Katherine Gordon wants nothing to do with the arrogant Highlander to whom she suddenly finds herself betrothed. His handsome looks, intelligence and great strength mean nothing. Another man had seemed just as appealing, once. That was before she learned how men betray a woman's love. She would not let her heart be broken again.
But when her life is threatened, she is forced to accept the marriage. Would her new husband cherish her and keep her safe or would his secrets destroy any chance of love?
After a few moments Katherine broke the heavy silence. "Ah, Alexander, is this not a glorious view? I feel as if I could stay here forever just looking at all the beauty about me."
He agreed, his eyes never leaving her face. "Aye, lass, 'tis the most enchanting sight I've ever seen." Lifting the heather he'd picked, he smiled and handed them to her. He stroked her face gently and whispered, "These bonnie flowers should be with the others you've gathered." Just as he should be with her.
Leaning closer, he felt her breath touch his face with the gentleness of a butterfly's wings. "Lass, I fear you've put me under your spell. I want naught but you whenever I'm near you."
Her face turned a bright pink, and she toyed silently with the flowers in her hands.
He frowned slightly at the necessity of leaving the hilltop paradise and the tranquil moment, not wanting it to end. But Monique was concerned about her daughter's whereabouts. Reluctantly, he stood and reached down to help Katherine to her feet.
He pulled her up beside him, gazed into her eyes and drew a ragged breath in a futile attempt to clear his head. He watched in fascination as she smiled and closed her eyes, her thick dark lashes fanning out over her cheeks.
Hell, Monique could wait.
Alexander wrapped his arms around Katherine, pulling her close, and then slowly took possession of her lips. They were warm, soft. With a gentleness he hadn't realized he possessed, he teased her mouth, ran feather-soft kisses over her closed eyelids, down her face and the side of her neck. He nuzzled the crook of her shoulder, drinking in her scent. Then he traced the line of her throat with his tongue, and covered the moist trail with kisses. She trembled in his arms and murmured a throaty sigh.
That tremulous moan sent his emotions reeling skyward. He ran a hand through her hair, past her shoulders to the velvet expanse of skin just above the neck of her gown. The silky softness of her skin felt warm to his touch.
The shrill cry of a red tailed hawk jolted him out of his reverie. Startled, he glanced up at the sky. Och, not yet, you bugger. But the answer of its mate, somewhere in the distance, reminded him of his responsibilities. Alexander released Katherine reluctantly and his desire plummeted back to earth. He frowned at the sky. "'Tis late, lass. We'd best return to the castle now."
He burned with need for her. If they didn't leave soon, he'd not be able to control his emotions. "Your mother is worried about you. If I don't return with you soon, the whole clan will be out looking for you."
Taking her hand, he led her over to where Tursachan stood grazing. God, he wanted her. Just one more kiss. He thrust his fingers into the golden waves of her hair, leaned closer and bent his head toward hers. Another shrill screech nearly sent him tumbling on his arse. "Have you ever tasted roast hawk, lass? I'm told 'tis a delicacy if done correctly." With a smile, he lifted her to his saddle and silently swung up behind her, nudging his stallion toward home.
The Talisman short description-
When Ailis O'Brien's family is murdered in the Highlands, she vows to find the murderer and repay the blood debt. Though not of his clan, Laird Gavin MacPherson vows to aid her. Will their growing love fill the emptiness in their hearts or will the secret of the talisman shatter it, forcing them to choose between love and vengeance?
The Talisman book excerpt
A terrified scream pierced the quiet of the Highland forest startling Ailis O'Brien. That was her sister Jenny's voice! Dropping the firewood she'd gathered in an old blanket, Ailis ran back through the woods toward the traveling wagon she shared with her father and sister.
The fading light of twilight hampered her as she hurried through the thick undergrowth. Limbs and roots appeared out of nowhere slowing her progress. A fallen tree branch snagged her skirt causing her to fall. The tumble knocked the air from her, and she lay there gasping, desperately trying to suck in enough air to move as the screaming continued. When she was able to breathe again, she crawled to her feet and yanked fiercely at her skirt freeing it from the tree limb.
The screams stopped abruptly. The sudden silence filled Ailis with panic. The encroaching darkness fed her fear and she couldn't run through the forest fast enough. Why, in God's name, could she not move any faster?
A flickering light glowed through the trees ahead. Flames lit the area as she burst free of the forest and ran into the clearing where her family had made camp for the night. The blaze in front of her was much too large for their small campfire. Sweet Mother Mary, their wagon was on fire! For a moment, the silence of the night was broken only by the sharp snap and crackle of flames as they began to climb up the front end of the wagon. Then she heard a man's harsh shout and the sound of a horse's hooves retreating in the distance. Jerking her gaze toward the sound, she caught a fleeting glimpse of a man in a tartan plaid but it was too dark to make it out clearly or to tell what he looked like. Ailis glanced frantically around the empty campsite looking for her father and sister. Praying they were safe, she ran toward the burning wagon. "Da, Jenny, where are you?"
Ailis' heart pounded in her throat as she forced herself to climb into the back of the burning wagon to search for her family. She tripped just inside it and looked down. Her father's body lay in a crumpled heap. "Da, get up!" Grabbing his tunic to pull him to safety, she felt a sticky wetness. Lifting her hands, she stared down at her fingers. They were coated with blood. Frantically, she shook his shoulder trying to rouse him and called to him again. "Da, speak to me! Where are you hurt?" She knelt beside him and searched for his wound to try to stop the bleeding. When she found a hole through his chest, she realized there was nothing she could do for him. He was dead.
But where was Jenny?
The smoke was getting thicker. Ailis could barely breathe. Coughing, she stumbled past her father's body, and groped through the dense smoke until she found her. "Jenny!" Her sister lay naked, her head twisted unnaturally to one side.
Dear God, no! Not her, too!
Ailis dropped down beside her sister's still form. Her neck was broken. A glint of something clutched in Jenny's fingers caught Ailis' eye. She reached down and pulled a strange talisman on a leather thong from her sister's hand. Jenny must have pulled it from her murderer's neck. Ailis gripped it tightly. This would prove who killed her father and sister. She would find its owner and avenge her family!
The smoke-filled air burned Ailis' throat, and coughing and gasping for breath, she made her way to the back of the burning wagon. As she jumped out, her skirt caught on a flaming timber, setting it ablaze. Oh God, she was on fire! Tossing the talisman from her, she tore at her clothing, freeing herself of the flames. Naked and dazed, she backed away from the burning wagon then stood there helpless and watched as the blazing inferno engulfed it. As it burned out of control, her grief and rage overwhelmed her and she began to scream.
Later, she came to her senses. The wagon and everything in it was nothing more than a large pile of charred, glowing cinders.
Her family was dead!
What was she to do now? She looked down at her nakedness and saw the strange talisman at her feet. Grabbing up the incriminating amulet, she pulled its leather thong around her neck and stumbled into the woods. The blanket she'd dropped would cover her while she sought shelter. Da had said their next stop was a town two day's journey from there, but surely there was somewhere closer. She would find shelter and clothes and then she would find the murderer. Aye, no one would stop her from avenging her family.
The glow of the cinders faded as she staggered deeper into the forest. She picked up the old blanket and tore an opening in the center large enough to slip over her head. Pulling the blanket down around her, she stumbled further into the woods. Within minutes, it began to rain. She could barely see in front of her.
Suddenly, her foot slipped on wet rock and she pitched forward down a small hill. The last thing she felt was her head hitting the ground.
It seemed as if she'd been wandering the forest forever. How many sunsets had she seen glowing through the treetops like the fire that had taken everything from her? Five, six? She couldn't remember anymore. It was difficult to think clearly.
Pushing aside a tree branch, she searched for berries to eat. She couldn't remember when she'd eaten last and weariness threatened to overtake her.
She'd have to tell Jenny to hurry up their supper. She was so—
No, Jenny and Da were dead. 'Twas just her now.
Ailis walked until she was too weary to take another step then sank down on the ground to rest. As she sat there, she pushed aside a branch of a bush hoping to find something to eat and saw a worn path in front of her. It crossed through the forest as far as she could see.
She'd have to tell Da. Aye. It was wide enough for their—
Ailis shook her head and covered her face with her hands. Her head pounded so, she couldn't think straight anymore. She needed to rest. Moving over to avoid a sharp rock, she lay down, grasped the talisman hanging around her neck and closed her eyes. Aye, she'd rest now, and later, she'd do what she needed to do.
The sounds of men and horses approaching pulled her from an uneasy sleep, her thoughts still confused.
Listen. The demon approaches.
Ailis sat up and looked about wildly. Slowly, she crept through the thick undergrowth trying to stay hidden.
So, the devil returns! Does he think to finish the evil he began?
Roots and twigs caught at her bare feet. The reek of rotting leaves and damp soil rose up dank and musty. A flash of pain spiraled through her leg from a thistle's sharp barb. Tears welled up in her eyes and she bit back a cry.
Nay. Don't let him hear you.
The wind sighed through the treetops as she moved, like the hiss of a sword pulled slowly from its scabbard. Suddenly, rough hands reached out and grabbed her. Their clutch bit cruelly into her arms.
No! Pull away. Run!
The dappled light of the forest spun before her eyes as she whirled around on her assailant. For the space of a heartbeat, he stood there faceless, a hazy shadow. Then he was gone. In his place, a huge tree forced its gnarled branches outward. The limbs entrapped her, biting into her flesh.
No. 'Tis a trick.
He is here.
Stumbling further into the trees, she heard the unmistakable sound of horses moving toward her.
Aye. There! He returns.
Ailis was sure of it now. Silently, she crouched down and peered through the dense bracken in front of her.
Two men rode into view dressed in a distinctive tartan. Was it the same one she'd seen that hellish night? Ailis rubbed her aching head as she forced herself to think back on that night and visualize the glimpse of tartan she'd seen.
Aye! 'Tis the same.
God. The devil has returned and brought his minion with him. But 'tis
no matter. Their size and numbers would aid them naught. For with her
last breath, she would see that they drew theirs!
Hilarity and steamy romance reign in this romantic comedy novella filled with hilarious situations that build to a steamy evening of passion between Susan Pierson and her handsome neighbor, Alan Tate.
Susan Pierson needed a man who was good with his hands. And she needed him now.
The constant drip of the kitchen faucet was driving her up the wall and totally ruining her concentration.
Don't listen to it. Just type.
Susan shrugged her tense shoulders and gazed with determination at the computer perched on the small kitchen table in front of her. She'd been working all morning on the revisions to her latest short story of love and romance for Sizzling Desire magazine. There were papers spread across every bit of open surface of the table. Beneath them, modem and phone cords along with electric cords from her computer tangled like a mound of overcooked spaghetti, ran past the table's edge and across the ceramic tile floor to two outlets in the kitchen. Her cordless phone lay next to the mouse on the one uncluttered space left on the table's surface.
She hated the mess. The city fire marshal would have a heyday if he could see it and she didn't need any more delays or distractions. But then, maybe he'd belong to that precinct with the gorgeous Firemen of Station Forty-three calendar. That kind of distraction she could use. She'd have to throw herself on him, er, on his mercy, swear to straighten up the hazard and invite him back… to double check. After all, she was a safety first kind of gal. Most of the time. Well, once in a while anyway.
She shook her head as she glanced at the tangled mess. With her luck, the fire marshal would look like the one back home. She shuddered at the thought of the friendly but middle-aged balding fireman with the stomach that hung over his belt and a big space between his teeth. Good thing for her the furniture store was set to deliver a large computer desk this morning. Then she could set up her writing in a better spot and get rid of the mountain of tangled cords. She needed to finish this story soon. Let's see, where had she stopped?
Carl led Alice from the crowded nightclub dance floor. His heated gaze locked with hers and his pulse beat in time with the rock music that filled the air. He pulled her close and said—
Gurgle, drip, drip.
"Jeeze Louise! I'll never get these revisions done." Susan scowled at the wall calendar hanging beside the refrigerator. The editor at Sizzling Desire would never give her another extension on the story. She was lucky to have been given an extra few days to work on it while she got moved in.
She shot an angry glance in the direction of the impudent water faucet. "Don't even do it again."
Who needs plumbing? Maybe she should just turn the water off completely.
Right. And the flower boxes outside would make a great privy.
"Now what?" Susan gripped the sides of the table. Taking a deep breath, she forced her fingers to relax and looked back at the computer screen. She'd just have to—
Bang. Bang. Bang.
"What in the world is going on out there?" Frowning, she quickly slipped into her sandals, crossed the living room and stepped out onto the patio in search of the disturbing noise.
The summer heat met her in waves. Its oppressive touch closed about her like a steamy sauna.
Hurrying toward the sound, Susan peered over the four-foot high rock wall that separated her patio from her neighbor's.
God. What a hunk. He could be a poster child for steroids and suntan oil.
The damp ends of the man's light brown hair curled against his neck while his bare shoulders and back glistened with sweat from his exertions. His well-muscled arms strained as he shoved and hammered two large pieces of metal together.
And his tush. Lord, when he bent over to retrieve another piece of framework, his worn jeans only emphasized every angle of his tight round buttocks and long legs. Mercy. Just the sort of man she fantasized about. A cell phone was clipped to the back of his jeans but didn't spoil the view. Susan swallowed. What would that tush look like in a pair of shorts? Maybe the soft clingy kind. Or better yet, no sh—
"Since you're standing there, how about handing me that crescent wrench."
Susan jerked her gaze upwards. She saw his square jaw, full lips and deep green eyes. And the knowing grin on his face. Heat washed over her hotter than the midday sun. Quickly staring at the tools spread out along the top of the stone wall, she wondered what she wished for most, for the patio floor to open up and swallow her or that somehow she could figure out what in blazes a crescent wrench looked like.
his watchful gaze, she chewed her bottom lip. She'd just have to guess. Who
knows, maybe she'd get lucky. Really lucky. Yeah, and maybe she'd figure out
which one was a crescent wrench, too. Lightly running her fingers over the
metal implements, she felt their hard surfaces and absorbed heat. Some were
long and thin, others short with a big head. Just like men.
Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. Catch that stud and love him slow.
"Knock it off," she silently warned her over-active imagination.
His voice drew her attention. "I beg your pardon?"
No. Surely she hadn't muttered it out loud! She felt her face heat hotter still. She'd better hand him something and head back into the apartment before she made a complete fool of herself.
"I'm sorry. I was thinking about your manly array." Oh, God. "I mean uh, your tools, but I don't know which one you want."
Setting the long piece of metal down, the drop-dead gorgeous man strolled over to the stone divider. "That's okay. My sister always says to tell her what something looks like if I expect her to know what I'm asking for."
Susan swallowed. No way! She didn't need a description. Her imagination was bad enough.
He wiped his right hand on the side of his snug blue jeans and held it out to her. As he shook her hand, he said, "Hi. I'm Alan. Alan Tate. You're new in the apartments aren't you?"
nodded and tried hard not to think of how big and strong his hand felt wrapped
around hers. Was all of him that big and firm? Unh uh, bad thought. Don't even
go there. Her glance followed his muscular arm upwards. Whatever she did, she
would not look at his chest. Would not. Well, maybe just for a second.
Ooh. Wrong move.
She swallowed and nodded again. Good grief, she'd better say something quick. She couldn't just stand there with her head bobbing up and down like one of those toy dogs in the back of a car windshield. Mi quiero, Al Tate. "Oh… hi. I'm Susan. Susan Pierson. I, uh, just moved in day before yesterday."
Alan smiled and released her hand. "Well, welcome to the complex. I hope my noise hasn't bothered you. I'm assembling my exercise machine out here." He gestured toward the impressive skyline in the distance. "I figure if I'm going to work up a sweat, I might as well enjoy the view."
nodded more. Why couldn't she quit that? Looking back at him, she forced her
head to be still and smiled. "Yes, the view's pretty spectacular."
Ooh, baby, you can say that again.
He nodded this time. "I usually work out at the gym when I can find the time but it's much easier at home, don't you think?"
She smoothed her top down over her jeans. Suddenly those two chocolate doughnuts she'd had for a snack sat heavy on her hips. Oh well, at least her hips were curvy.
Susan gazed up at his friendly smile. Too bad she wasn't in advertising. She'd sell his image to weight loss clinics all over the country. They could make millions by putting his picture up as an incentive for female clients like the post office did with wanted posters. She could imagine the caption.
Do you know this man? Would you like to?
In fact, maybe she could have her mouth glued together for a while. Say, till she was a size ten. But by then, she'd be on Medicare. Nah. Love her, love her hips. And her bust and her… oops, there she went again. Whew, this man definitely was one fantasy-inspiring hunk. She let out a long breath. "Do good intentions count? I'm afraid I do a lot of sitting with my work."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"Really? A buddy of mine had his thesis published in college. What do you write?"
"I'm afraid nothing quite so scholarly. Right now I write fiction short stories for a magazine and do occasional interviews for them."
"Which magazine? Maybe I've read some of your work."
Susan looked down. Perhaps he wouldn't be able to see her blush that way. "Um, it's a woman's magazine. Which one of these tools is a crescent wrench?"
"Hmm? Oh, that one." He pointed to the third one lined up on the stone wall. "What's the name of the magazine?"
Blast it. Here it comes. She prepared herself for the smug look and smart-aleck replies she always got. "It's called Sizzling Desire."
His eyes widened and his silence dragged out for several moments. Then he said, "I know that one."
Of course he did.
"I've never read it, but my sister, Kelly, reads it all the time. She says it's great."
What? No put down or offers for a quick how-to session? This guy was definitely too good to be true.
"Uh, thanks. What do you do for a living when you're not sweating… I mean, putting exercise equipment together?"
"I'm a stock broker. My job tends to be pretty hectic. That's one reason why I like to work out on the patio. I'm cooped up inside a noisy, crowded office all day and it's nice to get away from it when I can."
returned his friendly smile, refusing to allow her gaze to drop to the front of
his snug jeans. Nope, she would not look. She could imagine what would happen
if she did.
Images of a large metal robot with blinking lights and flailing arms came to mind. She could hear it shouting, "Danger, Sue Pierson. Danger."
would just chat for a minute and then go in. "I bet you've got a good tip
you could give me." Now that was a great thing to say. She might as well
open her mouth and stick her foot in, shoe and all. Susan felt the heat rise in
her face again. She would look like a sunburned lobster if she stayed out here
with him much longer. "I don't know anything about stocks and bonds."
Thoughts of velvet cords and leather straps ran through her mind.
"Bondage, maybe, but not for profit."
She slapped her hand over her mouth. "Oh, God. I can't believe I said that. I'm just kidding!"
it. Her brain had definitely fried. She'd better crawl back inside before she
said anything else and he called for a straight jacket. She looked at his
startled expression and stuttered, "I… I'm sorry. I guess everyone you
meet asks you for a sure thing."
Especially the women.
heat coursing through her outdid even the sweltering temperature and she began
to feel a bit woozy. A familiar voice rang in her head.
Scottie, here, Cap'n. She canna take much more o' this. She's overheatin' an' we're gonna lose her.
"Are you okay?" Alan reached out and steadied her. His hand wrapped over her shoulder like a warm glove.
"What? Yes, I'm fine. I guess I'm not used to this heat yet. Our summers are much cooler back home."
"Hmm? Oh, a small town north of Denver, Colorado. You've probably never heard of it."
"What is it?"
"That's the actual name of the town?"
You'd be surprised how much kidding I get about that." She smiled up at
him. Or at least tried to. The sun was behind him now and the glare made her
squint. She pushed her hair back with one hand and felt the perspiration on her
forehead. She couldn't tell if it was more from her nervousness or the heat.
Being this close to a poster child for a Chippendales' calendar was enough to make her break out in a sweat in the middle of a Colorado blizzard.