Authors: S Book Excerpt

451. BOOK EXCERPT: HIGHLANDER’S PRIDE ~ Michele Sinclair

Michele Sinclair writes historical, regency, medieval and paranormal romance — here’s a hot excerpt from her next book , HIGHLANDER’S PRIDE. Due out Fall 2007.

Chapter 1, Scene 1

LOCHLEN CASTLE, SCOTTISH BORDERS, 1309

“Enough!” bellowed the old laird as he rose stiffly from his chair.
His commanding voice belied the weakness of his slow moving body, as
did his brightly lit green eyes. His thick hair, which had once been
a dark red, was now a beautiful silver gray barely reaching his shoulders.
Emerald shards of frustration and aggravation lashed out at the two
seething figures in his day room. Both remained affected by his looks
of fury. They were too obstinate to realize his toleration of their
mutual detestation had vanished. No longer could they avoid the
inevitable.

Alexander clamped his jaws together as a shot of fire coursed through
his chest. The pains were becoming more frequent–and more powerful.
His time left was limited, and before he died, he vowed his clan
would be in the hands of the one man who could ensure its survival.
He glared at the powerful highlander towering motionless near the
hearth, and then slid his gaze towards the obstinate redhead across
the room. Her jaw was clenched and her hands were clasped behind her
back as she paced furiously back and forth across the planked floor.
Neither of them was any closer to conceding.

In two strides, Alexander was in front of the hearth and met the
fierce gaze of two bright cobalt eyes intense with controlled emotion.
Alexander Dunstan knew he was considered a large man by his lowland
peers and had often used his height to intimidate those who had raised
his ire. However, the idea of his imposing figure affecting Colin
McTiernay was ludicrous. The man was a giant even among highlanders.
And while Alexander would never admit it aloud to anyone, he usually
avoided being in situations in which he had to look up at his
son-in-law. However, right now, the anger, fear, and frustration
boiling in his blood made him oblivious to Colin’s towering stature.
“Pride!” Alexander growled. “Aye, your damned, maddening, and
unreasonable pride! It prevents you both from accepting what must
be.” Refusing to wince as the burning pressure in his chest
strengthened, he returned to the comfortable, oversized chair situated
in the middle of the room.

He sank into the well-worn leather cushions hoping the man he had
learned to trust above all others would now trust him. Alexander knew
his people disliked outsiders, but he also knew that given time, they
would follow and respect the highlander. Colin was one of those rare
men a laird was lucky enough to meet, let alone welcome as family. He
was a highly skilled soldier, but even more important, Colin’s ability
to train and create unbreakable bonds with his men made him an
exceptional leader. Loyal, strong, and fair, the highlander was
Alexander’s undeniable choice to lead his proud people. But, more
than that, Colin was the only one who could save them.

Alexander shifted his gaze to the slim athletic woman with the fiery
red mane and flashing clover-green eyes. There was no doubt she was
his daughter. Her long, wild, slightly curly hair matched the color
of his youth. Her eyes were both proud and compelling, and her
unconventional demeanor reflected more of himself than any son he
might have had. But, right now, his youngest daughter’s wilfulness
was going to destroy not only her future happiness but also that of
everyone and everything she loved.

Makenna Dunstan was not exactly ignoring her father, but whenever the
highlander was in sight, her heart raced and her blood boiled. She
stopped pacing, crossed her arms, and stared defiantly at her fate
looming over the hearth. She then looked at her father and shook her
head firmly no, hoping to exhibit the inflexibility of her decision.
Alexander closed his eyes and after a few moments reopened them. “I
love you, Áille, but your pride will give you no lasting joy,” he
cautioned her solemnly.

Makenna increased the grip she had on her arms. Her father’s special
epithet for her–most beautiful–had not masked the seriousness of his
comment. He fully expected her to be at the chapel tomorrow, in front
of everyone, and do the impossible. She would not bend. She could
not bend…not on this.

She marched over and knelt by her father’s chair. “Your affections
will not dissuade me, Father. I openly admit to my pride. It has
given me self-respect and a sense of value. And with my pride, I can
promise you I will never marry that overbearing bully of a giant,”
Makenna huffed locking eyes with her oversized nemesis. She rose
slowly. “He might have convinced my sister to marry him, but he will
never convince me.”

Colin clutched the timber portion of the hearth’s mantel so tightly
he could feel the wood begin to give beneath his fingertips. Makenna
Dunstan was by far the most infuriating woman in all of Scotland, and
despite her impassioned claim, it was he who was refusing to marry
her. “I also have my pride, woman, and it does not include latching
myself to a female who refuses to know her place. I want a wife who
can maintain a keep, not see it go to ruin as she rides wild on her
horse trying to be a man she can never be.” Colin’s voice was level
and soft, but its impact was just as strong as if he roared the words
aloud.

He watched as a slim hand calmly smoothed back loose wisps of curly
red hair. The action revealed insolent jade pools framed by long dark
lashes. The woman was like unrestrained fire, constantly challenging
him on everything. It mattered little to her what her father wanted
or what her four older sisters encouraged. She had been allowed to
indulge in her peculiar interests for too long. She had never learned
how to be a woman, let alone a wife.

Makenna refused to turn away from his cold gaze. She would not give
him the satisfaction.

Colin was unmistakably a highlander, and definitely a McTiernay with
his giant build, dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, and stubborn jaw
line. When Colin married her sister, he had entered her home and
consequently her life. Within weeks, he had started banning her from
the few activities that gave her confidence. Even though she was
better at them than most men and had been doing them for years, he
deemed them unsafe for a woman. Now, for almost two years, she had
been forbidden to hunt wild boar or any other beast he deemed to be
dangerous. She was never to ride alone, and he had prohibited her
from training with his soldiers. One by one, Colin McTiernay had
stripped away her favorite pastimes, and all with the blessing of the
one person who had previously championed her unusual diversions–her
father. She would never marry the dictatorial colossus, tomorrow or
any other day.

Makenna released the back of the leather chair, swung around, and
begun pacing again. Her father had had enough? Well, she was also
done with this conversation. For weeks, she had felt like a caged
animal being pressured into a binding agreement that would eventually
steal her sanity. Despite her stream of vocal refusals, her father
had moved forward inducing her older sisters, Ula and Rona, to plan
the wedding. Every local laird had been invited, and most had come.
Tomorrow they would all be disappointed.

Makenna took several intakes of breath determined to maintain her
composure. “I cannot do as you ask, Father. I am not ready to pledge
myself to any man, but I especially won’t to this one. Deirdre might
have loved him, and I have never fathomed why. I don’t disagree that
he can lead men and rebuild our battle strength. I will even admit
that he should continue to train our soldiers, but I just cannot marry
him. I will only make us both miserable, and that cannot be good for
anyone, including our clan.”

Shocked by her flattering admission of his abilities, Colin was too
stunned to do anything more than stare at her. He had never heard
Makenna once acknowledge his skills or support his efforts to
re-establish the Dunstan army. Outside of his soldiers and Alexander,
no one had verbally recognized what he had accomplished. He was about
to say as much when Alexander indicated with a flicker of his fingers
for him to remain silent.

Alexander understood his youngest daughter’s reluctance. Marrying a
highlander would be difficult, and promising oneself to a McTiernay
would be even harder. Their enormous size, dark looks, and cool blue
eyes made even the most composed of men sweat. But, marrying the
husband of her dead sister? It was a near impossible thing to ask. Near.
“I have heard your pleas, Makenna. I have catered to your rebellious
ways for too long and now that I require you to act not only for
yourself, but for others, you refuse me.”
Makenna winced. “Father, it is not for me, but for this clan that I
refuse.”

Alexander’s eyes narrowed and he attacked her declaration. “It is
for you. And even your sister, who watches you from above, knows it.
Do not pretend otherwise. Accept for once that I know what is best
and lean on my judgement. For if you do not, it will be my cousin who
decides this clan’s fate–as well as your own.”

Alexander shifted his focus to Colin. “I have heard your excuses as
well.” He saw the swift turn of his son-in-law’s head and the
immediate fire smouldering in the cobalt depths of his eyes. The man
had complete control of his actions, and though Colin outwardly
appeared calm and collected, Alexander knew he was suppressing his
instinct to draw blood. Alexander also knew his words had to strike
hard to achieve his goal. He had no more time to wait. “Aye, I said
excuses, Colin. Deirdre died nine months ago, and she loved you, son,
but she would not have wanted you to live this way–constantly driving
yourself and the men. You have a decision to make. Keep your pride
and return to your highlands or finish what you started here. Make
your choice. You’re out of time.”
Alexander rotated in his seat and levelled his eyes on his youngest
daughter. She stared back undaunted. He had often felt enormous
pride in her ability to remain staunch in her convictions. Too many
times his delight with her wilful behaviour had resulted in him giving
way to her unorthodox desires. Now she was the only one of his five
daughters unmarried. “And you, my Áille, keep your pride as well, but
learn to be lonely. For one day, possibly very soon, you will no
longer have me to applaud your unusual accomplishments. And whom will
you have then? You claim you desire no man, but I put forth that what
you have always wanted was for someone to accept you, be proud of you,
and love you. I have given you this, but still you want more.
Someday you will realize that what you seek needs to be offered by a
man, a real man, not one of the malleable ògans who follow you about
professing their awe at your skills. Go and prepare yourself for a
sad and solitary life, daughter.”

Alexander watched a visibly shaken Makenna absorb his words. More
softly, he added, “Colin is right, Makenna. You have little knowledge
about being a proper wife, but you could learn.” He paused and waited
until she looked at him. “I promise you that what a man most seeks in
a wife you have to give in abundance. You just must first learn to
trust in him and in yourself.”

He leaned back against the cushions. “And Colin, despite your year
with my Deirdre, you learned very little about being a good husband.
Aye, I know the truth. Remember, she was my first born, and I knew
her for almost six and twenty years before she finally chose you for a
husband. Do you know how many she had turned down before you asked
for her hand? Do you know why she desired you above all others? Aye,
it might have been love, for indeed, she did love you, but she knew
even before I did that you could save our people. She waited to marry
until she found someone who could do just that. If you choose to
leave, her desires for her clan will have been for naught.” Alexander
watched the deep blue of the highlander’s eyes grow darker.
Colin stood silent for several moments before moving towards the
large dark walnut door and pushing it open. He stopped his exit
halfway into the passage outer stone corridor. Gravely, he pivoted
and declared quietly, “This isn’t what I wanted, Alexander.”
Green eyes weakened by pain and loss captured the blue ones of the
man Alexander had learned to trust and lean upon. “I know,” Alexander
replied, “but it has to be. Either you and Makenna marry tomorrow or
you leave. Both of you, go now and make peace with your decision.”
Alexander closed his eyes and listened to his daughter’s light
retreating footsteps followed by Colin’s heavier ones. Two years ago,
when his eldest daughter announced her decision to marry the second
eldest of the famous McTiernays, he never dreamed he would select
Colin to be the next laird of his clan. Yet, soon after their
marriage vows, Alexander knew Colin was the one man who could ensure
his Dunstan lineage continued to grow and be prosperous.

His clan was not ready for another war, and yet despite Edward I’s
celebrated death, a fight was coming in the shape of his son,
England’s new king. Being on the Scottish Borders, his clan was
especially vulnerable. A brilliant leader, Colin possessed the rare
ability to train raw men into skilled warriors ready for combat.
Makenna, with her unorthodox habits of training with the soldiers,
was the only one of his offspring who understood just how depleted the
Dunstan forces had become while supporting Wallace’s cause. Without
McTiernay’s leadership and legendary ability to train and build a
loyal force, his people would be enveloped by another branch of
Dunstans, and his bloodline would fade as if it never was. Makenna
would most likely be forced wed the man designated to run Lochlen
Castle, and Colin would be obliged to return north causing his
soldiers to either go with him or disperse. Some would join Robert
the Bruce’s campaign, but very few would remain loyal to the Dunstans.
Most had joined to follow McTiernay, and the majority of them would
follow him to the highlands if he left. Eventually the Dunstans would
be no more.

There would be a marriage tomorrow.

There had to be.

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