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To tame a highland warri.., p.1

To Tame a Highland Warrior, page 1

 part  #2 of  Highlander Series

 

To Tame a Highland Warrior
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To Tame a Highland Warrior


  Featured Alternate Selection of

  Doubleday Book Club and Rhapsody Book Club

  Praise for the novels of

  karen marie moning

  the dark highlander

  “Darker, sexier, and more serious than Moning’s previous time-travel romances … this wild, imaginative romp takes readers on an exhilarating ride through time and space.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Pulsing with sexual tension, Moning delivers a tale romance fans will be talking about for a long time.”

  —The Oakland Press

  “The Dark Highlander is dynamite, dramatic, and utterly riveting. Ms. Moning takes the classic plot of good vs. evil … and gives it a new twist.”

  —Romantic Times

  kiss of the highlander

  “Moning’s snappy prose, quick wit and charismatic characters will enchant.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Moning is quickly building a reputation for writing poignant time travels with memorable characters. This may be the first book I’ve read by her, but it certainly won’t be my last. She delivers compelling stories with passionate characters readers will find enchanting.”

  —The Oakland Press

  “Here is an intelligent, fascinating, well-written foray into the paranormal that will have you glued to the pages. A must read!”

  —Romantic Times

  “Kiss of the Highlander is wonderful…. [Moning’s] storytelling skills are impressive, her voice and pacing dynamic, and her plot as tight as a cask of good Scotch whisky.”

  —The Contra Costa Times

  “Kiss of the Highlander is a showstopper.”

  —Rendezvous

  the highlander’s touch

  “A stunning achievement in time-travel romance. Ms. Moning’s imaginative genius in her latest spellbinding tale speaks to the hearts of romance readers and will delight and touch them deeply. Unique and eloquent, filled with thought-provoking and emotional elements, The Highlander’s Touch is a very special book. Ms. Moning effortlessly secures her place as a top-notch writer.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Ms. Moning stretches our imagination, sending us flying into the enchanting past.”

  —Rendezvous

  Beyond the highland mist

  “A terrific plotline … Gypsies and Scottish mysticism, against the backdrop of the stark beauty of the Highlands … an intriguing story. Poignant and sensual.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “This highly original time travel combines the wonders of the paranormal and the mischievous world of the fairies to create a splendid, sensual, hard-to-put-down romance. You’ll delight in the biting repartee and explosive sexual tension between Adrienne and the Hawk, the conniving Adam, and the magical aura that surrounds the entire story. Karen Marie Moning is destined to make her mark on the genre.”

  —Romantic Times

  Dell Books by Karen Marie Moning

  Beyond the Highland Mist

  To Tame a Highland Warrior

  The Highlander’s Touch

  Kiss of the Highlander

  The Dark Highlander

  The Immortal Highlander

  This one is for Rick Shomo—Berserker extraordinaire;

  and for Lisa Stone—Editor extraordinaire.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Chasing a dream is a risky venture, one made considerably richer by the company and counsel of family and friends. My heartfelt thanks to my mother, who endowed me with her formidable will and taught me never to give up on my dreams, and to my father, who demonstrates daily the nobleness, chivalry, and infinite strength of a true hero.

  My deep appreciation to Mark Lee, a repository for the universe’s trivia, whose bizarre tidbits feed the writer’s soul, and to the special ladies of RBL Romantica for their friendship, insight, and of course the “Bonny and Braw Beefcake Farm.”

  Special thanks to Don and Ken Wilber of the Wilber Law Firm, who created the perfect fit for my dual careers, allowing them to work in synthesis with each other.

  Eternal gratitude to my sister, Elizabeth, who keeps my feet on the ground in so many crucial ways, and to my agent, Deidre Knight, whose professional guidance and personal friendship has enriched both my writing and my life.

  And finally, to the booksellers and readers who made my first novel a success.

  A CELTIC LEGEND

  Legend tells that the power of the Berserker—preternatural strength, prowess, virility, and cunning—can be bought for the going rate of a man’s soul.

  In the heather hills of the Highlands, the Viking god Odin lurks in shadowy places listening for the bitter howl of a man, brutalized beyond mortal endurance, to invoke his aid.

  Legend holds that if the mortal is worthy, the primal breath of the gods blows into the man’s heart, making him an undefeatable warrior.

  Women whisper that the Berserker is an incomparable lover; legend holds there is a single true mate for him. Like the wolf, he loves but once and for all time.

  High in the mountains of Scotland, the Circle Elders say that the Berserker, once summoned, can never be dismissed—and if the man does not learn to accept the primitive instincts of the beast within, he will die.

  Legend tells of such a man …

  PROLOGUE

  Death itself is better than a life of shame.

  Beowulf

  MALDEBANN CASTLE

  THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND

  1499

  THE SCREAMING HAD TO STOP.

  He couldn’t endure it another minute, yet he knew he was helpless to save them. His family, his clan, his best friend Arron, with whom he’d ridden the heather fields only yesterday, and his mother—oh, but his mother was another story; her murder had presaged this … this … barbaric …

  He turned away, cursing himself for a coward. If he couldn’t save them and he couldn’t die with them, at least he owed them the honor of scribing the events into his memory. To avenge their deaths.

  One at a time, if necessary.

  Vengeance doesn’t bring back the dead. How many times had his father said that? Once Gavrael had believed him, believed in him, but that had been before he’d discovered his mighty, wise, and wonderful da crouched over his mother’s body this morning, his shirt bloodstained, a dripping dagger in his fist.

  Gavrael McIllioch, only son of the Laird of Maldebann, stood motionless upon Wotan’s Cleft, gazing down the sheer cliff at the village of Tuluth, which filled the valley hundreds of feet below. He wondered how this day had turned so bitter. Yesterday had been a fine day, filled with the simple pleasures of a lad who would one day govern these lush Highlands. Then this cruel morning had broken, and with it his heart. After discovering his da crouched above the savaged body of Jolyn McIllioch, Gavrael had fled for the sanctuary of the dense Highland forest, where he’d passed most of the day swinging wildly between rage and grief.

  Eventually both had receded, leaving him oddly detached. At dusk, he’d retraced his path to Castle Maldebann to confront his sire with accusations of murder in a final attempt to make sense of what he’d witnessed, if there was sense to be made. But now, standing on the cliff high above Tuluth, the fourteen-year-old son of Ronin McIllioch realized his nightmare had only begun. Castle Maldebann was under siege, the village was engulfed in flames, and people were darting frantically between pillars of flames and piles of the dead. Gavrael watched helplessly as a small boy sped past a hut, directly into the blade of a waiting McKane. He recoiled; they were only children, but children could grow up to seek vengeance, and the fanatic McKane never left seeds of hatred to take root and bear poisonous fruit.

  By the light of the fire engulfing t
he huts, he could see that the McKane severely outnumbered his people. The distinctive green and gray plaids of the hated enemy were a dozen to each McIllioch. It’s almost as though they knew we’d be vulnerable, Gavrael thought. More than half the McIllioch were away in the north attending a wedding.

  Gavrael despised being fourteen. Although he was tall and broad for his age, with shoulders that hinted at exceptional strength to come, he knew he was no match for the burly McKane. They were warriors with powerfully developed, mature bodies, driven by obsessive hatred. They trained ceaselessly, existing solely to pillage and kill. Gavrael would be no more significant than a tenacious pup yapping at a bear. He could plunge into the battle below, but he would die as inconsequentially as the boy had moments before. If he had to die tonight, he swore he would make it mean something.

  Berserker, the wind seemed to whisper. Gavrael cocked his head, listening. Not only was his world being destroyed, now he was hearing voices. Were his wits to fail him before this terrible day ended? He knew the legend of the Berserkers was simply that—a legend.

  Beseech the gods, the rustling branches of the pines hissed.

  “Right,” Gavrael muttered. As he’d been doing ever since he’d first heard the fearsome tale at the age of nine? There was no such thing as a Berserker. It was a foolish tale told to frighten mischievous children into good behavior.

  Ber … serk … er. This time the sound was clearer, too loud to be his imagination.

  Gavrael spun about and searched the massive rocks behind him. Wotan’s Cleft was a tumble of boulders and odd standing stones that cast unnatural shadows beneath the full moon. It was rumored to be a sacred place, where chieftains of yore had met to plan wars and determine fates. It was a place that could almost make a stripling lad believe in the demonic. He listened intently, but the wind carried only the screams of his people.

  It was too bad the pagan tales weren’t true. Legend claimed Berserkers could move with such speed that they seemed invisible to the human eye until the moment they attacked. They possessed unnatural senses: the olfactory acuity of a wolf, the auditory sensitivity of a bat, the strength of twenty men, the penetrating eyesight of an eagle. The Berserkers had once been the most fearless and feared warriors ever to walk Scotland nearly seven hundred years ago. They had been Odin’s elite Viking army. Legend claimed they could assume the shape of a wolf or a bear as easily as the shape of a man. And they were marked by a common feature—unholy blue eyes that glowed like banked coals.

  Berserker, the wind sighed.

  “There is no such thing as a Berserker,” Gavrael grimly informed the night. He was no longer the foolish boy who’d been infatuated with the prospect of unbeatable strength; no longer the youth who’d once been willing to offer his immortal soul for absolute power and control. Besides, his own eyes were deep brown, and always had been. Never had history recorded a brown-eyed Berserker.

  Call me.

  Gavrael flinched. This last figment of his traumatized mind had been a command, undeniable, irresistible. The hair on the back of his neck stood up on end and his skin prickled. Not once in all his years of playing at summoning a Berserker had he ever felt so peculiar. His blood pounded through his veins and he felt as if he teetered on the brink of an abyss that both lured and repulsed him.

  Screams filled the valley. Child after child fell while he stood high above the battle, helpless to alter the course of events. He would do anything to save them: barter, trade, steal, murder—anything.

  Tears streamed down his face as a tiny lass with blond ringlets wailed her last breath. There would be no mother’s arms for her, no bonny suitor, no wedding, no babes—not a breath more precious life. Blood stained the front of her frock, and he stared at it, mesmerized. His universe narrowed to a tunnel of vision in which the blood blossoming on her chest became a vast, crimson whirlpool, sucking him down and down …

  Something inside him snapped.

  He threw his head back and howled, the words ricocheting off the rocks of Wotan’s Cleft. “Hear me, Odin, I summon the Berserker! I, Gavrael Roderick Icarus McIllioch, offer my life—nay, my soul—for vengeance. I command the Berserker!”

  The moderate breeze turned suddenly violent, lashing leaves and dirt into the air. Gavrael flung his arms up to shield his face from the needle-sharp sting of flying debris. Branches, no match for the fierce gale, snapped free and battered his body like clumsy spears hurled from the trees. Black clouds scuttled across the night sky, momentarily obscuring the moon. The unnatural wind keened through the channels of rock on Wotan’s Cleft, briefly muffling the screams from the valley below. Suddenly the night exploded in a flash of dazzling blue and Gavrael felt his body … change.

  He snarled, baring his teeth, as he felt something irrevocable mutate deep within him.

  He could smell dozens of scents from the battle below—the rusty, metallic odor of blood and steel and hate.

  He could hear whispers from the McKane camp on the far horizon.

  He saw for the first time that the warriors appeared to be moving in slow motion. How had he failed to notice it before? It would be absurdly easy to slip in and destroy them all while they were moving as if slogging through wet sand. So easy to destroy. So easy …

  Gavrael sucked in rapid breaths of air, pumping his chest full before charging into the valley below. As he plunged into the slaughter, the sound of laughter echoed off the stone basin that cupped the valley. He realized it was coming from his own lips only when the McKane began to fall beneath his sword.

  Hours later, Gavrael stumbled through the burning remains of Tuluth. The McKane were gone, either dead or driven off. The surviving villagers were tending the wounded and walking in wide, cautious circles around the young son of the McIllioch.

  “Near to threescore ye killed, lad,” an old man with bright eyes whispered when Gavrael passed. “Not even yer da in his prime could do such a thing. Ye be far more berserk.”

  Gavrael glanced at him, startled. Before he could ask what he meant by that comment, the old man melted into the billowing smoke.

  “Ye took down three in one swing of yer sword, lad,” another man called.

  A child flung his arms around Gavrael’s knees. “Ye saved me life, ye did!” the lad cried. “Tha’ ole McKane woulda had me for his supper. Thank ye! Me ma’s thanking ye too.”

  Gavrael smiled at the boy, then turned to the mother, who crossed herself and didn’t look remotely appreciative. His smile faded. “I’m not a monster—”

  “I know what ye are, lad.” Her gaze never left his. To Gavrael’s ears her words were harsh and condemning. “I know exactly what ye are and doona be thinking otherwise. Get on with ye now! Yer da’s in trouble.” She pointed a quivering finger past the last row of smoldering huts.

  Gavrael narrowed his eyes against the smoke and stumbled forward. He’d never felt so drained in all his life. Moving awkwardly, he rounded one of the few huts still standing and jerked to a halt.

  His da was crumpled on the ground, covered with blood, his sword abandoned at his side in the dirt.

  Grief and anger vied for supremacy in Gavrael’s heart, leaving him strangely hollow. As he stared down at his father, the image of his mother’s body surged to the forefront of his mind and the last of his youthful illusions shattered; tonight had birthed both an extraordinary warrior and a flesh-and-blood man with inadequate defenses. “Why, Da? Why?” His voice broke harshly on the words. He would never see his mother smile again, never hear her sing, never attend her burial—for he would be leaving Maldebann once his da replied, lest he turn his residual rage upon his own father. And then what would he be? No better than his da.

  Ronin McIllioch groaned. Slowly he opened his eyes in a blood-crusted squint and gazed up at his son. A ribbon of scarlet trickled from his lips as he struggled to speak. “We’re … born—” He broke off, consumed by a deep, racking cough.

  Gavrael grabbed his father by handfuls of his shirt and, heedless of Ronin’s pain
ed grimace, shook him roughly. He would have his answer before he left; he would discover what madness had driven his da to kill his mother or he would be tortured all his life by unanswered questions. “What, Da? Say it! Tell me why!”

  Ronin’s bleary gaze sought Gavrael’s. His chest rose and fell as he drew swift, shallow gasps of smoky air. With a strange undertone of sympathy, he said, “Son, we canna help it … the McIllioch men … always we’re born … this way.”

  Gavrael stared at his father in horror. “You would say that to me? You think you can convince me that I’m mad like you? I’m not like you! I’ll not believe you. You lie. You lie!” He lunged to his feet, backing hastily away.

  Ronin McIllioch forced himself up on his elbows and jerked his head at the evidence of Gavrael’s savagery, the remains of McKane warriors who had been literally ripped to pieces. “You did that, son.”

  “I am not a ruthless killer!” Gavrael scanned the mutilated bodies, not quite convinced of his own words.

  “It’s part of … being McIllioch. You canna help it, son.”

  “Doona call me son! I will never be your son again. And I’m not part of your sickness. I’m not like you. I will never be like you!”

  Ronin sank back to the ground, muttering incoherently. Gavrael deliberately closed his ears to the sound. He would not listen to his da’s lies a moment longer. He turned his back on him and surveyed what was left of Tuluth. The surviving villagers huddled in small groups, standing in absolute silence, watching him. Averting his face from what he would always remember as their reproving regard, his glance slid up the dark stone of Maldebann castle. Carved into the side of the mountain, it towered above the village. Once he had wished for nothing more than to grow up and help govern Maldebann at his da’s side, eventually taking over as chieftain. He’d wished to always hear the lovely lilt of his mother’s laughter filling the spacious halls, to hear his da’s answering rumble as they joked and talked. He’d dreamed of wisely settling his people’s concerns; of marrying one day and having sons of his own. Aye, once he had believed all those things would come to pass. But in less time than it had taken the moon to bridge the sky above Tuluth, all his dreams, and the very last part of him that had been human, were destroyed.

 
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