Bride of Mist
A beautiful and deadly warrior lass tracks down a savage Highlander and targets him for assassination, until she learns he's not the villain he seems, but a noble laird desperate to win back both his tormented clan and her precious heart.
After a Highlander savagely attacks her clan, mysterious and elusive Feiyan la Nuit knows she is the only warrior lass with the skills to track down the villain--and the nerve to assassinate him. But when she flinches at coldblooded murder, he seizes the advantage, unmasking her and taking her hostage. The son of a laird, Dougal mac Darragh never intended to wage war with the infamous Rivenlochs, nor is he the kind of man to hurt a lass, but now his only hope to keep his clan safe is to ransom his beautiful captive. Soon a brutal secret comes to light, one that threatens both their clans, and they discover that only by joining forces--and hearts--in a desperate battle will they truly prove that love conquers all.
Release date: July 27, 2021
Publisher: Glynnis Campbell
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Bride of Mist
Castle Giric, Scotland
The harsh curse cut through the crisp air like winter’s icy breath.
To Fergus and Morris mac Giric, not yet seventeen years old, abandoned to the rugged shores and wild woods of western Scotland, the punishment may as well be execution.
Discarded by their laird in dishonor, they were exiled forever, never to return.
Forgotten by the clan.
Left to rot.
And they didn’t deserve it.
They weren’t the villains. It was Colban, that high-and-mighty foundling runt, who should have been cast out. Not Fergus and Morris. For shite’s sake, they were blood kin to the laird himself.
But cunning Colban had found an ally in the laird’s young son. Morgan mac Giric had welcomed the filthy bastard into the clan as if he were a long-lost brother.
The ten-year-old lads did everything together. Morgan trained with Colban. Rode with him. God’s blood! Colban even supped at Morgan’s right hand, the place that had once belonged to Fergus and Morris. Like a conniving cuckoo, Colban had usurped their nest. And he’d begun to believe he was as good as they were.
Young Morgan was too naive to see how the devious orphan had insinuated his way into the household. Too stupid to realize the kind of disgrace the whelp of a harlot would bring to the clan.
Fergus and Morris, older and wiser, had simply taken it upon themselves to compensate for Morgan’s lack of good judgment.
They meant to show Colban his place. Teach him that the nameless son of a whore could not assume their rank in the proper order of things. That he would never be their equal. Prove to the bastard, once and for all, that blood was thicker than water. And leave him with scars that would remind him of that for the rest of his life.
But then Morgan had spoiled it all. He’d squealed to his father. Once he’d brought the laird their bloody whip and shown him the bastard lad’s bloody back, there was to be no forgiveness.
They never imagined Laird Giric would react so harshly. After all, they’d only given the lofty Colban what they deemed a much-needed lesson.
Now they were banished for their pains. Banished.
The laird had treated a nameless cur that had shown up at his door with more respect than two youths born of his line. And now they were nothing. Less than nothing.
But if the incident had taught them one thing, it was that good fortune was seized, not won. If the son of a harlot could rise to greatness from nothing, so could they.
So, seething with hurt and anger, cursing the name of mac Giric, Fergus and Morris christened themselves anew—the Fortanach brothers. Against his skin, close to his heart, Fergus wore the mac Giric clan badge to serve as a cold reminder of unhealed wounds.
One day, they swore, no matter how long it took, they would seek retribution.
Find a way to ruin the clan that had ruined them.
Bury Morgan mac Giric.
And destroy the mac Giric legacy forever.
Castle Darragh near Ayr, Scotland
Spring 1156, 10 years later
Dougal mac Darragh had heard the rumors.
There was a price on his head.
His brother had put it there.
For weeks now, Laird Gaufrid had offered a reward to any warrior in the clan who could bring Dougal down on the sparring field.
He was sure his brother didn’t mean to have him killed. Gaufrid only meant to humiliate him. To punish Dougal for his own lack of self-worth.
But the warrior facing Dougal now didn’t know that. He circled Dougal with murder and desperation in his eyes.
Dougal couldn’t blame him. The man needed that reward money. Maybe for his family. For his bairns. For food.
The trouble had started two years ago, when Dougal and Gaufrid’s father had died unexpectedly. By tradition, the clan had chosen the oldest son as the new laird.
But Gaufrid knew nothing of leadership. He was no more qualified to be a leader of men than a harlot was to be a nun. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t do sums. Too frequently, he found solace at the bottom of a bottle. And he was a poor judge of character, a fact made clear by the company he kept.
Gaufrid’s closest companions were the Fortanach brothers, a pair of miserable vagabonds who’d ingratiated themselves to him shortly after the laird’s death.
Dougal didn’t trust them from the beginning. Fergus and Morris Fortanach claimed no home. No history. No background. And they reeked of vice, intrigue, and mischief.
But Gaufrid had been grieving for their father. Dougal didn’t have the heart to tear away his brother’s newfound friends in his time of need.
Perhaps if he hadn’t had his hands full, holding the clan together under his brother’s neglect, Dougal might have intervened sooner. But by the time he grew aware of the changes in Gaufrid, it was too late.
The Fortanachs had already sunk their claws deep into Gaufrid’s malleable mind. Toying with his affections. Drinking with him. Whoring with him. Poisoning his soul. Using gushing flattery, free-flowing ale, and carefully chosen whispers, they bent Gaufrid to their will.
Under their influence, Gaufrid gradually replaced his father’s once loyal soldiers with brutes and mercenaries gleaned by the Fortanach brothers from God knew where.
Dougal devoted himself to protecting those harmed by his brother’s excesses and cruelty. The villagers. The servants. The crofters. But since Gaufrid was laird, Dougal had only limited power.
When the Fortanachs’ exorbitant tastes quickly drained the Darragh coffers, Gaufrid—eager to fulfill their demands and prove his own merit and power—filled them again by raising taxes on the surrounding villages.
Gaufrid’s efforts were misguided, of course. Taxing the villagers didn’t buy their respect. It made them hate him more.
What it did buy, however, was an army of bloodthirsty warriors willing to fight for the laird—to the death, if necessary—if it meant their survival.
Which was why, when the warrior’s sword swept with killing force toward Dougal’s ribs, he responded in equal measure. He thrust up his targe with enough power to both knock away the blade and send the man stumbling backward into the dust.
No sooner had one foe fallen than another came to take his place.
Dougal defeated them all.
But he felt no thrill of glory as he watched them depart from the field one by one, hanging their heads in disappointment.
He felt grateful that he’d live to fight another day for what was left of his father’s noble legacy.
He also felt the need to get away from the castle for a while. Leave the stench of hate and hopelessness behind. Fill his lungs with fresh sea breeze.
“Campbell,” he called out to the stable lad. “Saddle Urramach, will ye? I’ll stretch his legs today.”
He’d ride out from the sea cliff to the countryside. Check on the crofters. There had been a christening at Kirkoswald this morn. He’d make an appearance on behalf of the laird. Give the new parents a wee gift of coin. Look after the villagers in whom his brother took no interest.
There was Gaufrid now. Drunk again. Already, and not yet noon. He leaned against the gate of the wattle fence that bordered the field, beaming, as if pleased by Dougal’s victory.
Dougal knew better.
Gaufrid’s smile might be indulgent. But his eyes simmered with long-burning, deep-seated, rumor-nourished resentment.
His brother wanted nothing more than to see Dougal soundly defeated. Only when Dougal was felled in shame would Gaufrid finally feel like he’d triumphed. Like he’d earned the lairdship. Like he deserved it.
But they both knew Gaufrid wasn’t fit to be laird. Nor would he ever be.
The brothers might be similar in appearance. Both had their mother’s coal black hair and their father’s keen blue eyes. They were striking enough to turn the lasses’ heads. They were tall and powerful in stature, with wide shoulders and commanding voices that demanded attention and deference.
But in character, Dougal was nothing like his brother. Gaufrid was petty, greedy, foolish, insecure, and utterly lacking in empathy. A weak and wheedling bully.
Nonetheless, he was the chosen head of the clan. He deserved Dougal’s deference, if not his respect.
Dougal acknowledged him with a nod. “M’laird.”
The new maidservant, a timid, young red-haired lass, came up beside Gaufrid, bearing a cup on a tray. When she hesitated, Gaufrid seized her roughly by the arm, shoving her through the gate. “Well, go on. Can’t ye see our champion needs refreshment?”
The lass blushed and stumbled toward Dougal. She slowed as she approached, eyeing his claymore with trepidation.
She needn’t have worried. Dougal was nothing like his brother. He didn’t assuage his own inadequacies by browbeating others. And he would never raise his blade—or his hand—to a lass.
To put her at ease, he laid down his sword and hauled off his helm. Scraping the damp locks of his hair back from his sweaty brow, he managed a disarming smile. “Merraid, isn’t it?”
She smiled in pleased surprise. “Aye.”
There was an awkward moment of distraction as she stared up at him in wonder, almost as if she’d forgotten what she was doing.
“Hand me the cup, lass,” he softly warned, “lest ye want to suffer the laird’s disapproval.”
She blinked. “Och. Aye.”
He downed the ale all at once. It soothed his dusty throat. But it couldn’t wash the bitter taste of injustice from his mouth.
It was a travesty that maidservants like Merraid should have to cringe from the laird who was supposed to protect them.
It was outrageous that warriors like those he’d just defeated were driven to murder to keep from starving.
“Go on now,” he urged the lass. She was looking up at him with the sort of lovesick gaze that would only get her into trouble.
As she scurried off, Campbell brought Urramach, saddled and ready, to the field. The destrier had shied at his last battle and was worthless in tournament. But Dougal didn’t have the heart to get rid of him. Besides, the beast loved to run. Dougal took the reins, giving the horse a pat on the neck, and then narrowed his gaze at his brother.
Ordinarily, the daily trouncing that Dougal gave the laird’s warriors tested Gaufrid’s temper. His eyes would glitter with rage. His teeth would grind with frustration. He’d try to wound Dougal with his sharp tongue.
Today he didn’t seem as out of sorts as usual. Instead, he gave Dougal a simpering smirk, looking curiously pleased with himself, as if Dougal had not just defeated his entire army of warriors.
Before Dougal could wonder what his brother’s good mood meant, he heard desperate bellows from the courtyard.
He acted at once, snatching up his claymore and tugging Urramach toward the cries.
Gaufrid was still sputtering in confusion when Dougal raced past him to see what was going on.
The two Fortanach brothers stood in the courtyard, bent over and heaving. Sweaty, breathless, and exhausted, they looked as if they’d been chased by a devil. Their faces were smudged with char. Their hair was coated in ash. They reeked of smoke. Their garments were torn and bloody where cloth and skin had been scraped.
“What’s happened?” Dougal demanded, wondering what foul mischief the troublesome brothers had gotten into now.
“Fire,” Fergus wheezed.
“An attack,” Morris rasped out.
Dougal’s heart raced. This was more than mere mischief. “Where?”
“In Kirk—” Morris’s words ended in a series of racking coughs.
By now, others had gathered. Murmurs of “fire” circled the courtyard like an ominous wind.
“Kirkoswald?” Dougal asked, his heart in his throat.
Bloody hell. That was where the christening was to be. East of Castle Giric. Roughly three miles away.
“Fetch buckets!” Dougal called out to the bystanders. “We’ll need all the able-bodied folk we can muster to put out the fire.” He turned back to the Fortanachs. “How bad is it?”
“They burned the whole village,” Morris muttered.
Dougal fist tightened in Urramach’s bridle. “Who?”
Fergus shook his head. “We didn’t see them.” Then he held out a tarnished medallion. “But they dropped this.”
Gaufrid had finally arrived. “Let me see that.”
Dougal had to go to Kirkoswald. There was no time to waste. He hauled himself into the saddle and shoved the helm down over his head.
“Men, saddle up and follow me as soon as ye can!” he commanded the warriors.
“Wait!” Gaufrid countermanded him. “I know this badge. ‘Tis the mac Giric’s.” Beneath him, Urramach danced impatiently, eager to run. “And?”
Gaufrid frowned. “The mac Giric stronghold is three days’ ride from here, at…at…” He glanced up at Morris.
“Creagor,” Morris said.
Gaufrid nodded. “Creagor, aye, that’s it. The mac Girics at Creagor.”
Dougal didn’t see how that mattered. “Whoever attacked Kirkoswald, I’ll chase them to the ends o’ the earth.”
“Nay!” Gaufrid suddenly seized Urramach’s bridle. “Not with my men!”
Dougal’s brows slammed together. “What?”
“He’s right,” Fergus interjected. “What if the marauders return?”
Morris said, “Ye can’t leave the clan defenseless.”
“Besides, brother,” Gaufrid sneered, “ye do not command my warriors.”
“Kirkoswald is on fire,” Dougal bit out. “Every moment we delay…” He didn’t want to think about it. “Let go.”
Dougal knew he’d suffer later for defying his brother. Defying and humiliating him in front of the clan. But he’d gladly pay the price to save the village. “Let. Go.”
Gaufrid’s eyes squinched with fury as his knuckles tightened on the bridle.
This was no time for sibling rivalry. Time was slipping away. Dougal had to save Kirkoswald. Even if he had to do it himself.
Out of patience, he gave Urramach a quick jab with his heels, and the steed bolted. If his brother hadn’t released his grip at the last instant, he might have lost a finger.
But Dougal never looked back. He rode like the wind toward Kirkoswald.
Once again, it was up to Dougal to do what his brother could not. Pick up the reins when Gaufrid dropped them. Pay heed to the matters the laird neglected. Heal the wounds he inflicted. Hold the clan together.
He never resented what he was required to do on his brother’s behalf. It only troubled him when Gaufrid tried to get in his way.
Even at Urramach’s thundering pace, it took a long and anxious quarter of an hour to reach the village.
Nothing could have prepared him for the devastation.
He was too late. The fire was already out. Not because it had been extinguished. But because there was nothing left to burn.
The flames had fed on everything in the village. Every thatched roof. Every wattle fence. Every wooden post. Nothing remained but flattened and charred shadows of what had been.
Wisps of white smoke coiled from the smoldering black bones of the cottages, like final gasps of the fire that had greedily consumed the flesh of Kirkoswald.
As he removed his helm and rode gingerly through the village, Dougal noticed something else.
Where were the fiends who had wrought such destruction?
And where were the villagers?
There should be lasses wailing over their lost homes. Men calling out orders for buckets of water. Children bawling in fright.
Where was everyone?
Only one structure remained standing. The church.
Its roof was gone. Black beams protruded upward from the scorched and crumbling stone walls, like fingers reaching for heaven. The high and slim stained glass windows had cracked from the heat. Through the fissures leaked threads of smoke. The thick oak double doors were still intact.
He dismounted and slowly climbed the stone steps.
What he saw made his blood run cold. Wedged through the twin handles of the doors, locking them together, was a pair of heavy blacksmith tongs.
Later he would learn he’d burned his fingers as he wrested the tongs from the door. But in the moment, he was numb.
When he tried to push the doors inward, he was met with resistance. And then the odor hit him. A sweet, sulfur, acrid smell.
The horrible stench of burnt flesh.
Dread gripped his throat like a vise. It took all of his strength to shove the doors inward just a few inches. And then he saw why.
Bodies were piled up against the doors.
Bodies with charred skulls and twisted limbs.
Their clothing had melded with their flesh.
Nothing but black holes gaped where their eyes had been.
Their bony fingers grasped and clawed at an unseen enemy.
Their teeth opened wide in silent screams.
The church had been set on fire. And the only exit had been blocked.
They’d been burned alive. Intentionally.
Men. Women. Children. The entire village.
Stunned sick and weakened by horror, Dougal sank to his knees. His grief was too deep for words or tears.
He’d known these people. He’d brought them food when they were hungry. Helped them bring new livestock into the world. Celebrated their weddings with them. Only two days ago, he’d sent the castle midwife to assist the birthing mother here. They’d been christening the bairn in the church when the attackers came.
Dougal’s heart sank as he realized that somewhere among the bodies was a wee lass only two days old.
Suddenly he couldn’t breathe. His chest ached, as if a mill stone pressed upon his ribs. As if they would crack under the unbearable weight of tragedy.
When at last he was able to draw in a ragged gasp, it came with the sudden, searing pain of guilt.
This was his fault.
He was supposed to protect the villagers. They depended on him to keep them safe. His brother couldn’t do it. So it was up to Dougal alone. He was supposed to look after them.
But he hadn’t. He’d failed them.
He’d allowed vandals to destroy their village. To murder them all.
They were dead because of him.
Behind him, Urramach neighed and stamped at the ground, anxious to be away from this noxious place of death.
For a long while, Dougal couldn’t move. He was frozen by grief. Burdened by remorse. Dead inside.
But deep within the smoldering ruins of his heart began to burn a hot ember of rage. Rage for the ones who had done this. For their wanton slaughter and savage cruelty. The mindless, senseless violence perpetrated against innocent victims.
The ember slowly bloomed to life. Burning higher and hotter. Purifying his guilt with fiery intention. Coalescing into a single white-hot flame of vengeance.
He steeled his jaw. Narrowed his eyes. Clenched his fists. And rose like a phoenix from the ashes of annihilation.
“Mac Giric,” he hissed between his teeth like a bitter vow. That was the badge the Fortanachs had found. That was the clan that must pay.
Dougal the noble warrior was no more. The man who rode east like a demon possessed was a new champion.
Forged in the fires of retribution, he was ruthless.
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