Authors: Amy Jarecki
Highland Dynasty Series—Book Three
~Scottish Historical Romance~
Copyright © 2015, Amy Jarecki
A Highland Knight to Remember
First Release: May, 2015
Book Cover Design by: Amy Jarecki
Edited by: Scott Mooreland
All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.
The Scottish Highlands, Late Fifteenth Century
Gyllis Campbell forgot the pain in her backside when Dunstaffnage Castle came into view. It was all she could do not to dig in her heels, slap her riding crop against her mare’s rump and overtake their dreary entourage. But Mother would surely admonish such a display of unladylike exuberance.
In the castle foreground, blue and white striped tents festooned with colorful flags flapped in the breeze. The sight made butterflies flit about her stomach. If only she could hop off her horse, she’d be able to walk faster than the guards leading them. Gyllis had been looking forward to the annual Highland fete for ages. At long last they’d arrived and the rain had stopped. It would be Beltane on the morrow—May Day. And it couldn’t possibly rain on the opening day of the games.
Gyllis cast an excited grin toward her sister. “What is the first thing you plan to do?”
Helen licked her lips. “I can already smell the honeyed cryspes.”
Though only a year younger, Helen could be incredibly dull. She even opted to wear a veil and cover her lovely honey-colored locks, though she was a maid and within her rights to flaunt her beautiful tresses. “Sounds delicious,” Gyllis managed a disinterested reply. She set her sights on more interesting fare and scanned the scene for Highland warriors.
Where is he?
“And you?” Helen asked.
“Hmm?” Gyllis focused on a gathering of well-armed knights ahead.
No handsome lad with a head of thick dark locks among them
. She could picture Sir Sean MacDougall in her mind’s eye as if she’d seen him only yesterday. She adored everything about the knight including his long, athletic legs she’d admired many times when he sparred in the courtyard as one of her brother’s Highland Enforcers. A potent and powerful man, Sir Sean’s face was as equally rugged and handsome as his form. It had been six months since she’d last seen him before he left to patrol the borders. But forever burned into her memory was the way his azure eyes had stared at her from across the table during last year’s Beltane festival. No man had ever gazed upon her with such fervent hunger. More so, his stare had awakened a longing deep within Gyllis’s soul that would not be forgotten.
“What will be the first thing you’ll do, silly?” Helen asked again.
Gyllis waggled her brows. “I want to watch the games.”
“But they do not start until the morrow.” Helen tsked her tongue. “Bless it, you are incorrigible.” She leaned toward Gyllis. “I know what you’re doing.”
“So?” she snorted. “Eoin will be here, too.”
Helen whipped her head around so fast, she nearly fell off her mount. “Wheesht. Ma will hear you.”
Gyllis glanced over her shoulder at her mother and younger twin sisters. Bogle’s bones, she and the lassies would all need to find husbands soon. She had long past attained the age of twenty. Many highborn lasses were wed by ten and six—the same age as Alice and Marion. Yet her brother, the all-powerful and domineering Lord of Glenorchy, frowned upon every available noble who passed through Kilchurn Castle’s gates. Well, Gyllis had decided it was time to take matters into her own hands, lest she end up a spinster. If her brother deemed no one suitable to place a ring on her finger, she would follow her heart—a love interest she had harbored for years.
“Gyllis?” The commanding tone in Mother’s voice made her sit straighter. “Have you seen Duncan?”
I’d prefer it if my overbearing brother remained on the borders
. “Not as of yet.”
“His missive said he would meet us at the gate.”
Gyllis eyed the barbican and the long pathway leading to Dunstaffnage’s immense grey stone walls. “Perhaps we shall see him when our entourage proceeds closer to the castle.”
“Can we not stop and look at the wares first?” asked Alice, Gyllis’s youngest sister—aside from Marion who was born moments later.
Mother cleared her throat. “No one will be doing any browsing at the fete until we are settled in our rooms.”
Gyllis rolled her eyes to the sky. “The servants will see to that. We’ll be in their way.”
“Oh?” Mother said. “And how will you know where you’ll be sleeping?”
Gyllis grinned at Helen. “You can tell us, Ma.”
“Ungrateful children,” Mother sighed. “It shan’t take long. Together we will proceed to our rooms and I’ll hear no further argument.”
With a wink, Gyllis leaned toward her sister and whispered, “You’ll have to wait a wee bit longer for those honeyed cryspes.”
“And you must put off ogling Sir Sean.”
Her heart fluttered at the mention of
name. She flicked her riding crop at Helen. “I’ll wager you’ll be dancing with Sir Eoin MacGregor this eve.”
Helen grasped the crop and yanked it from Gyllis’s hand. “You are shameless.”
“And you are ungrateful.” Gyllis snatched the whip back. “Remember, I am the one who intends to keep the Campbell sisters from spinsterhood.”
Sean MacDougall left his horse with his squire and removed his helm. He inhaled a deep breath of Highland air. The sweet scent of home enlivened him. He’d been looking forward to the Beltane games as he did every year and now even more so.
After spending six months patrolling the borders with the Highland Enforcers, he needed clean air and good sport. He scrubbed his knuckles against his scalp and marched from the stables toward the smell of roasting meat.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, nephew?”
Sean stopped on the path leading to the castle’s main gate and turned. He’d recognize his uncle’s timeworn scowl anywhere. “If it isn’t the Lord of Lorn, himself.” He held out his hand for a firm handshake. “I see you’ve outdone yourself this year. The collection of merchants is grander than ever before.” Indeed, the tents sprawled across Dunstaffnage’s foreground posed an impressive sight.
Lorn chuckled—though not a tall man, he had a deep voice. “We do bring in more tinkers every year.” He rubbed the tips of his fingers together. “And with it comes more coin—as long as they can keep their thieving hands to themselves.”
In the past six months, Sean had endured enough of backstabbers and thieves to last a lifetime. At times he’d reckoned fate must have doled him out a parcel of bad luck. But he aimed to rectify his lot starting now. “I wish you well controlling the roustabouts. I’m here for the games.”
“I would assume no less.” Lorn chuckled and squeezed his arm. “And I expect you to be victorious—I’ve wagered a nicely sum upon it.”
Sean grinned. “I aim to give it my best.”
“Good lad.” Lorn smoothed his fingers down his grey, pointed beard. “I haven’t seen the Laird of Dunollie as of late. Will he be dining at the high table with me this eve?”
“Unfortunately, Da needs rest. He was a wee bit fevered last eve, but I expect him to come round before the end of the games.”
Above the crowd ahead, Duncan Campbell climbed the steps leading to Dunstaffnage’s inner barbican. Sean waved and Duncan offered an exaggerated bow, his black hair dropping into his eyes. They’d been friends since the age of ten and four when Sean’s father sent him to Kilchurn Castle to foster with the late Lord of Glenorchy, Duncan’s da.
“Are you still riding with that Campbell blackguard?” Lorn asked.
Sean raised an eyebrow. “You surprise me, Uncle. Duncan is one of my closest allies.”
“I’d watch my back with friends such as he.”
“It would be in our best interest if we Highlanders could manage to end our feuds.”
Lorn scrunched his nose as if he’d just tasted a bitter brew. “’Tis easy for you to say, but I must find some way of keeping Campbell fingers off my title when I’m laid to rest. To my chagrin, my sister off and married the Earl of Argyll—if I pass without issue, the title will go to him, the bastard.”
Sean regarded his uncle. Blood ran thick in the Highlands, but he cared not to taint it with hatred for friends. He thumped him on the shoulder. “You can always marry Dugald’s mother and legitimize your son. That should solve all your woes.”
“But marrying so far beneath my station would cause consternation at court,” Lorn growled, drawing his thick brows together. “If only I had a legitimate heir like your father.”
Sean headed off with a chuckle. “You must start on that, uncle—before you’re too old to get a rise out of your cock.”
Lorn fell in step beside him. “Insolent lad. You should talk—how old are you now? Nine and twenty?”
“Aye.” Sean had never thought about aging, but the way Lorn said it, he already had one foot in the grave.
“You’d best be sowing your seed soon, else you’ll find yourself in a similar predicament.” Lorn jabbed his elbow into Sean’s ribs. “There’s no better time to find a ripe lassie than Beltane. You ken the legends.”
“Ballocks to that.” Sean slapped a dismissive hand through the air. “I’m off to fill my belly and enjoy the sweet Highland air. I’ve plenty of time to worry about marriage
Having had about all he could take of his uncle’s babble, Sean raced ahead and followed Lord Duncan through the gatehouse. The inner courtyard was filled with nobles dressed in brightly colored blues, yellows, and more red velvet than he’d ever seen outside of court. A tall man, it wasn’t difficult for Sean to push through the crowd, straight into the castle’s tapestry-lined great hall. The smell of roasting meat and baking bread made his mouth water and his stomach growl.
From the high table, Duncan stood and beckoned him. “We’re not too late for our nooning.”
“Thank the good Lord for small mercies.” Sean slid into the seat beside the baron. “And where is your wife?”
“Lady Meg opted to remain at Kilchurn with the bairns. The wee ones are still too young to travel.”
Sean reached for a ewer and poured himself a tankard of ale. “And how are the twins?”
“Elizabeth has a healthy set of pipes for certain—though her brother Colin can hold his own.”
“Was the birth worth returning from the borders early?”
Duncan bit off a chunk of bread and winked. “I’ll say. Bloody miserable reiving thieves I can live without. A turn at home did me some good as well.”
A servant placed a trencher of chicken on the table and Sean swiped a leg. “And Lady Meg, has she recovered from the birth?”
“Aye, she’s as feisty as ever.”
Sean laughed. He’d never forget the night they stole Duncan away from Edinburgh gaol. They were riding like hellfire when Sean realized someone had followed them. He’d set a trap and nearly killed Lady Meg before she uttered a word. If it weren’t for her shrill scream, Sean probably would have run her through. He still shuddered at how close she’d come to meeting her end.
Feisty and fearless
High-pitched giggles across the hall pulled Sean from his thoughts. A lovely picture indeed. Gyllis Campbell and her sisters gaily flitted into the hall as if a ray of sunshine had brightened the entire room. Sean stopped mid-chew. It had been quite some time since he’d seen Gyllis. “God’s teeth.”
“What?” Duncan asked.
Sean swallowed as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Tall with willowy limbs, Gyllis had always reminded Sean of a meadow nymph. Chestnut locks framed porcelain skin and her moss-green eyes encircled by rings of black could captivate any man. “Your sister grows more radiant every time I see her.”
Bloody hell, Duncan knew. Sean gripped his tankard and took a long pull on his ale. “I suppose Highland lassies are more appealing after a man’s taken a turn in the Lowlands.”
“Aye?” Duncan frowned. “Well, nothing’s changed. Friends and sisters do not mix—
, you’ve tainted my opinion by all the womanizing we did as lads. Bloody oath, you’ll never put those lecherous hands on one of my sisters. You may be the best man I know with a sword.” Duncan glanced at Sean’s crotch. “And I’m referring to the one you carry on your hip. Pray you keep that in mind over the next few days.”
True, Sean liked the ladies as much as the next man—mayhap better—and he’d earned the moniker Lusty Laddie, but it appeared Duncan had forgotten his own wayward womanizing. Those carefree days hadn’t been all that long ago. Sean cleared his throat.
Gyllis caught Sean’s eye and stopped mid-stride. She pursed her pouty lips as if gasping. Then she smiled and fluttered a wave. The corner of Sean’s mouth turned up like a simpleton.
“MacDougall?” Duncan jabbed him with an elbow.
Sean glanced at his friend. “How do you recommend I react? Pretend your sister doesn’t exist?”
“Aye, that’s exactly what you should do.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy admiration. Besides, I’ll be heading back to the borders in a fortnight, thanks to you.” Sean bit down and tore a piece of meat from his chicken leg. “How have you fared finding a match for each of your
“Wheesht.” Duncan eyed him. “That is none of your concern.”
“Too right. And as I recall,
lifted lassies’ skirts first and asked their names after.” Sean picked up his tankard and guzzled it. Christ almighty, he didn’t come to the games to flirt with some bonny lass deemed too good for him due to his friendship with her brother. Nay, it mattered not that he was to inherit the Chieftainship of Dunollie. Nothing Sean could say would make a difference to Duncan Campbell, the Lord of Glenorchy, unless he agreed that his sisters all marry above their stations.