Highland Savage

Hannah Howell

ISBN 9781420129366
Publish Date 5/1/2007
Format ePub
Categories Romance Historical, Kensington Ebooks
List Price: $5.99

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New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to the fateful realms of the Scottish Highlands, where a man's destiny lies in the heart of the woman who once betrayed him. . .

Beaten and left for dead, Sir Lucas Murray is a man wounded in body and soul. He has brought himself back to becoming the warrior he once was--except for his ruined leg and the grief he feels over the death of the woman he once loved...the same woman who led him into his enemies' hands.

Dressed as a masked reiver, it is Katerina Haldane who saves Lucas as he battles for his life--and for revenge. Shocked that she still lives, Lucas becomes desperate to ignore the desire raging through his body. And Katerina becomes desperate to regain his trust, trying to convince him of her half-sister's role in his beating. Lucas is reluctant to let down his guard, but his resistance melts once Katerina is back in his arms. . .and his bed. Now he must learn to trust his instincts--in battle and in love...

Praise for the novels of Hannah Howell

"Howell offers readers another captivating tale." --Booklist on Highland Champion

"No one else tells a Scottish tale the same way." --Romantic Times on Highland Lover

Chapter One
Spring 1481

His robes itched. Lucas gritted his teeth against the urge to throw them off and vigorously scratch every inch of his body he could reach. He did not know how his cousin Matthew endured wearing the things day in and day out. Since the man had happily dedicated his life to the service of God, Lucas did not think Matthew deserved such an excruciating penance. A man willing to sacrifice so much for God ought to able to do so in more comfortable garb.

"This may have been a bad idea, Eachann," Lucas murmured to his mount as he paused on a small rise to stare down at the village of Dunlochan.

His big brown gelding snorted and began to graze on the grass at his hooves.

"Weel, there is nay turning back now. Nay, I am but suffering a moment of uncertainty and it shames me. I have just ne'er been verra skilled in subterfuge, aye? 'Tis a blunt mon I am and this shall require me to be subtle and sly. But, 'tis nay a worry for I have been practicing."

Lucas frowned at his horse and sternly told himself that the animal only sounded as if it had just snickered. On the other hand, if the animal could understand what he said, snickering would probably be an appropriate response. Yet, he had no choice. He needed revenge. It was a hunger inside him that demanded feeding. It was not something he could ask his family to risk themselves for, either, although they had been more than willing to do so. That willingness was one reason he had had to slip away under cover of night, telling no one where he was going, not even his twin.

This was his fight and his alone. Surrounded by the strong, skilled fighting men of his clan, he knew he would feel deprived of satisfying the other need he had. He needed to prove to himself that his injuries had not left him incapable of being the warrior he had been before he had been beaten. He needed to defeat the men who had tried to destroy him and defeat them all by himself. His family had not fully understood that need. They had not fully understood his need to work so hard, so continuously, to regain his skills after he had recovered from the beating either. He knew the praise they had given him as he had slowly progressed from invalid to fighting man had, in part, been an attempt to stop him from striving so hard to regain his former abilities, to overcome the stiffness and pain in his leg. He desperately needed to see that he was as good as he had been, that he had not been robbed of the one true strength he had. He had to prove himself worthy of being the heir to Donncoill.

"Artan would understand," he said, stroking Eachann's strong neck as he slowly rode down the hill toward the village.

He felt a pang of lingering grief. His twin had his own life now, one separate from the one they had shared since the womb. Artan had a wife, his own lands, and a family of his own. Lucas was happy for his twin yet he was still grieved by the loss of the other half of himself. In his heart Lucas knew he and Artan could never be fully separated but now Artan shared himself with others as he had only ever shared himself with Lucas. It would take some getting used to.

"And I have no one."

Lucas grimaced. He sounded like a small sulky child yet that feeling of being completely alone was one he could not shake. It disgusted him, but he knew part of it was that he had lost not only Artan; he had lost Katerina. She had betrayed him and did not deserve his grief, yet it lingered. No other woman could banish the emptiness left by her loss. No other woman could ease the coldness left by her vicious betrayal. He could still see her watching as he was beaten nigh unto death. She had made no sound, no move to save him. She had not even shed a tear.

He shook aside those dark memories and the pain they still brought him. Lucas decided that once he had proven to himself that he was the man he used to be he would find himself a woman and rut himself blind. He would exhaust himself in soft, welcoming arms and sweat out the poison of Katerina. Even though it was not fully a fidelity to Katerina that had kept him almost celibate, he knew a lingering hunger for her, for the passion they had shared, was one reason he found it difficult to satisfy his needs elsewhere. In his mind he was done with her, but it was obvious his heart and body were still enslaved. He would overcome his reluctance to reveal his scars and occasional awkwardness to a woman and find himself a lover when he returned to Donncoill. Maybe even a wife, he mused as he reined in before the small inn in the heart of the village. All too clearly recalling Katerina's dark blue eyes and honey- blond hair, he decided that woman would be dark. It was time to make the cut sharp and complete.

Dismounting, Lucas gave the care of Eachann over to a bone-thin youth who quickly appeared at his side. The lad stared at him with wide blue eyes, looking much as if he had just seen a ghost, and that look made Lucas uneasy. Subtly he checked to make certain that his cowl still covered the hair he had been unable to cut. Although he had told himself he would need the cowl up at all times to shadow his far too recognizable face, Lucas knew it was vanity that had made him reluctant to cut off his long black hair and his warrior braids. Deciding the boy might just be a little simple, Lucas collected his saddle-packs, then gave the lad a coin before making his way into the inn.

After taking only two steps into the building, Lucas felt the chill of fear speed down his spine and stopped to look around. This was where he had been captured, dragged away to be savagely beaten and then left for dead. Despite the nightmares he still suffered on occasion he had thought he had conquered the unreasonable fear his beating had left him with.

Annoyance over such a weakness helped him quell that fear. Standing straighter he made his way to a table set in a shadowy corner at the back of the room. He had barely sat down when a buxom fair-haired maid hurried over to greet him. If he recalled right, her name was Annie.

"Father," she began.

"Nay, my child. I am nay tonsured yet," Lucas said, hoping such a tale would help explain away any mistakes he might make. "I am on pilgrimage ere I return to the monastery and take my final vows."

"Oh." Annie sighed. "I was hoping ye were looking for a place to serve God's will." She briefly glared at the men drinking ale near the large fireplace. "We could certainly use a holy mon here. Dunlochan has become steeped in sin and evil."

"I will be certain to tell my brothers of your need when I return to them, child."

"Thank ye, Father. Ah, I mean, sir. How can I serve ye?"

"Food, ale, and a bed for the night, lass."

In but moments Lucas was enjoying a rich ale, a hearty mutton stew, and thick warm bread. The good food served by the inn was one reason he had lingered in Dunlochan long enough to meet Katerina.

His stomach had certainly led him astray that day, he thought sourly. In truth, his stomach may have kept him at Dunlochan long enough to meet Katerina, but it was another heedless part of him that had truly led him astray. One look at her lithe body, her long thick hair the color of sweet clover honey, and her wide deep blue eyes and all his wits had sunk right down into his groin. He had thought he had met his mate and all he had found was betrayal and pain.

Lucas cursed silently. The woman would not get out of his life, out of his mind, or out of his heart. That would not stop him from getting his revenge on her, however. He was not quite sure how he would accomplish that yet, but he would. First the men who had tried to kill him and then the woman who had given the order.

Another casualty of that dark night was his trust in people, in his ability to judge them as friend or foe. Lucas had believed Katerina was his mate, the woman he had been born to be with. Instead she had nearly been his death. It was hard to trust his own judgment after such a near-fatal error and an ability to discern whom to trust was important to a warrior. How could he ever be a good laird to the people of Donncoill if he could not even tell friend from foe?

He sipped his ale and studied the men near the fireplace. Lucas was sure that at least one of them had been there that night, but the shadows cast by the fire made it difficult to see the man clearly. One of the things he recalled clearly was that few of the men had been fair as most of the Haldanes were. It had puzzled him that Katerina would hire mercenaries, but, perhaps, her own people would never have obeyed such an order from her. If those men were no more than hired swords it would make the killing of them easier for few would call out for vengeance when they died.

Six men suddenly entered the inn and Lucas stiffened. No shadows hid their faces and he recognized each one. It was hard to control the urge to immediately draw his sword and set after them. He shuddered faintly, the memory of the beating flaring crisp and clear in his mind and body. Lucas rubbed his left leg, the ache of shattered bones sharpened by those dark memories. His right hand throbbed as if it recalled each and every slam of a boot on it. The scar that now ran raggedly over his right cheek itched and Lucas could almost feel the pain of the knife's blade cutting through the flesh there.

He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Lucas knew he needed to push those memories aside if he was to think clearly. The revenge he hungered for could not be accomplished if he acted too quickly or if he gave in to the fierce urge to immediately draw his sword and attack these men. When he realized part of his ability to hold back was because he did not think he could defeat the six men with a direct attack, he silently cursed again. His confidence in his newly regained battle skills was obviously not as strong as he had thought it was.

About Hannah Howell:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, her family's home since the 1630s, Hannah Howell is the author of over thirty Zebra historical romances. Her love of history prompts the choice of venue, and also her dragging her husband Stephen, to every historical site she can get to. Her fascination with the past makes research as much a pleasure as a necessity. It was a thrill for her to turn her love of history and writing into a career, one that allows her to share those loves with others.

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