Next Big Thing - My Daring Highlander
I'm sorta participating in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. I say sorta because I didn't really get anyone else to participate. I'm breaking the rules! :)
I'd like to thank my friend, Elizabeth Delisi, who tagged me to do this. Elizabeth is a multi-published, award-winning author of romance, mystery and suspense. Her time-travel romance set in ancient Egypt, Lady of the Two Lands, won a Bloody Dagger Award and was a Golden Rose Award nominee. Her romantic suspense novel, Since All is Passing was an EPPIE Award finalist and Bloody Dagger Award finalist. Fatal Fortune was a Word Museum Reviewer’s Choice Masterpiece. Elizabeth's contemporary romance novella The Heart of the Matter is featured in the Valentine's Day-themed anthology Cupid's Capers and was an EPPIE Award finalist. A Carol of Love is part of Holiday Hearts anthology and an EPPIE Award finalist. A Cup of Christmas Charm is part of Holiday Hearts 2 anthology and was also an EPPIE Award finalist. Please visit Elizabeth's website and blog.
I'm answering 10 questions about my upcoming release.
1) What is the title of your book? My Daring Highlander
2) Where did the idea come from for this book? The hero and heroine, Keegan MacKay and Seona Murray, were secondary characters in the previous book in the series, My Brave Highlander. There was an instant but forbidden attraction between them. Seona's father insists she marry a chief or titled laird. Keegan is the cousin of a chief. He has no title or property. I find forbidden love to be intriguing and I wanted to explore this difficult situation. I must find a way for the forbidden lovers to be together despite the impossible circumstances!
3) What genre is your book? Scottish historical romance. It is set in 1619.
6) Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? I'm choosing to self-publish it instead of submitting it to any publishers or agents.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft took about a month to write. I'm still working on the final draft.
8) What other books would you compare your story to in this genre? Any of the Highland historical romance novels with lots of romance and adventure.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? I love Highlander books and I love writing my Highland Adventure series. There have been three stories prior to this one, My Fierce Highlander, My Wild Highlander and My Brave Highlander. Each book inspires me to write the next one. Secondary characters then become main characters as I discover their story and write it. I get emails and reader reviews telling me they want the next book. I'm more than happy to provide that for them! :) Also, the beautiful landscapes, scenery and castles of Scotland inspire me on the settings and locations where the stories take place. This story is set from Assynt to Dornie to the area near Inverness. Sutherland and the Western Highlands have some of the most spectacular and memorable views. Part of the story is set at Eilean Donan Castle, but I've given my castle at Dornie a fictional name.
|Eilean Donan Castle|
|the Assynt area of Sutherland|
Here is the beginning of My Daring Highlander:
Assynt, Scotland, May 1619
Something in the early morn air didn’t feel right.
Keegan MacKay rode at the front of the MacKay party of just over two dozen, his gaze scanning the surrounding misty green hills and gray granite mountains. As head guard of the MacKay clan, Keegan took his duty seriously. He was to spy danger before it presented itself.
Had his outlaw cousin, Haldane, returned to try and kill Chief Dirk again and claim the chiefdom for himself? Although Dirk’s younger brother was but twenty summers, he was a formidable foe and slippery as an eel when it came to capture. Haldane’s band of outlaws had helped him escape Dunnakeil’s dungeon last November. Then, they’d vanished.
No doubt they would come out of hiding again soon.
Wanting to travel as far south as possible before sunset, they’d left Munrick Castle and the MacLeods at daybreak. Though that was more than two hours ago, the sun had not yet burned off the thick gray mist rising from the nearby loch.
Their journey had two purposes—Dirk’s wife, Lady Isobel, wished to travel to Dornie and visit her brothers, and Keegan was in charge of taking Lady Seona Murray back to her home near Inverness. That was a task he didn’t want for he had grown attached to her.
A prickle of warning passed over Keegan and he glanced back. Was the danger behind them? He guided his horse, Curry, off the narrow muddy trail, turned about and waited until several in their party rode past.
Keegan’s gaze settled on Lady Seona. Though she wore a plaid cowl over her head now, he had memorized how glossy her chestnut-colored hair was. More than once, he’d fantasized about running his fingers through the loose strands. They would surely be silky and cool against his skin.
Her dark blue eyes met his, just as bewitching as always, as were her Cupid’s bow lips. Damn, how he craved kissing her. Like a fool, he had longed for her for months, but he had never touched her in an intimate manner. Her chaperone aunt had eyes like a vicious eagle.
Keegan had tried to tell himself he was daft for wanting Lady Seona so badly. He was not a chief or titled laird, and her father would never allow her to marry him. Cousin of the chief was not good enough.
Dirk paused beside Keegan, startling him out of his wayward thoughts. “Is something amiss?”
“’Tis only a gut feeling someone is following us,” he said, keeping his voice low.
“Aye. I had the same feeling.” Dirk narrowed his piercing pale blue eyes and glared back at the hills they’d just passed through.
People had often remarked that Keegan had eyes like Dirk’s and that they were more like brothers than cousins. Keegan agreed with that assessment and highly valued his role within the clan of protecting them and the chief. He was happy Dirk returned last fall to take the position he’d been meant for since birth. He was an excellent chief and a strong warrior.
From the mist behind them, a distant horse’s whinny carried on the breeze.
“Did you hear that?” Keegan asked, his gaze searching the misty landscape.
Keegan caught a glimpse of a black horse and rider as they veered off the trail and behind a yellow-blooming gorse bush. “There.” Keegan pointed.
“Aye. We’re being followed.” Dirk moved toward their party, giving quiet orders to the guards to surround the three ladies and their four maids, then he and a few guards joined Keegan.
“I wager ’tis Haldane,” Keegan said.
Dirk nodded. “He will never give up trying to kill me until one of us is dead.”
“’Haps you should wear a cowl so he cannot identify you so easily,” Keegan suggested. Dirk’s bright copper hair made him easy to spot from a great distance. And an easy target.
“Hmph. I’ll not hide from that wily weasel,” he muttered.
“I wasn’t suggesting you hide, cousin. Merely use caution and disguise yourself a wee bit so we can protect you better.”
“I don’t wish anyone else to be struck with an arrow either. I want Haldane and his whole band of outlaws taken out before he kills anyone else.” They had murdered two MacKay guards last winter and stolen almost a dozen horses.
Dirk’s friend, Rebbie, the Earl of Rebbinglen, halted his horse on Keegan’s right. “How many did you see?” he asked, his expression as dark as his eyes and hair.
“One, but I’m certain there are more,” Keegan said.
“Without doubt. That damned McMurdo highwayman is likely with him.”
“Aye, they have been fast friends since Haldane turned outlaw.” None of them held any fondness for Donald McMurdo. They’d had several run-ins with him in the past. For a certainty, Keegan detested the murderer who had slaughtered at least eighteen people in the Durness area, including one of Keegan’s cousins.
Last winter, Keegan had a scuffle with McMurdo in Smoo Cave in which the old highwayman had kicked Keegan in the groin. He’d had to fight past the pain to subdue McMurdo by holding a knife to his throat. He shouldn’t have been so lenient with the bastard.
As Keegan and those beside him stared back at the elevated green hillside, the late spring breeze fluttering the leaves of a nearby bush was the only sound. And a stream of trickling water. How he wished the mist would clear away so visibility would be improved.
Keegan glanced back at Lady Seona, glad to see eight armored guards surrounding her, along with Lady Isobel and Seona’s aunt, Lady Patience, and their maids.
Isobel held a lethal-looking dagger in her hand. ’Twas one she often carried in a scabbard at her side. Did Seona own a weapon? Would she even know how to use one? He should’ve trained her with a blade before this journey.
“Ready yourselves,” Dirk said, pulling a pistol from his belt.
Four guards on foot nocked their arrows and drew back the bows.
Keegan unsheathed his broadsword and held a targe before him. His gaze traveled up the green hillside, swathed in vibrant bracken fern where men could easily hide. Plaid flickered in the hazy gray mist. “Look.” He pointed with his sword. “They’re going to try to ambush us from the hill.”
“Move the women over there,” Dirk directed the guards, pointing toward an indention in the hillside surrounded by rocks and scrubby bushes. “And help them dismount. Put the horses in front of them.”
“Have a care,” Lady Isobel said low, but her concerned words to her husband were clear.
“Aye,” Dirk responded.
Keegan didn’t have time to think about how he envied their relationship. ’Twas obvious they were mad for each other. Keegan yearned for that closeness with Lady Seona.
The movement at the top of the hill drew his focus.
“He may have stones the size of cannonballs,” Rebbie said. “But I’d love naught more than to shoot them off.”
Dirk snorted. “I hope you get the chance, my friend.”
All the men except the archers held round targes before them. They were effective shields against arrows and sword strikes.
“’Haps you should move back, Dirk. The last thing we need is for the chief to be hit by a stray arrow.” Keegan felt daft even suggesting it, considering Dirk was probably the most capable warrior of them all, tall and broad of shoulder and about the same size as Keegan. They had sparred much over the past few months, training and keeping in practice. Sometimes Keegan won their matches and sometimes Dirk did, proving they were evenly matched.
“Do not worry over me, cousin.”
An arrow whizzed down from the hill. All the men lifted their targes. The arrow struck Keegan’s and bounced off the central brass boss or one of the metal studs.
“That little bastard,” Dirk muttered and dismounted. He led his beloved horse, Tulloch, to a safer spot and the other men did the same, including Keegan, not wanting their horses seriously injured or killed.
“Show yourself, Haldane!” Dirk yelled toward the hill. “Coward!”
A head popped up out of the bracken. ’Twas difficult to identify the person at this distance but he appeared to have red hair like Haldane.
Dirk aimed his pistol and fired but his target ducked.
“I hate to have to kill my own brother, but I will if he forces my hand.” Dirk shoved the pistol into his belt. “Damnation! There he is again. Shoot arrows at him.”
At this distance, and with the mist reducing visibility, Keegan could not tell if the man was indeed Haldane. If not, he was likely in his gang. Besides that, he’d shot the first arrow, provoking retaliation.
The archers did as they were told, letting fly several arrows toward where the outlaws were hidden.
“Come out and fight like men!” Dirk called out.
Several arrows were returned, tearing toward them. Targes easily deflected or caught each one.
Annoyance twisted through Keegan. He was tired of this cat and mouse game and eager for a good fight. “I’m going after him.”
“Not without me,” Dirk said.
“Nay, you stay here. The clan needs you.”
“The clan needs you as well,” Dirk grumbled.
“You are the chief,” Keegan argued, matching his cousin’s fearsome glare.
“Do you think that matters? Haldane is my problem and I’ll deal with him.”
“I’m ready to go after him and McMurdo,” Rebbie said, eager battle lust gleaming in his dark brown eyes.
“We’ll all go,” Dirk said, motioning toward a half dozen of his men.
Lady Seona Murray watched with sickened dread as Keegan, Dirk and several more men of their party charged boldly toward the hill where the outlaws lurked.
She had been staying with the MacKays for several months and almost considered them her clan now. They had certainly shown her more care and consideration than her own clan had.
“Dirk,” Lady Isobel called, but not too loud. If her husband heard her, he ignored her. “He is mad,” she grumbled through clenched teeth as the men disappeared from sight, the eerie mist enfolding them. “Haldane will kill him if he has half a chance.”
“They are capable warriors,” Seona said, knowing she was right, but at the same time realizing they were not invincible. She said a silent prayer for their safety.
“Aye,” Isobel said, her dark brows furrowed.
The eight well-armed guards surrounding them would not let the women move from the cover of the huge rocks surrounding them on three sides.
Seona was equally worried about Keegan, but could not voice her concerns. Her Aunt Patience, standing on Isobel’s other side, could never know that Seona held Keegan MacKay in such high regard. All winter and spring he had made a point to greet Seona at every opportunity with a charming smile and a bow. Sometimes she would catch him watching her with great interest from the other side of the great hall, but he had not done anything more intimate than usher her to the high table and pull out a chair for her almost every evening.
His friendly, pale blue eyes enchanted her. She wanted to do naught but stare into them for hours. His thick, sandy-brown mane looked as if it would be soft and silky; her fingers itched to find out. Though he was a tall, broad-shouldered warrior, his size did not intimidate her, for he had an easy smile. The only part of him she had ever touched was his arm when he escorted her. Each time she slipped her hand around his elbow, she savored the hardness of his well-developed muscles.
A few times this spring, on rare and precious sunny days, she and Isobel had watched the men training with swords in the walled barmkin outside Castle Dunnakeil. She could not take her eyes off Keegan then, especially when he grew warm and threw off his doublet. His muscles were obvious through the thin damp linen of his shirt, and his calf muscles beneath the bottom edge of his plaid intriguing.
She only hoped he would be careful as he and the men pursued the outlaws. With each minute that passed in relative silence, Seona’s stomach ached more and more. The mist before them, strangely lit from behind by morning sunlight hurt her eyes. She squinted against the brilliance.
“Why have they not returned?” Isobel grumbled a quarter hour later.
Having no answer for her friend, Seona shook her head. Indeed, what could be taking so long? Had they been ambushed and killed silently? A chill passed over her.
“Will one of you go check on them?” Isobel asked the bearded guard closest to her.
“Nay. The chief has commanded us to stay and protect you ladies,” he said in a brusque tone.
A sound from within the white mist caught Seona’s attention and then a movement, low to the ground.
Seona shoved Isobel into her aunt, toward the left side of the stony enclosure. Something struck the sandstone where they’d been standing, spraying rock particles over them.
“What on earth?” Aunt Patience squawked.
The women ended up in a heap on the ground.
Raising her head, Seona looked behind her. “An arrow,” she said, seeing the broken shaft and feathers on the ground where it had bounced off the rocks exactly where Isobel had been standing.
“Men to the left!” a guard shouted even as a clunk against wood sounded and an arrow drove into his targe.
The other guards cursed and moved into position to better shield the women.
“Saints, Seona, you saved my life,” Isobel said in a stunned voice.
Seona knew not what to say; she’d simply acted on instinct. Isobel had become like a sister to her over the past few months, and obviously she’d want to help her in any way she could. Just as she wished to return home and help her own sister.
Seona’s attention was riveted to the four enemies on foot, wielding swords, charging from the bright mist in front of them.
My Daring Highlander copyright 2013 Vonda Sinclair
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