Our Story Begins: Scouring the darkest corners of the Highlands and Western Isles, Robert the Bruce handpicks ten warriors to help him in his quest to free Scotland from English rule. They are the best of the best, chosen for their superior skills in each discipline of warfare. To lead his secret Highland Guard, Bruce chooses the greatest warrior of all.
An Excerpt From Chapter Two: Christina and her sister Beatrix stumble into the middle of a fight between Tor (the golden-haired warrior) and his nemesis Lachlan MacRuairi (the dark-haired warrior).
As they drew closer the charge in the air intensified. With each step, her heartbeat raced faster. Her sister felt it, too. The quickening of Beatrix’s breath matched her own.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see the men not ten paces from her. She fought the urge to shudder, realizing how much larger and more daunting they were up close.
We have to get out of here.
The causeway wasn’t far now. Twenty paces or so and they’d be safe.
All of a sudden, she heard a man let out a vile oath, followed by the blood-curdling crash of steel on steel. Before she could react, the crowd had tightened around them, cutting off their path.
They were trapped.
At first Christina feared that they would be caught up in the melee, but then she realized only two men were fighting—the same two warriors she’d noticed before.
A swordfight in the middle of the courtyard? Goodness, did these Barbarians fight everywhere?
She and Beatrix watched in horror as they attacked one another with a viciousness that could only mean one thing—a fight to the death. It was horrible. Violent. Their wild, brutal fighting style nothing like the “civilized” practicing she was used to on the lists or the tournaments she’d seen as a child.
Neither man wore mail, only the leine and padded leather cotun studded with metal—seemingly woefully inadequate protection against the penetrating steel blades of their swords. They both wore soft leather boots to just below the knees, leaving a gap of bare leg to the lower thigh.
The golden-haired warrior had his back to her, but she could see the muscles in his back flare as he swung the enormous two-handed longsword in a high arch over his head and brought it down with crushing force. The sword seemed a part of him—as if he’d been born with it in his hand.
The dark-haired warrior blocked it with one of his two short arming swords, resulting in a piercing clatter that shattered the peace of the day, making her ears ring and teeth rattle. He allowed his blade to drop to the ground, pinned beneath the other, but then he spun and whirled the other over his head to return the strike.
The warriors exchanged blow after deadly blow, neither showing signs of tiring, wielding their enormous blades as effortlessly as if they were made of wood and not steel. The ground reverberated with each terrifying stroke.
She should look away. She should attempt to escape. But Christina was as mesmerized as she was horrified by the brutal savageness of the spectacle before her.
Was this what the Romans had felt watching the Gladiators?
If they weren’t so obviously trying to kill each other, there would almost be something beautiful to their movements. Despite their powerful builds, they moved with leonine grace. In the back of her mind it occurred to her that if they weren’t so fearsome looking the men might be considered handsome. Nor could she ignore that there was something blatantly male and attractive about such brute strength. But the thought was fleeting and quickly forgotten in the heat and clamor of the battle. The clang of steel mixed with the grunts of the combatants and the ebbing and flowing murmurs of the crowd.
At first she thought they were well matched, but as the fight drew on she recognized the superior skill of the golden-haired man. His blade fell harder; his reactions were quicker and his movements more precise. He controlled every aspect of the battle.
Her gaze was drawn to him.
When it became clear that she and Beatrix were not in danger, she grew more bold in her observation, noticing the hard lines of his jaw, the wide mouth, and forbidding brow. The noble bearing that permeated the air around him. As the fight had started without warning, he wore no helm or bascinet to protect his head. His hair was actually more brown than blond as she’d first thought, but the sunlight picked up all the golden strands, making it appear much lighter.
She was fascinated by the way his muscles bunched and flexed with each blow of the sword. Looking at him, the idea of Lancelot bending steel bars didn’t seem so far-fetched. Such power would normally terrify her, but detached like this she felt a strange heat shimmering through her.
But she hardly had time to process the strange reaction before the battle shifted and took on a far more ominous tone.
The change was subtle but marked. The golden warrior attacked with cold purpose and precision, making her wonder whether he’d simply been biding his time.
She glanced at the dark warrior’s face and felt a chill so strong it turned her blood to ice. Behind the goading defiance, his eyes were empty. Soulless. And she knew with a certainty that couldn’t be explained that he didn’t care if he lived or died.
She gasped when the golden warrior landed a blow to other man’s upper arm that drew blood, causing him to drop one of his swords. Her stomach rolled as the cotun and leine underneath stained a deep, dark red.
Beatrix buried her head into her shoulder, sobbing, but Christina couldn’t turn away, unable to believe what was about to happen.
The battle was intensifying now. Going faster. Moving toward a fatal end with each stroke. The scent of well-worked bodies wafted in the breeze. Tension and excitement surged in the crowd.
No one was going to do anything to stop it.
With blow after ringing blow, the golden-haired warrior moved his opponent back. The dark warrior couldn’t last much longer. Christina’s heart was pounding so hard she couldn’t breathe.
She gasped again when the dark warrior stumbled back and fell to the ground. Her horror only grew when his mouth curved up in a smile.
The golden warrior raised his sword above his head, poised for the final blow.
“No!” a voice rang out.
His gaze shot to hers. She was riveted to the ground by the most piercing ice-blue eyes she’d ever seen. Eyes that seared her with an intensity she’d never experienced before. Eyes that were hard, cold and utterly without mercy.
She blanched, as horror dawned: she was the one who’d cried out.
Their gazes held for only an instant before he looked brusquely away.
Disappointment crashed over her. How could she have expected mercy from such a man? Despite her strange fascination, he was not a knight but a brutish barbarian warlord.
She couldn’t bear to watch. Turning her head, she braced herself for the gasp of the crowd as the golden warrior finished the job. She heard the sword whiz through the air and land with a resounding thud that shook her to her toes.
But the gasp never came.
By time she gathered enough courage to look back, the golden warrior had already started to walk away, and the dark warrior was being helped to his feet by one of his men. The golden knight’s two-handed sword was plunged deep into the ground near where the dark knight had lain, and one of his men was struggling to pull it from the ground.
She heard the whispers and felt the curious stares of the crowd on her, but she was too stunned to care.
What had just happened? Disbelief mingled with wonder. Had he heeded her plea?
All of the sudden, someone grabbed her arm and jerked her around.
“You stupid girl.”
She froze, her stomach pitching to the floor. “Father.”
His fingers bit into her shoulder. “What have you done?”
“I...” Her voice caught, not knowing how to explain. “He was going to kill him.”
He drew her close with a growl. “And you decided to interfere in a battle between men?” His face was only inches from hers. She could feel the heat of his wine laden breath on her cheek. “You idiot. Do you know who that is?”
She shook her head, her heart pounding erratically, knowing she’d made a huge mistake.
“Tor MacLeod,” he spat. “The man one of you is to marry.”
Christina gasped, horror washing over her. Marry him? That muscle-bound giant? She’d seen more emotion in a rock. Good lord, he looked like a savage Viking who collected heads on necklaces and sacrificed virgins for fun.
For a moment she thought she might faint. But Beatrix did it for her.
End of Excerpt
Learn more about the books in the The Highland Guard Series »
See the other books in this series »