Welcome to a new round of Medieval Monday. After a short hiatus, your favorite authors are back. This week we are kicking things off by introducing our own books. I’m showcasing the prequel to my Gods of the Highlands saga, Mask of the Highlander. Read on for an excerpt.
They rode out shortly after dawn. The hills were covered in a mist so thick, Kenna could barely see her horse’s ears through the fog. The mare shied often at the close proximity of Ty’s stallion. The beast, as dark and menacing as his master, snorted and pawed the ground whenever they stopped.
Three starving villages remained on Vass lands. Ty insisted the villagers would want to see their laird, returned home from defeating the English. They had visited each in turn. The arrival of the laird drew the ragged villagers from indoors, but if he expected a hero’s welcome, he would be disappointed. The tension in the air was thicker than the fog, each village worse than the one before it. By the time they reached the third, he did not even dismount.
He was cordial enough. His scowl of contempt did not seem directed at the villagers but at the squalor in which they lived. However, they did not know that. A glower from Laird Vass was enough to strike fear into the hearts of the most stout of men, regardless the cause.
She glanced over at him as he pulled his horse to a halt at the crest of a hill. Her heart tripped. Dare she hope that war had changed him? Was he right and truly a different man, or did he play some game to distract her, to lull her into relaxing her aegis. Then he would strike.
He stared off into the distance, beyond the grassy plain toward the border of his lands and her father’s. But his gaze was unfocused. Lines of worry creased the corner of his eye, his mouth. She had never known Ty Vass to worry about anything except his own pleasure. His raven-dark hair caught a breeze and swirled around him.
Kenna caught her breath. He had not seemed so handsome before, not when he was beating her, forcing himself on her. Those memories, nightmares she had relived again and again, began to fade. She saw the man he could be, a man she would be proud to call husband.
She gave herself a shake. Verra well. She would play along, see how his homecoming played out. Kenna wanted nothing so much as peace in her life. Peace between their clans, and peace within her own house…
“Come.” She spurred her mare forward. “I have something to show you.”
He did not speak, but Kenna sensed his stallion behind her. Her mare swished her tail overmuch, drawing strange sounds from Ty’s war horse. Soon enough she found herself scanning the brush, searching for an opening she had not seen in years. She had last come here on the eve of her wedding. It seemed a lifetime ago.
She paced her mare back and forth along the same gnarl of overgrown vines until she spotted it. “Here.” She pulled her leg over the horse’s neck and slid to the ground. She knelt in the grass, still damp from the morning’s fog and coaxed the vines apart, revealing a wooden door, barely hanging on its hinges.
She grinned over her shoulder at him, but her smile fell instantly. He watched her with a look akin to lust. She hesitated, old fears skittering up her spine, but reminded herself of her vow to give him a chance. She would never trust him, never love him, but by God she would make peace. Besides, there was nothing he could do to her here that he could not do to her elsewhere.
She knew little of his upbringing, but what she did know was enough to turn the heart of any woman who had loved a child. Ty’s own mother had died birthing him, a feat his father found pleasing. To have sired such a braw laddie as could rip a woman asunder to take his place in the world. There was a son t’ be proud of.
Kenna shuddered to imagine the lessons Ty has been taught growing up. As bad as her husband was, his father was worse.
With a faint smile, she turned away and concentrated her efforts on opening the door. After struggling for several moments, she felt him behind her. His presence engulfed her, trapping her against the massive expanse of his chest.
He reached a beefy arm around her and gave the door a great shove, heaving it into the darkness.
Kenna was fully aware of what lay beyond and had no fear of the close interior. Daylight guided her to a small table where she found flint and a candle, enough to illuminate the inside of the small cottage.
Ty ducked and stepped through the door, filling the inside and staring around in surprise.
Kenna followed his gaze, fully aware that he stood between her and the door. She tried to ignore it, taking in the broken stool, the crockery piled in the corner, the cold hearth. She took calming breaths, using the wobbly table as support. She was trapped in close confinement with him, her grandfather’s hated enemy and the man she feared most.
Relief flooded her when he moved from in front of the door and further into the room. He is changed, she told herself. Please, God. Let it be so. The ice around her heart melted a little when he turned a wondrous smile on her.
“What is this place?”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I discovered it as a child. It was my secret place.” She plied him with a sad smile and shook her head. “I have not been in years.”
He circled the room, no more than a few paces with his gigantic stride, until he stood beside her. The door was at her back, so she could still escape if needs be. For once she did not flinch when he lifted his hand.
Kenna dreads her husband’s homecoming like the plague. The man she married is vile and cruel. She has prayed every day of his absence he would be killed in the fighting, freeing her from a life of brutal torment and a loveless marriage. But the man on her doorstep has changed. This man is kind, gentle and sparks a fire in her she never felt in the early days of her marriage.
Ty is returning home after years fighting in France. He yearns for the arms of his beautiful wife and to finally meet the daughter he has never known. But can Kenna forgive the man she married and love the man he has become?