Authors: Marguerite Kaye
Scottish Highlands, 1700
Legend tells of a clan of fierce warriors, the Faol, who have mastered the spirit of the wolf living inside of them. They are famed for their skill in battleâand for their irresistible allure to mortal womenâ¦
It is an attraction fiery Iona McKinley experiences firsthand when she is taken by Prince Struan Tolmach, Lead Alpha of the Faol. His touch is thrilling and arousingâ¦but she's destined to be claimed by another warrior. Will Struan risk losing his clan to keep Iona for himself?
When my editor first suggested that I write a paranormal Historical Undone! trilogy, I must admit I was a bit daunted. Though I'd dabbled with Regency vampires in
Bitten by Desire,
and a little bit of shape-shifting in
The Highlander and the Sea Siren,
the paranormal element of each of these stories was really quite subtle.
Thinking about it though, I began to get excited at the prospect of juxtaposing a real historical world with one which existed only in my imagination. Not only was it a brilliant creative challenge, but the inherent tension of two worlds colliding offered some amazing romantic possibilities. What would it be like to have a hero from one world and a heroine from another? How would they reconcile their differences, and how would those differences enhance the sensual tension and allure burgeoning between them?
Encouraged by my amazingly supportive editor, I let my imagination run wild and created the world of the Faol, or Clan Wolf. These Highland shape-shifters live on the darkly seductive island of Kentarra off the west coast of Scotland. The trilogy is set in the early seventeen hundreds when the feudal clan system still ruled the Highlands.
I hope you enjoy this first story in the trilogy which features a feisty heroine whose circumstances make her ripe for rebellion and a dangerous hero who thinks himself immune to love and who is, as he says himself, more, much more than a man. And as if that isn't enough, the heroine is thrust into a completely alien world that is both fascinating and threatening in equal measure.
Creating the world of the Faol stretched my creative juices far beyond anything I've ever done before, but it was a brilliant experience. I loved writing these stories. I really hope you love reading them.
For my editor Flo, who has been with me every step of this journey into the fantastical world of the Faol
Legend has it that one dark, stormy night many centuries ago, a small wooden craft got into difficulties off the West Highland coast, and broke its hull on the vicious outcrop of rocks called the Beathach, or the Beast. All aboard that storm-tossed night were lost save for one, a babe in arms and only child of the mythical Highland warrior known as The Fearless One. Still tucked up in the woven reed basket in which he had been sleeping, the child was miraculously washed ashore on the remote, uninhabited Isle of Kentarra.
Here, he was found by a wolf pack who, instead of tearing out his throat, suckled him and reared him as one of their own, initiating him into their ways, imbuing him with their qualities. He survived and grew to be a man. A man with the spirit of the wolf residing inside him. He eventually learned how to master his inner beast. And he learned howâand whenâto unleash its terrifying power.
From this extraordinary individual evolved a race of fierce warriors, the Faol, with their chilling clan motto:
Faiceallach! Tha mise an seo!
Beware! For I am come!
The Faol are feared and revered in equal measure throughout Scotland. Famed for their consummate skills in battle and reputed to be irresistible to mortal women, they live in uneasy symbiosis with their Highland neighbours. Their home is the remote island kingdom of Kentarra, where their unique culture is fiercely protected. The Faol rarely walk among humans, except on those occasions when a laird commissions them to deploy their prowess in battle to aid his cause. Such requests are often rejected, for the Faol are no mere mercenaries. Their code dictates that they offer their services only to just causes, and utilise the proceeds for the good of the pack.
Though the price demanded is high, those privileged few granted their services can have no doubt of victory. But woe betide the Highland laird who fails to honour his side of the bargain, for the Faol will take the thing most precious to him.
Whatever, or whoever that is.
Scottish Highlands, 1700
The rain turned to
as Iona McKinley set out from the castle with her basket, intending to gather the last of the wild brambles. Taking the familiar path to the woods, she pulled her
, the thick plaid shawl she wore pinned to her gown, more tightly around her. The air seemed unnaturally still, not even the sound of birdsong disturbing the silence. Her skin prickled, as if someone had walked over her grave. Or the way it does when a shadow falls across the moon.
She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, but there was no one there. The cotters were all out in the fields for the annual tattie howking. Her father, the laird, was supervising them, determined as usual to make sure that no one slacked, or tried to sneak one potato more than their strict entitlement into their own basket. Laird McKinley liked to think himself a stern but fair patriarch. The villagers who were his serfs utilised other, rather stronger words to describe him. Iona, his only child, who had lived alone with him in the draughty castle since her mother's death, knew that the sad truth was that her father cared for nothing but his own comfort, his own coffers and his position as laird. He was a man who valued loyalty over love.
“Which is just as well,” Iona said to herself rebelliously, recalling the abrupt way he had announced she was to be wed to Kenneth McIver, a neighbouring laird at least thirty years her senior. “
Wheesht girl, it is a grand match
,” she muttered, in a fair imitation of her sire. “
Kenneth is not yet so decrepit that he'll have any problem planting a bairn on ye, so he assures me.”
The very idea of it made her shudder. She had refused outright, though she knew that duty dictated she eventually accede.
A twig snapped with a sharp retort. Iona jumped and cast another anxious glance around. Still nothing, but the feeling persisted that someone was watching her. Or something.
“Stop being such a big bairn!” she chided herself, “you're letting your imagination run away with you.” She was the laird's daughter, on McKinley land. No one would dare harm her here.
But just as she reached the fork in the woods, there it was, standing in the middle of the path, gazing intently at her. Fierce grey eyes, long silky black hair, a vicious snarling mouth. A huge wolf, the biggest she'd ever seen in her life. As it crouched down on its massive haunches, readying itself to spring, Iona drew in her breath to scream. The sound had barely formed in her throat when the beast pounced.
She seemed to be moving. The air had a distinct feral tang to it. She was on the back of something large, her arms around its neck. Fur brushed her cheek. Not a horse then. The animal, whatever it was, moved with a powerful loping stride. Her heart was pounding in time to the beast's sinuous, rhythmic movement. She could see the steam of its breath bloom in the cold air. It was exhilarating, the sheer speed at which they were travelling, effortlessly leaping the criss-cross of streams swollen with the melting of the first snow, which had fallen unseasonably early.
Gnarled branches of ancient trees snatched at her hair like the twisted, arthritic hands of an old fey wife. There were no pine forests near McKinley lands. She must be dreaming. Iona closed her eyes and surrendered to the liberating sensation, imagining herself fleeing from the life her father had decreed for her.
When she came to, she was sitting on the ground. Though the rain had stopped, she was wet through, her long copper-coloured hair hanging down her back in damp tendrils. “Cold,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around herself, not sure that she really was awake.
Iona jumped. The voice, its timbre deep and throaty, its tone imperious, came from behind her. A soft fur cloak was wrapped around her. Her back arched against the luxurious dry warmth of it. At her feet, there was sand. She was on a beach. McKinley lands were landlocked, but she could definitely smell the sea. She screwed her eyes tightly shut, then opened them again. Awake. She was not dreaming now.
Completely disoriented, she stumbled to her feet. A hand steadied her. A muscular arm, a studded leather band at the wrist. Bare legs, no hose nor even shoes. She tried to twist round, but his grip held her firm. “Who are you? Let me go!” Rough chest hair on her cheek. A musky scent. Bittersweet. “I was attacked by a wolf. What happened?”
She felt, rather than heard, his laugh vibrating through his broad chest. “I subdued him.”
Such a strange turn of phrase. The accent, too, was unusual, not local. Iona wrenched herself free. “Where am I?” She looked around in astonishment at the beach, the sea, the forest. “How did I get here?”
“That matters less than where you are going.”
She saw him clearly for the first time, then. Tall. Powerful, but sinewy. Intimidating rather than frightening. Dangerous. She could see each well-defined muscle in the broad sweep of his shoulders, his arms, his chest, the dip down into his belly. He wore nothing save a rough
held with a thick leather belt at his waist. Around his neck was an amulet on a leather thong, an ornate piece of gold inlaid with what looked like emeralds. His skin was tanned all over. His strong jaw was bluish with bristle. His hair fell to his shoulders, pushed back from his high brow. There was a sprinkling of dark hair on his chest and forearms, too. His handsome face was all hard planes and sharp lines, like the rugged granite landscape of the Highlands. Grey, his eyes were. There was something hypnotic about his piercing, impassive gaze as it caught and held hers. Something dark and deeply unsettling, too. Unknowable.
It was painful to breathe. She was afraid to move, yet afraid not to. Transfixed, just as she had been when she encountered the wolf. Such a magnificent beast. Such a magnificent man. An aura redolent of barely contained power hung like a
around him. Intoxicating. With enormous difficulty, she dragged her eyes away from his. “Who are you?” she demanded. “I am Laird McKinley's daughter, my father willâ¦”
“I know exactly who you are.” Struan Tolmach eyed the maid with mild interest. She was a slight thing, typical of her kind, but much more attractive than she had a right to be, from what he remembered of her father. Presumably that copper hair and those big green eyes were inherited from her mother. Though that look, all defiance and belligerent pride, was definitely her sire's.
“I demand that you take me home. This instant!”
“You're in no position to make demands. You belong to us now,” Struan said dismissively, taking her roughly by the shoulder and pointing her in the direction of the sea.
The maid struggled, digging her feet deep into the shingle for purchase, but he held her easily. He was not used to human females displaying resistanceâquite the opposite, though he had never once been tempted. Seductive as some of those Highland women had been, Struan preferred to hunt much closer to home. Whatever it was about his kind that made him so irresistible to mortal females, he had no interest in taking advantage of it. He sated his desires within his own tribe.
“Let me go!” She was panting with the effort to get free. “If you agree to take me back now, I'll explain that you saved me from danger, from the wolf.”
Her scent was intensely female, but exotic, more delicate than a Faol woman's. Under his plaid, Struan's body stirred most inconveniently into life. “Safe from the wolf perhaps, but not necessarily out of danger.”
She stilled. “What do you mean?”
Struan turned her around in his arms, pulling her into the lee of his body. She felt good there. Too good. His erection hardened. He tried to close his mind to the rousing scent of her, but could not.
What was wrong with him?
He tilted her face up. Green eyes, determined to show no fear. He couldn't help but admire her courage. That surprised him, too. “Ionaâ¦”
She struggled free. “How do you know my name?”
“Your father told me.”
“How do you come to know him?”
“He engaged my services some months ago.”
“In what capacity?”
“To help him defeat the MacEwans. Which I duly did.”
It was true, Iona recalled, the McKinleys had recently finally retaken the borderland illegally wrested from them by the MacEwans decades ago. Her father had been so overjoyed he had even thrown a celebratory ceilidh. “My father paid
to help him?”
“We agreed a fee. Twice now, your father has been reminded, and twice he has failed to honour his debt. He knew the price for defaulting.”
Iona frowned. “What price?”
He hadn't told her, his own kin. It didn't surprise Struan, but it disgusted him. “The terms were clear,” he said grimly. “He was to surrender that which is most precious to him.”
“You mean me?” Iona laughed bitterly. “Aye, that would be right enough. A prize asset to be married off to a neighbour as a brood mare, or now, it appears, used as a bargaining tool in some contract dispute.”
He had expected tears. Pleading. Not this. “I don't think you fully grasp your situation. Your father reneged on his bargain with the Faol. Unfortunately, you must pay the price for his treachery.”
“Faol? You mean
a Faol?” Iona shrank back, her eyes wide with shock. “I've heard the stories, but I thought they were just tales of bogeymen, invented to frighten bairns.”
Struan took her hand and placed it on his chest. “Do I not feel real to you? As to our powers, they are real enough, too. Those who dishonour us have every reason to be afraid.”
Iona snatched her hand away as if she had been scalded. “You don't frighten me,” she declared, and it was true. He was so formidable she doubted not what he said, but his air of danger excited rather than scared her. She could scarcely believe she was actually in the presence of a wolf-clan warrior. “My father would surely have told me if he had employed you to fight for him.”
“And risk alerting his enemy?” Struan mused with a curl of his lip. “Not even he would be so foolish.”
“And what about the MacEwans? If they had offered you more, would you have fought for them?”
Struan threw back his head contemptuously. “We do not sell our prowess to the highest bidder. We fight only for those who have just cause. Faol warriors are supreme. Why should we not use our talents for the benefit of our clan? How dare you presume to judge us!”
As his anger flared, the savage life-force contained within the man showed fleetingly, and Iona felt it again. A sort of edgy elation. All her senses were on alert. The world seemed to shrink, leaving just the two of them, cloaked in his all-pervasive aura. Her head swam. She prided herself on her intuition, but as she stared at the imposing Faol warrior she realised she had no clue at all as to his intentions. The instinct to flee was sudden and irresistible.
Wrenching herself free from his grip, she made for the protection of the forest. She was fast, but not fast enough. She didn't see him move, she didn't hear him come after her, but she sensed him, a dark lunging presence behind her. He caught her, picked her up effortlessly and carried her back down the beach.
It was pointless to resist. She almost didn't want to. Of a surety, he was taking her to Kentarra. Iona had heard talk of the strange mythical island, its wild beauty, its savage customs, and a part of her longed to see for herself if the rumours were true. Back home, her father would be waiting, no doubt furious at her for being captured. Back home, too, awaited her future husband, the very thought of whom made her shiver with disgust. Kenneth McIver could not carry her as if she were as light as a feather. His touch would not give her butterflies, make her skin heat and tingle with anticipation as if she were about to hurl herself from some impossible height. Kenneth McIver would not make her feel like this man did. This man? This Faol. Thisâ¦“What is your name?”
“You may call me Struan.”
He set her onto her feet by a small wooden boat. Determined not to let him see the effect he was having on her senses, Iona concentrated on righting her sodden clothing. “What will happen to me?”
“You'll come to no harm, providing you comply.” Struan watched her as she shook out her petticoats, straightened the sleeves of her sark. Her eyes were the colour of the emerald on his amulet. Her skin was like rich buttermilk. A sprinkling of freckles across that tilted nose. And she had curves, despite her slimness. She was really quite beautiful, for a mere human. She would not be easily tamed, for she seemed quite impervious to the Faol in him. He ran a finger over the soft downy skin of her cheek.
Iona jerked her head away. She'd overheard the women talk while doing the washing at the lochside once, giggling while they described the Faols' legendary skills as lovers. Their reputed size. And potency. She blushed at the memory. “You're wasting your time,” she said, meeting his fierce grey eyes defiantly. “Your Faol tricks won't work on me.”
Struan laughed softly. She did seem strangely immune. “So it appears, but I relish a challenge.” He was aroused now, aroused enough to forget all about the fact that he had no right to claim her.
“You're not interested in me,” Iona said breathlessly. “The only attraction I have is as payment for a debt.”
Struan touched the fluttering pulse at her throat with his thumb. “You do yourself an injustice, Iona McKinley,” he said huskily.
Iona couldn't seem to move. His eyes glittered like flint. No one had looked at her quite like that before, as if he saw deep inside her. He was close now. Breast-to-breast, thigh-to-thigh, they stood. Heat emanated from him in waves. Her own heat, too, tightening in her belly, pooling between her thighs. She ached for him to touch her. A myth come to life. Unreal. And yet deeply, viscerally real. She wanted him to kiss her, just so she could discover for herself what danger tasted like. “You don't want me. You want revenge.”