FROM THE BACK COVER:
In 15th century Scotland, Gyllis Campbell arrives at the Beltane festival with one thing on her mind—to win the heart of Sir Sean MacDougall once and for all. Astonishingly, Sir Sean would like nothing more than to oblige the lovely lass.
But when news of his father’s death arrives, Sean races for Dunollie Castle. Unaware of Sean’s tragedy, Gyllis departs the festival thwarted. Worse, a terrible illness strikes her down, and she’s sent to the cloisters of Ardchattan Priory for healing.
The Scottish Highlands, Late Fifteenth Century
Gyllis Campbell forgot the pain in her backside when Dunstaffnage Castle came into view. It was all she could do not to dig in her heels, slap her riding crop against her mare’s rump and overtake their dreary entourage. But Mother would surely admonish such a display of unladylike exuberance.
In the castle foreground, blue and white striped tents festooned with colorful flags flapped in the breeze. The sight made butterflies flit about her stomach. If only she could hop off her horse, she’d be able to walk faster than the guards leading them. Gyllis had been looking forward to the annual Highland fete for ages. At long last they’d arrived and the rain had stopped. It would be Beltane on the morrow—May Day. And it couldn’t possibly rain on the opening day of the games.
Gyllis cast an excited grin toward her sister. “What is the first thing you plan to do?”
Helen licked her lips. “I can already smell the honeyed cryspes.”
Though only a year younger, Helen could be incredibly dull. She even opted to wear a veil and cover her lovely honey-colored locks, though she was a maid and within her rights to flaunt her beautiful tresses. “Sounds delicious,” Gyllis managed a disinterested reply. She set her sights on more interesting fare and scanned the scene for Highland warriors. Where is he?
“And you?” Helen asked.
“Hmm?” Gyllis focused on a gathering of well-armed knights ahead. No handsome lad with a head of thick dark locks among them. She could picture Sir Sean MacDougall in her mind’s eye as if she’d seen him only yesterday. She adored everything about the knight including his long, athletic legs she’d admired many times when he sparred in the courtyard as one of her brother’s Highland Enforcers. A potent and powerful man, Sir Sean’s face was as equally rugged and handsome as his form. It had been six months since she’d last seen him before he left to patrol the borders. But forever burned into her memory was the way his azure eyes had stared at her from across the table during last year’s Beltane festival. No man had ever gazed upon her with such fervent hunger. More so, his stare had awakened a longing deep within Gyllis’s soul that would not be forgotten.
“What will be the first thing you’ll do, silly?” Helen asked again.
Gyllis waggled her brows. “I want to watch the games.”
“But they do not start until the morrow.” Helen tsked her tongue. “Bless it, you are incorrigible.” She leaned toward Gyllis. “I know what you’re doing.”
“So?” she snorted. “Eoin will be here, too.”
Helen whipped her head around so fast, she nearly fell off her mount. “Wheesht. Ma will hear you.”
Gyllis glanced over her shoulder at her mother and younger twin sisters. Bogle’s bones, she and the lassies would all need to find husbands soon. She had long past attained the age of twenty. Many highborn lasses were wed by ten and six—the same age as Alice and Marion. Yet her brother, the all-powerful and domineering Lord of Glenorchy, frowned upon every available noble who passed through Kilchurn Castle’s gates. Well, Gyllis had decided it was time to take matters into her own hands, lest she end up a spinster. If her brother deemed no one suitable to place a ring on her finger, she would follow her heart—a love interest she had harbored for years.
“Gyllis?” The commanding tone in Mother’s voice made her sit straighter. “Have you seen Duncan?”
I’d prefer it if my overbearing brother remained on the borders. “Not as of yet.”
“His missive said he would meet us at the gate.”
Gyllis eyed the barbican and the long pathway leading to Dunstaffnage’s immense grey stone walls. “Perhaps we shall see him when our entourage proceeds closer to the castle.”
“Can we not stop and look at the wares first?” asked Alice, Gyllis’s youngest sister—aside from Marion who was born moments later.
Mother cleared her throat. “No one will be doing any browsing at the fete until we are settled in our rooms.”
Gyllis rolled her eyes to the sky. “The servants will see to that. We’ll be in their way.”
“Oh?” Mother said. “And how will you know where you’ll be sleeping?”
Gyllis grinned at Helen. “You can tell us, Ma.”
“Ungrateful children,” Mother sighed. “It shan’t take long. Together we will proceed to our rooms and I’ll hear no further argument.”
With a wink, Gyllis leaned toward her sister and whispered, “You’ll have to wait a wee bit longer for those honeyed cryspes.”
“And you must put off ogling Sir Sean.”
Her heart fluttered at the mention of his name. She flicked her riding crop at Helen. “I’ll wager you’ll be dancing with Sir Eoin MacGregor this eve.”
Helen grasped the crop and yanked it from Gyllis’s hand. “You are shameless.”“And you are ungrateful.” Gyllis snatched the whip back. “Remember, I am the one who intends to keep the Campbell sisters from spinsterhood.”
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