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Will he be forced to declare war against his sister?
Morgan MacAlister and his wife, Kat, return to the Highlands to reclaim Morgan's heritage, only to find that the sister he left behind is waging a war of vengeance on their traitorous half-brother, Canton. Eileen is no longer the innocent young girl he remembers.
Gallagher Glencairn has returned with Morgan to reclaim his own inheritance and finds that the golden-haired lass with the beautiful haunted eyes now rules his clan. Gallagher is determined he'll take his clan back any way he has to. He gives Eileen two choices: she can agree to wed him, or he will wage war against her and take his inheritance back.
Eileen is tough on the outside but harbors a terrible secret within – a secret of pain, betrayal, and a fierce desire for revenge.
Publisher's Note: This steamy historical romance, set in the Highlands, contains old-fashioned, loving discipline.
"Nay! I will not marry the old Laird of Glencairn. I refuse!" Eileen MacAlister was pale and trembling, unable to believe Canton would actually do this to her. "He must be sixty years old!"
"Ye will," replied her half-brother. His cold blue eyes seemed to slice her to ribbons, and indeed, Eileen felt cut to the heart. "Ye are eighteen, and it's time ye were wed. The oath has already been sworn between me and the laird. The wedding will take place in three days. Prepare yourself."
"B-but he is such an old man! Why would ye do this to me?" She spread her hands, helplessly pleading what she knew was a lost cause.
"Take heart," he sneered, the moustache on his cruel lips lifting on one side. "The laird is ill, and no one knows how long he will last. When he croaks, ye will be a rich woman." His eyes gleamed with avarice. His ebony hair was pulled straight back from a low forehead, creating an almost brutish look that Eileen despised. He studied her without compassion, and she realized he was feeling no remorse for what he was doing. They'd been arguing for the last half hour, and she was no closer to changing his mind than when they'd started.
"I'll never forgive ye for doing this to me, Canton," she choked out. "I'll see ye in Hell before then."
"Now you're really hurting my feelings," he mocked. "It's your duty to marry well, and I've seen that you will. Ye should be thanking me, instead of cursing me."
Her deep purple eyes flashed at him, and her fists scrunched up in balls. "If Morg were here, he would not make me do this!"
It was the wrong thing to say. Canton's face went red with rage and he struck out with a long arm, slashing her across the face with the back of his hand. "Ye will not mention my cowardly half-brother in this house; I've already told ye that."
Eileen gasped and put her hand to her reddened cheek, realizing she was only driving him more insane with the mention of Morg. He was wildly jealous of her full-blooded brother, even though he'd been gone for several years now. Canton and their greedy Uncle Roger had cheated Morg out of his inheritance, and he'd left her behind when he'd left Scotland. With a sob, she turned and ran across the stone floor of the main hall and up the broad staircase to her room. Once inside, she threw herself on the beautifully embroidered coverlet in a fit of weeping.
"Where are ye, Morg?" she groaned, wishing helplessly, once again, that he'd taken her with him. But he'd left alone, angry because she'd saved his life and made him look small in the eyes of the clansman. He'd left like a whipped cur, not even considering her feelings. Shaking off her clutching hands and ignoring her pleading tears, he'd strode out, vowing to return someday and claim his rightful place. That had been four years ago.
Eileen beat her small fists furiously against the coverlet, kicking her feet up and down in the soft leather shoes. Finally, when she could cry no more, she wearily got up and flipped her long wheat colored braid behind her head so she could dab some cool water from the bedside pitcher on her hot face.
Depressed, she walked to the window and stared out across the moors where the fog was beginning to roll in. She shivered and ran her hands up and down the backs of her slender arms. As she stood there in the deepening twilight, she made another vow.
"I swear on our mother's grave, Morgan MacAlister, if ye don't save me from this fate, I'll never forgive ye…not even with the last breath I take." Her eyes burned with impotent fury and anguish, and she was determined to shed no more tears. She began to plan—she would get away. She would go and find Morg and then Canton would not be able force this upon her.
In spite of her plans, however, her wedding night came three days later, and she faced the ailing and aging man who had become her husband. Eileen shuddered with the knowledge that, soon, his gnarled old hands would be upon her young tender flesh, demanding his husbandly rights.
Bravely, she faced him, determined not to let him daunt her as his eyes swept from the tip of her bare toes to the top of head, lingering on each curve of her naked form, inspecting her as one might inspect a prize horse or cow.
When his dark eyes finally fastened on hers, she saw no lust there, only hatred. She lifted her chin bravely, not understanding his antipathy but determined that he would not break her spirit whilst he claimed her flesh. He stared at her for so long that she started visibly when he finally spoke.
"Ye appear to be in fine physical health, although your hips are fairly slender for birthing. For your sake, let's hope your brother has not cheated me with my purchase."
"Aye, ye didn't think I was in love with ye? I agreed to marry ye so I could have an heir. Gallagher will pay for leaving me!"
The old man's eyes gleamed maniacally, and Eileen shrank back, not understanding what he was talking about. She knew Gallagher was his only son, the one whose mother had died a few years ago.
He shook his fist at her, suddenly, his anger flaring up. "Are ye stupid, wench? I married ye with the agreement of gold to refill the coffers of Castle McKenna, and 'twas a pretty price I paid. If ye can't produce a child to take my place, I will have been robbed!"
Anger and resentment surged through her then, her lip curling in scorn as she drew herself up. "'Twould be a shame, wouldn't it? Mayhap you should have given more thought to your age affecting reproduction than my lack of ability," she mocked.
She seethed with the knowledge that Canton had sold her.
If she could defeat both their purposes, it would give her great satisfaction.
"Aye, it would, indeed, However, I intend to remedy that. Get to the bed." He pointed a knotted and trembling finger towards the bed and Eileen's heart sank. Apparently, he was going to try, whether he could be sure of success or not. She hesitated, glancing from the bed to the door.
"Don't bother to run, there are guards outside in the hall and they would just bring ye back. There's nowhere to run, so do as ye are told!" He pointed to the bed again, and Eileen reluctantly went to the huge blocked bed and sat down on it.
"Turn the coverlet back and lie down on the sheets…on your back. Ye had best be a virgin, lass. I paid extra for that."
Burning with humiliation and shock, she did as she was bid and then lay down on the crisp sheets and sank back against the pillows. When he reached up and doused the flickering lights, the room was cast into total darkness. Although it was summer and the evening light lingered longer than normal, the heavy brocade draperies had still been pulled across the windows, blocking out the tiniest sliver of moonlight.
She heard the door open, and a slice of lantern light shone through, then it was quickly closed. She had little time to puzzle over that occurrence before she heard the sound of clothes being shed and metal clanking on the stone floor. She shivered in fear and dread as she heard muffled footsteps coming towards the bed. Her heart beat a rapid tattoo, her breath coming faster.
Eileen had never been with a man before and she was frightened, terrified, suddenly. The darkness was closing in on her and she felt like she was suffocating. Suddenly, she was pressed down onto the bed, his body lying partially on top of hers and a calloused hand painfully squeezing her breast. She cried out in pain and fear as his rough palm slid down her body, his breath coming faster against her face. She turned her head to the side, not wanting him to kiss her. She felt his probing fingers parting her thighs and she desperately willed herself to be stoic. His fingers left her for a moment, and when they returned, a thick, creamy substance was applied to her feminine center, the fingers then slipping inside her.
Eileen tried to close her thighs against the intrusion, but his heavy leg was between hers and she couldn't stop his invasion. She had never felt so helpless and terrified.
Please let this be over!
She prayed silently as the tears trickled from beneath her dark lashes. This wasn't the way she'd always envisioned her wedding night, and she mourned the loss of something she would never have, the gentle, loving introduction to the loss of innocence.
She gasped when he moved over her, forcing his lower body between her soft thighs. She felt something hard and realized it must be his male shaft probing the entrance to her womanly center. She panicked and began to fight, trying to scratch his face with her fingernails.
"Lie still," he whispered hoarsely. "Just lie still, lass, and it will all be over in a minute." With a harsh thrust, he rammed into her, breaking past the virginal barrier and rushing on, not even giving her time to adjust to the thickness of him. A strangled scream escaped her lips and she moaned in pain.
True to his word, it was less than a minute and it was over, his heavy weight lifted from her. He left her sobbing and hurting, unable to close her trembling legs as he gathered his belongings and left the room.
Eileen was so distraught that she didn't even notice the soft lighting returning to the room until she felt a hand on her thigh. Opening her eyes, she turned her head slowly to meet his harsh gaze before it moved down her body, a satisfied grunt escaping his lips at the sight of the blood spots beneath her.
"At least I know ye were a virgin," he said gruffly, his eyes conveying no sympathy. "Now, let's hope ye can conceive."
He turned his back to her and limped slowly towards the door, and it was then that Eileen realized it hadn't been her husband who had taken her maidenhead. That man had been too heavy. Her own husband had grossly abused her.
"Ye are a bastard," she hissed through pain twisted lips.
His dark eyes were cold as he looked back at her. "Aye, lass…among other things. Ye would do well to remember that."
"I shall write to the king. I will tell Canton what ye have done," she shrieked wildly. "Ye canna get away with this!"
"Go ahead," he replied, a cruel smile twisting his lips. "No one will believe ye, lass. It's my word against yours."
After he left, Eileen pulled the heavy damask quilt over her head and turned to her side. Her body ached down there in her female parts and her mind was filled with the pain of betrayal. Hot tears soaked her pillow as she sobbed impotently. "Someday, I will get even," she vowed to herself. "One day, I shall make them all pay."
One year later, the Laird of the clan Glencairn, the fierce Donald Glencairn, held his three-month-old son above the castle parapet in his trembling hands and made a declaration to the clansmen.
"This is my son…Soren Glencairn…my one and only heir to all that is mine. I disown and disinherit Gallagher Glencairn and pronounce him an outcast of Castle McCrae and Glencairn lands."
When he began a fit of coughing, Jamie McCann, his nephew, came forward and took the baby to hand him back to his mother. Eileen accepted her son into her arms and gently shushed him as she looked out over the crowd. Her face was as white as death and her deep purple eyes burned with unshed tears, yet she lifted her chin defiantly. She would get even with Canton and the laird one day. She would have revenge for the humiliation and degradation she had been put through. Foiling their plans would bring her great joy and satisfaction, and best all…no man would ever use her again.
As Jamie slowly walked the frail and wheezing man back inside, Eileen followed, her face a frozen mask.
The old laird stopped and turned, his dark eyes first going to the babe in her arms and then they lifted slowly to her face. The gleam of stubbornness and revenge lent an extra glow about his paper frail face, a maniacal satisfaction of having had the last word. "Ye will not leave this castle. If ye do, the babe will be kept from ye."
"Ye are a bastard," hissed Eileen, her fury recklessly spilling over. Even as the old man neared death, he still held her in his grasp.
"So ye have said, many times over," he cackled sardonically. "In spite of that, ye have had the best of everything I could give ye this last year. I've not treated ye too unkindly, have I?"
Eileen studied him closely, looking for signs of duplicity. Cold wrath burned inside her, yet she realized he meant what he said. Women were just possessions to be moved about and used as needed; their feelings didn't mean anything. They were pawns in men's masculine endeavors, and they should accept their dictates without question.
"Looking for absolution, are ye?" she scoffed, refusing to give him a trickle of credit. "Especially now that death is upon ye?"
"Nay, lass," he replied flatly. "Just the assurance that what I have decreed will be carried out. Jamie will see to it that the babe stays here to be raised to his inheritance and status in life. Ye are free to go. if ye wish; I'm done with ye."
Eileen trembled with the force of her frustrated rage but knew there was little she could do. There was nowhere to go, no place to hide, and her son did deserve his honors. At least, the old curmudgeon owed her that.
"Oh, I'll stay, ye can rest assured of that. My son will have what is due him. It's the least he deserves for the manner in which ye brought him into this world, without his own father to know him."
"Be silent!" The laird shook with anger, and he reached out to backhand Eileen but collapsed into a fit of coughing, his face turning mottled.
Jamie sent her a warning glance, but Eileen was beyond caring a whit.
"At least, ye have no control over what I do once ye are gone," she mocked, feeling no pity for him whatsoever. "I'll raise my son to hate ye, to be a curse on your name, and I will rule the Glencairn clan, myself." She hugged her son fiercely to her breast. "Not only that, but I'll wage war on my half-brother and relieve him of Castle McKenna and rule the MacAlister clan, as well. Morgan MacAlister will rue the day he left me defenseless."
The laird gargled with fury, trying to get his breath. He fell to his knees, despite Jamie trying to hold him up, and then, unexpectedly, he went limp. The raspy breath halted abruptly, leaving only a macabre silence in the room.
Jamie knelt down beside the old man and put his hand on his throat, then looked quietly up at Eileen. "He's dead."
Soren chose that moment to erupt in furious baby screams, and Eileen's numbed heart echoed his sentiments. She knelt down on the other side of the fallen laird, her eyes burning into Jamie's concerned blue ones. "I'm glad he's dead. I'll never forgive him for what he's done to me. Him, nor Canton, either one. And now I want to know everything you know, Jamie. And I mean…everything!"
Eileen slowed the golden palomino to a walk as she listened to three-year-old Soren gabbling in delight in front of her in the saddle. She laughed as he leaned forward to pat the horse's beautiful neck, and she held onto his shirttail to keep him from sliding off.
"He is a delight, milady, no doubt about that. Soon, ye will be needing to get him his own pony." Melba watched her young charge, her mouth crinkling up into a smile at the bonny, golden haired mother and her son. She'd been with Eileen from her birth, caring for her and seeing to her needs after the child's parents had been killed, when Eileen was but twelve years old.
She'd also been there the day young Morgan had lost his fight for the inheritance of the MacAlister clan to the evil Canton and his Uncle Roger. If only Morgan MacAlister had stayed around, he might have found a way to depose Canton, but he hadn't. She wondered what would happen when he did return and found his own sister ruling the MacAlister clan and Castle McKenna?
"Aye, Melba," replied Eileen. She smiled warmly at the older woman, her smile like a bit of sunshine peeking through the fog on the Highland crests. The smile faded and grim determination settled across her lovely features as she spied Jamie Glencairn making his way towards them.
Jamie smiled and waved at Eileen, his gentle features masking his intense pleasure at the sight of her. She was indeed a lady of high quality and she sat on the golden palomino proudly, her beautiful cranberry and green tartan skirts falling in folds around her legs.
It was hard to believe such grace could change into a hard fighter and a fierce leader, determined to shake Canton loose from Castle McKenna and reclaim her birthplace under the Glencairn clan name. But that was her intent, and it was his pleasure, and Dungally MacMillan's, to help her do so. She'd been training with Dungally, the clan leader, for the last four years in order to achieve just that, while Jamie had been in correspondence with the king. If he couldn't have Eileen for himself, then he would do the next best thing.
Jamie's uncle, the old Laird of Glencairn, had much to answer for and Jamie felt guilty every day for his part in the old man's schemes. Eileen had forgiven him for keeping her and Soren at the castle after Soren's birth, and he was glad. If he hadn't gone along with Donald Glencairn's plans, he and his gentle mother would have been booted out with nowhere to go. If it were just him, he would have gladly left, years ago, but his mother was a different story. Still, his gut twisted in memory of what Eileen had been forced to endure at the hands of the cruel laird. Donald Glencairn was not a kind man.
"'Tis time," he stated softly, a smile playing about his lips. He halted his dancing mount before the trio.
Eileen nodded in return, excitement burning in her eyes. "Aye, 'tis time." Nothing more was said as they turned and headed back to Castle McCrae.
Jamie's thoughts went to his gentle mother, whom he'd been determined to protect at all costs. She was the sister of Lady Amelia, Donald's wife, and she lived in a small cottage off the back of the castle lands, dependent upon her brother-in-law for support. Pregnant out of wedlock, his mother had been disowned by her family, all except for her sister, the gentle Lady Amelia, Gallagher's mother.
The Laird of Glencairn had agreed to give shelter to Jamie's mother in return for Lady Amelia's consent to marrying him. It had been a richly rewarding marriage for Donald Glencairn, one that had brought him a handsome dowry, including the son she soon bore him. Jamie had been born first in that cottage back of the castle, and, a year later, Lady Amelia had given birth to his cousin, Gallagher. When Gallagher had left home after Lady Amelia's death, four years ago, Donald Glencairn had gone mad.
Jamie shook off the morose thoughts as they approached the castle. No point in dwelling on the past. It was over and done. All they could do was look forward to the future and the time when Gallagher would return, as Jamie knew he would, one day. He glanced sideways at Eileen. She was the current Lady Glencairn, and she would not like it when Gallagher returned, but he and Dungally had determined to do what was best for her and Gallagher.
At least, what they thought was best.
Dungally was waiting for them. He held his great grizzled red head proudly on his broad shoulders, the Glencairn colors of cranberry and green falling across his powerful thighs as he sat regally on his stout black mount. The clansmen were ready as well…ready to follow the Lady Glencairn and Dungally, ready to avenge their mistress and support the clan.
Dungally knew what had been done to Eileen and he'd taken her under his strong arm these past three years. He'd helped to turn her into a fierce Scottish fighting lass, ready for battle against her half-brother. There was little either of them could do in her battle against her own demons, the ones created by Donald Glencairn. Only time would heal those. But he and Dungally had done what they could, with the king's help, to put things to right when Gallagher returned to claim his place. The old laird would not get away completely with his evil mischief, not if they could thwart him in death.
"Are ye ready, lass?" Dungally's bushy brows seemed in a perpetual downward slant, although he was smiling gently.
"Aye," replied Eileen, nodding at him. She kissed Soren and held him tight while his little hand patted her soft cheek. Then she handed him to Melba. "Take good care of him, Melba," she said gruffly. "I'll be back." She smiled when his small pudgy hand waved at her, his cherubic little lips pursing in a kiss for her. The wind softly ruffled his golden curls as Melba took the child and handed her mount off to the stable hand.
"Goodbye, Mama," Soren called enthusiastically, then sank into the safety of Melba's loving arms, content that his mother would return for him.
Eileen waved back and then fell in between Dungally and Jamie as the trio whirled their mounts towards the sea…and Castle McKenna. The clan fell in behind them, each man fierce and determined to win, each carrying their shield with the lion crest. It was the Glencairn crest, symbolizing the devouring of all who stood in its way. Before the day drew to a close, Castle McKenna would belong to the Glencairn clan, and Canton would be defeated. The sun shone brightly, and every leaf and blade of grass seemed bright and green as the thunderous roar of horses' hoofs rang in her ears. Blood pounded through her veins, excitement building as the glorious position of leading an army into battle swept through her. She would be victorious, and she would be avenged. God's bones but she would be avenged, at last!
* * *
"There she is, Kat…Castle McKenna." Morgan Mathias MacAlister proudly pointed up to the castle perched on the cliff above the ocean. It gleamed in the warm sunlight, its walls giving off a yellow hue as the men put their backs into the launches heading for the beach. "Just as beautiful as I remember." Morg's eyes gleamed possessively as he drank in the site of his home and the bonny hills of Scotland.
As they came closer, Katherine Fontaine MacAlister could see the profusion of wildflowers running like bright trails and periodic clumps along the sweep to the beach, thinning as they reached the edge of the rocky loch that emptied into the sea. "It's so wild and beautiful," she murmured to her husband in awe. "Very different from our Caribbean island."
Morg nodded in agreement, wondering what he would find inside the castle walls. Would Eileen be waiting for him? When he'd left in fury and disgrace, eight years ago, she'd begged him to take her with him. He'd refused, and he hadn't heard a word from her since that day. He was anxious to find out how she'd fared and to challenge his half-brother and uncle for the right to rule the clan as his father had decreed. He'd been cheated out of his inheritance by those two. They had much to answer for, and he was here to see that the debt was paid. "Aye, very different, Kat," he murmured.
"Aye, she is indeed," agreed Gallagher Glencairn, staring hungrily at the sight before him.
Home! At last, like Morg, he was coming home!
Although his home was several miles beyond the soft yellow keep of Castle McKenna, they were going to be on beloved Scottish soil in a few moments, and it seemed he'd been gone a lifetime.
Throwing in with Morg in his plan to depose Canton MacAlister had been too much to resist, and Gallagher had left the seafaring pirate's life to reclaim his own inheritance. Serving aboard the Nemesis, under Jacques LaSalle, had been a learning experience…one that turned him from a boy to a man. The wind lifted his dark hair away from his proud forehead, a light sheen of moisture drying in the sea breeze as his silvery eyes scanned the shoreline eagerly.
Briefly, he wondered if the old man had softened any while he was away. He doubted it; his father was a prideful fool. Time and distance had mellowed his own feelings, though, and he was ready for reconciliation. His cousin, Jamie, had insisted that he come back before his father did something foolish, but Gallagher had ignored him. That missive was tucked into the secret pocket inside his vest, but it was four years old. It had taken that long, and more, for Gallagher's own feelings to soften. Briefly, he looked back.
He'd left home at sixteen and was now twenty-five. It had been a long nine years. Those years of bitterness and the pain of betrayal had left their mark on him, yet he knew it was time to return. It was time to claim what was his, to take his rightful place as ruler of the clan Glencairn and Laird of Castle McCrae.
Donald Glencairn had been old before his time when Gallagher had left, and he had no reason to believe the old man was any better now. He might even be dead, for all he knew. If he was, then his cousin, Jamie, would be watching things in his absence.
Gallagher's lips thinned in a grimace of disgust, remembering the old man's harsh words about his mother after her early death. "She was just a woman, lad…weak and sickly. Ye are better off without her." He'd only been sixteen when his frail mother had died, consumption of the lungs taking her breath away. He'd been old enough to realize there was no love between his father and his mother, and he believed his father had helped the Lady Amelia to an early grave by not caring for her properly.
The argument had been bitter and fierce, and Gallagher had decided he couldn't stand to be around his cold and callous father any longer. The old man had told him that, if he left, he would never be welcome in Castle McCrae again and, he would be disowned. Gallagher had left, anyway, bitter and disillusioned. His stormy gray eyes no longer saw the windswept rocky shore; instead, he saw his mother's face. "Ye must seek real love one day, my son. I never had the privilege, but if ye stay here, ye will never find it. Go! Go out into the world and discover a different place…one where there can be beauty and love. There is no love here in Castle McCrae…there never will be as long as Donald Glencairn rules."
"Gallagher! Wake up, lad!"
Morg's urgent command brought Gallagher back to the present, and he looked up, startled at the tone in Morg's voice.
"The castle is under attack…and they are flying the lion flags of the Glencairn clan!" Morg signaled the ships, and launch boats began dropping off The Queen, The Princess and The Rabbit, freshly anchored in the loch. Men dropped into them from the decks of the ships, filling them up and sending them racing towards the shore. They had come prepared for battle, and it looked as if someone was beating them to it.
Gallagher was stunned. What was his father up to now? "Aye, I see that, Morg. The question is why?
"I have no idea, but it's time to break it up," he replied and began barking orders. "Malik, when I give the signal, send a cannon volley into the cliffs! Let's get the attention of both clans!" Morg sent his loyal first mate back to the ships to carry out his orders.
Having spent most of his time away alternating between mercenary and pirate, Morg had managed to gather quite a crew of loyal men, gold, and even a wife. It was the acquisition of his lovely Kat that had led him to the decision to finally return home to claim his lands and inheritance. A pirate's life, even as the governor of his harbor, the Pirate's Hideaway, was no life for Kat. She was a lady and deserved better than that. So, with five hundred pirates behind them, Morg, Kat and Gallagher led the charge up the hillsides towards the fighting clans. He paused at the top of the ridge and flashed his broadsword in the sun. A cannonade of explosions landed along the hillsides, bursting over the sounds of men at arms and sending dirt and rocks high into the air.