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Title: BEWITCHING A HIGHLANDER
(A Scottish Highland Warriors Novel #1)
Author: Roma Cordon
Pub. Date: June 7, 2022
Publisher: CamCat Books
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.com
Defying all for the love of a bewitching lass.
Breena MacRae, a healer from Skye with a touch of witchery in her blood, embarks on a dangerous search for her missing father. She arrives on the Isle of Coll, seat of the vile Campbells. There, she encounters the debonair future chief to the Dunbar Clan, Egan, who rescues her from a Campbell sentry.
Egan Dunbar is on Coll to keep the peace between the feuding Campbells and Dunbars. But when he catches Breena in a lie, he agrees to help her find her father to pay back an old debt and get to the bottom of the secrets she’s hiding.
As their attraction for each ignites like a firestorm, Breena and Egan realize a future together could trigger deadly consequences—a clan war between the Campbells and the Dunbars. Is Egan willing to betray his clan for love, even though he knows Breena is keeping secrets from him? Can Breena trust him with her family secret and put those she loves at risk?
“You have witchcraft in your lips. . .”
—William Shakespeare, Henry V.
October 28, 1747—Isle of Coll, Scotland
Breena MacRae’s heart beat out of tune from the cacophony of their wagon’s rattling. Sixteen horse hooves trampled the knurled road, pulling them southwest toward the Campbells’ keep, a clan she blamed for most of her childhood miseries. Three weeks ago, she’d awoken from nineteen years of delusions, yet it was no less painful living the truth. Her parents had neither died in some horrific accident nor left because of her. Breena was after all the most deplorable witch the MacRaes and Maxwells ever had the lamentable fortune to beget.
Uncle Craig leaned over and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. The clumsy yet affectionate gesture grounded her. It rid her of her punishing thoughts.
“We aught to go over the plan again.”
She would always be obliged to him and Aunt Madeline. They’d been her guardians since she was six, although many times since then, despite the fact that she loved them both with all her heart, they’d made her want to either scream or blaspheme.
His familiar features reminded her of her mother’s, his little sister. “All right, but understanding the need to lie doesn’t make it any less difficult,” she said.
“Difficult it may be, but it will keep us alive.”
She huffed. He was too cautious. Or was she not cautious enough? Breena blinked up as the afternoon sun reconsidered slipping pass horizontal puffs of clouds.
Mayhap she herself should reconsider her decision to come here. No. Even if there was a remote possibility her father was alive, she had to attempt to find him. She had to free him. Her heart ached for all he must have endured. She’d believed him dead for the past nineteen years, until three weeks ago, when lovable yet scatterbrained Aunt Madeline had let slip the truth. After suffering from dysentery and a bout of guilt, her aunt had blurted out that Ian might still be alive. Had Aunt Made line known she wasn’t at death’s door, she might have been more steadfast in her secrecy. Craig and Madeline had insisted her parents wanted the truth kept from her all this time. The secrecy and deception might have been the stimulant for her childhood misery, but it hadn’t been the cause. Nonetheless, it had resulted in long, wasted years. Her dream from the previous night replayed in her mind. Beloved Grandmother Sorcha, their majestic matriarch, had told her Ian had something to reveal. If Breena believed dreams were a sign of things to come, then it was a sign her father was indeed alive. But she didn’t know if she believed in dreams. After all, she lacked the gift of second sight. The revered Sorcha on the other hand wielded her own gift of sight like a true proficient, when she was alive.
A chilled hollowness speared her innards, causing a shiver to run up her spine.
It had been her tormentor since she was six. Often she paused and wondered what had slipped her mind, what she had forgotten—perhaps she’d missed something. Then it would hit her. She hadn’t missed anything, hadn’t forgotten anything, nothing had slipped her mind. It was only that her parents had vanished, without a word, leaving an acute aching void. She pulled her woolen arisaid tighter around her shoulders and prayed not only that their scheme would work on the Campbells but that she could rid herself of this ache in the pit of her belly, once and for all.
She gazed out the wagon as the panoply that was the Isle of Coll rolled by. The crisp October breeze swept her cheeks as she eyed the chestnut-feathered corncrakes scavenging the beachgrass-infested sand dunes. Nature’s russets, umbers, and olives, always vibrant at home on the Isle of Skye, were starved for luster here on Coll.
A lone angler in the distance slumped his shoulders in a small skiff, then gazed up at the sky as if beseeching heavenly bodies for a boon be fore casting a net onto the surface of the ocean. The earthiness of the damp ground below mingling with the briny sea air and the pungency of kelps filled her nostrils as she inhaled a cleansing breath. She was well acquainted with the pain of unanswered pleas. Well, mayhap the tide was changing for them both.
When she caught the incessant tapping of her fingers on the side of the wagon, she pulled her hand back into her lap.
“I’ll wager they don’t even remember the name Beth MacRae after nineteen years.” Breena fought against the agonizing emotions that flooded her every time she said her mother’s name.
Craig’s brown eyes looked back at her from beneath shaggy brows, the slight impatience that twitched his cheek muscles highlighting his wrinkles. “That’s a wager I’ll not be taking, for the price of losing is finding our necks at the wrong end of a noose.”
George, her uncle’s worker, flipped the reins up ahead with a sharp, practiced snap. A throaty intake of breath escaped his mouth. “Holy Saints. It looks haunted.”
Breena’s head snapped up to follow his gaze. The back of her neck prickled. Castle Carragh loomed grim on the horizon. George was as strong as a feral goat but simpleminded.
“There are no such things as ghosts, she said.” But from her sudden inability to swallow, she wasn’t sure she believed her own attempt to as suage his fears.
If the builders of this castle had meant to strike terror into its visitors, they’d carried out their goal to perfection. The shadows cast by Carragh against the backdrop of the setting sun stretched out toward them like crooked talons, warning them to keep away.
She ignored the warning and said a silent plea that they were not too late, that her father was still alive.
As they approached the castle’s outer gates, Breena made out two menacing sentries dressed in threadbare tartan trews of blue and green, the colors of the Campbell clan. They were each outfitted with a sword, mace, and a flintlock rifle; were they preparing for war? George pulled their wagon up closer to the gate, reined in the horses, and lowered his head, awaiting instructions. It always caused Breena such disquiet to see such a large man lower his head like that. She had known George for close to a decade, since he’d come to work for Craig, and despite his broad, hulking body he was the gentlest person Breena had ever met.
When one of the sentries at the gate brandished his sword, Breena’s dry gulp refused to be suppressed. His flared nostrils and squinting eyes made his pugnacious expression more acute. Did he wish to intimidate them? If so, he’d gotten his wish. The other sentry snarled, exposing crooked incisors, as he scratched his crotch. Breena eased the tension in her face into what she hoped was a pleasant smile, even as her fingers curled against her damp palms. The squinty-eyed sentry scowled. “What’s your business here?”
“I’m Craig Maxwell. I’m a healer and spice merchant. May we be of service to your clan?”
Neither Squinty Eyes nor Crooked Incisors was impressed by her uncle’s request. Squinty Eyes spat on the ground, his scowl deepening. He sauntered to the back of their wagon and started sifting through their supplies.
All of a sudden he lifted his sword high in the air and brought it down in an echoing crash on the lock of a trunk. Breena gasped out loud in surprise.
Craig jumped down from the wagon and stumbled toward Squinty Eyes. “I’ll show you whatever you wish, but there’s no cause to break our trunks.”
Squinty Eyes raised his hand, still gripping the sword and slammed the hilt down, with a dull thud, into Craig’s jaw. Breena’s body froze with horror. Her uncle teetered backward and fell to the ground, landing on his rump.
Dread rose up her gullet as she jumped down from the wagon, almost buckling at the knees, landing with more force than anticipated. She ignored the approaching thunder of hooves and rushed toward Craig. She couldn’t lose him too. She just couldn’t. She took hold of Craig’s arms and helped him from the ground.
“Are you hurt?”
Her uncle’s mouth was open, his gaze flat. She took some of his weight as he leaned against her. He was in shock. There was blood at the side of his mouth, at the end of an ugly cut, where he’d been struck. A sharp pang of fear speared her midriff as she reached into her pocket for a clean square of linen and, with a gentle touch, dabbed the blood away. Her uncle’s worker approached them with hesitant steps. Breena sent him a cursory glance, noting the fear in his bulging eyes when he saw Squinty Eyes.
“George, why don’t you remain with the horses?” Breena said. His head bobbed. “Yes, mistress.”
George understood horses, but he had difficulty with people. She returned her attention to Craig. She took hold of her uncle’s chin, avoiding the darkening bruise that was now a stark contrast to his pale skin. She inspected the wound as she gently followed his jaw line with her fingers all the way to his neck.
Nothing broken. She closed her eyes and exhaled a breath of relief.
Craig was a graying man of eight and fifty with a slim build, whereas Squinty Eyes was younger and more than twice the size of her uncle. Breena ground her teeth when another drop of blood fell from Craig’s mouth. Her pulse raced with heated indignation. How dare this barbaric bully strike Craig? How dare he block them from entering this atrocious castle? It’s not as if there were endless visitors clamoring for entrance. Losing her parents and years of this aching void pushed her to retaliate. But she couldn’t. They were at the utter mercy of this insolent sentry to gain entrance to the Campbells’ keep. He held their fate and her father’s life in his hands, a fact he was utterly unaware of.
As she tended to Craig, a loud snigger pierced the air. She swung around to see Squinty Eyes dangling a gossamer shift off the tip of his sword, right above the now-broken trunk. He jutted his flaccid chin in Breena’s direction as he addressed Craig.
“You let me have a roll in the hay with the lass and I’ll let you in.” Breena’s eyes narrowed at the crude proposition. The insult dug in. Her heart rate quickened as self-preservation and a survival instinct unfurled inside her. The heat of it spread throughout her entire body like a wave of sickness, making her shake.
Rationality went out the window as she took two steps forward and dealt a resounding slap across the sniggering face of Squinty Eyes. He was caught off guard, judging by the way his mouth fell open and his head jerked back. His odious stench made Breena want to pinch the tip of her nose shut and breathe through her mouth.
But then, coldness sank into her stomach. Oh no. No. What had she done? She blinked, trying to swallow against the rising bile, and stepped back.
She would never forgive herself if they were barred entrance because of her foolhardy actions. She’d never done anything like that before. What was the matter with her? The earlier mention of a noose burned her ears.
Squinty Eyes recovered. He grunted and swore as he grabbed her. His grip, like cold steel, dug into her soft flesh. He wrenched her right arm forward. Her mouth tightened with defiance as she glared at him. Even as her right shoulder was at risk of dislocating under his granite hold, she held her chin high. She would not give this bully the satisfaction of seeing her cower.
“You brazen wench, how dare you strike me?”
His eyes bulged, and spittle escaped from his mouth. She tugged and pulled to no avail as the pounding of horses’ hooves reverberated in the air around them. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a towering, broad-shouldered Highland warrior dismounting from the blackest stallion she’d ever seen.
He stormed Squinty Eyes from behind.
About Roma Cordon:
Roma Cordon was introduced to romance novels in her teenage years and instantly became a voracious reader of the genre. In the 1990s, she came to live in New York where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees. After taking a writing course at New York University with Anne Rice, she dived into the world of writing while testing the waters at public speaking at her local Toastmasters club. By day, Roma works in the finance industry; in the evenings and weekends, she is a passionate romance writer. She also writes on her blog romacordon.com.
Inspiration for Roma’s debut novel, Bewitching a Highlander came from trips to Scotland with her husband. Roma is an active member of the RWA-NYC Chapter and lives in New York with her husband where they care for two adorable furry friends adopted from local shelters.
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