A Highlander's Christmas Kiss


By Paula Quinn

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Christmas may be coming to Linavar, but Temperance Menzie is far from joyful. Grief-stricken over the death of her father at the hands of the Black Riders, she almost didn’t see the wounded stranger in the woods. And now she’s determined to give this braw, brooding Highlander the help she couldn’t give her father. But there’s a secret lurking in the depths of his blue-gray eyes. And Temperance won’t rest until she uncovers it . . .


A killer for hire. It’s the last thing Cailean Grant ever thought he’d become, but being part of the Black Riders was his only way to survive. Now, his guilt grows day by day, along with his desire for the beautiful, brave lass nursing him back to health. As Christmas, the season of miracles, draws near and the truth of his identity threatens to come out, Cailean must risk the only thing he has left to lose-his heart.


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Chapter One

Need a room fer the night, sir? A bed?"


"A warm bath then, mayhap, to shed ye of the dust of travelin'?"

Cailean Grant looked down from his horse and cast a scathing glance at the lad about to reach for his reins. "I said nae."

The boy swallowed and jumped out of the way of the three riders following him. Cailean didn't look back at the child and he didn't seek forgiveness for not caring. It didn't matter what the circumstances were. He kept people out. For his own good, not theirs.

"Ye should take the bath," Patrick MacGregor said, catching up. "It might do ye some good to have the cockles of yer heart warmed."

Cailean didn't acknowledge his cousin's good-natured suggestion but kept his eyes on the icy road before them. He liked his cockles the way they were. Cold. Empty. Safe.

"I think the boy shite his breeches," Erik MacCormack laughed from his saddle behind them, then kicked another lad out of his way.

"What?" He chuckled again when Patrick glowered at him. "The waifs will likely rob us the moment we remove our purses."

"They'd be disappointed by yours, Erik," said Erik's brother, Dougal, riding at his left.

Patrick moved his horse closer to Cailean's. "These are the men ye chose over yer kin?" He shook his head at him. "Men who kick children oot of their way?"

Cailean glanced over his shoulder at the brothers, who had arrived at Lyon's Ridge a fortnight ago to join Lord Murdoch's band of mercenaries, the Black Riders. "They've been hardened by their pasts," Cailean told him, turning back to the road. "What d'ye expect from them, courtly manners?"

"Ye dinna belong with them, Cailean. Let's go back home."

It was a conversation they'd had often. Cailean didn't want to go home and Patrick wouldn't leave without him. "I do belong with them, Patrick," he said, and turned away to spread his gaze over the packhorses ambling through the market, laden with grain and other wares and led by peasants from the local farms.

He'd come to Kenmore to purchase some fresh vegetables in the hopes of eating something other than the shite served by the cook at Lyon's Ridge Castle. If he had to consume another moldy carrot he was going to kill someone. He missed eating at Camlochlin. He missed home. But he couldn't go back. After Sage… and Alison, he had changed too much to go back.

He didn't mind Patrick's traveling with him to the marketplace. Patrick's easy nature and constant reassuring smiles had a way of making everything seem trivial, save for Cailean's decision to join Lord Edward Murdoch's Riders. Patrick didn't approve of thugs for hire, but Cailean was where he needed to be—with men who didn't care about love or dancing around with their words—or anything else. They left him alone for the most part, save for when Patrick was around. Patrick was well liked by everyone who knew him.

Cailean had been like him once, smiling at life and wreaking havoc on village lasses. But that part was gone.

Living at Lyon's Ridge helped him forget the crushing weight of what he'd lost—what his cousins back home had: bonny wives in their arms and loyal hounds at their feet. He'd wanted the same. He'd lost it, and with it his confidence that no cataclysmic tragedy would ever befall him or his family. Nothing was certain. In fact, it seemed the cards were stacked against him. It had changed him into something harder, emptier, and determined to stop feeling.

He'd been surprised when he saw his reflection in a basin this morning. His physical appearance had changed since Alison died. His hair had grown long and fell down both sides of his face. It created shadows along the gaunt planes and dips of his features. He appeared as dark and hollow as he felt.

"How much do you think she costs?" Dougal asked, eyeing a merchant's daughter while she beat a blanket outside a cutlery shop with a painted sign depicting crisscrossed knives.

"To hell with the lass," said Erik, called the Red by the other Riders, due to his red hair and Viking heritage. "My belly grumbles. I want to eat!"

Erik and Dougal MacCormack were two of the twenty Black Riders in Lord Murdoch's employ. Both of them combined couldn't muster up the compassion or courtesy of an angry ogre.

But Cailean didn't mind them, since he was the ogre.

They came to a shop with a barrel on a pole and stopped for a cup of ale.

"Go on inside," Cailean told them, dismounting. "I want to purchase a few things. I'll catch up with ye all later."

He left them to wet their tongues and headed off toward the tightly packed vendors selling everything from onions to surgical procedures.

Pulling his fur cloak tighter around him, he looked up from beneath his hood at the useless sun caught between billowing dark clouds, and grumbled. The sun offered him no warmth, the clouds reminding him of his life, gray and ominous.

He spotted a vendor selling apples and went to have a look. It wasn't unusual that a lass caught his eye. He was still a man, after all, even though he hadn't partaken of the pleasures offered to him by any of the gels at the castle.

This lass, though… this lass parted the clouds.

She strolled out of a nearby fabric shop, dressed in pale layers of soft cream-colored wool. Her face was half-hidden beneath a matching hood, her wrist was looped through the handle of a basket, and a sweetly content smile was on her lips.

What was she so happy about out here in the cold mud and the reeking stench of sewage on the wind? And why did she draw him like a moth to a flame? He moved behind the vendor's tent, his curious eyes fixed on her while she pushed back her hood and bent to feed a piece of bread to a stray dog.

Something in Cailean's chest softened just a little at her gesture.

Eyes painted in vivid hues of blue and wreathed in lush, inky lashes danced across the faces of the folks she greeted when she lifted her head. Hell, the sight of her and the way the sun illuminated a hundred different shades in her flowing mahogany hair buckled his knees a little.

"She's bonny."

Cailean turned to Patrick biting into an apple, his cousin's glimmering green eyes on her. "Let's go greet her."

Cailean stopped him from leaving with a hand on his arm. "Nae, I'm no'—"

"—As devilishly attractive as I am?" Patrick's grin was wide and playful. "Dinna let it get ye doun, Cousin. Few men are."

Cailean cast him a cool glance. "Why are ye no' drownin' yerself in ale with the others?"

He paid for Patrick's apple and bought a bag for himself.

"And listen to their God-awful conversations aboot their lack of basic hygiene? I can only find so much humor in mindless chatter. I'm no' a saint, ye know."

"Farthest thing from it," Cailean agreed, then fastened his eyes on the lass again.

"Who is she?"

Cailean closed his eyes when he heard Dougal's voice behind him next. "Now's there's a rump I'd like to shove my—"

Cailean's fist, crashing against Dougal's jaw, silenced him. He collapsed to his knees but not before Patrick had swiped the drink Dougal carried with him and saved it from falling to the ground with its original owner.

Patrick held up the cup to his cousin. "'Tis good to know ye still possess some decency." He guzzled what remained and then tossed the cup over his shoulder.

Cailean ignored him and the man knocked out cold at his feet, and his frown deepened when he noticed the lass had gone.

After they revived Dougal with a bucket of water, they purchased more winter supplies and then met up with Erik for a few hours of drinking before heading back to the castle.

They reached the mountain pass above the River Lyon with Patrick's off-key singing to break the wintry silence.

Cailean almost didn't hear the thump of the arrow piercing his cousin's chest.

This isn't happening, Cailean told himself as he kicked open the doors of Lyon's Ridge Castle. This wasn't real. Patrick hadn't just been shot by an unseen assailant. Cailean hadn't pulled him unconscious and barely breathing off his horse and onto his own.

Stepping out of the cloud of snow he'd loosened from the stones above the door, he entered and stood with his cousin and best friend hanging limp across his fur-clad shoulders.

Cailean could scarcely see through his misty eyes. "Come quickly!" he shouted through the halls, his call reaching the rest of the Black Riders in the great hall. "Quickly!" he commanded with his heart battering against his chest. He felt sick with horror, filled to the brim with sorrow. Not him. Dinna take him! "We must help him!"

They would. They had to. These men fought for a living. They were familiar with wounds and patching them up. They would know what to do.

"What happened?" John Gunns, a mercenary from Caithness, asked, reaching him first. Two more men appeared and carefully removed Patrick from his shoulders.

Briefly free of his cousin's dead weight, Cailean inhaled a breath that stretched his cloak across his chest. Still his heart refused to slow its frantic pace.

He raised his trembling hands to his hood and pushed it back. Dark hair fell over his forehead and hollowed cheeks. He swiped it away from his eyes. "We were returnin' from the market in Kenmore.…"

His mournful gaze fell to the arrow that rose from Patrick's chest while the men carried him to the great hall. Cailean looked away, almost overcome with the basic need to scream, to run… to fall to his knees. God, please, don't have me watch someone else I love die. I will perish altogether. Is it not enough that hardly any part of who I was still remains?

"Does he still breathe?" His own breath still came hard, freezing in the chilled castle air and floating before him. He hadn't wanted to ask because he wasn't sure he could accept the answer. But he had to know.

This was his fault. If he'd left his new profession as a mercenary and returned home to Camlochlin as Patrick had wanted him to do, none of this would be happening.

"He breathes," said Cutty Ross of Orkney before he swept his massive arm across the table in the center of the cavernous hall.

They laid Patrick out and began to remove his clothes. The lasses who worked at the castle helped bring the men what they needed to soak up the blood.

Cailean looked at all the blood. He felt it, still warm at the back of his neck.

He stepped back, away from the work of saving Patrick's life. His breath faltered and his hands shook at his sides. He vowed that whoever had done this would die. He would ride through every villiage like a plague no one would ever forget until he found who was responsible.

"Hell," Brodie Garrow of Ayr swore. "It'll be hard to get out."

Cailean's muscles twisted into knots. Part of him was afraid of what he would become if he lost his cousin. Patrick was more than that. He was Cailean's closest and dearest friend, the only one who'd managed to bring a little light back to his life, and with it a wee bit of his old self. He raked his fingers through his hair as that same feeling of helplessness he'd experienced twice before coursed through him. What would he tell Patrick's parents, Tristan and Isobel?

His blood sizzled in his veins. He wanted vengeance now. He flicked his gaze to the only man who had not risen from his chair to help. Duncan Murdoch, son to Lord Edward Murdoch of Glen Lyon.

"Ye know this land and the people on it. Who could have done this?"

Duncan grinned. Cailean wanted to punch his teeth out. The lord's son was a jealous, squeaking twit who'd hated Cailean a day after he'd come here, when his father, Edward, first began praising the Highlander for battle skills superior to his son's. Their dislike for one another had grown after Cailean began visiting the lord's solar for long, quiet games of chess. His son, Murdoch had told him, had never been able to learn the game. Despite Cailean's brooding nature, the lord of Glen Lyon was fond of him. Still, he wouldn't take kindly to Cailean's killing Duncan. Presently Cailean didn't give a damn.

"If ye dinna answer me," he warned, his voice deep and taut, his eyes glimmering behind strands of dark chestnut, "I'll be standin' over yer chair before anyone can stop me, includin' ye, and I'll see to it that ye never speak again."

Cutty may have heard him because he stopped working and turned to look at him, as did Tavish Innes of Roxburgh. What would the other mercenaries do? Cailean wondered. Would Cutty try to kill him if he went after Duncan? Cailean had given his allegiance to Edward Murdoch, not his son. He'd come here to escape the memory of a life filled with expectations. He was paid to fight and protect Murdoch's land. Not to give a damn about the men who fought with him. But today he needed them to help Patrick.

"Where did the shooting occur?" Duncan asked him with an irritated sigh.

"The arrow was fired from the direction of Fortingall. That's all I know."

"The Menzies," Lord Murdoch's son told him, his smile returning, this time with a curl more sinister than mocking.

The Menzies. The lord's tenants in Linavar. Decades-long enemies of the MacGregors and Grants. The closest villagers to the mountain pass.

Immediately Cailean's heart turned hard toward them. "Why would they try to kill innocent men?"

"Because, Grant"—Duncan sneered as if Cailean were too dense to figure it out—"all they know in these parts is us, the Black Riders. They hate us."

"They dinna know who we are," Cailean argued. He wanted to be sure before he took his vengeance. "We were no' wearin' our coverin'. Why would they think we were Black Riders?"

"Do you want to conduct an investigation or do you want justice, Grant?"

Cailean didn't like him. At all.

"I want justice."

Murdoch's smile widened. He liked trouble. He also liked wine and women—one in particular. Cailean had never asked her name. He didn't care what it was. He felt pity for her to have such an admirer. Nothing more.

"When do you want to leave?" Duncan asked.

"As soon as Patrick is stable."

Murdoch laughed at him. "Your sentiments make you weak."

Cailean dipped his head and glared at Duncan from beneath the shadows of his raven lashes. "Come with me to the practice field and let me prove ye incorrect." One corner of his mouth curled in a cold sneer. "Yer faither will likely thank me."

"I'll kill you for that, Grant," Duncan promised. "But not tonight. It'll be dark out soon thanks to these damn short days and I'm drunk," he added, as if his slurred words weren't proof enough. "Tomorrow perhaps."

Cailean shrugged, finished with the useless conversation. Duncan would never touch him. As much as he envied Cailean, he knew his father's admiration was fairly given. Cailean could fight with weapons or without, a dangerous man created in the misty northern mountains.

He went to stand near the table where the men worked on Patrick, but closed his eyes, still unable and unwilling to watch the outcome.

Three times he'd felt life leaving people and a dog that he loved. Two had died in his arms. He prayed Patrick would not be the third.

Sage first, a scrappy hound who had chosen him from among many better men at Camlochlin. Had she known his life would need saving one day, and that she would die for saving it?

Alison. The first lass he'd ever cared for, the one who'd stolen his heart in a brothel. He could still remember her rich russet waves tumbling over her breasts while they made love, he for the first time. Memories of her haunted him. So many things did. It was why he'd given up his passions for cooking and writing, and left Camlochlin five months ago. Why Patrick, who was perfectly content to bed wenches in the Highlands, had followed him all the way to Glen Lyon with the hopes of talking some sense into him about strong-arming defenseless people for pay.

Patrick couldn't die. How could Cailean do anything but live out the rest of his days in dreaded anticipation of the next catastrophe if he did?

"Ye look like ye'd do well to take some comfort in these."

Cailean opened his eyes and looked down at the giant, milky mounds jiggling beneath him. He lifted his gaze to the woman's equally round cheeks dabbed in crimson powder. Madam Maeve herself. The woman in charge of the lasses hired by the widowed Lord Murdoch to serve meals to and satisfy other appetites of his private guard of twenty men, including Cailean and Duncan.

"Ye look tired. Come with me to my bed. I'll help ye ferget all this blood."

Forget? How could he ever forget it? "Not now, Maeve," he practically growled at her.

She pouted her ruby-red lips at him. "Beautiful Cailean," she purred, and moved closer to him. "Whatever 'tis that makes yer eyes smolder like smelted iron and yer jaw tighten like 'tis taking everything in ye not to take yer sword to all of us—whatever that is and wherever it comes from, hold on to it. Share it with me tonight."

"Another time mayhap." His voice was low, as deep as the shadows that plagued his days and nights. He hadn't taken any of her girls before. Why did she think he'd take her now when his cousin was possibly dying ten feet away? A better question was, why did he expect anything more from the people in this damned castle? They were soulless and void of compassion. The kind of people he'd chosen to be with. That kind of man he'd become.

"Have ye met Marion?" Maeve asked, and motioned to a lass who was standing on the other side of the hall, watching what was going on and wringing her hands together.

"She's new… and free fer ye."

He gave Marion a slow looking-over. She had rich, russet hair like Alison's. That was likely why he decided to help her.

"Is she untouched?" he asked Maeve discreetly. When the madam nodded, Cailean reached into his cloak and pulled out a small pouch. "Let's keep her that way, aye?"

Not knowing that the smile he offered her while he looked into her eyes was as well practiced as his sword arm, Maeve agreed to anything he wanted. Of course the leather pouch filled with coin that he tossed into her hand didn't hurt.

"Dinna offer her to anyone else. In fact, bring her to Perth, to Ravenglade Castle, and after I put m' sword through my cousin's attacker, I'll see to the remainder of yer payment. Now leave me."

The madam curtsied, showing off her ample cleavage once more. "If ye change yer mind about what ye need sooner—"

He wouldn't. He didn't want comfort. He wanted blood.

Chapter Two

Temperance Menzie looked at her father riding beside her on their way home from Kenmore. He was tall and regal in the saddle, cloaked in wool and wearing the sun as his crown. He hadn't changed much since she was a child save for the featherings of gray at his temples and the creases around his torch-blue eyes. He was still strong and could chop wood faster than any man in the hamlet, including her dearest friend William, who was over a decade younger than he.

Crunching ice and snow beneath them, they rode west over the small packhorse bridge crossing a stream below a waterfall on the southernmost bank of the River Lyon.

"What do you think of a Christmas wedding between you and your betrothed?" Seth Menzie asked, quickening his horse's pace to speak to her.

Temperance issued a long, drawn-out sigh. Did they have to speak of this now, on such a beautiful day? William had asked for her hand just a few short weeks ago. She'd said yes because he'd asked her at the village dance and it was what was expected of her, not so much by her father or Gram, but by everyone else in the hamlet. It wasn't what she wanted, though. She'd hoped to discuss it at length with her father, but she hadn't had the heart to disappoint him. But now he was suggesting a Christmas wedding!

She shook her head and a curl of her chestnut hair brushed over her face beneath her hood. "I don't want to marry William, Papa."

Her father's eyes gleamed in the brisk afternoon when he set them on her. "You've known William since you were a babe. I thought you wanted to marry him."

"'Tis because he's my dearest friend that I don't. He is more like a brother to me."

Her father was silent, pensive for a moment before he nodded. "I always assumed… I want you to be happy—to have what your mother and I had."

She smiled, keeping pace with him. True love, the kind that comes around only once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. She knew he wanted that for her. Temperance wanted it too.

"I know true love is rare, Papa. That's why I would prefer not to marry William."

He stretched his eyes over the snow-draped Munros in the distance. "But I also want you to be safe from Murdoch," he said softly… but sternly. "Someday William will be the leader of Linavar, taking my place. Being his wife is the only way to ensure your safety from Duncan."

She turned in her saddle to look at him. "Would you have me sacrifice never knowing true love for being kept safe? I mean, Papa, there is no guarantee that William or any other one man can keep me safe from Murdoch. Why should I bind myself to him?"

"Because I ask it of you. He'll keep peace here and develop good relations with the lord. And that will keep you safe, just as I have done. Now—" He held up his gloved palm to quiet her when she would have pressed on. "I will strike a deal with you, Daughter, aye?"

Her blue eyes glinted at him. "Well, what is it? I mean, if I don't have a choice—"

"I'll agree to the marriage, but only in the event of my death." He grinned at her. "That should be at least twenty years away."

Temperance adored him and she knew he felt the same way about her. She could see it in his eyes when he set them on her. He'd never once blamed her for taking the life of the woman he'd loved so passionately. "Thank you, Papa."

They rode through a stand of beech trees and old pine, with red squirrels and pine martens scurrying out of their way. Temperance loved Glen Lyon and Fortingall, with its glistening streams, quaint farmsteads, and picturesque riverside fields. But there was no place more beautiful than Linavar, situated in a more open part of the glen, a few miles west of the bridge, where the river ran more gently. Wide, still pools were home to whooper swans and goldeneyes as well as an aftrnoon drinking spot for the occasional roe deer.

Almost home, Temperance wrapped her hands around her reins and was about to kick her steed into a full gallop, wanting to get there faster.

"Meet me in the hall after we set down our goods," her father called out. "I wish to have a word with you about something not pertaining to William."

She returned to him. "Something serious?"

He shook his head and smiled, then urged her to go. She promised she'd be there, kicked her horse's flanks, and took off across the snow-covered terrain toward home.

She rode hard with the wind snapping at her face. She didn't want to marry William. She didn't want to be a wife if she didn't have to. She wanted to practice archery and lounge around in the pumpkin patch after the day's work, not hurry home to prepare supper for a husband. She loved life and being outside, riding her horse. She loved digging her hands into the ground and providing food for her family. She loved the majesty of the four three-thousand-foot-high Munros surrounding the tiny hamlet of Linavar, and starry nights often made her pause to give thanks.

She didn't know why her grandmother had named her Temperance. There was nothing temperate about her. She didn't want to spend the rest of her days married to her comfortable old friend.

Her father had given her twenty years. Plenty of time to set her own destiny. She didn't know what her destiny would be, but that wasn't the point, was it?

She reached the house before her father, dismounted, and untied the pouches and her basket from her saddle. Upon turning, she smiled at her grandmother, waiting for her at the doors, and then at their cat, TamLin, purring around Gram's boots.

"I see ye didn't braid yer hair." Gram shook her head at her and pulled on a long curl to examine it through her unpatched eye. "Ye'll be sorry when I'm trying to get the twigs and other sorts of earthly things out of it later."

Temperance laughed, kissed Gram's cheek, and twirled out of her grasp. TamLin followed her into the house, wanting to be picked up and being quite vocal about it.

"I think I saw Duncan Murdoch snooping about earlier," Gram called to her. "Stay close to the house today."

Duncan Murdoch. The only blight on Temperance's near-perfect life. He lived in the castle atop Càrn Gorm with his father, the lord of Glen Lyon, and his accursed mercenaries, the Black Riders. Duncan hated her father because her father kept her from his arms, having promised her to William in order to keep her out of Lyon's Ridge.

Because of her father's good relations with the lord, Duncan had to ask her father for permission to pursue her. Her father always refused such requests.

"I will," Temperance called back.

"Did my finer wool keep ye warm, gel?"

"Like the loving arms of my gram," Temperance called out over her shoulder. She caught sight of her father dismounting in the front yard and returned his smile.

"We found everything on your list, Mum," he told Gram, dragging the old woman's attention to him as he entered the house.

Seeing him had a way of stilling one's heart. "Ye're a good son, Seth," Temperance heard Gram tell him. She agreed.

He would have made a wonderful husband to one of his admirers, but he'd never remarried after he'd lost Sarah. He'd raised Temperance with the help of his mother, and the three of them remained content. Mayhap too content.


  • "What could be better than being wrapped up in a cozy plaid in front of a fire? Reading Paula Quinn's historical romance featuring wounded but hunky Highlander Cailean Grant, that's what."—Omnivoracious, The Amazon Book Review on A Highlander's Christmas Kiss
  • "4 stars! Quinn and her Highlanders are a perfect match, and Malcolm Grant is the ideal Scotsman for a tale that's humorous, poignant and highly romantic. Quinn understands and motivates her characters carefully. She delves into their deepest thoughts and makes readers truly care about their lives."—RT Book Reviews on The Taming of Malcolm Grant
  • "4 1/2 stars! With its quick-moving plot, engaging characters and historic backdrop, the latest installment of The MacGregors: Highland Heirs is a page-turner. Quinn twists and turns the tale, drawing readers in and holding them with her unforgettable characters' love story."—RT Book Reviews on The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor
  • "Quinn's steamy and well constructed romance will appeal to fans and newcomers alike."
    --Publishers Weekly on The Wicked Ways of Alexander Kidd
  • "Seduced by a Highlander is sparkling, sexy and seductive! I couldn't put it down!"
    --Karen Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author

    "Scottish romance at its very best! Deliciously romantic and sensual, Paula Quinn captures the heart of the Highlands in a tender, passionate romance that you won't be able to put down."
    --Monica McCarty, New York Times bestselling author on Seduced by a Highlander
  • "4 1/2 stars! Top Pick! The final book in Quinn's Children of the Mist series is Scottish romance at its best: captivating, tender and sensual with characters readers care about."
    --RT Book Reviews on Conquered by a Highlander

    "Rich, evocative historical detail and enthralling characters fill the pages of this fast-paced tale."
    --Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Conquered by a Highlander

On Sale
Sep 27, 2016
Page Count
352 pages

Paula Quinn

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Paula Quinn lives in New York with her three beautiful children, three over-protective chihuahuas, and a loud umbrella cockatoo. She loves to read romance and science fiction and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval, but it is her love for Scotland that pulls at her heartstrings.

Learn more about this author