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Last Call for KND Romance of The Week: Michelle Willingham’s historical fiction 4-in-1 boxed set – Irish Warrior Box Set

Last call for KND free Romance excerpt:

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers)

by Michelle Willingham

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set: Her Irish WarriorThe Warrior
Text-to-Speech: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:

Let Michelle Willingham sweep you away with four reader-favorite stories from The MacEgan Brothers, her epic family saga following gorgeous Irish warriors!

Her Irish Warrior
Genevieve de Renalt turned to fiercely powerful Irish warrior Bevan MacEgan only for protection… She didn’t expect to lose her heart in the bargain!

The Warrior’s Touch
Connor MacEgan is a fighter; it’s in his blood. But when his hands are crushed in a brutal attack, he finds he may never wield a sword or touch a woman ever again. The only person who may be able to help him now is pragmatic, plain Aileen…

Her Warrior King
Blackmail forced Patrick MacEgan into marriage—although he could not be forced to bed his Norman bride. But Isabel de Godred is as fair as she is determined to be a proper wife!

Taming Her Irish Warrior
Honora St. Leger secretly trained in order to prove she could wield a sword as well as any man. But when Ewan MacEgan steals a kiss from her, she succumbs to his forbidden embrace.

*  *  *

Free and Bargain Quality eBooks delivered straight to your email everyday – Subscribe now http://www.bookgorilla.com/kcc

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*  *  *

  And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:

Chapter One
The island of Erin, 1171 AD
Genevieve de Renalt’s breath burned in her lungs as she ran. Every muscle in her body cried out with exhaustion, but she refused to stop. With every step, freedom came a little closer. In the distance she heard hoofbeats approaching. He was coming for her.
I am such a fool, she thought. She needed a horse, supplies, and coins if she had any hope of success. But there had been no time. She had seen the opportunity to flee and seized it. Even if her flight was doomed to failure, she had to try.
This was her only chance to escape her betrothed. The thought of Sir Hugh Marstowe was like a dull knife against an open wound. For she had loved him once. And now she would do anything to escape him.
Hugh kept his horse at an easy trot. He was playing with her, like a falcon circling its prey. He knew he could catch her with no effort at all. Instead, he wanted her to anticipate him. To fear him.
He had controlled her for the past moon, deciding how she should behave as his future wife. She’d felt like a dog, cowering beneath his orders. Nothing she said or did was ever good enough for him. Her nerves tightened at the memory of his fists.
Loathing surged through her. By the saints, even if her strength failed her she had to leave. She stumbled through the forest, her sides aching, her body’s energy waning. Soon she would have to stop running. She prayed to God for a miracle, for a way to save herself from this nightmare. If she stayed any longer she feared she would become a shell of a woman, with no courage, no life left in her at all.
A patch of blackberry thorns slashed at her hands, the briars catching her cloak. The afternoon light had begun to fade, the twilight creeping steadily closer. Genevieve fought back tears of exhaustion, pulling at the briars until her hands were bloody.
‘Genevieve!’ Hugh called out. His voice sent a coil of dread inside her. He had drawn his horse to a stop at the edge of the woods. The sight of him made her stomach clench.
I won’t go back. Stubbornly, she pushed her way through the gnarled walnut trees until she reached the clearing. Frost coated the grasses, and she stumbled to her knees while climbing the slippery hillside.
A strange silence permeated the meadow. From her vantage point atop the hill, she caught a glimpse of movement. The dying winter grass revealed the presence of a man.
No—men, she realised. Irishmen, dressed in colours to blend in with their surroundings. Behind them, at the bottom of the hill, she saw a single rider. The warrior sat astride his horse, his cloak pinned with an iron brooch the size of her palm. He did not reach for the sword at his side, but his stance grew alert. A hood concealed his face, and a quiet confidence radiated from him.
Tall and broad-shouldered, he watched her. She could not tell if he was a nobleman or a soldier, but he carried himself like a king. With a silent gesture to his men, they scattered and disappeared behind another hill.
Her heart pounded, for he could strike her down with his sword. Nonetheless, she squared her shoulders and stared at the man. She walked towards him slowly, even as her brain warned her that warriors such as he did not treat women with mercy.
But he had a horse. A horse she needed if there was any chance of escaping Hugh.
The man’s gaze locked with hers. If she screamed, it would alert Hugh to their presence. Precious seconds remained, and soon Hugh would overtake her.
‘Please,’ she implored him. ‘I need your help.’ Her ragged voice sounded just above a whisper, and for a moment she wondered if the soldier had heard her. Upon his cloak she noticed a Celtic design. This time she repeated her request in Irish. The man’s posture changed, and after a moment that stretched into eternity he turned his horse away. Within seconds he disappeared behind a hill, along with Genevieve’s hope.
* * *
Bevan MacEgan cursed himself for his weakness. From the moment she spoke he had recognised the woman as a Norman. The familiar hatred had risen within him, only to be startled by the desire to help her.
She had awakened the ghost of a memory. With her face and dark hair, the first vision of her had evoked a nightmare he’d tried to forget for two long years. He closed his eyes, willing himself to block her out.
He’d seen her fleeing, long before he had given the order for his soldiers to hide among the hills. Her attacker did not intend to kill her. Were that the case, he could have done so already. No, the Norman’s intent was to capture the woman.
And by turning away he’d let it happen.
He’d been forced to choose between the safety of his men and a woman he didn’t know. And, though he knew he’d made the right decision, his sense of honour cringed. He was supposed to protect women, not let them come to harm.
But if he interfered now, his battle plans could go awry. He dared not risk the lives of his men by giving away their position. Their attack depended upon the element of surprise. He needed to watch and wait for the right moment.
He found himself issuing orders. ‘I want five men to accompany me inside the fortress. Take the others and surround the outer palisade. At sunset, light the fires.’
‘You’re going after her, aren’t you?’ the captain of his men remarked.
‘I am.’
‘You cannot save them all. She is only a woman.’
‘Do as I command.’ Tá, it was an unnecessary risk. But in the woman’s eyes he had seen pure terror—the same terror as in his wife’s eyes just before the enemy had taken her captive.
And he felt the same helplessness now.
Bevan chose the men who would accompany him and led them towards the fortress of Rionallís. It was his land, stolen by the invaders. With the help of his men, he meant to take it back.
Rionallís was not a rath, like the other fortresses, but slightly larger. Within it he’d built an earth and timber castle, similar to the Norman style. He knew every inch of it, and exactly how to penetrate its defences.
At his command, the men moved into position. Bevan waited until they were ready, and pushed away the brambles hiding the entrance to the souterrain. The secret tunnel led beneath the fortress, into the chambers used for storage.
He glanced up at the donjon, silhouetted by a blood-red sunset. Inwardly, he prayed for victory.
The chill of the souterrain passage surrounded him as he entered. He had not been here for the past year and a half, and he noted the emptiness of the storage chambers. They should have been filled with bags of grain and clay-sealed containers of food. His people would suffer this winter unless he did something to help them.
Though he hadn’t known about the conquest of his lands until now, he blamed himself. He had allowed his grief to consume him while he hired his sword as a mercenary to other tribes. And last spring the Normans had descended upon Rionallís like locusts, feeding off the labour of his people and desecrating his home. His small army was outnumbered, but he knew the territory well. He would stop at nothing to drive out his enemy.
When he reached the ladder leading into one of the stone beehive-shaped cottages, he paused. He wished he had not seen the Norman woman, her eyes filled with fear as she pleaded for help. It would have been easy to simply hate them all and kill them, spilling their blood for vengeance. But the woman complicated matters.
She was a pretty cailín, with a sweet face and deep blue eyes. An innocent, who deserved his protection. He had been unable to save his wife from her attackers. But he could save this woman.
It should have made him feel better. Instead, it added a further element of risk to an already dangerous attack. And yet his mind grasped the possibilities. She would make a good hostage, providing him with the means to regain the fortress. Afterwards he would grant her the freedom she so desired.
Bevan climbed the ladder, surprising the inhabitants of the cottage. He held a finger to his lips, knowing his people would never betray him. The blacksmith moved towards his hammer, in an unspoken promise to give aid if needed.
At the entrance to the hut, Bevan counted the number of enemy soldiers in the courtyard. He would enter the fortress tonight, he decided. And Rionallís would be his once more.
* * *
‘Genevieve, I am glad to see you safe.’ Sir Hugh embraced her while Genevieve fought to breathe. Her strength had given out, and he had caught her at last. She held back tears of frustration, her skin freezing cold.
Dark memories assaulted her. She knew what he would do. She closed off her mind from her body, for it was the only way she could bear the pain.
There was no one left to help her. Her father had sent close friends of his, Sir Peter of Harborough and his wife, to act as guardians until his arrival. He might as well not have sent anyone at all. Both were blind to Hugh’s deeds. They saw only a strong leader, a man respected by his soldiers.
When she’d complained of Hugh’s punishments, Sir Peter had only shrugged. ‘A man has the right to discipline his wife,’ he’d said. But she was not Hugh’s wife. Not yet. And nothing she said would convince them of any wrongdoing.
Her father’s men refused to interfere. The last man who had tried to shield her from a beating had been discovered dead a few days later. The soldiers obeyed Hugh without question, emptiness in their eyes. They were afraid of him, and he knew it.
‘I feared for you, out here alone.’ Hugh pressed a kiss upon her temple. The gesture felt like a brand, burning into her skin. His words mocked her attempt to escape, seemingly gentle. But she recognised the hardened edge to his voice, the promise of punishment.
Possession dominated his blue eyes. She had once thought him handsome with his dark gold hair cut short. But his heart was as cold as the chain-mail covering his strong form.
She steadied herself. ‘Let me go home to my family, Hugh. I am not the wife you need.’
He cupped her chin, his fingers tightening over her flesh. ‘You will learn to be the wife I need.’
‘There are other women, wealthier than I.’ She could not meet his gaze when his hand moved lower, to her waist.
‘None of such high rank.’ His palm spanned her back, his thumb brushing against a bruise that had not healed. ‘None with land such as Rionallís.’ His voice grew tinged with ambition. ‘Here I can become a king. These Irishmen are primitive, with no knowledge of what it means to fight.’ His mouth curved upward. ‘And you will reign at my side. The King has commanded it.’
She said nothing. Hugh’s prowess on the battlefield had earned him King Henry’s favour. When he had offered for her, and received the King’s blessing, Genevieve had fallen prey to his flattery. Believing his false courtship, she’d begged her reluctant father for a betrothal. Now she wished she had remained silent.
Hugh lifted her upon his horse, mounting behind her. At the contact of his body against hers, she shuddered with revulsion. He spurred the horse onward, his harsh embrace imprisoning her. When the fortress came into view, the last vestiges of her courage died.
Denial and panic warred within her. Was there anything else she could do to stop this wedding? More than anything, she needed her father’s help. Each day she prayed to see his colours flying, heralding the arrival of his entourage. And still he did not come.
They rode beneath the gate, and she did not miss the pitying looks upon the faces of the Irish. Hugh dismounted and forced her to accompany him. ‘You must be weary,’ he said. ‘I will escort you to your chamber.’
Genevieve knew what would happen as soon as they reached the chamber. Closing her eyes, she searched for an excuse—any means to delay the inevitable punishment.
‘I am hungry,’ she said. ‘Might I have something to eat beforehand?’
‘I will have food sent above stairs. After we discuss your…journey.’ Hugh gripped Genevieve’s arm with a strength that reminded her of the retribution to come. Her eyes filled with unshed tears. She would not grant him the satisfaction of making her weep.
She concentrated on the pain of Hugh squeezing her arm as he directed her up the stairs and towards her chamber. He bolted the door behind them with a heavy wooden bar. Alone, he stood and watched her.
‘Why did you run from me?’
She didn’t answer. What could she say?
‘Don’t you know I will always come for you? You are mine to protect.’ He caressed her hair, tangling the strands in his fingers. She stood motionless, trying not to look at him.
‘The King has summoned us to Tara,’ Hugh said, releasing her suddenly. ‘We will be married there within a few days.’ Pride swelled within him. ‘He may grant me more land, as a wedding gift to both of us.’
Leaning down, he brushed a kiss upon her closed mouth. ‘Do not look so glum. It will not be long now.’
His claim was not at all reassuring. She had been thankful that King Henry had delayed Hugh’s earlier requests to come. Political alliances with the Irish kings took precedence. Now her time had run out.
‘I will not marry without my father.’
‘Thomas de Renalt will come.’ His expression tightened. ‘He should have arrived by now.’
‘He was ill,’ Genevieve argued. Her father had ordered her to continue on to Rionallís without him. With an escort of soldiers and her guardians, Papa had believed her to be safe. Genevieve had bribed a priest to send missives, pleading with her father to end the betrothal. She had sent the last one only a sennight ago. But Thomas de Renalt had given no reply, and she feared Hugh might have intercepted the messages.
‘I will not wait on him any longer.’ Hugh shook his head. ‘I know not what the Earl’s intentions are, but the betrothal documents are signed. With or without him, I will wed you.’
‘I will never wed you,’ she swore. ‘I care not what the King says.’
His fist struck the back of her head. Pain exploded, ringing in her ears, but Genevieve refused to cry out.
‘You have not lost your spirit, have you?’ Hugh remarked.
She swallowed hard, wishing she had not provoked him. She knew better than to fight him, for his strength was far greater than hers. If she offered her obedience, he was often more lenient in the punishment. She struggled to force back the words of defiance.
Then he smiled, the cruel smile she had grown to despise.
‘Remove your garments.’
Bile rose in her throat at the thought of him holding her down. For the past few weeks he had gloried in humiliating her. If she refused his commands, he beat her until she could no longer stand. Though he had not breached her maidenhead yet, she knew it was but a matter of time. Fear pulsed through her at the thought….

Click here to download the entire book:

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers)

*  *  *

Need More Romance in Your Life? We Got Your Fix ;)

Free and Bargain romance eBooks delivered straight to your email everyday! Subscribe now! http://www.bookgorilla.com/kcc

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Hot Irish warriors, epic family sagas and forbidden embraces… Read this exclusive free sample of Michelle Willingham’s Irish Warrior Box Set

Last week we announced that Michelle Willingham’s Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers) is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers), you’re in for a real treat:

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers)

by Michelle Willingham

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set: Her Irish WarriorThe Warrior
Text-to-Speech: Enabled

Here’s the set-up:

Let Michelle Willingham sweep you away with four reader-favorite stories from The MacEgan Brothers, her epic family saga following gorgeous Irish warriors!

Her Irish Warrior
Genevieve de Renalt turned to fiercely powerful Irish warrior Bevan MacEgan only for protection… She didn’t expect to lose her heart in the bargain!

The Warrior’s Touch
Connor MacEgan is a fighter; it’s in his blood. But when his hands are crushed in a brutal attack, he finds he may never wield a sword or touch a woman ever again. The only person who may be able to help him now is pragmatic, plain Aileen…

Her Warrior King
Blackmail forced Patrick MacEgan into marriage—although he could not be forced to bed his Norman bride. But Isabel de Godred is as fair as she is determined to be a proper wife!

Taming Her Irish Warrior
Honora St. Leger secretly trained in order to prove she could wield a sword as well as any man. But when Ewan MacEgan steals a kiss from her, she succumbs to his forbidden embrace.

*  *  *

Free and Bargain Quality eBooks delivered straight to your email everyday – Subscribe now http://www.bookgorilla.com/kcc

button_subscribe

*  *  *

  And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:

Chapter One
The island of Erin, 1171 AD
Genevieve de Renalt’s breath burned in her lungs as she ran. Every muscle in her body cried out with exhaustion, but she refused to stop. With every step, freedom came a little closer. In the distance she heard hoofbeats approaching. He was coming for her.
I am such a fool, she thought. She needed a horse, supplies, and coins if she had any hope of success. But there had been no time. She had seen the opportunity to flee and seized it. Even if her flight was doomed to failure, she had to try.
This was her only chance to escape her betrothed. The thought of Sir Hugh Marstowe was like a dull knife against an open wound. For she had loved him once. And now she would do anything to escape him.
Hugh kept his horse at an easy trot. He was playing with her, like a falcon circling its prey. He knew he could catch her with no effort at all. Instead, he wanted her to anticipate him. To fear him.
He had controlled her for the past moon, deciding how she should behave as his future wife. She’d felt like a dog, cowering beneath his orders. Nothing she said or did was ever good enough for him. Her nerves tightened at the memory of his fists.
Loathing surged through her. By the saints, even if her strength failed her she had to leave. She stumbled through the forest, her sides aching, her body’s energy waning. Soon she would have to stop running. She prayed to God for a miracle, for a way to save herself from this nightmare. If she stayed any longer she feared she would become a shell of a woman, with no courage, no life left in her at all.
A patch of blackberry thorns slashed at her hands, the briars catching her cloak. The afternoon light had begun to fade, the twilight creeping steadily closer. Genevieve fought back tears of exhaustion, pulling at the briars until her hands were bloody.
‘Genevieve!’ Hugh called out. His voice sent a coil of dread inside her. He had drawn his horse to a stop at the edge of the woods. The sight of him made her stomach clench.
I won’t go back. Stubbornly, she pushed her way through the gnarled walnut trees until she reached the clearing. Frost coated the grasses, and she stumbled to her knees while climbing the slippery hillside.
A strange silence permeated the meadow. From her vantage point atop the hill, she caught a glimpse of movement. The dying winter grass revealed the presence of a man.
No—men, she realised. Irishmen, dressed in colours to blend in with their surroundings. Behind them, at the bottom of the hill, she saw a single rider. The warrior sat astride his horse, his cloak pinned with an iron brooch the size of her palm. He did not reach for the sword at his side, but his stance grew alert. A hood concealed his face, and a quiet confidence radiated from him.
Tall and broad-shouldered, he watched her. She could not tell if he was a nobleman or a soldier, but he carried himself like a king. With a silent gesture to his men, they scattered and disappeared behind another hill.
Her heart pounded, for he could strike her down with his sword. Nonetheless, she squared her shoulders and stared at the man. She walked towards him slowly, even as her brain warned her that warriors such as he did not treat women with mercy.
But he had a horse. A horse she needed if there was any chance of escaping Hugh.
The man’s gaze locked with hers. If she screamed, it would alert Hugh to their presence. Precious seconds remained, and soon Hugh would overtake her.
‘Please,’ she implored him. ‘I need your help.’ Her ragged voice sounded just above a whisper, and for a moment she wondered if the soldier had heard her. Upon his cloak she noticed a Celtic design. This time she repeated her request in Irish. The man’s posture changed, and after a moment that stretched into eternity he turned his horse away. Within seconds he disappeared behind a hill, along with Genevieve’s hope.
* * *
Bevan MacEgan cursed himself for his weakness. From the moment she spoke he had recognised the woman as a Norman. The familiar hatred had risen within him, only to be startled by the desire to help her.
She had awakened the ghost of a memory. With her face and dark hair, the first vision of her had evoked a nightmare he’d tried to forget for two long years. He closed his eyes, willing himself to block her out.
He’d seen her fleeing, long before he had given the order for his soldiers to hide among the hills. Her attacker did not intend to kill her. Were that the case, he could have done so already. No, the Norman’s intent was to capture the woman.
And by turning away he’d let it happen.
He’d been forced to choose between the safety of his men and a woman he didn’t know. And, though he knew he’d made the right decision, his sense of honour cringed. He was supposed to protect women, not let them come to harm.
But if he interfered now, his battle plans could go awry. He dared not risk the lives of his men by giving away their position. Their attack depended upon the element of surprise. He needed to watch and wait for the right moment.
He found himself issuing orders. ‘I want five men to accompany me inside the fortress. Take the others and surround the outer palisade. At sunset, light the fires.’
‘You’re going after her, aren’t you?’ the captain of his men remarked.
‘I am.’
‘You cannot save them all. She is only a woman.’
‘Do as I command.’ Tá, it was an unnecessary risk. But in the woman’s eyes he had seen pure terror—the same terror as in his wife’s eyes just before the enemy had taken her captive.
And he felt the same helplessness now.
Bevan chose the men who would accompany him and led them towards the fortress of Rionallís. It was his land, stolen by the invaders. With the help of his men, he meant to take it back.
Rionallís was not a rath, like the other fortresses, but slightly larger. Within it he’d built an earth and timber castle, similar to the Norman style. He knew every inch of it, and exactly how to penetrate its defences.
At his command, the men moved into position. Bevan waited until they were ready, and pushed away the brambles hiding the entrance to the souterrain. The secret tunnel led beneath the fortress, into the chambers used for storage.
He glanced up at the donjon, silhouetted by a blood-red sunset. Inwardly, he prayed for victory.
The chill of the souterrain passage surrounded him as he entered. He had not been here for the past year and a half, and he noted the emptiness of the storage chambers. They should have been filled with bags of grain and clay-sealed containers of food. His people would suffer this winter unless he did something to help them.
Though he hadn’t known about the conquest of his lands until now, he blamed himself. He had allowed his grief to consume him while he hired his sword as a mercenary to other tribes. And last spring the Normans had descended upon Rionallís like locusts, feeding off the labour of his people and desecrating his home. His small army was outnumbered, but he knew the territory well. He would stop at nothing to drive out his enemy.
When he reached the ladder leading into one of the stone beehive-shaped cottages, he paused. He wished he had not seen the Norman woman, her eyes filled with fear as she pleaded for help. It would have been easy to simply hate them all and kill them, spilling their blood for vengeance. But the woman complicated matters.
She was a pretty cailín, with a sweet face and deep blue eyes. An innocent, who deserved his protection. He had been unable to save his wife from her attackers. But he could save this woman.
It should have made him feel better. Instead, it added a further element of risk to an already dangerous attack. And yet his mind grasped the possibilities. She would make a good hostage, providing him with the means to regain the fortress. Afterwards he would grant her the freedom she so desired.
Bevan climbed the ladder, surprising the inhabitants of the cottage. He held a finger to his lips, knowing his people would never betray him. The blacksmith moved towards his hammer, in an unspoken promise to give aid if needed.
At the entrance to the hut, Bevan counted the number of enemy soldiers in the courtyard. He would enter the fortress tonight, he decided. And Rionallís would be his once more.
* * *
‘Genevieve, I am glad to see you safe.’ Sir Hugh embraced her while Genevieve fought to breathe. Her strength had given out, and he had caught her at last. She held back tears of frustration, her skin freezing cold.
Dark memories assaulted her. She knew what he would do. She closed off her mind from her body, for it was the only way she could bear the pain.
There was no one left to help her. Her father had sent close friends of his, Sir Peter of Harborough and his wife, to act as guardians until his arrival. He might as well not have sent anyone at all. Both were blind to Hugh’s deeds. They saw only a strong leader, a man respected by his soldiers.
When she’d complained of Hugh’s punishments, Sir Peter had only shrugged. ‘A man has the right to discipline his wife,’ he’d said. But she was not Hugh’s wife. Not yet. And nothing she said would convince them of any wrongdoing.
Her father’s men refused to interfere. The last man who had tried to shield her from a beating had been discovered dead a few days later. The soldiers obeyed Hugh without question, emptiness in their eyes. They were afraid of him, and he knew it.
‘I feared for you, out here alone.’ Hugh pressed a kiss upon her temple. The gesture felt like a brand, burning into her skin. His words mocked her attempt to escape, seemingly gentle. But she recognised the hardened edge to his voice, the promise of punishment.
Possession dominated his blue eyes. She had once thought him handsome with his dark gold hair cut short. But his heart was as cold as the chain-mail covering his strong form.
She steadied herself. ‘Let me go home to my family, Hugh. I am not the wife you need.’
He cupped her chin, his fingers tightening over her flesh. ‘You will learn to be the wife I need.’
‘There are other women, wealthier than I.’ She could not meet his gaze when his hand moved lower, to her waist.
‘None of such high rank.’ His palm spanned her back, his thumb brushing against a bruise that had not healed. ‘None with land such as Rionallís.’ His voice grew tinged with ambition. ‘Here I can become a king. These Irishmen are primitive, with no knowledge of what it means to fight.’ His mouth curved upward. ‘And you will reign at my side. The King has commanded it.’
She said nothing. Hugh’s prowess on the battlefield had earned him King Henry’s favour. When he had offered for her, and received the King’s blessing, Genevieve had fallen prey to his flattery. Believing his false courtship, she’d begged her reluctant father for a betrothal. Now she wished she had remained silent.
Hugh lifted her upon his horse, mounting behind her. At the contact of his body against hers, she shuddered with revulsion. He spurred the horse onward, his harsh embrace imprisoning her. When the fortress came into view, the last vestiges of her courage died.
Denial and panic warred within her. Was there anything else she could do to stop this wedding? More than anything, she needed her father’s help. Each day she prayed to see his colours flying, heralding the arrival of his entourage. And still he did not come.
They rode beneath the gate, and she did not miss the pitying looks upon the faces of the Irish. Hugh dismounted and forced her to accompany him. ‘You must be weary,’ he said. ‘I will escort you to your chamber.’
Genevieve knew what would happen as soon as they reached the chamber. Closing her eyes, she searched for an excuse—any means to delay the inevitable punishment.
‘I am hungry,’ she said. ‘Might I have something to eat beforehand?’
‘I will have food sent above stairs. After we discuss your…journey.’ Hugh gripped Genevieve’s arm with a strength that reminded her of the retribution to come. Her eyes filled with unshed tears. She would not grant him the satisfaction of making her weep.
She concentrated on the pain of Hugh squeezing her arm as he directed her up the stairs and towards her chamber. He bolted the door behind them with a heavy wooden bar. Alone, he stood and watched her.
‘Why did you run from me?’
She didn’t answer. What could she say?
‘Don’t you know I will always come for you? You are mine to protect.’ He caressed her hair, tangling the strands in his fingers. She stood motionless, trying not to look at him.
‘The King has summoned us to Tara,’ Hugh said, releasing her suddenly. ‘We will be married there within a few days.’ Pride swelled within him. ‘He may grant me more land, as a wedding gift to both of us.’
Leaning down, he brushed a kiss upon her closed mouth. ‘Do not look so glum. It will not be long now.’
His claim was not at all reassuring. She had been thankful that King Henry had delayed Hugh’s earlier requests to come. Political alliances with the Irish kings took precedence. Now her time had run out.
‘I will not marry without my father.’
‘Thomas de Renalt will come.’ His expression tightened. ‘He should have arrived by now.’
‘He was ill,’ Genevieve argued. Her father had ordered her to continue on to Rionallís without him. With an escort of soldiers and her guardians, Papa had believed her to be safe. Genevieve had bribed a priest to send missives, pleading with her father to end the betrothal. She had sent the last one only a sennight ago. But Thomas de Renalt had given no reply, and she feared Hugh might have intercepted the messages.
‘I will not wait on him any longer.’ Hugh shook his head. ‘I know not what the Earl’s intentions are, but the betrothal documents are signed. With or without him, I will wed you.’
‘I will never wed you,’ she swore. ‘I care not what the King says.’
His fist struck the back of her head. Pain exploded, ringing in her ears, but Genevieve refused to cry out.
‘You have not lost your spirit, have you?’ Hugh remarked.
She swallowed hard, wishing she had not provoked him. She knew better than to fight him, for his strength was far greater than hers. If she offered her obedience, he was often more lenient in the punishment. She struggled to force back the words of defiance.
Then he smiled, the cruel smile she had grown to despise.
‘Remove your garments.’
Bile rose in her throat at the thought of him holding her down. For the past few weeks he had gloried in humiliating her. If she refused his commands, he beat her until she could no longer stand. Though he had not breached her maidenhead yet, she knew it was but a matter of time. Fear pulsed through her at the thought….

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Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers)

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4-in-1 Harlequin Boxed Set! Let award-winning author Michelle Willingham sweep you away with four reader-favorite stories from The MacEgan Brothers, her epic family saga following gorgeous Irish warriors
It’s time to discover today’s brand new Romance of the Week: Michelle Willingham’s Irish Warrior Box Set

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Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set (The MacEgan Brothers)

by Michelle Willingham

Michelle Willingham Irish Warrior Box Set: Her Irish WarriorThe Warrior
Text-to-Speech: Enabled

Here’s the set-up:

Let Michelle Willingham sweep you away with four reader-favorite stories from The MacEgan Brothers, her epic family saga following gorgeous Irish warriors!

Her Irish Warrior
Genevieve de Renalt turned to fiercely powerful Irish warrior Bevan MacEgan only for protection… She didn’t expect to lose her heart in the bargain!

The Warrior’s Touch
Connor MacEgan is a fighter; it’s in his blood. But when his hands are crushed in a brutal attack, he finds he may never wield a sword or touch a woman ever again. The only person who may be able to help him now is pragmatic, plain Aileen…

Her Warrior King
Blackmail forced Patrick MacEgan into marriage—although he could not be forced to bed his Norman bride. But Isabel de Godred is as fair as she is determined to be a proper wife!

Taming Her Irish Warrior
Honora St. Leger secretly trained in order to prove she could wield a sword as well as any man. But when Ewan MacEgan steals a kiss from her, she succumbs to his forbidden embrace.

About the author

#1 Bestseller in Historical Romance and Scottish Historical Romance
Top 100 Kindle Bestseller List, U.S. and Germany
RWA RITA Finalist, 2010, for Best Historical Romance
National Reader’s Choice Award Finalist, 2015, for Best Historical Romance

Michelle Willingham has published over thirty romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and children and is working on more historical romance books in a variety of settings such as: Viking era Ireland, medieval Scotland, Victorian England, Regency England, and medieval Ireland. When she’s not writing, Michelle enjoys baking cookies, playing the piano, and avoiding exercise at all costs. Visit her website at: michellewillingham.com.

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Last Call for KND Romance of The Week: Hundreds of rave reviews for The Law of Moses by Amy Harmon

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The Law of Moses

by Amy Harmon

The Law of Moses
4.9 stars – 957 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled

Or check out the Audible.com version of The Law of Moses

in its Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged!

Here’s the set-up:
If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all . . . a love story.

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Chapter 1

 

 

Georgia

 

They found Moses in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. A woman heard him cry and picked him up, putting him against her skin and wrapping them both in her coat until she could get help. She didn’t know who his mother was or if she was coming back, she only knew that he wasn’t wanted, that he was dying, and that if she didn’t get him to a hospital soon, it would be too late.

They called him a crack baby. My mom told me crack babies are what they call babies who are born addicted to cocaine because their mothers do drugs while they are pregnant. Crack babies are usually smaller than other babies because most of them are born too early to unhealthy moms. The cocaine alters their brain chemistry and they suffer from things like ADHD and impulse control. Sometimes they suffer from seizures and mental disorders. Sometimes they suffer from hallucinations and hyper sensitivity. It was believed that Moses would suffer from some of these things, maybe all of these things.

They shared his story on the ten o’clock news. It was a great story, a human interest piece—a little baby left in a basket at a dingy laundromat in a bad neighborhood in West Valley City. My mom says she remembers the story well, the pathetic shots of the baby in the hospital, hanging onto life, a feeding tube in his stomach and a little blue hat on his tiny head. They found the mother three days later, not that anyone wanted to hand the baby over. But they didn’t have to. She was dead. The woman who had abandoned her baby in a laundromat was pronounced dead on arrival from an apparent overdose at the very same hospital where her baby lay struggling for life, several floors above her. Somebody had found her too, though not in a laundromat.

The roommate, arrested that same evening for prostitution and possession, told the police what she knew about the woman and her abandoned baby in hopes of getting a little leniency. An autopsy of the woman’s body showed she had, indeed, given birth very recently. And later, DNA testing proved that the baby was hers. What a lucky little guy.

He was “the baby in the basket” in news reports, and the hospital staff dubbed him baby Moses. But baby Moses wasn’t found by the daughter of the Pharaoh like the biblical Moses. He wasn’t raised in a palace. He didn’t have a sister watching from the reeds, making sure his basket was pulled from the Nile. But he did have some family—Mom said the whole town was a buzz when it was discovered that baby Moses’s deceased mother was sort of a local girl, a girl named Jennifer Wright who had spent summers with her grandmother, who lived just down the street from our house. The grandmother was still in the area, Jennifer’s parents lived in a neighboring town, and a couple of her siblings, who had moved away, were still well-known by many as well. So little Moses had some family after all, not that any of them wanted a sick baby who was predicted to have all sorts of problems. Jennifer Wright had broken their hearts and left her family tired and shattered. Mom told me drugs do that. So the fact that she left them with a crack baby didn’t seem especially surprising. My mom said she’d just been a regular girl when she was younger. Pretty, nice, smart, even. But not smart enough to stay away from meth, cocaine, and whatever else she became a slave to. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant. But the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.

My mom said the whole town followed the story of baby Moses Wright when it happened, watching the reports, pretending like they had the inside scoop, and making up what they didn’t know, just to feel important. But I never knew baby Moses, because baby Moses grew up to be just plain Moses, juggled between Jennifer Wright’s family members, passed around when he became too much to take, transferred to another sibling or parent who then put up with him for a while before making someone else step in and take their turn. It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met him and my mom told me about him in an effort to help me “understand him and be kind,” the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids. Nobody really wants messed up kids.

And Moses was messed up.

I knew all about messed up kids by the time I met Moses. My parents were foster parents to lots of messed up kids. They’d been taking in kids all my life. I had two older sisters and an older brother who were out of the house by the time I was six. I’d been kind of an oops, and I ended up being raised with kids who weren’t my siblings and who came in and out of my life in stages and revolving doors. Maybe that was why my parents and Kathleen Wright, Jennifer Wright’s grandma and Moses’s great-grandma, had several conversations about Moses sitting at our kitchen table. I heard a lot of things I probably had no business knowing. Especially that summer.

The old lady was taking Moses in for good. He would be eighteen in a month and everyone else was ready to wash their hands of him. He’d spent time with her every summer since he was little, and she was confident they would do well together if everyone would just butt out and let her do her thing. She didn’t seem concerned about the fact that the month Moses turned eighteen she would turn eighty.

I knew who he was and remembered him from summer to summer, though I’d never spent any time with him. It was a small town and kids notice each other. Kathleen Wright would bring him to church for the few Sundays he was in town. He was in my Sunday school class, and we all enjoyed staring at him while the teacher tried to coax him into participating. He never did. He just sat in his little metal folding chair like he’d been heavily bribed to do so, his oddly-colored eyes roving here and there, his hands twisting in his lap. And when it was over he would race for the door and out into the sunshine, heading straight for home without waiting for his great-grandma. I would try to race him, but he always managed to get out of his seat and out the door faster than I could. Even then I was chasing him.

Sometimes, Moses and his grandma would go for bike rides and walks, and she would haul him into the pool in Nephi almost every day, which had always made me so jealous. I was lucky if I got to go to the pool more than a few times all summer. When I was desperate for a swim, I’d ride my bike to a fishing hole up Chicken Creek canyon. My parents had forbidden me to swim there because it was so cold and deep and murky—dangerous even. But drowning was preferable to never swimming at all, and I’d managed not to drown so far.

As Moses got older, there were some summers when he didn’t come to Levan at all. It had been two years since he’d been back, though Kathleen had been pushing for him to come stay with her permanently for a long time. The family told her he would be too much for her to handle. They told her he was “too emotional, too explosive, too temperamental.” But apparently, they were all exhausted and they gave in. So Moses moved to Levan.

We were both entering our senior year, though I was young for my grade and he was a full year older. We both had summer birthdays—Moses turned eighteen July 2nd and I turned seventeen August 28th. But Moses didn’t look eighteen. In the two years since I’d seen him last, he’d grown into his feet and his eyes. He was tall with broad shoulders and clearly-defined, ropy muscles that covered his lean frame, and his light eyes, strong cheekbones, and angled jaw made him look more like an Egyptian prince than a gang banger, which rumors claimed he was.

Moses struggled with his school work and had difficulty concentrating and holding still His family even claimed he had seizures and hallucinations, which they attempted to control with various medications. I heard his grandma telling my mom that he could be moody and irritable, that he had difficulty sleeping, and that he zoned out a lot. She said he was extremely intelligent, brilliant even, and he could paint like nothing and no one she’d ever seen before. But all the medication they had him on to help him focus and sit still in school made him slow and sluggish and made his art dark and frightening. Kathleen Wright told my mother she was taking him off all the pills.

“They turn him into a zombie,” I heard her say. “I’m willing to take my chances with a kid who can’t hold still and can’t stop painting. In my day, that wasn’t a bad thing.”

I thought a zombie sounded a little safer. For all his beauty, Moses Wright was scary looking. With his tapered body covered in bronze skin, and those funky-colored, light eyes, he reminded me of a jungle cat. Sleek, dangerous, silent. At least a zombie moves slowly. Jungle cats pounce. Being around Moses Wright was like befriending a panther, and I admired the old lady for taking him on. In fact, she had more courage than anyone I knew.

Being one of only three girls my age in the whole town made me a loner more often than I liked, especially considering neither of the other girls liked horses and rodeo the way I did. We were friendly enough to say hello and sit by each other in church, but not friendly enough to spend time together or pass the boring summer days in each other’s company.

It was an especially hot summer. I remember that well. We’d had the driest spring ever recorded, which led to summer wildfires popping up all over the west. Farmers were praying for rain and the sizzling nerves and sky-rocketing temperatures made tempers short and self-control shorter. There’d also been a rash of disappearances throughout the clustered counties of central Utah. A couple of girls had gone missing in two different counties, though one was thought to have run away with her boyfriend and the other was almost eighteen and her home life was bad. People assumed they were okay, but there had been a few similar disappearances in the last ten or fifteen years that had never been resolved, and it made parents edgy and a little more watchful, and my parents were no exception.

I’d grown restless and resentful, itchy in my own skin, eager to be done with school and on with life. I was a barrel racer and I wanted to hitch the horse trailer to my truck and follow the rodeo circuit, seeking freedom with only my horses, my projected rodeo winnings, and the open road. I wanted that so badly. But at seventeen, with disappearing females in the forefront of their minds, my parents wouldn’t let me go on my own, and they weren’t in any position to take me. They promised me we’d figure something out when I graduated and turned eighteen. But graduation was so far away, and summer stretched out in front of me like a dry, empty desert. I was so thirsty for something else. Maybe that was it. Maybe that was the reason I waded in too far, the reason I got in way over my head.

Whatever it was, when Moses came to Levan, he was like water—cold, deep, unpredictable, and, like the pond up the canyon, dangerous, because you could never see what was beneath the surface. And just like I’d done all my life, I jumped in head first, even though I’d been forbidden. But this time, I drowned.

 

 

***

 

 

“What are you lookin’ at?” I said sharply, finally giving Moses what I assumed he wanted, which was my attention. All the kids my parents took in soaked up attention like it was as necessary as air and they were all gasping to breathe. I hated it. Not the fact that they needed it from my parents, but that they also seemed to need it from me. I liked nothing better than being alone with the horses. Horses weren’t needy, and everybody else was so needy I thought I was going to lose my mind. Now Moses was here, in the barn, watching me, invading my time with Sackett and Lucky, my horses, sucking all the oxygen out of the room the way all the foster kids did.

Kathleen Wright had asked my parents if Moses could work out some of his new, un-medicated energy on our little farm. She said he would muck stalls, weed the garden, mow the lawn, feed the chickens, whatever they had available if they would help keep him busy that summer and into the school year if it all worked out. Those were all my chores, and I was happy to have him help if it meant I wouldn’t have to do any of them. But my dad found other things for Moses to do and Moses worked hard—so hard that my dad was running out of jobs. It would be impossible to keep him busy all summer.

Apparently, my dad had included cleaning the barn on the list and Moses had been stacking hay bales, sweeping, shoveling, and organizing tack like a mad man all morning. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted him there. Especially when he stopped suddenly and just stood, hands at his sides, staring. But Moses wasn’t looking at me. He was staring over my shoulder and his yellowish-green animal eyes were huge. He was holding perfectly still, which I’d never seen him do, not even once since he arrived. Moses didn’t respond to my question but his fingers moved, flexing and closing like he was trying to improve his circulation. It was what I did while waiting for the bus when I forgot my gloves. But it was June, unseasonably hot, and I doubted his fingers were cold.

“MOSES!” I barked, trying to snap him out of it. The next thing I knew he would be writhing on the floor, twitching, and I would have to do mouth to mouth or something. The thought of putting my lips on his lips made my stomach feel strange. I wondered if I could press my mouth to Moses’s, even if it was just to force air into him. He wasn’t ugly. I felt that funny swoosh once more, a slipping in my gut that wasn’t exactly unpleasant. Moses wasn’t ugly at all. He was strangely beautiful—different looking, especially those weird wolf eyes, and I had to admit to myself, on Moses, different looked good. It looked cool. Too bad he was cracked.

My parents used horses for therapy with the foster kids. In fact, theirs was a world-renowned program, all non-verbal kind of stuff, you know, because horses can’t talk. That was something my parents said in their sales pitch to make people laugh and put them at ease. Horses can’t talk, but sometimes, kids can’t talk either, and equine therapy—a fancy term for bonding with a horse and figuring things out about themselves by watching the horse —was how my parents made a living. That, and my dad was a vet, which was what I wanted to be when I grew up. Our horses were well-trained and used to kids. They knew to stand still when a kid approached, when a child was near. They were unfailingly patient. They would allow a stranger to slip a bridle on, even curling their lips to allow the bit. And children responded to them in ways that had the grown-ups using words like “miracle” and “break-through” whenever the troubled kids my parents took in returned to their families or moved on from ours.

Moses had been hanging around for the last two weeks, working, weeding, eating—holy crap could he eat—and generally getting on my nerves because he was so unsettling. He didn’t do anything wrong, exactly. He just made me jittery. He didn’t talk to me, which I convinced myself was his only redeeming quality. That and his cool eyes. And his muscles. I flinched, slightly repulsed at myself. He was weird. What was I thinking?

“Have you ever ridden a horse?” I asked, trying to distract myself.

Moses seemed to tear himself away from the daydream that had him standing and staring off at nothing.

His eyes re-focused on me briefly but he didn’t respond. So I repeated myself.

He shook his head.

“No? Have you ever been close to one?”

He shook his head once more.

“Come on. Come closer,” I said, nodding toward the horse. I was thinking maybe I could help Moses with some equine therapy, just like Mom and Dad. I’d seen them work. I thought maybe I could do what they did. Maybe I could fix his cracked brain.

Moses stepped back like he was afraid. In the weeks he’d been working on the farm he’d never gotten close to the animals. Ever. He just watched them. He watched me. And he never talked.

“Go ahead. Sackett’s the best horse ever. At least give him a pat.”

“I’ll scare him,” Moses responded. I was startled once more. It was the first time I’d heard him speak and his voice wasn’t two-toned like my foster brother Bobbie’s and so many other boys, as if it was hovering between the steps that would eventually take him to the basement, squeaking and shifting, before finally sinking into position. Moses’s voice was deep and warm and so soft it tickled my heart a little as it settled on me.

“No you won’t. Sackett doesn’t get excited about anything. Nothing scares him or makes him nervous or anything. He would sit here all day and let you hug him if you wanted to. Now, Lucky, on the other hand, might bite off your hand and kick you in the face. But not Sackett.”

Lucky was a horse I’d been wooing for months, a horse someone had given my dad as payment for services they couldn’t afford. My dad didn’t have time for Lucky’s attitude, and he had turned him over to me and said, “Be careful.”

I had laughed. I wasn’t ever careful.

He laughed too, but then warned, “I’m serious, George. This guy is named Lucky for a reason. You’ll be lucky if he ever lets you ride him.”

“Animals don’t like me.” Moses’s voice was so faint I wasn’t sure I heard him right. I shook off thoughts of Lucky and patted my faithful companion, the horse that had been mine for as long as I had been able to ride.

“Sackett loves everyone.”

“He won’t like me. Or maybe it’s not me. Maybe it’s them.”

I looked around in confusion. There was no one in the barn but Sackett, Moses, and me. “Them who?” I asked. “It’s just us, dude.”

Moses didn’t answer.

So I stared at him, waiting, raising my eyebrows in challenge. I stroked Sackett’s nose and down the side of his neck. Sackett didn’t move a muscle.

“See? He’s like a statue. He just soaks up the love. Come on.”

Moses took a step forward and raised his hand tentatively, reaching toward Sackett. Sackett whinnied nervously.

Moses dropped his hand immediately and stepped back.

I laughed. “What the hell?”

Maybe I should have listened to Moses about animals not liking him. But I didn’t. I guess I didn’t believe him. Wouldn’t be the last time.

“You’re not going to wimp out are you?” I taunted. “Touch him. He won’t hurt you.”

Moses leveled his golden-green eyes at me, considered what I had said, and then reached forward once more, taking another step as he stretched out his fingers.

And just like that, Sackett reared up on his hind legs like he’d been hanging around Lucky too long. It was completely out of character for the horse I’d known all my life, the horse who hadn’t bucked once in all the years I’d loved him. I didn’t have a chance to scream or shout or even reach for his halter. Instead, I got a hooved foot in my forehead, and I went down like a sack of flour.

Blood stung my eyes when I opened them and stared up into the rafters of the old barn. I was laying on my back and my head hurt like I’d been kicked by a horse—I realized suddenly that I had been kicked by a horse. By Sackett. The shock was almost greater than the pain.

“Georgia?”

I focused blearily on the face that suddenly loomed above me, cutting off my view of crisscrossing beams and dust motes dancing in the streaky sunlight peeking through the cracks along the walls.

Moses held my head in his lap, pressing his T-shirt to my forehead. Even in my dazed state, I still noticed the naked shoulders and chest and felt the smooth skin of his abdomen against my cheek.

“I need to get help, okay?” He shifted, moving my head to the floor, still holding his shirt to my bloody forehead. I tried not to look at the amount of blood on that shirt.

“No! Wait! Where’s Sackett?” I said, trying to sit up. Moses pushed me back down and looked at the door as if he had no idea what to do.

“He . . . bolted,” he answered slowly.

I remembered that Sackett hadn’t been tied off. I’d never needed to restrain him before. I couldn’t imagine what had gotten into my horse to make him rear up and then go tearing out of the barn. My eyes found Moses again.

“How bad is it?” I tried to sound like Clint Eastwood or someone who could handle a devastating head wound and still not lose his cool. But my voice wobbled a little.

Moses swallowed sympathetically, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his brown throat. His hands were shaking too. He was as upset as I was. It was easy to see.

“I don’t know. It isn’t wide. But it’s bleeding a lot.”

“Animals really don’t like you, do they?” I whispered.

Moses didn’t pretend not to understand. He shook his head. “I make them nervous. All animals. Not just Sackett.”

He made me nervous too. But nervous in a good way. Nervous in a way that fascinated me. And even though my head was pounding and there was blood in my eyes, I wanted him to stay. And I wanted him to tell me all his secrets.

As if he felt the shift in me and didn’t welcome it, Moses was up and running, leaving me with his T-shirt pressed to my head and a sudden insatiable interest in the new kid in town. It wasn’t long before he returned, my mom trotting behind him, Moses’s grandma bringing up the distant rear. Alarm was stamped across her face as well as my mom’s, and seeing their concern made me wonder if the wound was worse than I thought. I experienced a flash of female vanity, a new experience for me. Would I have a big scar running down my forehead? A week ago I might have thought that was cool. Suddenly, I didn’t want a scar. I wanted Moses to think I was beautiful.

He stood back, way back, letting the adults fuss and swarm. When it was determined that I could probably get by without an expensive trip to the ER and a couple butterfly bandages were applied to hold the gash together, Moses slipped away. Equine therapy wasn’t going to heal the cracks in Moses Wright, but I promised myself that I would worm my way into those cracks and corners if it was the last thing I did. Summer had just become a rainforest.

Click here to download the entire book:

The Law of Moses

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Moses was messed up… But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful…
4.9 with hundreds of rave reviews! Sample for free this bestselling love story: The Law of Moses by Amy Harmon

Last week we announced that Amy Harmon’s The Law of Moses is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!

Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded The Law of Moses, you’re in for a real treat:

The Law of Moses

by Amy Harmon

The Law of Moses
4.9 stars – 954 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled

Or check out the Audible.com version of The Law of Moses

in its Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged!

Here’s the set-up:

If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all . . . a love story.

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Free and Bargain Quality eBooks delivered straight to your email everyday – Subscribe now http://www.bookgorilla.com/kcc

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  And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free romance excerpt:

Chapter 1

 

 

Georgia

 

They found Moses in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. A woman heard him cry and picked him up, putting him against her skin and wrapping them both in her coat until she could get help. She didn’t know who his mother was or if she was coming back, she only knew that he wasn’t wanted, that he was dying, and that if she didn’t get him to a hospital soon, it would be too late.

They called him a crack baby. My mom told me crack babies are what they call babies who are born addicted to cocaine because their mothers do drugs while they are pregnant. Crack babies are usually smaller than other babies because most of them are born too early to unhealthy moms. The cocaine alters their brain chemistry and they suffer from things like ADHD and impulse control. Sometimes they suffer from seizures and mental disorders. Sometimes they suffer from hallucinations and hyper sensitivity. It was believed that Moses would suffer from some of these things, maybe all of these things.

They shared his story on the ten o’clock news. It was a great story, a human interest piece—a little baby left in a basket at a dingy laundromat in a bad neighborhood in West Valley City. My mom says she remembers the story well, the pathetic shots of the baby in the hospital, hanging onto life, a feeding tube in his stomach and a little blue hat on his tiny head. They found the mother three days later, not that anyone wanted to hand the baby over. But they didn’t have to. She was dead. The woman who had abandoned her baby in a laundromat was pronounced dead on arrival from an apparent overdose at the very same hospital where her baby lay struggling for life, several floors above her. Somebody had found her too, though not in a laundromat.

The roommate, arrested that same evening for prostitution and possession, told the police what she knew about the woman and her abandoned baby in hopes of getting a little leniency. An autopsy of the woman’s body showed she had, indeed, given birth very recently. And later, DNA testing proved that the baby was hers. What a lucky little guy.

He was “the baby in the basket” in news reports, and the hospital staff dubbed him baby Moses. But baby Moses wasn’t found by the daughter of the Pharaoh like the biblical Moses. He wasn’t raised in a palace. He didn’t have a sister watching from the reeds, making sure his basket was pulled from the Nile. But he did have some family—Mom said the whole town was a buzz when it was discovered that baby Moses’s deceased mother was sort of a local girl, a girl named Jennifer Wright who had spent summers with her grandmother, who lived just down the street from our house. The grandmother was still in the area, Jennifer’s parents lived in a neighboring town, and a couple of her siblings, who had moved away, were still well-known by many as well. So little Moses had some family after all, not that any of them wanted a sick baby who was predicted to have all sorts of problems. Jennifer Wright had broken their hearts and left her family tired and shattered. Mom told me drugs do that. So the fact that she left them with a crack baby didn’t seem especially surprising. My mom said she’d just been a regular girl when she was younger. Pretty, nice, smart, even. But not smart enough to stay away from meth, cocaine, and whatever else she became a slave to. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant. But the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.

My mom said the whole town followed the story of baby Moses Wright when it happened, watching the reports, pretending like they had the inside scoop, and making up what they didn’t know, just to feel important. But I never knew baby Moses, because baby Moses grew up to be just plain Moses, juggled between Jennifer Wright’s family members, passed around when he became too much to take, transferred to another sibling or parent who then put up with him for a while before making someone else step in and take their turn. It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met him and my mom told me about him in an effort to help me “understand him and be kind,” the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids. Nobody really wants messed up kids.

And Moses was messed up.

I knew all about messed up kids by the time I met Moses. My parents were foster parents to lots of messed up kids. They’d been taking in kids all my life. I had two older sisters and an older brother who were out of the house by the time I was six. I’d been kind of an oops, and I ended up being raised with kids who weren’t my siblings and who came in and out of my life in stages and revolving doors. Maybe that was why my parents and Kathleen Wright, Jennifer Wright’s grandma and Moses’s great-grandma, had several conversations about Moses sitting at our kitchen table. I heard a lot of things I probably had no business knowing. Especially that summer.

The old lady was taking Moses in for good. He would be eighteen in a month and everyone else was ready to wash their hands of him. He’d spent time with her every summer since he was little, and she was confident they would do well together if everyone would just butt out and let her do her thing. She didn’t seem concerned about the fact that the month Moses turned eighteen she would turn eighty.

I knew who he was and remembered him from summer to summer, though I’d never spent any time with him. It was a small town and kids notice each other. Kathleen Wright would bring him to church for the few Sundays he was in town. He was in my Sunday school class, and we all enjoyed staring at him while the teacher tried to coax him into participating. He never did. He just sat in his little metal folding chair like he’d been heavily bribed to do so, his oddly-colored eyes roving here and there, his hands twisting in his lap. And when it was over he would race for the door and out into the sunshine, heading straight for home without waiting for his great-grandma. I would try to race him, but he always managed to get out of his seat and out the door faster than I could. Even then I was chasing him.

Sometimes, Moses and his grandma would go for bike rides and walks, and she would haul him into the pool in Nephi almost every day, which had always made me so jealous. I was lucky if I got to go to the pool more than a few times all summer. When I was desperate for a swim, I’d ride my bike to a fishing hole up Chicken Creek canyon. My parents had forbidden me to swim there because it was so cold and deep and murky—dangerous even. But drowning was preferable to never swimming at all, and I’d managed not to drown so far.

As Moses got older, there were some summers when he didn’t come to Levan at all. It had been two years since he’d been back, though Kathleen had been pushing for him to come stay with her permanently for a long time. The family told her he would be too much for her to handle. They told her he was “too emotional, too explosive, too temperamental.” But apparently, they were all exhausted and they gave in. So Moses moved to Levan.

We were both entering our senior year, though I was young for my grade and he was a full year older. We both had summer birthdays—Moses turned eighteen July 2nd and I turned seventeen August 28th. But Moses didn’t look eighteen. In the two years since I’d seen him last, he’d grown into his feet and his eyes. He was tall with broad shoulders and clearly-defined, ropy muscles that covered his lean frame, and his light eyes, strong cheekbones, and angled jaw made him look more like an Egyptian prince than a gang banger, which rumors claimed he was.

Moses struggled with his school work and had difficulty concentrating and holding still His family even claimed he had seizures and hallucinations, which they attempted to control with various medications. I heard his grandma telling my mom that he could be moody and irritable, that he had difficulty sleeping, and that he zoned out a lot. She said he was extremely intelligent, brilliant even, and he could paint like nothing and no one she’d ever seen before. But all the medication they had him on to help him focus and sit still in school made him slow and sluggish and made his art dark and frightening. Kathleen Wright told my mother she was taking him off all the pills.

“They turn him into a zombie,” I heard her say. “I’m willing to take my chances with a kid who can’t hold still and can’t stop painting. In my day, that wasn’t a bad thing.”

I thought a zombie sounded a little safer. For all his beauty, Moses Wright was scary looking. With his tapered body covered in bronze skin, and those funky-colored, light eyes, he reminded me of a jungle cat. Sleek, dangerous, silent. At least a zombie moves slowly. Jungle cats pounce. Being around Moses Wright was like befriending a panther, and I admired the old lady for taking him on. In fact, she had more courage than anyone I knew.

Being one of only three girls my age in the whole town made me a loner more often than I liked, especially considering neither of the other girls liked horses and rodeo the way I did. We were friendly enough to say hello and sit by each other in church, but not friendly enough to spend time together or pass the boring summer days in each other’s company.

It was an especially hot summer. I remember that well. We’d had the driest spring ever recorded, which led to summer wildfires popping up all over the west. Farmers were praying for rain and the sizzling nerves and sky-rocketing temperatures made tempers short and self-control shorter. There’d also been a rash of disappearances throughout the clustered counties of central Utah. A couple of girls had gone missing in two different counties, though one was thought to have run away with her boyfriend and the other was almost eighteen and her home life was bad. People assumed they were okay, but there had been a few similar disappearances in the last ten or fifteen years that had never been resolved, and it made parents edgy and a little more watchful, and my parents were no exception.

I’d grown restless and resentful, itchy in my own skin, eager to be done with school and on with life. I was a barrel racer and I wanted to hitch the horse trailer to my truck and follow the rodeo circuit, seeking freedom with only my horses, my projected rodeo winnings, and the open road. I wanted that so badly. But at seventeen, with disappearing females in the forefront of their minds, my parents wouldn’t let me go on my own, and they weren’t in any position to take me. They promised me we’d figure something out when I graduated and turned eighteen. But graduation was so far away, and summer stretched out in front of me like a dry, empty desert. I was so thirsty for something else. Maybe that was it. Maybe that was the reason I waded in too far, the reason I got in way over my head.

Whatever it was, when Moses came to Levan, he was like water—cold, deep, unpredictable, and, like the pond up the canyon, dangerous, because you could never see what was beneath the surface. And just like I’d done all my life, I jumped in head first, even though I’d been forbidden. But this time, I drowned.

 

 

***

 

 

“What are you lookin’ at?” I said sharply, finally giving Moses what I assumed he wanted, which was my attention. All the kids my parents took in soaked up attention like it was as necessary as air and they were all gasping to breathe. I hated it. Not the fact that they needed it from my parents, but that they also seemed to need it from me. I liked nothing better than being alone with the horses. Horses weren’t needy, and everybody else was so needy I thought I was going to lose my mind. Now Moses was here, in the barn, watching me, invading my time with Sackett and Lucky, my horses, sucking all the oxygen out of the room the way all the foster kids did.

Kathleen Wright had asked my parents if Moses could work out some of his new, un-medicated energy on our little farm. She said he would muck stalls, weed the garden, mow the lawn, feed the chickens, whatever they had available if they would help keep him busy that summer and into the school year if it all worked out. Those were all my chores, and I was happy to have him help if it meant I wouldn’t have to do any of them. But my dad found other things for Moses to do and Moses worked hard—so hard that my dad was running out of jobs. It would be impossible to keep him busy all summer.

Apparently, my dad had included cleaning the barn on the list and Moses had been stacking hay bales, sweeping, shoveling, and organizing tack like a mad man all morning. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted him there. Especially when he stopped suddenly and just stood, hands at his sides, staring. But Moses wasn’t looking at me. He was staring over my shoulder and his yellowish-green animal eyes were huge. He was holding perfectly still, which I’d never seen him do, not even once since he arrived. Moses didn’t respond to my question but his fingers moved, flexing and closing like he was trying to improve his circulation. It was what I did while waiting for the bus when I forgot my gloves. But it was June, unseasonably hot, and I doubted his fingers were cold.

“MOSES!” I barked, trying to snap him out of it. The next thing I knew he would be writhing on the floor, twitching, and I would have to do mouth to mouth or something. The thought of putting my lips on his lips made my stomach feel strange. I wondered if I could press my mouth to Moses’s, even if it was just to force air into him. He wasn’t ugly. I felt that funny swoosh once more, a slipping in my gut that wasn’t exactly unpleasant. Moses wasn’t ugly at all. He was strangely beautiful—different looking, especially those weird wolf eyes, and I had to admit to myself, on Moses, different looked good. It looked cool. Too bad he was cracked.

My parents used horses for therapy with the foster kids. In fact, theirs was a world-renowned program, all non-verbal kind of stuff, you know, because horses can’t talk. That was something my parents said in their sales pitch to make people laugh and put them at ease. Horses can’t talk, but sometimes, kids can’t talk either, and equine therapy—a fancy term for bonding with a horse and figuring things out about themselves by watching the horse —was how my parents made a living. That, and my dad was a vet, which was what I wanted to be when I grew up. Our horses were well-trained and used to kids. They knew to stand still when a kid approached, when a child was near. They were unfailingly patient. They would allow a stranger to slip a bridle on, even curling their lips to allow the bit. And children responded to them in ways that had the grown-ups using words like “miracle” and “break-through” whenever the troubled kids my parents took in returned to their families or moved on from ours.

Moses had been hanging around for the last two weeks, working, weeding, eating—holy crap could he eat—and generally getting on my nerves because he was so unsettling. He didn’t do anything wrong, exactly. He just made me jittery. He didn’t talk to me, which I convinced myself was his only redeeming quality. That and his cool eyes. And his muscles. I flinched, slightly repulsed at myself. He was weird. What was I thinking?

“Have you ever ridden a horse?” I asked, trying to distract myself.

Moses seemed to tear himself away from the daydream that had him standing and staring off at nothing.

His eyes re-focused on me briefly but he didn’t respond. So I repeated myself.

He shook his head.

“No? Have you ever been close to one?”

He shook his head once more.

“Come on. Come closer,” I said, nodding toward the horse. I was thinking maybe I could help Moses with some equine therapy, just like Mom and Dad. I’d seen them work. I thought maybe I could do what they did. Maybe I could fix his cracked brain.

Moses stepped back like he was afraid. In the weeks he’d been working on the farm he’d never gotten close to the animals. Ever. He just watched them. He watched me. And he never talked.

“Go ahead. Sackett’s the best horse ever. At least give him a pat.”

“I’ll scare him,” Moses responded. I was startled once more. It was the first time I’d heard him speak and his voice wasn’t two-toned like my foster brother Bobbie’s and so many other boys, as if it was hovering between the steps that would eventually take him to the basement, squeaking and shifting, before finally sinking into position. Moses’s voice was deep and warm and so soft it tickled my heart a little as it settled on me.

“No you won’t. Sackett doesn’t get excited about anything. Nothing scares him or makes him nervous or anything. He would sit here all day and let you hug him if you wanted to. Now, Lucky, on the other hand, might bite off your hand and kick you in the face. But not Sackett.”

Lucky was a horse I’d been wooing for months, a horse someone had given my dad as payment for services they couldn’t afford. My dad didn’t have time for Lucky’s attitude, and he had turned him over to me and said, “Be careful.”

I had laughed. I wasn’t ever careful.

He laughed too, but then warned, “I’m serious, George. This guy is named Lucky for a reason. You’ll be lucky if he ever lets you ride him.”

“Animals don’t like me.” Moses’s voice was so faint I wasn’t sure I heard him right. I shook off thoughts of Lucky and patted my faithful companion, the horse that had been mine for as long as I had been able to ride.

“Sackett loves everyone.”

“He won’t like me. Or maybe it’s not me. Maybe it’s them.”

I looked around in confusion. There was no one in the barn but Sackett, Moses, and me. “Them who?” I asked. “It’s just us, dude.”

Moses didn’t answer.

So I stared at him, waiting, raising my eyebrows in challenge. I stroked Sackett’s nose and down the side of his neck. Sackett didn’t move a muscle.

“See? He’s like a statue. He just soaks up the love. Come on.”

Moses took a step forward and raised his hand tentatively, reaching toward Sackett. Sackett whinnied nervously.

Moses dropped his hand immediately and stepped back.

I laughed. “What the hell?”

Maybe I should have listened to Moses about animals not liking him. But I didn’t. I guess I didn’t believe him. Wouldn’t be the last time.

“You’re not going to wimp out are you?” I taunted. “Touch him. He won’t hurt you.”

Moses leveled his golden-green eyes at me, considered what I had said, and then reached forward once more, taking another step as he stretched out his fingers.

And just like that, Sackett reared up on his hind legs like he’d been hanging around Lucky too long. It was completely out of character for the horse I’d known all my life, the horse who hadn’t bucked once in all the years I’d loved him. I didn’t have a chance to scream or shout or even reach for his halter. Instead, I got a hooved foot in my forehead, and I went down like a sack of flour.

Blood stung my eyes when I opened them and stared up into the rafters of the old barn. I was laying on my back and my head hurt like I’d been kicked by a horse—I realized suddenly that I had been kicked by a horse. By Sackett. The shock was almost greater than the pain.

“Georgia?”

I focused blearily on the face that suddenly loomed above me, cutting off my view of crisscrossing beams and dust motes dancing in the streaky sunlight peeking through the cracks along the walls.

Moses held my head in his lap, pressing his T-shirt to my forehead. Even in my dazed state, I still noticed the naked shoulders and chest and felt the smooth skin of his abdomen against my cheek.

“I need to get help, okay?” He shifted, moving my head to the floor, still holding his shirt to my bloody forehead. I tried not to look at the amount of blood on that shirt.

“No! Wait! Where’s Sackett?” I said, trying to sit up. Moses pushed me back down and looked at the door as if he had no idea what to do.

“He . . . bolted,” he answered slowly.

I remembered that Sackett hadn’t been tied off. I’d never needed to restrain him before. I couldn’t imagine what had gotten into my horse to make him rear up and then go tearing out of the barn. My eyes found Moses again.

“How bad is it?” I tried to sound like Clint Eastwood or someone who could handle a devastating head wound and still not lose his cool. But my voice wobbled a little.

Moses swallowed sympathetically, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his brown throat. His hands were shaking too. He was as upset as I was. It was easy to see.

“I don’t know. It isn’t wide. But it’s bleeding a lot.”

“Animals really don’t like you, do they?” I whispered.

Moses didn’t pretend not to understand. He shook his head. “I make them nervous. All animals. Not just Sackett.”

He made me nervous too. But nervous in a good way. Nervous in a way that fascinated me. And even though my head was pounding and there was blood in my eyes, I wanted him to stay. And I wanted him to tell me all his secrets.

As if he felt the shift in me and didn’t welcome it, Moses was up and running, leaving me with his T-shirt pressed to my head and a sudden insatiable interest in the new kid in town. It wasn’t long before he returned, my mom trotting behind him, Moses’s grandma bringing up the distant rear. Alarm was stamped across her face as well as my mom’s, and seeing their concern made me wonder if the wound was worse than I thought. I experienced a flash of female vanity, a new experience for me. Would I have a big scar running down my forehead? A week ago I might have thought that was cool. Suddenly, I didn’t want a scar. I wanted Moses to think I was beautiful.

He stood back, way back, letting the adults fuss and swarm. When it was determined that I could probably get by without an expensive trip to the ER and a couple butterfly bandages were applied to hold the gash together, Moses slipped away. Equine therapy wasn’t going to heal the cracks in Moses Wright, but I promised myself that I would worm my way into those cracks and corners if it was the last thing I did. Summer had just become a rainforest.

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The Law of Moses

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A story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death.
The Law of Moses by Amy Harmon – 80% price cut!

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The Law of Moses

by Amy Harmon

The Law of Moses
4.9 stars – 929 Reviews
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Here’s the set-up:

If I tell you right up front, right in the beginning that I lost him, it will be easier for you to bear. You will know it’s coming, and it will hurt. But you’ll be able to prepare.

Someone found him in a laundry basket at the Quick Wash, wrapped in a towel, a few hours old and close to death. They called him Baby Moses when they shared his story on the ten o’clock news – the little baby left in a basket at a dingy Laundromat, born to a crack addict and expected to have all sorts of problems. I imagined the crack baby, Moses, having a giant crack that ran down his body, like he’d been broken at birth. I knew that wasn’t what the term meant, but the image stuck in my mind. Maybe the fact that he was broken drew me to him from the start.
It all happened before I was born, and by the time I met Moses and my mom told me all about him, the story was old news and nobody wanted anything to do with him. People love babies, even sick babies. Even crack babies. But babies grow up to be kids, and kids grow up to be teenagers. Nobody wants a messed up teenager.
And Moses was messed up. Moses was a law unto himself. But he was also strange and exotic and beautiful. To be with him would change my life in ways I could never have imagined. Maybe I should have stayed away. Maybe I should have listened. My mother warned me. Even Moses warned me. But I didn’t stay away.

And so begins a story of pain and promise, of heartache and healing, of life and death. A story of before and after, of new beginnings and never-endings. But most of all . . . a love story.

Reviews:

“This is a story that moved me to tears, that struck me with its emotional gravity, and that is undeniably one of my favorites this year. It’s simply a book that should not be missed.” — Vilma Gonzalez, USA Today, HEA Blogger

“Ms. Harmon has once again given us an inspiring tale to cherish forever, a story written so elegantly, at times even poetically, that breathes itself into our hearts.” — Natasha Tomic, Natasha is a Book Junkie

“The lesson Harmon imparts isn’t that love heals everything, because it doesn’t, but that love can still exist somewhere among the wreckage.” — Author Shelli Proffitt Howells

“As readers, we’re asked often what our favorite book is. Our answer is typically that we read so much, we love so many, we can’t possibly narrow it down to one. That answer changed for me when I read The Law of Moses. My favorite book is this one.” — Jessica Sotelo, Angie’s Dreamy Reads Book Blog

About the author:

Amy Harmon is a USA Today and New York Times Bestselling author. Amy knew at an early age that writing was something she wanted to do, and she divided her time between writing songs and stories as she grew. Having grown up in the middle of wheat fields without a television, with only her books and her siblings to entertain her, she developed a strong sense of what made a good story. Her books are now being published in several countries, truly a dream come true for a little country girl from Levan, Utah.

Amy Harmon has written seven novels – the USA Today Bestsellers, Making Faces and Running Barefoot, as well as The Law of Moses, Infinity + One, Slow Dance in Purgatory, Prom Night in Purgatory, and the New York Times Bestseller, A Different Blue. Her newest release, The Song of David, will be released on June 15, 2015. For updates on upcoming book releases, author posts and more, join Amy at www.authoramyharmon.com.

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At the Highlander’s Mercy
Lilidh MacLerie has never forgotten Robert Matheson—the man who broke her heart. But now she is his hostage. She should be afraid—but still, he excites and unnerves her in equal measure…

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Highland laird Athdar MacCallum has had a tragic past and has vowed never to marry again. But then he is utterly disarmed by the innocent beauty in the eyes of Isobel Ruriksdottir…

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Lilidh MacLerie has never forgotten Robert Matheson—the man who broke her heart. But now she is his hostage! Read on for an exclusive extract of At the Highlander’s Mercy, one of four exhilarating books in this box set by USA Today bestselling author Terri Brisbin!

Chapter One

Lilidh MacLerie, eldest daughter of the MacLerie laird and Earl of Douran, looked out her window and tried to sort through her options. This silent time between the gloaming and the night was her favourite when she needed to make decisions or choices. Remembering now that she’d made the decision that had brought her to this time and place made her pause. Mayhap she should wait until morning instead?

Turning from the window and gazing across the large, well-furnished chamber, she knew she had little time or choice…again. The parchment remained as she’d left it and she lifted it, tilting it so that the light of several candles made it able to be read. For the fiftieth time, she said the words and could not yet decide what else to write, when so much more was needed.

To the Earl and Countess of Douran, it began, using their formal titles first. Father and Mother, next.

And then the words disappeared.

How could she explain the private misery behind the very public death of her husband of only two months? The MacGregor’s death had been kept quiet for now until his heir, his younger brother, was approved by the clan elders as chief. Her purpose in this marriage—to bind their clans and to produce an heir for the MacGregor—was a failure. Though, even as an innocent young woman coming to this marriage, she understood that things were not as they should have been between her and Iain MacGregor.

The parchment in her hand moved in the current of the warm air created by the heat of the candles and reminded her that this task also went unfinished. Sitting at the table, she lifted the quill, dabbed the ink so it would not splatter and forced the words on to the page that would both embarrass and humiliate her in her parents’ and clan’s eyes.

I find myself in need of your counsel concerning the situation of my position here in Iain MacGregor’s household and family. As his widow, though with no hope of producing an heir, I know…

What did she know? She had married him under a contract negotiated by her uncle and signed by her father. Her dower portion was protected for her use and she had been given the choice of remaining here as part of her husband’s clan or to return to her own. Her uncle had made certain to protect her in the contract, but giving her such a choice made things more difficult than if she’d been simply told what to do.

If she remained, there would be another marriage arranged for her, to a suitable eligible man, to keep the bonds between the clans strong. If she returned home, there would be another marriage, but also she would face the disappointment of her family in her failure. And with no way to explain and with no one to speak candidly about it, what could she say? Lilidh dipped the quill again to freshen the ink and placed the tip of it on the parchment.

She was being a silly ninny. Her parents loved her and would accept her back, explanation or not. Her mother was the only one to whom she could speak on personal matters. As she had before her marriage, even if that conversation did not explain what had happened or, as it was, not happened between a husband and wife. Looking off at the flame of the candle, she took and released a deep breath, and did the only sensible thing she could: she asked leave to come home.

I find little reason to remain here and would ask your permission to return to Lairig Dubh as soon as an escort can be arranged. I would seek your counsel on other important personal matters, but I hesitate to put them in this letter.

Father, please send word if this is your pleasure.

Mother, please keep me in your prayers and ask the Almighty to watch over me during this trying time.

It was short, but to the point, and there truly was little else to say in her missive. Sanding it, Lilidh allowed the ink to dry and then folded the letter, sealing it with the ring her father had given her on the anniversary of her birth a year before. She would send it off on the morrow with one of the MacLerie servants who had accompanied her here. Hopefully, within a fortnight, she would have an answer from her parents and know what her future held for her.

But how could she explain that though she was a bride and a widow, she’d never been a wife?

 

* * *

 

Jocelyn MacCallum, wife to Connor MacLerie, held the parchment before her and read it once more. The sadness in her daughter’s words was clear to her. Lilidh, her eldest daughter, was never anything but confident and self-assured. But the words, nay, the tone of this latest letter, told her that Lilidh was lost.

‘You will give her permission?’ she asked her husband as he climbed from their bed and walked to where she sat. As she glanced up, her mother’s heart grew heavy in her chest. Lilidh was far away and all Jocelyn wanted to do was to take her in her arms and soothe away the pain that was so evident in her words.

‘I am discussing it with Duncan and the other elders,’ Connor replied quietly as he lifted the parchment and placed it back on the table. ‘The MacGregors have kept Iain’s death quiet until his heir is in place. With tensions so high and war with their rival clan the MacKenzies in the air, they do not wish to open themselves to attack. But, for this night, there is nothing to be done, Jocelyn. Come back to bed.’ He took her hand in his and entwined their fingers, tugging her to stand.

She allowed her husband to wrap her in his arms, much as she wanted to do to Lilidh, but Jocelyn realised quickly that his aim had little to do with comforting a lost child. She caught her breath as he lifted her in his strong arms and carried her back to their bed. She understood that her husband’s need for her as well as his attempts to distract her from her sadness and taking too much interest in clan decisions brought on his intimate attentions. She’d allow it, later, for those same reasons.

For now, she asked her last question once more, not content to let the men make this critical decision without her counsel.

‘Will you bring her home?’ She watched as many emotions crossed her husband’s face, but the final one that settled was acceptance. As she knew it would.

‘Aye. I was simply waiting on her word.’

She leaned into him and kissed his mouth. ‘Did you send her word yet?’ He pulled her close, surrounding her with his strength and his love. Kissing her forehead, he rested his chin on her head.

‘The message to the MacGregor will go out on the morrow. She should be home in a sennight.’

‘And the implications?’ she asked. This marriage arrangement had been between clans and chiefs and not simply between a man and woman. And it had been part of their, the fathers’ and the mothers’, wager to find the best match for their children. Since this involved her daughter, Jocelyn had been left out of most discussions, except for the private ones she’d had with Connor. Ones that always seemed to end up with them in bed!

‘You know the implications. No questions have been raised to me about her involvement in Iain’s death, so the MacGregors must be at peace with how it happened. Her dowry will be returned to us and any future marriages will be at my discretion.’

Those were the words she wanted to hear. Lilidh would return home to her family and her future happiness would again be in her father’s hands, along with the counsel of his closest relatives and advisers…and her.

But since Jocelyn had thought this marriage a good one, she could little complain about Connor’s choice. Whatever had happened—between Iain and Lilidh and to cause his death—had ended any chance that it could prove out.

Comforting done, Connor lifted his head and touched their mouths together. In only moments, the passion between them flared and Jocelyn savoured it. This is what she’d hoped Lilidh would find in her marriage. Even though older and married before, Iain had seemed a kind soul and appeared to worship Lilidh. Their betrothal and marriage showed promise and Jocelyn had no doubt that she would soon have grandchildren from the match.

Now, Iain was dead and Lilidh returning home.

She would get to the real reasons and to the true situation once she had Lilidh back and they could speak plainly. Her letter asked for such counsel, almost begged for it, and she would help her daughter in any way she could.

But, for now, her husband demanded her attentions and when the Beast of the Highlands called to his mate, she always answered.

Always.

 

***

 

Robert Matheson clenched his teeth until he thought they would crumble under the pressure. Anything, anything to keep from letting his anger and frustration spill out the way he wanted to. Clenching his fists did not help either and finally he could not allow this madness to continue.

‘Halt!’ he called out to those bickering before him. ‘Attacking the MacLeries will lead only to our destruction.’ Looking from one to the next, he met their gazes and realised the futility of trying to stop them. If he could not stop them, he must delay them. ‘If we are to do so, we must have a plan and ready ourselves. It cannot be done as quickly as you would like.’ Or as easily as they thought.

The Matheson clan elders had approved him as chief when his father passed, but it had been a hard-won battle. His cousin, Symon, the son of his father’s older sister, had been in contention and was suited for the warmongers among the councillors. Rob, on the other hand, had a clear understanding of the strength and power and fighting might of the MacLerie clan for he had spent years among them.

As Connor MacLerie’s foster son.

Rob had lived for five years with them, learning his own fighting skills from the best of their warriors, learning battle strategies from their tacticians and the ways to prevent battles from their negotiator. Now, he had no intention of leaping into a fight with a clan he could not defeat. Or worse, with a clan who would destroy them and leave not a piece of wood or stone standing on their lands. Though listening to some on the council drone on and on about all the reasons they should and listening to those who knew nothing and understood less made him think about letting them all charge into the fray unprepared.

Still, his innate loyalty to his family, kith and kin stopped him from goading them into such an act. Glancing at his other cousin, Dougal, the one who did not wish to be laird, he waited for the only person with some sense to speak up and support his plan. Dougal did and though those wanting war did not quiet completely, it did make them listen.

‘Robbie is right,’ Dougal called out, gaining their attention. ‘To rush in against such a clan will result in all our deaths.’ Some grumbled at his declaration, but the others quieted and waited on his words. ‘Let the laird study this and make the necessary plans. Hear him out when he does for no one knows the MacLeries as he does. If there is a weakness to be found, he is the one to find it.’ His voice rang out in the silence, but Rob did not know whether to cheer or to strangle him.

The best way to defeat the MacLerie? The Beast of the Highlands?

There was none.

Rob’s actions so far must even be considered a betrayal of their bond by Connor. Attacking would simply be a death warrant for him and the rest of the Mathesons. The only weakness the man had was for his children and, other than that, he was ruthless in weeding out enemies and dealing with betrayal. Breaking his ties with Connor at the behest of the council and currying favour with the MacKenzies had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. He did not doubt there would be hell to pay over it.

Dougal finished and stepped back, allowing Rob to move to the centre of the dais while the men were yet calm.

‘I have been gathering information already,’ he said. ‘Even now, I’ve sent messengers out to determine their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In a few days or a sennight at the most, we will meet and prepare our plans.’

He dismissed them with his most imperious wave, hoping they would obey—and they did. All save Dougal left him in peace. He returned to the table and filled his goblet with ale. When Rob turned back, Dougal remained. He poured another goblet and handed it to his cousin, the one who did not wish to be laird.

‘You sounded convincing, Rob,’ Dougal said. He drank a couple of mouthfuls and then wiped his mouth with his arm. ‘Do you have a plan?’

‘Other than praying to the Almighty for a flood?’

‘You had that look in your eyes,’ Dougal said laughing. ‘You never could bluff.’ Dougal met his gaze and all mirth disappeared. ‘What will you do?’

‘Stall for more time,’ Rob said. ‘I cannot figure out why they want to go up against the MacLeries. Come now—I cannot be the only one who knows their strength?’

Rob drank deeply, watching the servants in the hall preparing for the evening meal. It was not as spacious or well appointed a hall as the one at Lairig Dubh, but it was his. He’d sworn an oath to protect his family and if it had to be from themselves, so be it. Something more was going on here, something he could feel, but could not see, and getting the real reason why some in the clan wanted to ally them with the MacKenzies and break all past ties with the MacLeries was critical.

‘How can I help?’ Dougal asked, putting the now-empty goblet down on the table.

They both watched as a comely maid approached and took the goblet and the pitcher to refill it. Unmarried and one of the most beautiful of his cousins, removed by several generations, Ellyn smiled at them and sauntered away, her shapely hips moving in a rhythm meant to entice and draw attention. A moment or two passed before they regained their senses and their subject.

‘As I said, how can I help?’ Dougal repeated.

Rob looked at his closest friend and decided he must trust someone in this matter before everything went out of control. Stepping closer, he lowered his voice.

‘Someone is behind this effort to make the MacLeries our enemies. Though not friends or enemies of the MacKenzies, they avoid each other’s areas of concern and properties. So this intentional goading is not something either one wants and not something we can afford to get in the middle of now.’ He paused and checked to see who was near them. Seeing no one, he said, ‘I suspect that my cousin Symon is the one, but without proof, I cannot accuse.’

Dougal studied him and then nodded. ‘I will see what I can do.’

Rob smacked his shoulder. ‘I will be in your debt.’

Dougal strode off, leaving Rob behind to deal with the other matters that faced a clan chief and laird every day. Complaints from villagers. Requests from the clan. Demands from the elders that he marry his betrothed—Symon’s sister—as his bride sooner to unite the two fighting factions. And on and on each day.

When he had been fostered by Connor, he’d never dreamt of being in this position—chief of his family and in charge of their holdings. The laird, his natural father, was hardy and young enough to produce a male heir in addition to the lasses he’d had with several wives. With his new wife heavily pregnant, the expectation was that a son would be born. A direct, legitimate heir.

As son of the laird’s older sister, Symon should have had no expectations other than being counsellor to the next laird, or to serve him in some capacity. As the laird’s bastard, Rob’s expectations were lower still. Now, his father and his wife were dead in an accident and Rob, illegitimate or not, had been chosen to lead the clan.

And his cousin Symon, legitimate or not, was not.

As Rob watched Dougal make his way out of the hall, he knew Dougal would find out the truth. In the meantime, Rob needed to gather those loyal to him and be ready to head off this foolish attempt—both to usurp his position, a position he’d discovered he truly did want, and to throw the existing treaties with the MacLeries and the MacKenzies into disarray.

He prayed only that there was time before the disaster he could feel in his bones arrived on his doorstep.
Chapter Two

 

Lilidh turned to the right, trying to decide if she truly was seeing someone moving along their path in the shadows or if it was a trick of the light and the leaves. She peered into the darkness of the forest and watched more carefully for a few moments. Not certain, she rode on, never mentioning it to either of her companions or their guards. Then, just as they followed the turn in the road that would take them south to Lairig Dubh, the attack came.

One moment they were riding quietly along and in the next, the men descended from the hills around them and, though Lilidh was a good rider, she found herself unhorsed and standing encircled by five armed warriors. She gazed at them as she drew her dagger. She would fight them if only her leg would remain strong.

And she did, turning the handle of her blade in her palm for a better grip and swiping it around her to keep them from getting too close too quickly. Glancing around to see how the others fared, Lilidh realised only she remained standing while the rest lay scattered around the area either dead or unconscious. She took a deep breath and tried to run, but someone grabbed her from behind and dragged her up against their large, muscular body. Like being thrown against a rock wall, it forced the air from her body. A beefy hand entangled in her loosened hair and her head was dragged back. With her neck exposed so, she knew it was only a matter of moments before she died. Offering up a silent prayer asking for forgiveness of her sins, she waited for the death-blow to strike.

‘Who is she?’ a gruff voice demanded from beside her. The one holding her turned their bodies as one until she could see her maid across the clearing. Or at least her lifeless body as one of the other men touched her with his foot.

Isla made no sound and did not move. Lilidh drew in a ragged breath at the possibility that the older woman who had helped raise her was dead. Her eyes burned with tears, but then her anger rose at such a thought. The woman was there to see to her comfort and now lay dead because… Because of what? Of whom? The daughter of the Beast of the Highlands felt his pride rise in her blood.

‘Who are you to attack those travelling under the MacLerie banner?’ she asked, struggling to pull free. ‘What do you want?’

One of the men broke away from the others and strode towards her. The expression in his dark gaze made her take a step back, but the taller man behind her was like a wall that kept her in place. ‘You are the MacLerie’s girl.’

It wasn’t a question so Lilidh did not answer. Her chin lifted. Her pride would not allow her to slink away or hide her heritage. Still, she would know who dared to attack them.

‘And who are you? Why do you need to kill an innocent woman?’ she said, refusing to cry out as the man holding her prisoner wrenched her head back with a rough tug.

The dark-eyed man nodded to the one holding her and the other one nearer to Isla. She opened her mouth to demand her freedom when the blow hit her from behind and her world went black.

 

* * *

 

Each of the next several days went from bad to something that resembled his idea of hell. Rob managed to calm one faction of his family only to have another rise up in complaint. He wondered many times through those last days how Connor MacLerie made it look so easy. Peering over the rim of his goblet as yet another storm brewed in his hall, Rob realised that the one thing that Connor had to help him was his terrible reputation, one not completely undeserved, as the murderous Beast of the Highlands. As he glanced from one squawking Matheson to another, he considered murdering them all and gaining himself a similar reputation.

Symon had been quieter than usual, but that only worried Rob more. At least when he was making noise or complaining, he knew what Symon was up to. His cousin had been absent from the keep and village without word. A worrying thing, that.

He was about to summon Dougal when the doors to the hall were thrown open and a large group of warriors, under Symon’s control and with him in the lead, came crashing in, yelling and calling out to each other as though celebrating some great victory. Rob nodded to the man he’d appointed as his commander and by the time his cousin and the others reached the front of the hall, additional soldiers had entered and taken positions around the chamber. If Symon noticed, he did not say, but his swagger and manners spoke of trouble walking towards him.

‘Rob,’ Dougal said as he approached from the other side. He took his place behind his laird as Symon reached the dais. ‘He is up to nothing good.’ Rob only nodded, never taking his gaze off the seething group of men, and waited. The attack was not long in coming.

‘You have dragged your heels long enough, Laird,’ Symon began, using his title as a curse. ‘The Mathesons will not serve a leader who will not lead them.’

Shouts both for and against him rippled through the men gathered there and they gained the attention of anyone who might have otherwise passed on through, carrying out their duties. Soon an even larger audience listened to Symon’s threats to his position as chief. Symon waited and then waved them quiet.

‘It matters not now, for I have done what you could not and would not do.’

After making that challenge to his leadership, Symon walked forwards and climbed the first step. Rob blocked him from moving forwards. Every man in the hall tensed and the air seethed with discontent and hostility. Dougal’s hand moved to the hilt of his sword, but Rob shook his head, holding him from taking that step.

‘I care not for your words, Symon,’ Rob said, stepping down and forcing Symon to move back. He did. ‘I am chief and will make decisions for this clan.’

Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched Symon’s expression as all those loyal to him lined up behind Rob. All the elders save one, Murtagh, gathered with him, but Murtagh’s move was not a surprise to Rob. The old man had supported Symon’s claim throughout the time of uncertainty and did not yield now.

‘You refuse to take action against the MacLeries, though we want it,’ Symon said. Rob’s gut seized, warning of something bad coming. The next words confirmed it. ‘Lachlan, come,’ he called.

Symon motioned with his hand and his men separated. One of the men strode forwards from the back of the hall while Symon’s gaze never left his. Lachlan carried a bundle over his shoulder and Rob could not guess what it contained. Then he saw the bundle move, much as a body would if carried in that manner, and he drew a breath through his clenched teeth.

‘Symon,’ he whispered, ‘what have you done?’

He turned from the self-satisfied smirk of his cousin and towards the man and the bundle. Taking no care, Lachlan dropped it on the rush-covered floor just in front of them and stepped back. This was not going to end well, for neither him nor the person they’d kidnapped.

‘You have orchestrated this. Carry on, Symon, and let us see who lies within,’ he said. Better to see what challenge he faced then drag this out, he thought.

Symon, not a small man, though not as large as Lachlan, walked to the bundle, untied the ropes encircling it and tugged an end free. With a grip on that and one good flick, the bundle unrolled and unrolled until a woman was freed and left lying at their feet.

A woman who had ropes around her wrists and ankles and a sack over her head. A woman who did not move now, in spite of Symon’s prodding foot. A woman who had suffocated to death from their harsh treatment?

‘What the hell did you do, Symon?’ he shouted as he bent over the woman. Tugging the sack off her head and then removing the gag he found there, he summoned one of the women over to see to her as he stood and dragged Symon aside. ‘Who is this and why did you kidnap her?’

‘We did not kidnap her, Rob. She is a prisoner of war,’ he said.

‘We are not at war,’ Rob said as one possibility began to tease his thoughts. Even Symon would not be so bold and brash as to… Nay! It could not be. Was it truly Lilidh MacLerie?

Rob had turned back to look at the woman who lay unconscious on his floor. The servant had pushed her hair from her face and was dabbing at her dirt-covered face with a wet cloth. He took in the costliness of her clothing and the jewelled rings on her hand, not missing the gold band that spoke of her married state.

Then he noticed the gently arching brows, the curve of her neck and the full lips that had enticed him even in his youth and yet haunted his dreams—and he knew it was her.

‘You kidnapped the MacLerie’s daughter? She is wed to Iain MacGregor.’

He swore under his breath now as the implications hit him. This was an act of war against two powerful clans. Worse, this was not simply taking their cattle or burning a few farms, which would be insult enough. This was a personal attack as well on both clans and their chiefs. Holy Christ, what had Symon got them into now?

‘Dougal, check the guards. Brodie,’ he called to the steward, ‘get the outlying families into the village and gather the stores.’

He pushed Symon aside and walked over to take a closer look at Lilidh. As he could have predicted, she’d fought against them when they took her—the bruises on her face and her torn fingernails showed that much. The markings of a man’s fingers on her neck made his own clench in response. What else had they done to her?

‘How did you find her?’ he asked, as he strode towards Symon. Nothing, nothing would give him greater pleasure now than pounding his face into the floor and breaking a few of his bones. Grabbing Symon by the neck, he forced him back several steps until his back met the wall behind him. ‘Where are the others?’

Symon’s gaze moved to something or someone over Rob’s shoulder and Rob knew Lachlan approached. With a nod of his head, his men took care of that threat. ‘Where are they?’ he asked again, squeezing hard until Symon choked for breath.

‘She was returning to Lairig Dubh. We took her on the road just after the river as she left the MacGregors’ lands,’ he forced out.

‘And her guards? Her servants?’ No daughter of the MacLerie and wife of the MacGregor would travel alone.

‘A few of the guards are dead. We left the rest of them and took their horses.’

‘Did they see you?’ he asked, but he knew the answer. They made sure they could be identified as Mathesons. Symon wanted the MacLeries and MacGregors to know who’d taken Lilidh. They wanted to force his hand into war.

He tossed Symon to the ground and turned back to the servant at Lilidh’s side. ‘Find a chamber for her.’

‘She is my prisoner, Rob. I want her held in the aerie.’

‘You think she is that dangerous?’ he asked, pointing to the unconscious woman on the floor.

The aerie was in one of the oldest parts of the keep and sat open to the winds. Lightning had struck the roof and blown it away and no one had ever repaired it. Though mostly unused, it had been used as a cell for prisoners in the past…the far, far past. Rob turned back to argue with Symon and to assert his control over any prisoner of the clan when she moved.

Within a few moments, she’d seized a dagger from one of his men and held the servant woman hostage. The wild expression in her eyes spoke of her confusion, but warned him of her uncertain behaviour. Spreading his hands out to show he was unarmed, he began to walk towards her slowly and evenly.

‘Here now, lass,’ Rob said softly. ‘Let Edith go and all will be well.’

His words might have worked until Symon began jeering at her and his men added their taunts. Overwhelmed and injured, she glanced left and right, estimating her escape routes, he was sure. She dragged Edith with her, using her as a shield as she moved. When Lilidh blinked several times and stumbled, Rob suspected a head injury. He tried to follow her moves, staying the same distance from her and speaking quietly to her, but his voice was drowned out by Symon’s men.

‘Silence!’ he yelled, trying to regain control over a dangerous situation.

Well, he did manage to get the men under control but it gave Lilidh the moment she was watching and waiting for and she pushed Edith at him and ran for the door. He passed Edith off once she regained her balance and ran to catch up with her before she got to the door or before Symon reached her. Symon was faster and he got between her and the door, forcing her to stop. He wondered how she could move so quickly on her leg.

‘Come now,’ Symon urged her towards him. ‘Do you want to try me again?’ he goaded.

Rob swore he would kill Symon for this, but first he must stop Lilidh before she was seriously hurt. He doubted that Lilidh knew where she was or even who he was. No glimmer of recognition filled her eyes when their gazes met, but years had passed since she’d seen him last and he’d done the usual growing up that young men did. No matter the manner of their parting, he would never forget what she looked like. Turning his attentions back to her, he decided that he would need to gain her trust.

‘Lilidh MacLerie,’ he called out to her. ‘Do you remember me?’ he asked while waving Symon off. When his men positioned themselves to intervene, Symon finally backed off, though the expression in his eyes promised it was not the end of his challenge to Rob’s leadership. ‘Lilidh?’

Her hand, holding the dagger out before her, began to shake badly and she lost her balance once more. Just when he thought she would tumble to the floor, she righted herself and pushed her hair out of her eyes and tried to focus on him.

‘Who are you? Why have you done this?’ she said as she looked from one man to another and to the next. ‘Does my father know about this?’ Rob waited for her to bring her gaze back to him and then he smiled at her.

A silent moment passed and then another and another before the light of recognition flared in her forest-green eyes. Then she shook her head, though whether in disbelief or confusion he knew not. Lilidh opened her mouth several times, but no words escaped. The distraction was all he needed to gain control of her without hurting her more so he crossed the empty space between them in a few paces, grabbed her wrist and squeezed until she dropped the dagger. Kicking it aside, he still held on to her. As she probably had when Symon took her, she did not allow his hold to remain there. She began backing away, pulling and tugging, trying to free herself.

Lilidh just did not realise she had no chance of escape. As Dougal and some others returned to the hall, he gave one sharp tug and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her from behind. Rob noticed the smell of blood and saw the thick patch of it on her head—she had been struck and knocked unconscious. Tightening his hold on her, he leaned down and whispered in her ear so that only she could hear his words.

‘Lilidh, you are safe with me. No one will hurt you.’

All the times he’d dreamt of holding her in his arms he had never seen it happening this way. But his body reacted, regardless of how and why, as he felt the womanly curves resting under his arms. Once she realised who he was, any chance of holding her like this would disappear for ever. She belonged to another man and could never be his. She was the daughter of a powerful chief and he was a bastard pretending to be laird.

It would never be, so why not make that clear from this moment on? Taking in a breath, he spoke the words that would separate them for ever…again.

‘Lilidh, it’s me, Rob Matheson.’

Her body stiffened for a moment and then she tried to turn to look at him. He relaxed his grip a tiny bit to allow her to do that. Her green gaze searched his face, seeing the changes that growing up and fighting had wrought there, and he watched as her expression changed. The fear remained, but shock entered it now and she trembled again. It only took a few seconds before the next emotion filled those beautiful green eyes and it was the one he was hoping for. It would help her survive whatever happened around them.

Anger. Her eyes filled and flashed with it and her hand lifted as he’d expected it to. Although she swung with all her might, he captured it easily and held it between them.

‘’Tis good to see you, too, Lilidh. It’s been a long time,’ he goaded her a-purpose.

‘You bastard,’ she swore at him. ‘You are behind this?’

Before he could answer, Dougal called out to him.

‘Some of the villagers come. The gates are secured,’ Dougal said as he approached, not missing the lovely woman still in his arms. ‘This is the MacLerie’s daughter, then?’ he asked, his appreciative gaze clear to everyone watching.

‘Aye. His eldest girl.’ Rob pitched his voice to sound uninterested.

‘And you two are acquainted?’ he asked, meeting Rob’s glance.

‘Do not be a fool, Dougal. Here…’ he held out Lilidh’s hand towards the man and pushed her closer ‘…put her some place for now.’ Dougal’s gaze narrowed and he looked from him to Lilidh and back again.

‘Symon said the aerie. Is that where you want her?’ Dougal watched him closely as he asked his pointed, probing questions.

Where did he want her? In his bed, naked, was the first place he thought of, but the one he could never admit. Shaking his head to clear the lust from his thoughts, he considered the aerie, with its position high in the old tower, one that could be approached by only one stairwell and would be easily defended. Putting her there would keep Symon satisfied and make him less of a problem. And, if her family came calling sooner than he expected, her position there would make them think twice before assaulting the keep.

Hell! What was he thinking?

The aerie was barbaric with its open walls, cracked wooden roof and nothing in the way of comfort. Putting her there would be another way to tweak the MacLeries and the MacGregors into acting against him faster than they already would. Rob stepped away from Dougal and Lilidh and dragged his hands through his hair. The others stood watching and waiting on his word—Symon, Dougal, his men, the elders, all the others who called him chief and those who would remove him with but a wrong word.

‘Take her to my chambers,’ he ordered quietly, hating the way that Dougal’s right eyebrow lifted in silent censure, but not willing to deny it.

The hall erupted with shouts from those backing Symon and those backing him. He would bring this under control and make Lilidh hate him even more than she probably did at this moment.

‘She is my prisoner!’ Symon demanded, shaking his fist at Rob. Rob quickly and without warning strode over to Symon and punched him in the jaw, knocking him to the floor as he’d wanted to do for days.

‘I am chief here and she is my prisoner. You wanted to anger the MacLerie and draw him into a fight? ’Twas your thought that kidnapping her would do it? Well, you have brought her here and she is mine now. Taking her to my bed will be even more effective in drawing him here.’

‘I will not be—’ Lilidh began to say but he gave her no time to say more. Rob turned and was in front of her before she could finish any declaration she would make.

To show her, to show them, who was in charge, he grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her to him, taking her mouth in a claiming kiss that told one and all that he would possess her body and soul before this was done. His demonstration was so successful that all of them began to cheer and urge him on.

Her mouth that was closed against his now softened and he deepened the kiss, tasting the sweetness he had craved for years. Tasting the passion that had lay dormant between them for so many reasons. Reasons that were important then, but now flew off like a flock of summer geese in the autumn’s chill. His thoughts scattered as his body reacted to her mouth and the enticing way she touched her tongue to his.

Until she latched on to the tip of his and bit him! Chiding himself for losing his mind under the guise of putting on a show for those watching, he pushed her back into Dougal’s arms and laughed as he wiped blood from his mouth. Blood she’d drawn.

‘Symon, you wait for me in the solar. Dougal, put her in my chambers. Use a rope or chains if you need to keep her there. I will see to her later,’ he ordered.

Lilidh didn’t say a word as Dougal led her away, but the expression now in her eyes resembled the one in Symon’s eyes just minutes ago. One that promised death and mayhem—with him as the target.

He turned away to see to another task before dealing with those challenging his position and wondered if he or his clan would survive this encounter with Lilidh MacLerie.

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