Amanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and for worked many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance was decidedly more fun. A Publishers Weekly Top Ten author, her books have been given starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Top Picks from RT Book Reviews. Whether in the rugged Highlands of medieval Scotland or the decadent ballrooms of Regency England, her novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. You can visit her at www.amandaforester.com.
I love Christmas time. I enjoy the lights, baking special treats, decorating the house, shopping for just the right gift, and the reason behind the season – the amazing gift of love and hope. One of the special reading treats I look forward to every year are the holiday short stories. I LOVE them! This year I was inspired to write one as a mini prequel to My Highland Rebel and had a lot of fun doing it. Here is chapter one of Highland Christmas Bride – Enjoy!
Highlands, December 23, 1361
It wasn’t easy being the daughter of a warlord. Accommodations were poor, food was scant, and the company was lacking. Kenna grew up amongst the dregs of society with her father, a man not known for his compassionate side. No, Red Rex had earned the title of the Scourge of the Highlands. He prowled the countryside, attacking without mercy any clan, village, or hamlet that was vulnerable.
Kenna walked down the hall to the kitchen of the tower house, which served as their current but as always temporary dwelling. Up until a few days ago, it had been the residence of the clan Mackensie. Red Rex had taken advantage of sanctuary offered to travelers so close to the holiest of December nights, asking for shelter from the winter storm and then attacking once they had been admitted into the gates.
Kenna did not approve of any of it, but there was nothing she could do. Her father kept her around to cook and serve, and no one disobeyed him. Even at a time when other clans began to prepare for Christmas Eve celebrations, Kenna knew better than to expect any reprieve from her father’s tyranny. Christmas did not come to the band of Red Rex.
Kenna began to scrub out the pot that had held supper. She may be surrounded by vilest of human beings, but she saw no need to wallow in squalor if she could avoid it. She washed it out and heaved the iron cauldron back to its hook in the hearth.
“Kenna, she’s a right bonnie lass.”
Kenna stopped her work at the sound of her name. Red Rex was in the private solar above her, which shared a chimney. She paused, confused by her father’s reference to her. He rarely spoke to her and never in her twenty-two years of life had she ever heard him compliment her.
Something was wrong.
“I dinna wish object,” replied her father’s guest, in a breathy rasp that reminded her of a snake. The voice belonged to a stranger with long greasy hair who had arrived a few hours prior. “But the price ye’re asking is a steep one.”
Price? Kenna crouched down and leaned further into the fireplace to better hear the conversation.
“I’ve heard o’ how ye use yer women. Unnatural doings,” growled her father. “Fer what ye want, this is a bargain.”
There was a pause as the man considered his options. “Ye’ll no interfere?” The unmistakable sound of heavy coins plunked down on a table filled her with dread.
“She’s yers now. Ye marry her and ye can do whatever ye want wi’ her.”
Her heart pounded in her rib cage. She needed to escape. She needed to—
“What are ye doing?”
Kenna yelped and jerked back, landing on her backside. She swiveled to meet the eyes of her brother, who had walked into the kitchen. She took breath of relief. It was only Cormac. He was Rex’s only son and Kenna’s half-brother. Though a tall man, Core in no way matched his father’s bulk.
“Core!” she hissed and scrambled to her feet, running over to her half-brother. He was the progeny of Red Rex and his late wife. Cormac’s mother had died bringing him into the world, a crime so heinous Rex held a grudge against his only son, and the rest of the world as well.
“What is wrong?”
“Wheescht! I need yer help.” Kenna grabbed his arm in supplication and something he had hidden in the folds of his plaid fell to the ground.
“What is—a book?” Kenna swooped the contraband from the floor. “Ye were reading a book?”
“Nay!” denied Core, grabbing the book back from her hand.
Kenna raised an eyebrow. Of all the things Red Rex hated about Core, his son’s studious ways ranked the highest. Core had been raised in a monastery for most of his life and even attended university until Red Rex decided he wanted him. Rex had no compunction in ruining Core’s chances of a decent life.
“I just overheard Rex talking wi’ that man who arrived a few hours ago,” explained Kenna in a hushed tone. “He arranged a marriage for me. Nay, not a marriage, he’s selling me. He’s selling me to that man!” Tears sprung to her eyes.
“To that blackguard?” Core almost dropped his book again.
“Aye. Core, I need to leave. And quick.”
Core nodded in resignation. “Aye, best to make a run for it.”
“But where am I to go? And in this weather?” The snow was piling high and deep.
“Follow the road from here to the south. There’s a small convent along the road where ye can hide until the weather allows ye to move on. Whatever ye do, avoid Kinloss Abbey.” Core leaned closer to whisper the warlord’s plans. “Taking the Mackensie seat was done to drive out the Brodies, who will come to defend their allies. As soon as they march against him to retake the Mackensie land, Rex will attack Kinloss Abbey. When the Brodies are drawn further from their keep to defend it, he will attack the Brodie stronghold.”
“He can do all that is this storm?”
“What is weather to the likes o’ him? Now ye must fly.”
“But how will I get past the guards?” Kenna asked, grabbing her green wool cloak and wrapping it around her. She wished it was thicker against the cold but it would have to do.
“I’ll distract him.” Core held up the book with a grim look.
“Truly? Ye’d do that for me?” If her father caught Core reading a book the scene that would follow would certainly distract the guards. She could escape, but at the price of her brother.
“Aye, now get to the stables. I should cause enough of a stir that the guards will come to watch. That’s yer chance.”
“Thank ye, I canna ever repay ye.”
“True,” said Core with a grim smile. “Now go, before I come to my senses. And whatever ye do, stay clear o’ Kinloss Abbey and the Brodie stronghold. They say the Laird Brodie has the demon mark.”
“Aye, just stay away, ye ken?”
“Aye, and thank ye.”
Kenna pulled up the cowl of her cloak and stepped out into the biting, cold air. Her boots crunched in the fresh fallen snow, causing her to huddle in the shadow of the tower house, lest she be heard by the guards.
The light was failing early into to the long winter night. Snow was lightly falling, landing with a muted hush. Two guards stood by the stables, stomping their feet against the cold. She would need to get past them to get a horse, for she would have no chance of survival in the snow without one.
Suddenly a loud howl of anger pieced the night, causing her to jump, even though she had been waiting for the fury of Red Rex. She hoped Cormac would survive the night.
The guards stared at the tower, taking interest in the vicious tirade. They said something to each other, their breath showing in the cold, and moved toward the house.
Now was her chance. A few minutes later she was riding hard down the snow-packed road away from the Mackensie stronghold. Kenna knew she had only two chances to escape her father. The first was to become a nun somewhere far, far away. Rome maybe. Or farther, wherever that might be.
Her only other option was to become the wife of a man stronger and more powerful than her father, which considering her father would take something of divine intervention. Of course, nothing of the divine had ever intervened in her life before.
Core had given her a chance. Now it was up to her.
Kenna paused at a crossroads, the snow stinging her eyes. She covered as much of her face as she could against the biting wind. She was a young woman, alone in the world, in a snowstorm. It wasn’t much to work with. She would have to think of something very clever to keep herself safe. The convent was an option, but her father had dragged her out of a convent before. She considered her options before her, few though they may be. It was Christmastime. Perhaps it was time to do something bold…
She gathered her courage and urged her mount toward the stronghold of Clan Brodie.
I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from Highland Christmas Bride. As my special holiday gift to you, I would like to offer everyone the rest of this short Christmas story for FREE! If you want to read more, simply sign up here and I’ll send you the link to the rest of the story. Enjoy!!
A Conquering HeroCormac Maclean would rather read than rampage, but his fearsome warlord father demands that he prove himself in war. Cormac chooses what he thinks is an easy target, only to encounter a fiery Highland lass leading a doomed rebellion and swearing revenge on him.Meets an Unconquerable HeroineJyne Cambell is not about to give up her castle without a fight, even though her forces are far outnumbered. She's proud and determined, and Cormac can’t help but be impressed by her devious plots to force him to leave. Soon, his allegiances are as confused as his feelings for the fair Jyne—though he may have captured the castle, it is she who captures his heart.
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