41/2 Stars - Top Pick at Romantic Times!
"MacLean ensnares readers with her powerful writing and emotional love stories, once again crafting a book to cherish. Her richly portrayed characters and intriguing, fast-paced plot combine in a read that will leave you speechless with delight. This new novel reinforces her reputation as a premier writer of Scots-set romance." - Kathe Robin
"...insanely compelling and utterly enchanting...MacLean has penned a wonderfully engaging story that has quickly become one of my all-time favorite historical romances....so blissfully satisfying that there is no doubt that Ms. MacLean's writing style is a gift from the gods. Every word, every dialogue, every description pulsates with this relentless energy, propelling the action and drama like a movie in my mind, while simultaneously making me take a step back to relish each moment. And the love scenes - Oh, so tender and erotic! - were beyond satiating. As if you couldn't see this coming, CLAIMED BY THE HIGHLANDER has 5 Blue Ribbons written all over it! A monumentally delightful read that I can't wait to revisit."
- Chris at RomanceJunkies.com
"Love, revenge, redemption…and a sexy Scottish Highlander in a kilt! What more can a reader ask for? Julianne MacLean knows what her audience likes, and once again has delivered a story that abounds with fast-paced action, compelling characters and a soul-baring journey of love."
--Reader to Reader
The Highlander Trilogy Book Two
NIGHT OF CONQUEST
PRISONER OF PASSION
Read an excerpt...
By the time Gwendolen reached the battlements and took aim at the invaders on the drawbridge below, the iron tipped battering ram was smashing the thick oak door to bits and pieces. The castle walls shuddered beneath her feet, and she was forced to stop and take a moment to absorb what was happening.
The frightful reality of battle struck her, and all at once, she felt dazed, as if she were staring into a churning abyss of noise and confusion. She couldn’t move. Her fellow clansmen were shouting gruffly at each other. Smoke and the smell of gunpowder burned in her lungs and stung her eyes. One kilted warrior had dropped all his weapons beside her and was crouching by the wall, overcome by a fit of weeping.
She stared down at him for a hazy moment, feeling nauseous and light-headed, as cracks of musket fire exploded all around her.
“Get up!” she shouted, reaching down and hooking her arm under his. She hauled him roughly to his feet. “Reload your weapon, and fight like a Highlander!”
The young clansman stared at her blankly for a moment, then snapped out of his stupor and fumbled for his powder.
Gwendolen leaned out over the battlements to see below. The MacDonalds were swarming through the broken gate, crawling like insects over the wooden ram. She quickly took aim and fired at one of them, but missed.
“To the bailey!” she shouted, and the sound of dozens of swords scraping out of scabbards fuelled her resolve. With steady hands and unwavering spirit, she reloaded her musket. There was shouting and screaming, men running everywhere, flocking to the stairs….
“Gwendolen!” Douglas called out, stopping beside her. “You should not be here! You must go below to your chamber and lock yerself in! Leave the fighting to the men!”
“Nay, Douglas, I will fight and die for Kinloch if I must.”
He regarded her with both admiration and regret, and spoke in a gentler voice. “At least do your fighting from the rooftop, lassie. The clan will not survive the loss of ye.”
His meaning was clear, and she knew he was right. She was the daughter of the MacEwen chief. She must remain alive to negotiate terms of surrender, if it came to that.
Gwendolen nodded. “Be gone, Douglas. Leave me here to reload my weapon. This is a good spot. I will do what I can from here.”
He kissed her on the cheek, wished her luck, and bolted for the stairs.
Hand-to-hand combat began immediately in the bailey below. There was a dreadful roar – close to four hundred men all shouting at once - and the deafening clang of steel-against-steel rang in her ears as she fired and reloaded her musket, over and over. Before long, she had to stop, for the two clans had merged into one screaming cataclysm of carnage, and she could not risk shooting any of her own men.
The chapel bell tolled, calling to the villagers to come quickly and assist in the fight, but even if every able-bodied man arrived at that moment, it would not be enough. These MacDonald warriors were rough and battle-seasoned, armed with spears, muskets, axes, bows and arrows. They were quickly seizing control, and she could do nothing from where she stood, for if she went below, it would be suicide, and she had to live for her clan.
Then she spotted him. Their leader. Angus the Lion, fighting in the center of it all.
She quickly loaded her musket and aimed, but he moved too quickly. She could not get a clear shot.
A scorching ball of terror shot into her belly as she lowered her weapon. No wonder they called him the Lion. His hair was a thick, tawny mane that reached past his broad shoulders, and he roared with every deadly swing of his claymore, which sliced effortlessly through the air, before it cut down foe, after foe, after foe.
Gwendolen stood transfixed, unable to tear her eyes away from the sheer muscled brawn of his arms, chest and legs, thick as tree trunks - just like the battering ram on the bridge. There was a perfect, lethal symmetry and balance to his movements as he lunged and killed, then flicked the sweat-drenched hair from his eyes, spun around and killed again.
Her heart pounded with fascination and awe. He was a powerful beast of a man, a superb warrior, magnificent in every way, and the mere sight of him in battle, in all his legendary glory, nearly brought her to her knees. He deflected every blow with his sturdy black shield, and swung the claymore with exquisite grace. She had never encountered such a man before, nor imagined such strength was possible in the human form.
She realized suddenly that her mother had been correct in her predictions. There was no possibility of defeating this man. They were all doomed. Without a doubt, the castle would fall to these invaders and there would be no mercy. It was pointless to hope otherwise.
She moved across the rooftop to the corner tower where her bedchamber was housed, and looked down at the hopeless struggle.
This had been far too easy a charge for the MacDonalds. To watch it any longer was pure agony, and she was ashamed when she had to close her eyes and turn her face away. She had wanted so desperately to triumph over these attackers, but she had never witnessed a battle such as this in all her twenty-one years. She’d heard tales of course, and imagined the evils of war, but she’d had no idea how truly violent and grisly it would be.
Soon the battle cries grew sparse, and only a handful of wilful warriors continued to fight to the death. Other MacEwen clansmen, with swords pointed at their throats, accepted their fate. They laid down their weapons and dropped to their knees. Those who surrendered were being assembled into a line at the far wall.
Gwendolen, who had been watching the great Lion throughout the battle, noticed suddenly that he was gone, vanished like a phantom into the gunsmoke. Panic shot to her core, and she gazed frantically from one corner of the bailey to the other, searching all the faces for those gleaming, devilish eyes. Where was he? Had someone killed him? Or had he penetrated the chapel to ravage the women and children, too?
She spotted him, at last, on the rooftop, clear across the distance, standing on the opposite corner tower. His broadsword was sheathed at his side, and his shield was strapped to his back. He raised his arms out to his sides and shouted to the clansmen below.
“I am Angus Bradach MacDonald! Son of the fallen Laird MacDonald, true master of Kinloch Castle!” His voice was deep and thunderous. It rumbled mightily inside her chest. “Kinloch belongs to me by right of birth! I hereby declare myself laird and chief!”
“Kinloch belongs to the MacEwens now!” someone shouted from below. “By Letters of Fire and Sword, issued by King George of Great Britain!”
“If ye want it back,” Angus growled, stepping forward to the edge of the rooftop, “then raise your sword and fight me!”
His challenge was met with silence, until Gwendolen was overcome by a blast of anger so hot, she could not control or contain it.
“Angus Bradach MacDonald!” she shouted from the dark, outraged depths of her soul. “Hear me now! I am Gwendolen MacEwen, daughter of the MacEwen chief who won this castle by fair and lawful means! I am leader here, and I will fight you!”
It was not until that moment that she realized she had marched to the edge of the rooftop and drawn her saber, which she was now pointing at him from across the distance.
Her heart pummelled her chest. She had never felt more exhilarated. It was intoxicating. She wished there was not this expanse of separation between them. If there were a bridge from one tower to the other, she would dash across it and fight him to the death.
“Gwendolen MacEwen!” he shouted in reply. “Daughter of my enemy! Ye have been defeated!”
And just like that, he dismissed her challenge and addressed the clansmen in the bailey below.
“All who have taken part in usurping this castle, and are in possession of lands that did not belong to you – you must forfeit them now to the clansmen from whom ye took them!”
Gwendolen’s anger rose up again, more fiercely than before. “The MacEwens refuse!” she answered.
He immediately pointed his sword at her in a forceful show of warning, then lowered it and continued, as if she had not spoken.
“If that clansman is dead or absent today,” he declared, “ye may remain, but I will have your loyalty, and you will swear allegiance to me as Laird of Kinloch!”
There was another long, drawn out silence, until some brave soul spoke up.
“Why should we pledge loyalty to ye? You are a MacDonald, and we are MacEwens!”
The Lion was quiet for a moment. He seemed to be looking deep into the eyes of every man in the bailey below. “Be it known that our two clans will unite!” He pointed his sword at Gwendolen again, and she felt the intense heat of his gaze like a fire across her body. “For I will claim this woman, who is your brave and noble leader, as my wife, and our son, one day, will be laird.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd of MacDonald warriors below, while Gwendolen digested his words with shock and disbelief. He intended to claim her as his wife?
No, it was not possible.
“There will be a feast on this night in the Great Hall,” the Lion roared, “and I will accept the pledge of all men willing to remain here and live in peace under my protection!”
Murmurs of surrender floated upwards through the air and reached Gwendolen’s burning ears. She clenched her jaw and dug her fingernails into the cold rough stones of the tower. This was not happening. It could not be. Pray God, this was still the dream, and she would soon wake. But the hot morning sun on her cheeks reminded her that the dreams of a restless night had already given way to reality, and her father’s castle had been sacked and conquered by an unassailable warrior, and he intended to make her his bride and force her to bear children for him. What in God’s name was she to do?
“I do not agree to this!” she shouted, and the Lion tilted his head to the side, beholding her strangely, as if she were some sort of otherworldly creature he had never encountered before. “I wish to negotiate our terms of surrender!”
Her body began to tremble as she waited for his response. Perhaps he would simply send a man to slit her throat in front of everyone - as an example for those were bold enough, or foolish enough, to resist. He looked ready to do it. She could feel the hot flames of his anger from where she stood, at the opposite corner of the castle.
Then the oddest thing happened. One by one, each MacEwen warrior in the bailey below turned toward her, and dropped to one knee. They all bowed their heads in silence, while the MacDonalds stood among them, observing the demonstration with some uneasiness.
For a long time Angus stood upon the North Tower saying nothing, as he watched the men deliver this unexpected defiance. A raw and brutal tension stretched ever tighter within the castle, and Gwendolen feared they would all be slaughtered.
Then at last, the Lion turned his eyes toward her.
She lifted her chin, but his murderous contempt seemed to squeeze around her throat, and she found it difficult to breathe.
He spoke with quiet, grave authority. “Gwendolen MacEwen, I will hear your terms in the Great Hall.”
Not trusting herself to speak, she nodded and resheathed her saber, then walked with pride toward the tower stairs, while her legs, hidden beneath her skirts, shook uncontrollably and threatened to give out beneath her.
When at last she reached the top of the stairs, she paused a moment to take a breath and compose herself.
God, oh god….
She felt nauseous and lightheaded.
Leaning forward and laying the flat of her hand upon the cool stones, she closed her eyes and wondered how she was ever going to negotiate with this warrior, who had already defeated her clan in a brutal and bloody campaign, and claimed her as his property. She had nothing, nothing, with which to bargain. But perhaps she and her mother could think of something – some other way to manage the situation, at least until her brother returned.
If only Murdoch were here now….
But no, there was no point wishing for such things. He was not here, and she had only herself to rely on. She must stand strong for her people.
She took one last look at them. Angus the Lion had quitted the rooftop and returned to his men. He was giving orders and wandering amongst the dead and wounded, assessing the magnitude of his triumph, no doubt.
A light breeze lifted his thick golden hair, which shimmered in the morning light. His kilt wafted lightly around his muscular legs, while he adjusted the leather strap that held the shield at his back.
He was her enemy, and she despised him in every way, yet she could not deny the awesome power of his strength as a leader.
Just then he glanced up and saw that she was watching him. He faced her squarely and did not look away.
Gwendolen’s breath caught in her throat. Even from this distance, he had the ability to hold her captive in his gaze. Her knees went weak, and something fluttered in her belly. Whether it was fear or fascination, she did not know. Either way, it did not bode well for her future dealings with him.
Shaken and agitated, she pushed away from the wall and quickly descended the tower stairs.
Claimed by the Highlander