The Viper is the fourth book in Monica McCarty’s Highland Guard series.

  The Bruce is still fighting for his crown with his elite Highland Guard warriors right along with him. Each warrior is the best at what he does and when they are all gathered together, they can be unstoppable.  As The Bruce fights to unite Scotland and free his family, MacRuairi only wants to fulfil his promise of 3 years service to The Bruce in exchange for land and money. His last mission is coming up then he will be free to go live in peace…..if he can save Bella that is, she’s his last mission.

I was sure Monica would somehow torture me and save MacRuairi  for last. I love his christian name Lachlan but his war name Viper gives me the chills a bit. His war name shows how his fellow Guards feel about him. They’ll fight side by side with him but they don’t fully trust him.  MacRuairi seems to be the quintessential bad boy and boy does he have baggage…….and I don’t mean the designer kind. Lachlan has stealth and is an effective, silent and deadly warrior, emphasis on silent and deadly. He has strange eyes that seem to glow and helps him to see in the dark. He has been imprisoned, tortured, betrayed and he killed his first wife. It is due to his wife’s betrayal that MacRuairi will never let another woman anywhere near his heart.

Lady Bella MacDuff has suffered nothing but humiliation at the hands of his husband and so she has no qualms about going against him. Bella is going to take her daughter and rush to The Bruce’s side to crown him; as is her families hereditary right to crown the King of Scotland. But nothing goes as planned as she is contacted  and must flee her husband as he is returning early to stop her from leaving. She is forced to leave behind  the only thing that matters to her, her daughter, or risk being captured and she blames MacRuairi for it. Thanks to her husbands cruel treatment and jealousy she is angry and uncomfortable when men only see her body’s features and lust after her. MacRuairi can’t help but notice her body at times but he also sees her spirit and inner strength but does all he can to fight his attraction to her.

I have to say I have long-awaited MacRuairi’s story. I love this book, I love how Monica takes us behind the scenes so to speak. We learn a lot about MacRuairi and why he is the way he is, some of it is unbelievable and jaw dropping. By the end, no even before the end I want to be his champion. We get the same look into Lady Bella, and oh, her heartache turns into our own, Bella is amazing.

The push and pull between Bella and Lachlan, it’s what the tales of love are made from.  I know I don’t say much about the secondary characters but if they didn’t work I’d say something so that all the elements of a great story are present is a given here. This story is well worth the 5 tails swishes I give it.

  Book Blurb:

The war for Scotland’s sovereignty rages on—as Robert the Bruce is crowned king and the Highland Guard, his elite fighting force of legendary warriors, battle for land… and love.

Prized for his snake-like stealth and deadly strikes, Lachlan “Viper” MacRuairi is a warrior to enlist but not to trust. His only loyalty is to his purse, his indifference sealed by bitter betrayal. All that changes when Lachlan is tasked to protect and deliver Bella MacDuff to the king’s coronation—and the proud, lushly sensual countess unwittingly challenges him to his greatest battle yet: to love again. Passionate and devoted, Bella has defied Britain’s king and her own husband to place the crown on Bruce’s head—and pays a terrible price. She loses her daughter and her freedom to her husband’s vengeance. Imprisoned with barbaric cruelty, she vows to reclaim her child, even if it means selling her soul—and her body—to a dark, lethal warrior whose eyes glint like steel, but who makes her skin tingle and her breath race. Together they embark on a rogue mission with sinister twists and turns that threatens not only Bella’s gamble to save her daughter—but also her heart.

Watch the trailer :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCZTCryT0ek&feature=player_embedded

Excerpt:

Balvenie Castle, Moray, March 1305

Bella was distracted, her mind whirling with all that she had to do before she left. The brooch! She couldn’t forget the MacDuff brooch for the ceremony.

She didn’t notice the guard missing outside her door until it was too late. A man took her by surprise, grabbing her from behind as she entered her chamber.

Her heart jumped to her throat in shock and panic, immediately sensing the danger radiating from the intruder. He was big and strong and about as pliable as rock.

But she wouldn’t be taken without a fight. She lashed out trying to break free, but it only made his hold clamp down on her tighter. She tried to scream, but his hand muffled any sound.

“Calm down,” a rough voice whispered in her ear. “I mean you no harm. I’m here to take you to Scone.”

She stilled, his words penetrating through the haze of terror. Scone? But she was to leave for Scone tomorrow. And Robert’s men were to come to her in the woods, on her way back from church, not in the castle.

Her heart pounded wildly as she tried to sort it out, tried to decide whether to believe him, all the while conscious of the steely strength of the leather-clad arm wrapped tightly around her chest. Good God, the brute could snap her in two with one hard squeeze!

They stood there like that for a minute in the semi-darkness, unmoving, while he waited for his words to sink in.

“Do you understand?”

The gravely voice did little to reassure her, but what choice did she have? She couldn’t breathe with his hand covering her mouth so tightly. Besides, he could have killed her already if that was what he intended.

With that pleasant thought filtering through her mind, she nodded.

Slowly—cautiously—he released her.

Once the air had returned to her lungs, Bella spun in anger and indignation. “What is the meaning of this? Who—”

She gasped at the sight of him. Though little light streamed through the tower window with night almost fallen, there was enough to know that she’d been right to fear him. He was not the kind of man any woman would want to be alone with in the dark—or in the bright daylight for that matter—and her heart gave an involuntary start.

Good God in heaven, could this man really have been sent by Robert?

Built to intimidate, he was tall, broad shouldered, and packed with layers—and layers—of muscle. He was every inch a powerful warrior: solid, strong, and deadly.

But he was no knight. One glance told her that. He had the look of a man born to fight. Not on a steed of white, clad in mail, but a brute who liked to brawl in the dirt.

He seemed to have enough weapons strapped to his body to equip a small army, including the hilts of two swords she could see worn across his back. He wore little armor: only a black leather cotun and chausses studded with small rivets of steel. His mail was limited to a blackened coif to protect his neck.

But it was his eyes that stopped her. Beneath the ghastly steel nasal helm they were unnaturally vivid, the color so piercing in the darkness, they seemed to glow.

She’d never seen eyes like that in her life. A shiver ran down her spine, spreading over the surface of her skin like a prickly sheet of ice.

Cat eyes, she thought. Feral cat eyes. Chilling in their intensity and undeniably predatory.

“Lachlan MacRuairi,” he said, answering her unfinished question. “I’m sorry for surprising you, Countess, but it couldn’t be avoided. We don’t have much time.”

For the second time that night Bella was stunned speechless. Lachlan MacRuairi? Her eyes widened. This was the man Robert had sent to see her safely to Scone? A mercenary? And not just any mercenary, but a man whose exploits in the Western Isles had made him the most notorious gallowglass in Scotland. The greatest scourge of the seas in a kingdom of pirates.

Surely there must be some mistake. Lachlan MacRuairi would sell his mother to the highest bidder—if a woman could be found who would claim him. He was a bastard, but for his blood heir to one of the largest dominions in the Western Isles. Though the clan lands had gone to his legitimate half-sister, Christina of the Isles, he was still titular chief. But he’d ignored his duty and responsibility, forsaking his clansmen, to pursue his own ends.

He was a black-hearted villain if ever there was one, rumored to have murdered his wife.

Bella was incredulous. With everything she was risking, she couldn’t believe Robert had sent this . . . this . . .why, he was no more than a brigand!

She peered into the shadows, taking in the details she’d missed before. Saint’s preserve her, just look at him! He even looked like a brigand. She’d wager his jaw hadn’t seen the side of a blade or razor in a week. A thin scar lined the underside of one cheek, and his sharp, slitted gaze was hard enough to cut rock. Below the edge of his helm, his dark hair fell in thick, disheveled waves to his chin.

What she could see of his face seemed cut from cold, hard granite. With some surprise, she realized that the hooded gaze, square jaw, high cheekbones, and wide mouth might have been considered handsome—exceedingly handsome even—were they not set at such a menacing angle. What a shame to have such a face destroyed by a black heart.

Their eyes met, and Bella realized that she was not alone in her study. He was watching her with equal intensity. She could feel his eyes rake her in the shadowy twilight.

The sudden flare made her uneasy, though she didn’t know why. Bella was used to seeing that spark in men’s eyes.

She’d been barely three and ten when it started. It was exactly the same time her breasts had filled, her hips had curved, and her face had lost its youthful roundness. Since then, men had looked at her differently. As if they only wanted one thing from her.

She’d learned to ignore it. But with him, it felt different. It felt threatening in a way she’d never experienced before. Her pulse spiked and a strange flush skimmed over the surface of her skin.

Instinctively, she took a step back.

He noticed her reaction, and his gaze hardened. “Lachlan MacRuairi,” he repeated, not hiding his impatience. “Bruce sent me.”

“I know who you are,” she said, unable to keep the distaste from her voice.

The tight seam of his mouth seemed to get a little tighter. “I know you were not expecting me tonight, but there’s been a change of plans.”

Bella almost laughed at the absurdity. To say that she was not expecting him was to put it mildly. What could Robert have been thinking to send such a man to her?

She was risking everything to go to Scone and place the crown upon his head. To do the duty her brother, a virtual prisoner in Edward’s English court, could not.

I hope you are all enjoying getting ready for Halloween. Don’t forget to comment on all the posts for a chance to win some books or the e – reader.

5 Tail Swishes story!!!  And should you forget what the other books are in this series here is another peak at them.

                   

and coming Oct 30, 2012      The Recruit.

Here’s where you can find Monica.   http://www.monicamccarty.com/index.php    or visit with her here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Monica-McCarty/18042425673 or her blog here http://monicamccarty.blogspot.com/ or if you twitter http://twitter.com/monicamccarty

Z Seawitch

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