Tue
Dec 6 2016 1:00pm

May McGoldrick Excerpt: Tempest in the Highlands

May McGoldrick

Tempest in the Highlands by May McGoldrick

Miranda MacDonnell is on the run. When she inherited a mysterious relic from her mother, she had no idea the dangers it would bring. Now hunted by a relentless foe who will stop at nothing to find her, she has one choice: stow away on the ship of the notorious privateer, Black Hawk.

Rob Hawkins, the half-English privateer known as Black Hawk, has a mission from the Tudor king to find and kill the rogue commander, Sir Ralph Evers. To complete his quest, Hawk must find Miranda, a young woman Evers is pursuing. Caught in a tempest, he is shipwrecked with a “boy” who demonstrates an uncanny ability for saving him. Cast away on the mysterious Isle of the Dead, Hawk realizes that the “boy” traveling with him is actually Miranda MacDonnell and having her means that Evers will come to him. What begins as a ploy —using her as bait—soon changes, however, as he falls in love with her.

Get a sneak peek at May McGoldrick's Tempest in the Highlands (available December 6, 2016) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Chapter 1

Tarbert Castle

Kintyre, Western Scotland

Four months later

Though the fires in the tower were nearly out, the acrid smell of smoke hung thick in the air, burning the English ship captain’s lungs. Rob Hawkins glanced down the hill at the village and the harbor. Tarbert Castle would survive, he thought, but too many of its inhabitants had not.

Frowning, he turned his attention back to the cleric.

“Aye, his name was Evers.” The old priest was upset and growing more agitated with each question.

Something wasn’t right, Rob thought. Why would Evers leave his army in the Highlands only to sail down the western coast of Scotland? Compared with all the bulging abbey vaults and coffers that he’d already emptied, this castle seemed to offer nothing. So why come here? Why kill the laird?

But nothing made sense about this mission.

When the messenger arrived from France, where Henry Tudor was fighting at Boulogne, the king’s orders had been explicit. Rob was to find Sir Ralph Evers—Governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Commander in the North, Warden of the East March, High Sheriff of Durham. And then he was to kill the man. Not reprimand him. Not charge him with some crime. Not bring him back to face justice.

Find him and kill him.

And in return, Rob would be rewarded with the ultimate prize for a privateer: a letter of marque, issued by the king, giving him free rein to attack and plunder the ships of enemy nations. And right now, King Henry was at war with almost everyone. And that meant the potential for tremendous wealth.

Sense or nonsense, Rob had immediately weighed anchor and sailed north.

“You’re absolutely certain it was Sir Ralph Evers,” he stressed.

“It was him, I tell you. The devil himself. The Scourge of the Borders.”

Rob turned to look at the wisps of smoke still rising from the tower. His men were working side by side with the locals to put out the last of the fires and tend to the wounded. Bodies of the dead had been lined up along the castle wall. He glanced out at his ship, the Peregrine, anchored in the harbor.

He’d expected to be sailing farther north in search of his quarry. When he put in at Whitehaven for supplies, the commander there told him that Evers and his mongrel army had last been seen tearing through the Highlands in search of “the bloody Holy Grail, or some such thing.” But when they intercepted a small merchant vessel soon after leaving port, he learned that an Englishman had put Tarbert Castle to the torch not a day earlier. The brutality of the attack matched Evers’s style, and the MacDonnell stronghold was on his way. Rob had decided to stop. His decision had paid off.

“And this,” he said to the priest, gesturing toward the tower and the corpses, “the killing, the looting, the fire. You say all this happened after he discovered the laird’s wife was dead?”

“Aye. No one here will be mourning long for Angus MacDonnell. The man was a hard one, and as tough and tight as an old oyster. But his wife Muirne . . . that’s a woman who’ll be missed. Died not a fortnight ago.” The wiry cleric wrung his hands. “Och, nothing but anguish for us now. When the MacDonnell came as laird, we thought our lives would be better. They never were. But here, it’s come to this. It’ll be worse, for sure. Almost too much for my heart to bear.”

Rob shook his head. “Did Evers know the laird’s wife? Was there some arrangement that went astray? None of this makes any sense to me.”

“Nor to me,” the priest agreed, clutching the wooden cross at his belt. “But I know what I know.”

And Rob only believed what he could see with his own eyes. Sir Ralph Evers had been a valuable commander in the king’s service, but something had gone wrong with the man. He seemed to have defected, but not to fight with Scotland or France or Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire. As far as Rob could tell, Evers was fighting on his own side. But he didn’t believe a man as seasoned and honored as this one would give up everything to go off on some mythical quest. So why hade he done it?

To find and kill the man, Rob needed more answers.

“Tell me what happened.”

“Why should I tell you anything?” the priest grumbled. “You say you’re a Scot, and your crew looks to have Scots and Portuguese sailors, but I know you’re an Englishman and don’t try to deny it. You’re the pirate they call Black Hawk.”

“Pirate? Nay.” Rob glared at the old man. “My father is English. I’ll not deny that. But my mother was a Kennedy, born and bred in Moray. So I have Scots blood running in my veins that is as good as yours or anyone’s. And you be damned if you say I’ve done your folk any harm.”

The cleric looked away from him, staring at the men working together across the courtyard. He nodded.

“For your Kennedy blood, then, I’ll tell you. The Englishman came to Tarbert, invited by the laird. He was led into the Great Hall like a guest.”

Rob tried to imagine what kind of deal Angus MacDonnell would have made with a renegade commander like Evers.

The man pointed at the tower. “The laird was no fool. And that makes all this even harder to understand.”

Rob waited, seeing there was more the cleric wanted to say.

“When his men hauled me up from the village, I thought it was for a hanging. Mine.” He frowned at the memory. “The Great Hall was bloody with bodies. The laird himself was still sitting in his chair, dead as that stone. They dragged me straight to Evers, and I saw it for the first time. The face of Satan.”

“What did he want from you?”

The old man swayed slightly. “He wanted me to take him into the family crypt.”

Rob’s gaze swept across the wreckage left behind by Evers. “The crypt?”

The priest shrugged, shaking his head. “He wanted me to show him where the laird’s wife had been interred.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” The cleric grew pale. “I told him she wasn’t there. I told him how she died and that there was no body. But he didn’t believe me. When I swore it was the truth, I never saw such fury in a man’s eyes. I thought I was about to die. He kept after me. Asked so many questions. I don’t know what I answered . . . but then I happened to mention the daughter. I believe that saved my neck.”

“No body? Wait.” The puzzle was getting more complicated. “What daughter?”

“Miranda.” He hesitated. “There was never a more devoted daughter than that lass. And now she’s gone, too.”

Trying to understand the cleric was like untying a knot of wet rope. “What happened to the daughter?”

“Muirne MacDonnell had been sick for some time. Dying. Everyone knew it. Miranda always cared for her. Even took her on pilgrimages. Then, three weeks ago, the lass went off. Just disappeared.”

“And no one knows where this daughter went?”

“Not a soul, as far as I know,” the priest replied. “And we’ve all be missing that one, I tell you.”

“Why?”

“That lass has a way about her. Whenever there was a fire in a cottage, she was there. If a dog went mad, she was there. If the children were playing too close to the well, she was there. One day, she came running down to the village saying that schools of mullet were coming into the loch. Before you could say ‘Ave Maria,’ the harbor was alive with jumping fish. The folk ate well that whole winter because of her.”

Rob shook his head. He didn’t want to be distracted. “But the daughter just disappeared, and then the laird’s wife died?”

The priest clutched the cross again. “One evening—a few days after Miranda left—Muirne took a fisherman’s boat and rowed out into the firth. The next morning, they found the boat, but Muirne was not to be found.”

“Maybe the daughter fetched her—or someone else did. How do you know she was dead?”

“I cannot answer that. But the laird claimed that she fell in. Her illness had been growing harder for her to bear. Everyone knew she was growing weaker. If she fell out of the boat, by accident, she would have drowned for sure.”

The old priest swayed unsteadily. Fearing he might collapse, Rob helped the man over to a bench along the kitchen wall.

“And you told Evers this. You told him Muirne MacDonnell wasn’t buried there.”

“That’s so.”

“But he still went into the crypt?”

“Aye.” The priest frowned. “And something happened in there.”

“What do you mean?” Rob fought the frustration rising in him, but he needed to find out where Evers had gone from here.

“All I know is, the last thing he asked before he went in was where Miranda might have gone. She was the one he wanted next. No one had the answer. But when he came out, he called his commanders together. I heard him myself. They were setting sail for Mull. They were going to Duart Castle. You’d think he got his answer from the dead.”

***
Copyright © 2016 by May McGoldrick.
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Authors Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick (writing as May McGoldrick) weave emotionally satisfying tales of love and danger. Publishing under the names of May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey, these authors have written thirty-five novels and works of nonfiction for Penguin Putnam, Mira, HarperCollins, Entangled, and Heinemann. Nikoo, an engineer, also conducts frequent workshops on writing and publishing and serves as a Resident Author. Jim holds a Ph.D. in Medieval and Renaissance literature and teaches English in northwestern Connecticut.

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