Book Two In The Stones Of Destiny Series
The Seer’s Stone. Locked away in a tower, young Isobel had watched its power slowly drive her mother mad. And now, years later, the Stone’s secrets threatened to be the death of Isobel as well. Douglas Stewart, known as the Black Wolf of Scotland, had no intention of taking a wife, despite his father’s demands. But the moment he saw Isobel, he was spellbound by her fiery defiance and delicate beauty. They were united by destiny yet beset by betrayal. Only by opening her heart to love and living up to her legacy could Isobel become a Warrior’s Bride.
As is the case with much of fiction, a little fact and a little fantasy went in to creating Warrior’s Bride.
The original idea for the story emerged while researching Scottish tartans when I read a story about a woman named Lady Grange. In 1725, Lady Grange was kidnapped by her husband, who wished to be rid of her, and his friend, Lord Lovat, who wrongly assumed she knew too many political secrets about the Jacobites. They took her to the Isle of St. Kilda where she was imprisoned for more than six years.
Even though it was common knowledge that Lord Lovat, along with her husband, had engineered the kidnapping, no inquiry into the extraordinary circumstances was ever made, and long before any rescue attempt, she died of neglect and loneliness.
Desiring justice, even through the pages of fiction for Lady Grange, I gave her a daughter to see this through and to make the lonely days of isolation not seem so disparaging.
The destiny stone featured in this book was also a real stone that did not have a name. As legend has it, a seventeenth-century visionary named Cùinneach Odhar (Kenneth MacKenzie, from Uig on Skye), who was referred to as the Brahan seer, used a small white divination stone to foretell the future. The stone was passed on to him from his mother, who acquired it from a Viking princess.
With the pebble pressed against his eye, Cùinneach foretold everything from outbreaks of measles in the village to the building of the Caledonian Canal, the Clearances and World War II. His visions brought him widespread fame, but it also resulted in his untimely death when the Countess of Seaforth summoned him after her husband was late from a trip to France. Reluctantly, he told the countess that he saw her husband in the arms of another woman. At this, she flew into a rage, and ordered him to be thrown head first into a barrel of boiling tar.
Before his execution, which took place near Brahan Castle on Chanonry Point, Cùinneach made his last prediction: When a deaf and dumb earl inherited the estate, the Seaforth line would end. His prediction finally came true in 1815 when the last earl, who was indeed a deaf mute, died.
I chose to take the brutal end for this unfortunate seer and turn his fate around. I changed his name to Brahan MacGregor and gave him the gift of sight with the use of the Seer’s Stone.
One last historical note, Robert Stewart II, King of Scotland, sired 24 children with four different women, two of whom were his mistresses, two of whom were his wives. I chose to give him an addition child with his mistress, Marion Cardney, for the purposes of this story.
That the Black Wolf of Scotland, Isobel, or Brahan never existed in history is a fact. It was my goal, within the pages of Warrior’s Bride, to give these characters, and the real people their creation issued from a chance to find a happy and more fulfilling end to their own personal stories.
“Warrior’s Bride is a poignant, powerful read. Don’t miss it!” — New York Times Bestselling Author Sabrina Jefferies
“A captivating, heartfelt love story born of strength, survival and eternal trust. Ms. Russell gifts us with a remarkable story that touches the heart. The ending is nothing short of exhilarating… You don’t want to miss this one!” — Fresh Fiction
“Russell, winner of the American Title II contest, returns with her second powerful medieval romance touched with magic and passion. This well-paced, emotional, poignant drama enhances the romance just as the paranormal elements merge perfectly in Russell’s capable hands.” — RT BOOKReviews
“Ms. Russell has created two strong characters able to rise above all that fate and nasty fathers can throw at them… But the journey to the breathtaking conclusion gets more and more intriguing. The primary relationship… takes center stage with the suspenseful plot, but the other characters and the question of loyalty and redemption of past deeds adds to the richness of the whole.” — Romance Reviews Today
They arrived at the cliffs of the Black Isle at sunset. Izzy found it entirely appropriate that the sky was awash with a fiery red glow, making the enormous fortress at the top of the cliffs appear as if it were surrounded by flames. It was a potent reminder she was entering hell.
Gold pennants bearing the symbol of a black wolf topped each corner of the castle, leaving no doubt about who resided within. “Duthus Castle,” Wolf said from behind her, putting a name to the structure that would be her new prison. And a prison it was. Sentries patrolled the turrets and the walkway at the top of the outer bailey wall. Armed with arrows, these men would keep enemies out as effectively as they would keep the castle’s inhabitants in.
“The boat is ready to take us ashore.” He grasped her arm and gently led her toward the rope ladder they had used to board the ship.
She hesitated, not ready to surrender to the inevitable. “Mistress Henny?”
“Your pet is in the boat already with Brahan.” A spark of challenge flickered in his bottomless black eyes. He would allow her no leeway. And he had taken her chicken to make certain she followed his command. “The beast will be returned to you once we are safely behind the castle’s walls,” he said as though reading her mind.
Izzy kept her back straight, digging into new depths of strength and resolve she hadn’t known she possessed to march forward with Wolf and allow him to lead her down the ladder.
Brahan sat in the stern of the boat, clutching a writhing brown sack. “Your hen does not take kindly to confinement.”
She cast a dark look at her future husband. “Would you if you were in her place?”
“I suppose not,” Wolf said with a soft chuckle.
“And our wedding?” she asked.
“I grant you a reprieve until tomorrow morning.”
Until tomorrow morning. Izzy let the words echo in her head as she sank back into the boat.
The trip across the small inlet from the ship to the shore at the base of the castle seemed to take but a moment’s time. Too soon she found herself escorted up the sea cliff on foot, across the surrounding approach to the gate, then through the massive gatehouse and its protective portcullis.
Brahan and the other men followed Izzy and Wolf into the outer bailey. The hum of voices, blending with the clanging of metal upon metal, filled the wide open space. All around her mailed men trained in pairs with their weapons of war. With each group they passed, the men stopped their battling, their weapons sometimes arrested mid-blow, their gazes assessing her as she marched past feeling very much like the prisoner she was.
“Welcome home, milord.” A dark-haired knight sheathed his sword and offered the man beside her a bow.
Wolf came to a stop, forcing her to do the same. A smile came to his lips. “It is good to be back, Fenwick.”
“Milady,” Fenwick greeted her with a hesitant nod. His gaze shifted from her to Wolf then back again in a decidedly uncomfortable manner. “Ah, milord, I doona know how tae tell ye–”
“My love, you are finally arrived,” a feminine voice squealed from the far side of the courtyard. “I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the Ategenos approach.”
A female drifted toward them dressed in tawny silk that molded snugly to her narrow waist and pushed her breasts high enough to mound impressively over the bodice. Her soft brown eyes narrowed suspiciously when they lit on Izzy and her perfectly sculpted lips turned down in a pout. “Do not tell me you’ve brought more servants into this already overly staffed household. Whatever shall I do with them all?”
Her cloying perfume overwhelmed Izzy’s senses and turning her stomach with its suffocating sweetness. The scent reminded her of standing in the heather patch with no breeze to draw the fragrance across the isle.
Brahan handed the sack imprisoning Mistress Henny to an older woman. “Take this to the keep. Mark the chicken in some fashion so others know not to harm it in any way. Anyone who tries will have to answer to me.” The woman nodded and took the hen away.
Brahan tossed Wolf a look Izzy did not understand before he strode forward to greet the flawless beauty. “Fiona Kincaid, how good to see you again.”
The woman stopped moving forward to accept Brahan’s greeting as he bent over to offer her hand an airy kiss.
Izzy felt Wolf’s hand slide from her arm. “This day could want for nothing more,” he muttered just beneath his breath. His gaze traveled slowly over the woman’s hourglass form, coming to rest on the swell of her breasts.
Izzy smoothed a hand over her old brown gown. No wonder the woman thought her a servant. She looked the part and had played the role for years now.
The woman’s sharp gaze traveled over Izzy from her face, down the length of her own willowy form, to her work-worn slippers. She was every bit as much a lady as the woman before her, yet beneath the woman’s scrutiny she felt more like a dusty moth in the presence of an exotic butterfly.
Izzy nodded a greeting, which was met with a spark of fury in Lady Fiona’s eyes. “You’ve been gone far too long, my love.” She stepped around Brahan with a laugh that tinkled a bit too brightly.
“Fiona,” Wolf said with a touch of irritation. “We need to talk.”
We can talk later.” The woman wriggled closer until the curve of her hip nestled against Wolf’s muscular thigh and pressed up on her toes to kiss his mouth.
A multitude of wild emotions stirred inside Izzy, taking her completely off guard. Those moments in the water alone with Wolf had brought a strange, unreasonable yearning to her soul. What kind of woman was she to long for freedom one moment, then crave a man’s kiss the next?
Regardless of her own confusion, this woman’s presence proved Wolf would be true to his word and never want anything more from her besides marriage. Izzy pressed a hand to her stomach and turned away from the sight of her soon-to-be husband and his mistress. “Brahan, please take me inside. I wish to rest.”
The sound of the surf filled Izzy’s ears. She reached out, hoping to connect with something solid. Then Wolf was there, drawing her against his side, sheltered within the curl of his arm. Without so much as a word between them, hope for something more blossomed inside.
Izzy turned her gaze to the sky, to the shimmer of nightfall that hung there like a veil, ready to drop at a moment’s notice. Wolf’s powerful hands gripped her body, holding her almost possessively. “This woman is no servant, Fiona. She is–” He stopped when Izzy brought her gaze back to his face.
“She is what?” Fiona asked dryly.
Despite Izzy’s best intentions not to, she looked into his eyes–eyes as dark as midnight. The possession she saw there warmed the core of her in a way she didn’t comprehend and certainly couldn’t explain. Her breath stilled as she waited for his answer. How would he explain her presence here to this woman? The sound of the surf faded and the night grew silent.
“She is a visitor here. Lady Fiona, may I present Lady Isobel of the Isle of St. Kilda.”
Something inside Izzy twisted, and pain centered in her chest. He would not claim her. The very thought made her . . . she hesitated, not wanting to put a name on the emotion. Her legs felt weak beneath her. She found herself pulled even more tightly against Wolf’s side, yet it was Fiona he looked at with the same enchanting smile he had given her upon their first meeting.
The pain in her chest tightened as she struggled to breathe. Oh dear heavens, what was wrong with her? She was actually jealous of the woman before her.
Izzy brought her hands up to hide the blush that suffused her cheeks. She had made Wolf a promise not to run away, but she had said nothing about leaving his presence. She pulled out of his grasp. “If you will excuse me.” She took two steps toward the keep when she heard Wolf curse, grasp her arm, and shove her forward into Brahan’s arms.
“Brahan,” he shouted, his voice sounding unlike his own.
Startled, Izzy half twisted, turning back toward Wolf. Instead of the anger she expected to see written on his face, pain reflected there. Her gaze dropped to his chest, to the splash of crimson that stretched across his saffron-colored shirt beneath his long, strong fingers. The bolt of a crossbow protruded from his chest.
Izzy gasped. The sound was swallowed up in a cacophony of sound. “High up on the castle wall!”
“A lone archer!”
“Call to arms!”
Beneath the dying sun, Wolf’s warriors flooded the bailey like the rushing of the tide. In an instant motion, every hand grasped a weapon—claymores, dirks, targes, and axes—surging to defend. A group of warriors formed a ring of protection around herself, Wolf, Fiona, and Brahan, while his men stormed the interior castle wall in pursuit of the traitor who had somehow secreted himself inside the castle.
Wolf staggered toward her, knocking her fully into Brahan’s arms. “Keep her safe,” Wolf bit out as he stumbled backwards then fell, hitting the ground hard.
“Get down, milady,” Brahan cried.
The next moment she was crushed beneath Brahan’s big body. Izzy clawed at the dirt, pulling herself free until she made her way to Wolf’s side. Her breath became trapped somewhere between her lungs and her throat as she stared in horror at the crossbow bolt piercing his chest.
Despair welled up, nearly choking her with its intensity. “He is dead.”