He’d loved her more than any other woman in his life and she was gone. Madeline Grant had been the perfect woman—beautiful, sweet, loving, loyal, everything a man could want in a wife. But she’d met Alexander Grant first, and they’d married and made a life together, raising five bairns of their own and one adopted child. But it could have ended so differently. She could have left to be with him. He would never forget the first time they met. Racing across the cobblestones for one of the festivals, he’d fallen down and skinned his knees. His mother and father had been far behind him, but that had proven his salvation. A yellow-haired angel had picked him up, brushed the dirt away, and said, “Dry your eyes, laddie. I’ll fix you up so it will pain you no more.” Maddie had taken him inside, dressed his wounds, and planted a soft kiss on each of his knees before she handed him back over to his mother. Ever since then, his eyes had followed her wherever she went. The mistress had stolen his heart. As he grew from a laddie into a man, his interest in her changed. It became a kind of obsession.
But the taller he grew, the less Maddie spoke to him. Still, he found every excuse he could to see her, to talk to her. Why, he’d even brushed down Alex Grant’s horse whenever the chief returned from battle. Why? Because Madeline always came to offer the beast an apple. She’d cooed and stroked that horse so much he’d needed to turn away to hide his arousal, but it had always been worth the risk. Until that fateful day. The darkest day of his life. He was a man by then, with a broad, muscular body. And although she no longer sought him out or smiled at him, he had told himself it was because she was trying to avoid her own changing feelings. If he approached her now, she was sure to accept him, if only as a lover.
The difference in their ages wouldn’t matter. So he’d approached her in the stables. She had politely rejected him and suggested he leave Grant land. The prospect of being away from her had nearly killed him, but he’d feared retaliation from the powerful laird. So he’d packed his things and left. In the long, lonely years that had followed, he’d only had the chance to set his gaze upon the love of his life but once a year, for the chief had allowed him to visit his parents every Christmas. But they’d died years ago, taking his excuse with them, and now she was gone, too. The ache in his heart was too large—it had only grown bigger for every year she was gone—and he’d finally made a decision. After all these years. After all these decades.
He was going to make Alexander Grant pay for cheating him out of the woman who should have belonged to him. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d accomplish it, but he’d do it through the man’s bairns and his grandbairns. And if he lost his life over it, so be it. Chapter One Autumn, 1307, MacLintock Castle Dyna Grant stopped her horse, handing off her game to the guards who’d ridden with her and waving them ahead. Meanwhile, she reached for her bow, ready to shoot one or both men before they caught sight of her. Two sheriffs stood arguing with her grandsire, Alexander Grant, the mighty swordsman who had now lived beyond seven decades. True, her grandfather wasn’t alone—her cousins Alasdair and Els stood with him—but she was in a better position to put arrows in the sheriffs’ arses if they dared to touch Grandsire. She approached slowly, ignoring the slight breeze, the rustle of the leaves falling from the trees, the sweet smell of the recent rainfall. Normally, she would bask in the small pleasures of her ride, but not this morn. The sheriffs might not be threatening her grandfather, yet, but the fine tic in his jaw, something she saw even from ten horse lengths away, told her their reason for traveling to MacLintock Castle would upset everything and everyone.
As she got closer, she realized she knew one of the men. He’d helped Dyna and her cousins in the past, proving himself to be true to the Scots and Robert the Bruce. The other? She’d astutely doubt every word he said until he proved his value. “Grandsire, has something happened?” she shouted, her nearly white plait bouncing across her shoulders as she approached the group. Her grandfather waved for her to dismount. When the two sheriffs turned their attention to her, she said, “What ill news do you bring this time? Another death that’s a lie, a promise from King Edward, a garrison on its way to attack us?” The one she trusted was Sheriff De Fry, but of course it was the other man who answered her. She’d seen him before but couldn’t recall his name. She only knew she didn’t like the smug look on his face. “Is this how you thank someone who’s turned a favor for your clan?” he asked. “What favor?” De Fry said, “Sheriff Busby heard that King Edward has sent a large garrison of men out with orders to capture Alexander Grant.
He is to be brought to the royal castle at Berwick. We came to advise him to go into hiding.” Her heartbeat sped up so much she feared it would explode out of her chest. Grandsire looked completely calm. Even that tic in his jaw had stopped. Grandsire said, “My thanks to both of you for the information. We’ll make our plans with that in mind.” “Where will you go?” Busby asked. “Nowhere that I will tell you. But I intend to leave in a few days.
” De Fry snorted, a smirk covering his face as he turned around and headed to his horse, ending the visit. “I’m a Scot,” Busby objected, his face red. “You can trust me.” “We’ll see. I wouldn’t entrust that information to many.” Busby gave the old man a final glare before he, too, climbed onto his horse and flicked the reins without another word. Alex watched him go, his stare telling Dyna that something about the man niggled at him. Busby felt wrong to her too. Her grandsire’s sense of discernment had come from a lifetime of fighting and leading, of experience, but Dyna’s skills were different. She’d been born with them.
Sometimes they warned her away from people who intended harm, sometimes they even gave her knowledge of the future. It had always been that way, so it was impossible to explain how she knew the things she knew. She only understood that she did. With some people, her intuition was so undeniable they may as well be dressed like the devil himself. This man wasn’t so clearly labeled, but she felt the warning nonetheless. As soon as the sheriffs were out of hearing distance, Alasdair asked, “Do you believe them?” According to their elders, Alasdair was the image of Alex Grant in his younger days. He was especially close to Grandsire since his father, Jake, had passed on at a young age. “I do,” Grandsire said. “The English tried to capture me through John, then through Kyla. Both attempts failed.
The new English king, Edward’s son, doesn’t know much about fighting, but he knows how to give orders. I’m not concerned by a few groups of Englishmen. They don’t know the Highlands the way I do.” He tossed the end of his red, green, and black plaid over his shoulder as if to flaunt it. Grandsire wore his Scottish pride well, and it was little wonder—he was the man who’d made Clan Grant what it was in the Highlands. One of the most powerful clans in all the land. “True, they’ll probably never find you,” Els said, his light-colored locks blowing in the breeze. “I wonder if they still think they can force our warriors to fight for England.” Grandsire nodded, then said, “We’ll only discuss this again in the solar. This is not information to be disseminated to the clan.
Give me time to consider all I’ve heard. First we eat.” He walked through the gates with his head held high, but Dyna could see his hip still pained him, as it had for the past few years. Aunt Jennie had given him salve to ease the joint pain, but it seemed to have worsened. She jumped down from her horse, pushed the animal toward a stable lad, and hurried after him. “Grandsire,” she said, catching up to him and clutching his elbow. “You know we will protect you. You decide on a strategy and we will deliver. We’ll not allow the English bastards to get you. Ever.
” She loved to walk beside her grandsire. When she was with him, it felt like his ferocity was bolstering her own strength and will. Once they entered the bustling courtyard, her grandfather patted her arm and gave her a look that told her to hold her tongue for now. The man was capable of commanding the largest army in the Highlands with the movement of his eyes or his head. Rarely did anyone question him—even now, many years after his sons had officially taken over the leadership of the clan. The laughter of two bairns carried to them, putting a wide smile on the old man’s face. A wee lassie and a wee laddie came racing across the courtyard. “Seanair, watch this. We racing!” John, Alasdair’s son, pointed to a tree a short distance away and nodded to the wee lassie next to him. “Go!” she said.
The two ran to the tree, laughing and giggling all along the way. John touched the tree a few seconds ahead of the lass. “Coira, I won. Do again. Then you win.” Grandfather nodded, apparently satisfied with the lad’s approach to his play, then kept moving. “You’re a fine runner, John. Continue your practice.” Watching the bairns reminded her of her own childhood. Of the way she, Alasdair, Els, and Alick used to carry on together.
Although the lads had all been born on the same night, something that had bonded them together, Dyna, born a year and a half later, had always been a part of their group. At three summers, she used to guide their games. She had always been the one to help put a stop to their bickering and battles and propel them to more interesting activities. When she was about ten summers, her grandsire had told her that the lads had no idea she controlled them. From then on, she had paid attention to the way the lads played with her, and it soon became clear that he was right. They did whatever she did. One time, they had even followed her straight through a deep puddle of mud that she’d managed to side-step at the last possible moment. Els had entered first, Alick following him in blindly. Alasdair, usually a bit more alert than the others, had caught himself just in time, saving himself from a drenching. Alick’s mother had bellowed from across the courtyard.
“Alick, those were new boots you just muddied up.” Alick had stopped in the middle of the muck, slightly in shock, while Els climbed out of the other side. Grandsire’s laughter had carried to her from the parapets. She had many fond memories of playing with her cousins, one of the many reasons she enjoyed watching John and Coira. As the wee ones took off for another race, Dyna and her grandsire continued on to the MacLintock keep. Just before Grandsire opened the door, he whispered something in her ear. “And so it begins again.” She’d been thinking the same. *** Derric Corbett ended his sparring with another of Bruce’s warriors, wiping the sweat from his brow. He’d removed his tunic because it was a warm day in early autumn, and he didn’t wish to dirty one of the few tops he had.
“You’ve built up, Corbett,” his sparring partner said. “Just from your swordplay?” “Aye.” “Apurpose?” “Aye. Have you not seen the Grant warriors? Especially the cousins? They’re all bigger than any other warriors. They claim ’tis from swordplay.” He grabbed a skin of ale and downed two swigs. There was a breeze at the moment, something he loved to feel across his body. The only thing that would feel better was Dyna Grant—her hands, her breasts, her lips… Would she notice his new bulk? That thought got a reaction from his traitorous groin, just like it always did, so he spun around and headed to the nearby burn to throw cold water on his face. It was there Robert the Bruce caught up with him. Dark-haired and clean shaven, King Robert had a dignified look one didn’t often see in a man who spent much of his time living in the forests.
He looked more tired than usual, battle weary, but he was relentless in his pursuit of the claim to his title as King of Scotland. The capture of his wife and other family members showed in the lines in his face, but his eyes still demonstrated a keen mind. Their king believed in stealth and cunning over brute battle strength. “King Robert,” Derric said, nodding to him as he dipped his cupped hands into the water and threw the cool refreshment across his face and neck. “Corbett. I was searching for you. I forgot to tell you something. A lass named Senga came looking for you when I sent you on patrol two moons ago, said she’d known you last year. She was a drifter, following my camp, but she asked specifically after you. Do you recall her?” He stopped, remembering the lass with golden hair, bewitching green eyes, and those big… “You know of whom I speak?” Robert asked.
“Aye. Senga. She was a sweet lass, but she had ambitions. ’Twas just a fling.” Robert shrugged. “She didn’t say why she wished to see you, but after her departure, someone told me she’d spoken of her new bairn. Might it be yours?” Derric froze. He’d tried to make sure he didn’t leave a bunch of children behind, but he supposed it was possible. What was he to do? He’d hoped to go to MacLintock Castle to see his sister and a certain tall, willowy blonde with fire in her eyes. Ever since he’d had a taste of Dyna Grant, he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind.
More than once, he’d woken up in the middle of the night with a hard cock, memories of her sweet lips and fine arse drifting through his mind. Robert the Bruce clasped his shoulder. “Senga has a wee lassie with bright-colored hair is what I was told. She was headed north into the Highlands. After she left, someone told me she was searching for the father of the bairn, though she never named you. I just wished to mention it because she asked after you. Do as you wish with the information.” The babe couldn’t be his, or could it? Derric pressed his memory, trying to recall how often he’d been with the lass. They hadn’t been involved for long, and he’d always been careful. Still, the babe could be his.
He knew a few times was all it took. Did he have a daughter? Perhaps he should take the time to look Senga up. Ask her the question himself. In the meantime… “King Robert?” he said, turning back toward the burn. The king was dipping his head under a falling stream of water cascading between a few stones. “Would it be a bother if I take a sennight or two to visit my sister? We’re not far from where she’s living.” “Nay, after Loudon Hill and Lorn, I don’t think we’ll have much to do until we get farther north. Come back though, aye? And give my best to dear Joya.” He hoped his gaze didn’t give him away. True, he’d love to visit Joya, but he needed to see Dyna, and that need was becoming stronger every day.
Ever since his parents were slain by English soldiers eight years ago, Derric had devoted his life to making the English bastards pay for their crimes against Scotland. In many ways, it was a gratifying quest. And yet, seeing how happy Joya was with Dyna’s cousin, Els, he couldn’t help but wonder if a life with Dyna might be more satisfying than this endless fight for Scotland. Or perhaps Dyna would wish to fight beside him? He thought back to the battle outside of Thane Castle when Dyna had climbed onto his shoulders and thrust her sword into the air, the crackle of thunder shaking the ground around them. The lass had uncanny talents for sure. King Robert asked, “Is that smile for Senga?” Embarrassed to have been caught thinking on a lass, he whipped off a lie easily. “Nay, I was thinking of Joya. I’d like to see that she’s doing well with her husband.” “I’m sure she’s quite happily married. Mayhap she’ll give you a niece or nephew.
Send her my best.” “I will.” It was an easy promise to make, and Derric nodded without hesitation. He wished Robert hadn’t brought up Senga, but he doubted the bairn was his daughter. And while he intended to seek her out to ease his mind—he felt the powerful pull of a pair of ice blue eyes. A smirk of pouty lips. Dyna would shoot a challenge at him, the way she always did, and he’d be powerless to ignore it. He’d be grateful for it.