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About the Author
Amanda ForesterAmanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and worked for many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance novels was way more fun. She lives with her husband and two energetic children in the Pacific Northwest outside Tacoma,Washington.
Morrigan McNab silently drew her short sword, careful to remain hidden from the road. She checked to ensure her black head-scarf was in place, concealing her...
Morrigan McNab silently drew her short sword, careful to remain hidden from the road. She checked to ensure her black head-scarf was in place, concealing her nose and mouth. The target of today’s villainy clopped toward them through the thick mud. Twelve men were in the mounted party, their rich robes identifying them as wealthy, above the common concerns of daily sustenance… in other words, perfect marks.
Concealed by the tree and thick foliage, Morrigan scanned the approaching party for weapons. It appeared to be a hunting party, since all had bows slung across their backs and long knives at their sides. The dead boar they carried strung between two riders was also a clear sign of a hunt. Despite their alarming arsenal, most looked complacent, paying more attention to the flask they were passing around as they laughed and joked among themselves. One man, the one carrying a metal-tipped pike, scanned the woods around him as if he sensed danger.
Morrigan glanced at her brother Archie, only his eyes visible over the mask he wore. He pointed to her, then to the man with the pike. Morrigan narrowed her eyes at her brother. He always gave her the hard ones. Morrigan gave a curt nod and turned her focus back to the pikeman. He looked fit and vigilant. She preferred fat and careless. The war horse was a fine specimen too, tall and strong, trained to stand his ground in battle. It would not be easy to take him down.
The hunting party clomped closer, and a man walking behind the riders came into view. Morrigan wondered why he was left to slog through the mud behind the hunting party. Many of the horses would carry two men with ease. The walking man was dressed in a worn traveling cloak and a brightly colored tunic with a lyre strapped to his back. He must be a minstrel. Those wealthy hunters probably considered him unworthy of a ride. Damn rich bastards.
Archie gave a bird call, the signal. Morrigan tensed in anticipation, coiled, ready to strike, and counted. The men jumped at twenty; she always leaped at nineteen.
Morrigan sprung onto the road and charged the man with the pike, screeching like some fey creature from hell. Archie and the men surged into the fray, the men’s shouts blending with the surprised cries of the beset hunting party. The pikeman lowered his weapon toward her with a snarl, but Morrigan dropped to the ground and rolled under the nicely trained war horse, which was obliging enough not to move.
Regaining her feet on the other side of the horse, she pounded the hilt of her sword into the man’s elbow that held the pike, which now was pointed the wrong direction. The man howled in pain, his black teeth showing, and swung to hit her. She anticipated the move, ducked out of the way, grabbed the pike, and flipped it out of his hand. She had her sword tip stuck under the edge of his hauberk before the pike sunk into the mud. She applied just enough pressure to give him pause.
Her fellow bandits had likewise subdued the rest of the party. It was quiet for a moment, an odd silence after the explosion of sounds a moment before, that terrified both man and beast into mute submission.
“Good afternoon, my fellow travelers.” Archie McNab stood before the hunting party, a scarf covering his nose and mouth. He gave a practiced bow with an added flourish. Morrigan rolled her eyes. Her brother liked to think of himself as a gentleman thief. True, he was laird of his clan, but Morrigan had little tolerance for petty niceties. They were there to rob them. What was the point of being genteel about it?
“I see ye are burdened wi’ the evils o’ worldly possessions. But ne’er fear, my brethren, we have come to relieve ye o’ yer burdens.”
Morrigan held out her free hand, hoping the man would readily hand over his pouch of coins like the other wide-eyed members of his party. He did not comply and instead nudged his horse, causing it to step sideways.
“Grab the reins,” Morrigan commanded a young accomplice. The lad took up the reins of the war horse and held the animal’s head while Morrigan kept her eyes and her sword on the black-toothed man. He snarled at the lad, who balked and stepped back.
“Hold its head!” Morrigan snapped. The last thing she needed was this man making trouble.
“Now if ye fine gentlemen will make a small donation to the fund for wayward highwaymen, we shall set ye on yer way in a trifle,” said Archie.
On foot, Morrigan mentally added. The warhorse Black Tooth sat upon was a fine specimen. She reckoned she would look better than he astride such a fine animal. The rest of the hunting party readily handed over their money pouches and weapons, but not Black Tooth. He glared a silent challenge. Morrigan sighed. For once, just for the novelty of it all, she’d like things to be easy. It was not to be on that day. Nor any day, truth be told.
Morrigan stabbed her mark harder, but other than a scowl, he made no move to comply. She could kill the man, but Archie was firm in his orders not to kill unless necessary, and Morrigan had to acknowledge the wisdom of it. Robbing folks was one thing, murder was another. The last thing they needed was a band of Highlanders come to rid the forest of murderous thieves.
The man still refused to hand over his money bag, so Morrigan grabbed the pommel of his saddle with her free hand and put her foot on his in the stirrup and hoisted herself up. It should have been a quick move. She grabbed his purse and pulled it free. Suddenly, he shouted and kicked the horse. The lad dropped the reins and the horse lunged forward, throwing Morrigan off balance. One punch from Black Tooth, and Morrigan fell back into the mud.
The black-toothed terror charged the horse in front of him, causing the mount to spook and rear. The result was chaos, as the remaining horses broke free, urged on by the hunting party who sensed a chance to break free.
“Grab the horses, ye fools!” Morrigan jumped up shouting. “They be unarmed, get them ye bastards!”
But more than one thief, having secured the desired reward, melted back into the shrubbery rather than face the angry hunters. The hunting party broke free and galloped away down the path they had come.
“Damnation!” Morrigan yelled at her thieving brethren. “What is wrong wi’ ye cowardly knaves?”
“We got the coin,” grumbled one man in response.
“But not the horses, ye fool! Now they can ride for their friends and come back for us. And ye,” Morrigan turned on the spindly legged lad who had dropped the leads of the warhorse she coveted. “Ye ought to be more afeared o’ me than any bastard on a horse.” Morrigan strode toward the boy with the intent of teaching a lesson that would be long remembered, but her brother caught her arm.
“Let him be, he’s only a lad.”
“I was younger than that when I joined this game,” Morrigan shot back.
“Aye,” Archie leaned to whisper in her ear. “But we all canna be heartless bitches like ye.” With teasing eyes he straightened and said in a louder voice. “Besides, we have a guest.”
Standing in the middle of the muddy road was the colorfully dressed man with a lyre slung on his back. Damn hunters had left him with a bunch of thieves. Morrigan cursed them once again along with their offspring and their poor mothers for general completeness. She was nothing if not thorough.
Despite being surrounded by thieves, the man appeared surprisingly calm, though perhaps after their pathetic display of incompetence he rightly felt he had nothing to fear.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the stranger said with a seductive French accent and an equally appealing smile. “I am Jacques, poor traveling minstrel. At your service.” He gave a polished bow that put Archie’s attempts at gallantry to shame. Morrigan caught her brother’s eye to make sure he knew she had noted it.
“And what brings ye to be traveling with such cowardly companions that they would leave ye at the first sight of trouble?” Morrigan asked.
“The hunters I met on the road. They invited me to walk behind them to their hunting lodge.” Jacques gave an impish grin. “I can only assume my services, they are no longer required.”
“Ah, then they are doubly fools, for a minstrel is a rare prize indeed,” said Archie.
“You mean for me to be ransomed?”
“Nay, nay, ye are our guest. We are but humble thieves, but we shall take ye to…” Archie swallowed what he was going to say and coughed. “We shall take ye to the doorstep o’ the great Laird McNab. We dare no’ cross the border o’ his domain, for he has no tolerance for our kind, but I am sure he will welcome ye. And he can pay for yer services,” said Archie McNab, jingling his ill-gotten gains.
“Archie,” hissed Morrigan drawing him aside. “What are ye doing? We canna bring him back to our hall.”
“Nay, we will drop him close and let him walk the rest,” whispered Archie in response. “Then we will ride ahead and wait for his arrival. We are still masked, so he canna identify us as McNabs.”
“But he has certainly heard us, Brother. Do ye no’ ken he will recognize our voices?”
“Nay, nay, ye worrit yerself. Think, Morrigan. When was the last time we had a minstrel?” Archie’s eyes gleamed above his mask.
Morrigan shook her head. It had been a long, long time. And for good reason. What minstrel in his right mind would travel into the Highlands to sing for the poorest clan west of Edinburgh? It was a tempting opportunity, and Morrigan knew all too well the devious gleam in Archie’s eyes. They would soon be hosting the clan’s first minstrel in twenty years.
Archie gave some rapid commands. The men, quick to see a potential reward, eagerly complied, gathering the weapons, money, and the dead boar. The minstrel appeared to be a pleasant sort of man, making no complaints and readily agreeing to the plan of taking him near the “great Laird McNab.” Morrigan wondered at the shocking hubris that would lead to that bold lie. Her brother always dreamed big and generally settled for much less.
Morrigan jumped up on her own mount. They needed to make haste, before their hunting friends returned in greater numbers looking for the return of their property, and for a hanging as their supper amusement. Perhaps the hunters would have the minstrel play a lively tune, while Morrigan and her fellow thieves danced at the end of a rope. Aye, it was most assuredly time to leave.
“Here, my friend,” said Archie leading the minstrel toward Morrigan. “Allow us to give ye a ride.”
“Nay,” said Morrigan, easily seeing Archie’s intent. “Let him ride wi’ someone else.”
“But ye are the lightest among us.”
“Nay, Toby over there is hardly seven stone.”
Archie walked quickly toward her and hissed, “Toby is a young fool. Ye take the minstrel and dinna let him get away.” Archie turned back to the minstrel saying, “So pleased ye could join us.”
The minstrel smiled at Morrigan. “I am causing you inconvenience? I must apologize.” His voice was smooth as velvet with his polished French accent. His eyes were a shocking, bright blue in contrast to his black hair, and even Morrigan had to admit that he was nice to look upon.
“No inconvenience, I assure ye,” Morrigan found herself saying. Maybe inviting a minstrel back with them was not such a bad idea.
She reached out her hand to help him onto the horse and he took it, swinging himself up easily with little assistance. He positioned himself behind her, the thighs of his long legs touching hers. Suddenly Morrigan felt quite hot in her hauberk and she took a deep breath. Damn, but he smelled nice too.
Morrigan revised her opinion of the minstrel. He was trouble; and like most of Archie’s plans, it would no doubt go horribly wrong.
“TRUE HIGHLAND SPIRIT by Amanda Forester is an exciting fast paced historical romance set in 1355 Scotland. It is a Scottish romance at its best. With both a plot that is emotional,and f...
“TRUE HIGHLAND SPIRIT by Amanda Forester is an exciting fast paced historical romance set in 1355 Scotland. It is a Scottish romance at its best. With both a plot that is emotional,and full of passion and characters who are strong,determined,sexy,fierce and will capture your heart from the first page to the very last page.” - My Book Addiction Reviews
“This has humor, a warm romance, intrigue, action and a fine message. What’s not to like? I recommend this especially to all the historical romance fans.” - Reviews by Martha’s Bookshelf
“This was definitely another great read by Amanda Forester. ” - Romance Book Junkies
“The realistic battle scenes form the perfect backdrop for the burgeoning romance and a subplot involving hidden treasures of the Templars. Starred Review” - Publishers Weekly
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 6.96 oz
Page Count: 416 pages