Authors: Vonda Sinclair
By Vonda Sinclair
Torture has driven Neacal MacDonald to the brink of madness.
As the new chief of the MacDonald clan, Neacal will do whatever it takes to honor his late father and to help his clan thrive. But whispers of his madness abound and many in his clan turn traitor, wanting MacDonald of Sleat to lead them instead. Conflict ignites between the bitter rivals when Sleat garners the help of the man who tortured Neacal in the past.
Can one woman's song pull him back and begin to heal his soul?
Everything has been ripped from Anna Douglas except her angelic voice and the will to survive. When she meets Neacal, she recognizes something familiar in him—stark loneliness and pain. His past could be even more tragic and tarnished than hers. No one must learn her true identity or about the brutish man declaring she is his wife, for he will stop at nothing to reclaim her. Though Neacal vowed to never trust a woman again, he cannot resist the secrets in Anna's eyes or her spellbinding song, which threatens to break down the icy walls surrounding his tormented heart.
By Vonda Sinclair
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Highlander Unbroken Copyright 2016 Vonda Sinclair
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. This book cannot be sold, shared or given away because this is an infringement of the copyright. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, locations, and events are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental or from the writer's imagination.
In loving memory of my husband, soulmate and best friend. You will live in my heart forever.
To Kaylee and her babies.
Special thanks to Terry S., Dana S., Kris K., Nicole L., April R., Barb M., Sharon F., Susan F., Virginia S., Ann L., Vanessa F., Janet G., Star M. and Rhonda K.
Table of Contents
By Vonda Sinclair
Loch Moidart, Scotland, September 1619
A blade glinted from the torch-lit gloom of the dungeon.
Neacal MacDonald jerked to move aside, but rough, constricting ropes bound his wrists and ankles, tearing into his stinging flesh. He gritted his teeth and waited for the next blow from MacRankin's beefy henchman. He'd been paid well to wrench, twist and pull the truth from Neacal.
The man grabbed Neacal's hair, yanking it until pain shot through his scalp and neck. He held Neacal's head at an odd angle while another beast sliced a hot blade down the side of his face. The blinding pain consumed him.
"I'll kill you! I swear it!" Neacal roared, jerking at the ropes. If he could free himself, he would strangle every last one of them with his bare hands. But he couldn't. The ropes had been knotted too tightly.
They yelled questions and vile names, but he could no longer comprehend them. Sharp pain ripped through every inch of his body from the deep cuts, the bruises, the broken bones.
Their voices died away and, in the silence, another shadow fell across him, wavering in the torchlight, followed by the gritty crunch of boots on stone and the hiss of a steel blade against leather. He braced for the impending agony, his muscles stiffening…
Something warm, wet and friendly flicked over his face. Neacal jolted awake, out of the nightmare, gasping for breath… in his own bedchamber at Bearach Castle. Home… dear God… not a dungeon. His dog licking his face. The Irish wolfhound's bristly fur tickled, and his tongue washed Neacal's forehead.
Damnation! This was why he avoided sleep until pure exhaustion claimed him. The nightmares were too real, the memories too close. Two years was not long enough to forget; two hundred wouldn't be.
"Dunn? Saints." Exhaling a breath, Neacal looped his arm around the huge dog's neck, thanking Dunn silently for dragging him from the grip of the hellish dream-memories.
His heartbeat slowed and he crossed himself. Thank God, he was free, not back there in MacRankin's torture chamber. How he wished he could forget the past. Mayhap then he would appear halfway normal. But, nay, he was not blessed with ignorance or a faulty memory. Each night he must revisit the torture again… and again.
For now, 'twas over, and so was his slumber for the night.
The wolfhound maneuvered half his seven-foot-long body onto Neacal, washing his face again with his large tongue.
"Aye, I'm awake now, you lapdog." Neacal pushed him back, then ruffled his fur.
Dunn sat on the floor, panting.
Hell, the dog was his only close friend or family here at Bearach Castle. He had uncles, aunts and cousins, but his parents and older brother were all dead. His sister, Maili, had married and gone to live with the MacKenzie clan.
And his own clan, the MacDonalds of Moidart, expected a madman to lead them?
"They're more insane than I am," he muttered.
Dunn gave a soft woof and stared at him intently.
"Aye, I'm bloody well doing my best." He had to succeed as chief, for his father's sake. Da would want him to lead the clan and enlarge their forces, make them strong and safe again. This was the last thing—the only thing—Neacal could do for a man he'd admired above all others. Grief and regret clawed at his chest again. If Neacal hadn't been working for King James—and if he hadn't trusted a woman—his father would still be alive and Neacal would've never been tortured.
Unable to withstand the bed or the memories a second longer, he shoved himself up. Sharp pain stabbed through his left arm and shoulder. Halting, he ground his teeth. The bone had been broken during his capture and, although it had knitted back together, it still pained him. Muttering a curse, he worked his arm to loosen the muscles, then washed his face in the basin of cold water. He shoved his hair back and dried his face with a cloth.
Hell, he needed to be away from here. Aye, this had been his home from birth, but Bearach now felt like a prison. Confining. Suffocating. How he would love to savor the fresh air and expansive vistas of the Highlands and sea. His body yearned to climb a mountain… or swim across the loch. Physical exertion was the only thing that quieted his mind. Then, he could rest for a time.
After putting on his clothing and weapons, he silently opened the door.
Holding the lantern aloft, he found his bodyguard, Leith, asleep and sprawled against the wall of the corridor. Shaking his head at the guard's laxness but at the same time glad for it, Neacal closed the door softly and stepped over him. He didn't want any company at the moment.
Under the cover of the predawn darkness, he slipped out through the empty kitchens and, using his key, through the postern gate. He carried his usual weapons—sword and dirk, along with a bow and arrows. Dunn trailed him quietly down to the rough, lapping edge of Loch Moidart.
Neacal filled his lungs with the crisp, salty breeze. A hint of autumn's drying leaves and pine needles tinged the air. The cleansing freshness washed over him, loosening some of the tension from his body, quieting his mind. The tide slid its way out to sea, and the wet sand lay exposed beyond the rocky shoreline. Wanting to leave no tracks, he avoided the sand and walked several hundred feet over rocks and around a bend for privacy. He didn't need an audience when he stripped down to his skin for a swim. Dawn light glimmered at the horizon when he and Dunn waded into the cool water.
His clan would be vexed at him for slipping away with no company or guard except Dunn, but he didn't give a damn.
Prior to being inaugurated as chief a few weeks ago, Neacal had lived a solitary existence for over a year and had come to rely on no one but himself and his dog. While he'd resided on the island,
Eilean Fraoch Dubh,
he'd climbed the mountains of craggy stone every day. Each time he did, he grew faster until he could run up the mountain and scramble quickly over the boulders.
If some enemy wished to kill him now, let them try. He would put up a good fight.
He escaped into the freedom of a long swim in the sea loch. Since 'twas only September, the saltwater was not overly icy.
When he waded from the water, the chill wind blew over his wet skin, making him feel vibrantly alive. On shore, Dunn shook himself off, spraying water from his bristly fur, while Neacal pulled on his shirt and belted his plaid into place.
After donning his baldric, he picked up his bow and quiver full of arrows. He quickly made his way up the stony hillside toward the round, wool-stuffed plaid target he'd set up at the top, backed by rocks. From here he had an excellent view of the castle and the loch below. Seeing no movement, he focused on the target, some hundred yards away, nocked an arrow and let it fly. Bullseye. Dunn lay patiently nearby while Neacal released a dozen arrows, lining them up in the row of red squares of the plaid.
After collecting his arrows and preparing to shoot again, he noticed a movement from the corner of his eye. He stared down toward the loch. In the distance, four galleys sailed at a brisk pace from the sea toward the castle. Even though the breeze filled the square white sails, the oarsmen rowed as if they were in an all-fired hurry.
"Who the devil is that?" Neacal growled, heading down the hillside.
Chief Aonghus MacDonald of Sleat stood upon the oaken galley while the twenty oarsmen rowed it along the calm waters of Loch Moidart. The gray stone walls of Bearach Castle came into view in the distance. He ground his teeth as greed for the well-fortified tower house twisted his gut.
"'Tis a damned fine castle," Sleat told Hamish, his second son, standing beside him. The lad was brawny and an inch or two taller than him.
"Aye." Hamish's black hair blew in the morning breeze and his dark eyes narrowed, focusing on the large structure. At one and twenty, the lad would soon be ready to lead his own clan, while Sleat's eldest son, Rupert, would inherit the Sleat Peninsula.
"It stands in a strategic location, guarding the entrance to Loch Sheil," Sleat said.
Hamish nodded, then glanced around. "I like it here." His calculating gaze reminded Sleat of himself twenty-five years ago. They strongly resembled each other and, if anything, Hamish was even more devious than he was himself.
Sleat grinned. "You'll be a strong chief for this branch of the MacDonalds, son."
"Of course. I'm nay worried about these MacDonalds. I'm more concerned about their new allies, and our neighbors, the MacKenzies. 'Twas only a few weeks ago they cut short our visit to Bearach and kicked us out on our arses."
"Aye, the damnable MacKenzies," Sleat growled. "They'll nay ken anything about it. We're doing naught but generously offering our help to Neacal."
Several weeks ago, the former MacDonald chief—also Neacal's older brother—Elrick, had taken Chief MacKenzie's brother hostage. Instead of paying the steep ransom Elrick so desperately coveted, the MacKenzies had killed Elrick along with many in the clan during a siege.
'Twas all before Neacal had arrived and taken over as chief.
"My man on the inside says the MacKenzies left a fortnight ago," Sleat said. "Taking that witch Maili with them."
Hamish smirked. "I ken you wanted to marry that bonny young witch, Da."
Sleat shrugged. "Ba! Who needs her?" He didn't want a lass distracting him from his ambitions for his sons.
His spy inside Bearach was starting rumors and whispers among the clan and servants about their new chief. Soon, no one would support Neacal. 'Twould be easy to overthrow him, for most of the clan already believed him mad and unfit to lead them.
Once Sleat and his men neared the small island upon which Bearach Castle sat, his clansmen jumped into the shallows and dragged the galley onto the wet sand. The other three galleys followed. Sleat leapt onto the packed sand and they hastened up the rocky bank toward the portcullis. Glancing up, he admired the strong walls of the keep. One day soon, it would be theirs. Of a certainty, Neacal was not an acceptable chief for this branch of the MacDonalds, even if he was the former chief's son. This clan would thank Sleat soon enough for finding a fitting chief for them.
"What the hell does Sleat want?" Neacal growled, striding across the damp sand toward the castle, Dunn following. Sleat was no better than a common criminal and had tried to rape Neacal's sister, Maili, only weeks ago. Despite Sleat being a MacDonald, and a very distant cousin, Neacal trusted the bastard about as much as he trusted a viper.
Neacal arrived to stand before the portcullis as Sleat and his men leapt off their galleys and climbed the sloping rocky bank from the shore.
"The chief has returned!" guards inside the walls shouted. He frowned, glancing around. Had the clan truly been that concerned over his absence? He couldn't get used to dozens of people knowing his every move.
Moments later, around fifteen of his guards and clansmen moved in behind him. He nodded his thanks, though he did not mind facing Sleat and his followers alone. He counted over three dozen of Sleat's men, but was not concerned about being outnumbered. More men would rush from inside the walls if this turned into a skirmish.
"What do you want, Sleat?" Neacal demanded.
The man paused ten feet away, breathing hard, his smirk almost hidden by his blackish gray beard. His dark eyes communicated his malice clearly enough. "Is that any way to greet a cousin?"
Dunn growled, though he didn't move from his steadfast position beside Neacal's leg.
"'Tis the way I greet the man who attempted to rape my sister. You're not welcome here."
Sleat gave a short laugh. "I didn't attempt to rape anyone."
Lying bastard! No one abused his wee sister and then laughed about it. A sudden heated rage burned through Neacal. The urge to fling his dirk into the whoreson's throat near overwhelmed him. He ground his teeth, trying to force the anger back.
"My sister would not lie!" Neacal said through clenched teeth, fury beating hard against his throat and his ears, urging him to kill the knave.
Dunn's growl intensified. Neacal grabbed his leather collar.
"Aye, you'd best keep your cur off me or I'll gut him," Sleat said.
"Touch my dog and I'll gut
!" Neacal growled. And he would. No empty threats here.
Steel hissed against leather as the men behind him drew their weapons.
Sleat forced out a chuckle. "I was jesting with you, lad." His gaze ran over the men behind Neacal. "Can we talk in private?"
"I have no need to hear anything you have to say."
"Aye, I'm thinking you do." Sleat smirked. "While I'm mightily impressed by these fifteen soldiers you have here, I'm wondering if that's all you've got."
Neacal clenched his fist, forcing himself not to draw his sword. The glimmer of battle rage was taking hold inside him. "Want to find out how many more soldiers wait just inside the gate?"
Sleat snorted and shook his head. "Despite what you believe, I'm nay here to fight you, lad. I liked your da. We're still allies, are we not, you and I? We're both MacDonalds."