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Authors: The Highlander's Desire

Margo Maguire

BOOK: Margo Maguire
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Dedication

This book is dedicated to my husband, Mike—always there with a great suggestion, or a plotting session.

And to my editor, Amanda Bergeron, whose vision for this book was often clearer than my own. Thanks, Amanda!

 

Prologue

Braemore, Scotland. Late Spring, 1714.

L
achann MacMillan had been pacing the battlements of Braemore Keep since dusk, his nerves on edge, his muscles taut. His grandfather was sure the Macauleys would come raiding soon, for their last foray into MacMillan lands had been profitable.

Next time, they would attempt to take Braemore itself. All of it.

When the Macauleys had last attacked, there’d been illness at Braemore, making the MacMillan clan vulnerable. This time, there was no such weakness. And the MacMillans were damned if they’d subject their people to the mercy of Laird Cathal Macauley. He was an old barbarian, brutal with his own clan and even worse with captives.

His nephews were just as bad.

There were three of them, and only one would become the Macauley laird after their uncle. Old Cathal intended to wrest lands for the other ones, and the sport of warfare to achieve this end seemed to suit him well.

Lachann and his brothers had been expecting a raid for days, so they’d taken turns manning the signal fires and keeping watch. Lachann’s hands itched to wield his sword in battle against the savages who had not only stolen cattle during their last raid but carried away two unwilling MacMillan maidens as well.

Robert and Dugan had gotten them back, but neither had returned unscathed.

Lachann saw the signal fires from the distant hillocks and knew the raiding had begun. He clipped down the steps of the keep and shoved open his brother’s bedchamber door as he ran past. “Take up your sword, Dugan! The Macauleys have come!”

Dugan was out of bed in an instant and catching up to Lachann as he ran down the narrow wing of the huge stone keep. They were going to best the damned Macauleys and bring home Cathal Macauley’s head on a pike.

’Twas the least of what he and his vile clan deserved.

Lachann clambered down the narrow hall, nearly tripping over his grandfather, Laird Hamish MacMillan, as he ran. “Come on, old man!” Lachann shouted, hearing the eagerness in his own voice. He was very much looking forward to this battle, as were his brothers and their grandfather.

The Macauleys were a wealthier clan but always looked for ways to improve their lot, even at the cost of their neighbors. Not that Braemore bordered their properties. The Macauleys had crossed MacNeil lands to get to Braemore. They’d met no resistance as they’d driven their stolen MacMillan cattle through the high valley to the west of MacMillan land and on to Glendreggen.

Lachann and his brothers fairly flew from the keep, where their horses were saddled and ready. They joined another score of Braemore warriors who had been alerted by the signal fires and the shouted alarms from the watchmen. The men mounted their horses and galloped through the village toward the hilly lands to the west, where they would meet the rest of MacMillan’s armed men, intent upon routing the Macauleys before they could get any closer to the village or the keep.

’Twas dark, with only a sliver of moonlight to see by, but the MacMillans knew their territory well. Lachann and Robert saw the raiders at the same time. The two brothers drew their swords in unison and spurred their horses into the crowd of Macauleys, targeting the leaders, Cathal and his grown nephews, Cullen, Archie, and Ewan.

“You dare trespass on my lands?” Hamish roared. He clashed swords with the first Macauley warrior he met and quickly dispatched him. He’d always been a fierce defender of his beloved clan, and the Macauleys offended his basic sensibilities.

Lachann joined battle, backing up his grandfather and furiously defending his clan and their lands, following the strategy he and Robert had laid out after the last attack.

They pushed back against the Macauleys, flanking them on the left and right as they battled sword to sword. Lachann heard the clank of metal on metal. Horses reared and men grunted with the strain of battle.

Suddenly, Hamish was flanked on two sides by Ewan and Archie, and he struggled to fend them off simultaneously.

“Here, Macauley!” Lachann bellowed, spurring his horse toward his grandfather. “Over here!”

Archie screeched a battle call as he turned to charge Lachann. Lachann wanted the wee bastard’s blood, but Hamish had warned against killing the laird or his heirs. The Macauleys’ retaliation would be savage. Far better to outwit them in battle and take one of the nephews as hostage.

Or rout the army so thoroughly they would never return.

Hamish unseated Ewan, who ducked and ran, while Lachann engaged Archie. They thrust and parried, and Archie got in a lucky jab, slicing Lachann’s arm. The wound enraged Lachann, who charged Archie and the rest of the Macauleys. All the MacMillans joined the offensive, driving the Macauleys back and trapping them beneath a deep crag at the western edge of the valley.

Lachann raised his sword just as someone pulled him from his saddle onto the ground. ’Twas Cullen Macauley, and he thrust his sword at Lachann. He would have skewered him had Lachann not rolled quickly to the side and risen to his feet.

“ ’Tis all you’re good for, eh, Macauley? An attack from behind?” Lachann raised his claymore and brought it down with enough force to cleave Macauley in two, but his enemy brought up his shield and averted the blow.

Lachann was undeterred. Regardless of Hamish’s orders, he wanted to see Cullen Macauley’s blood. He wanted to wipe the superior smirk from the bastard’s face with it and then watch it soak the ground beneath him.

“You cannot defeat us, MacMillan!” Macauley growled as he jabbed his broadsword at Lachann. “Your miserable clan has not the strength to withstand the Macauleys!”

Lachann and the rest of his clan intended to prove him wrong. They’d been building a fighting force to rival any in the highlands, though the Macauleys had caught them shorthanded only a few weeks before. That was not true this time. The MacMillans were healthy now, and they outnumbered Macauley’s forces nearly two to one. Their training had been unsurpassed in all the highlands.

This time, the MacMillans were going to trounce their enemy so well the bastards would think twice and again before they attempted to raid MacMillan lands.

Lachann’s sword clashed with Macauley’s, and just as he would have delivered a killing strike, the miserable stoat’s cousin came to his defense and the battle changed its course. At the same time, several MacMillans joined the fight and kept Lachann from killing Cullen or Ewan.

They drove their foes back, deeper and deeper into the lee of the crags until there was nowhere else for the Macauleys to retreat.

Hamish cornered Laird Cathal and pulled the man from his saddle, putting his knife to the old tyrant’s throat. “Yield!”

The Macauleys halted.

Lachann took advantage of the moment and seized Ewan, taking him hostage. One of the MacMillans tied the young man’s hands behind his back while Lachann held his sword ready.

“The lad is ours, Macauley! Do you yield!”

“Nay! Never!”

“Lachann,” Hamish called to him, keeping his hold on the Macauley laird. “Run him through.”

Lachann pulled back his sword, but before he delivered the killing blow, Cullen shouted, “Yield, Uncle! You cannot—”

“Hold, MacMillan!” Laird Macauley shouted against the blade at his throat. “Aye. I’ll yield.”

“ ’Tis glad I am to hear it, Macauley,” Hamish said. “Mount your horse.”

As soon as the laird was up, they lashed his hands together behind his back and disarmed every one of the marauding Macauleys. The MacMillans drove them from Braemore lands, and some of the men went to round up the cattle that had been taken.

They kept Ewan as hostage to ensure against further assaults against the MacMillan clan.

By the time Ewan died of fever more than a year later, the Macauleys were no longer a threat—at least not to the MacMillans. Old Cathal was dead, and Archie became laird in his place. The Macauleys made it a point to avoid MacMillan lands after the sound defeat that had resulted in Ewan’s capture, but they continued raiding other clans and making themselves wealthy in the process.

When Archie became laird of the Macauleys, Cullen found himself a new clan. He traveled to Skye and offered Laird MacDonald a princely bride price for his daughter, Fiona, only a few days before she was to marry.

The groom was to have been Lachann MacMillan.

There was no doubt Macauley was aware that Lachann and Fiona had already made a love match. Cullen’s interference was an underhanded means of exacting revenge upon the MacMillans—specifically Lachann. And it worked.

Lachann’s heart shattered. When Fiona came to him in tears, he roared his fury, ready to commit violence against every Macauley who came to witness Cullen’s marriage to the MacDonald chieftain’s daughter.

Only old Hamish had the power to keep him from going after Cullen Macauley and butchering him in cold blood. Lachann’s grandfather refused to allow Lachann to escalate the feud between their clans, for ’twould isolate them from their allies and deplete their resources if they went to war.

Lachann spent the night before Fiona’s wedding getting thoroughly jaked on some potent island whiskey, and he made his decision never to lose his heart over a beautiful lass again.

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