From USA Today bestselling author Glynnis Campbell...A cattle-thieving Scottish lass chooses the wrong cow to steal and tangles with a laird who heals her heart and tames her wild ways.
Raised by her abusive uncle, Cristy Moffat will do anything to impress her brawny cousins, including reiving the neighbor's cattle...until she steals the wrong cow and is caught in the act by the new laird. Brochan Macintosh has his hands full, repairing his tower house and raising his motherless twins. But when his plans to trade Cristy for his cattle go awry, he wonders if he wants to ransom her after all. Can he tame her wild ways and give her a family to love, and will Cristy be the one to heal his loneliness?
Origin Novella for Medieval Outlaws
Rogues, rapscallions, knaves, scoundrels, hellions, scallywags, blackguards, outcasts, and firebrands. They may be villains, but they're irresistible, and sometimes the right hero can steal their hearts and help them mend their wicked ways.
Length: 35,000 words = 124 pages
Rating: R-rated for passionate passages
In This Series
1211 – THE REIVER (a novella)
1250 – DANGER'S KISS
1391 – PASSION'S EXILE
1193 – DESIRE'S RANSOM
Key Themes: Scottish medieval historical romance, adventure stories, strong women, abuse, orphan, reformed bad girl, cattle thief, captive, hostage, ransom, single father, twin sons, widowed hero, second marriage, Highland romance, Aesop's fables, bedtime stories, stories with humor
More Historical Romances by Glynnis Campbell
The Warrior Maids of Rivenloch
THE SHIPWRECK (a novella)
A YULETIDE KISS (a short story)
The Knights of de Ware
THE HANDFASTING (a novella)
THE REIVER (a novella)
THE OUTCAST (a novella)
Release date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Glynnis Campbell
Print pages: 174
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"Where are ye goin', Da?" wee Colin asked as Brochan buckled on his sword over his white leine and black trews. The lad's brows were furrowed, and his five-year-old eyes looked fretful.
Brochan hunkered down and clasped the lad's wee shoulder.
"Nowhere. Just out to the fields. Now I'm countin' on ye lads to keep watch while I'm gone." He reached over to squeeze Cambel's shoulder as well. Then he glanced up and gave his man, Rauf, a wink.
Cambel didn't look convinced. He glanced at Brochan's sword. "How long will ye be gone, Da?"
"Och, not long at all."
Brochan exchanged a meaningful look with Rauf. He hoped he wouldn't be long. If they returned, he was determined to catch the damned reivers tonight.
He was convinced now the tavern wench was right. It was reivers who'd taken his cows. The nasty thieves had already stolen five of them in as many days. Tonight he would stand watch over the herd. If the villains tried to strike again, he'd be ready for them.
"Why can't I come, Da?" Colin asked, his green eyes serious. "I'll be careful around the coos."
"Me too," Cambel chimed in. "And I'm not afraid o' the dark."
Brochan smiled and ruffled the twins' unruly auburn hair that looked so like their mother's. "Ye're two brave lads, that's for sure. But I need ye here. After all, ye can't expect Rauf to watch o'er the keep all by himself."
"That's right," Rauf said, lowering his gray brows to give them a stern frown. "'Tis up to us to guard the house."
Rauf's wife, Mabel, called out from where she was tending the fire. "I'm countin' on ye braw lads to keep me safe."
Brochan grinned at that. Keep her safe indeed. Mabel was as big as a tree, as strong as an ox, and as unyielding as iron. If required, she could probably roust the entire English army from the tower house.
In fact, once she heard about Brochan's intentions to waylay the reivers, Mabel had offered to go after the good-for-naught knaves herself. But Brochan wasn't about to let her tangle with outlaws. She was too valuable as a cook and a nursemaid to his sons to be risking her life over such nonsense.
Brochan was grateful Rauf and Mabel had come with him to this new holding. The loyal servants had been with him since the lads were born. He didn't know what he'd do without them.
This battle with the reivers, however, was Brochan's. He was fairly sure that reiving his cattle was his unfriendly neighbors' attempt to chase him off.
It wouldn't work. He was determined to stay. He'd come too far and surrendered too much to go back now. He wouldn't let a few hostile neighbors frighten him away, especially since he had no intention of returning to the place where he'd met and married his beloved wife. There were too many painful reminders of her there.
It was best he make a fresh start. On this sizeable plot of land with its grassy, rolling braes and its thick forests, its lovely winding burn and its crumbling-but-reparable tower house, he could raise his sons in peace—far away from their mother's kin, who, though they never spoke of it aloud, silently blamed the twins for her death.
Brochan gave Cambel and Colin a kiss on the brow. How anyone could blame his two precious sons for anything so tragic, he didn't know.
"Ye do what Rauf tells ye now," he reminded them.
The lads nodded. Brochan straightened, adjusting his sword belt. He wore his sword out of habit. He doubted he'd need a weapon. The reivers were likely just a couple of lads up to mischief.
They would quickly learn that Brochan Macintosh was not a man to sit idly by while his cattle were picked off. A stern word from him about the foolishness of stealing from one's neighbor and the return of his cows should set the matter to rights.
The evening air was mild and pleasant. The sky was still not fully dark as he headed down the steep slope of the motte toward the glen where the cows usually spent the night. The dark green pines of the forest were etched in jagged silhouettes against the violet sky. Stars were just emerging, sprinkled like salt across the heavens. Thistles of starlit purple studded the grass like gems.
The crickets stopped chirping as he hiked across the spongy loam. In the well-grazed pasture, he could make out the rough, dark shapes of horned black cows slumbering on the sod.
Angling across the brae, he found a good vantage point where he could hide in a clump of tall heather and view the whole glen. He settled onto his seat on the damp ground, rested his arms on his raised knees, and narrowed his eyes at the herd below.
The crickets gradually resumed their singing. Now and then a cow would stir, raising its shaggy head and lowering it again. Brochan sat as still as stone while the moon slowly moved across the sky.
As always, when he was alone and unoccupied, memories of his wife seeped into his thoughts. Even after five years, he missed her. He hated to admit it was getting harder and harder to remember her face. But the features their sons had inherited from her—her reddish-brown hair, her freckled nose, her stubborn chin—haunted him. It was a blessing the lads had been born with green eyes like Brochan's, for he didn't think he could endure seeing his wife's merry sky-blue eyes every day.
He still wasn't past blaming himself for her death. Recalling her pale and shivering body as she delivered their second twin with her last breath, he felt crushing guilt, even though he'd done everything he could to save her life. Everything except stay away from her bed in the first place.
He swallowed the lump in his throat. It was too late for regrets now. She was gone, and he'd never find another like her. He had to do the best he could for their sons on his own.
As he surveyed the great glen that was now part of his holding, his eye caught on a curious star he hadn't seen before above the distant brae. It was lower than the others. And though it appeared motionless in the sky, a long stream of light trailed after it like a tail.
A comet, he realized in wonder. He hadn't seen a comet since he was a lad. He'd never seen one so vivid nor so close to the earth. Now he wished he had brought Colin and Cambel out to the field with him.
He narrowed his eyes. If it was like the comet he'd seen before, it would appear every night for several days as it slowly crossed the heavens. He'd be sure to show it to his sons tomorrow night then, just as his father had done for him all those years ago.
Most people believed that comets were a portent of things to come. Some thought they brought bad luck. Some thought they were harbingers of good fortune.
Brochan figured they were no more than an interesting feature in the night sky that men could only partly understand, like falling stars or eclipses. Still, if the comet wished to bring him good luck, he'd be grateful for the return of his cattle.
His eyes shifted suddenly as they caught movement coming from the edge of the woods. He stiffened. He could make out the shadowy shapes of six cloaked figures stealing out of the forest, not forty yards away.
Brochan moved his hand to the hilt of his sword. Maybe it was good he'd brought it after all. Never had he imagined he'd have to deal with an entire army of reivers.
At the edge of the trees, they all stopped, all but the smallest one. That one continued to slowly advance. The reiver had chosen his target carefully. The lone cow was at a little distance from the rest of the herd, at a good distance from the bull, and she had no calf with her.
In the same way the reiver meant to separate the cow from the herd to make it easier to capture, Brochan could separate the lad from the rest of his companions. If he could steal down the brae without being spotted, he could easily grab the thief and use him as leverage to quell the rest of his fellows.
The reiver clearly knew what he was doing. He took his time, letting the cows adjust to his presence, and headed in a straight line toward his target. Though Brochan couldn't make out the words, he could hear the lad's low, soothing murmurs as he calmed the cattle.
Slowly, Brochan eased up from the ground, creeping forward through the heather, keeping his eyes trained on his prey.
Then a curious thing happened. The reiver stopped abruptly, went silent, and straightened.
Brochan realized the lad was staring at the sky.
He'd seen the star.
Brochan glanced toward the other reivers. They were pointing at the comet and jostling each other, as though arguing over it.
Finally, one of them hissed at the lone reiver in the moonlight, beckoning him.
But the reiver stood frozen in the field, awestruck.
While they were thus distracted, Brochan made his swift way down the rise.
He was no more than twenty yards away when the tallest reiver spotted him. The lad cursed and shoved at his companions, and the lot of them retreated under the trees.
All of them but the reiver in the field, who paid no heed to their calls or Brochan's presence. The lad lingered in the moonlight, transfixed by the comet, as Brochan crept closer and closer.
Cristy stared, struck dumb by the vision in the heavens.
What was that? A star? Or something else?
It wasn't moving. Yet a long, feathery tail stretched out behind it as if it were flying across the night sky.
She'd never seen such a thing.
"Cristy, come on!" Archibald hissed from the trees. "Now, damn ye!"
She ignored him. She didn't care about the cows now. She could catch a cow another night. This was far more intriguing.
Suddenly she remembered what the tavern wench had told her.
Change is on the horizon. The star has chosen ye. Follow it, and ye may change your fate.
She shivered. Was this her star? Had Brighde truly foreseen her future?
In one moment, she was gazing at the star in wonder.
In the next, she was hurtling toward the ground.
When her shoulder hit the sod, her first thought was that the bull had charged and knocked her over.
But when she tried to scramble out of harm's way, a heavy arm held her down—a human arm.
"Archibald," she bit out, for she was sure it was her oldest cousin, "let me up."
Cristy's eyes went wide. It wasn't her cousin. She didn't recognize the voice.
"Ye'll frighten the coos," he warned.
If it wasn't her cousins, it must be one of Macintosh's men.
Shite! She couldn't be caught. Reiving cattle was a serious crime.
Deciding she'd rather take her chances with the herd of frightened cows than with their vengeful owner, she spat out a curse, then struggled and bucked and kicked and scratched, trying to free herself from the clutches of her captor. But he was very persistent and very strong.
Through the strands of her hair, she glimpsed her cousins hiding under the trees.
Why weren't they helping her? She grimaced as the arm around her waist tightened.
And then she heard the cattle. All the noise was disturbing them.
Good, she thought. Maybe the restless cows would distract the beast attacking her long enough for her to escape.
She took in a deep breath, ready to yell for all she was worth.
Her cry was cut short by the clap of a huge hand over her mouth.
"Hush!" the man hissed against her ear. "Ye'll get us both killed if that bull charges."
Cristy glanced again toward the trees. Her cousins had vanished.
Her heart sank. If they'd abandoned her, she was as good as dead. So what did she care if the bull killed her?
She renewed her struggles.
In the end, it was no use. Her captor, whoever he was, had a grip like iron and a will to match. He hefted her up like a fleece of wool in one powerful arm, muffling her cries with his sweaty palm, and packed her off across the field toward the tower house.
Her last thought as she caught one final glimpse of the strange star in the sky was that Brighde had only promised her a change of fortune.
She hadn't said it might be a change for the worse.
Brochan realized about halfway through subduing the reiver that the scrappy firebrand he'd caught was a lass. But by then, it was too late to let her go. She was already riling up the cattle. He had to get her away from them.
The cows were by nature fairly calm. Brochan let his sons pet the shaggy beasts, as long as they were with him. Twice a day, the lads milked the two cows that had lost their young in the byre. But some of the cows in the field had young calves they were protecting. And the bull was unpredictable.
Even if Brochan had wanted to let her go, the wee reiver's companions had deserted her. And he wasn't about to let a lass roam the countryside by night all alone. He'd never be able to live with himself if she were attacked by wolves or miscreants.
So, regretting his rough handling of the lass, he proceeded to remove her from the field as efficiently as possible.
Any regret he had was cut short when, halfway up the brae, the minx bit into the soft part of his palm.
With an outcry that was more aggravation than pain, he yanked his hand away.
She took a breath.
No doubt she meant to curse him.
Or cry for help.
Or scream at the top of her lungs.
He couldn't have her doing any of those. So he stuffed a wad of her arisaid into her open mouth before she could make a peep.
But like plugging a wasp's nest, his actions only served to agitate her further. She thrashed and twisted in the prison of his arms. Her anger erupted in frustrated squeals behind the stifling wool.
She was still fighting him and screaming into her arisaid when he climbed the motte and reached the tower house door. But he didn't have a free hand. So, grimacing in anticipation of her curses, he uncovered her mouth long enough to reach for the handle.
She didn't disappoint. As he swung open the door, she spat the wool from her mouth and emitted a string of oaths vile enough to make the devil blush.
Even the stalwart Rauf, who rushed forward to close the door behind them, blinked at the foul curses.
Eager to be rid of his noisy burden, Brochan carried the lass into the hall and set her abruptly on her feet, so abruptly she nearly tripped on the hem of her kirtle.
She tossed her head, and her long black braid slapped him in the face. He had just enough time to see her snarling white teeth—the teeth now imprinted upon his palm—before she did the unthinkable.
While he was disentangling himself from the hissing she-cat, the lass laid her hands upon the hilt of his sword and pulled it from its sheath.
Brochan leaped back just in time to avoid the edge of the blade. It whistled past, missing him by inches.
Before he even had time to curse himself for his carelessness, she stabbed forward.
He fell back, grabbing a lit sconce from the wall to use as a weapon.
"Put the sword down," he warned.
She glared at him through damp strands of her dark hair, but still she held the blade aloft in both hands.
"Put it down," he repeated.
When she refused to comply, he lunged forward with the sconce, forcing her to skitter back.
With a determined growl, she slashed again and again at the space between them. Her swings were reckless and wildly unpredictable.
Defending himself with the sconce, he managed to keep her from doing too much damage.
"Nay, Rauf!" he barked at his man, who was trying to sneak up on the lass. "Stay back!"
He didn't want anyone injured by a stray blade. Besides, if Brochan couldn't handle this minikin of a lass on his own, he didn't deserve to be laird of the tower house.
"Whoreson!" the lass spat. "Satan's spawn!"
Brochan frowned. He wondered if she kissed the lads with that filthy mouth.
She took another swipe at him, and he fended it off with the sconce, extinguishing the candle.
He could have brought the heavy piece down on her head at that point and knocked her out. But he hated to resort to such violence when it wasn't necessary.
Besides, the way the lass was fighting—with all her pluck and every bit of her strength—she couldn't last much longer. He'd just wait for her to tire.
"Ye hedge-born bastard!"
Brochan shook his head and deflected another wayward swing.
As he did, he caught a glimpse of Cambel and Colin, who'd heard the noise and come downstairs. They peered out from the shadows of the stairwell with their wooden swords in hand, ready to do battle.
He grimaced. They'd probably witnessed the whole sordid incident and were hanging on every blasphemous word.
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