Read Highland Stone Online

Authors: Sloan McBride

Highland Stone

Highland Stone

By

Sloan McBride

copyright by Sloan McBride, Aug 2007

Cover Art by Rae Monet Designs

www.sloanmcbride.com

 

This is a work of fiction. Although Dunvegan Castle and Strathnaver are factual places, all characters, and events portrayed in this work are from the Author's imagination. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

Author's Note:
I would like to take this time to thank Guy Sheldon from the Historic Highlanders, who was instrumental in the research for this book. I would also like to thank those friends who read the story and gave me critical input, especially Kat Mancos, for her unwavering force as a critique partner. And a big hug goes out to my family for their support.

"Sloan McBride's Highland Stone takes a strong and confident modern woman, flings her through time to tangle with a brawny and stubborn Highland warrior, and gives readers a wee bit of fun along the way."--Sandra Marlow, Historical Romance Club

"The bantering between the characters is most engaging and you'll find yourself looking forward to their secret escapades. The plot is pretty straightforward with no sudden jerks to snap you out of the lovely fuzzy feelings Ms. McBride's talented pen creates."--Mahaira Fatima, Novel Talk

"This action-packed adventure is passionately hot and emotionally intense. There's a humorous thread throughout as a strong modern woman and a sexy Scot with magnetism galore—who, of course, hasn't had the opportunity to be enlightened about equality—strike more than a few sparks off each other. This is one appealing tale."--4 Stars, Romantic Times

"This is a well-written story that I found hard to put down. Alaxandar is every woman's dream."--Sandra, The Romance Studio

"I would recommend this story to all true romantics who believe love conquers everything."--Mary, Bitten by Books

Scotland 1356

Rhianna MacKay straightened her back, wiped sweaty palms down her worn saffron shirt, and flicked the dark hair from her eyes before barging into the room to confront her father. "I willna be sold to Ross!"

He took two steps and like a fierce blast, Conar MacKay's hand landed hard against her cheek, knocking her to the stone floor. "I be the Chief of Clan MacKay. Ye were told to make yourself ready."

Gaylord, the elderly clansman who'd been in conference with the chief, turned soft, apologetic eyes to her before exiting the room. Not even the tapestry on the outer wall or the wool rug next to her warmed the winter chill that clenched her heart.

Her face throbbed and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. Rhianna pushed up from dirty rushes littered with food and stood tall before her father, not bothering to hide her hatred. She swiped her lip with the back of her hand then spit the bitter tasting blood at his feet and walked out.

Since her mother had died eight years past, Conar MacKay gave her only passing glares unless he punished her for some errant behavior. There were many such instances in her case. He had little use for women other than for bartering tools or to lie between their thighs.

Only her brother, three years her senior, made living with Conar at all bearable.

"Dunna cry little dove," Carrick would say. "God's wrath will spill down on Conar and he willna win that battle."

Carrick had their mother's good heart and oft times could make Rhianna laugh while tending her wounds after Conar had beaten her. More times than not, Carrick stepped between them and ended up on the floor himself.

Three months had passed since Carrick had gone to England. He had promised to return.

* * * *

Rhianna busied herself throughout the impossibly slow day tending the withering garden, and helping the women prepare bitter soup with limp vegetables. She'd made the decision to leave. Her gaze drifted toward the kirk, which had been closed up for nigh on a year after the priest had taken ill and passed on to Heaven. No other would dare venture to Strathnaver, the home of the devil.

Later that night, guided by sorrow and fear, Rhianna crept down the castle steps and into the war room. She hated this room. Plans that had laid low many of those she'd loved were made here. The day her mother died the demon that was her father had been planning yet another attack. The bastard barely looked up when told the news.

"'Tis just as well," he spat. "She'd long since lost her value to me."

From that day forth, Rhianna had done all she could to oppose the chief, using any means necessary. Her greatest pleasure would be the downfall of Conar MacKay.

Stepping onto the scorched stones of the hearth, she shoved aside the heavy tapestry behind which lay a hidden alcove. It held the secret of the clan. She crossed herself. "Please, Holy Father, give me strength." The prayer did little to ease the lump in her chest or the ball of anxiety in her stomach.

Slinging the edge of her
breacan
back, she reached into the small opening, grabbed the treasure, and uncovered it. Concealed in the silvery velvet cloth was a smooth ivory-colored stone with veins of jade snaking through it. The magical heirloom had belonged to the MacKays since the beginning of time and had brought good fortune to the clan. She'd seen it only once before. Losing the talisman would ruin her father and she hoped it would be a painful ending.

"Carrick, why have ye forgotten me?" she whispered. He'd not returned from his mission and she could wait no longer. She must flee or be handed over to another ruthless bastard, Ross.

After slipping the precious stone back into its covering, she tucked it deep in the pocket of her skirt where it would not fall out or be easily grabbed by thieves. She tiptoed into the buttery to grab oats and nuts for her journey and, with tear-filled eyes, canvassed the room. Memories too numerous to count flooded her heart. With trembling hands she lifted the large tapestry concealing the secret door that led to an escape tunnel. In one hand, she carried a torch lifted from the wall to light her way down the damp eerie passage. It ended outside the gates where she doused the flame so as not to be noticed by the guards.

With trepidation, she fled the only home she'd ever known—the home of her ancestors.

The stark white moon cast dark, ominous shadows through the forest. Smells of rotting wood and stagnant water reminded her of the dungeons at Strathnaver. She and her brother had played there as children. She'd be thrown into the dungeon, if caught. A twig broke under her foot, echoing loud in the stillness. Birds took flight, causing leaves to drip water they'd held from an earlier rain. A symphony of night music accompanied her hurried steps.

Nervously, Rhianna reached into her pocket and rubbed the MacKay talisman, finding comfort in its presence.

"'Tis nothing more than to be far away from his reach I be wanting," she muttered.

Rhianna's feet slipped on the moss-covered forest floor. White mist clawed at her hem while strange-colored clouds gathered in the sky. A shiver of foreboding raced down her spine. She'd never seen the like. Her fingers stroked the stone more quickly. She moved deeper into trees, hoping to escape the strange fog, but it twisted around her ankles and legs, rising to envelope her from head to toe. Fear unlike any she'd ever known gripped her soul. The fog thickened and the world turned black.

CHAPTER ONE

Present

She held tightly to her grandmother's fragile hand, her fingers trembling. "The key is hidden with your grandfather's picture," Glynnis said with her last breath.

A loud rumbling shifted Kara Malone's subconscious from that heart-rending scene to one with horses running at full speed, and men screaming. She woke with a start. Fully conscious of her surroundings, she identified the noise as thunder. The fury of the storm rattled the windows.

"Damn." She swung her legs over the side of the full-sized bed as a bolt of lightning cracked outside. She clutched the edge of the mattress, bowing her head and breathing deeply. Dreams and nightmares had been her constant companions since the age of thirteen. This one shook her more so than usual because it involved not only the wild and handsome warrior, but the last moments with her grandmother, as well.

Pulling on sweats, she went downstairs to quench her thirst and steady her nerves. She headed straight to the antique liquor cabinet and a bottle of Asbach Uralt Brandy. The lining of her throat burned as the alcohol coated it. Her eyes watered.

They weren't tears. She rarely cried.

She looked out the window. Sheets of rain showered the lawn. Mother Nature's cleansing.

Clutching the glass, Kara wandered the well-known house in the dark, feeling like an intruder. Without her grandmother, the place would soon be unbearable. No more laughter while making bat-wing cookies for trick-or-treaters. No more hot buttered eggnog at Christmas while wrapping presents in front of the fire.

Lurking on the threshold, she jumped as lightning lit her grandmother's darkened bedroom. She hadn't realized she'd come to this room, the sanctuary of her childhood when the nightmares had gotten so awful that she ran to Haskell and Glynnis' room. They smiled, opening their arms and their hearts to give her peace from the frightening moments. No child should suffer the fear of the unknown alone.

A fluttering motion caught her eye. She turned her head. There was nothing there.

'Tis the wee fairies ye see, little Kara. They protect the children.'

Glynnis had a story for everything. "There are no children here anymore, Grams."

In another flash, the portrait of Haskell Malone brightened. Her grandmother's weak voice echoed in her head. The memory of Glynnis looking so frail and worn lying in the hospital bed caused Kara to take a huge gulp from the tumbler. She hissed as it burned her throat and soothed her nerves.

The amber-colored liquid sloshed onto her hand as she slammed the drink down on the dresser. She licked it off before lifting the cumbersome frame from the wall. First, she lay the frame face down and slid the backer from its tracks. There were no magic keys taped to the cardboard or canvas. "I knew she was pulling my leg," Kara murmured putting everything back together. She stood the portrait against the wall.

Rain battered the roof and wind bent trees almost in half with its force. Another bright burst of lightning and booming thunderclap caused her to jump. "Get a grip." Nights of little to no sleep were making her hands jittery and her mind foggy. She looked at the frame again. A weird feeling came over her. Something didn't seem right or was she imagining it? She flipped on the lamp and stared at the ornate, golden, hand-carved filigree on the frame. Glancing at the smiling face of her grandfather, she grumbled. "Do you know something I don't, Grandpa?"

Kara ran her fingertips along the edges and touched the design until her forefinger scraped against an oddity. Moving closer, she concentrated on that area. She rubbed her thumb over it and pushed. A small gold key popped out of the design. "Oh my God." Why would her grandmother hide the key in such a sneaky way? Glynnis had seemed to have all her faculties still intact before she passed. But surely, the story couldn't be true.

With shaky fingers she picked up the brandy glass. Clan stone, Scotland, myths, and legends. Glynnis loved the fairytales. Ancient Scotland was her favorite subject. She talked about the people with such familiarity. It was like she actually knew them.

"This is ridiculous," Kara said. Marching over to the closet, she threw open the door and stared into the cluttered space. She pushed into the mess. "I swear the woman was a pack rat. You'd think she had never heard of the Salvation Army or Goodwill."

Ten minutes later, in the farthest recesses, her fingers brushed something. Blowing hair out of her eyes, she pulled the ten-by-eight-inch cedar box adorned with Celtic symbols into her lap. She recognized her grandfather's handiwork in the intricate carvings. A Celtic wooden cross, which hung in the living room above the doorway, had also been hand-carved by Haskell. It was a grand hobby of his. Flipping the box over, she ran her fingers across his initials etched in the corner.

The tiny lock had the same shape as the key. An excitement—or was it fear?—gripped Kara's stomach. The room seemed hotter than before. Standing, she grabbed the dresser to fight off waves of dizziness.
Never drink on an empty stomach.
Crossing the floor, she sat on the edge of the bed and hugged the box to her chest. The combination of alcohol and sleepless nights caused blurry vision and the start of a major headache. She didn't think she could deal with another shock right now. Placing the key on the chain around her neck, she tucked the box under her arm and went back to bed.

It'll wait
. What was one more day going to matter?

* * * *

Kara's flight to Hawaii had a seven fifteen a.m. boarding time and she had just finished packing. Her toe hit something under the bed as she used her body weight to close her suitcase. Bending, she retrieved the cedar box she'd stashed there before she fell into bed last night. Glancing at the overstuffed suitcase, she opted for tossing it in her backpack. Downstairs, the taxi pulled up and honked. She scanned the room once more before leaving. A strange sense of finality squeezed her heart. This assignment could mean a permanent transfer to the islands.

Other books

The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips
Act of God by Eric Kotani, John Maddox Roberts
Bizarre History by Joe Rhatigan
Say No To Joe? by Lori Foster
The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker
Black Flame by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane
Texas Weddings 3 & 4 by Janice Thompson
Tangled Thing Called Love by Juliet Rosetti
Deborah Hale by The Destined Queen