Read Highlander's Reckoning (The Sinclair Brothers #3) Online

Authors: Emma Prince

Tags: #Romance, #Adult, #Adult Romance, #Fiction, #Highlander, #Historical, #Trilogy

Highlander's Reckoning (The Sinclair Brothers #3)

BOOK: Highlander's Reckoning (The Sinclair Brothers #3)
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Highlander’s
Reckoning

The
Sinclair Brothers Trilogy

Book
Three

 

By

Emma
Prince

 

Copyright © 2015 by Emma Prince. All Rights Reserved

Books by Emma Prince

The Sinclair Brothers Trilogy:

Highlander’s Ransom
(Book 1)

Highlander’s Redemption
(Book 2)

Highlander’s Return
(Bonus Novella, Book 2.5)

Highlander’s Reckoning
(Book 3)

Chapter 1

Scottish Highlands

Late January, 1308

Daniel examined the unbroken seal of red wax on the
letter he had just been handed. The seal depicted a man on horseback,
brandishing a raised sword in one hand and a shield in the other. It was a
fitting seal for a warrior-King like Robert the Bruce.

Breaking the seal, Daniel tilted the letter toward
the light of the fire that blazed in the hearth.

The King was done indulging Daniel’s delays. At
first, the Bruce’s letters had patiently laid out his plans for Daniel,
praising the youngest brother in the loyal and powerful Sinclair clan’s ruling
family and emphasizing that an honor was being bestowed upon him for his
family’s service to the cause for independence.

But after Daniel’s claims to already be occupied
with running his uncle’s keep and training his young cousin in the ways of
leadership, the Bruce’s letters took a different tack. They were filled with
descriptions of Loch Doon’s beauty and strength as a stronghold in the
southwest. Wouldn’t Daniel prefer to run his own castle in the Bruce’s stead
rather than train another how to rule?

The Bruce was clever, Daniel would give him that.
The appeal to Daniel’s desire to lead in his own right had almost been enough
to halt his delay tactics and take up the task the Bruce had charged him with.
But there was still one part of the Bruce’s plan that Daniel simply couldn’t
abide.

Forced marriage to some Lowland chit who was
probably more English than Scottish.

Even the thought of it made Daniel cringe
internally.

Of course, the Bruce’s letters had expounded on the
lass’s rumored beauty, but Daniel knew his King well enough to put little stock
in it. He should feel honored that the Bruce even bothered to try to entice and
cajole Daniel rather than simply ordering him to travel to the Lowlands, secure
Loch Doon from the dubiously aligned Gilbert Kennedy, and marry Kennedy’s
daughter. Doing so would ensure that the man would stay in his place and remain
loyal to the Bruce.

Apparently, though, the time for ordering had
arrived. There were no more angles, no more delays, no more tactics to try to
avoid his fate. He supposed he could beg the King to give him a reprieve until
spring—even now a fierce storm howled outside the keep’s stone walls—but he
very much doubted that his complaints about the weather would sit well with a
man who had been living in a mobile camp for more than a year.

Daniel let the letter flutter into the hearth. He
didn’t need to read it again. He knew his duty. He would travel to the
Lowlands, marry the Kennedy lass, and bring Loch Doon firmly under the Bruce’s
control. But perhaps most important—and most secret—for the cause, he would
prepare to lay siege to the nearby castle of Dunbraes, which was currently
being held by the English bastard Raef Warren.

“What is it, Uncle Danny?”

Will stepped into the entryway of the great hall
where Daniel stood alone. Daniel smiled faintly at the pet name the lad used
for him. Though he was technically Will’s cousin, the lad had always looked up
to him with awe and reverence, thinking of him more as an uncle than a cousin.

“The time has come for me to depart, Will,” Daniel
said as the lad approached.

The boy halted halfway across the hall, a stunned
look on his face. “Now? Already? Why? When?”

Despite the desire to smile at his young cousin’s outburst,
Daniel forced a stern look on his face. “What have I told you about dealing
with the unexpected, lad?”

Will swallowed. “Assess the situation, make a new
plan, and…”

“And?”

“And never look back.”

Though the boy tried to school his features to match
Daniel’s, he ended up looking more distraught than stern. He wanted to hug the
lad, but he was fourteen now. If Will was to be made ready to take over running
the keep—and soon, though Daniel sent up a prayer for his uncle William’s
health—he could no longer be coddled.

“So, begin with assessing this new situation,”
Daniel said levelly, folding his arms over his chest.

Will’s brow furrowed, considering. “You have
received a letter, and from what I saw, it was written on fine parchment. Was
that the royal seal on the front?”

Daniel suppressed a smile. “Aye, it was. Good, lad.
Now what?”

“You have received several such letters in the last
few months. The messengers deliver them no matter what, even in the worst of
storms, as we have had all winter. You are receiving important information from
King Robert the Bruce. But the central Highlands has been securely behind him
almost from the beginning of his campaign, so he isn’t trying to convince you
of his cause.”

At Daniel’s silent nod, the lad went on.

“But perhaps he wants you to do something for him.
And you just said that you are leaving. Has he ordered you to join him?” Will’s
eyes lit up with the excitement that only a lad who had never seen battle could
have at the thought of joining the Bruce.

“Close. He has asked me to serve him in a way that
would take me to the Lowlands,” Daniel replied, pleased with the lad’s sharp
perception.

“The Lowlands?” Will wrinkled his nose in distaste,
and this time, Daniel couldn’t quite stop the smile that itched at the corners
of his mouth.

“Aye. I am to take charge of Loch Doon, King
Robert’s family keep.”

Will’s eyes rounded. “King Robert is personally
asking you to oversee his castle? Just you?”

“Aye, he is. It is a great honor, so I must obey the
King’s command with all haste.”

Though Daniel gave no hint with either his voice or
his features that he was stretching the truth, Will’s eyes went from rounded
wonder to narrowed suspicion.

“Then why did the King send you so many letters? Why
have they been coming for months?”

“Good, lad,” Daniel replied with a wry smile. “I
have been delaying, in part because I wanted to make sure I am doing my duty to
both you and your father. I made a commitment to see that you were properly
trained, and I can’t very well break my word.”

Will nodded soberly. At least Daniel could be sure
that his lessons about honor, duty, and the importance of keeping one’s word
would stick with the lad.

Daniel sighed and let his eyes take in the young man
in front of him. He still thought of his little cousin as a boy. Daniel had
been here at his uncle William’s keep for almost ten years. That realization
struck him. He had only been a few years older than young Will was now when he
left his family back at Roslin Castle to help run his uncle’s keep and train
his cousin.

It had been hard to give up his youthful adventures
and freedom, especially when it meant leaving Robert and Garrick, his two older
brothers, and his cousin Burke, who was like a third brother to him. But when
his uncle William had unexpectedly fallen from a horse, rendering him nearly
completely invalid, he knew it was his duty to look after his uncle and young
cousin.

Will had barely understood why he could no longer
play with his father, and why his distant cousin was now not only running the
keep, but training him in the responsibilities of leadership as well.

But that was almost ten years ago, Daniel reminded
himself. Will was no longer a wide-eyed little boy. In fact, just in the last
year, Will had grown nearly a foot. Of course, the rest of him hadn’t quite
caught up yet. He was thin and uncoordinated, but he showed promise with the
sword, and his mind was sharper than his blade. Though part of him didn’t want
to admit it, Daniel was actually confident in Will’s ability to take over
running the keep in his father’s stead.

“Perhaps I have fulfilled my commitment to train you
already,” Daniel said quietly.

A look of panic crossed Will’s still-smooth face.
“I’m not ready to be in charge.”

“You’ll never feel fully ready, lad,” Daniel said,
tousling Will’s blond curls. “But every man must step out on his own one day.”

Hell, he made it sound easy and noble, even while he
was dodging his King’s orders.

Will’s eyes drifted to the fire, and a somber
silence settled between them. But then Will jerked his head back up and shot a
sharp look at Daniel.

“You said
part
of the reason you were
delaying was because of your commitment to train me. What is the other part of
the reason?”

Daniel cracked a smile. The lad would be a truly
great strategist one day. “I will also be married,” he said simply.

“Married?”

Daniel erupted in laughter at the look of horror
that contorted Will’s face.

“Aye, married. It suits the King’s plans, so I must
follow his command.”

Daniel suspected that Will was only just starting to
awaken to the draw of the opposite sex, so to tease him, he added, “One day you
may find the idea of marriage slightly less repugnant, lad. Perhaps with
someone like Sarah, the pretty blonde serving lass your eyes seem to follow?”

Will turned deep red and averted his eyes to the
fire, which brought another hearty laugh from Daniel.

“So, you have now assessed the new situation. What
is your plan?” Daniel said once Will’s color began to return to normal.

“I suppose I shall have to run the keep myself—with
Father’s advisement, of course,” Will replied matter-of-factly.

Daniel smiled inwardly. “Good. And what will that
entail?”

Though he trusted in Will’s sharp mind and the
lessons he had bestowed on the lad, he wanted to be sure that he could leave
with confidence that he wasn’t abandoning his family unprepared.

“The men and I will keep up our training in the
mornings. I’ll consult with Father about the disputes that arise from the
villagers and farmers, as you have done with him. Margaret can continue to run
the household affairs until…”

“Until you are married,” Daniel interjected with a
wicked grin.

“Aye, until that day.” Already, Will sounded calmer
about the thought. “And what is
your
new plan, Uncle Danny?”

Daniel sighed. “I’ll speak to your father tonight
about these developments. Then I’ll leave on the morrow for the Lowlands.”

Will’s face fell ever so slightly. “So soon?”

“As you have so astutely noticed, lad, I am already
overdue in following the King’s orders. Storm or no, I’ll make haste to the
south to face my responsibility.”

“Alone? Shouldn’t you take some of the men-at-arms,
or at least a small retinue?”

“Nay, I’ll not deprive you of your men.”

Just as was Daniel’s intention, Will’s chest puffed
slightly at the mention of
his
men.

“Besides, I won’t need them,” Daniel went on. If he
was worthy of being hand-selected by Robert the Bruce to take charge of Loch
Doon, bring an errant Laird to heel, secure a shaky alliance with an arranged
marriage, and lay the foundation for a siege against their enemies, Daniel
didn’t need an army, or even a dozen men.

Brute force was never enough. Daniel had learned
that the hard way, over and over, as the youngest of three brothers. He had
never been big enough or strong enough to match them, so he had learned to
develop his force of will, determination, and unbending stubbornness instead.
Though he was often on the bloody side of his scuffles with his brothers and
older cousin, they had learned to respect his unerring willpower and grit. He
would just have to apply that fortitude to Loch Doon, Laird Gilbert Kennedy,
and even this unwanted Lowland bride of his.

“So, now all that’s left is…to not look back.”
Though Will raised his chin and met Daniel’s eyes, Daniel didn’t miss the
sadness in the lad’s voice.

“When we are thrown into a new situation, we can’t
keep living as if nothing has changed,” Daniel said quietly, “but that doesn’t
mean we forget or abandon what is most important.”

Without warning, Will launched himself into Daniel’s
chest, wrapping his arms around him in a fierce hug. For all that Will had
grown and learned in the last ten years, he was still the same boy Daniel had
hugged for the first time not long after William’s terrible fall.

“You can write to me whenever you like,” Daniel said
softly. Then, disentangling himself, he gave the boy a serious look. “And I
expect you to keep things running smoothly here. The keep is your
responsibility now.”

Will nodded bravely, assuming the expression of a
serious leader as if he were donning a cloak. Soon enough, Daniel thought with
a mixture of sadness and pride, the boy would be a man, and he would no longer
have to act like a leader—he would simply be one.

 

The following morning, a gray dawn broke. The snow
had abated somewhat, but flurries still swirled around Daniel as he swung into
the saddle and spurred his horse through the open gates. He knew that Will
gazed down at him from his father’s window, but Daniel didn’t look up. They had
said their goodbyes already, and despite his longing to stay with his uncle and
young cousin, he had to face his responsibility to the Bruce.

BOOK: Highlander's Reckoning (The Sinclair Brothers #3)
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