On Sale: June 25, 2013
Join New York Times bestselling author Brenda Joyce for an epic story of undying love and forbidden desire in the Highlands…
WHEN RIVALRY BECOMES PASSION
With warfare blazing through Scotland, the fate of the Comyn-MacDougall legacy depends on one woman. Recently orphaned, young Margaret Comyn must secure her clan’s safety through an arranged marriage. But when an enemy invasion puts her at the mercy of the notorious Wolf of Lochaber, her every loyalty-and secret want-will be challenged.
AND A KINGDOM IS AT STAKE
Legendary warrior Alexander “the Wolf” MacDonald rides with Robert Bruce to seize the throne of Scotland. But when he takes the fiery Lady Margaret prisoner, she quickly becomes far more than a valuable hostage. For the passion between them threatens to betray their families, their country…and their hearts.
Captured by war… claimed by desire.
“Scotland’s complex history is as strong a character as the hero and heroine, and Joyce seamlessly merges the historical details of Robert the Bruce’s rise to power with a captive/captor, forbidden love story. Highland history sings on the pages through Joyce’s potent prose.” -RT Bookreviews
“A Historical Romance that will always be on my favorites list.”
-Book Marks The Spot
“There was so much packed in this story that it overwhelms your senses, guaranteed to require a tissue or two or three. It will enthrall you from the first page to the last. EXTRAORDINARY!!!” -Addicted To Romance
It remained absolutely silent as their cavalcade passed through the barbican, approaching the raised drawbridge before the entry tower. Margaret was afraid to speak, wondering at the continuing silence, for word had been sent ahead by messenger, declaring their intention to arrive. Of course, messages could be intercepted, and messengers could be waylaid—even though the land was supposedly at “peace.” But then heads began popping up on the ramparts of the castle walls, adjacent the gatehouse. And then murmurs and whispers could be heard.
“`Tis Buchan’s nephew and niece.…”
“`Tis Lady Margaret and Master William Comyn.…”
Their cavalcade had halted, most of it wedged into the barbican. Sir Ranald cupped his hands and shouted up at the tower, to whomever was on watch there. “I am Sir Ranald of Kilfinnan, and I have in my keeping Lady Margaret Comyn and her brother, Master William. Lower the bridge for your mistress.”
Whispers sounded from the ramparts. The great drawbridge groaned as it was lowered. Margaret saw some children appear on the battlements above, as she gazed around, suddenly making eye contact with an older woman close to the entry tower. The woman’s eyes widened; instinctively, Margaret smiled.
“`Tis Lady Mary’s daughter!” the old woman cried.
“`Tis Mary MacDougall’s daughter!” another man cried, with more excitement.
“Mary MacDougall’s daughter!” others cried.
Margaret felt her heart skid wildly when she realized what was happening—these good folk remembered her mother, their mistress, whom they had revered and loved, and she was being welcomed by them all now. Her vision blurred.
These were her kin. These were her people, just as Castle Fyne was hers. They were welcoming her, and in return, she must see to their welfare and safety, for she was their lady now.
She smiled again, blinking back the tears. From the ramparts, someone cheered. More cheers followed.
Sir Ranald grinned at her. “Welcome to Castle Fyne, Lady,” he teased.
She quickly wiped her eyes and recovered her composure. “I had forgotten how much they adored my mother. Now I remember that they greeted her this way, with a great fanfare, when I was a child, when she returned here.”
“She was a great lady, so I am not surprised,” Sir Ranald said. “Everyone loved Lady Mary.”
William touched her elbow. “Wave,” he said softly.
She was startled, but she lifted her hand tentatively and the crowd on the ramparts and battlements and in the entry tower roared with approval. Margaret was taken aback. She felt herself flush. “I am hardly a queen.”
“No, but this is your dowry and you are their mistress.” William smiled at her. “And they have not had a lady of the manor in years.”
He gestured, indicating that she should precede him, and lead the way over the drawbridge into the courtyard. Margaret was surprised, and she looked at Sir Ranald, expecting him to lead the way. He grinned again, with a dimple, and then deferentially bowed his head. “After you, Lady Margaret,” he said.
Margaret nudged her mare forward, the crowd cheering again as she crossed the drawbridge and entered the courtyard. She felt her heart turn over hard. She halted her mare and dismounted before the wooden steps leading up to the great hall’s front entrance. As she did, the door opened and several men hurried out, a tall, gray-haired Scot leading the way.
“Lady Margaret, we have been expecting ye,” he said, beaming. “I am Malcolm MacDougall, yer mother’s cousin many times removed, and steward of this keep.”
He was clad only in the traditional linen leine most Highlanders wore, with knee-high boots and a sword hanging from his belt. Although bare-legged, and without a plaid, he clearly did not mind the cold as he came down the steps and dropped to one knee before her. “My lady,” he said, with deference. “I hereby vow my allegiance and my loyalty to you above all others.”
She took a deep breath, trembling. “Thank you for your oath of fealty.”
He stood, his gaze now on her face. “Ye look so much like yer mother!” He then turned to introduce her to his two sons, both young, handsome men just a bit older than she was. Both young men swore their loyalty, as well.
William and Sir Ranald had come forward, and more greetings were exchanged. Sir Ranald then excused himself, to help Sir Neil garrison their men. William stepped aside with him, and Margaret was distracted, instantly wanting to know what they were discussing, as they were deliberately out of her earshot.
“Ye must be tired,” Malcolm said to her. “Can I show ye to yer chamber?”
Margaret glanced at William—still in a serious and hushed conversation. She felt certain they were discussing the possibility of an enemy scout having been on the hillside above them, watching their movements. “I am tired, but I do not want to go to my chamber just yet. Malcolm, has there been any sign of discord around Loch Fyne lately?”
His eyes widened. “If ye mean, have we skirmished with our neighbors, of course we have. One of the MacRuari lads raided our cattle last week—we lost three cows. They are as bold as pirates, using the high seas to come and go as they please! And the day after, my sons found a MacDonald scout just to the east, spying on us. It has been some time, months, truly, since we have seen any MacDonald here.”
She felt herself stiffen. “How do you know that it was a scout from clan Donald?”
Malcolm smiled grimly. “We questioned him rather thoroughly before we let him go.”
She did not like the sound of that, and she shivered.
He touched her arm. “Let me take ye inside, lady, it’s far too cold fer ye to be standing here, on such a day, when
we have so little sun.”
Margaret nodded, as William returned to her side. She gave him a questioning look but he ignored her, gesturing that she follow Malcolm up the stairs. Disappointed, she complied.
The great hall at the top of the stairs was a large stone chamber with high, raftered ceiling, a huge fireplace on one wall. A few arrow slits let in some scant light. Two large trestle tables were centered in the room, benches on their sides, and three carved chairs with cushioned seats sat before the hearth. Pallets for sleeping were stacked up against the far walls. A large tapestry of a battle scene completed the room, hanging on the center wall.
Margaret sniffed appreciatively. The rushes were fresh and scented with lavender oil. And suddenly she smiled—remembering that the hall had smelled of lavender when she had last been present as a child.
Malcolm smiled. “Lady Mary insisted upon fresh rushes every third day, and she especially liked the lavender. We hoped you would like it, too.”
“Thank you,” Margaret said, moved. “I do.”
The servants they had brought with them were now busy bringing their personal belongings, which filled several large chests, into the hall. Margaret espied her lady’s maid, Peg, who was three years older than she was and married to one of Buchan’s archers. She had known Peg for most of her life, and they were good friends. Margaret excused herself and hurried over to her. “Are you freezing?” she asked, taking her cold hands in hers.
“How are your blisters?” She was concerned.
“Ye know how I hate the cold!” Peg exclaimed, shivering. She was as tall and voluptuous as Margaret was slender and petite, with dark auburn hair. She wore a heavy wool plaid over her ankle-length leine, but she was shivering anyway. “Of course I am freezing, and it has been a very long journey, too long, if ye ask me!”
“But we have arrived, and safely—no easy feat,” Margaret pointed out.
“Of course we arrived safely—there is no one at war now,” Peg scoffed. Then, “Margaret, yer hands are ice cold! I knew we should have made camp earlier! Yer frozen to the bone, just as I am!”
“I was cold earlier, but I am not frozen to the bone, and I am so pleased to be here.” Margaret looked around the hall again. She almost expected her mother to appear from an empty doorway, smiling at her as she entered the room.
She then shook herself free of such a fanciful thought. But she had never missed her more.
“I am going to light a fire in yer room,” Peg said firmly. “We cannot have ye catching an ague before ye marry yer
Margaret met her steadfast gaze grimly. From her tone, she knew that Peg hoped she would catch a cold and be incapable of attending her own June wedding.
She did not fault her. Peg was a true Scotswoman. She hated the MacDonalds and several other rival clans, but she also hated the English bitterly. She had been aghast when she had learned of Margaret’s betrothal. Being outspoken, she had ranted and raved for some time, until Margaret had had to command her to keep her tongue.
While they were in some agreement on the subject of her wedding, Peg’s opinions simply did not help.
“I believe my mother’s chamber is directly atop the stairwell,” Margaret said. “I think that is a good idea. Why don’t you make a fire and prepare the room. And then see to supper.”
Margaret wasn’t hungry, but she wanted to wander about her mother’s home with some privacy. She watched Peg hurry away to harangue a young lad who was in charge of her chest. As they started for the stairwell leading to the north tower where her chamber was, Margaret followed.
Because the keep was so old, the ceiling was low, so low most men had to go up the stairwell hunched over. Margaret did not have to duck her head, and she went past the second landing, where her chamber was. She glanced inside as she did so, noticing the open shutters on a single window, the heavy wooden bed, and her chest, brought with them from Balvenie. Peg was already inspecting the hearth. Margaret quickly continued up the stairs, before her maid might object. The third level opened onto the ramparts.
Margaret left the tower, walking over to the crenellated wall. It was frigidly cold now, as the afternoon was late, the sun dull in an already cloudy sky. She pulled her dark red mantle closer.
The views were magnificent from where she now stood. The loch below the castle was crusted with thick ice near the shore, but the center was not frozen, and she knew that the bravest sailors might still attempt to traverse it, and often did, even in the midst of winter. The far shore seemed to be nothing but heavy forest.
She glanced south, at the path they had taken up to the keep. It was narrow and steep, winding up the hillside, the loch below it. From where she stood, she could see the adjacent glen. A wind was shifting the huge trees in the forest there.
It was breathtaking, beautiful. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly fiercely glad that she had come to Castle Fyne, even if it was on the eve of her marriage to an Englishman.