Her legendary Highlander
Publication: Harlequin/Mills and Boon (December 2021)
Her rugged prisoner
…becomes her fiercest protector
Capturing legendary highlander Malcolm of Clan Colquhoun was Andreona’s last chance to win her tyrannical father’s respect. Instead he orders them both to be killed! Resigned to her devasting role as the family outcast, she and her prisoner escape and continue on his quest to return a treasured heirloom. They find solace in their unexpected passion, but haunted by a lifetime of betrayals, will either dare to hope it could last beyond the journey?
Harlequin & Mills&Boon
February 1299—Basque Country
‘Riders approaching!’ Uracca yelled over the pounding rain as she ran up the tower’s winding staircase.
‘How far?’ Andreona turned as her friend crawled through the narrow stone entrance at the staircase landing.
Their safety depended on the distance and purpose of any travellers through this part of Gorka of Ipuscoa’s territories. They didn’t have much else to protect them out here except the tower they’d built and their wits.
That this particular border defence was almost a full day’s ride away from the protection of the central keep was on her father’s orders. The way it was built into a mountain, with winding staircases and small crawl throughs, was her own creation and a necessary defence for the banished women and children.
Uracca wrung out her hair. ‘Difficult to tell. There’s two of them and they’re about a mile or two out.’
Could be anyone. Hardly enough information to notify her father of any dangerous approach.
‘Horses are fine legged,’ Uracca added.
Outsiders, then, since Basque horses were stout. Grinning, Andreona went to the hutch and pulled out a silver tube and held it up to the window. If she were going to prove her worthto her father, Gorka, an overlord, she’d have to keep and maintain this area and she couldn’t do it without surprising and giving him something worthwhile. Outsiders provided that possibility.
It didn’t do to think of the fact her father hated surprises and those who’d tried before were usually killed. It only meant Andreona had to be cleverer than the rest.
Shaking the tube for its ineffectiveness, she went to the dioptra already set at the window. The surveying tool had proven useful beyond the building of the tower from an abandoned home...and she liked looking at it every day.
‘You and your tools,’ Uracca huffed. ‘What are you going to do, build those men closer to here?’
If she could, she would. Closing one eye and then the other and looking down the thin line, she still couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t only the rain; it was the terrain. This part of her country was blessed with trees and boulders as large as mountains as well as actual mountains. To see any distance, they needed to be at the coast, but that wasn’t their terrain.
‘You could simply look out of the window like the rest of us,’ Uracca said. ‘Or wear shoes.’
‘What do shoes have to do with anything?’
‘Other than it makes it easier to escape if we need to?’
She wasn’t escaping. ‘I never bother with clothes.’
‘As if your constant tripping over untied laces is something new to me.’
Her shoes weren’t a concern. Where were—? There. Two riders. Male, if their size to their mounts was any indication. As suspected, the horses were struggling with the terrain.
Fools. They didn’t deserve any horseflesh if they were to...
‘They’re dismounting, but still coming this way. What do we have?’
Uracca sneezed and drew her sleeve over her nose. ‘If it remains the two of them, the nets with weights will work well. If that’s what you want.’
‘If that’s what I want? I thought this was what we wanted?’
‘Do you think it’ll make a difference?’ Uracca tugged at her cloak’s laces. ‘Do you think capturing some outsiders and presenting them to your father will change his opinion of us?’
Andreona straightened and turned to her friend, who was avoiding her gaze. It wasn’t the words that alarmed Andreona, it was her tone. Uracca wasn’t only weary, but defiant.
She swatted her friend’s frozen hands away and untied the cloak herself. The laces were soaked and knotting. ‘Why are you questioning this now?’
‘There’s two of them and the rain has been relentless—they could be simply lost.’
They could be, but Andreona didn’t want them to be. ‘You, me, the other women, we fixed this home, built this tower. We constructed those nets and set other traps. We’ve been working on this for a year. Why else did we do it, if not to help Gorka?’
‘By helping him, we help ourselves. That’s the way of life.’
‘He’s your father, not mine, and us sitting in trees doesn’t seem to be much of a life.’
Whipping the cloak off her friend’s shoulders, Andreona gripped the dripping wool in her fist. ‘I’m not doing it because he’s my father.’ At her friend’s expression, she added, ‘I’m doing it for my father, but we’re doing it to quell unrest.’
‘Unrest created by your father.’
Unrest was her father’s kingdom. Gorka was no acknowledged señorio. He held no true Basque lordship, but that didn’t matter to thieves, murderers and politicians. No, her father’s territory wasn’t as narrow as to be simply feudal like the lordships of Alava, Biscay or Onate. Her father ruled not over everyone, but under.
While the lordships were restricted to rules and laws, her father lived to break them. And sometimes the feudal lords wanted that, too.
In the simplest of ways, her father was a thief, a prosperous one. In an ideal world, his way of life wouldn’t exist at all. But they didn’t have the luxury of an ideal life and they didn’t have the luxury of being hypocrites. It wasn’t only she who allowed men like her father, but those in official seats like the lords and magistrates. If laws or negotiations couldn’t get matters accomplished, they employed Gorka and his followers to do the task for him.
And Gorka kept the peace within his iron fists. Thieves, murderers, they were his domain and he let them know it by ‘contributions’ or rather regular payments.
‘Peace brought about because of him.’ Stepping back, Andreona shook out the cloak to get out the worst of the water and hung it by the fire. ‘Before he contained and controlled the thieves, chaos reigned and no one was safe to walk the streets. You know this as well as I do.’
‘We know nothing,’ Uracca said. ‘All those tales were told to us by Gorka and were before our time. And now that we’re banished here, we can’t ask Lord Alava or Biscay or any of them the truth. Not that they would talk to us.’
Not until they proved themselves. That’s all it would take. Except, it was getting difficult the more time passed.