A Highlander Christmas

A Highlander Christmas - Dawn Halliday, Cindy Miles, Sophie Renwick It’s not often that I enjoy all three novellas in an anthology equally, however this was the case with “A Highlander Christmas”. As it’s title indicates each story takes place over the Yuletide season and has a larger than life ‘Highlander’ hero. Also each of the heroines is of Scottish heritage and is of the ‘MacDonald’ clan. What I really liked though was each tale had a fantasy element that was in it’s own way unique. I had the impression these authors must have collaborated extensively and worked well together.

Winter Heat by Dawn Halliday

On a bitterly cold winter’s night “Maggie MacDonald”, is kidnapped at knifepoint by the brutal, drunken, and cruel “Innes Munroe”. A blizzard is approaching and Maggie knows not where they are headed this feisty heroine is intent on escaping before Innes beats her and most certainly rapes here. With her bound hands Maggie manages to dislodge her special clan brooch, a gift from her mother and uses it to stab the drunkard in a particularly sensitive area and make her escape. However, now she is lost in the wood, the blizzard has moved in and she is wandering, and surely will freeze to death.

Meanwhile “Logan Douglas”, a Highland soldier returning from the battle of Sheriffmuir is trudging across the Highlands making his way north to his brother’s home. His brother died at Sheriffmuir and Logan is now the eldest and duty bound to care for his brother’s widow and children. Logan himself suffered a bayonet wound to his leg in the battle. He finds a small cabin, which is well stocked with wood and food, and so with the storm raging he takes shelter in the little cabin for the night.

At dawn Logan leaves the cabin as he found it and begins to make his way downhill when a shimmering object catches his eye, as he approaches he sees a small bauble in the snow with a cascade of color glittering around it. Logan then hears a moan and finds Maggie nearly frozen to death curled up in the snow.

Logan takes Maggie back to the cabin and cares for her until she regains consciousness and her health. The signs of abuse on her face and body from Innes’ ill treatment enrage him. Once Maggie is stronger and she discovers Logan’s wound, which is now festering, she takes care of him. As another blizzard moves in shrouding the little cabin in swirling snow, Maggie and Logan at first share stories of their lives and what has happened to them. Maggie, a widow is inexorably drawn to the handsome Highlander and he desires her, their relationship quickly turns passionate. It is also the Yule so they spend this special time of year together.

Maggie is most distraught because she lost her broach, a family heirloom and unknown to her holds a touch of magic that you will have to learn about by reading the story. They search but are unable to find it, at least initialy. Logan too has a special possession and it was foretold it would guide him to his special someone.

They stay longer in the mountain cabin then necessary but do make their way down to Maggie’s home and uncertainty. You see young Torean, Maggie’s cousin is Laird of their clan and he has promised her to Innes as a means to bind the families together. While Logan is intent to continue home and assume his responsibilities to his brother’s family and land, he isn’t about to leave Maggie to be subjected to more of Innes’ brutality.

Ms. Halliday penned a plot twist to this story involving Torean and Logan. Torean actually turns out to be quite a clever character. The question is can Maggie and Logan overcome family obstacles to be together? And, will Maggie be spared the horrors of a life with Innes?

I’ve read paranormal and contemporary stories penned by Dawn Halliday and always liked her voice. “Winter Heat”, is no exception.

Yuletide Enchantment by Sophie Renwick

Isobel first saw the ‘White Hart’ (a giant white stag) at the young age of 6 when he was drinking from the loch on a midsummer’s day. He then appeared again when she was 13, on the day of her mother’s funeral. The stag stood on a hilltop and watched them through the thick mist that shrouded the graveyard. When Isobel was 16 she raced on her new mount and had taken a fall. He was there then too and she had always felt a mystical connection to him.

It is December 20, 1869, and “Isobel MacDonald”, has returned to MacDonald Hall with her family to celebrate the Christmas season. Her brother Ewan sees the Hart watching them from a distance and decides he is going to hunt the great stag down and kill him to be mounted on their father’s wall. Despite advice from their retainer Alistair that the Sidhe (pronounced Shee) from the Otherworld (Annwyn) were in abundance in the woodlands, and the Hart was a warning, Ewan, Stuart and the Earl of St. Clair go off to hunt him down. Isobel chases after her brother and following a harrowing scene, the great Hart is wounded and thunders back into the woods. It is during a heated exchange with her brother that Isobel learns she is betrothed to the Earl of St. Clair, a man she has no interest in.

Daegan Prince of the Sidhe, makes the swift change from stag to man, he is writhing in agony, clutching the iron tipped arrow that is spreading poison into his blood. Cailleach, the supreme goddess, though frothing at the mouth angry, uses her magic to save him. Daegan is the next in line to be King of the Sidhe and he is Cailleach’s consort. Daegan has loved Isobel for all her life, waiting for her to grow to a woman. She is now 21 and he is determined to have her as his own. Cailleach makes it clear there is no room in the Sidhe world of Annwyn for a mortal, and there will be dire consequences if he disregards her warning. The Sidhe of this story wield a great magical power and while Daegan is a force to be reckoned with, Cailleach has the ability to take a Sidhe’s power away and punish them.

Isobel is able to escape her family’s festivities and seeks out Daegan who is in form of the stag in the forest. They have an enchanted exchange and even though it is winter and cold outside, Isobel feels warm air wafting against her face and hears Daegan’s gentle voice on the wind asking her to stay with him. He then visits her in a dream and gradually draws her into his world where they make love. Ms. Renwick has a very sensuous voice that swirls around a reader. The magic wielded by the handsome hero of this story made me think of a fairy tale.

Readers are also introduced to the enigmatic cynical Bran who shifts into a raven. Bran is of Unseelie blood a descendent of the mighty warriors of the race. Bran, like Daegan, is magnificent, however he is quite a different character in that he is quite dark and brooding. He also has heterchromia or two different colored irises making his stare appear even more intense. Daegan knows what Bran's Achilles heel is and strikes a bargain to help him if he will see Isobel home safely when she leaves the forest that first time.

Isobel and Daegan seem to have almost insurmountable obstacles keeping them from their HEA. However at the end of the day, Ms Renwick does pen quite an intresting climax to their story as both Daegan and Bran must make a significant sacrifice.

I am really looking forward to reading Bran’s story “Velvet Haven”, to be released March 2, 2010.

A Christmas Spirit Cindy Miles

Paige MacDonald, a lonely American tourist misses the turnoff to Inverness, Scotland. It is December present day and she decided she didn’t want to spend another Christmas alone. Paige is caught in a snowstorm and the rental car she is driving is about to sigh its last breath. Just as she is about to hit the panic button she sees a sign for the Gorloch B&B and turns up the lane where the car does die. At first no one answers her knock at what is an ancient stone fortress. Then a rather abrupt surely voice with a heavy Scottish brogue, at first tells her there is no vacancy, however he then concedes when it is obvious she is about to freeze to death.

“Gabriel Munro”, is impossibly tall, broad, and muscular with long dark hair pulled back at the nape, and he is a ghost. Gabriel masks his actual appearance initially but when Paige sees him wearing a kilt, boots and a sword, and she falls through him, she runs in fear from the house. He chases her, but she trips and falls through him. It really is a comedy of errors and I have to say Gabriel, despite his ‘state’ is quite humorous. Paige is dazed for a few minutes but Gabriel does manage to rouse her and get her back to the house so she can tend to her bleeding nose and come to grips with his ghostly form.

It turns out Gabriel Munro was murdered, he believes by a member of the Gorloch Clan MacDonald in the very house he haunts in the 12th century. Gabriel’s hatred for that clan runs deep, however he doesn’t think or believe the lovely Paige is one of “those MacDonald’s”, when in reality she is a descendent and wears the clan pin on a necklace.

Paige and Gabriel spend a wonderful, happy few days together and he conjures a beautiful Christmas setting for her. Both of them feel happier then ever before in their lives. Then Gabriel discovers the clan pin and in his anger sends poor Paige packing, she is desolate. However, when visiting the shops in Inverness Paige meets a remarkable man who is the image of Gabriel. It seems there is more than one Munro living in Inverness and this is when things really get interesting.

Cindy Miles is a new to me author; however this will not be the last story penned by her that I read. I would love to read more about the clan Munro, maybe she will write a sequel.