Title: Betrayer’s Heart: A Novella of Glencoe
Author: Laura Strickland
Genre: Scottish Historical Romance
Long ago, Mairi gave Alan MacDonald her heart. But he disappeared from Glencoe the same night soldiers of the crown rose up and violated her clan’s hospitality, committing wholesale massacre. The surviving members of the clan fled to the winter hills, and Mairi’s brother was taken prisoner by the British. Mairi can only believe that Alan, his mother a member of an enemy clan, betrayed them. But now he’s returned to Glencoe. Has he come to finish the treacherous work he started that terrible night?
Alan has never stopped loving Mairi, and in fact everything he’s done has been on her behalf, working behind the scenes. But he doesn’t know how to reach past her grief, and convince her that his heart is true. Returning to Glencoe is risky, in fact it could cost him his life. But his life means little to him, if he’s lost Mairi’s trust. When danger once more explodes in the glen, will Mairi find the strength to trust in their love?
The shadows within the byre shifted and resolved into the suggestion of a form. Beside her, Rohre sat on his haunches and whined. Was the intruder someone he knew? Mairi swore softly under her breath. If it turned out one or two of the bairns had slipped inside to steal a bit of food, she would have stern words for them indeed, though she could scarcely blame the wee thing—their stomachs were always empty, as was her own. Yet, she’d had a suspicion these many days past of things gone missing, and cruel as depriving them might be, the clan’s survival depended on every morsel.
All this raced through her mind as a portion of the darkness detached and moved toward her, pushing its way against that cold wind at her back. A tall form, far too tall to be that of a child. Mairi’s stomach clenched painfully and her heart pounded high and hard in her throat.
“Peace, Mairi MacDonald. Do not rouse yourself.”
Mairi knew that voice—deep as the night itself and soft as worn velvet. Indeed, it was a voice with the power to weave magic in her mind, command her spirit and cause her flesh to burn—one she’d never thought to hear again.
Not here—surely not now.
A stifling mixture of emotions rose in her breast—bright hatred, pure, seething rage, and desire nearly strong enough to overset both.
Rohre, the traitor, wagged his tail and whined again, this time in longing.
Somehow Mairi found her voice. It sounded rough with loathing and disbelief. “What are you doing here, Alan MacDonald? Or should I no longer call you by that name? Better, mayhap, to give you the name of your Campbell ancestors, since you have traded sides.”
She spoke the name—Campbell—like an epithet. Were not Clan MacDonald’s old enemies responsible for the recent massacre, as well as the horror that still hung like a gray cloud over Glencoe? And this man, this betrayer who could no longer possibly mean anything to her, he, too, was naught but an enemy now.
“’Tis still MacDonald,” he replied and stepped forward to the mouth of the byre, far too close for Mairi’s comfort. Tendrils of moonlight wove patterns from above, tangled with the arms of the trees and filtered down to show Mairi this man who had once owned her heart. She expected to see him changed, and so he was. His fair hair, the color of ashen wood streaked with bright threads of gold, had grown long and shaggy, and a wild beard covered half his face. In the moonlight his eyes glittered—silver blue eyes that could strip Mairi naked with a single glance, and caress her flesh like a touch. The clothing he wore looked almost as shabby as her own; his feet were wrapped in hide strips and his plaidie gone thin.
Indignation rose in Mairi’s breast. How dared he wear the proud MacDonald tartan still? How, when he had a part in spilling so much MacDonald blood?
Rohre’s great tail swept back and forth as he leaped forward to greet his old friend. Mairi longed to step between the man and her beloved hound, but stood rigid while Alan’s hands roughed Rohre’s gray head.
Oh, sweet lord of all the heavens, those hands! Just the sight of them—long-fingered, clever and rough-palmed—triggered waves of fevered heat. She remembered those hands at liberty everywhere on her body, cupping her breasts and parting her thighs. All at once Mairi fought for breath, and her legs wobbled beneath her.
“Hello, old friend,” Alan murmured to the dog, in his voice like warm wood smoke. He glanced up at Mairi. “At least someone is glad to see me.”
“He cannot see you.” Mairi spoke the words, hard and uncompromising. “They blinded him that night, those soldiers you sent here.”
“What?” Alan gasped. She knew what the hound had once meant to him. The three of them had roamed these hills together, and Rohre had stood guard while she and Alan found deep delight in one another’s arms. Back then, Mairi had been willing to drown herself in the promises she saw in Alan’s silver-blue eyes.
“How?” he asked now.
“Rohre threw himself into the fray and tried to protect my father, when the soldiers rose that night—those very men to whom he’d offered our hospitality.” Her voice attacked like a sword. “They clubbed Rohre and split his skull. When I found him next day lying beside Da, outside our still-smoldering shieling, I thought him dead. The blow stole his sight.”
Alan swore softly, his big hands gentle on Rohre’s head. “Poor old lad,” he murmured. Again he lifted his eyes to Mairi’s face. “Your Da—”
“Did not survive.” Mairi’s desperate control made the words sound brittle. “But I thought you knew that. You know all that happened in the glen that dreadful night.”
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Multi award-winning author Laura Strickland delights in time traveling to the past and searching out settings for her books, be they Historical Romance, Steampunk or something in between. Her first Scottish Historical hero, Devil Black, battled his way onto the publishing scene in 2013, and the author never looked back. Nor has she tapped the limits of her imagination. Venturing beyond Historical and Contemporary Romance, she created a new world with her ground-breaking Buffalo Steampunk Adventure series set in her native city, in Western New York. Married and the parent of one grown daughter, Laura has also been privileged to mother a number of very special rescue dogs, and is intensely interested in animal welfare. These days while she's writing, you can always find her latest rescue, Lacy, nearby. Her love of dogs, and her lifelong interest in Celtic history, magic and music, are all reflected in her writing. Laura's mantra is Lore, Legend, Love, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
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