certain to have formed in the great hall. He could avoid it by going straight to the kitchen. Innes would give him food and ale and he could slip up the backstairs, avoiding the great hall altogether tonight. He actually might be able to get through this day without having to rehash everything yet again.
Bram walked from the stables through the outer bailey heading to the rear entrance to the inner bailey, near the kitchens. As he passed one of the small dwellings located within the outer bailey, a woman’s voice, perhaps the most beautiful voice he had ever heard, drifted toward him on the breeze. He stopped to listen. The tune was unfamiliar and he couldn’t quite catch the words, but it was delightful.
He followed the enchanting melody, drawing close enough to the source to understand the lyrics.
Hush my sweetling, hushaby,
The sun sets slowly in the sky,
Tis time to sleep for evening’s nigh,
Hush my sweetling, hushaby.
Hush my sweetling, little dove,
Mama’s heart is filled with love,
Papa watches from above,
Hush my sweetling, little dove.
They were the nonsense words mothers crooned to bairns, but he was entranced by the soft, sweet voice of what could only be an angel. He stopped in front of the tiny cottage to listen.
Hush my sweetling, little sprite,
Too soon ye’ll wake to morning bright,
So sleep now through the still dark night,
Hush my sweetling, little sprite.
The woman stopped singing words but continued to hum her lullaby until finally her voice faded away altogether. Bram was so captivated by the music it took him a moment to realize it had emanated from Innes’ cottage. However, it certainly was not Innes singing. She would be in the kitchen or the keep now, overseeing the evening meal. Who was it then?
As if in answer to his unspoken question, a young woman he had never seen before stepped out of the cottage. She was perfectly lovely. Her face was delicately beautiful; as angelic as her voice. Rich auburn hair spilled from under a white kertch in soft curls that reached well past the middle of her back. Tall for a woman, she had full breasts and her belt cinched a narrow waist. She stretched and rolled her shoulders, her movements graceful and oddly enticing. Bram felt a twinge of disappointment when his brain registered the kertch. She was married. Of course she was—she had been crooning a lullaby to a child.
When she cast a glance his direction, she gasped and stumbled backwards, feeling blindly for the door latch. “I didn’t see ye there. Ye startled me.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to.” Why was he apologizing to her? He had committed no offense. He took a step toward her.
She went from frightened to ferocious in a matter of seconds. “Stay back. What are ye doin’ here anyway? Who are ye?” she demanded.
Who did she think she was? She was certainly in no position to demand anything from him. “I think, lass, it is ye who needs to start explaining. Who are ye and why were ye in Innes’ cottage?”
“Innes is my grandmother, she asked us to stay with her.”
“Yer grandmother? Innes has no children. I won’t tolerate liars, no matter how lovely they are. Who are ye? I want the truth and I won’t ask again.”
She scowled, affronted. “I am not a liar. I told ye, Innes is my grandmother and she did have a child, a son named Tristan. I am his daughter, Grace Breive.”
Tristan, aye, he had a vague memory of that. “I stand corrected. She had a son. But Tristan died years ago.”
“Nay, Tristan disappeared years ago. He didn’t die.”
“And ye are his daughter, Innes’ long-lost granddaughter. How sweet. And unlikely. What game is this? Innes is important to Clan Sutherland. I don’t want anyone taking advantage of her, playing on her feelings.”
“I am not playing on her feelings. I am her granddaughter and have proven that to her. But it’s a long story and I don’t see how any of this concerns ye.”
“It concerns me, Grace, because everything at Sutherland concerns me. I am Bram Sutherland, Laird Sutherland’s heir.”
Grace became immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, sir. I meant no offense. But, I have told ye the truth.”
“The babe ye were singing to is yers?”
“Aye, I have a young daughter. I should go back inside. I just stepped out for a bit of air. The rain kept us indoors all day.” Again, her hand groped behind her, searching for the door latch.
“This isn’t over, Grace Breive. If ye and yer husband want to live at Sutherland, ye will need permission from the laird, whether ye are Innes’ granddaughter or no. And I hope ye do have proof of who ye are. I won’t allow ye to hurt Innes in any way and giving her false hope about a long lost son would kill her.” He took a step towards her, reaching past to lift the latch, which so far had eluded her hand. “Goodnight, Mistress Breive.”
He was surprised by the expression on her face. It wasn’t anger or fear of discovery. The green depths of her eyes were guileless and she appeared…was it grateful?
“Goodnight laird—I mean Bram—I mean sir. Goodnight.” She backed through the door and closed it.
He stood there for a moment, trying to sort out his thoughts about this newest addition to the clan. It all seemed odd. He would speak with Da about this…but not tonight. He resumed his walk, entering into the inner bailey. He had almost reached the kitchens when his brother Ian called to him. “Bram, there ye are. Da sent someone to fetch ye from the stables, but I figured ye were avoiding dinner in the hall and I’d find ye in the kitchens.”
Ian was two years younger than Bram. For brothers, they looked nothing alike. Both were tall, but Bram had fair hair and blue eyes like their mother and Ian had dark hair and brown eyes like their father. Their temperaments were vastly different as well. Although Bram smiled easily, he tended to be quiet and often serious. Like Laird Sutherland, he revealed very little of what he was thinking, sometimes appearing aloof. Even so, most of their clansmen considered him level-headed and fair. They believed he would make a good leader when his time came. Ian, too, was quick with a smile but that was where the similarities ended. He enjoyed a good time, and seemingly took very little seriously. However, Ian was acutely observant and absolutely forthright. Most people knew exactly where he stood on any issue. As different as they were, Ian was truly his best friend. “Aye Ian, ye know me well. Do me a kindness and tell Da ye didn’t find me.”
“Ah, well now brother, I could tell Da ye weren’t in the kitchens, because ye weren’t. But Mother is anxious to see ye too and ye and she can see right through any guile.”
Bram sighed heavily. “I suppose it was vain hope to think I could avoid this.” Bran fell in step by his brother as they walked to the keep.
“Aye, it was. Ye know how excited mother was to finally have a daughter, or at least a daughter-to-be. Da would only say that ye were the one who chose to release the MacNicol lass from the betrothal. When Mam kept asking questions he roared for someone to fetch ye from the stable and then he stomped off to his solar with a jug of whiskey under one arm.”
“Damn, I wanted to talk to him about Innes.”
“Ye heard about her long-lost granddaughter?”
“I just met her. Ye knew about her?”
“Aye, she arrived the day ye and Da left for Naomh-dùn. She seems nice enough. Innes adores her.”
“I wish we knew more about her. It is hard to believe their story and yet I don’t see what they have to gain by lying.”
“Innes is certain the lass is her granddaughter. She had a brooch that belonged to Tristan.”
“What about her husband? Have ye met him? What is he like?”
“She has no husband. She’s a widow. She arrived with just her daughter, a few days ago. It was the day ye and Da left.”
“A widow? She is an awfully young widow.”
“Bram, let this go for now. Innes is thrilled. Tomorrow will be soon enough to sort out Innes’ granddaughter. Besides, it will likely take ye all evening to answer to mother’s questions.”
“I suppose ye are right. Well then, let the interrogation begin,” said Bram as they entered the keep.