The Highlander’s Folly

A Novel of Loch Moigh #3
February 3, 2015
Montlake Romance
ISBN-10: 1477821546
ISBN-13: 9781477821541
Available in: Audio, e-Book, Trade Size

The Highlander’s Folly

A brave fifteenth-century Highlander fiercely devoted to his foster family, Hunter of clan MacKintosh can defeat any man in battle. Thanks to his fae gifts, he can read the intent of his opponents and guess their next moves. But when the faerie Madame Giselle sends Hunter to the present day, he stumbles into a staged battle and rescues a young knight—only to discover that the knight is a woman, and she’s anything but a damsel in distress.

Meghan McGladrey learned martial arts and sword fighting from her father, a time-traveling Highlander himself. To Hunter’s surprise, Meghan is as skilled as any knight. When both of them are pulled back to the fifteenth century, Meghan becomes desperate to return to her time. Hunter, who is pledged to another, begins to fall for the beautiful, brave warrior as they fight side by side against a common enemy. Now, he must decide which matters more: his honor, or following his heart.

Exciting battles and intoxicating passion reunite in the third Novel of Loch Moigh from award-winning author Barbara Longley.

Chapter 1 excerpt

Scotland, 1441

Five long years he’d been away, and were it not for the offal covering the shores of Port Leith, he’d drop to his knees and kiss the ground. Hunter covered his destrier’s eyes with a cloak and led him down the ship’s plank. His stallion snorted and bobbed its head in an attempt to free the reins from his grip. For certes Doireann scented the verdant, sprouting greenery of early spring beyond the borough. The stallion must be as glad as he to be off the malodorous vessel.

Once the others in his small band of traveling knights were gathered about him, Hunter began issuing orders. “Tieren, you and Nevan seek a stable near Haymarket Square. See to purchasing a wagon and a rouncy or two to pull it whilst you’re there. Nothing fancy, mind. ’Twill no’ do to draw attention.”

Tieren nodded. “I’ve heard the roads are overrun with brigands since the old king’s assassination.”

“I’ve heard the rumors as well.” Hunter placed his hand briefly upon his most trusted friend’s shoulder.

“Take care. No’ even the streets of edinburgh are safe.”

Tieren shot him a cocky grin. “You’ve naught to worry about on my account.”

A brine-tinged breeze blew in from the sea, carrying with it the odor of dead fish. Combined with the acrid stench of sewage from the city, the smells assaulted Hunter’s senses. The port was no better than the hull of the ship. “Gregory, Murray, stay with the lads to guard our belongings. Cecil, come with me.” Hunter removed the cloak from his mount’s head and swung up into the saddle. “We will secure lodging for the night.” He surveyed his men. “We depart at first light on the morrow.”

“Och, Hunter. We’ve just arrived. Can we no’ stay at least a se’nnight?” asked Nevan, the youngest in their party. “We’ve been at sea for nearly a month, and a month without a lass to warm my bed is far too long. I wish to sample all the pleasures edinburgh has tae offer.” He sent him a pleading look. “What was the purpose in winning all that gold and silver if I canna spend a bit of it on debauchery?”

“Wheesht, ye wee lummox!” Murray cuffed Nevan’s ears. “Would ye tell all and sundry what we carry? Ye put us needlessly at risk afore we even begin our journey,” he hissed beneath his breath.

“Oy! Leave off. The ship’s crew ken well enough what we carry. Think you they’ll keep it to themselves once they’re visiting their favorite haunts and downing one ale after another?” Nevan rubbed his ears and glowered at Murray before turning back to Hunter. “At the very least, we should make our way to the castle. ’Tis discourteous indeed no’ to take the time to pay court to our king, and the captain says young James is in residence.”

Hunter shook his head. ’Twas not that his rank as a knight was any higher than theirs. In fact, other than Tieren, the rest were of noble blood whilst he was not. Yet shortly after they’d banded together, by tacit agreement the group had begun looking to him to lead them. “James is but a lad of ten. He cares naught whether a group of lowly knights pay him court whilst passing through. Besides, since the murders of the sixth earl of Douglas and his younger brother, I’ve no wish to make any aware of our presence here. Old Archibald and his sons William and David were close allies and friends to the MacKintosh. Well, I recall them from their frequent visits to Moigh Hall.”

“Murdered, ye say? When?” Murray’s eyes widened. “I too recall the lads.”

“A year past.” Hunter lowered his voice, rested his forearm on the pommel of his saddle and leaned forward, glancing at the men who had circled closer. “Lords Crichton and Livingston along with William’s great-uncle James conspired to influence the young king and his advisors. The uncles manufactured charges of treason against the new earl and his next in line. William and David were beheaded right here in edinburgh while our young king looked on, and with the old earl only recently laid to rest. In exchange, the Annandale and Bothwell holdings went to the crown, and William’s great-uncle James took the earldom for himself.”

“’Twas a year past, you say? How come you by such news?” Nevan raised an eyebrow. “Were you no’ abroad and in the field at the time?”

“Aye.” Hunter nodded. “My kin sent word through my foster father’s aunt. Her husband holds a marquessate near Flanders. I was privy to the intimate details when we visited their donjon on our way to Calais. ’Twas before you rejoined us for the journey home, Nevan. I kept it close until this day.”

Hunter cast a commanding look around the circle of knights. “We will no’ tarry here. I trow you will find willing lasses enough along the way to Loch Moigh. I propose we take the northerly route and stop in Aberdeenshire. Three days there to rest, purchase supplies and send word of our homecoming to Loch Moigh will suffice, aye?” A chorus of assent followed.

He glanced toward the crenellated wall surrounding the keep where it perched high upon the rock above them, and shuddered. “Though he went about it all wrong, the elder King James had it aright. Scotland must become a united kingdom if we are to survive and prosper. ’Tis been but four years, and already the king’s murder has torn Scotland asunder. Our clans do more harm from within than any enemy could from without.”

“’Tis the truth, and I for one have nae wish tae remain in edinburgh any longer than need be,” Gregory said, crossing himself. “When shall ye return tae port?”

Hunter glanced at the sun. “’Tis but midmorn. We’ll return when the bells chime for None.” He turned his horse toward the city’s busy roads and nudged him into a trot. Hunter’s thoughts roiled with the treachery that had occurred in this very place. These days, the MacKintosh stuck close to home and stayed out of the politics at court as much as possible. For a brief moment, gratitude that he was naught but a landless, untitled knight filled him. Hunter held no power or property to be taken by their greedy young liege— or his advisors.

Cecil brought his mount up to flank his. “’Twas the elder King James who knighted you, aye?”

He nodded. “Tieren and Murray as well. ’Twas a personal favor to the earl of Fife for taking part in King James’s ransom from the British. ’Tis hard to credit that nearly a score of years has passed since the year he returned to take his rightful place upon Scotland’s throne, aye?” He sent his friend a wry smile. “Were it no’ for my foster family, neither Tieren nor I would have dared hope to aspire to knighthood. I’m naught but an orphan and have ne’er even met my kin, and Tieren is the son of an alewife from our village at Loch Moigh.”

“Who might your clan be?”

“My sire was a MacConnell. He disappeared before I was born, and my mother, a MacKintosh, returned to Loch Moigh to live with my granddam.” Disappeared indeed! His poor father had perished when he’d been caught up in the wake of the time-traveling faerie who called herself Madame Giselle. A shudder racked him at the thought.

“Did you never seek out your father’s kin?”

“Nay, nor did they trouble themselves to find out what became of me.” The bitterness still galled him deeply. Why hadn’t his father’s clan searched for him when his mother and granddam had passed? Surely his granny had sent word to his kin when his mother passed. For certes he must have had uncles, aunts and grandparents on his father’s side.

Cecil barked out a laugh. “Mayhap no’ by lineage, but by skill and valor you’ve more right to knighthood than most.” He slapped Hunter’s back. “You are undefeated upon the field and in the tourneys, and I for one am much heartened to ride by your side, sir.”

“My thanks.” Heat suffused his face. He shifted in his saddle and studied their surroundings. Though Murray was also aware of their clan’s time-traveling secrets, only Tieren and his foster family kent the way of it with him. Hunter had a trace of Tuatha Dé Danann blood running through his veins. He had fae gifts, and one of them was the ability to anticipate the moves of his enemies. ’Twas why none could defeat him in battle or in contests of skill.

Like his foster mother, who had come to him from the future to save his life, he also sensed whether someone spoke truth or falsehood. Other people’s emotions were a physical force to him, and it had taken some time before he learned how to shut them out. He kept his abilities well hidden. In these times fraught with superstition and peril, ’twas prudent not to draw too much attention. Prowess in the lists was acceptable; fae abilities were not.

Hunter lowered his voice. “Once we’re settled, I want us out of chain mail and into our feileadh breacans or tunics and hose. I dinna wish to appear as if we are of noble rank or transporting anything of value through the countryside. Once we’re in Aberdeenshire, we’ll purchase sacks of grain, foodstuffs and wool to cover the casks and trophies in the wagon. Until then, a tarp will have to suffice.”

“’Tis wise, but what of our saddles and tack, not to mention our weapons, tournament tents and banners? None will mistake our gear for that of mere villeins.”

Hunter rubbed his hand over the stubble covering his chin. He wanted a bath, a shave and a decent meal this day. He longed for a good night’s rest on a pallet that did not heave and shift with the ocean waves. “We can arrange to have those items transported to Castle Inverness with the next merchant caravan heading in that direction. The earl of Fife holds that keep for our king, and once we have our wealth safely stowed at Moigh Hall, ’tis an easy enough journey to Inverness to retrieve them. We can bring a contingent of the earl’s men with us.”

He searched for a likely inn up one side of the cobbled road and down the other. “As for the weapons, I plan to wear my claymore and daggers hidden under my oldest cloak. I suggest the rest of you do likewise. Our other weapons shall remain out of sight upon the wagon, so they are close to hand should we need them.”

A short distance away he spied a sizeable inn that appeared well tended but not overly opulent. “There.” He nodded toward the place he had in his sights. “The Dancing Stag,” he read the sign aloud. “’Twill do nicely.”

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