Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Laird of the Black Isle
By Paula Quinn
Formats and Prices
- Mass Market $7.99 $11.99 CAD
- ebook $2.99 $2.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 29, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
This Highlander will risk everything to find his daughter . . . Lachlan MacKenzie has nothing left to lose since his wife and daughter were killed. But when a shadowy figure reveals his little girl might still be alive, Lachlan will do whatever it takes to find her — even abduct a lass from the MacGregor clan for an exchange. Being caught would mean certain death. But the laird of the Black Isle won’t let anything — or anyone — interfere with his mission . . . not even his beautiful, stubborn captive.
Even his heart All Mailie MacGregor wants is to return home to her family. And the Highland beast who captured her can go to the devil. Her plan: to thwart him at any cost and win her freedom. But she never expected to be so drawn to the fierce warrior and the desire in his eyes.
The Black Isle
Early Spring 1712
The hunter watched the roebuck a few feet away. He’d killed many times in his life. He never stopped hating it.
A thin layer of mist from the Moray Firth drifted through the cold, still forest. A fine dew settled on the russet leaves of downy birch and ancient rowan and clung to the underbrush.
A lark soared above the canopy, but made no sound to disturb the serenity of silence around the hunter peering down the length of his arrow.
As still as the roebuck, the only sign of the man’s presence was the breath he slowed against the cold morning air. He was well experienced in remaining detached from what he was doing.
His hooded cloak of dark and light green and brown blended in well with the forest. His bowstring made no sound as he pulled it back, the muscles in his arm bulging. His gaze was steady, his breath unchanged. It wasn’t until the arrow found its mark and the deer fell that he allowed himself to exhale. His breath shook and shattered the silence.
The buck was large and would be heavy slung over the hunter’s shoulder, but it was the only way to get it back.
He looked down at the fruit of his labor and was grateful for the deer’s sacrifice. During his station in the colonies, an old Iroquois chief had taught him that every life had a purpose.
The buck’s purpose was to provide food—at least it was today.
He often wondered if his life still had a purpose. After what he’d done…what he’d lost…
He bent his knees and with a solid grunt from his belly, he hefted the animal over his shoulder. He stood, steady on his hide-encased legs, and then took off running.
His boots crushed the leaf-carpeted ground as the sounds around him grew. Birds burst from the treetops at his disturbance, smaller animals scurrying out of his path.
He was in no hurry to get back to his life in Avoch, but the way he chose to live it required that he keep fit.
By the time he broke through the forest, his thighs burned and his breath came hard.
He ran past the bay, giving no greeting to the men loading their fishing nets and no notice to the screaming gulls above. He didn’t slow, hoping to be gone before the rest of their families awoke.
His body nearly spent, he finally slowed his pace when he reached the sleepy village of Avoch. A cock crowed at the breaking dawn. He quickened his gait and pulled his hood farther over his head, hiding his face, lest he be recognized by anyone leaving his cottage to take his morning piss.
Just a little farther. He looked up at Avoch Castle perched at the top of the hill, its four dark turrets piercing the gossamer mist that surrounded it. Built in stone nearly two centuries ago, the castle had many ghosts, but it was the last two to arrive who haunted him. Though it was in no state of disrepair, for he had made certain to fill every hole in every wall and maintain his privacy, the castle looked uncared for and deserted set against the bleak backdrop of a gray March sky. A shell, as lifeless as the man who lived in it.
Determined to his task, he kept moving and collided with something soft. He looked down at the morning mist settling on the lad he’d just walked into and knocked on his arse. He offered a bloody hand but the boy refused it.
He maintained his position as the bucket the lad had been carrying in one hand rolled away. A younger lass, whose hand he held with the other, did the same.
The hunter’s dark eyes fell to her. She looked to be about six summers—the same age Annabel would have been. Bel’s nose might have been as small as this one. He blinked and looked away. It did the heart no good to dwell on ghosts.
But he missed touching her hair. He missed smelling her after her bath, reading to her.
“Look where ye’re goin’!” the lad shouted at him. “Have ye no—”
His tirade came to an abrupt halt when a ray of light from the rising sun broke through the thick clouds and settled on the hunter’s face beneath his hood.
The lass gasped while the lad scrambled to his feet on shaky legs.
“Laird MacKenzie! Fergive me! I didna see ye, though I’ll admit ye’re difficult to miss.” The lad looked to be roughly nine, mayhap ten, and seemed to be bent on getting his master to smile at him. “I’m William. I was just fetchin’ water fer—”
Lachlan MacKenzie, Dragon Laird of the Black Isle, thought about removing his hood. The full sight of his scarred face usually silenced flapping tongues, but he’d already frightened the gel.
With a will of their own, his eyes fell to her again. She was staring up at him, her round face tilted—
“That’s Lily.” The lad moved toward her and bumped his elbow into her arm. “Lily, quit starin’.”
Lachlan stepped around them and continued on his way.
“D’ye need help with that buck? What are ye goin’ to do with all that meat?”
Lachlan wasn’t about to tell him, though William would discover the answer this eve. He scowled at the ground as he walked. He didn’t want the villagers to know any of the food he sometimes provided had come from him. He had no need for friends, or family. He’d already lost everything he had ever wanted.
For the most part the people of the Black Isle were self-sufficient. As earl there was little to do but attend stately gatherings from time to time. As laird, he was bound to his tenants and he did what was required of him.
He stepped through the short outer wall and into the front yard. He turned to make certain William wasn’t following him. The wall should be higher. He’d work on it, he thought as he made his way to the thick, carved doors.
He didn’t think about his life beyond this point. He simply lived it, alone in a castle with twenty-two rooms.
He pushed open one of the doors and stepped inside, ignoring the ghostly cry of the wrought iron hinges and creaking wood. He pushed the door shut with his heel. The resonating boom stirred the empty halls and then died.
He carried the buck to the enormous kitchen, one of only three rooms in the castle in which he kept the hearth burning, and dropped the carcass on the carving table. He bent backward to crack his back and then swept his cloak over his shoulders and removed his coat. He rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a wooden basin from the corner to catch the blood, and picked up a large knife.
Butchering had stopped making him ill years ago. He’d learned how to hunt and prepare his kill during his time in the Royal North British Dragoons. It was how he’d found the men who’d killed his wife, Hannah, and their daughter, Annabel, two years ago.
He scowled when a knock came at the front door. William. The lad needed to know that his laird wouldn’t stand for being bothered by anyone.
Grasping his knife and with his hands and shirt covered in blood, he went to the door and swung it open.
It wasn’t William.
“What can I do fer ye?” he asked the man standing across the threshold. His unexpected visitor was several years older than Lachlan, and shorter by at least two heads. He wore a clean, untattered plaid and bonnet. One of the neighboring barons? Lachlan had never seen him before.
The stranger trembled, once and deeply, in his polished boots as his pale eyes took in the sight before him.
Lachlan hadn’t become so unrefined that he couldn’t comprehend how he must appear. He thought about wiping his hands, but there was little of him clean.
“Lachlan MacKenzie, Earl of Cromartie?” the man asked, backing away from him, his eyes fastened on the lacy scar marring the left side of Lachlan’s face. “I am…ehm…I am Robert Graham, emissary to Ranald Sinclair, Earl of Caithness.”
Caithness? What the hell did they want with him?
“Might I come in?” he asked, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else. “There is a matter of great urgency I need to discuss with you.”
“I dinna concern myself with things so far off,” Lachlan told him. “Whatever Sinclair wants with me, my answer is no.” He stepped back to close the door.
The emissary held his hand up to stay him. “You’ll not want to say no to this.”
Curious about the man’s certainty, Lachlan stepped aside, allowing him entry and tucking the knife into his belt. “This way.” He led his guest to his study.
Lachlan watched Graham look around, surprised by the books lining dozens of hand-carved cases, all softly lit against the light of a dozen candles and the deep hearth.
“Have a seat.” He offered the only chair in the room, placed close to the fire.
“You live here alone?” Graham asked while he sat.
Lachlan took hold of a poker and stirred the embers in the hearth. “Why does Sinclair disturb me?”
“He sends you an offer, my lord.”
Lachlan thought about picking him up, carrying him to the door, and throwing him out. What offer was urgent? What kind of offer did this little worm think Lachlan could not refuse?
“What is it?” he asked, returning the poker to its place and coming to stand over the chair. He took no mercy on the emissary when Graham shrank back.
“Lord Sinclair…needs you to bring someone to him,” Graham sputtered. “For your trouble he will pay you something priceless.”
Impossible. Whatever was priceless in Lachlan’s life was gone. But his curiosity had been piqued.
“Why doesna he go fetch this person himself?” he asked, letting his bloody hands dangle at his sides. “Why is he making this offer to me?”
“You’ve been a Scots Grey for almost a decade, a colonel with—”
“That ended two years ago.”
“Aye, but you gained renown for your great brute strength and deadly proficiency with any weapon. Getting hands on this person requires a man of your expertise.”
“Why?” Lachlan asked. “Who is it?”
“She is my lord’s beloved, Miss Mailie MacGregor, of the MacGregors of Skye. Her father has refused Lord Sinclair’s offer of marriage, though she cares deeply for my lord.”
Lachlan smiled but his gaze was as hard as the rest of him. “Sinclair wants me to kidnap a lass? A MacGregor lass? He thinks me a fool.”
“He thinks you are a man with nothing to lose,” Graham corrected him, looking a bit more confident since Lachlan hadn’t killed him yet. “And if rumor is correct, and that is the blood of game covering you, you are an excellent hunter. You can grab Miss MacGregor and be away before you are discovered. She is on her way to Inverness with a small party as we speak. She should arrive sometime tomorrow. After that, she returns to Camlochlin, and any chance we had will be gone.”
“Will Caithness not be the first place the MacGregors look fer her since Sinclair was refused her hand?”
“They might, but she won’t be there. She will be with you, here, where she will be well hidden.”
Lachlan clenched his fists. “Would ye like to walk oot, or be tossed?”
“MacKenzie.” Graham leaped to his feet, choosing to walk, though he was daft enough to open his mouth again. He spoke quickly. “As payment Sinclair will give you the name of the man who has your daughter, Annabel.”
Lachlan took a moment to replay in his head what he’d just heard. When he was sure his ears hadn’t deceived him, he grasped the smaller man by the collar and yanked him close. He might hate killing, but he could snap this man’s neck with his bare hands for mocking the loss of his daughter.
“Ye enter my castle and dare speak of my daughter? Ye dare speak her name?”
The older man gasped and looked about to faint. “My lord, hear me, please!”
Lachlan wanted to snap him in two, but flung him back into the chair with a warning. “Take care what ye say next, emissary. If it is to deceive me, ye and Sinclair will discover why I’m called the Dragon Laird.”
“There is no deceit here,” the emissary vowed, clutching the arms of the chair. “Lord Sinclair has recently discovered the whereabouts of your daughter. Annabel—she is not dead.”
When Lachlan moved for the chair again, Graham squeezed his eyes shut and cringed. “Sinclair will give you the location and the names of the people who have her!”
Lachlan hated him for making him say it. “My daughter is dead, killed with her mother and burned by a band of rogue Jacobites who were angry that I didna fight fer James Stuart.”
“That’s what they wanted you to believe, my lord.”
“Who is ‘they’?” Lachlan ground out. “And it had better be good. I am close to killing ye.”
Graham smiled, but there was no humor in it. “What Lord Sinclair will do to me if you refuse will be much worse. I assure you.”
“I dinna care aboot yer life, emissary.”
Graham sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “Be that as it may, they are the people who have your daughter. The ones who paid those Jacobites to take her and kill your wife.”
Lachlan’s head was spinning. He felt as if someone had just tossed him over the side of a cliff. He looked down at his hands stained in deer blood, stained two years ago with the blood of thirteen men. He didn’t want to return to that place. Why was he listening to this? Was he so desperate for any spark of hope that might bring his life back? Why would his enemies want his daughter? Why would they go to such lengths as to burn his home and kill his wife to get Annabel? He wanted to laugh, but the memory of his discovery was too devastating. “My daughter was there with her mother.”
“Did you see her body?” Graham asked him quietly.
“No, but I…”
“Your daughter is alive.”
Was it possible? Could it be true? Lachlan pulled the emissary out of his chair and fell into it himself. Could Annabel be alive? His dried-up heart rattled in his ribs. It was too much to hope for. He wouldn’t let himself. He ran his hand through his dark mane and fought to control the beast welling up inside him. If this was some kind of trick, he’d kill everyone involved. He’d collected her ashes. He closed his eyes as if that would somehow vanquish the memory of it.
“Who has this child, and why does Sinclair believe she’s my daughter?”
“Sinclair had heard rumors at the time of the tragedy that these people had arranged it,” Graham told him. “He recently paid them a visit and met her. He said she looks to be the age of six or seven, with long pale yellow hair which she uses to cover the scars on her arms.”
Annabel’s hair was pale yellow.
“Scars?” Lachlan hated himself for falling for this tale, for letting his heart, his bones, and his muscles burn until he felt like a living flame, ready to consume alive everyone around him.
“Burns from the fire—like yours. It appears she tried to hold on to her mother when they took her.”
Lachlan bent over his knees to keep from screaming. He didn’t want to go back to that day, and Sinclair’s emissary was forcing him to. “I’m going to kill ye if what ye’re telling me is untrue.”
“It is all true,” Graham assured him. “When my lord asked for her name, she gave it. Annabel, a fostered child of her captors.”
Annabel. His heart thumped hard in his chest. “That doesna make her my daughter. Why would they take her? What about my wife?”
“Those questions, you would have to put to them, but as for the girl, are you not curious?”
Aye. Aye, he was. “Who are they?” Lachlan stood from the chair. “I’ll go to them and see fer myself.”
Graham offered him a quavering smile and held up his finger. “I don’t know who has her. Do you think Sinclair would send someone from whom you could torture the information? Only Lord Sinclair knows, and he will be glad to tell you.”
Lachlan stared at him. “Aye, but only on the condition that I kidnap the daughter of a Jacobite warrior.”
“’Tis not a condition, my lord, but a favor, a gesture of thanks for reuniting you with your daughter.”
Lachlan’s smile was deadly. “Tell Sinclair I’m coming to Caithness for him. I’ll get the name withoot kidnapping a woman.”
“He is not in Caithness,” Graham let him know. “He thought you might feel this way. He is no fool. He’s clever and dangerous. If you do this, you would do well not to underestimate him. The MacGregors will suspect him, so he cannot be in Caithness when she is taken. You will keep her hidden until things settle a bit. I will return to Caithness with news of your agreement and have word sent to him. He will then agree to meet with you.”
Lachlan plucked his knife from his belt and stepped closer to him. “I should kill ye and send Sinclair your head. Do ye think my answer to his offer will be clear enough?”
The emissary bolted from the room and ran for the door without giving him a reply.
Alone, Lachlan fell back into his chair. He wondered if Sinclair was in Caithness or not. He’d like to go there and kill the bastard for giving him false hope. Who was the Earl of Caithness? Lachlan had met him briefly at the last gathering over a year ago. He didn’t know much about him, but his name felt familiar. Ranald Sinclair. He’d heard it before, but when?
His daughter was alive. As if it were possible. But what if it was? His heart raced. Shouldn’t he do whatever was necessary to find out? He hadn’t given up finding the men he believed had killed her. If there was any chance that Sinclair was being truthful and there was a girl who could be his daughter, he had to find out.
Memories of Annabel’s face plagued him, her soft voice drenched in laughter, calling to him. Papa, come play! He missed her voice. He used to lie awake at night thinking about her future and whether any man would ever be worthy of her hand. Those thoughts died with her and Hannah, replaced by tormented ones of their cries…cries he could never answer.
What if he could?
But kidnapping a lass from her family…her MacGregor family was not something he looked upon lightly. Besides that, they’d kill him if he were caught.
He simply wouldn’t let himself get caught.
He had no choice.
Ye’re bein’ admired.”
From beneath her hood, Mailie MacGregor looked up from one of the small painted boxes she was examining and followed her cousin Nichola’s eyes to a pale-haired young man on the other side of the market. He smiled when he caught her eye. She returned her attention to the box.
“He’s pleasin’ to the eye,” she admitted with a hint of a smile curling her lips. “A fool though.”
“Ye can tell that just by lookin’ at him?” Nichola laughed.
“Take a look aroond,” Mailie prompted. Her gaze slipped back to her admirer stepping forward. “We stand amidst five men who are twice his size, and two verra big, dangerous-lookin’ dogs, and yet he continues on his reckless path toward me.”
She set her palm on Ettarre’s furry blond head and gave her a gentle pat. Her father’s beloved hound wouldn’t hurt a fly. Goliath, her cousin Adam’s dog, presently at his master’s side while Adam graced a small group of lasses with his company, was another matter entirely.
Mailie looked around for her brother Luke and found him and some of her cousins haggling with a vendor just a tent away. They never ventured too far. The only reason her and Nicky’s fathers had agreed to let them come was because there were five men to guard them. That, and a month’s worth of begging. Besides, Luke was with them. There was no one her father trusted more.
“Might I suggest the green box?” Her admirer’s voice reaching her was rather nice, soft, with a Lowland inflection. “It matches your eyes.”
“Or the purple,” Darach Grant said, his voice far more dangerous as he stepped around her to face the poor young man. “’Twill soon match yer eyes.”
Of all her Highland escorts, Darach was the most deadly. He also wrote some of the loveliest ballads ever to fill the braes of Camlochlin. He’d often claimed he was inspired while beating someone senseless.
“Mayhap he’s lost,” said another, offering the stranger a way out.
Mailie turned to see her brother and the rest gathering around them. She sighed and cast a regretful glance at Nichola. How was a lass supposed to find a husband with so many fearsome men constantly “protecting” her?
“Are ye lost?” Adam—future laird of Camlochlin—inquired, casting him a doubtful look before rubbing an apple over his plaid and biting into it.
“Choose yer reply wisely,” Edmund MacGregor warned with his hand gripping the hilt of his sheathed claymore.
“Aye, I am lost,” her admirer blurted, shaking in his boots.
Who wouldn’t be afraid, surrounded by these men? One didn’t need to know they were MacGregors to know they’d seen their share of victorious fights, and engaging with them would take a truly courageous though foolish heart.
Still, Mailie couldn’t help but feel just a wee bit disappointed when her admirer took off running.
She tilted her head and met her brother’s loving gaze. Luke was the eldest and so much like their father. They’d spoken many times about what kind of man she should wed. Neither he nor her father would allow a coward to court her, and she was thankful for it. She was thankful for all of them and their protection. Who better to recognize the kind of man she wanted to marry than the men whose characters had shaped him in her mind? She relied on her own judgment, but she trusted theirs.
Still, she wondered what kind of man wouldn’t cower under the powerful scrutiny of the men in her clan.
“The best way to know a man’s true character is…”
“…his reaction to fear,” Mailie said with him. “I know, Luke, but up against the MacGregors, it doesna seem a fair conclusion.”
“’Twas it no’ fair fer Daniel here?” her brother continued, his tender topaz gaze as warm as the sun. “He had to fight four MacGregors before our kin let him escort Abigail to England.”
“I chose to fight the bunch of them, Luke,” her cousin by marriage corrected, then turned a more somber gaze on her, “to prove my worth as her protector.”
Aye, she knew. Every man in Camlochlin had proven worthy to be there. She expected no less from the man she would someday call husband.
But how in blazes was she to find him, if not here? Most of the men of marriageable age on Skye had too many faults to win her heart. With the idea of finding a perfect man dwindling, she’d come to Inverness in the hopes of meeting someone of interest.
But no man had a chance against the mountain of men around her.
She smiled at them, loving them all, and then returned her attention to the boxes. There was no point in arguing when their intentions were good.
Soon, the men wandered off, back to continue their trading. Nichola moved closer.
“Pity,” her cousin bemoaned softly. “He was handsome. A baron’s son, no doubt, judging by his fine attire.”
Forgetting the boxes, Mailie looped her arm through Nicky’s and strolled away with her. “Ranald Sinclair is handsome and his coffers are full, but I am grateful that my faither refused his offers fer me. Those things mean little when weighed against a man’s character.”
Nicky covered their entwined arms with her free hand and rested the side of her head against Mailie’s. “We will be the spinsters of Camlochlin.”
- "4 stars! Sensual and poignant, powerful and meaningful. The nonstop action propels the plot as much as the twists and turns. Highland romance readers rejoice!"—--RT Book Reviews on A Highlander's Christmas Kiss
- "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
- "Top Pick. Ms. Quinn weaves a powerful story of redemption, responsibility, betrayal and finally love between Temperance and Cailean."—--Night Owl Reviews 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
- "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
- On Sale
- May 29, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages