Exclusive Excerpt from SINS OF THE HIGHLANDER!
There was a time when the term ‘romance’ referred to a literary work featuring the adventures of a medieval hero. That sort of action and chivalrous exploits are what Connie Mason and I were going for in our upcoming release Sins of the Highlander. Allow me to introduce you to “Mad Rob MacClaren,” a Scottish laird during the time of Mary Queen of Scots.
He abducted his enemy’s bride from the altar, but unfortunately he forgot that four-legged predators roam the woods through which he planned their escape. Rob and Elspeth have been dogged by a wolf pack and the starving beasts are closing in…
“I was just wondering if ye’ve ever climbed a tree,” Rob said, his voice cool as if they were taking a pleasure ride through the woods, “because I think the skill might come in handy verra soon.”
“Oh, aye.” Perhaps Rob wasn’t so mad, after all. “I can climb a tree like a squirrel.”
Elspeth heard the metallic rasp of metal as Rob unsheathed his claymore.
“There’s an oak overhanging the path in ten paces,” he said. “If I give ye a boost, do ye think ye can swing up to that thick branch?”
The wolves began a howling chorus around them. They’d located the only fresh meat in the forest and it was time to sing about it.
“Give me a boost and I’ll fly up to it,” Elspeth said, drawing her legs up under her so she was hunkered on Falin’s back instead of sitting astride. The stallion danced sideways in reaction to the unusual movement of his riders.
“Ho there, lad, easy now.” Rob kneed Falin forward.
One of the wolves found some bravery and lunged at Falin’s haunches. The stallion kicked at it. Rob kept Elspeth from toppling off by balancing her hip with one hand.
The predator rolled and slinked away, snarling but unhurt.
“Do ye want your knife back?” Elspeth asked.
“No, keep it,” he said. “Just in case.”
In case. Elspeth didn’t want to contemplate what that meant. She slid the small blade down the busk of her bodice between the boning, as the oak tree drew nearer.
“Get ready.” Rob’s voice was steady and reassuring, but her heart still pounded like a smith’s hammer.
She pushed the cloak off her shoulders, letting it drape over the stallion’s withers, so her arms would be free. Cold was the least of her worries.
She’d have only one chance to leap to safety.
They drew even with the oak.
“Now!” Rob shouted.
He hefted her backside and she sprang up and grabbed at the branch with both hands. The rough bark dug into her palms, but she didn’t let go.
The sudden movement made the pack dart in, snapping at Falin’s heels. He bucked and reared and danced backward on the path.
Elspeth was suspended over nothing but air with writhing, furry bodies below. She swung her feet up to hook a knee over the branch, but not before the biggest gray wolf leaped up and grabbed a mouthful of her broad skirt. A lesser fabric might have ripped, but the thick velvet held fast.
Elspeth clung to the underside of the branch, which bowed under the additional weight. The wolf shook its whole body, like a terrier with a rat, trying to bring her down.
The bough creaked and popped, and she feared the limb might give way.
“Hang on!” Rob shouted and slashed, not at the wolf, but at the layers of her velvet skirt and chemise from which it was suspended. The beast fell to the ground with a yowl.
Elspeth scrambled and lifted herself to the upper side of the thick branch.
Another wolf leaped up, coming within fingerwidths of her bare foot. She tucked it up and scuttled along the branch till she reached the trunk and stood upright, looping an arm around its comforting solidness.
One wolf tried to scuffle up the trunk. Elspeth caught a whiff of his stinking breath as he snapped at her, but unless he sprouted wings, she was out of reach.
“Whatever happens, dinna come down till I say,” Rob ordered as the pack turned its attention from her to the man on the prime piece of horseflesh.
The wolves formed a ring of snarling muzzles around Rob and Falin. Their breath rose in a haze, like a smoke ring from a giant’s pipe. Elspeth counted fifteen big beasts with several smaller ones hanging back in the deeper shadows, yipping encouragement.
Rob pivoted the snorting stallion in a tight circle, so he could keep an eye on the restive crowd. The wolves called to one another, coordinating their coming attack. The sound raked Elspeth’s spine like a claw. The unholy chorus rose and then stopped suddenly as if the song was a thread snipped off with shears.
“Come, ye sons of bitches!” Rob growled into the sudden silence. “If ye want us, ye must take us. I give ye worm-eaten bastards leave to try!”
Elspeth had seen fearsome things in the hall of dreams. The Sight had sometimes taken her repeatedly to the aftermath of a great battle of some sort and she woke from such bloody visions sickened to her soul. But she’d never seen anything as terrifying as the sudden attacking leap of the wolves on this man and his horse.
They came in waves, snarling and snapping. One managed to land on the stallion’s back behind Rob, going for his unprotected neck. Falin screamed and reared, lashing out with his hooves and the wolf slid off, raking the stallion’s flanks with his claws. Rob’s blade sang a song of blood and whipped around to shear off the beast’s head.
Falin’s kicks sent a few wolves flying as Rob laid about with his claymore. Man and horse, they fought in concert. They fought for their lives.
As the battle wore on, Falin stumbled on fallen wolf carcasses, but managed to keep his feet. The ground was black with blood. Rob roared as he slashed his blade, sounding as wild and vicious as any four-legged predator.
The numbers of the pack dwindled. As the eastern sky lightened to pearl gray, hope rose in Elspeth’s heart.
Then the largest wolf charged and leaped. His flying lunge knocked Rob from Falin’s back. They rolled together, tooth and claw, man and blade, off the path and into the thick underbrush, disappearing in a growling, swearing mass.
Like it? Order it.
Or visit your favorite bookseller on January 3rd!