Errol MacRae’s days of gallivanting across the Highlands are nearing an end. His father’s health has taken a turn for the worse, and rumors are swirling that the crown intends to transfer ancient lands into the hands of the MacKenzies, the clan the MacRaes are sworn to defend. Errol expects to lead his men into battle soon. So he isn’t pleased when his father instead sends him to retrieve a beautiful flame-haired lass who has fled into the mountains.
Orphaned as a young girl, Aileana vividly remembers how the MacRaes rescued her and welcomed her into their clan. For ten years, she has served them loyally—until the night she’s nearly despoiled by one of the laird’s captains. Aileana risks her life and her reputation to seek refuge in the snowcapped peaks of the Five Sisters, the one place that has always felt like home. But after the strong-armed, strong-willed Errol tracks her down in a blizzard, she finds herself tempted to risk something even more dangerous: her heart.
He dismounted, leaving his horse to drink freely. He walked close to a few cows, clicking his tongue. The MacKenzies often left their herd to roam unsupervised. A privilege only the richest clans could afford. MacRae stock were always accompanied—not one bloody MacDonald would be given the chance to steal from their herd again. MacRaes had done their own thieving in the past, plucking the choicest heifers from MacDonald broods whenever the opportunity arose.
Mere contests of arrogance—but they still paid with blood. Games were no longer the aim of the enemy clans. The crown intended to transfer ancient MacDonald lands to the MacKenzies, reason enough for the violence to flare up. That’s why he didn’t understand his father’s decision. Errol was one of his best fighters. He scratched his head and entered the closest glen to relieve himself. As he emerged on the far side, he found several MacKenzies huddled around a fire.
One of the dark-haired fighters shot up from the ground, his sword ready to strike. “Approach slowly,” he advised.
Errol ignored his ominous warning and went at him. As soon as the MacKenzie recognized him, he sheathed his weapon and smiled.
“I’m not in the mood for gutting a wee bull today,” Errol said.
Ian rolled his eyes. “Did your da let you come out to play or did ye sneak out?”
They grasped arms, and the remaining warriors stood, offering Errol a wineskin.
“Nay.” Errol took a drink. “I’m on official business for the laird.”
Ian arched a brow. “By midday, the ground will be covered in snow.”
“Aye,” Errol agreed. “I cannot delay. A lass wandered off last night and hasn’t returned. My father fears for her welfare.”
“Is she beautiful? If so, I’ll volunteer to help you,” Ian said, pulling on his scruffy beard.
As a boy, Errol had been intrigued by the wild Aileana, following her everywhere. And as he grew into a man, there was no denying her remarkable beauty. But he’d learned to control his feelings, and to stay away from her. Any man who claimed her would suffer the suspicion of the rest of the clan. “She’s a bonny lass.”
“Perhaps I can be of service, then.”
“She doesna require that kind of service,” Errol said, feeling suddenly protective. “She ran away for that very reason.”
“And who frightened the poor creature?” Ian continued. “Broc could scare maggots off a rotting carcass. Or was it Skene, the one-eyed bastard?”
Errol’s father had fostered Ian for half of his life. As boys they even shared a bedchamber. “Broc is the guilty one.”
“Then I’d check the islands first,” Ian offered. “For if I were a helpless lass, I’d cross the sea to escape that ugly beast.”
The other MacKenzies laughed.
Errol watched them unpack a simple meal of bread and fish. “Care for a bite?” Ian asked.
“No.” He scanned the mountains in the distance. “I’m headed to the hills, hoping to find her before nightfall.”
“And a dolt for risking yer neck with MacDonalds on the loose,” Ian added.
Errol patted the helm of his claymore, his targe hanging from his back. The last thing he feared was MacDonalds. They were known cowards. His people weren’t called the Wild MacRaes for dancing around bonfires like heathens. His kinsmen fought like ancient berserkers. “They’d have to catch me first.”