New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to medieval Scotland where daring and desire stir the passions of the Murray clan . . .
When a red-haired woman tries to steal Sir Gybbon Murray’s horse on his journey back to the Murray stronghold, he thanks his lucky stars that his horse is a rude lout—and that the pretty thief is not so injured that she can’t tell her tale. He’s no nursemaid to delicate lasses, but Mora Ogilvy is fleeing her ruthless cousins, fearing for her life. And when she tells him of the home they’ve taken from her and the man they say she murdered, Gybbon cannot let such injustice stand . . .
Mora’s pride demands she take back her lands, but not by risking the lives of this handsome, wicked knight and his family. Still, she needs to recover from her wounds, and staying close to Gybbon in his brother’s keep is a seductive solution. A few weeks at his side will be a sweet memory for her when she returns to fight her own battles. Except the depth of her cousins’ treachery—and the fierceness of Gybbon’s love—may turn her own heart against her plans . . .
Praise for Hannah Howell and Her Highland Novels
“Few authors portray the Scottish highlands as lovingly or colorfully as Hannah Howell.”
“Expert storyteller Howell pens another Highland winner.”
—RT Book Reviews
About the Author
Born and raised in Massachusetts, her family's home since the 1630s, Hannah Howell is the author of over thirty Zebra historical romances. Her love of history prompts the choice of venue, and also her dragging her husband Stephen, to every historical site she can get to. Her fascination with the past makes research as much a pleasure as a necessity. It was a thrill for her to turn her love of history and writing into a career, one that allows her to share those loves with others.
Read an Excerpt
The way her cousins burst into the house startled and frightened Mora. She paused in doing up her cloak. "What do ye want?" she demanded as she pushed Andrew behind her.
"We want ye gone," answered Robert, the eldest.
"Why? I have a right to stay here and hold the house for my brothers' return." She felt a chill at the look that crossed Robert's face.
"We can hold it for them. Now that your parents are dead, 'tis nay right for ye to stay here alone. How will ye fare with no one bringing in some coin?"
"The goats give me milk and I will have cheese to make and sell. 'Tis nay a bountiful living, but it will serve."
Robert looked at his brothers and nodded toward the back door. All three went in that direction. Mora tried to stop them, but Robert paused long enough to backhand her in the face, and she fell. She was just scrambling to her feet when she heard the first goat scream. Keeping an eye on Murdoch, who rushed out the door and tried to stop what his brothers were doing, she grabbed the bag she had packed for young Andrew, handed it to him, and hurried over to a window to lift him out.
"Run with the goats if any get away. Go to Aunt Maggie."
"But ye should come, too," Andrew said. "We were supposed to stay together."
"Go. I will come when I can. Go!"
She watched him run to the woods and a moment later saw several of her goats bolting into the woods as well. Pleased her cousins had not killed all the animals, she turned around and saw a badly battered Murdoch leaning against the side of the door frame, watching her.
The elder three brothers came stomping back into the house, and she tensed. "Ye shouldnae have killed my animals. Glad some of them kenned the danger and fled."
"Ye willnae be able to gather them all back anyway," sneered Robert as he walked toward her. "Now we have taken care of your parents and your cursed goats."
Shock turned her blood cold and she said in a voice softened by horror, "It wasnae thieves. It was ye who killed my parents. Ye probably took what they had earned for their goods as well."
Robert laughed. "Of course we did. And it showed they had a good day at the market. They had no need of it and ye willnae either. And, curse it, where is that wee brat Andrew?"
"Ye expect me to tell ye where he is when ye have just admitted to killing our parents?"
"Aye, and if ye dinnae, we can easily make ye want to tell us anything."
"I think people would frown on ye torturing your own cousin, especially if that person is a newly orphaned girl."
"Nay when they are told ye are a thief and a killer."
"What nonsense is that? I have stolen nothing and killed no one."
"Ye stole money from our da and ye killed the mon who was caring for him."
"William has died? How did that happen?" She forced herself to speak calmly although she was deeply shocked. "He was verra hale and hardy when I last saw him."
"Aye, right before ye stabbed him with a sword ye stole from me, along with some coin our da had in a wee wooden box that has a carved dragon on the lid."
The description of the wooden box with money in it told her they had robbed her of her father's small savings. She also knew they did not have it, for it was stuffed deep in the bag she had packed. Mora suspected they had killed poor William, too, or Robert had, and she had the chilling feeling the man had died because he had suspected that the laird's illness was being caused by something being given to him. Worse, it was something his own son was doing.
"Ye have gone mad, havenae ye?"
Robert grabbed her by the arm, and it was so shocking, and painful, she could not silence a cry. She heard a recognizable hiss even as she saw her small cat leap upon Robert's face, her little paws scratching furiously at him. Robert screamed and his brothers Duncan and Lachlan started to rush to his side even as Robert grabbed little Freya and hurled her toward the fireplace. Since he had released her in his vain attempt to protect his face, Mora ran and grabbed the animal.
When she saw Murdoch signal with a motion of his head that she should run, she did not hesitate, but Robert still tried to stop her, grabbing her by the wrist and lashing out with a knife. He did not manage to stab her as he had clearly intended, but she knew he had scraped the flesh on her side for it stung and she could feel that there was some wetness, telling her that it bled. Breaking free of Robert, she then raced to the door while his brothers reached his side and clumsily tried to help him. He was screeching as if he had just been gutted.
She grabbed the bag she had packed, and while still in motion, shoved Freya inside and kept on running. The moment she espied a good place to hide, she ducked into the bushes and burrowed deep into the brush. Pulling the hood of her cloak up, she nestled down in the undergrowth all the while praying they would not search too hard for her. The light was fading as the sun began to set, so she also prayed that would produce enough shadow to keep her hidden. Once she was sure they had left, she would begin the long trip to Dubheidland and the distant relatives her mother had always insisted would help her. Mora was not sure what the Camerons could do to help her, or even if they would accept her word that the crimes Robert tried to hang her with were lies, but she had no other choices.
* * *
Night descended on Mora Ogilvy like a heavy fog, stealing the light and some of the warmth, and she shivered. She reached into the bag she carried and lightly scratched her cat's ears. The animal licked her hand and Mora sighed. It had been silly to bring her cat with her. She knew few people would understand, especially if they knew what she had risked to accomplish it. She shifted back, deeper into the bushes she was crouching in. Fear still gnawed at her, but she almost welcomed its sharp teeth because it kept her alert, something Mora felt sure would help her stay alive.
She could not be certain how long her cousins would chase after her, or how hard. Considering how often she had to dart off the road and hide, it would be months before she reached Dubheidland. The way Robert had carried on about his face, she suspected he would insist on someone tending to the wounds soon, and that should delay the hunt for her. There were also a lot of dangers for a woman walking the roads and pathways alone, especially at night. Mora wished she had been able to grab a horse to flee on, but she had barely gotten herself and her little brother away.
Thinking of her little brother, Andrew, made her start to cry, but she hastily wiped the tears away. He was only seven — a surprise child, their mother had called him — and he was so smart. He had not argued much when she had told him to run to the woman they fondly called Aunt Maggie and tell her what was happening. Mora just prayed she had not put the woman in danger, too.
It was time to move on, she decided as she stood up and closed her bag. The moon was now out, so she had some faint light to see by. It was not as much light as she would like, but she suspected too many rests by the side of the road would be risky. She had already had to duck into the undergrowth of the forest or into the hedgerows several times because she heard someone approaching.
Unable to resist, she opened her bag and her pet immediately stuck her head out, eager to look around. "I am verra glad that ye are so small, Miss Freya, as I suspicion I will be carrying ye the whole way."
Freya made a small chirping sound as Mora thought hard on where she was going. The clan she sought was a relation of her mother's, but Mora had only met them twice. All she could recall about them was a lot of boys and every shade of red hair. She prayed they recalled her mother or she could find herself facing a lot of confused and angry men.
Shaking her head, she fought to recall how hard her father and mother had worked to make certain she knew how to get to Dubheidland. The moment they had suspected trouble from her uncle's sons, they had begun to speak on where to run to. They had been very adamant about it being the best place for her to run to be safe, so for their sake she pushed aside her doubts and fears and started walking.
When Freya snapped her head around to look behind them, Mora turned and headed into the trees. The cat had proven to be very good at warning her of trouble. Mora listened carefully but it was several minutes before she heard the sound of a horse approaching. Freya crouched down into the bag, flattened her ears against her head, but made no sound.
A single rider came into view astride a magnificent horse. The animal had a white tail, a white mane, and a blaze of white down his face, but the rest of him appeared to be black. In a soft, deep voice the man spoke idly to the animal, and the way the animal's ears moved made Mora ready to believe that it was actually listening to the man.
Once the rider was out of sight, Mora looked back down the road and listened carefully but neither heard nor saw any sign of someone else coming. She glanced down at Freya only to find the cat idly washing herself, so Mora relaxed. She was as certain as she could be that there would be no more surprises, so she slowly returned to the road and started walking again.
"Mayhap I should have spoken up when that man rode by, Freya. He was but one man and I didnae recognize him as an acquaintance of my thrice- cursed cousins. Even if I had not met him before, I would surely have recognized that horse. He may have even offered us a ride. It would be much nicer if we could ride to Dubheidland."
Glancing at her pet, who was giving her what Mora could only see as an expression of disgust, she grimaced. "And, mayhaps not. Still, it would have been faster to be able to ride at least some of the way to our destination. And I would have someone to talk to aside from a cat. And, he could have provided some warmth, too," she grumbled as the air grew even colder and she tugged her cloak more tightly around herself. "Ye are all tucked up in the bag and have fur so ye dinnae notice, but there is a sharp bite to the air tonight."
Watching the road so that she did not stumble, Mora forced herself to keep a sharp listen out for the sound of someone approaching from any direction, although she wondered why she bothered as Freya could hear the sound of hooves long before she did. She carefully thought through all that had just happened and made herself believe it, forcing away all thought of how they were family. Her cousins wanted her and Andrew dead. She had not truly caught her parents' growing fear until they were dead, killed on the road back from the market. Even then it had been too easy to believe it had just been thieves. Then her cousins had come for her and Andrew and actually boasted of their killing of her parents.
Thinking back to that moment, she realized at least one of her cousins might not have been in complete accord with his brothers. Murdoch was just eighteen and, even through her own shock, she had seen how stunned he had looked at Robert's boasting. He had then protested when his brothers had gone out to kill her goats. Unfortunately, he was also the smallest of the group and Robert had just slapped him around until he could only sag against the side of the house. She doubted she could count on him to give her much more help than that.
Another stroke of luck was that her goats were not the completely brainless beasts the cousins had anticipated. They killed a few but the fear and blood of the murdered goats sent the others racing for the fence, which they easily cleared, and then they disappeared into the forest. She had had the time to send her little brother off, for which she was grateful. Murdoch had watched her and said nothing, then motioned with his head for her to move away.
As she had grabbed some things to take with her and picked up her cat, the others had returned. They had tried to slaughter her goats and Robert had then tossed her cat toward the fireplace. Mora could taste the fear she had suffered thinking she was about to watch her pet get burned alive, but Freya had twisted as she had flown through the air to land hard just to the side of the fireplace. Mora had grabbed her cat and, dodging Robert's attempt to stab her but still feeling the bite of his knife, shoved her cat in her bag, then bolted for the door, while Robert cursed and shrieked, his brothers trying to tend to him. She had raced down the road and hidden away, something she was getting very tired of doing, for she had begun weeks ago, when her parents had warned her there was a threat from her cousins.
She had briefly considered running to their father, her Uncle Tomas, but shook aside the thought. The man was still sick but she had no idea how bad he was. He could no longer be sensible enough to understand what she said or strong enough to stop his sons if they came after her. He had also proven impossible to convince that Robert could do anything wrong. Even her mother had complained about it. It was better to make her way to her mother's cousins in Dubheidland and pray that they believed her and were ready to help her.
After walking for what felt like miles, the small wound Robert had inflicted stinging badly, she stopped and sniffed the air, realizing she smelled the hint of smoke. Unsure what caused it, she scurried into the trees. As soon as she felt certain she was hidden in the trees well enough not to be seen by anyone on the road, she stopped and sniffed the air again. The smell of wood smoke was still there and had become just a little stronger.
Mora looked carefully through the trees trying to see where the smoke could be coming from. She finally spotted a faint flicker of light to her left. Moving forward as quietly as she could, she drew near enough to recognize a small campfire. Then she saw the horse. The animal she saw was enough to tell her who was crouched by that fire. A moment later the scent of what he was cooking drifted her way and her stomach growled. It smelled as if he had caught himself a rabbit. Mora was sorely tempted to walk right over to him and ask for a share.
Knowing that would be foolish, she turned her attention to his horse. With a mount like that she could keep well out of her cousins' reach and probably get to Dubheidland quickly, even with her poor riding skills. It would certainly be better and faster than walking every step of the way. There would be less need for camping out in the night all by herself as well. She looked back at the man and prayed he would wander away just for a little while.
She crept as close as she dared to his campsite, then settled down to watch for him to walk away. Mora decided she would not need much time to take the horse. As soon as she mounted the animal it would be easy enough to avoid the man if he came back and tried to catch her. Once she was on the road she would definitely have a strong advantage. Studying the horse carefully, she planned out the quickest way to saddle the animal, attach her bag, and then mount. While waiting for the man to leave for a short while, she kept going over the plan in the hope that she would be able to move fast.
Her mind kept reminding her that stealing a man's horse could get one hanged. Mora decided to ignore it. If she let it linger it would make her afraid and that could cause her to fail. Despite having many good reasons to be afraid, she refused to allow that fear to settle inside her.
The man abruptly stood up and stretched, then scratched his bottom. She rolled her eyes. Her brothers always did the same, stretch and scratch. Then she pressed her lips together to hide the sigh begging to be let out.
She missed her brothers, Niall and David. Although she and her parents had written to them several times, and she had written again after her parents were killed, there had been no reply. They had gone to France to fight, to join one of the mercenary bands there. Mora had the chilling feeling they were dead. She would not be surprised if, when her cousins learned where her brothers were going, they had made certain they would never return. If her brothers had joined with some mercenaries, she suspected it would not be difficult to get a few of those men to kill two of their own kind for the right coin.
Staring in the direction of the fire as she thought, Mora was slowly pulled out of her musings. The man stood with his hands on his hips staring into the fire and frowning. He was a fine-looking man from what little she could see. The flickering light from the fire made it difficult to see his face though. She was much more interested in his face. She had seen far too many men who had a fine, manly build that any woman would appreciate — only to discover they had a face that looked as if they had lost too many fights or a horse had sat on it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Highland Devil"
Copyright © 2018 Hannah Howell.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.