The Queen's Highlanders #1
May 19, 2022
Available in: Paperback, Audio, e-Book
The Highlander & The Queen’s Sacrifice
Could the Highlander be more dangerous than a poisoned gown?
Welcome to book 1 in the sensational new series, The Queen’s Highlanders by USA Today bestselling author Heather McCollum.
Kerr Gordon, next in line to be chief of the Gordon Clan, is tasked by Mary, Queen of Scots to bring to bring a gift to her cousin—and jailer—Queen Elizabeth of England. When he arrives at Whitehall Palace to find a courtly woman tied up in the stables, he acts to save her, only to be rebuked for dispatching an assassin before she could hear his confession.
Queen Elizabeth calls Maggie Darby her sacrificial lamb: Maggie’s job is to try on all of the queen’s gowns and accessories before she wears them—just in case they’re poisoned. Trained by her father, Maggie has no intention of dying in the line of duty. She’s learned all about poisons and how to test for them.
When the handsome Highland warrior who saved her in the stables is accused of treason, Maggie’s instincts tell her that he’s been framed. As they work together to find the true traitors in Queen Elizabeth’s court, the smoldering fire that’s been growing between them erupts into an inferno that threatens to change their worlds forever.
The Queen’s Highlanders
The Highlander & the Queen’s Sacrifice
The Highlander & the Lady of Misrule
The Highlander & the Counterfeit Queen
Talk about a dangerous "meet cute"!
Kerr just rescued a tied-up Maggie from a villain in the stables outside Whitehall Palace.
Margaret Darby, better known as Maggie, kicked at her layers of petticoats the moment the mountainous man cut the rope around her legs. Skirts in hand, she hurried to the fallen man, crouching down next to him. She pressed her fingers against his neck.
Thump. Thump. “Alive,” she whispered. Her head dropped forward, her shoulders rounding in relief. “Thank God,” she said.
“Pardon, lass,” her rescuer said, and she turned to take in the man who could ruined everything. He wore the costume of the Scottish Highlander, a woolen wrap of plaid design around his narrow hips, the end of it reaching up to cross one stout shoulder to fall diagonally across his chest. His leather boots were laced up the fronts of his legs, where she could see several more daggers lashed. His tunic lay wet and molded to his muscles, the bleached linen stark against the tan skin of his neck and face. Maggie hadn’t seen any Highlanders before. Did they all look as rugged, fierce, and full of masculine strength?
“Ye are angered that I harmed him?” he asked.
Mesmerized by the flash of white teeth in his perfect mouth, it took a moment for Maggie to comprehend his question. But then she frowned. “I am angered that you almost killed him.” She turned back to the traitor. “And I was well in control of the situation.” She slapped the ruffian’s bristled cheeks lightly, trying to rouse him. “God’s teeth. Wake up.”
“Are ye two…?” The man hesitated, and she peered back at him, noticing how his clipped hair hit around his strong jawline. “Lovers?” he asked.
Maggie blinked, the word sinking in, making her frown turn to disgust. Her eyes widened. “Lovers? You jest. This…” she glanced back at the man who was stupid enough to think she’d meet him unprepared. “This creature? You think we are lovers when he had me tied up while threatening me with a knife?”
The Highlander shrugged his massive shoulders. “Some lasses like to be tied up.”
Her mouth dropped open as she stared at the man’s strong form and lush mouth. Did he pleasure ladies who like to be tied up? “By this man?” She slowly shook her head. “Have you seen his teeth?”
The Highlander looked down at the prostrate man, his mouth open to expose his blackened, broken teeth. “Bad teeth don’t hinder a man’s jack.”
Maggie straightened in a huff. “They certainly hinder any type of attention from me or any other woman who refuses to roll around with unwashed, crude swine.” They stared at one another in the glow of the lantern she’d brought with her.
“I will escort ye inside to safety,” he said, glancing down the aisle toward the gates that led into the dark bailey. “We can report him to the guards.” The Highlander stepped closer to her.
“I would know your name,” she said and frowned at the breathlessness in her voice. She cleared her throat, tipping her chin a bit higher like she’d seen her friend, Cordelia, do many times.
The man was handsomely made and was obviously more rugged than any man she’d seen before. Even rain-damp he looked commanding and powerful, not at all like the overly decorated men at court.
“I am Kerr Gordon, sent to speak with Queen Elizabeth of England.”
“Cur, as in mad dog?” she asked. “What mother would name her babe after a mad dog?”
He frowned. “’Tis spelled K.E.R.R. A Scottish name.”
“Well K.E.R.R,” she spelled out, “I am Maggie Darby, well Margaret, I should say. Mistress to Queen Elizabeth and her protector.”
“Ye protect Queen Elizabeth?” he asked, his voice even despite the question in it.
Maggie frowned at him. “My father inspected King Henry’s clothing, Queen Mary had a Spanish lady inspect her garments, but then my brother inspected King Edward’s clothing, and I inspect Queen Elizabeth’s clothing for poisons and anything that could cause harm. So yes, I protect the queen’s body.”
“People send her poisoned gowns?” Kerr asked, following Maggie down the swept stable aisle.
“Catherine de Medici of France has poisoned people with perfumed gloves, and there are whispers of enemies lacing gowns as well. Lord Burghley is convinced our queen is in jeopardy of one. Therefore, I try on all gowns, gloves, hats, basically anything that touches Her Majesty’s skin.” Their boots thudded on the hard packed ground, barely heard over the rain, as they walked down the aisle between the horse stalls. “And that man,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “was hired by someone to stop me.”
“Because ye found something?” Kerr asked.
She hesitated. “Well… no. But I received a note telling me to meet someone here tonight who would give me information about an upcoming plot.”
“The black-tooth man who tied ye up.”
“No. The script was finely wrought, cultured, regal. I am certain the author hired this ruffian to do away with me.” She looked back down the dark aisle where the man lay unmoving.
“After he raped ye,” Kerr said, anger making his burbling brogue sharp with lethality.
They stopped before the stable doors, which she saw the brute had barred it. “He would not have gotten far.”
Kerr stopped, his body turning toward her. His hands landed gently on her shoulders. “Do ye not know the depravity of men, lass? That bastard had his jack out and ready. He would have taken out his lust on ye before slitting your throat.” The Highlander looked back as if he were going to charge down the aisle to finish killing him. His handsome features took on the darkness of death.
Kerr Gordon seemed truly concerned for her. No one at court had ever asked her to be wary. To them, she was another disposable attendant in the queen’s service. Elizabeth’s sacrificial lamb.
Maggie stood there, breathing in the smell of rain and fresh hay, studying the man who cared enough about her, a stranger, to aid her and then warn her to take care. She swallowed against the tightening of her chest, shaking off the familiar heartache.
“Like I said, he would not have gotten far.” She reached down her petticoat and knocked against the iron and leather cage underneath. The dulled thump made the Highlander look down, and she shifted. “I am wearing a chastity belt.”
His brow furrowed. “They are but legend that fathers use to scare their daughters.”
She chuckled. “One was sent to the queen when rumors were circulating about her and Lord Robert Dudley being too intimate. ‘Twas a jest. The queen scoffed and sent it away to me, her wardrobe keeper. It is made of iron and leather, and I have the key back in my chambers.” She smiled broadly and exhaled long. “The scoundrel would have been quite put out when he lifted my petticoat to find me locked up tight.”
The Highlander stared at her for a long moment. “He would have still cut your throat.”
“He would have had to untie my legs to spread them before realizing my maidenhood was protected, and I can do quite a lot with my feet.” She pointed to the ground, and his gaze followed as she drew the hem of her gown back, showing a pointed blade sticking out of the tip of one short, leather boot.
“Someone sent your queen a dagger-tipped boot?” he asked, his face open in bewilderment.
Maggie’s smile filled with pride, and she shook her head. “My father and I fashioned the spring-loaded blade, from a castoff pair of the queen’s boots. There is a lethal dose of poison secured in the point. If I had stabbed him with the tip, the poison would have exploded out of it. He would have fallen, leaving me to escape.” Her smile slipped away. “After he had told me who sent him.”
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***** "Excellent novel in Queen Elizabeth's court. Outstanding line if characters. Chaos reigns including, love, true devotion, traitors, assassination attempts against not only the queen but her sacrificial lamb. A really great story. Well written once again by Heather McCollum." Kathy on Amazon
5 Stars! "The intriguing of Elizabeth's court! Having a highlander at court with his own set of issues. And, learning about the many ways that the Queen was protected! That is an intrigue in itself." Moma on Amazon
*****"Heather McCollum pens another extraordinary tale! Bravo! It kept this reader up very late into the night with a box of tissues! What an awesome story with so much true historical facts about Queen Elizabeth I and her inner court circle and Mary Queen of Scots pain and suffering. The fictional love story between Kerr and Maggie was beautiful and emotional, I could really feel their love and their difficulties too. This was a breathtaking beautifully, written book! I highly recommend The Highlander and The Queen’s Sacrifice, a brilliant start to an exceptional new series. I definitely can’t wait for Lucy’s book next!" Barbie on Goodreads
5 Stars! "This book has it all and I am highly recommending you read it!!!" Kat on Goodreads