Loving the Highlander (Highlander Trilogy)

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9780743453073: Loving the Highlander (Highlander Trilogy)

A tempestuous passion begins with a battle of wills...
When Sadie Quill comes upon an unbelievably gorgeous man lying naked beside a lake, she can't resist taking his photo -- and is quickly trapped in a passionate confrontation with the fierce stranger. Discovering the identity of this irresistible warrior will complicate Sadie's search for a legendary gold mine. For he is Morgan MacKeage, a medieval highlander in modern-day Maine, a man with the fury of the untamed wilderness pounding in his veins -- and the power to unlock Sadie's fragile heart.

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About the Author:

A native of rural central Maine, Janet Chapman lives there in a cozy log cabin on a lake with her husband.  Three cats and a stray young bull moose keep them company.  The author of the hugely popular Highlander time-travel series, she also writes contemporary romances.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Present day, deep in the Maine woods

The old wizard sat in reflective silence on the tall granite cliff, oblivious to the awakening forest around him, the roaring waterfall that shot from the precipice, and the churning pool of frothing water a good hundred feet beneath where he sat. Daar scratched his beard with the butt of his cane and sighed, his troubling thoughts completely focused on the lone fisherman below. He had done a terrible disservice to that young man six years ago. Aye, he was solely responsible for turning Morgan MacKeage's life into the mess it was now.

Daar had cast a spell that had brought Morgan's laird and brother, Greylen MacKeage, forward to the twenty-first century. It had been the wizard's greatest blunder to date. Oh, Greylen had made the journey safely enough, but so had six of his enemies, two of his men, and his younger brother, Morgan. Even their disgruntled war horses had managed to get sucked into the spell, catapulting them all on an unimaginable journey forward through time.

Daar blamed the mishap on his advanced age. He was old and tired, a bit forgetful on occasion, and that was the reason his magic sometimes went awry.

Morgan MacKeage should have been eight hundred years dead, having had the joy of a couple of wives and a dozen or so kids. Instead, the Highland warrior fishing below was now thirty-two, still unwed, and lonely. It seemed nearly a sin to Daar that his wizard's ineptness had caused such a fine, strong, intelligent warrior to be cast adrift without direction or purpose.

Daar hunched his shoulders under the weight of his guilt. Aye, that young man's malaise was all his fault, and it was past time he fixed things.

A woman might help.

Then again, a woman might only add to the young warrior's troubles.

Daar had discovered that twenty-first-century females were a decidedly peculiar breed. They were brash, outspoken, opinionated, and stubborn. But mostly they were simply too damned independent. They dared to live alone, they worked to support themselves, and they quite often owned property and held positions of power in business and government.

How was a man born in a time when women were chattel supposed to deal with such independent women? How was a virile twelfth-century warrior supposed to embrace his new life in such an outrageous time?

The MacKeages had lived in this modern world for six years. Six years of adapting, evolving, and finally accepting, and still Morgan MacKeage stood alone. Morgan's brother, Greylen, was happily settled with a wife, a daughter, and twins on the way. Callum was courting a woman in town, and Ian was secretly seeing a widow two nights a week. Even their sole surviving enemy, Michael MacBain, had fathered a son and was getting on with his life.

Only Morgan remained detached, not only from the company of females but also from the passions of life itself. He hunted, fished, and walked the woods incessantly, as if searching for something to settle the ache in his gut.

"Give a care, old man, lest you fall and become feed for the fish."

Daar nearly did fall at the sound of Morgan's familiar voice behind him. He stood and faced the young warrior and gave him a fierce scowl.

"You're a pagan, Morgan MacKeage, for scaring ten years off an old priest's life."

Morgan lifted a brow. "When I next see a priest, I'll be sure to confess my sin."

Daar attempted to straighten his shoulders and puff his chest at the insult but gave up as soon as he realized it made little difference. "You're seeing a priest now."

Morgan lifted his other brow. "What church ordains a drùidh into its ranks?"

"I was a priest long before I became a wizard," Daar shot back, pointing at the warrior. "And one is not contradictory to the other. Both roads lead in the same direction."

Morgan merely chuckled as he turned and started up the path that led to Daar's cabin. "Come on, old man, if you want breakfast," he said without looking back.

Eyeing the string of trout swinging from Morgan's belt, Daar decided he'd school the warrior on his manners later. After all, this argument had been repeated often over the last two years, since Daar had been forced to reveal his wizard's identity in order to save Greylen MacKeage's wife from kidnappers.

And what thanks had he got? None. Not even an "I'm sorry" that his precious old staff had been cut in half and thrown into a high mountain pond. It was that same pond, by the way, that was the source of the waterfall shooting out the side of the cliff from an underground stream, creating the crystal-clear pool that had produced the tasty trout he was about to have for breakfast.

"Does that puny new cane have any real power yet, drùidh?" Morgan asked as he settled into a comfortable, unhurried pace toward Daar's cabin.

Daar snorted. "As if I'd tell you," he muttered, eyeing the leather-sheathed sword tied to Morgan's backpack. The sword was more than three feet long, extending from Morgan's waist to a foot above his head, the hilt cocked to the side for easy access. That sword was as large as Greylen's sword and just as capable of destroying Daar's new cane.

Morgan stopped and turned to help Daar over a fallen log in the path. "Can it even toast bread yet?" he asked.

"It's powerful enough to gather stars in your head if I smack you with it."

Apparently not worried by the threat, Morgan turned his attention to something he pulled from his pocket. "What do you know of these?" he asked, holding up a three-foot-long orange ribbon of plastic.

Daar squinted at the ribbon. "What is it?"

"I don't know." Morgan leaned his fishing pole against his chest and used both hands to stretch the ribbon to its full length to show off the writing on it. "I found this one and several like it tied to trees all over the valley. And each one has numbers written on it."

Daar dismissed the ribbon with a negligent wave, eyeing the trout instead. His stomach rumbled, loudly announcing his hunger. "It's probably surveyors marking ownership lines," he said. He started toward home again. He was hungry, dammit, and had no patience for puzzles right now. "That's what they do in these modern times to mark their lands," Daar continued. "A man's word that he owns up to a river or to the crest of a mountain is no longer enough."

Daar stopped when he realized Morgan was not following. "Hell, boy. Your own land has lines drawn on a map and marked in the woods. They're even written in the deed you got when your brother purchased TarStone Mountain. It's what makes things legal today."

"They're not borders," Morgan said, stuffing the ribbon back in his pocket as he moved to follow Daar. "They don't run in any line I can discern."

ard"Then maybe they're logging markers," Daar offered next, mentally planning what he would fix with the trout. He started scanning the forest floor as they walked, looking for edible mushrooms. "Maybe they're doing a cutting in the valley," he absently continued. "Those numbers could be directions for the cutters."

"No. I found some of the ribbons on MacKeage land," Morgan countered, moving ahead to block his path, forcing them to a halt yet again. "And we are not cutting trees in this valley. The loggers we've hired are working east of here."

Daar looked up into Morgan's intense green eyes. "What is it you're wanting that's so important you're letting a fine brace of trout grow old?"

"I want you to use your magic and tell me what's happening in my woods."

Daar lifted his cane and used it to scratch his beard. "Ah. So it's okay to cast spells when it's convenient for you but not me? Is that how it works now?"

Morgan's eyes darkened. "There are rumors of a park being built in this valley, and I want to know if they're getting ahead of themselves and presuming to start work."

"And if they are, what does it matter?"

"I don't want the park to be here. A quarter of this valley is MacKeage land, and I'm against selling any of it."

"Why?"

"It's ours."

Daar lost hope that he was going to get breakfast anytime soon, unless they simply built a fire here and roasted the trout on spits. He sat down on a stump, cupped his hands over the top burl of his cane, and stared up at the young warrior.

"What's a few thousand acres to you, when your clan already owns four hundred thousand?"

"They can build their park someplace else, as long as it's not near this gorge."

Daar finally got his mind off his belly and focused on the man standing in front of him. Was that a faint spark he saw in those usually indifferent spruce-green eyes? Had something in this forest finally captured the attention of Morgan MacKeage?

"What's so special about this particular gorge?"

Morgan unhooked the trout from his belt. "These," he said, holding them up. He waved his fishing pole to encompass the forest. "This entire ridge. The stream that mysteriously appears from nowhere out the side of the mountain, cutting this gorge down to the valley. These trees. Have you even noticed their size, old man? Or their health? And these fish," he said again, shaking them slightly. "They're brook trout the size of salmon."

Daar frowned as he slowly looked around the forest. Aye, the trees did seem rather overlarge when compared with the others of the area. "They are big," he admitted. "I never noticed that before."

"That's because they were just like the rest only two years ago."

That number pricked at the wizard's memory.

"It's when your staff was thrown into the pond," Morgan continued at Daar's look of confusion. "It's the mist," he added, waving his fishing pole again. "See? It boils up from the falls and covers this gorge."

Daar nearly fell off the stump he was sitting on. The mist from the stream that ran from the mountain pond where his old staff lay?

Well, hell. Daar knew the water was special in that pond, since it held his magical staff, but he had never stopped to consider consequences such as this. Huge fish? Towering trees? A veritable rain forest where none should exist.

"It's magic," Morgan said in a whispered, almost reverent voice. "This entire gorge is the result of what happened two years ago. And I don't want it to become part of a park. Hundreds of people will come hiking through here and discover the magic."

Daar stood up. "And neither do I," he quickly agreed. "We must do something about this."

"You've got to talk to Grey," Morgan said. "And make him understand that our land must not become part of this park."

"Me?"

"He'll listen to you."

"He will not. He's mad at me right now. His wife just had some test for her pregnancy, and the blasted doctor told Grey that Grace was carrying twin daughters, not sons."

Morgan looked startled. "They can tell if an unborn child is a boy or a girl?"

Daar shrugged. "It seems they can now." He started walking back the way they had come, totally resigned now to missing his breakfast. He chose a path that would lead them above the falls to a ridge that overlooked the valley below. "Come on. Let's go see just how strong my staff has grown."

Morgan quickly fell into step beside him. "Will it tell me what the plastic ribbons are for?" he asked.

"Nay. It's not a crystal ball. It's only a conductor of energy."

As they walked along the path, Daar fingered the smooth, delicate cane he had been training since his had been lost. It sported only a couple of burls so far, which indicated that its power was not yet strong. His old staff, the one Grey had severed with his sword and thrown into the pond, had been riddled with burls, carrying the strength of fourteen hundred years of concentrated energy.

"Then what's the point?" Morgan asked. "If it can't do anything yet, why are we climbing the ridge?"

"Hush. I'm trying to remember the words," Daar instructed as they walked along. It was not that easy, reciting spells by rote. The last time he had tested the new cane for something more intricate than lighting a fire, it had rained dung beetles for more than an hour. He could only thank God that it had been dark outside at the time.

Surprisingly, Morgan obeyed his request, and they quickly reached the top of Fireline Ridge. Two miles behind them was the pond where his old staff lay on the bottom, and in front of them was the deep gorge that fingered its way to the vast valley below.

Daar was stunned. From this vantage point the stream's path was blatantly obvious. Large, lush hemlock and spruce and pine trees, draped in a mantle of mist, towered up from the forest floor in a carpet of vivid evergreen splendor.

The cane in his hand suddenly began to hum with delicate power. A warm, familiar energy coursed up his arm, and Daar closed his eyes to savor the distinct feel of his long-lost staff.

"What is it, old man? What's happening?" Morgan asked, taking a step back, eyeing the humming cane as it twisted and grew in length and thickness.

"Here. Touch this," Daar said, holding out his staff. "Feel it, Morgan. 'Tis the energy of life."

"I'm not touching that accursed thing."

"It won't bite," Daar snapped, poking the warrior in the belly.

Morgan instinctively grabbed the cane to protect himself, his eyes widening as the warm cherrywood sent its vibrations up his arm and into his body.

"There. That's what it's about, warrior. That's the life force. Have you forgotten what passion feels like?"

Morgan let go and stepped back, rubbing his hand on his shirt as he did. "I've forgotten nothing, old man. Now, point that thing at the valley and say your words. Tell me what's happening down there."

Daar pointed his staff toward the valley below and began to chant his ancient language. The burls on his cane warmed. The breeze kicked into a wind, sending the mist into swirling puffs of chaos around them. Birds and squirrels scurried for cover, and the distant roar of the falls turned to a whisper.

Daar opened one eye to peek at Morgan. The man had his hands balled into fists, his eyes scrunched closed, and his head pulled into his shoulders, his jaw clenched with enough force to break his teeth. And the poor warrior appeared to be holding his breath.

"It would go much better if you helped," Daar said. "Grab hold of the staff with me, Morgan, and concentrate. Feel the energy first...

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