The Striker

By: Monica McCarty


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY came around to work with Lauren McKenna, an editor I have long admired from afar, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. Still, change is never easy. Or at least that’s what I thought. But, apparently, the folks at Pocket Books aren’t in on that little truism. An enormous thanks to everyone at Pocket for making a mid-series transition to a new publisher unbelievably smooth, seamless, and yes . . . easy!

First and foremost, to Lauren—I am so excited to be working with you after years of hearing so many great things from mutual friends (which I’m happy to say are all true!). There is always a lot of anxiety in changing editors, but your insightful, spot-on comments immediately alleviated that stress. Here’s to this being the first of many books to come!

A special thanks also to Elana Cohen for making sure that no beats were missed and for helping me to navigate through the new system. Your quick responses, great communication, and always friendly attitude have made the business part of the job a pleasure. I can’t wait to meet you in person!

Thanks also to the art department for the fabulous Scottish eye candy—uh, I mean covers—and the production team (with a shout-out to production editor Nancy Tonik and copy editor Faren Bachelis) for getting this book ready for prime time and making sure no one finds out I can’t spell.

And finally, last but not least, to the best-supporting crew in the business: Dave, Reid, and Maxine. I love you guys (most of the time).






FOREWORD




THE YEAR OF our Lord thirteen hundred and thirteen. After nearly seven years of warfare, Robert the Bruce has waged an improbable comeback from almost certain defeat to retake nearly all his kingdom from the English and Scot countrymen who have stood against him.

The final challenge from the English will come soon, but there are still pockets of resistance in Scotland to the man who would be called King Robert I. Foremost among them is the troublesome southwest province of Galloway, ruled by the most wanted man in Scotland: Dugald MacDowell, the ruthless chief of Clan MacDowell.

Seeing Dugald MacDowell brought to heel is personal for Bruce, as it was the MacDowells who were responsible for one of the darkest moments in Bruce’s quest for the throne.

To lead this important mission, Bruce calls on Eoin MacLean, one of the famed warriors of the elite secret fighting force known as the Highland Guard, who has reasons of his own for wanting the MacDowells destroyed.

But vengeance is never as easy as it seems, and Eoin will eventually have to face the past that haunts him and return to the days before Bruce made his bid for the throne.





1




St. Mary’s Church near Barnard Castle,

Durham, England, January 17, 1313

IT WAS A damned fine day for a wedding. Eoin MacLean, the man who’d devised the plan to use it as a trap to capture the most wanted man in Scotland, appreciated the irony.

The sun, which had hidden itself behind storm clouds for weeks, had picked this midwinter morn to reemerge and shine brightly on the sodden English countryside, making the thick grasses around the small church glisten and the remaining foliage on the trees shimmer like trees of amber and gold. It also, unfortunately, caught the shimmer of their mail, making it difficult to blend into the countryside. The long steel hauberk was unusual armor for Bruce’s men, who preferred the lighter black leather cotuns, but in this case, it was necessary.

From their vantage on the forested hillside beyond the church, the small village on the River Tees in the shadow of the great Barnard Castle looked pretty and picturesque. A perfect backdrop for the equally pretty bride and her knightly English groom.

Eoin’s mouth fell in a hard line, a small crack revealing the acid churning inside him. It was almost a shame to ruin it. Almost. But he’d been waiting for this day for nearly six years, and nothing—sure as hell not the happiness of the bride and groom—was going to stop him from capturing the man responsible for the worst disaster to befall Robert the Bruce in a reign filled with plenty of them from which to choose.

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