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The MacKinnons of Mull Book 1
Isobel Campbell is on a secret mission to find sanctuary for Scotland’s most holy relic. She is determined to see it to safety, but every step she takes brings her closer to an uncertain future. When the fate of the relic is assured, she must decide her own course. A lonely path forward seems inevitable, but her protector, a mysterious crusader, makes her yearn for a life filled with his love.
Alexander MacKinnon returns home to Scotland to face his clan’s dire prospects. Escorting a noblewoman to a nunnery delays his reckoning with the family he left behind and presents dangers he cannot face alone. Isobel, his beautiful charge, may prove to be the greatest danger of all, for the powerful connection between them could lead to their ruin. But this crusader's heart cannot deny what it wants, even if it means putting everything at risk.
Page Count: 334
Word Count: 81600
Kingdom of the Scots, late spring, 1153
A twig snapped and a man said, “Dinnae move.” Before Isobel Campbell could turn, strong hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her backward to collide against the man’s stomach. She bounced off him, but he pulled her back again—bringing her to rest against his full belly.
Isobel grabbed at her assailant’s hands, clawing at them as the pressure on her shoulders increased from his crushing hold. As Isobel twisted and pulled away from him, she scanned the dark, empty forest. Think, Isobel! Instantly, her hands dropped to her side. My knife! She palmed beneath the satchel at her side for the sgian dubh. Carefully, she unsheathed the knife before he could restrict her hands.
“Turn to face me,” he demanded.
His smell surrounded her. She inhaled slowly to steady herself, but his stench coated her throat. She coughed, her body convulsing as she tried to regain control.
“Enough!” her captor shouted, shaking her. The action only increased her coughing. He hauled on one shoulder, but her legs felt sluggish as she tried to keep up with the twist of her upper body. Her hands flexed, naturally wanting to steady her, but Isobel caught herself before she dropped the blade.
Finally, the coughing ceased as he released her shoulders. For a brief moment the awful pressure was gone, though quickly replaced with the feel of his bruising hands at her waist as he awkwardly pulled her around to face him. A rush of cool night air swept over her, sending Isobel’s hair into a wild dance. She flinched, as though in pain, as her hair blew across her attacker’s open mouth. He spat it out, the strands flying back across her face. The wetness from his mouth caused the strands to stick to her cheek; his terrible smell was now on her skin.
She wanted to attack, but she couldn’t. He still has too much control. I must wait for the right moment.
She kept the blade of her knife concealed beneath her cloak.
“Your hair tastes as good as it smells,” the fiend said, with a laugh of amusement. “Though I’d rather have it in my hands than down my throat!” He laughed again as he roughly brushed Isobel’s spit-covered hair behind her ear. She ground her teeth in response, but otherwise remained passive as the fiend’s hands came to rest on her upper arms again.
She knew from colliding with his stomach that he was portly. With him standing before her, she could also see he was short for a man, barely taller than her. Because of his weight, he would be slow to catch her if she somehow managed to escape.
Though he was no warrior, his strength was greater than her own. She would need to make a clean break.
“Too many fine things to be a peasant girl,” he said, looking down at her wool cloak. “I wonder what riches ye have hidden away beneath this.” He played with the fastening to her cloak and chuckled as his appraisal continued.
Isobel refused to show fear. She stood her ground—her chin lifted high as the disgusting examination continued. Be patient. She squeezed the knife’s jeweled haft in her right palm, taking care to keep it hidden in the folds of her cloak, as she waited for him to relax his hold so she could make her move.
“A fine bag,” he said, tapping his finger against her leather satchel. “I’ll see what it holds soon enough.” Her attacker whistled. “Look at ye! That face! Ah, I cannae wait to have ye! The lads will be sorry they missed this.”
His words sent chills of warning down Isobel’s spine. She knew what he meant to do with her. The bastard is alone. Focus on that advantage.
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