Spotlight and Giveaway–The Raider by Monica McCarty

Reaching into my Random House goodie bag, I have this special surprise to share!  Check out the prologue from Monica McCarty’s The Raider, and then enter for your chance to win a digital copy!!  Thanks again to the awesome peeps at Random House for making this weekend’s spotlights and giveaways possible!

After consolidating his gains against the enemy English, King Robert the Bruce of Scotland sends his best soldiers to fortify the lawless borders. These legendary warriors of the Highland Guard let nothing come before king and country—except the calling of their heart.



Of all Bruce’s elite warriors, Robert “Raider” Boyd is the most formidable. A true patriot whose bare hands are a deadly weapon, Robbie is the fierce enforcer of the Guard, and his hatred of the English has been honed to a razor-sharp edge. But vengeance proves bittersweet when his enemy’s beautiful sister falls into his hands and he finds himself fighting temptation—a battle he badly wants to lose.
Lady Rosalin Clifford barely recognizes the rebel prisoner she saved from execution six years ago. Though her girlish ideals for fairness have matured into a passion for justice, Rosalin believes she betrayed her brother when she helped this dangerous man escape.  Now her traitorous act has come back to haunt her. But she can’t deny the longing this tormented warrior ignites in her, or deny the passion that turns sworn enemies into lovers. Is the gentle love of a true English Rose enough to free Scotland’s most brutal warrior from a path of vengeance—before it’s too late?

The Raider – Prologue by Monica McCarty:

Kildrummy Castle, Scottish Highlands, October 1306

Killed? Rosalin nearly choked on a bit of beef.

“Are  you all right?”  her brother asked,  leaning  over to pat her on the back.

After a burst  of coughing,  she took  a sip of sweetened wine and nodded.  “I’m fine.” Seeing his concern, she managed a smile. “Really.  I’m sorry  for the disturbance. You were saying something  about  the prisoners?”

Her attempt at nonchalance didn’t fool him. He frowned. He’d been speaking in a low voice to her guardian, Sir Humphrey, on his other  side, and  the conversation obviously  hadn’t  been  meant  for  her  ears.  She blinked  up  at him  innocently,  but  Robert,  the  first Baron  de Clifford, hadn’t become one of the most important commanders in the war against the rebel Scots because of his rank and handsome  face—although  he  certainly   possessed  both. Nay, he’d risen so high in King Edward’s estimation be- cause he was smart,  loyal,  and  determined. He was also one of the greatest knights in England, and she was fiercely proud  of him.

Even if he was entirely too perceptive.

“An unfortunate accident, that is all. Part of the wall collapsed  when the prisoners  were dismantling it. Two of the rebels were crushed by the stone and killed.”

Her  heart  jumped  to her throat and  a small cry of distress  escaped  before  she  could  help  it.  Oh  God,  please don’t let it be him!

Aware of her brother’s watchful  gaze, she attempted to cover her too concerned  reaction  with a maidenly, “That’s horrible!”

He studied  her a little longer, and then patted  her hand. “Do not let it distress you.”

But she was distressed.  Deeply distressed.  Although  she certainly couldn’t tell her brother why. If he learned about her fascination with  one of the rebel prisoners,  he would send her back to London  on the first ship, as he’d threatened  to  do  when  she’d arrived  unexpectedly a week ago with  her new guardian, Sir Humphrey de Bohun,  Earl of Hereford.

“Christ’s   Cross,   Rosalin!   This   is  the   last  place  in

Christendom suitable for a young girl.”

But the opportunity to see Cliff had been too tempting to resist. With her in London  and her brother fighting the Scottish rebels in the North, it had been nearly two years since she’d seen him, and she missed him desperately.  He, Maud (Cliff’s wife of eight years), and the children were all the  family  she  had  left,  and  if she  had  to  venture  into Hades to see them, she would. Maud  would have made the journey with Rosalin and the earl’s party, but she’d just discovered she was with child again.

“I don’t understand why the wall is being dismantled in the first place,” Rosalin said. “I thought we won the war?” Her  distraction worked.  Cliff loved nothing  more  than

to talk  about  England’s great  victory.  Robert  Bruce’s bid for the crown had failed. The outlaw  king had been forced to flee Scotland, and the English were now occupying most of Scotland’s important castles, including this one, the former stronghold of the Scottish Earls of Mar.

“We  did.  Robert  Bruce’s short-lived  rebellion  is at  an end. He might have escaped the noose set for him at Dunaverty Castle, but he won’t find refuge in the Western Isles for long. Our fleet will find him.” He shrugged. “Even if they don’t, he only has a handful  of men left under  his command.”

She lowered  her  voice  to  a  whisper.  “But  aren’t  they

Highlanders?”

Her brother laughed and tweaked  her nose. Though sixteen—nearly seventeen—was  much  too  old for tweaking, she didn’t mind. She knew just how fortunate she was to have a brother who cared for her so deeply. Not  many fourteen-year-old  boys  would  have  bothered themselves with  a four-year-old sister on the death  of their  parents, but Cliff had always watched  out for her. Even when they were both  made  wards  of the king,  he always  made  sure she knew  she was  not  alone.  If he sometimes  acted  like more of an overprotective father than a brother, she didn’t mind. To her, he was both.

“They  aren’t  bogeymen,  little  one.  Or  supermen,   no matter  what you might hear at court. They might fight like barbarians, but when they meet the steel of an English knight’s sword,  their blood runs as red as any other.”

As she wasn’t supposed  to be watching  the prisoners,  she refrained   from  asking  why  they  were  kept  so  heavily guarded  then.

Her brother turned  back to Sir Humphrey, and Rosalin bided her time, waiting  for the long midday  meal to come to  an  end  before  racing  up  to  her  chamber  in the  Snow Tower.

Usually she delayed her return  to her chamber  as long as possible. Cliff had permitted her to stay in Scotland at Kildrummy  only under  the condition that  she keep to her room  except for during  meals and chapel (he didn’t want there to be any chance of her coming into contact  with one of them),  and  the small chamber  had  begun  to feel like a prison.  (When  she protested that  it wasn’t fair, the other ladies in Sir Humphrey’s party  weren’t being confined, he replied that the other ladies were not his sixteen-year-old sister!) But right now all she could think about was the window  that looked over the courtyard and shield-shaped curtain  wall.  The  same  curtain  wall  that  had  collapsed and killed the two prisoners.

Her heart raced as fast as her feet as she climbed the seven—seven!—flights of stairs to the top level of the luxurious tower. The Scots might be “rebellious barbarians,” but they certainly knew how to build castles, which was one of the reasons King Edward was so anxious to have Kildrummy destroyed. The “Hammer of the Scots,” as King Edward was known,  was making sure no other  rebels could use the formidable stronghold as a refuge in the future.

Bright  sunlight  filled the  room  as  she  drew  open  the heavy door  of the lord’s chamber  and  tore  past  the enormous wooden  bed, the half-unpacked trunks  carrying her belongings,  and  the  small  table  that  held  a  pitcher  and basin for washing.  Heart  now  in her throat, she knelt  on the bench under the window,  leaned on the thick stone sill, and  peered through the fine glazed window  to the court- yard below.

She knew it was wrong,  and her brother would  be furious to discover her fascination with the rebel prisoner,  but she couldn’t help it. There was something  about  him that stood out. And it wasn’t just his formidable size or his handsome face, although she had to admit  that  was what had  attracted her  initially.  Nay,  he  was  . . . kind.  And noble. Even if he was a rebel. How many times had she watched  him take the blame (and thus the punishment) for one of the weaker  men? Or shoulder  more than  his share of the burden  of the work?

He couldn’t be . . .

She refused to finish the thought and scanned the cobble courtyard and wall area between  the southeast tower  and newly constructed gatehouse where the prisoners were working.

In the crowd  of men near  the wall there  were no more than a handful of the rebels, but they were being guarded by at least a score of her brother’s men. Given the state of the prisoners,  it seemed an overabundance of caution.  Perhaps when  the  castle  was  first taken  over  a month  ago  such  a show of force might have been warranted, but  stripped  of their crude leather warcoats and weapons,  after weeks of imprisonment with barely  enough  food and  water  to keep them alive, and being worked nearly to death all day, the raggedy-looking prisoners  appeared ill equipped  to mount much of a resistance.

Except for one.

She looked  and  looked,  the  panic  rising  in  her  chest. Where was he? Had he been one of the men crushed?

Hot tears prickled her eyes, and she told herself she was being ridiculous. He was a prisoner.  A Scot. One of Robert the Bruce’s rebels.

But he was also . . .

Her heart slammed,  and she let out a small cry of relief, when  the  powerfully  built  warrior stepped  out  from  be- hind the wall.

Thank God! He was all right. More than all right, actually—he  was spectacular.

She sighed with every bit of her almost-seventeen-year-old heart.  The  women  at  court  teased  her  mercilessly  about her naivety and innocence. “You’re such a child, Rosielin,” they’d say with a roll of the eyes when she dared to venture into   their   conversations  (the  nickname   sounded   much nicer coming from her brother than from them).

Well, she certainly  wasn’t feeling like a child now.  For the first time in her life, she was feeling like a woman  utterly entranced by a man.

And what a man! He was the fodder of legend and bard’s tales. Tall and broad-shouldered, his dark hair hanging in long tangled  waves around a brutishly  handsome face, he was one of the strongest,  most imposing-looking warriors she’d ever seen.

As if to prove her point,  he bent down to pick up an enormous stone.  Her breath  caught  and her heart  started to flutter  wildly in her chest.  Despite  the coolness  in the room,  her skin warmed  with a flush. The damp linen shirt stretched across his broad chest with the effort, revealing every ridge, every bulge, every sharply defined muscle straining  underneath—of which there were an abundance. Even weakened by imprisonment, he looked strong enough to tear apart  a garrison  of soldiers with his bare hands.

She revised her earlier  opinion:  Perhaps  the large number of soldiers keeping watch was prudent after all.

Only when he disappeared around the other side of the wall  did  she remember  to  breathe  again.  A few minutes later, he reappeared and it would start all over again. Every now and then, he would exchange a word or two with one of the  prisoners,  before  one  of the  guards  broke  it up— usually with the flick of a switch.

He spoke most often to a tall, blond-haired man, though he  wasn’t  as  friendly  to  him  as  he  was  with  the  third red-haired man.  He was also tall, but that  was where the similarities  ended.  More  than  any of the other  prisoners, the  red-haired man  was  showing  the  effects of the  hard labor.  He was gaunt and pale, and every day he seemed to grow more stooped.

The Scot—that  is how she thought of the impressive warrior—did what  he could to help him when the guards were not looking,  by shouldering some of his rocks or taking his place in line to wield the hammer.  She’d even seen the  Scot  pass  the  other  man  the  precious  few  ladles  of water they were allowed during their brief breaks.  But the man was fading before her eyes.

She turned  away from the window.  She had to stop. She couldn’t do this. It made her feel so helpless. She knew they were rebels and deserved to be punished, but the man was going to die. That he would probably be executed anyway when  the  work  was  done  didn’t  matter.  No  one  should suffer like that.

She picked up her needlework, but she put it down a few minutes later and returned her gaze to the window.

She couldn’t  look  away.  She had  to do something.  But what? Her brother had warned  her not to interfere.

The answer  came to her the next morning  after church. As she was leaving morning  prayers,  she caught  sight of a serving woman  carrying  a large bowl and a few pieces of bread  toward the  prison—a  paltry  amount for  so many men.

That was it! She would leave them extra food.

It took her a few days to come up with a plan, but eventually she was ready to put it in motion.

Sneaking extra bits of beef was the easy part. She wrapped them in the cloth she kept at her lap while she ate, and then tucked  the bundle  in the purse at her waist before she left. Getting  the food  to the prisoners,  however,  was the challenge.

She’d watched  the prisoners  enough  to know  their routine. Every morning  the guards  led them out  through the small  courtyard  between   the  chapel  and  the  damaged Great Hall to the main courtyard. They were lined up and given  instructions before  being  permitted to  collect  the carts, which were stored on the side of the bakehouse. The carts were what she was aiming for.

That  night,  when  the  castle  was  quiet,  she  donned  a dark  cloak  and  snuck  out  of  the  tower.  Keeping  to  the shadows,  she worked  her way around the yard, careful to avoid any guards who might be on patrol. But it was remarkably quiet.  With  the rebel forces crushed,  there  was little threat  of an attack.  She quickly deposited  her bundle in one of the carts and made her way back up to her chamber.

The next morning  she watched  from her window  as one of the men returned with the cart, immediately went to the Scot, and surreptitiously passed him the bundle.  The Scot looked  around, as if suspecting  a trick,  but  when  one of the guards  barked  an order  at him—presumably to get to work—she  saw the faint twist of a smile.

That smile was all the encouragement she needed. Her nighttime  excursions  continued for a week, and she swore the dark  red-haired man grew stronger.  Many  of the men seemed to walk a little taller.

She knew her brother would  be furious  if he discovered what she was doing—and she hated the idea of a secret between them—but she told herself it was but a small gesture and could do no harm.

But she was wrong.  Terribly wrong.

Rosalin  yawned  as one of the attendants who’d accompanied her from London finished twisting her long plaits under  the  veil and  circlet.  “You  look  tired,  m’lady,”  the older woman  said, a concerned  look in her eye. “Are you not feeling well?”

After eight nights the loss of sleep was catching up with her, but Rosalin  managed  a smile. “Well enough,  Lenore. Nothing a few extra  hours  of sleep won’t cure. I fear I’ve been staying up with my brother and the earl—”

A shout  from  the courtyard below  made her stop  what she’d been about  to say.

“I wonder  what that is all about,” Lenore said.

But  Rosalin  had  already  jumped  from  the  chair  and raced to the window. Her heart stopped, a strangled cry escaping from between her lips before she could smother  it with  her hand.  The red-haired rebel was kneeling  in the dirt, holding his side where one of the soldiers must have struck  him.  The  cloth  and  pieces of beef and  bread  that she’d smuggled out to them last night were strewn  on the ground  in front  of him. The soldier was shouting  at him, using his fists and  the back  of his hand  to punctuate his words.

It wasn’t hard to guess what he was asking.

The red-haired man  shook  his head  and  the soldier  hit him again—this  time with so much force his head snapped back and blood sprayed around him like a bubble that had popped.

He crumpled  to the ground.

She cried  out  in  horror, and  Lenore  tried  to  pull  her away. “Come away, m’lady. Those vile beasts are not fit for your eyes. Brigands and barbarians, that’s what they are. I hope your brother draws and quarters every one of them!” Rosalin barely heard her words. She shook her off, crying out again as she sensed—she knew—what the Scot would do. He roared  forward, tossing off the two soldiers who’d been holding him as if they were poppets.  His fist slammed into the jaw of the soldier who’d beaten his friend. The soldier had barely hit the ground  when the Scot was over him, driving  his powerful  fist into  him  again  and  again  like a battering ram until the soldier lay motionless on the ground. It seemed there  was a stunned  pause  before  the courtyard erupted  in chaos.

Lenore gasped in horror from behind  her. “The  prisoners are attacking!”

“No. Oh God, no,”  Rosalin  groaned  softly as the melee ensued. What  have I done?

The Scot fought like a man possessed, like one of those berserkers  of Norse legend. Using nothing  but his hands, he fended off half a dozen of her brother’s men. Each time one of them  tried  to  get hold  of him,  he made  some  kind  of quick maneuver and twisted out of the man’s grasp. Usually the soldiers ended up on their backs. The blond-haired prisoner had managed  to grab one of the hammers  used to take down the wall and had taken a position  at the Scot’s flank. Together  they were a two-man army.

One  by one the other  prisoners  were subdued,  but  the two men seemed as if they could hold off capture  forever. But of course they couldn’t. Without armor  and proper weaponry, all it took  was one well-placed  pike in the side of the blond-haired warrior, and  one powerful  hit of the hammer  on the ribs of the Scot, and  the English had  re-

gained the upper hand.

Her heart was pounding. Tears were streaming  from her eyes as her brother’s soldiers surrounded the two men.

God in heaven, they are going to kill them!

Without thinking  of what  she was doing, only knowing she had  to put  a stop  to the fighting, she raced  down  the stairs, heedless of Lenore’s worried cries behind her. She reached  the yard  only moments  after  her brother and  his men, two of whom  prevented  her from going farther  than a few feet beyond the tower door.  “You shouldn’t be here, my lady,” one of the men said. “Go back to the tower. This will all be over soon.”

That was exactly what she feared.

“I need to see my brother.” She tried to look around one of the men,  but  with  the crowd  of people  who’d  flooded the courtyard she couldn’t see anything.

She heard  her brother’s voice from  up ahead.  “What is the meaning of this?”

A  series  of  English  voices  responded  with  “stealing food,” “find out,” and “Scots attacked.”

“Your man was beating a man to death for something he could  not  answer.  He  would  have  killed  him  had  I not stopped  him.”

The  sound   of  the  deep,  powerful   voice  reverberated through her like a clap of thunder, jolting in its intensity. It was her Scot; she knew it.

Her brother said something  she couldn’t hear and a few more English voices went back and forth.

Then  her  brother spoke  again.  “Take  him  to  the  pit, where he won’t incite a damned  riot.”

“Is this your English justice, Clifford?” that  deep voice sneered. “Killing a man for defending someone who could not  fight back?  I could  have  taken  a dozen  of your  men with me—next time I will.”

Rosalin  tried  to  push  through again,  but  one  of  the men—a knight who she thought was named Thomas— forcibly held her back. “Your  brother won’t like you being here, my lady. You need to get back to the tower.”

“But what will happen  to them?”

He gave her a quizzical look. “Why,  they’ll be executed, of course.”

The blood  drained  from her face. She must have looked like she was going to faint, because he called another one of the soldiers over and together  they steered her back into the tower.

Rosalin   waited   for  what   seemed  like  hours   for  her brother to return  to his solar. Her hands twisted anxiously in her lap. The glass of wine that  she’d drunk  for courage tossed in her stomach.

She dreaded  the conversation ahead  of her but  knew  it could not be avoided.  She couldn’t let those men be killed because of what she’d done.

It was dark  when  her brother finally entered  the room. He looked  surprised  to see her. “What are you doing here, Rosielin? I thought you’d be readying for the evening meal.” He frowned,  seeing the distress on her face. “Is something wrong?”

She blinked  up  at  him,  feeling  the  heat  gather  in  her throat and behind  her eyes. “It’s all my fault!”  Unable to hold  back,  the  tears  and  emotion  came  pouring  out.  “I gave them the food. I didn’t think there would be any harm and they looked so hungry.  I was only trying to help.”  She latched  on to his arm,  tears  streaming  down  her cheeks. “You  can’t punish them.”

The  jumbled  confession  took  him  a  moment   to  sort through, but  when  he  did,  his  face  darkened. It  wasn’t often that  her brother was angry with her, and she hated it. “Damn it, Rosalin,  I told you to stay away from them! Do you have any idea how dangerous those men are?”

“I do. I swear I didn’t go anywhere  near them.”  She explained  how  she  took  the  scraps  of  food  to  the  cart  at night. He seemed to relax a little, and his expression wasn’t quite as thunderous. “I only wanted to ease their suffering. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

He gave her a long, steady  look.  “You  never meant  for things like this to happen,  which is exactly why you don’t belong here. Your heart is too soft for war. These men are not one of your scullery maids with blistered hands or a serving wench who needs to spend more time with her sick baby rather  than tend her duties.”

“But Katie’s hands were so chapped  they were bleeding, and it wasn’t fair that Meggie lost a week’s pay because she missed a few hours—”

Her  brother held  up  his  hand,   stopping   her.  “That’s what  I’m trying to say. These men are hardened killers— they are not deserving of your kindness.”

She bowed  her head, unable  to meet his gaze. “I had to do something.”

She heard  him sigh and a moment  later, he wrapped his arm around her and drew her to his side. Relief that  he’d forgiven her only made her sob harder.  “I’m so sorry.”

He  murmured soothing  words  and  rocked  her  against him until she quieted.  It reminded  her of the night her father  had  died,  and  the night  less than  a year later  when their mother  had followed. “You can’t stay here, little one. I should have sent you home right away, but I was selfish. I missed  you,  and  seeing  your  face  was  like  a  breath   of spring air in this cesspit.” She looked  up at him,  eyes burning. “You  are sending me away?”

Please, not that. Anything but that.

He nodded  solemnly.  “Aye, but  only for a while. I will come see you in London  as soon  as I am done  here. The king will wish a report,  and I can give it to him personally. I  will  bring   Maud   and   the  children.   You’d  like  that, wouldn’t you?” She nodded; he knew she would. He smiled teasingly. “Besides, I want to see all these suitors Hereford has been telling me about.”

Heat crawled up her cheeks. That was one of the reasons she’d come. The attention at court had become impossible and none of the men interested  her. No man had interested her until . . .

“Does that mean you will spare them?”

It took him a moment  to follow her leap in conversation. His mouth  tightened—whether from anger or the unpleasantness of the topic, she didn’t know.

“Your  misguided charity changes nothing.” “But it isn’t fair—”

He  cut  her  off in a voice that  brokered no  argument. “This  is  war,  Rosalin.   Fair  doesn’t  enter  into  it.  They nearly killed three of my men. Whatever  the provocation, prisoners  cannot  be allowed to fight back. Ever. Especially these prisoners.  They are not worth  your tears.”

“But—”

He  cut  her  off  again,  his  face getting  that  implacable, we’re-done-talking-about-it look.  “I will hear  no more  on the subject. These men have been given only a temporary reprieve  from  the executioner’s axe.  But they have proved too  dangerous even for that.  They are brigands  who  fight without chivalry and honor. Their leader is a vicious scourge who would slit your pretty neck without thinking twice. Do you understand?”

Her eyes widened.  Her brother spoke with such conviction, but his words did not jibe with the man she’d watched the past  couple  weeks.  Knowing  that  Cliff would  not  be gainsaid,  all she could do was nod.

He smiled.  “Good, then  we will hear  no more  of this. What’s this I hear about  your  taking  after our  illustrious ancestor?”

Rosalin blushed at the gentle teasing about her embarrassing nickname. Their infamous great-great-great-aunt Rosamund Clifford had captured the heart of King Henry II and had gone down in history as “The Fair Rosamund.” Apparently, the men at court had taken to calling her “The Fair Rosalin.”

She tried to play along with her brother’s teasing, but she could not forget the horrible fate awaiting the men in the prison,  especially  the  one  languishing  in  the  pit  prison, who’d been forced to defend his friend because of her.

All through the evening meal and the long hours  of the night it stayed with her. She could think of nothing  else.

It  was  wrong.  The  word  echoed  over  and  over  in her head no matter  what  she tried to do. Eventually  the voice grew too  loud  to ignore.  Sometime  in the small hours  of the night, she rose from bed, donned  a pair of slippers and a dark  hooded  cloak, and slipped out of her chamber.  She didn’t know whether  she could do anything,  but she knew she had to try.

This was partially  her fault,  and  rightly  or wrongly,  if she didn’t do something,  she would feel responsible  for the deaths of those men for the rest of her life.

But it was one man’s death  that  would  haunt  her.  The man she’d watched for over two weeks, the man who’d sacrificed  himself,  who  had  selflessly given his food  and shouldered more of the burden  for his friend,  did not de- serve to die. She knew it deep in her soul with a certainty that  could not be ignored.  War or not,  it was wrong,  and she had to try to make it right, even if . . . even if it meant letting him go free.

Once  the  treacherous thought was  out,  it felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  She knew what she had to do—or try to do, if it were possible. Exiting  the Snow Tower,  she paused  in the shadows  to get her bearings.  She didn’t have a plan. All she knew was that the Scot had been moved to the pit prison,  which was located below the old keep next to the burned-down Great Hall.  She’d  walked  past  it  every  night  on  making  her deliveries—quickly,  as the  forbidding old  stone  building hadn’t been used in some time and seemed very dark.  But there  was a torch  there  now,  burning  from  its iron  perch beside the doorway. Drawing  a little closer, she kept tight

to the shadows  of the wall and watched.

Dear  God,  what  was she doing?  She couldn’t  help but feel the  impossibility  of her  plight.  How  was  a sixteen- year-old  girl  going  to  break  anyone  out  of  a  pit  prison without help? Without a plan? She couldn’t very well just walk in there, open the door,  and pull him out.

Could she?

What about  the guards? Even though  she couldn’t see anyone  right now,  and the pit prison  offered little chance of escape, there had to be at least one.

There was. A soldier appeared from the direction  of the warden’s  tower,   where  the  prisoners   were  being  held, walked back and forth a few times in front of the entry to the  old  keep,  and  then  disappeared. About  five minutes later he did it again. After two more times, she had to hope it was a pattern. The next time he left, she waited until he was around the corner  and  then darted  into  the entrance of the keep.

It was pitch black and cold. Very cold. Chill-run-down- your-spine  cold.

There are no such thing as ghosts . . . no such thing as ghosts.

But if the dead were ever inclined to walk the earth,  this would be the perfect place to do so.

After  giving her  eyes a few moments  to  adjust  to  the darkness,  she moved around the room,  looking for the entrance  to the pit prison,  finding it in a small stone  antechamber  off the main entry. The room  was no more than three or four feet wide, with a small wooden door covering one corner  of the stone  floor. She heaved  a sigh of relief, seeing that the door had a simple latch rather  than a lock. How  many  minutes  had  gone  by? Two,  maybe  three? Very carefully  she slid the iron  latch,  her heart  stopping more  than  a  few  beats  when  it  squeaked—loudly.  She froze,  but  when  no  one  came  rushing  in  with  a  sword drawn,  she slid the latch fully out of the way and grabbed the edge of the wooden  door to lift.

It was heavier  than  it appeared, and  she struggled,  but finally managed to open it. A rush of cold, dank air pushed her  back  for  a moment,  but  eventually  she kneeled  over the hole and  peered  down  into  the darkness.  It was dead silent. At first she didn’t see anything,  but then she saw the unmistakable glow of white gazing up at her.

She startled.

“Morning already?” he sneered. “I was just getting comfortable.”

God,  that voice! Deep and powerful,  it seemed to reverberate through her bones. “Shhh,” she whispered. “The guard will be coming back.”

Though  she knew it was impossible, she swore she could see him stiffen with surprise.

“Who  are you?”

“Shhh,” she pleaded again. “Please. The guard will hear you.”

Leaving the door  open, she raced out of the small ante- chamber  and  plastered  her  back  to  the  wall  next  to  the entry.  Holding  her  breath  for  what  seemed  like eternity, she waited  for the guard  to approach. With each footstep her heart stopped,  starting  only when she heard the fall of the next. When the footsteps  finally moved away, she ran back to the room.

“We have to hurry,” she whispered. “He’ll be back in a few minutes.”

The  Scot  didn’t  waste   time  questioning  her,  taking charge in the coolly efficient manner  of a man accustomed to the role. “They  lowered  me down  with a rope tied to a latch in the wall. See if it’s still there.”

His voice was closer now, and she realized he must be standing  right  below  her.  Probably  only  a few feet separated them. She shuddered or shivered, she didn’t know which, but turned  around to do his bidding. She found the iron peg in the stone wall and sure enough,  an old, frayed piece of rope  was tied around it. Picking up the end, she moved back to the opening.

Seeing her shadow  return,  he asked, “Did you find it?” “Yes.”

“Throw it down.”

She hesitated;  suddenly  the full import  of what  she was doing hit her.

After a long pause he spoke. His voice was harder—with disappointment maybe? “Change your mind?”

Had  she? No.  She wasn’t wrong  about  him. But still, it was one thing to watch a man from a window  and admire him and another to have him right next to you. “If I help you,  you  have  to  promise  to  leave without hurting  any- one.”

“I will not leave my friends behind to die.”

She’d anticipated that.  It was one of the reasons she was here—a  noble  leader  would  not  leave his men.  “But  you will  give  me  your  word   you  will  not  hurt   any  of  the guards?”

He made  a sharp  sound  that  might  have been a laugh. “My word is good enough for you?”

“It is.”

He paused  as if her answer  surprised  him. “Very  well, you have my word that I will do my best to see that no one is killed.”

He  spoke  the  words  with  the  solemnity  of a vow.  She had  no  reason  to  trust  him,  and  yet she did.  Enough  to drop the rope.

She moved  back,  and  in a shockingly  few moments  he was standing  in front  of her. Looming in front  of her, actually.  His large, muscular  frame seemed to fill the entire room.  Jesu, he was even taller and more formidably built than  she’d realized!  Instinctively,  she shrank  back,  every one of her brother’s  warnings  suddenly  running  through her mind.

Cut your throat . . . Vile barbarian . . . Vicious brute . . . He stilled. “You’ve nothing  to fear, lass. I will not harm

you. I owe you my life.”

Some of  her  fear  dissipated.  He  might  be  built  like  a brute,  but  the  man  inside  was  noble  of  heart.  She just wished  it weren’t  so dark.  She wanted  to see his face up close, but she couldn’t make out much more than shadows. Her other  senses worked  perfectly,  however,  and mingled with the dank  air of the pit, she caught  the musky edge of a  well-worked body  that  was  not  as  unpleasant as  she would have expected.

“Who  are you?”  he asked.

She shook her head. “It’s not important.” “Why are you doing this?”

She wasn’t sure she knew herself, but standing  here with him, she knew it was right. “It was my fault. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt—I was only trying to help.”

“You brought the food.” He said it as if the last piece of a puzzle had just been fit into place, and it still didn’t make sense.

She nodded.

“How old are you, lass?”

Something  in his voice caused her to throw  up her chin and straighten her spine. “Eighteen,” she lied.

She could  almost  hear  him smile. He couldn’t be more than  a handful  of years older  than  she, but  he made  her feel so young. Even in the darkness  it seemed as if he could see right through her. As if he knew her reason for helping him. He was probably used to women admiring  him. Used to young,  starry-eyed  “lasses”  who made themselves silly over him.

But it wasn’t like that. She was righting a wrong. Mostly. “No matter what your age, what you are doing is a kindness, and  I thank  you for it. What  happened is not  your fault,  though  I won’t say I regret  your  thinking  so, since otherwise  I would still be in that pit.” He stopped,  hearing something.

Oh God, the guard! She’d been so distracted by him that she’d  forgotten about  the  guard.  The  soldier  must  have heard  something  and  was  coming  to  investigate.  Before she realized  what  was  happening, the  Scot grabbed  her, pulled her against him, and put his hand over her mouth.

She gasped  soundlessly,  first with  shock  and  then  with ice-cold fear.  She felt as if she’d been enveloped  in steel. Every inch of him was hard and unyielding, from the chest plastered  against  her  back  to  the  rock-hard arm  tucked under  her breasts.  She tried  to squirm  free, but  he tight- ened his clamplike  hold,  stopping  her. When  he enfolded her  hand  in his big, callused  one,  a strange  warmth engulfed her. Not realizing what he was trying to do, she startled—at least she thought the shudder running through her was a startle.  Capturing her fingers, he gently folded back four fingers and then three.

Suddenly,  she understood. She pointed  one finger. One guard.   He  nodded   and  slowly  released  his  hand   from around her mouth.  She realized that he’d grabbed  her only to prevent her from making any startled  sound.

Her mind might know that,  but her heart was still slamming against  her chest with the aftereffects.  Yet she knew that  was not  the only reason.  She was suddenly  aware  of him.  Aware  of him  in “a  woman  who’s  being  held  by a man for the first time”  kind of way. He might be made of steel, but he was warm.  Very warm.  And no man had ever held  her  so  intimately.   She  had  the  sensation   of  being tucked  in against  him, every part  of their bodies fitted in snug and  tight.  She was sure it was highly improper, and she would  be shocked  later,  but  right  now  all she could think  was how  incredible  it felt. Like she was warm  and safe and nothing  would ever hurt her.

He inched them against  the wall, turning  her toward it to protect  her with his body. She could feel the muscles in his body tense as torchlight flooded the main chamber  of the keep. The light drew nearer and nearer. The guard was coming this way!

She couldn’t breathe.  Both from fear and from being pressed up against a stone wall with a steel one behind her.

“What the hell?”

The soldier had noticed the open pit. He walked into the room and held the torch over the pit. The Scot sprang into action. He moved so fast, the soldier never had a chance. A sharp blow to the soldier’s throat and a jab to the stomach pushed  him back. He managed  a cry of surprise  before he fell into  the  hole.  The  torch  went  black  and  a  moment later, the door was slammed shut.

The Scot spun her around to face him. “I have to go. They’ll come looking for him.”

She nodded  wordlessly,  still stunned  by how fast it had happened.

“You  will be all right?”  he asked.  “I will do what  I can to make it seem as if we had no help.”

“I will be fine.” She paused,  wanting  to say something but not knowing  what.  “Please, you had best go quickly.” But she didn’t want him to go. She wished . . . she wished she had  a chance  to  know  this  man  who’d  captured her

heart.

Perhaps  he’d heard her hesitation—and guessed the reason for it. He turned to do as she bid, but then he, too, hesitated.  Before she realized what  he was going to do, he cupped her chin in his big hand, tipped her head back, and touched   his  lips  to  hers.  She  had  the  fleeting  sense  of warmth and surprising  softness before it was gone.

“Thank you, lass. One day I hope we shall meet again, so I can repay you in full.”

She watched  with  her  heart  in her  throat as he disappeared  into  the  darkness.   She brought her  hand  to  her mouth  as if she could keep the moment  there forever.

It had  been a kiss of gratitude. The barest  brushing  of mouths,  with no intent of passion.  Even brotherly—on his part, at least. But in that one instant, she felt a spark of something big and powerful and magical. Something extraordinary. Something wonderful.

She might  have  stood  like  that  until  morning,   but  a sound  from  the  pit  prison  below  roused   her  from  her dreamlike  state.

Rosalin  raced out of the keep and back up the stairs to her chamber,  knowing  that  she might live with the repercussions of this night forever, but she would never regret it.

Copyright by Monica McCarty

About the author:

Monica McCarty is the bestselling author of The Hunter, The Recruit, The Saint, The Viper, The Ranger, The Hawk, and The Chief, the first seven books in the Highland Guard series, the Highlander trilogy Highlander Untamed, Highlander Unmasked, and Highlander Unchained, and the Campbell trilogy Highland Warrior, Highland Outlaw, and Highland Scoundrel. Her interest in the Scottish clan system began in the most unlikely of places: a comparative legal history course at Stanford Law School. After a short but enjoyable stint as an attorney, she realized that her career as a lawyer set against her husband’s transitory life as a professional baseball player was not exactly a match made in heaven. So she traded in her legal briefs for Scottish historical romances with sexy alpha heroes. Monica McCarty lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their two children.

If you enjoyed the excerpt, you can order The Raider here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-raider-monica-mccarty/1115717140?ean=9780345543936

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27 thoughts on “Spotlight and Giveaway–The Raider by Monica McCarty

  • February 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm
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    I really loved that excerpt! Now I want to read the book to find out how they meet again. :)

  • February 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm
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    congrats to Monica on the newest release! Thanks for sharing the prologue!

  • February 24, 2014 at 2:14 am
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    I love this series, can’t wait to read Raider’s book!

  • February 24, 2014 at 6:48 am
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    I am really looking forward to reading Raider. I enjoy Monica’s work and have her other books in my personal library. Thanks for sharing :)

  • February 24, 2014 at 8:33 am
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    Added to my TBR list :)

  • February 24, 2014 at 10:04 am
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    I would love to read this series. Thanks for the awesome giveaway.

  • February 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm
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    You’re one of my favorite historical authors and your books are always an auto-buy for me.

  • February 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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    Love this series I am counting minutes…. Can’t wait

  • February 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm
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    This series is one of the best I have ever read. I hope you continue to write them for a long time.

  • February 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm
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    I am super excited and cant wait!!!

  • February 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm
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    I have been a fan of Monica’s since her first book. So thankful for her talent! She is an amazing writer who has brought me countless hours of wonderful reading. I love Scotland and her history and pagentry . Love her books, the Raider is my next one in the series to read.Cannot wait until its release!!!!!

  • February 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm
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    I have read the whole series and I am so excited for this one!!

  • February 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm
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    Looking forward to reading “The Raider.” Love the Highland Guard books.

  • February 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm
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    Can not wait to read The Raider. Love this series!

  • February 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm
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    Love Monica’s work, especially the Highland Guard Series.
    Cannot wait to read “The Raider”!!!!

  • February 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm
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    I absolutely love the Highland Guard series, and I honestly count the days until the next book is available. Well its almost time and I can’t wait to finally be able to read The Raider.

  • February 24, 2014 at 10:42 pm
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    Looking forward to reading another Highland Guard Book…..

  • February 24, 2014 at 10:54 pm
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    Love the Highland Guard. There is such a variety of characters in the Guard. Everyone can find someone they would love.

  • February 24, 2014 at 11:14 pm
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    I am hooked on the Highland Guard series and each book is on my Keeper shelf! I can’t wait for The Raider to come out! Your books are so well researched and they take the reader back to medieval Scotland and the time of Robert the Bruce.

  • February 25, 2014 at 12:05 am
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    Thank you for sharing with us. Sometimes I just want to take that step back into history and enjoy a good story, the excerpt was lovely and I am looking forward to more :)

  • February 25, 2014 at 1:46 am
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    Loved the prologue thank you.

  • February 26, 2014 at 4:44 am
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    I love the Highland Guard series, so looking forward to this book!

  • February 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm
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    I actually read an excerpt of this book on another site and it’s definitely got my attention! Monica is a new to me author and I’m sadly lacking in highland romances!

  • February 26, 2014 at 8:22 pm
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    Love the writing in the excerpt, makes me want more <3

  • February 26, 2014 at 8:24 pm
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    Never read this author before

  • February 28, 2014 at 7:39 pm
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    The excerpt made me even more eager to read it. This is a definite read for me.

  • March 1, 2014 at 8:37 pm
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    Can’t wait to read the book!

Comments are closed.