Heartbreak and Honor

Highland Heather Romancing A Scot Series, #3

Would you risk your life to rescue a woman you don’t know?

Abducted by a band of renegade Scots, Highland gypsy Tasara Faas blackens her rescuer’s eye when the charming duke attempts to steal a kiss. Afterward, Tasara learns she’s the long-lost heiress Alexandra Atterberry and is expected to take her place among the elite society she’s always disdained.

Lucan, the Duke of Harcourt, promised his gravely ill mother he’d procure a wife by Christmastide, but intrigued by the feisty lass he saved in Scotland, he fintrrtoppicksds the haut ton ladies lacking. Spying Alexa at a London ball, he impulsively decides to make the knife-wielding gypsy his bride despite her aversion to him and her determination to return to the Highlands.

The adversary responsible for Alexa’s disappearance as a toddler still covets her fortune and joins forces with Harcourt’s arch nemesis. Amidst a series of suspicious misfortunes, Lucan endeavors to win Alexa’s love and expose the conspirators but only succeeds in reaffirming Alexa’s belief that she is inadequate to become his duchess.

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Here’s what readers are saying!

“…very fun historical…characters are well flushed out and very likable.” ★★★★★ ~BTSE Magazine

“…a fun historical romance…a great fluffy read.” ★★★★★ ~InD’Tale Magazine

“Once again Cameron has created a wildly romantic tale with a twist.” ★★★★★ ~Pure Jonel Reviews

Simply fantastic!! Another awesome read by Ms. Cameron. A must read. Highly recommended.” ★★★★★ ~My Book Addiction and More

“Every time I’ve picked up a romance by Collette Cameron, she keeps me reading, an unable to put the book down.” ★★★★★ ~Greek Gal

“I could not put this book down once I started reading. I read from beginning to the end in under 5 hours. I cannot wait until her next book comes out!” ★★★★★ ~Melissa Thurston

A rollicking tale indeed, full of humor and wit and daring do…and, of course, love.” ★★★★★ ~Janice Hougland

“Collette Cameron writes a delicious, humor filled tale of intrigue & danger…  it’s a definite 5 star book you won’t want to miss!” ★★★★★ ~Dee Foster

“Well-written, well-researched, mighty entertaining. Kudos for this third installment in the series.” ★★★★★ ~Liette Bougie

“Her dialogue between her characters is perfection, her timing, especially with the witty comments is beyond compare.” ★★★★★ ~Liz Evans

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FlourishChapter One Excerpt

 

 

Dounnich House-Blackhall Fortress

Scottish Highlands

Mid-September 1818

 

Agonized screams and raucous shouts penetrated the stout door Tasara pressed her ear against.

Did friend or foe attack her Scottish captors?

She hugged the arched entrance closer, straining to hear. The wood scraped her face, and her unbound hair tumbled forward, snagging on a splinter. Her drumming pulse and the blood whooshing in her ears further muffled the skirmish below.

Fear-induced sweat dampened her underarms and palms, yet also dried her mouth. She exhaled brief, hard-earned pants, barely sufficient to be considered breathing at all.

Calm yourself this instant, Tasara Faas. Highland travellers are made of sterner stuff. Hysterical, you’re of no use to anyone.

She licked her parched lips. So thirsty.

Only a partial mug of stale water remained. She must save it for the tikni ones sleeping in the bed.

Pressing her forehead against the rough panel, she drew in several calming breaths, counting to ten each time she inhaled and exhaled. “That’s better.”

Not by much.

A mouse cornered by a starving lion had a slower heartbeat.

How many minutes had passed since the first cry alerted her to the invasion? Five? Fifteen? More? Impossible to tell with terror thickening her blood and scrambling her thoughts.

She’d hung over the window casement in an effort to catch a glimpse of the attackers. Yet, her chamber faced the castle’s rear, and only contented Highland cattle, one lone stag, and a pair of curious pigeons perched on the keep’s ledge returned her frantic perusal.

Veering a glance to her sleeping sister and brother, she dug her fingernails into the door’s coarse timber, afraid to hope. Might they actually leave this hellhole alive and unharmed?

For their sakes, she must keep her wits about her.

Tasara had despaired of any rescue attempt and feared for their virtue and lives. After almost three weeks of captivity, had their salvation finally arrived?

Only the threat of death had kept her captors from ravishing her after the first night when two hulking, reeking, Highlanders pinned her to the floor and attempted to have their way. They lay buried and rotting, their necks brutally broken with one powerful wrench by the war chief, Angus Blackhall.

He wanted her virginity intact, claiming he knew an English gent willing to pay handsomely for an untouched wench.

The devil must inhabit such a monster, for while Angus protected her honor, at every opportunity he mashed her breasts, mauled her buttocks, and rudely forced his thick tongue in her mouth, his fetid kisses gagging her.

Right in front of Lala and György, too.

Tasara’s other jailors did the same. Bruises dotted her flesh from her attempts to spurn their rough molestations.

Flinching as wild, unhuman screams penetrated the stout door, she tightened her grip on the jamb and winced when a fingernail tore to the quick. Stifling a curse, she squeezed her throbbing finger. Even now, did her father and the other Highland travellers fight the Blackhalls?

She’d seen what those Scots did to their enemies.

To each other, for that matter.

Dread knotted her stomach, and she squeezed her eyelids shut against the horrific images of mangled bodies and glassy, sightless stares. She would never forget the sickening sound of bone crunching as Angus snapped her assailants’ necks.

Surely, if the travellers attacked, they’d recruited help. Acting alone, the gentle Scottish gypsies proved as ineffective as a bee stinging an enraged bear.

They would be massacred as easily too.

Oh, God.

A torrent of dizzying terror slammed into Tasara, and she pressed her hand to her forehead. Nae. It didn’t bear contemplating—that her family risked death because of one mad, land-greedy Scot.

Shoving her long hair behind her ears, she cringed when the oily tresses coiled around her fingers. Catching a whiff of herself, she wrinkled her nose. She stank almost as bad as her captors.

Never had clean clothes and a thorough scrub been more coveted, even one in the icy streams she’d often complained about as a child. Warm bubble-filled baths in a tub of some sort flitted across her mind.

I must have dreamt that.

A child stirred, and Tasara dashed to the bed containing their wee forms. She didn’t want them waking. She sucked in a shuddery breath and drew the ratty blanket higher, covering her slumbering sister’s and brother’s ears.

The thin fabric wouldn’t stifle the battle raging elsewhere in the keep. Nae, the blessed, deep sleep of childhood and an empty stomach protected the children far more than the raggedy length of grimy cloth.

The need to do something, anything, to keep György and Lala safe overcame her. She withdrew the bone-handled dagger sheathed in her boot, and for the hundredth time, searched the room’s shrouded corners for apparitions.

Evil permeated the very stones of Dounnich House.

Beyond the narrow, mullioned windows, the fading light couldn’t disguise the stark chamber’s dinginess.

If she’d been alone, she would’ve attempted to escape from the upper story prison, but with bairns, one four and the other but seven years old, she’d considered the option and tossed it aside as easily as a gnawed chicken bone.

If need be, she would die protecting them.

At least she’d been able to help Isobel Ferguson flee the castle mere hours ago.

Isobel and the man rescuing her vowed to send Tasara help. Perhaps they had, and that’s what caused the ruckus below. A powerful laird in his own right, Ewan McTavish would seek vengeance for his sister’s abduction.

Twilight cloaked the sky in deep violet-gray and darkened the tomblike chamber further. Tasara hadn’t a candle to light or firewood either. She shivered and firmed her lips against her empty stomach’s painful contractions.

No one had ventured to their chamber since a timid maid delivered cold, lumpy porridge and stale dark bread this morning, further testament to the mayhem within the keep.

The Blackhalls were mad, the entire, uncivilized lot.

Should she waken the children and tuck them into a corner in case the renegades sought to use them as hostages or living shields?

She could pull the bed before the door, but given her hairy captors’ size, two or three hefty pushes would send the cumbersome piece of furniture skidding across the floor.

Wiser to let the wee ones sleep, and pray to God no one entered their room until her father or another traveller banged upon the door.

If that’s who fought below. If not . . .

Please God, let it be them.

Lala turned over, flopping one small arm above her head and murmuring something unintelligible in her sleep.

An almost undetectable scritching rasped at the chamber’s entrance.

Tasara switched her blade to her left hand.

Who lurked in the corridor?

Not a Blackhall. Those Scots plowed into the room, all barbarous bravado and cock-sure swagger, bellowing vulgar threats the whole while.

The door latch wiggled.

Not Dat or another black tinker either. They would call her name or the children’s.

Oblivious to the bedlam downstairs, her vulnerable brother and sister slept on, their small forms dwarfed by the immense bed, the blanket’s folds nearly hiding them.

The unspeakable, vile things the Blackhalls threatened to do if the clan’s blackmail demands weren’t met echoed like an unholy, perverse mantra inside Tasara’s head. How men could suggest the obscene things those scunners vowed . . .

A revulsion-borne shiver shook her.

Clutching the handgrip of her knife, she crept on tiptoes across the stone floor. Flattened against the wall, she squinted at the lever.

There. It moved again—the merest bit.

And again.

The tiniest of jiggles.

Metal scraped metal, and her lungs cramped.

A key?

Swallowing her fear, she tightened her grasp on her dagger. Only the Blackhalls held the key to this chamber.

Tasara dried one damp palm, then the other, on her skirt. Could she stab someone? To protect her sister and brother, she would, by God.

A click announced the lock giving way.

Creaking on unoiled hinges, the door edged open, inch-by-cautious-inch, and as it did, the brutal sounds from below filtered into the chamber. Light from the passageway’s primitive torch-lit brackets illumined a sinister, black-clad form.

A disheveled man paused at the threshold, his coat unbuttoned and a pistol protruding from his waistband. In one hand, he held a sword at the ready, and in the other, he brandished a dirk. Legs braced, he stood at the entrance like a buccaneer balancing atop a ship’s pitching deck.

A pirate in the Scottish Highlands?

She blinked, slapping aside the ridiculous notion. Lack of food and sleep made her imagination run amuck.

For a tormenting instant, Tasara feared the ethereal body Satan himself, except she doubted the devil possessed flaxen hair and required blades to inflict mortal damage.

Fallen angel seemed more apt for the apparition illumined within the doorway.

She strained to see the man’s face. The dim interior hid his features except for a well-defined profile and a chiseled jawline. Evil men weren’t supposed to be attractive.

Stance wide, and her hand lifted to bury her knife, she waited for the intruder to move away from the door’s protection.

She must defend the children, no matter the cost.

“Tathara?” Lala’s plaintive cry filled the chamber. “Piuthar, where be ye?”

The man’s head whipped toward the bed.

The bedding rustled, and Lala, her voice tear-clogged, whimpered, “Me be afraid. I hearded fighting.”

Advancing farther into the room, the intruder looked this way and that. Light from the passage spilled across the threshold but failed to reach the bed or the room’s outer edges.

“A child? Might have told me,” he muttered in a clipped British accent while sheathing his weapons. “No matter, I suppose. A female’s a female.”

My God, what did the debauched knave intend?

The same loathsome things the Scots threatened?

Not as long as Tasara’s heart pumped, he wouldn’t. She shifted, ready to spring. A wee bit farther and she’d have a clear target. He would taste her blade before he laid one finger upon Lala.

The man faced the bed and extended his arms. “Come, sweeting, let’s be about it then. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

How dare he, the loathsome degenerate? Tasara made an inarticulate noise.

He whirled, his body tense and alert.

“Tathara!” Terror resonated in Lala’s high-pitched cry.

Tasara lunged, swinging the blade in an arc intended for his neck. “Depraved sot.”

Ducking, he leapt away, and her dagger sliced air instead of flesh. Half-crouched and keenly alert, he regarded her.

“Ah, the gypsy wench I expected.” Straightening, and unperturbed at practically being skewered, he pointed at her knife. “I do believe you tried to impale me. Most ungrateful of you, I must say.”

“Tasara?” György’s sleep-thickened voice mixed with Lala’s sniffles.

“By Jove, not another one?” The specter inclined his head in the bed’s direction, his penetrating gaze riveted on Tasara. “How many are there of you in here, for God’s sake? An entire clan?”

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Tasara circled him until she stood between him and the bed.

The gentleman retreated a couple of paces, and his pleasant chuckle took her aback. He clicked his booted heels together and dipped his head. “The Duke of Harcourt, at your service.”

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