To Win a Highlander’s Heart

Book Three In The Guardians of the Isles

It’s impossible to defy destiny…
Orrick MacLeod is a famed Highland warrior from a powerful clan who can no longer fight. Painful memories from battles plague him when he raises his sword, and he fears that one day he’ll hesitate and he, or one of his brothers, will perish. Leaving his castle to thwart his battle hero destiny, he stumbles across a young woman. Rumors whisper she’s born of fairies, but Orrick only sees a beautiful woman in jeopardy.

Isolde Nicolson is a devoted daughter of her clan, but when she rejected her chieftain brother’s choice of a cruel husband by striking her brother with an arrow, she’s banished. The kindly Orrick shelters her in the safety of the MacLeod castle where they soon unlock hidden desires. Orrick wishes to ask for her hand in marriage, but as he tries to do what’s right, everything goes wrong.
As an incident threatens to tear the MacLeod family apart, a pivotal and bloody battle between English and Scottish forces ensues. Soon the warrior who can no longer fight must stand to protect everything he holds dear.

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Isolde inhaled the icy scent of the earth as it mixed with early morning sky. Overhead dark clouds gathered, threatening snowfall later in the day. She had to hurry and accomplish her task before the snow fell and the animals sought shelter from the cold. Bringing her gaze back to the landscape before her, Isolde caught movement to the west. A large herd, with several males bearing five to six-pointed antlers, grazed amongst numerous females on the grass, willowherb, and brambles that still remained after last night’s frost. Having achieved her goal, Isolde started her descent, hoping the animals would remain while she hiked down from the summit over the next couple of hours.

She was nearly to the base of the mountain when she stopped. An odd feeling came over her, something she hadn’t felt in months. She swallowed. It almost felt like someone or something was watching her.

She looked about her. Nothing moved and only the usual sounds of the wind and the sea in the distance came to her. She shrugged off the sensation and continued her climb down when another ripple of movement caught her attention. Something much smaller than the red deer surged through the tall grass. She stopped and concentrated on the sight until she could make out the unmistakable stripes of a family of badgers. She groaned as she hurried down the remaining slope. Badgers could complicate her hunt if she didn’t hurry.

Silently stalking through the grass with her bow at her side, Isolde heard a noise off to her right. She froze, concentrating on the sound. Careful to make no noise, she reached for a bow from her quiver and strung it. Blood pounded in her ears. Had she missed something while surveying the territory from above? She was prepared to fight the English single-handed if she must. For she was done being their spy.

She’d practiced her skill with a bow and arrow every day, despite the memories of her last day at Scorrybreac. She knew her brother lived, but what about her sister-in-law and the babe? She’d not been able to find any information on either of them since she left.

Forcing the memories aside, Isolde crouched down, pulling her handmade hooded fur cloak tight around her, not wanting to alert anyone that she was closing in as she moved carefully towards the sound. The noise came again, louder this time. She was close. Preparing to strike, Isolde pulled the string of her bow back and stood, ready to fire. And came face-to-face with a man. He was not English, but Scottish.

Orrick MacLeod.

Her breath caught at the sight of him. He was taller than she remembered, and thick with muscle. He wore leather armour across his chest and upper arms. And in his hands, he held a bow with an arrow pointed directly at her head.

He stared at her, breathing hard. Orrick’s brow rose from what she imagined was a persistent furrow, giving him a look of surprise. “You are not a wee little lass.” His eyes sharpened on her face. “What are you? A witch?”

A wee lass? A witch? What was he talking about? Had the youngest of the MacLeod triplets gone mad since she’d last seen him six years ago? She’d been a lass and he a lean-muscled, tall lad when they’d met at the Highland games. He’d smiled at her for a heartbeat until the other lads nearby had teased her about her quiver and bow.

“Girls can’t compete.”

“Girls can’t shoot an arrow.”

“Go home to your mama.” The boys had taunted her. Orrick had joined in their laughter and turned away.

“What are you doing on MacLeod land?” he asked, his voice hard. His dark brown hair caught the wind, lending a certain fierceness to his stony jaw. “Are you human or beast?”

Over the last fourteen months, her clothing had deteriorated and she’d been forced to create a full-length cloak from rabbit pelts sewn together with sinew. And granted, her hair had become a wild tangle despite her attempts to tame the thickness with a comb she’d fashioned from animal bone. But she was clean. She bathed almost daily in the nearby creek during the warmer days. Now, as the days grew cold, she limited her bathing to sunny days despite the frigid chill that often hung in the air.

He stared into her face as though trying to see past her outward appearance. “Who are you? What are you doing out here alone?”

“I’m. . .” The word caught in her throat. It had been a year since she had spoken a word to anyone. She tried again. “I’m hunting.” The words crackled from a throat that felt raw. How had speaking become such an effort?

His eyes narrowed. “Hunting on another man’s property is punishable by hanging.”

She frowned. “You’dhave to. . . catch me. . . first.”

Orrick’s lips thinned and then eased as if no longer seeing her as a major threat. “There is something familiar about you.”

“What did you mean. . . about a wee lass?” Her throat was still raw, but she forced the words past the ache. “Why would she. . . be out here?” she asked, straining to hold her bow string taut for such a long period of time.

“We could spend the morning shooting at each other until one of us is dead or out of arrows, or you could help me find the little girl who disappeared from Orbost after the MacQueens raided the village yesterday.”

She stared down the length of her arrow into the rich brown of Orrick’s eyes. As they stared at each other, she allowed her gaze to slide along the solid jaw that was covered by a day’s growth of beard, across his straight nose, to his cheekbones where a thin white line showed a scar.  

His brows were bent and his full lips were parted. After a long moment, he exhaled and lowered his bow. He returned his arrow to his quiver. “What say you to a truce?”

He offered her a smile. She forced herself to breathe evenly and to battle against the odd sensation that tingled through her body. It had been a while since she’d been this close to another human being, let alone a handsome male. She lowered her bow and stepped back. “Let’s find the girl.”