Joshua Sinclair was once the fiercest and most notorious warrior of the mighty Sinclair clan of Northern Scotland. But now there’s nothing and no one that can make him take up arms again. Except a beautiful woman, it seems.
When Kára Flett, daughter of a fallen Norse chief, finds herself unexpectedly sheltering the strongest, most brutal warrior in the land, she throws together a risky and outrageous plan to bring him to her side. Threats of violence bounce right off him. Offers of gold seem to entice him even less. Desperate enough to use the pleas of the village children to sway him, she’s shocked when he’s completely unmoved. There’s only one tactic left for her: seduction.
Her hasty proposition falls completely by the wayside, though, as she and the Highlander come together in a carnal inferno. But bringing him into her life also brings his enemies to her clan’s doorstep—the very clan Kára is trying to protect. And as their feelings deepen, Joshua will have to decide between duty and love once and for all.
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Excerpt:Joshua grabbed the blanket off the wool tick that he had slept on next to Fuil and folded it around his waist into a mockery of a pleated wrap. It looked ridiculous, the brightly stitched flowers against his large form.
He had never been deceived by a woman before, or a man, for that matter. His brothers and he had played pranks on one another growing up, but he hadn’t anticipated a trick by the lass. He had not anticipated her asking him to lead her people to their deaths in a futile fight, either. Why the hell else would she have led you to her tupping den? Was it all a farce to get him to stay on Orkney?
Joshua’s fist hit a hanging pail, the metallic twang loud in the quiet barn. Cracked, it fell to the earth with the force. Was there no limit to Chief Kára Flett’s boldness?
He looked to Fuil who had tossed his head at the explosive sound. “And ye let her strip me naked.” The bay horse raised his hoof to scrape the stall door. “Damn woman,” he said from between clenched teeth.
He pushed through the barn door, and the icy wind of the desolate landscape stole his breath. Why the hell wasn’t he back at Girnigoe Castle right now? Because you let a bonny lass trick you, you arse. Stalking, completely naked under the blanket, his damn ballocks pulled up higher than when he had to swim in a frost-edged loch, Joshua strode across toward the hill. The bottoms of his feet burned with cold as he crunched through the thin layer of snow and frost, his fury the only thing heating him.
Aunt Merida would scold him for risking illness. He knew that God did not protect him more than other men. ’Twas a legend made by his da, but he would not die from something as piddling as cold, even if he seemed more sensitive to it. Besides, the fire of his anger beat away the attacking wind.
Down the other side of the slope he saw a lad who looked like the one who had grazed him with the thrown dagger outside the tavern. The boy ran into the door of the underground cottage where he’d left Kára standing with her family last night. She better be in there. Along with his clothes and Sinclair sword. He jogged down the slope and stepped through the door. The heat from the central fire washed over him, but what stopped him from moving farther inside was the crowd, the very…short…crowd. All of them sitting across the floor, perfectly quiet and still, except for a few who wiggled in place. “Joshua Sinclair…” Kára’s voice shot toward him from the doorway of the bedchamber. “Meet the children of Hillside.”
Joshua swallowed down the curse on his tongue, glaring at Kára. She met his gaze unabashedly and then nodded to one little lass who stared back at her. The child looked to be about five years old. Curls framing her round face, the wee one came forward holding a jar. “Jam from my móðir, my mum,” she said, tilting her chin high. He stood still, unsure what to do. With a determined frown, the child shook the jar before him. Joshua forced his fist to relax enough to unfurl his fingers and take the jar. The little girl flashed him a smile and turned, sitting back down among the throng.
There must have been twenty children in there, perhaps more. A lad stood next, serious in face, with a wooden sword strapped to his side. “For your mighty horse,” he said, handing Joshua a turnip. “I heard he is fond of them.” Joshua nodded and then focused on balancing the vegetable on the top of the jar.
Next stood an older lass with a knitted woolen scarf. She walked toward him, her arms extended. “I made it,” she said, giving him a shy smile.
One by one, they rose, each one of them handing something to him in some sort of tribute until a pile of wool, dried flowers, food, and painted stones balanced against his bare chest. He would have lowered them to the ground but was afraid they’d topple and the loosely tied blanket covering his loins would fall.
When the last child sat, Kára crossed her arms over her chest, her feet braced in a battle stance. “I thought you might want to meet the children who will be forced to work on Lord Robert’s new palace this spring. Without pay. Without food. Without the ability to say no.”
He held all the little gifts in silence. Kára clapped her hands together once, and the children stood as if they’d rehearsed this attack on his conscience. They formed a line to leave, each one stopping before him to curtsy or bow.
“Please stay,” the little girl who brought the jam said.
“I can help you with your horse,” the turnip-gifting lad said.
“I can knit you another plaid in wool,” the older girl said, giving a curtsy.
“I think you are the strongest person alive,” said a little lass with wide eyes.
“We need you on our side.”
“Take us to victory,” said a boy who was just shy of being called a man. “I will fight with you.” The smattering of freckles over the bridge of his nose brought a hollow twisting to Joshua’s stomach. The boy had no idea of the ghosts he conjured within him. All the children plucked at Joshua’s resolve.
He looked up at Kára, knowing it had been her plan. He frowned, his gaze rising to where she maintained her stance in the bedroom doorway. Her brother, Osk, peeked by her shoulder along with the younger lad who had been waiting outside, apparently on guard to alert them of his coming. Kára did not look smug nor victorious. She looked damned determined.
ABOUT HEATHER MCCOLLUM:
Heather McCollum is an award winning, historical paranormal and YA romance writer. She earned her B.A. in Biology, much to her English professor’s dismay. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood of 2009 Golden Heart finalists. The ancient magic and lush beauty of Great Britain entrances Ms. McCollum’s heart and imagination every time she visits. The country’s history and landscape have been a backdrop for her writing ever since her first journey across the pond. When she is not creating vibrant characters & magical adventures on the page, she is roaring her own battle cry in the war against ovarian cancer. Ms. McCollum recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own Highland hero, rescued golden retriever & 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.