By Amy Jarecki
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Together, they’ll brave tempests, pirates, betrayal, and ruin. But soon Kennan must decide what matters most: his thirst for vengeance or the woman who’s won his heart.
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Sincere thanks to all the dedicated people who have helped with this novel. I am truly grateful. My agent, Elaine Spencer, always has my back, as does my publicist, Kim Rozzell. These two women know how to keep me out of trouble. A huge thank-you to my wonderful editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, who is a joy to work with. To the Grand Central Publishing Art Department, especially Craig White and Elizabeth Turner Stokes—the cover of The Highland Rogue really pops. The Forever marketing team does a lovely job keeping my books in front of fans, and I am in awe of the social media marketing skills of Estelle Hallick, Jodi Rosoff, and Monisha Lakhotia. Finally, hugs to the copyediting and typesetting department; to Tareth Mitch and Angelina Krahn for her fastidious and diligent copyediting. Bless you all!
March 14, 1714
Aboard the Highland Reel
Sailing through the North Channel
A cold sweat seeped through Sir Kennan Cameron’s shirt as he shrugged into his leather doublet and pushed out from the captain’s cabin of his eighteen-gun ship. His breathing sped, straining against the tightness in his chest. Disbelief consumed his mind.
No. Bloody. Chance.
A tic twitched at the back of his jaw. To mask his alarm, he straightened the tricorne atop his head. They’d been at sea for months. Why now? Why when they were but a day’s sailing from his beloved Highlands?
God on the cross, he prayed the report was wrong. “Runner saw Vane’s pennant, did you say?”
“Aye.” Wheezing, the old quartermaster, Lachie Mor, tried to keep pace, tottering on bowed legs. “’Twas a dread black flag complete with Satan’s dancing death.”
A dank mist engulfed them as they clambered up the steps to the helm. “How the devil can anyone see a damned thing in this?” Kennan wiped the sleep from his eyes. Accursed pirates. It was typical of a varlet like Jackson Vane to mount a dawn attack; navigating in this soup was impossible for the best of sailors.
The boatswain, Mr. MacNeil, met them at the ship’s wheel. “The lad spent the entire night in the crow’s nest. Said he saw the flag above the fog as it rolled in just afore sunrise.”
By the eerie haze in the east, the sun was making a paltry attempt of showing itself. “Where is the cabin boy now?”
“Here, sir.” Runner’s voice came from across the deck, though the outline of his form was barely discernable.
Kennan beckoned the lad forward as lightning flashed, followed by a thunderous clap. And with it a downpour released its fury. “Are you certain it was Vane’s flag?” he asked, ignoring the rain. “Did you have a clear view, or were you waking from a wee nap?”
The lad stood square and looked him in the eye. “I was fully awake. I ken what I saw.”
“How far out?” asked Lachie Mor.
“Hard to say. The Jolly Roger was like a phantom waving above the mist without a ship.” At the age of sixteen, Runner had proven himself an able seaman and wasn’t one to tell tall tales.
Kennan turned to MacNeil. “Man the cannons at once.”
“I’ve already given the order, sir.”
“Damn them to Hades,” growled Lachie Mor. “Vane has a gargantuan pair of cods if he aims to attack this close to Britain.”
Mr. MacNeil gripped the wheel, his knife-scarred face white as bed linens. “Mayhap, but if he does, the queen’s navy will not be alerted until our bones are at the bottom of the sea.”
“Wheesht. You’re talking as if we’re already doomed.” As the words slipped through Kennan’s lips, the hairs on his nape pricked. And when he peered ahead, the tendrils of breath billowing from his nose turned to ice along with the air in his lungs. With the rain, the fog had lifted a bit, and he almost wished it hadn’t. Dead ahead, not one but three schooners raced toward them at full tilt—each one flying a black flag with skull and bones.
“Tack hard to port!” Kennan bellowed, opening his spyglass. He twisted the copper casing to sharpen the image, but the mist and rain were still too thick to discern much detail. Hell, he needed nothing more—by the speed and bent of the approaching armada, Vane intended to attack. Damnation! How could he know what lay beneath the false bottom of the hold? And why the devil did Vane wait if he intended to plunder? Why now when the Highland Reel was but a day’s sailing from home?
“Outrun them?” Mor asked over the screeching of the booms of all three masts while they swung across the deck.
“Or what?” Kennan slammed his spyglass shut, his gaze scanning the faces of his crew for any sign of a traitor. “If we stand and fight, we’re dead men.”
“But there’s nay time!” MacNeil shouted, his arms shaking as he fought the resistance of the wheel.
Ahead the enemy ships divided, one sailing broadside to port, the other to starboard, and the third making a sharp turn, cutting across the Highland Reel’s bow.
“Lord save us,” grumbled Lachie Mor.
“We’re nearly home, damn it all. By God’s grace I’ll be sitting by my father’s hearth this eve! Fire a cannon from each side and let them know we’ll not surrender without a fight.” Kennan grabbed Runner by the arm and headed aft at a run. “Come with me.”
“Aye, sir.” With a spark in his eyes, the lad grinned as if heading to a gathering filled with bonny lassies rather than sailing straight for certain death. “Are we going to send them to hell, sir?”
“You’d best believe it.” Kennan ushered Runner to one of the skiffs they used to ferry sailors to the shore. “Climb in.”
The boy’s smile dropped like a lead weight. “Beg your pardon?”
“You heard me.”
“Och, what about the battle?”
Kennan patted the side of the boat, a steely edge to his jaw. “Aye, there’s going to be one hell of a fight, but you’ll not be wielding your sword this day.”
“But I’m nearly as big as a man.” Runner—Baltazar his Christian name—tipped up his rain-soaked chin and squared his shoulders while two consecutive cannon blasts from the gun deck shook the timbers. “I’d be milk-livered if I didn’t stand with the others.”
When lightning burst and thunder brayed, Kennan stepped nearer the boy. “Nay, lad. You’ll be alive.”
Before the young whelp said another word, Kennan hoisted the cabin boy into the skiff and swung out the wench. “Row northwest and you’ll hit land. Take a transport to Achnacarry and ask for an audience with Lochiel. Tell him of our adventures. Our fortune. Tell him we nearly made it.”
“All isn’t lost.” Runner’s voice shot up while he gripped the side of the boat. The skiff teetered in midair, dangling over the side of the ship. “We’ve a ferocious crew, sir. We’ll fight them!”
“Aye, we will.” With a swing of his sword, Kennan cut the restraining rope and sent the skiff plummeting to the sea to the tune of Runner’s adolescent shrieks. Nay, it wasn’t pretty, but as captain of the Highland Reel, he wasn’t about to let the boy face certain doom. If they didn’t come out of this alive, at least someone would take word to Lochiel, the great chieftain of Clan Cameron, Kennan’s da.
“Remember!” He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted to the boy, praying he’d be heard above the mounting blasts from enemy cannons.
Curses to Hades. One more bloody day and they would have sailed into Loch Eil, each sailor wealthier than he’d ever dreamed. A shiver snaked up Kennan’s spine. Had one of his crew deceived him? Or was something even more sinister afoot?
When he turned, the schooners had formed their trap. Three to one. He’d never admit it to a soul, but the odds of surviving this day were nil. “Fire at will!” he roared. Thrusting his sword above his head, he ran back to the helm, his pistols and dirk straining on his belt. He sheathed the sword and grabbed his musket from Lachie Mor’s hands. “To arms!”
The entire ship shuddered as the cannons below decks let lose their arsenal. The pirate ships fired shots across bow and stern, but not a missile hit the Highland Reel. And Kennan knew why. The treasure aboard was enough to tempt any pirate on the high seas. They hadn’t dallied when they left Nassau, but someone had beat his ship to British waters—someone fast and shrewd enough to ruin him. Unless that someone had sailed ahead?
Not only had the woman supplied his ship, the widow had been more than accommodating in Nassau—very accommodating indeed.
I pledge my oath, if I survive this day, only God will be able to save the Judas who betrayed me.
As Kennan charged his weapon, crewmen with their muskets kneeled behind the hull. He hardly noticed the rain drenching his clothes as he took aim, glad the mist no longer impeded his view. At broadside, the enemy ships heaved to. And Lord save the poor bastard looking straight at his sights.
“Muskets, fire!” His finger closed around the trigger, making the gun explode with a deafening blast. The stench of sulfur burned his nostrils as smoke billowed from the barrel, but not before the pirate catapulted backward with the impact of the lead ball hitting him square between the eyes.
Pandemonium reigned with volleys of musket and cannon fire. One of the schooners listed in the water from a hit to her hull, but the battle had only begun.
With a roar, the brigands on two sides levered planks into place. Kennan drew his flintlock pistol and fired, hitting his mark. Meanwhile, his men shoved the boards to the water, only as soon as one crashed to the sea, another followed.
He glanced at the quartermaster. “Are you ready for the fight of your life?”
“Ready to send them to the icy depths, sir.” As Lachie Mor spoke, pirates swung onto the ship from the rigging above while others leaped from the blasted planks. The first to cross were welcomed with shots of lead to their bellies, but within two blinks of an eye, the top deck of Kennan’s beloved barque swarmed with fighting men. The clashing of swords replaced the boom of gunfire, but the screams of the fallen carried above it all.
Kennan and his most trusted man, Lachie Mor, stood side by side, protecting the helm. Each pirate who dared to ascend the stairs met with a thrust of a Highland great sword.
“Watch your two o’clock!” bellowed Lachie Mor.
A brigand swung in from the rigging, and Kennan spun just in time to deflect the cutlass aimed at his neck. Rain stung his eyes. No time to stop, he thrust with his dirk, deflecting deathly jabs with his sword.
Vane’s pirates kept coming, leaping over the rail and swinging from ropes, dropping onto the deck, cutting men down with ruthless terror—as if Vane and his devils had descended from the black clouds overhead.
Kennan gripped his dirk tight in his fist while his sword hissed and struck their cutlasses—fighting four at once, then eight. Mor crashed backward through the rail, leaving Kennan to fend off the onslaught on his own. The iron taste of blood filled his mouth.
His blood or another’s?
It mattered not. Nor were the rigors of his daily training of any consequence, not while fighting for his very breath. His arms burned and strained with the weight of the sword in his hand.
Backed against the bulkhead, Kennan fought like a madman—a stab to the left, a thrust with his dirk. He hopped to the side, blocking an attack aimed at his heart. On and on he continued, ignoring the searing burn as his muscles screamed for respite.
“Arrgh!” he cried, a cutlass slicing across his midriff. As hot blood oozed into the waistband of his kilt, he fought harder, honing his senses, deflecting every strike as it hurled toward him. He slashed his dirk across an attacker’s throat while skewering another on his blade. Kicking, he shoved the pirate away and drew back his sword. With the next clanging clash of iron, his weapon flew from his fist and clattered to the deck.
God on the cross, a behemoth of a man bore down upon him—two missing teeth and ugly as sin. Pressing his back against the timbers, Kennan sliced his dirk through the air. “Stay back, ye bloody Goliath!”
Six blades leveled at Kennan’s neck while his pulse beat a fierce rhythm at the base of his throat. Gasping for breath, he looked beyond the enemy as the giant stripped the dirk from his fingers. Not one of his crewmen still standing wielded a weapon. In less than an hour the fortune he’d fought so hard to win was forfeit to the vilest British pirate who sailed the seas.
“Your ship is lost, Cameron, and so is your precious cargo.”
Kennan had met Jackson Vane only once in his life, but there was no mistaking the sound of the man’s grating voice. He wore a black neckcloth, which some claimed hid a scar so deep that it had changed his voice forever.
Coming into view, the bastard tugged at the cloth now. His scowl was as grisly as his black-whiskered face. “Bind his wrists.”
There was no use struggling. Not with so many blades ready to cut Kennan to the quick. But as the hemp rope wrapped around and slashed into his wrists, he scanned the deck for survivors. The pirates had already gathered the stragglers. Neither Lachie Mor nor Mr. MacNeil were among them.
A weight the size of an anchor swelled in his gut. He should have prevented this—should have been more vigilant. Damnation, he’d been asleep in his cabin while the bastard lay in wait. He should have sailed a different route—gone up the eastern shore of Scotland and down through the western isles. Doing so would have added a sennight or more to the voyage, but that would have been little price to pay.
If only he had the choice now.
“Bring this heap of worthless rot under way, men!” shouted Vane. “Set a course for hell, where no Jack Tar will find us.”
A pirate struck Kennan in the back with the butt of his musket. “Move your arse.”
The sgian dubh and pouch of coins Kennan always wore strapped to the inside of his thigh rubbed as he stumbled forward, straight into the face of Satan. “You’ve taken my ship, now ’tis your duty to send off the survivors in a skiff,” he spat at Vane, ice in his voice.
A twisted sneer split the pirate’s black whiskers. “Aye, we’ll be casting them off. But they’ll need to be strong swimmers. Drag them to the plank!”
The behemoth approached with a noose. Kennan elbowed the man on his right and lurched forward, striking Goliath’s chest with his forehead. But his efforts proved futile as two brigands restrained his arms while the big man slipped the rope over Kennan’s head. “I’ll enjoy watching ye swing.”
“Move your arse,” growled a vile cur, clubbing Kennan in the back with the hilt of his cutlass.
As the brigand dragged him toward midship, Kennan wrapped his fingers around the noose and tugged it away from his windpipe. Everything hurt. The cut across his stomach stung and throbbed. His muscles burned, and all for naught. He’d lost his bloody ship. Worse—his men either were dead or would soon be swimming for their lives in the icy sea.
The pirates drew out their murderous crime, humiliating every prisoner with taunts, pilfering jewelry, clan pins, and any clothing worth a farthing from their bodies. Some men were completely nude as the pirates forced them onto the plank by point of bayonet. The most heartrending part? Every condemned soul looked Kennan in the eye with haunting stares of disbelief, silently pleading for help.
Cuthbert, the loyal first mate, was the last of the crew from the Highland Reel to suffer humiliation. Bless him, he didn’t tarry and allow the bastards to plunder his effects. He took a running leap over the side to the roars of the crowd. “I’ll meet the lot of ye in hellllll!”
After the dunking splash came from Cuthbert’s body hitting the surf, Jackson Vane cracked a switch against his palm, his grin growing more menacing as he sauntered toward Kennan. “Now ’tis your turn, O captain of the briny deep.”
“You’re a vile excuse for a man,” Kennan seethed, baring his teeth. “There is no reason you could not have spared them—sent them off in a damned skiff for God’s sake.”
“Is that so?” Vane glared with eyes as black and glassy as obsidian. “By your reputation I would have thought you more callous.”
His reputation? Kennan had done a bit of pirating, but nothing to compare with Vane. “I have no idea to what you are referring.”
“You stole into Versailles and plundered a man’s gold—quite daring of you. But I admire a chap with courage, albeit foolhardy. Tell me, why did you leave him alive?”
The anchor in Kennan’s gut sank to his toes. Dear God, he should have ended the scoundrel’s life in France. Claude Dubois was a traitor and a snake. The man had tricked them all into believing he supported the Jacobite cause. Moreover, the bastard had lied his way into Kennan’s trust and stolen gold intended to support James Stuart’s succession to the throne of Britain. Kennan had merely taken back that which rightfully belonged to the prince.
“Dubois is my Judas? Where is the thief?”
“Waiting to watch you hang.” Dubois stepped out from the crowd, grinning wide as if he were proud of the missing front tooth—the gap left after Kennan had removed the upper central with a pair of tongs. “I’ve been waiting too long to claim my due.”
The French cutthroat had deceived everyone. A spy for King Louis, Dubois had wormed his way into Queen Anne’s court with intent to stage a coup. Had he been successful, all of Britain would currently be a province of France.
“Nothing was your due.” Kennan clenched his fists and took a swing even though the cur was beyond his reach. His effort earned him a yank from the noose. Coughing, he stretched his neck. “You stole the gold not only from me, but from Prince James.”
“You were always inordinately gullible, Cameron.” Dubois threw his head back with a grating laugh. “I had you eating from my hand.”
“And now you’re eating from mine.” Vane gave Dubois a smirk before he thrust up his hands and strutted in a circle. “What say you, men? Hang the Cameron bastard or feed him to the sharks?”
In a heartbeat, the blood thrumming through Kennan’s veins turned as thick as mud. He’d most likely die if he walked the plank, but he’d never survive if he let these bastards string him from the mast. He glanced across the sea. A speck of land darkened the horizon. Was it too far?
“Hang him!” came repeated shouts while Goliath flung the rope over the main boom.
As the accursed beast reached for the rope’s end, Kennan dove for the dagger sheathed at the bastard’s waist, and slashed it across the pirate’s throat. In the time it took to blink, he raced for the plank, loosening the noose and casting it over his head. A musket cracked behind him just as he leaped. The shot seared the outside of his shoulder, tearing through his doublet and shirt, cleaving his flesh.
“Aaaaaaaaaaah!” he hollered, his legs still running as the sea approached.
In the nick of time he pulled his feet together and pointed his toes. He crashed into waves as though he’d slammed into a stone wall at full tilt. Icy salt water engulfed him, attacking with the sting of a thousand wasps made even more excruciating by the freezing snow of Ben Nevis in winter. His breath rushed from his lungs as he fought for the surface, keeping the dagger tight in his fist. As his head popped through the water, musket balls pierced the waves around him with sharp slaps, far sharper than the pattering raindrops on his face.
Taking in a deep breath, Kennan dived under, using every bit of remaining strength to swim away from his beloved Highland Reel. When he next surfaced, the ship had sailed too far for the sights of a musket. Waves crashed over his head while he treaded water, searching for survivors. And, as his teeth chattered, he spotted not a soul. Damn. Any men still alive would have started swimming two or three leagues back. And it didn’t take a seer to know when a man found himself overboard in waters this cold, he’d be lucky to survive for an hour.
If there are any survivors.
His stomach roiled, though all trepidation vanished at the sight of a dark gray dorsal fin fast approaching from the north. Then another. And another.
Still clenching the dagger in his fist, he faced the sharks head-on.
Divana tossed a clam into her basket, then took a moment of respite, leaning on her shovel and brushing the tendrils of hair away from her face. The sea was rough after the storm, and the wind still blew a gale. Though on Hyskeir, the wind never stopped. At best it was breezy, and oft blowing so hard that she had to lean forward and fight to walk a straight line. She ought to be accustomed to it by now.
But she wasn’t.
Mayhap one day I’ll be rescued from this isle and travel to a place where ’tis warm and sunny.
Of course on the Hebridean isle, the only warmth and sun she ever experienced was the odd summer’s day, but it never lasted more than a fleeting moment.
As she returned to her work, a sudden bout of gooseflesh rose upon her skin, and an odd sensation prickled her neck, as if caressed by the breath of a ghost.
Inhaling sharply, she gazed out over the dark and menacing swells of the sea. Something glimmered on the water—something with eyes. Her heart stuttered as she stepped forward for a better glimpse, but as the waves crested and fell, the sea creature vanished.
“Mischievous selkie,” she mumbled, pushing her shovel into the sand. No, Divana didn’t really believe in mystical creatures. If they did exist, she doubted she’d have been stranded on Hyskeir for so long without earning a wee bit of kindness. The fairy folk surely ought to see good in her heart by now. Oh, to imagine if they took her away on a fantastical adventure. Perhaps, if they were real, she would have been taken to the fairy kingdom to marry a handsome prince.
But no. There she stood, hunting for clams. Alone.
As the water filled her hole, it bubbled. At the sign of an escaping clam, she shoveled faster. “Where’d ye go, ye wee beastie?” With a few more scoops, she spotted the clam, dropped to her knees, and wrapped her fingers around the shell right before the slippery mollusk dug deeper. “Ye’re nay spiriting away this day, not from me, ye sprite!”
With a chuckle, she tossed her prize into the basket.
As she straightened, the ghostly sensation she’d felt on her neck returned full force. Gasping, she froze, her knees sinking into the sand.
A man crouched at the edge of the surf, his hands on his thighs, a dagger in one fist. Stark, bloodshot eyes stared at her while he panted through blue lips. Water dripped from his hair and clothing. Blood seeped across his stomach, spreading through the fibers of his shirt.
Clutching her shovel across her body, Divana sprang to her feet and skittered away. “Stay back!”
The man’s eyes widened, though he made not a move. “Fire,” he said, his blue lips quivering.
She glanced back to the bothy, smoke curling above it from the small blaze inside.
“Blanket,” he said, his voice forceful and strained as he staggered closer.
“Please,” he bit out sharply, crossing his arms and shivering like seagrass bent sideways by the wind. “I-I’ll nay harm you.”
Divana gaped. She hadn’t spoken to another soul in two years, and now a large, half-drowned, bleeding man appeared from the sea without a boat. But before she thought of something to say, the Highlander set off, weaving and stumbling toward the bothy, his back hunched, water bubbling from his woolen hose.
Gripping her shovel, she followed. Saint Columba, what ought she do? The wee shelter was her only refuge. “Stop! You mustn’t go in there.”
Completely ignoring her, the ragged man continued toward her home, walking like a drunkard.
- "A compellingly crafted, vividly evoked historical romance that is expertly threaded through with a surfeit of potent danger and powerful desire."—Booklist
- "The slow burn romance between Kennan and Divana in The Highland Rogue was a spark that turned into a raging inferno with added dashes of danger, action, and intrigue that coalesced into a mighty good read. I would highly recommend this story!"—The Genre Book Minx
- "This book sucked me in and held me captive from the exciting, heart-pounding opening to the last beautifully romantic scene in the epilogue."—Flipping Pages
- "With passion, precision, and consummate skill, Jarecki has penned an adventurous romance that is greatly enhanced by an exquisite depiction of life in the early 18th-century Scottish Highlands. Beautifully done."—Library Journal on The Highland Renegade
- "Jarecki further enhances her reputation for crafting stellar Scottish romances by giving readers a knockout love story, with an action-packed plot richly imbued with colorful period details and a perfectly matched hero and heroine whose sensual exploits are hot enough to warm the coldest of Scottish nights."—Booklist on The Highland Renegade
- "Flirtatious, sensuous romance and adventure fill the pages of this mesmerizing historical, and the undercurrent of Jacobite rebellion raises the tension."—Publishers Weekly on The Highland Renegade
- On Sale
- Mar 24, 2020
- Page Count
- 368 pages