My Tempting Highlander (Highland Hearts #3)

BOOK: My Tempting Highlander (Highland Hearts #3)
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My Tempting Highlander
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

A Loveswept Ebook Original

Copyright © 2016 by Maeve Greyson

Excerpt from
My Seductive Highlander
by Maeve Greyson copyright © 2016 by Maeve Greyson

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

L
OVESWEPT
is a registered trademark and the
L
OVESWEPT
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
My Seductive Highlander
by Maeve Greyson. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.

eBook ISBN 9781101968154

Cover design: /Carrie Devine/Seductive Designs

Cover photographs:
curaphotography/Depositphotos.com
(man),
CreativeNature/Depositphotos.com
(wolf), Erwan Gardan/Depositphotos.com (landscape)

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Prologue

Ronan shifted in the saddle, wishing for the thousandth time his heritage had been different. What would life have been like if he hadna been cursed whilst still in the womb?
A great deal shorter.
His bitter laugh misted in the cooling air of the early evening wood. Born in A.D. 900, the curse had accompanied him through three centuries searching for the one prophesied to set him free.

Damn his father—victim to an evil-hearted temptress.
Old Domnall had descended from the royal house of Alpine, king in fact, and he’d found a rare exotic beauty to take as his wife. Not only did the woman’s looks cause men to stop and stare, ’twas rumored she possessed chilling and unexplainable powers. As it turned out, the tales were not rumors at all.

After a few short years of marriage, Domnall discovered his wife’s many talents didn’t include giving him the one thing in life he truly desired: an heir. The self-professed witch and high priestess to the mighty Fates was barren. So Domnall took another to his bed and bade his mistress give him a son. Ronan’s mother, Iona, the King of Alba’s favored leman, adored her king and would grant him anything within her power.

Unlike Domnall’s wife, Iona conceived quickly. The king was overjoyed and swore to embrace the illegitimate spawn as his rightful heir, for the child surely had to be a son. His queen’s jealous rage knew no boundaries. The day she learned of Ronan’s conception, the sky darkened with black lightning-filled clouds and all the land rolled and shook with her anger.

Ronan urged his mount to a faster pace as his mother’s whispered recounts echoed through his mind. Iona had told him of the ear-splitting boom that had rattled the mountains one last time before all fell silent. Tears always broke his mother’s voice when she told of the unseen claws forcing her down to her hands and knees. Many a time, with a hopeless whisper into his thoughts,
Máthair
had recounted the terrible pain as her body shifted and changed into the form of a great white wolf.

Ronan remembered the witch’s curse as though he’d heard it firsthand. How many times had his mentor, Graham, and
Máthair
told him how the dark sorceress had cackled with glee as she had pointed at the wolf and claimed that Ronan’s mother had finally taken the form of the worthless bitch she truly was?

Then the evil one had proclaimed that Domnall would die within the next year, childless but for the bastard cub that the wolf Iona carried in her womb. The royal line would die out until the day the young wolf cub discovered how to shift into the form of a man and find the woman possessing three specific qualities:
lightness of step, a soothing touch, and sight for the unseen.

If the man able to shift into a wolf at will found such a woman and married her, the curse would be broken and all would be set a’right. But if he erred and chose the wrong mate, his wife and any child she attempted to bear him would die within a year of their ill-fated union.

A grumbling roar thundered to his left and the sound of snapping tree trunks and branches followed. Ronan shrugged his heavy wool mantle looser about his throat and urged his horse onward. Graham had insisted on escorting them to the farthest boundary the curse allowed the mentor to go. The protective mists surrounding Draegonmare—only passable if one knew the ancient words to part the fog: a
mundo ultra,
a world beyond—grew thin this far from the loch so Graham dared not risk taking to the sky. Pure grace by water, soft as a melody by air, the dragon Graham wallowed worse than a mired cow when it came to walking across thickly wooded land.

Twenty-one summers of age and full of himself, Graham MacTavish had been mesmerized by the spectacle when King Domnall had ordered his crazed wife drowned in the loch for her evil doings and witchery. Head held high, arms lashed to her sides, and dark curls whipping about her naked body, the enraged queen was the most intoxicating beauty the lad Graham had ever seen. The conniving temptress perceived the young man’s interest and in one last attempt to save herself, she entered his mind, whispering all the erotic pleasures she’d teach Graham if he would but save her.

Graham nearly stepped forward, but as the rope swung the witch out over the water, his flesh grew cold at the hideous reflection the condemned woman cast across the water’s surface. The beautiful witch’s truly hideous form—the blackness of her heart and soul—was revealed by the pure waters of Loch Ness. Flinching, Graham turned away.

Before the queen’s head disappeared beneath the waves, she cursed Graham to become a creature even more horrendous than the reflection he’d seen and be bound to Ronan as they wandered through eternity searching for the one woman to break the curse. Dragon by day, man by night, Graham guarded Iona the wolf and her cub and later mentored Ronan when he learned to shift into a man.

“What a trio we are: wolf, dragon and…” Ronan bit back the word.
Shifter.
He sat straighter in the saddle, raising one hand in farewell as his mount broke through the last of the boundary mists. “May the gods favor us this time, my friend. Pray Mairi Sinclair is the one.”

Graham saluted with an exploding volley of flames above the treetops then rumbled, “Let it be so.”

“Aye, lad. Let it be so. To MacKenna Keep.”

Chapter 1

T
HIRTEENTH-
C
ENTURY
S
COTLAND

T
HE
H
IGHLANDS

Ronan Sutherland yanked the crumpled roll of parchment from the folds of his tunic and stabbed the air with it. “Ye summoned me here—nay—
demanded
that I come. And now ye dare tell me the Lady Mairi Sinclair, the woman set to be my wife, is not here and ye’ve no idea where she might be?”

“ ’Twas no’ I who summoned ye.” Chieftain Gray MacKenna spoke with a strained growl as though the words risked lodging in his throat. “ ’Twas the old one.” He pointed at the missive in Ronan’s hand. “Did ye no’ see her sigil upon the seal?”

The old one. The Sinclair matriarch herself.
A tingling sensation pricked across his nape. Ronan scrubbed at the annoying sting. ’Twas never a good sign when intuition stirred his hackles—especially when it came to finding the one who might free him from the curse. He rolled his shoulders, flinching away the subtle warning. “Mother Sinclair, ye say?”

“Aye.” The MacKenna’s response was curt—his tone controlled and guarded. He leaned forward in the great chair at the head of the keep’s meeting hall, a look of apprehension hardening his features. He slowly perused the width and length of the main gathering room for Clan MacKenna.

Ronan’s unease deepened as he followed the MacKenna’s line of sight, searching the room for…what? What troubled the man?

Servants quietly bustled among the tables and benches, readying for the evening meal. The MacKenna’s men stood in scattered groupings of twos and threes among the columns and archways of the high-ceilinged hall, speaking quietly over mugs of ale while eyeing the prettiest of the serving maids. All seemed normal—even peaceful.

Ronan turned back to the MacKenna. The man was taking too long to choose his words.
What the hell is amiss?

Finally, the chieftain straightened in his chair, draping his hands over the ends of the carved armrests. With an almost imperceptible flick of a wrist, he motioned to all those milling about the room. “Hall isna’ the place to discuss the details of Mother Sinclair’s summons.” Gray cut his words short with a darker scowl, lowered his voice, and continued, “Not all embrace the entirety of the Sinclair women and their truths. I advise ye—tread carefully.”

Ronan understood completely. The MacKenna clan had proven more accepting than most when it came to the Sinclair women and the
talents
they possessed. But one never knew when superstition and unspoken fears might turn acceptance of the remarkable time-traveling women into loathing and mass hysteria. Witch hunts had decimated many a community of late.

Gray nodded stiffly, affirming his words. “Ye would do well to speak to Lady Mairi’s grandmother privately. I would suggest the seclusion of the gardens.”

Ronan shifted against another wave of pinpricks stinging up his spine. He’d rather face a legion of MacKenna warriors than speak privately with the Lady Nia Sinclair. Truth be told, Mother Sinclair—or Granny, as she instructed many to call her—scared the livin’ hell out of him.

“Verra well.” Ronan nodded toward the archway leading to the outer courtyard. “I trust she’ll be told I wait in the gardens?” He rolled his shoulders again and resettled the folds of his plaid across his chest.
Damn the uneasiness to the air of this place.
He stole another glance around the room. The feel of the keep was as though it held its breath—waiting for the gates of hell to split wide open.

“Aye.” Gray motioned to a nearby maid replacing the spent tapers in the candelabras at each end of the back serving table. “Fetch Mother Sinclair. Chieftain Sutherland would see her in the gardens.”

The girl bobbed up and down in a quick curtsy, tucked her basket of candles underneath the table, then scurried off to do her chieftain’s bidding.

Gray turned to Ronan with a sympathetic grin. “I ken how ye feel. All here would rather face old Lucifer himself than risk stirring Granny’s ire.”

Ronan stood taller and tucked his hands to the small of his back. The MacKenna read him too easily. “The elder Lady Sinclair has my utmost respect.”

Gray chuckled as he rose from his chair and slowly stepped down from the dais. He clapped a hand to Ronan’s shoulder and leaned closer with a congenial wink. “Aye, man. She has mine as well—much akin to the respect I give a well-honed blade.” Releasing Ronan with a friendly shake, Gray motioned to a young lad with a serving platter waiting just inside the doorway on the far side of the room.

The serving boy perked up as soon as Gray lifted his hand, scuttling over to meet them. With a respectful nod of his shaggy head, the boy waited for his chieftain’s command.

“Pints, lad.” Gray turned to Ronan. “Or will ye be needin’ something a bit stronger afore ye seek Granny Sinclair’s council?”

“Has she gotten worse since last I was here?”

The chieftain shrugged. “Nay. But neither has she improved. And ye’ll also be dealing with my wife, who’s grown to be a great deal like her grandmother.”

Hell’s fire and damnation.
Ronan wet his lips and straightened his shoulders. “Whisky, boy. A healthy dram, if ye please.”

“Chieftain Sutherland. Welcome back to MacKenna Keep. You took your sweet time getting here.”

Ronan forced himself not to outwardly flinch. ’Twould no’ be manly. The old she-dragon herself had entered the room. He could feel it even before setting eyes on her. Ronan sucked in a deep breath then slowly turned and displayed his best smile to the tiny silver-haired woman standing across the hall.

The scattered groups of men about the high-ceilinged room went silent. They all shifted away, angling closer to the walls as the
grande dame
herself stepped slowly across the hall.

“All be a bit leery of her, ye ken?” Gray whispered from behind Ronan’s shoulder.

Ronan ignored the chieftain’s comment. He politely bowed then strode forward to meet Granny Sinclair halfway across the room. “Good day t’ye Mistress Sinclair. ’Tis a fine pleasure to see ye lookin’ so well.”

Granny pursed her lips, scowled down at Ronan’s extended hand of greeting, then clasped both of her pale gnarled fists tight against her narrow middle. “Hmpf.”

Ronan kept his hand held out a moment more then uncomfortably allowed it to drop. This did not bode well. He’d known returning to MacKenna Keep wasna going to be easy, but he’d at least hoped for a bit more than this surly welcome. After all, ’twas Mother Sinclair’s granddaughter he was to wed.

So be it.
Unpleasant or no’, he needed information. He couldna verra well take control of his fate without the one prophesied to free him—and Granny Sinclair had that information. The elder might as well set her animosities aside. He’d be damned if he allowed her displeasure to deter him. “I’ll no’ trouble ye with paltry niceties. Ye ken full well why I have come and you, of all people, know why I waited ’til this time.”

“You waited too long.” Granny’s thin lips flattened into a damning frown. “In fact, you may have completely missed your opportunity.”

“Not here.” Chieftain MacKenna stepped between them and the growing number of individuals creeping ever closer to better hear the discussion.

Ronan stole another quick glance around the hall. “Ye canna speak freely within your own keep?”

The line creasing Gray’s brow deepened. “Not of late.” The way the MacKenna bit out the words coupled with the displeasure in his tone relayed the depths of the man’s concerns.

Granny Sinclair’s sharp look at Gray also worried Ronan. Even the fearless old she-dragon appeared uneasy. Had someone threatened the Sinclair women?

Granny lowered her chin with a curt nod of agreement. A disgruntled huff escaped her as she leveled her attention back to Ronan. With a narrow-eyed scowl, she jabbed a bent finger toward the lad bearing a swollen skin of whisky and a pair of metal mugs. “None of that. No liquid courage until you and I have had our chat.” Without waiting for Ronan’s response, Granny clutched her dark woolen skirts high enough to clear the layer of dried rushes covering the stone floor and marched across the room.

May the gods protect me
. With a longing glance back at the skin of whisky, Ronan reluctantly followed her. One good swallow of fine MacKenna whisky before facing off with the old woman wouldha been most welcome. He was no’ a coward but a wee dram never hurt when it came to fueling eloquence—especially against quick-witted Granny.

Mother Sinclair remained silent even after they reached the frost-covered garden. The slight woman kept her heavy skirts clutched in her knotted hands, striding with a quick step across the weather-bleached flagstones. Charging forward with determination, she wound her way around the raised islands of dried vegetation dotted about the landscape. When she reached the reflecting pool, Granny came to an abrupt halt, spun about, then settled her hooded cloak tighter about her narrow shoulders. “One month sooner. You couldn’t have made up your rabbit-assed mind and gotten here one month sooner?”

“Where is the Lady Mairi?” Ronan chose to ignore the insult. There was no use wasting the time nor the energy defending his personal time line with Granny. No matter what he said, she’d find him in the wrong. He saw the truth of it in her scowl.

Granny snapped her fingers then jerked a hand toward the keep. “You can see for yourself she’s not here. And thanks to your continued absence, I’ve been unable to convince her to bring her stubborn tail back to the thirteenth century and grab hold of her destiny. If you would’ve shown up here just a month earlier, I could’ve finagled her into coming back.” Granny huffed out a hissing noise that sounded a great deal like a Gaelic curse word. “You left me without any damn bait!” The old woman’s pale blue eyes narrowed into threatening slits behind the wire-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of her nose. “In fact, she’s having such a grand time in the twenty-first century, you’re going to have to go there and fetch her.” Granny turned away, shaking her head as she paced back and forth with short clipping steps. “I can’t believe a granddaughter of mine is refusing to jump across time. I’m gonna shake that child the next time I see her.”

The sudden sensation of the air being squeezed from his lungs settled like a dull ache in the center of his chest. Ronan flexed against the disturbing mix of emotions—the greatest of them being a dark sense of disappointment. Perhaps he’d pinned more hope than he realized on the fact that the Lady Mairi might be the one.

Or could it be the fact that the old woman had just said she expected him to jump across time and bring her granddaughter back as though it were merely a day’s ride across the Highlands? Ronan’s mind reeled at the verra concept. He shook his head at the absurdity of Mother Sinclair’s suggestion.

Surely, she jests. Surely, she’s but testing me
. “The twenty-first century? She abides in the future. Unprotected? Ye expect me to believe ye allow her to live in the future with no hint of family to care for her?” The old woman had to be lying. He knew Mother Sinclair. She valued her family above all else. This had to be another of her manipulations. The conniving matriarch was known for twisting words to turn things to her advantage. Ronan turned and searched the darkened windows of the keep. Surely, Lady Mairi was merely hidden from view. This was some dark game. Some strange ploy to test him.

“You’re an idiot if you think I’d allow my granddaughter to live anywhere unprotected.” Granny slowed her pacing back and forth in front of the pool, pausing every now and then to shake a warning finger in Ronan’s direction. “And you’re an even bigger idiot if you think a Sinclair woman lets anything as paltry as someone’s opinion stand between her and something she’s decided she’s going to do.” Granny exhaled with a disgusted huff. “It pains me to admit that the Sinclairs are slightly hardheaded.”

Slightly hardheaded?
The memory of dealing with another of Granny’s granddaughters, Kenna, who was now happily wedded to Colum Garrison, triggered an involuntary shiver. Slightly hardheaded didna begin to describe the Sinclair women. The old woman’s words stung his already raw emotions, but out of respect for her age and level of wisdom, Ronan let them pass.

He turned and lifted his face to the fading warmth of the late autumn sun, wearily closing his eyes against the dismal outcome of the day. Perhaps ’twas all for the best.
All things happen for a reason.
Perhaps the Lady Mairi preferring life in the future was Fate’s way of telling him she was no’ the answer to his riddle—she was not the one after all. The prophecy—the key to breaking the witch’s curse—was apparently meant to remain unsolved yet again.

Ronan turned away from the sun and rubbed his knuckles against the center of his chest.
Damn the soreness that this place stirs within me.
If the Lady Mairi was nay the one, then why had this sudden feeling of bleak emptiness taken hold of his core and set to aching?

Ronan scrubbed his breastbone harder and ground his teeth.
Nay. I canna veer from this path so easily
.
She is the one. I feel sure of it, and Granny kens it as well as I.
He would no’ be deterred. His heart and soul would never allow it. Ever since Mother Sinclair had shown him the vision of Lady Mairi in the reflecting pool, he’d known the truth of it. The knowing had calmed him, settled across him like a soothing caress as soon as he’d seen her image.

“And now you’re just going to give up?” Mother Sinclair clapped her hands sharply to shake him from his thoughts, startling several nearby birds into flight. “If you’re that easily swayed then you don’t deserve my granddaughter. It takes a brave, tenacious man to capture and hold a Sinclair woman’s heart—”

“Enough!” Ronan clenched his teeth against the urge to growl obscenities at the Sinclair matriarch. Instead, he leveled an accusing finger at the old woman as he slowly marched toward her. “Ye have no idea how I weary of this search and I’ll be damned straight t’hell afore I listen to any more of yer judgmental nattering. Accept the fact that I’m here now and either help me find a way to the Lady Mairi or get the hell out of my way. The choice is yours. But know this, old woman: I’ll stomach no more of yer disrespectful tongue.”

BOOK: My Tempting Highlander (Highland Hearts #3)
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