True to the Highlander is the novel of my heart. I wrote it a quite a few years ago, and it has had quite a history as far as the journey toward publication is concerned. I am so thrilled and thankful that Montlake Romance picked it up! I almost accepted a contract with a boutique e-publisher once, but the developmental editor wanted me to turn True into a “parallel universe” story, because kilts weren’t really popular in Scotland until the 18th century. My Scots wear plaid, and I wasn’t really interested in creating a parallel universe. She also suggested I change the plot. A lot.
Most people who read Scottish historicals are familiar with the kilt argument, and we get it. However, we love kilts. Feiladh breacans, tartans and plaids are iconic to Scottish historicals, and if the movie Braveheart could use them, then so can I. I write “fiction,” after all. It always cracks me up when people can accept the time travel aspect, the faerie beings and the magic, but they draw the line at a few yards of wool pleated and draped around a man’s waist to cover his interesting bits.
Treachery rules the Highlands of 1423. With their king captured by the English, Scottish nobles plot to ransom James behind the back of the brutal regent holding their land in his iron grip. But not every clan wishes to see King James back on his throne…
Sitting atop this powder keg of bloodthirsty rivalries, Malcolm of clan MacKintosh takes the mysterious, lone maiden he finds along his road as a bad omen…though an undeniably beautiful one. When he attempts to save her from a rogue within his own garrison, she deftly brings Malcolm to his knees. Who is this willful lass who has so quickly laid siege to his heart?
Alethia Goodsky has met all kinds working at the New York Renaissance Festival, but no one like the fortune-teller who tasks her with a cryptic life-saving mission and flings her into the fifteenth century. Now Alethia must rely on her wits to unravel the mystery in this violent land. Malcolm has sworn to protect her, but her gifts may soon make her his protector. With enemies closing in, Alethia must choose between finding a way home…and remaining true to her Highlander.
“You’re growing soft, James. We’ve only been at it since Prime.” The moment Lady Alethia had come to the lists, Malcolm had felt her presence. He meant to show her his prowess with the sword and couldn’t help but be pleased with the results. He took his shirt off and used it to wipe the sweat from his brow, glancing to where she stood with the lad at her skirts. Aye, she watched his every move.
Malcolm flexed his muscles and stretched to show them to their best advantage. “Hie yourself to the keep, James, and break your fast. I’m ready for a new challenge.” He grinned at his opponent with smug satisfaction.
James laughed. “I believe your lady awaits.”
Malcolm walked over to her, eager for praise. “Good morn to you, Lady True.” He gave her his most charming smile.
She frowned. “Lady True?”
“’Tis a fitting sobriquet.”
“I prefer my own name.”
“Aye, but ’twill help our clan to accept you if we give you a name of our own devising.” He smiled, smug in his position of authority. “What brings you to the lists?”
“You said if I needed anything, I should come to you.”
“I did. What is it you need?” She’d taken his words to heart, and it filled him with gladness.
“I need a dagger.” She folded her hands before her and returned his smile.
He frowned. “You’ve no need for a dagger. You are well protected within the curtain wall.”
“I’d feel better if I had one.” Still she smiled, though it seemed forced.
“You are under my protection. Every man at my command would come to your aid should you need it.”
Her smile disappeared altogether. “I appreciate the protection.” She took a breath. “However, I’d also like to feel that I can defend myself if I need to. How about a bow and arrows? I’m an excellent archer.”
“I dinna doubt your skills. You’ve no need to arm yourself, and no need to hunt. You will be provided for. I must think of everyone else’s safety.”
Her eyes grew large, and her mouth fell open. “Are you implying you won’t arm me to protect everyone else from me?”
“’Twas you who broke Hugh’s nose. Do you forget bringing me to my knees in hand-to-hand combat? You drew blood that day. You’re dangerous enough without a blade to hand.”
“You do mean that!”
“I have said you are under my protection, and that should suffice. No harm shall come to you.” What was wrong with the woman? She was supposed to tell him how manly he was. She was supposed to praise his prowess with the sword and admire his well-formed body.
“What about the little daggers everyone uses to eat? Can I at least have one of those?”
“God’s blood, you’re obstinate. You have asked, and I have said nay.”
Her eyes flashed, and her arms crossed over her chest. “If you won’t get them for me, I’ll find another way.”
“I forbid it,” he snapped.
“You’re not the boss of me.”
“Do you mean to provoke me, Alethia? God’s truth, your company is far more pleasing when you say naught.” The second the words left his mouth he wished to call them back. He reached for her, thought better of it, and raked his hand through his hair. Her eyes met his just long enough for him to glimpse the hurt. She stomped away with the lad in her wake. Why did she always make him feel so twisted up inside?
“’Tis a novel approach,” Liam said, coming to stand by his side.
“What?” Malcolm kicked a stone through the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust.
“Winning the lass’s heart with harsh words,” Liam chuckled and placed his hand on Malcolm’s shoulder. “’Twill be interesting to see how this new strategy fares.”
“She vexed me.”
“Did she? How so?”
“She wishes to arm herself with dirk and bow. Next she’ll be asking for a claymore.”
“A dirk? Every female in our clan carries one hidden somewhere upon her person, and you refused her? Why, Malcolm?”
“’Tis a long story. I have no’ told you all there is to tell.”
“Ah, I see.” Liam chuckled. “Well, you dinna have time to tell me now. While you ply your lady with insults, others take a more conventional approach.” He nodded toward the keep.
Malcolm growled low in his throat and pulled his shirt back on. Alethia stood poised upon the bottom step to the Great Hall, a young swain with a handful of wildflowers before her. ’Twas an effort to refrain from running. Even so, his strides ate up the distance between them.
“Do you no’ have some duty to perform?” Malcolm snapped at the weaver’s oldest son.
“I was only giving milady—”
“Now be on your way.” Snatching the bouquet from the man, Malcolm scowled at her. “You will no’ accept flowers from any other man.”
“They aren’t flowers.” She grabbed the plants from his hand and shook them under his nose, dislodging a shower of dirt to rain down upon his chest. “These are the plants I need to make the medicine for the weaver’s youngest child.” Pausing, she studied the late blooms in her hand. “OK, some of this is floral, but not in the way you’re thinking.” Another shower of dirt hit him. “I have news for you. I will accept flowers from anyone I want. In case you didn’t hear me before, listen carefully now. You are not the boss of me.”
What is a bossamee? A final layer of grit had settled over him. Why, in the middle of being vexed beyond reason, did he feel like laughing? He fought the urge to kiss her silent. “Och, woman. I dinna want to bicker.”
“No? What do you want?”
“Faith, lass.” He brushed some of the soil from his shirt. “I would have your faith that I am able to keep you safe.” Stepping closer, he asked, “What need have you for a wee dagger when you have me to protect you?”
“Oh, Malcolm.” She rolled her eyes. “I know you can protect me. I saw how good you are with that sword, but you can’t be with me every minute of every day.”
“Nay? The notion holds great appeal.” Malcolm placed his hands on her shoulders and stared into her eyes. Her lips parted slightly, as if opening for him. Desire pulsed through his veins. His line of vision narrowed to the rise and fall of her breasts as her breathing grew more rapid. She wanted him. He was sure of it.
He drew her close and kissed her. She moaned and put her arms around his neck, pressing her soft body with all its intriguing curves against him. Malcolm’s blood caught fire and rushed straight to his groin. He deepened the kiss, forgetting all but the way she fit so perfectly in his arms and the sweetness of her lips against his.
Kissing Lady Alethia could easily become his favorite pastime. Aye, that and goading her until her lovely cheeks bloomed with color. He tightened his hold and concentrated on coaxing her mouth open with his tongue.