Seduction of a Highland Warrior – Sue-Ellen Welfonder

In the beginning of days, before Highland warriors walked heather-clad hills and gazed in awe across moors chased by cloud shadows, old gods ruled the dark and misty realm that would one day be known as Scotland. Glens were silent then, empty but for the whistle of the wind and the curl of waves on sparkling sea-lochs. Yet if a man looked and listened with his heart rather than his eyes and ears, he might catch a glimpse of wonders beyond telling. For Manannan Mac Lir, mighty god of sea and wind, loved these rugged Scottish shores. Those who haven’t forgotten legend will swear that stormy days saw Manannan plying Highland waters in his magical galley, Wave Sweeper. Or that on nights when the full moon shone bright, he favored riding the edge of the sea on his enchanted horse Embarr of the Flowing Mane. All tales claimed that wherever he was, Manannan never lost sight of Scotland’s cliff-fretted coast. One stretch of shoreline was said to hold his especial attention: a place of such splendor even his jaded heart swelled to behold its wild and haunting beauty. That place was the Glen of Many Legends. Storytellers agree that when the day came that Manannan observed a proud and noble MacDonald warrior stride into this fair land of heather, rock, and silvery seas, he was most pleased. Those were distant times, but even then the men of Clan Donald were gaining a reputation as men of fierce loyalty and unbending honor. They were the best of all Highlanders. Even the gods stood in awe of them. So Manannan’s pleasure grew when this MacDonald warrior, an early chieftain known as Drangar the Strong, chose this blessed spot to build a fine isle-girt fortress. Here, Drangar the Strong would guard the coast with his trustworthy and fearless garrison.

And – the talespinners again agreed – the great god of sea and wind surely believed Clan Donald would blossom and thrive, gifting the Glen of Many Legends with generations of braw Highland warriors and beautiful, spirited women. The world was good. Until the ill-fated day when Drangar took a moonlit walk along the night-silvered shore of his sea-loch and happened across a lovely Selkie maid who no red-blooded man could’ve resisted. Her dark hair gleamed like moonlight on water and her eyes shone like the stars. Her lips were seductively curved and ripe for kissing. And her shapely form beckoned, all smooth, creamy skin and tempting shadows. MacDonalds, it must now be said, are as well-lusted as their hearts are loyal and true. Drangar fell hard, succumbing to the seal woman’s charms there and then. But such passions flare hotly only for a beat, at least for the woman-of-the-sea who soon suffers unbearable longings to return to her watery home. Nor is any Highlander unaware of the tragedies that so often befall these enchanting creatures and the mortal men who lose their hearts to them.

Such tales abound along Scotland’s coasts and throughout the Western Isles, with every clan bard able to sing of the heartache and danger, the ills that can break good men. Or, perhaps worst of all, the tears of children born to such unions. Drangar could not allow such sorrow to visit his people. Nor did he wish to see his seductress in anguish. So he did as all good MacDonalds would do and followed his honor. Rather than carry her into his castle and have his way with her, he took her shining sealskin from the rock where she’d discarded it and, returning the skin to her, he’d stood by as she vanished into the sea. Then – the bards pause here for effect – before the waves settled, Manannan himself rose from the spume-crested depths and made Drangar a great gift of thanks for his farsightedness and his honor. The gift was iron-bound treasure chest heavy with priceless amber. These were enchanted gemstones that, according to legend, would bring Clan Donald fortune and blessings, aiding them always in times of trouble. But life in the Highlands was never easy.

And even magical stones can’t always allay feuds, strife, and the perfidy of men. Years passed and then centuries. Times were good and then also bad. Bards embroidered Manannan’s fame and nearly forgot the role of the seal woman in explaining Clan Donald’s chest of ambers. Soon other tales were added until no man knew what was real or storied. Then the day came when even Drangar slipped into the murk of legend. Worst fates followed and the MacDonalds’ once-mighty fortress was torn from their grasp. But the clan never lost their honor. Centuries later they even regained their home. Now a new Clan Donald chieftain rules there.

Alasdair MacDonald is his name and he’s a lord of warriors. A man worth a hundred in battle, well-loved by his friends and respected by his foes. Drangar’s heart would’ve burst with pride if he could have known him. To Alasdair, honor is everything. Yet he lives in troublesome times. And although his beloved glen is quiet, the truce that keeps it so is fragile. Two other clans now share the Glen of Many Legends and while one can be called an ally, the other remains hostile. Many would credit Alasdair’s repute and authority that disaster hasn’t yet struck. Those less generous would say the strength of his sword arm is responsible. Whatever one believes, he is not a man to cross.

Unfortunately, ill winds are blowing ever closer to the fair glen, once so loved by Manannan and Drangar. Alasdair’s passion for the glen is equally great. But soon his love for a woman will challenge him to abandon everything he holds dear. When he does, he will lose more than his honor. His actions will unleash a calamity worse than the Glen of Many Legends has ever seen. And every man, woman, and child there will be marked for doom. I CHAPTER 1 Lughnasadh Harvest Fair at Castle Haven The Highlands Late Summer 1398 f she’d had any doubt that the day was a disaster, Lady Marjory Mackintosh knew it by the time she landed at the fair’s crowded row of cloth-stalls. Most years she loved Lughnasadh. A lively gathering to offer thanks for the season’s first harvest and to mark the end of summer, the ancient festival offered one of the few markets that ever visited the Glen of Many Legends. All three glen clans attended, glad for the entertainments, and an opportunity to replenish supplies now that the sun was on its descent into winter darkness.

Folk from neighboring lands also took advantage. Everywhere, visitors jostled to examine wares not readily available in the glen. Others flocked to the cook stalls and refreshment booths, while some chose to watch the jugglers, musicians, and dancers who paraded past rows of brightly painted wooden stalls. Bards spun tales for eager listeners. And young girls wearing flower garlands threw crumbled oatcakes to the birds so that the glen’s smallest creatures could take part in the celebration. Somewhere a woman laughed, her voice light and full of merriment. Marjory felt a spurt of envy. She would’ve enjoyed a reason to delight in the day’s excitements. Unfortunately, she couldn’t feel anything beyond a nagging frustration, disappointment clouding her pleasure. Alasdair MacDonald wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Not that she’d truly expected to encounter the dashing Clan Donald chieftain. He’d been away from the glen nearly a year, after all. And whatever his business, he hadn’t bothered to send a single word offering felicitations or even inquiring of her health. He’d undoubtedly forgotten her. And wasn’t she a fool to let that bother her. To wish for even a moment that the feelings she’d once imagined he held for her were true. Sadly, she’d misread him. She needed to forget the heat in his eyes and the flash of his smile. The way his body brushed hers in a passing moment. And how his scent took over her senses and left her weak in the knees.

The time had passed when his mere proximity would fill her with delicious warmth, making her skin tingle and stirring potent desire deep inside her. She knew better now. His feelings for her, if they’d ever existed, had clearly turned as cool as the shadows on the hills in the hour of gloaming. So she set a deliberately intent look on her face and began perusing the artfully displayed silk ribbons offered by the nearest cloth vendor. It wouldn’t do to let anyone who suspected her attraction to Alasdair think she might be suffering under his absence. Her face heated, her pulse quickening in annoyance at how eagerly she’d scanned the crowds upon arriving at the fair. Slipping away from her brother and his wife, she’d worked her way through the stalls and past countless traders’ carts, so hopeful to catch a glimpse of the tall, strapping man she ached to see. Now at the cloth stalls, placed at the farthest end of the fair, she had to admit defeat. And for more than not spying Alasdair in the bustle, although the other soul she’d hoped to find certainly held no place in her heart. A Norseman not adverse to fattening his purse, he was the latest in a long line of self-seeking men who accepted coin and jewels in return for helping her thwart her brother Kendrew’s attempts to see her wed.

She had her own plans. At least, she had until Alasdair vanished from the glen, never to be seen again. Even so, she cast another glance down the row of cloth stalls. Regrettably, she saw little but the noisy throng and drifting smoke from the cook fires. She certainly didn’t spot the one-eyed Norseman with a gold ring in his ear whom she desperately needed to see. More importantly, she also failed to see the warrior chieftain whose mere glance sent hot shivers racing through her blood. Marjory frowned. Alasdair wasn’t worth the thoughts she wasted on him. No doubt he wasn’t at the harvest fair because he was occupied with a maid he deemed more pleasing than her. Indeed, she was quite certain that was so.

Alasdair was known to be a well-lusted man. He wouldn’t lack for female companionship, wherever he held himself. Sure of it, she fought against the resentment that slammed into her. Her head began to ache. “Sweet lass, you brighten the day more than if a ray of sunlight fell to earth.” Marjory froze, her breath catching at the deep, rich voice she hadn’t heard in so long. Alasdair. His big, masculine shadow fell across her, melding with her own in an intimate joining. His scent swirled around her, a heady blend of man, peat smoke, and the sea, familiar as if she’d breathed him in yesterday. But she hadn’t.

And that truth burned in her chest, a tight coil of injured possessiveness she had no right to feel. Still… She bit her lip, aware of the fair’s atmosphere shifting, the air almost igniting around her. The fine sapphire ribbon she’d been admiring slipped from her fingers to curl on the grass. Before her, the cloth stall dimmed, as did the colorful wares piled on its display board. Everything around her ceased to exist, the fairgoers smudging to a blur as her heart leaped, her body and her emotions responding to him in ways she knew she should squelch at once. Unfortunately, she couldn’t. He stood right behind her. So near that her skin prickled, tingling as if he’d touched her. Pleasure swept her, a sweet, warm tide. But his presence reminded her of the other reason she’d made certain not to miss the harvest fair.

The peril she faced with each new day: forced nuptials with a Viking lord of high rank who’d expect an amenable wife. A pity she didn’t feel at all willing. Marjory bristled, straightened her back. Her brother meant well in trying to find her a titled and wealthy Viking husband, a man who would bring status to their clan and forge a bond to the Mackintoshes’ ancient ties to the northern lands. Even so, she had no wish for such a match. Nor could she bear the thought of leaving her home, the Glen of Many Legends. She didn’t want to marry a Norseman. She wanted… “Alasdair.” She turned to face him, anger chasing her elation. “I didn’t think to see you here.

You’ve been away, many months now.” “So I have, aye.” He stepped closer, giving her a slow, deliciously wicked smile. “Can it be you missed me?” “Surely not.” Marjory flushed when he cocked a disbelieving brow. “I’ve had much to do of late.” She spoke true, just not adding that many of her thoughts had been of him. “You cannot believe the glen stilled in your absence, pining for you. There is aye work and-” “I spoke of you, lass, no’ the glen.” His gaze locked with hers and she could feel the heat of him, the power of his strong, hard body.

His rich, auburn hair gleamed in the sun. A bit longer than she remembered, the ends brushed his shoulders, while new, harsh lines in his face hinted he’d been long at sea. He also seemed larger and more roughened than she remembered. She flipped back her braid, not liking how his rugged appearance made her pulse quicken. “I am not your concern, Alasdair MacDonald.” He let his gaze roam over her, as if seeing her for the first time. “Aye, well. You are a Mackintosh and your brother and I are no’ friends, that is true.” “You never forget that, do you?” Marjory’s chest tightened, his words a knife jab to her heart. “There is much I dinnae forget.

” He gripped her chin, slid his thumb over her lips. “I’m also thinking I was gone too long, much as I needed to make the journey to Inverness. A good seaman watches o’er the building of a new galley, howe’er skilled the shipyard. “Now I’m returned.” He stroked the corner of her mouth, his touch leaving her breathless. Shivery, almost giddy with happiness, and more than a little annoyed. She wasn’t a child’s toy to be cast aside and ignored, retrieved at a whim. She was Marjory Mackintosh of Nought and a proud and strong woman. So she stepped back, away from the madness of his caress. The unsettling things his attentions did to her insides, making it so hard to think.

She did lift her chin. “Will you be staying?” “Aye, that I will.” His voice deepened and he appeared even more different. Not just larger than she remembered, but a bit dangerous. His eyes darkening, he leaned in, so near that his breath mingled with hers. “Seeing the splendors of these hills, I regret I was away.” “Indeed.” Marjory held his gaze, challengingly. “So I said.” He flashed another smile and then bent to retrieve the fallen silk ribbon.

“You dropped this.” Giving her the ribbon, he closed her fingers around its length and then raised her hand to his lips. “Have you ne’er learned no’ to let something of such beauty slip from your grasp?” “This past year, I have learned things I would never have believed.” She didn’t say her greatest lesson was that he cared so little for her. That truth surely blazed in her eyes. “Were you aware how many wayfarers pass through this glen? Traveling men who gladly carry messages if asked?” “Such men also journey north, my lady. They sail Hebridean waters, where I spent time after leaving Inverness with my new galley. If the wind changes in Glasgow, it’s known in Aberdeen by nightfall.” He stepped back, narrowing his gaze. “Tongues wag even faster in our beloved Highlands.

“So tell me, Norn” – he used her by-name, given to her for her fair northern looks – “I would know if the rumors I’ve heard are true? Has your brother secured a match for you? Are you to be a Viking bride?” She looked at him, her knuckles still tingling where he’d kissed her. “Kendrew does wish to find a husband for me. He’s sent offers to a number of Norsemen, mostly lesser nobles in Orkney and Shetland. “So far they’ve all declined.” She drew a breath, keeping her chin raised. If she succeeded in trysting with a certain one-eyed Viking courier this day, she’d ensure another refused bid. Hoping she’d yet spot the man, she squared her shoulders and held Alasdair’s gaze. “I am not betrothed.” “I am glad to hear it.” He looked away, into the crowd of fairgoers.

Turning back to her, his face was shuttered. “You weren’t meant to leave the glen. You’d be miserable elsewhere. Anyone born of this land would be.” “That I know.” Marjory didn’t blink, her tone as clear and proud as his. But her heart dipped. She’d hoped for a different response. The one he’d given indicated he saw her as any clanswoman of the glen. That he’d touched her cheek and smoothed his thumb over her lips, heat in his eyes as he’d done so, only revealed his appreciation of females.

A bonnie man, he’d always drawn their attention. And it galled to know that a man who so enjoyed ladies and bed-sport could ignore the deep passion and true joy she was sure they would find if he weren’t so thickheaded. Yet, in many ways, Alasdair was more stubborn than her brother. It was a truth that soured her mood. Lest he guess, she gave him a dazzling smile. “I have no intention of leaving the glen.” She twirled the blue ribbon through her fingers. “I’ve never felt a need to go journeying. Everything I desire is here.” “I could say the same, sweetness.

Still, there are times when duty calls a man away.” He gestured to the edge of the wood where a handful of MacDonald guards watched over a pile of salt barrels and sacks, goods meant for Blackshore Castle, the MacDonald stronghold at the southernmost end of the glen. “A clan chieftain cannae think only of his own wishes, howe’er he’s tempted.” Marjory stiffened. “Were you tempted in the Hebrides?” His gaze turned sharp. “What are you saying?” “Folk spoke of you in your absence.” She watched him carefully, gauging his reaction. “Talk of change at Blackshore, plans concerning you.” Alasdair shrugged. “Tongues aye wag o’er a chieftain’s doings.

My only plans were fetching my galley and” – his blue eyes glinted – “helping a friend, the MacKenzie chief, deal with a pack of rabid MacLeods bent on harrying Eilean Creag, the MacKenzie stronghold. Adding my new ship, and my fighting men, to a few sea battles is what delayed my return.” “I see.” Marjory did, but she knew there was more. There had been tales. Chatter in Nought’s own kitchens. Hushed words quickly silenced when she drew near, whisperings about Alasdair’s men urging him to wed. One of the laundresses claimed she’d heard of a minor Mackinnon chieftain offering Alasdair his youngest daughter. The girl was famed as a great beauty, said to be sweet and biddable, and possessed of a singing voice to rival the songbirds. Just thinking of such a fabled creature filled Marjory’s mouth with the taste of bitter ash.

Not that she’d wish a cretin upon him. On second thought, perhaps she would. She also needed to know the truth. So she took a deep breath and spoke her mind. “It is rumored you’re to take a Mackinnon bride. That plans have been made and-” “Is it now?” He looked amused. “Folk must’ve been mightily bored to spread such prattle. I’m wed to the glen, lass. Keeping peace is enough to occupy me. I’ve more to do than look for a wife.

” “So it’s not true?” “Nae.” He touched her face again, lifting her chin as he let his gaze slide over her, lingering just long enough at her amber necklace to show that he recognized the gemstones as belonging to his clan. Believed enchanted, the ambers had passed to her through Alasdair’s sister, Catriona, and then by way of another friend, her brother’s wife, Isobel. “The ambers…” Marjory waited until he looked up. “I hope you don’t mind I wear them?” “Nae, I am glad that you do.” He trailed his finger along the sensitive skin beneath her ear, his touch making her blood quicken. “I’d heard Lady Isobel gave you the ambers at her wedding celebration. They suit you well.” “I treasure them.” She did.

“As you should.” He looked at her, his expression unreadable. “They’re a clan heirloom, no’ a mere adornment.” “That I know.” Marjory hoped her face didn’t reveal that, to her, the stones were much more.

.

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