Authors: Karen Marie Moning
Featured Alternate Selection of
Doubleday Book Club and Rhapsody Book Club
Praise for the novels of
“Darker, sexier, and more serious than Moning’s previous time-travel romances … this wild, imaginative romp takes readers on an exhilarating ride through time and space.”
“Pulsing with sexual tension, Moning delivers a tale romance fans will be talking about for a long time.”
The Oakland Press
“The Dark Highlander
is dynamite, dramatic, and utterly riveting. Ms. Moning takes the classic plot of good vs. evil … and gives it a new twist.”
iss of the
“Moning’s snappy prose, quick wit and charismatic characters will enchant.”
“Moning is quickly building a reputation for writing poignant time travels with memorable characters. This may be the first book I’ve read by her, but it certainly won’t be my last. She delivers compelling stories with passionate characters readers will find enchanting.”
The Oakland Press
“Here is an intelligent, fascinating, well-written foray into the paranormal that will have you glued to the pages. A must read!”
“Kiss of the Highlander
is wonderful…. [Moning’s] storytelling skills are impressive, her voice and pacing dynamic, and her plot as tight as a cask of good Scotch whisky.”
The Contra Costa Times
“Kiss of the Highlander
is a showstopper.”
“A stunning achievement in time-travel romance. Ms. Moning’s imaginative genius in her latest spellbinding tale speaks to the hearts of romance readers and will delight and touch them deeply. Unique and eloquent, filled with thought-provoking and emotional elements,
The Highlander’s Touch
is a very special book. Ms. Moning effortlessly secures her place as a top-notch writer.”
“Ms. Moning stretches our imagination, sending us flying into the enchanting past.”
“A terrific plotline … Gypsies and Scottish mysticism, against the backdrop of the stark beauty of the Highlands … an intriguing story. Poignant and sensual.”
“This highly original time travel combines the wonders of the paranormal and the mischievous world of the fairies to create a splendid, sensual, hard-to-put-down romance. You’ll delight in the biting repartee and explosive sexual tension between Adrienne and the Hawk, the conniving Adam, and the magical aura that surrounds the entire story. Karen Marie Moning is destined to make her mark on the genre.”
Dell Books by Karen Marie Moning
Beyond the Highland Mist
To Tame a Highland Warrior
The Highlander’s Touch
Kiss of the Highlander
The Dark Highlander
The Immortal Highlander
This one is for Rick Shomo—Berserker extraordinaire;
and for Lisa Stone—Editor extraordinaire
Chasing a dream is a risky venture, one made considerably richer by the company and counsel of family and friends. My heartfelt thanks to my mother, who endowed me with her formidable will and taught me never to give up on my dreams, and to my father, who demonstrates daily the nobleness, chivalry, and infinite strength of a true hero.
My deep appreciation to Mark Lee, a repository for the universe’s trivia, whose bizarre tidbits feed the writer’s soul, and to the special ladies of RBL Romantica for their friendship, insight, and of course the “Bonny and Braw Beefcake Farm.”
Special thanks to Don and Ken Wilber of the Wilber Law Firm, who created the perfect fit for my dual careers, allowing them to work in synthesis with each other.
Eternal gratitude to my sister, Elizabeth, who keeps my feet on the ground in so many crucial ways, and to my agent, Deidre Knight, whose professional guidance and
personal friendship has enriched both my writing and my life.
And finally, to the booksellers and readers who made my first novel a success.
egend tells that the power of the Berserker—preternatural strength, prowess, virility, and cunning—can be bought for the going rate of a man’s soul.
In the heather hills of the Highlands, the Viking god Odin lurks in shadowy places listening for the bitter howl of a man, brutalized beyond mortal endurance, to invoke his aid.
Legend holds that if the mortal is worthy, the primal breath of the gods blows into the man’s heart, making him an undefeatable warrior.
Women whisper that the Berserker is an incomparable lover; legend holds there is a single true mate for him. Like the wolf, he loves but once and for all time.
High in the mountains of Scotland, the Circle Elders say that the Berserker, once summoned, can never be dismissed—and if the man does not learn to accept the primitive instincts of the beast within, he will die.
Legend tells of such a man …
Death itself is better than a life of shame.
He couldn’t endure it another minute, yet he knew he was helpless to save them. His family, his clan, his best friend Arron, with whom he’d ridden the heather fields only yesterday, and his mother—oh, but his mother was another story; her murder had presaged this … this … barbaric …
He turned away, cursing himself for a coward. If he couldn’t save them and he couldn’t die with them, at least he owed them the honor of scribing the events into his memory. To avenge their deaths.
One at a time, if necessary.
Vengeance doesn’t bring back the dead
. How many times had his father said that? Once Gavrael had believed him, believed
him, but that had been before he’d discovered his mighty, wise, and wonderful da crouched over his mother’s body this morning, his shirt bloodstained, a dripping dagger in his fist.
Gavrael McIllioch, only son of the Laird of Maldebann, stood motionless upon Wotan’s Cleft, gazing down the sheer cliff at the village of Tuluth, which filled the valley hundreds of feet below. He wondered how this day had turned so bitter. Yesterday had been a fine day, filled with the simple pleasures of a lad who would one day govern these lush Highlands. Then this cruel morning had broken, and with it his heart. After discovering his da crouched above the savaged body of Jolyn McIllioch, Gavrael had fled for the sanctuary of the dense Highland forest, where he’d passed most of the day swinging wildly between rage and grief.
Eventually both had receded, leaving him oddly detached. At dusk, he’d retraced his path to Castle Maldebann to confront his sire with accusations of murder in a final attempt to make sense of what he’d witnessed, if there was sense to be made. But now, standing on the cliff high above Tuluth, the fourteen-year-old son of Ronin McIllioch realized his nightmare had only begun. Castle Maldebann was under siege, the village was engulfed in flames, and people were darting frantically between pillars of flames and piles of the dead. Gavrael watched helplessly as a small boy sped past a hut, directly into the blade of a waiting McKane. He recoiled; they were only children, but children could grow up to seek vengeance, and the fanatic McKane never left seeds of hatred to take root and bear poisonous fruit.
By the light of the fire engulfing the huts, he could see that the McKane severely outnumbered his people. The distinctive green and gray plaids of the hated enemy were a dozen to each McIllioch.
It’s almost as though they knew we’d be vulnerable
, Gavrael thought. More than half the McIllioch were away in the north attending a wedding.
Gavrael despised being fourteen. Although he was tall and broad for his age, with shoulders that hinted at exceptional strength to come, he knew he was no match for the burly McKane. They were warriors with powerfully developed, mature bodies, driven by obsessive hatred. They trained ceaselessly, existing solely to pillage and kill. Gavrael would be no more significant than a tenacious pup yapping at a bear. He could plunge into the battle below, but he would die as inconsequentially as the boy had moments before. If he had to die tonight, he swore he would make it mean something.
, the wind seemed to whisper. Gavrael cocked his head, listening. Not only was his world being destroyed, now he was hearing voices. Were his wits to fail him before this terrible day ended? He knew the legend of the Berserkers was simply that—a legend.
Beseech the gods
, the rustling branches of the pines hissed.
“Right,” Gavrael muttered. As he’d been doing ever since he’d first heard the fearsome tale at the age of nine? There was no such thing as a Berserker. It was a foolish tale told to frighten mischievous children into good behavior.
Ber … serk … er
. This time the sound was clearer, too loud to be his imagination.
Gavrael spun about and searched the massive rocks behind him. Wotan’s Cleft was a tumble of boulders and odd standing stones that cast unnatural shadows beneath the full moon. It was rumored to be a sacred place, where chieftains of yore had met to plan wars and determine fates. It was a place that could almost make a stripling lad believe in the demonic. He listened intently, but the wind carried only the screams of his people.
It was too bad the pagan tales weren’t true. Legend claimed Berserkers could move with such speed that they seemed invisible to the human eye until the moment they attacked. They possessed unnatural senses: the olfactory acuity of a wolf, the auditory sensitivity of a bat, the strength of twenty men, the penetrating eyesight of an eagle. The Berserkers had once been the most fearless and feared warriors ever to walk Scotland nearly seven hundred years ago. They had been Odin’s elite Viking army. Legend claimed they could assume the shape of a wolf or a bear as easily as the shape of a man. And they were marked by a common feature—unholy blue eyes that glowed like banked coals.
, the wind sighed.
“There is no such thing as a Berserker,” Gavrael grimly informed the night. He was no longer the foolish boy who’d been infatuated with the prospect of unbeatable strength; no longer the youth who’d once been willing to offer his immortal soul for absolute power and control. Besides, his own eyes were deep brown, and always had been. Never had history recorded a brown-eyed Berserker.
Gavrael flinched. This last figment of his traumatized mind had been a command, undeniable, irresistible. The hair on the back of his neck stood up on end and his skin prickled. Not once in all his years of playing at summoning a Berserker had he ever felt so peculiar. His blood pounded through his veins and he felt as if he teetered on the brink of an abyss that both lured and repulsed him.
Screams filled the valley. Child after child fell while he stood high above the battle, helpless to alter the course of events. He would do anything to save them: barter, trade, steal, murder—