Sorry I've been AWOL. Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or Hannukah or other holiday and that the New Year holds amazing things for all of you! I've been promising an excerpt from my new time travel romance, HIGHLAND REBEL, which will be out in March 2009 -- but can be pre-ordered now, don't forget! And I'm finally making good on that promise! Here's the actual first paragraphs of the book, which is the second in my Timeless Highlanders Series from Berkley Books. Hope you love Ian as much as Ellie does! Would love to hear from any and all!
By Tess Mallory (copyright 2009)
Celtic music sensation Ian MacGregor flashed his now-famous smile at the thousand or more fans cheering as he took his place center stage at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. He wore a traditional MacGregor kilt, knee-high suede leather boots, and nothing else, except a burnished gold band around his upper arm, skimming the lower edge of his Trinity tattoo.
As he grabbed the wireless mike from its stand and welcomed the suddenly hushed crowd, offstage Ellie Graham tossed her dyed black hair back from her shoulders and narrowed her eyes.
Oh, sure, he was Mr. Hunky Hunk, but take away that tousled blonde hair, the sky blue eyes, his bare, muscular chest, the awesome tattoo and devil-may care smile, and what was left?
Just his ruggedly handsome face, amazing voice, and awesome musical ability.
His bare chest gleamed beneath the bagpipes strapped around his torso, and his ragged hair grazed the top of his broad shoulders as his eyes twinkled, promising pleasure to all who dared to meet them.
The pipes’ leather “halter” was Ian’s own creation, fashioned to leave his hands free for grabbing the microphone—or any willing woman who might fling herself in his direction. And there were a lot of willing women in Ian’s life. He was the epitome of a Highland Bad Boy, a Celtic Casanova, a Scottish Scoundrel, a—
Oh stop, a little voice inside her head ordered. You know that Ian is one of the nicest, humblest guys you’ve ever met. It’s not his fault that he’s gorgeous and, well, a man.
Ellie folded her arms across her chest. It was true. Ian was darn near perfect. Then her mouth went dry and her brain functions faltered as Ian took center stage. Dazed again by the sight of him in action, she watched as he raised both fists into the air and gave the sea of adoring fans what they’d all been waiting for with baited breath.
“Ard Cholle!” he shouted.
The crowd went wild. Hundreds of women rushed the stage, screaming like banshees. Ellie shivered. She couldn’t deny that she still got goosebumps when she heard Ian give the MacGregor war cry. His rough, rich voice resonated across the vast hall and she took a deep, steadying breath.
Ian grinned widely as his backup band, “Outlaw”, launched into a rock and roll version of “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers?” Ellie couldn’t help but smile. The song was an old one, written as a slur against Scotsmen, but Ian had taken it and made it the national anthem of sexy men in kilts. It had become an instant hit in the UK.
With a loud whoop, he danced across the wide platform, his kilt whirling above his knees, exposing lean, hard thighs. He sang into the microphone, his deep, rich voice seducing every woman in the hall. He moved his trim, muscular body like a man possessed, working the crowd into its usual frenzy, and Ellie knew, with a sinking heart, that she had made the right choice.
There was no way around it. As soon as this last show on the UK tour was over, she had to dump Ian. Until then, she had no choice but to watch the man she loved do his best to give a thousand other women musical orgasms.
Ian sang. Women screamed. Ian shouted. Men shouted back. Ian rocked the crowd, enticing every person there, daring them to dance, to sing, to lose every inhibition they’d ever had. And as he did, the walls of the auditorium seemed to tremble with an intense, frantic energy, with Ian at the center of the maelstrom, inviting everyone to join him, love him, embrace him, as he reached the last verse of the song.
“The lassies love me every one
But they must catch me if they can,
Ye canna put breeks on a Highland man, saying,
“Donald, where's your trousers?”
Ellie closed her eyes at the thought of Ian without his trousers. The crowd whistled and cheered as Ian took a bow and gestured to his band; then the mood changed as the music shifted into something soft and mellow.
She opened her eyes, her throat tight, knowing what came next. She steeled her heart not to feel, not to share the stark emotions that slid across Ian’s face as he raised the microphone to his lips once again. It was one of his own songs, and one that filled Ellie—and probably every other woman in the hall—with an indescribable longing. He called it, “Lass O’ My Heart.”
“Ah, bonny lass, I dinna know yer name,” he sang, “but someday I will find ye…Ye are my heart, though we have never met… my love forevermore…”
The words swept over Ellie painfully, and when he reached the end of the second verse and slid the mouthpiece of the pipes between his lips like a lover’s tongue, her heart beat faster and she ran her own tongue across her lips. What would it be like, to be the woman of Ian’s dreams? What would it take to capture his heart so completely?
A hush fell over the audience as the haunting melody shuddered through the air, bringing first sighs, and then tears to those who watched and listened.
Leave Ian. She’d have to be crazy.
Just six months ago Ellie’s visa had expired and she’d started packing her bags to leave Scotland, when her sister Maggie told her Ian was looking for an assistant for his upcoming tour. She’d ignored the idea until Ian had shown up on her doorstep, irresistibly adorable, and she’d found herself agreeing to take the job.
The prospect of touring the UK with the hottest Celtic band on the planet—a combination of bagpipes, bodhran, tin whistle, drums, electric fiddle, and electric guitar, not to mention Ian MacGregor—had seemed like a dream come true. And it had been, for a while. For the first few weeks, Ellie thought she’d died and gone to heaven, if she believed in such things.
Ellie had been a natural at her new job, her ability to shut out any and all emotion turning out to be really helpful in the day-to-day machinations of booking the popular band across the UK. It had been a thrill to watch the Scottish lads dazzle their fans and know that she had a large part in making it happen. With Ian as the charismatic lead singer, he and the band had taken the UK and Europe by storm, and now there was talk of a U.S. tour. Ellie would be a fool to turn down the opportunity.
That was the problem. She was a fool.
About a week into the tour she had fallen, flat-out, facedown, slam-bang in love with Ian. She’d hid her mounting frustration, along with her growing love, as best she could, cloaking it with an aloof negativity that generally kept Ian at arm’s length. Before each show they met to go over the details of the gig, but that was thankfully the extent of any personal time she spent with Ian.
Oh, they had traveled together in the tour bus, Ellie hidden behind her book, seemingly oblivious to the playful banter around her; they ate together sometimes, and went to after parties held in his honor. But she was always careful to keep everything professional between them, never personal. Which was hard, because Ian had such an easygoing, flirty, likeable nature. He had made her smile more in the last six months than she had in the last six years.
He was dangerous.
Ellie took a deep breath and tried to slow the pounding of her heart. On the other side of the stage, his current girlfriend – Tiffany? Brittany? Something with a “ee” sound – stood, looking bored and impatient.
One thing about Ian, he had a knack for picking the most vapid, selfish, shallow women for his arm candy, which had helped Ellie harden her heart toward him as the tour continued. The sight of Ian with his arms slung around two European models, or groupies, or actresses, had made her realize, again and again, that her crush on the piper was absolutely ridiculous.
Then, to her horror, Ian had actually turned his attention to her, teasing and flirting with her, insisting on talking to her into the wee hours after a gig, alone in his or her hotel room. He’d even taken her hand at times and kissed it. She’d almost fainted.
Terrified that she would succumb to his charm, Ellie knew she had to switch gears and move from being standoffish to becoming completely cold. Once she’d overheard one of the musicians in the band call her the Ice Queen. At the ripe old age of twenty-four she’d been easing out of the ‘Goth’ persona that had protected her from the world since she was twelve. She’d kept her hair dyed black, if only to keep her separate from her twin, but had mostly given up the layers of black she’d worn through high school and college, and toned down the harsh makeup. But as soon as there was a chance her heart might be in danger, Ellie ran back to the shelter of that disguise as fast as she could.
It was easy to revert. Even easier to send Ian careening for the nearest super model. Clad in her favorite black clothing, black boots, wearing lipstick so dark it looked black, with her dyed black hair and heavily outlined eyes, Ellie knew she looked fairly formidable. Not that Ian knew a war was going on. He’d just shaken his head at her ‘new’ style, and, as she had intended, retreated from the fray. Oh, he was still sweet to her, but the flirting had stopped . . . just in time.
Ian began to sing again and glanced offstage, his face brightening at the sight of her. Then he tossed her that rakish grin she had come to both love and fear, and her face grew warm as she fought to keep from smiling back.
Her fingers tightened in the pocket of the overly large black sweater she wore. A Paper crackled. Her resignation letter was short and concise. It didn’t give away even one little bit of her true feelings. If she let down her walls for one instant, Ian would use that amazing smile and those burning eyes to convince her to stay. She would give in and go on loving him from afar, a little bit of her heart shattering daily like the last note of a faulty pipe. Better to fake disdain than to take such a risk.
The lush, poignant notes skirled from Ian’s pipes as if they had a life of their own, and Ellie clasped her hands together, caught in the magic only Ian could create. Tears threatened to fill her eyes and she took a deep breath and willed them away.
She didn’t cry. She hadn’t cried when her parents died, so she sure wasn’t going to cry over a song, even if this was the last time she would ever see Ian like this -- eyes closed, face radiant, caught in the throes of the love that meant more to him than any woman probably ever could.
Then he opened his eyes and Ellie’s throat tightened. He was looking at her again, his gaze tender as he sang the last lines of the song directly to her.
“And when the lass o’ my heart I find…in the heather soft, in yer arms entwined…I will love ye, lass, ‘till the end of time…”
He held the note, his liquid voice hovering in the air above a dazzled audience as Ellie held her breath, the ache in her chest almost unbearable. Then he turned away, and she felt the loss down to the core of her soul as he sang again to his audience.
“Och, my bonny lass, my bonny lass…oh, the bonny lass o’ my heart…”
The final note filled the auditorium like the swelling breath of an angel, and she drew in another sharp breath as the crowd went crazy and roar filled the auditorium. Ian spread his arms and faced his fans, his eyes closed, as if he would take them all into his arms, if only he could.
Ellie took a step back, feeling stunned. She’d made the right decision. She had to get out while she was still alive.
But everybody has to die sometime, right?