Sons of Sinclair #4
April 25, 2023
Entangled Publishing (Amara)
Available in: Paperback, Audio, e-Book
Fate deals a surprising hand to the most ruthless brother in the next installment of USA Today bestselling author Heather McCollum’s Sons of Sinclair series.
“My mother was my first execution.” Bàs Sinclair has lived under the weight of his guilt for his mother’s death when she died birthing him. Raised to be the executioner for the mighty Sinclair Clan, Bàs lives a solitary life away from family and friends. Secretly he cares for the animals who flock to his home in the forest. He only ventures beyond when called upon to battle or punish criminals. He’s questioned his existence and purpose but has never escaped it.
Shana Drummond, midwife and loyal sister, sees firsthand the abuse her sister has survived in her marriage to the Oliphant chief. When her sister begs her to take her newborn son away, swearing that the baby died, Shana runs into the woods with her nephew. Nearly dying with the child in the snowy forest, Shana is rescued by the largest Highlander she’s ever seen. Despite his grave countenance, scars, and large number of weapons, the Highlander is gentle and kind.
When Shana is captured by her sister’s husband, she is sentenced to death for treason when she says the boy is dead. Can Bàs execute the woman who has thawed his frozen heart? How can he be an impartial executioner when his own life, and everything he’s been taught to believe, is on the scaffold?
This is the first conversation between Shana and Bàs, when she wakes up in his cabin.
Bàs spun toward the door when the woman barreled into him, circling behind as if hiding from a battalion of Norsemen. Her voluntary touch surprised him, rooting him where he stood. The warmth of her hands through his tunic reminded him of one of Banshee’s soft kittens. The strength in her voice showed that she was ready to hiss and fight even when flooded with fear.
“’Tis Beò,” he said and looked over his shoulder to see her head bent over the bairn, her palm resting on him. Despite her head injury and probable bruises from hitting the ground, she was spry and courageous when defending the bairn. “He saved ye from the wolf pack.”
Beò circled the manger, sniffing the scent of the bairn they’d rescued.
She raised her face. “But he’s a wolf,” she yelled.
He stuck a finger in that ear to stop the ringing. “Aye, but he’s my wolf.” He turned toward her and looked down into her wide eyes. “He won’t harm ye. He doesn’t have a taste for human flesh.” She moved to the side of him, the bairn held in her arms.
The lass pressed the side of her body against his. “Have you asked Beò if he has a taste for human flesh?” She nodded toward the box he’d found for the bairn. Beò circled it, sniffing. “He seems pretty interested in Edward’s cradle.” She pointed to and then grabbed tightly his tunic sleeve.
Bàs pried her hand off his shirt to hold. He paused, waiting for her to yank it away, but she didn’t. Her fingers were slender but strong, roughened from work but not cracked from harsh work. “I promise, lass,” he said. “The beast won’t harm ye or the bairn.” Slowly, he guided them over toward Beò, and Bàs ran his fingers through the wolf’s thick coat. “He’s quite fond of—”
Scratching claws and a growl heralded his two dogs as they smashed together, trying to be the first one in through the small door. The noise startled the squirrel, making her jump off the table, onto the floor, scurrying to reach the tree he had built his cottage around.
Artemis ran right for the squirrel. Apollo barked and pranced, trying to get Beò to play while the wolf stared at him with what Bàs imagined were amused eyes. The woman pulled her hand away, sheltering the bairn against her chest, and pushed backward until the cabin wall stopped her.
Bàs put two fingers in his mouth and whistled in short bursts. Both dogs ran directly to him, and Beò followed sedately. Bàs produced two small scraps of dried fish, and after making the dogs sit, gave them each one. Bàs threw a third to Beò who caught it in the air, gobbling it with a snap.
“Siuthad,” Bàs said and shooed all three out of the cabin with large sweeps of his hands. “Like I said, no harm will come to anyone with a name.” Normally Bàs avoided learning people’s names or anything else about them. An executioner never knew when he’d be called to perform his duty, and he didn’t want the attachment. It was a thin line between executioner and murderer, and his name rule kept him from falling over it. At least that’s what he told himself.
“I hope ye have a name.”
“Shana.” Her eyes were still wider than normal. She watched the canines pushing out through the door, ignoring the squirrel who was tame by comparison.
Shana. He rolled the name around in his mind. It suited her wild spirit.
She still wore the damp, rumpled, mud-stained gown in which he’d found her. Her hair was reddish brown with streaks of gold from the sun. It was long and wild as if tossed and tangled by sprites to puff out around her oval face. A multitude of brown freckles fell across her forehead, nose, and cheeks like flaxseeds flung onto a fertile field. Her lips were perfectly shaped and full of expression. The lass was beautiful in a natural way and unique, and she’d let him hold her hand.
He cleared his throat. “Like I said, ye and your nephew are safe here from the animals. Ye may stay to heal from your fall, and I can speak with my brothers about protecting the child and your sister.”
“No,” she said, starting a sway and jiggle dance that he’d seen Cain and Joshua do when holding their bairns to soothe them. “If others know we’re here, word will get back to him.”
Bàs didn’t answer. Instead, he found the small jug of milk he’d steamed that morning over the coals in the hearth. “’Tis some coo’s milk, and I have bread.” He grabbed a leather flask with a narrow neck. “I use this to feed baby animals when they’re fresh to the world and unable to suckle their mother. ’Tis clean.”
Her gaze rested on the flask and then slid back to his face. “You feed baby animals?”
Bàs didn’t answer. No one, besides Hannah, knew about his love for animals. The creatures were safe from his brutal duty unless they were considered food and did not acquire a name. Where he avoided people, especially fragile ones like infants, he could relax with Beò and his pack of animals at his cabin deep in the woods. He could be himself, more beast than man. His animals didn’t require explanations, nor did they wait for him to answer questions about why he didn’t remain at Girnigoe or touch bairns or interact with people. Sometimes Bàs wished he could become a beast, killing only to eat. He wished it most of the time.
“I mean…” She stared at him, her brows pinched. “I can’t imagine you… You feed baby animals?”
He must guard his tongue. People had ideas about who he was, and he didn’t correct them. Bringing fear, my son, is your purpose. Fear and death.
Bàs set the items on the table. “Use the flask or not,” he said and strode across the main room of the cabin and out the human door that fit him just right.
He inhaled the cool air that blew in with the night. His hawk, Bruce, would have arrived at Girnigoe Castle by now. Like Cain’s falcon, flying over the battlefield with scraps of fabric in his talons to signal action, Bruce had learned to ferry messages back and forth to the Sinclair holding on the sea. Would Joshua or Cain bring Hannah with darkness falling? Probably not. Packs of wolves roamed at night, and neither brother would want to risk a horse or Hannah. They’d probably come at dawn, which meant he had two houseguests for the night. Well, three if he counted the squirrel.
He rubbed a hand down his face. “Betty,” he murmured. There, the squirrel had a name, too. But the name that kept echoing through his head was Shana.
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“If you know me, you know that I 100% dropped everything, cancelled my plans, and skipped a school project so I could finally read Bas (Death's) story. I have to tell you it did not disappoint. 5 star read all the way!” Alissa on Goodreads
“5 Stars! Heather McCollum has absolutely killed it yet again! I read this book in less then 2 days! This entire series is amazing and I HIGHLY recommend it, especially if you like historical Scottish romance.” Carey’s Reviews
“My emotions were everywhere. I was sad, I laughed (Especially where Joshua is concerned), I cried, and I cheered! Bas' was not Death even though that's what he grew to believe.” Tammy on Goodreads