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Katie's Highlander – from Random House Loveswept

An archaeologist with a zest for life finds herself stranded in small-town North Carolina—with a brooding Highland hunk who’s straight out of ancient Scotland.

Ramsay MacDara wishes the goddesses had left his arse back in the tenth century. That way he never would have met the gold digger who made a fool out of him. A loner at heart, Ramsay is riding his beloved horse through the woods near his family’s North Carolina theme park, Highland Life and Legends, when he hears tires squealing—followed by a thud—and rushes to the scene to help. That’s when he sets his eyes on a pair of long legs sticking out of the moon roof of a car. His interest piqued, the rest of her will soon arouse his greatest desires . . . and deepest fears.

Archaeologist Katie Jenson is on a six-month sabbatical from her job at Princeton University. Following the death of her beloved father—whose dying request was for Katie to live life to the fullest—she’s headed to a friend’s beach house in North Carolina. But a momentary distraction takes her off the road and on the journey of her life . . . with a sex god in a kilt at her side. Ramsay’s passion is the stuff of legend—and it just may be Katie’s greatest discovery.

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excerpt

She was runnin’. He knew it as surely as he knew his own name. That and the fact that he could hear her whisky-induced stumbling through the thick blanket of leaves and twigs covering the forest floor.

Keep to the path. Both Emrys and Dwyn had warned him.

“Aye, but neither of them has e’er met a woman as stubborn or worth chasin’ as Katie.” Ramsay fetched his spear from the ground beside Dubh and sadly gave the horse an affectionate pat. “I may ne’er see ye again, lad. Ye ken where the keep is—if I’m no’ back by sunup, hie ye homeward.”

Dubh grumbled and bounced his dark head up and down, then swished his long tail. The horse understood.

Ramsay stood still, listening to the telltale signs the woods were willing to share. Uneasiness washed across him as the unmistakable sounds of Katie stumbling through the leaves came clearly from the east.

“Damn woman. Of all directions ye could choose.” East. Where the sun ne’er sets, and legends ne’er die. He rolled his shoulders and resettled his grasp on the spear. “East it is.” He’d only veered a few yards from the path when he first noticed the change. He immediately stopped, remaining motionless as he listened for Katie. The woods around him had become silent as a tomb.

The hairs on the back of his neck slowly rose and a burning chill washed across his flesh. The air held a familiar sting to it, ‘twas overcharged with active energy.

“No. Not now,” he whispered. “Dinna take me from her now.”

He’d felt this way several times before and he knew exactly what it meant. The first time had been seventeen years ago, it had been a great deal more violent and had landed him and his family in Brady, North Carolina. The most recent occurrences had only been a few years ago and only months apart. After Dwyn’s extensive guidance, Ramsay had been able to maintain a bit more control and survive jumping across the centuries a great deal better.

The goddesses had decided to sift him back through time—either to save a druid clan or ensure even more protection for the survival of the stone—he’d be trapped wherever they sent him until he’d satisfied whatever duty they’d seen fit to assign him.

“Sons a bitches, I shouldha ne’er veered from the path.” He scrubbed a hand across his face and rolled his shoulders against the eerie clamminess creeping across his skin. I know t’heed the warnings.

As soon as the feeling left him, he crouched in the darkness, listening, taking in every nuance of wherever the hell he’d landed. He’d learned early on to carefully assess his surroundings before embarking on whatever task the goddesses had assigned. His very survival depended on it.

Inside a structure. A small place . . . a cabin, maybe. He reached out and gingerly touched the floor. Cold compacted dirt instead of wood flooring. Ahh . . . I’ve landed in a croft. He slowly rose and patted himself down. Dirk and sword were still with him and so were the thick plates of heavy leather armor strapped across his chest. Good.

My spear. Where the hell was his spear? He’d had it in his hand. His eyes finally accustomed to the darkness, he found the door. The glint of steel stopped him before he reached for the latch. His spear. Leaned up against the doorframe. Waiting.

Ramsay blew out a heavy sigh as he hefted the familiar weapon in one hand. He had his spear. He had his duty, but he didna have Katie. And now that he’d been sent to whate’er century for whate’er amount a time the goddesses pleased, he’d no’ have the chance to convince the lass that their life together could be so well worth the risks and fears he’d seen flashin’ in the dear woman’s eyes.

“Ramsay!” Katie’s scream split the darkness—filled with such terror that Ramsay shot through the rotting door of the abandoned croft rather than wasting time to open it. He paused long enough to scan the small empty clearing before pushing into the woods. Her scream had come from straight ahead, deeper in the trees. He was certain of it.

“Katie!” he roared.

Spear readied, Ramsay listened, praying she’d call out to him again. This was no’ the woods behind Castle Danu nor the mountain on which it was built. These trees were ancient, huge and moss covered, pushing up through the loamy soil of a harsh and rugged land. This was definitely not North Carolina.

“Katie!” he shouted again.

“I’m down here. I fell.”

“I’m comin’ t’ye, lass. Hold tight.” Ramsay hurried toward Katie’s call, taking care to test suspicious expanses of the rough root-covered woodland floor with the haft of his spear.

“Over here and hurry up! It’s dark down here and I don’t know what else might be in here with me.”

Ramsay eased his way closer, spotting an even blacker portion of treeless forest floor within a circle of trees just up ahead. He’d seen such naturally formed traps before—nothing more than deep ravines washed out by heavy rains, then hidden by uprooted trees, rotting vegetation, and eons worth of leaf mold. But sometimes, depending on which century they’d landed, such naturally provided traps were put to use by hunters. But she didna sound hurt.

Thank the goddesses she didna fall into an armed boar trap. Sharpened spikes placed in the bottom of such hunting pits couldha killed her. Taking care, he made his way to the edge and peered over.

Katie’s pale face shone up at him, her fair skin nearly glowing in what little moonlight filtered down through the canopy of leaves overhead. Eyes wide and terrified, she held up both hands and lunged toward the soft muddy embankment crumbling beneath her feet. “Pull me out. Every time I try to climb up, all the dirt gives way.”

Relief flooded through him but it wasna time to relax just yet. Thanks be to the gods she isna hurt but— Not only did he have to get her out of the pit—but he had t’inform the lass that he wasna quite sure where in the span of history the goddesses had decided to drop them.

He took hold of his spear at the base of the blade and lowered the handle down toward Katie. “Can ye reach it, lass?”

“I think so.” Katie grunted as she lunged up toward the staff and managed to latch on with one hand. “It’s so muddy. I can’t get a foothold to climb up. Do you think you can drag me out?”

“Do I think I can drag ye out?” Ramsay repeated under his breath. Did the lass think him weak as a bairn? “Hold fast and see.” With one mighty yank of the spear, he pulled her up to the edge of the cave in, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and heaved her the rest of the way out.

Spitting and sputtering, Katie floundered to her feet. She pulled at the neckline of her shirt, reached down inside, and scooped out handfuls of loamy dirt and debris. “Gross!” All of a sudden, with one hand still shoved down the front of her shirt, she froze, then turned and stared back down into the pit. “My phone. I was trying to call Adam when I fell.”

Ramsay shook his head and blew out a heavy sigh as he took her by the elbow and firmly led her to more solid ground. “Ye’ll find yer phone useless here. Leave it.”

“Do you know how expensive those are? All my contacts. All my photos. I’ve got all kinds of notes stored in that phone. Lower me back down in there so I can find it.” She tried to wriggle free of his hold. “Let go, Ramsay. As soon as I find it, you can pull me back out again.”

Ramsay jerked her farther away from the pit, pulled her up to higher ground, then resettled his grip on her slippery muddy arm. “I said leave it! ‘Tis no’ worth the risk and willna serve ye in this time. We must get movin’. Take shelter to await the dawn and then figure out where and when we are—our survival depends on it, ye ken?”

Katie went still, scowling at him with such a narrow-eyed look ‘twas small wonder he didna burst into flames. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Dinna veer from the path, d’ye remember those words? Look around ye, lass.” Ramsay slowly turned her. “Does this place look anything like the woods we rode through? Where is the path? The trees dinna even look the same.”

Katie glanced around, then hugged herself, and backed up a step all the while shaking her head as though trying to shake free of the entire situation. “I don’t like this. I was walking along and all of a sudden, I felt weird—kind of all tingly and dizzy. I figured it was the booze. The next thing I knew, I’d stumbled into that damn pit.” She ran a trembling hand across her forehead, then turned back and stared at him, eyes wide and full of fear. “What the hell is this, Ramsay? What did you do?”

Ramsay held out his hand. “I’ll explain once we get settled for the night.” He glanced around, scanning the dark unfamiliar forest. “’Tis too dangerous to tarry here. I dinna ken this place nor who or what it might hold. We’ll take shelter in the abandoned croft from which I just came.”

Katie didn’t take his hand, just stood there trembling, stealing panicked glances around the woods as though Ramsay hadn’t said a word.

“Katie.” Ramsay stepped forward and gently took her hand, pulling her up alongside him as though she were a small child. “Come, lass.” Her sudden silence and trembling concerned him no small amount. Many couldna handle siftin’ through time. Dwyn had said so whilst training all the MacDara sons and travelin’ across the centuries had reduced Athair to the addled man he was today.

Wrapping an arm around her, Ramsay pulled her close and gently led her back through the woods to the safety of the clearing around the dilapidated croft. She’s ne’er this quiet. I’ll ne’er forgive m’self or the powers if this harms her.

Midway through the clearing, Katie stopped and stared up at the night sky, her lips moving with unspoken words as she studied the softly winking stars and slowly turned in place. “Oh my God,” she finally whispered aloud. “They’re in the wrong place.”

“What’s in the wrong place, lass?” Ramsay spoke softly and tried to ease her toward the cabin. She needed sleep. ‘Twould help her body realign itself and adjust to this time.

“The stars.” Katie jerked away from his touch, pointing up at the sky as she spoke. “They’re all wrong. Out of alignment.”

“Yer tired, lass.” Ramsay took hold of her by the shoulders and hugged her up to his chest. If he had to, he’d pick her up and carry her. The woman had a better chance of survival if she’d do as he said and slept. “Come. We’ll rest ‘til mornin’. I swear t’ye the sun will still rise in the east.”

“You don’t understand!” Katie pulled away, wildly jabbing a finger upward, pointing at the sky. “I chart stars when I need to relax. I charted them a few days ago because it always helps me sleep. But everything’s different now. Shifted in the sky. In the wrong place.” Her voice fell and her lower lip quivered, as her gaze darted to and fro at the sky above. “They shouldn’t be where they are right now—not in August.”

“’Tis no’ the month, lass.” Ramsay did his best to keep his tone even and calm so as not to fuel her anxiousness even more. “’Tis the year that’s made them different. Come. Ye must get some sleep now. Please.” He wouldna lie to her to get her to rest. Lying would only make it worse whenever she saw that they were in fact somewhere in the distant past.

Katie grabbed hold of his shoulders and vainly tried to shake him. “This can’t be happening!” she shouted as a tear slipped down her cheek. She angrily swiped it away then punched Ramsay in the chest. “And you made me cry! I never . . . hardly ever.” She swayed in place and started shaking as she dropped to her knees. Hugging herself, she coughed and hiccupped with uncontrollable sobs. “I never cry.”

Ramsay hated himself for what he’d allowed to happen to Katie. Burning with gut-churning regret, he hurled his spear into the croft, then bent and scooped Katie up into his arms. She fought him, pounding against his chest and kicking. Ramsay ignored her struggles as though she were a child having a temper tantrum. He snugged her tighter against his chest as she wept and keened out sharp pitiful cries that tore at his soul. He strode into the cabin and kicked what was left of the door closed behind him.

He tested the strength of a bench along the back wall with his foot. Good. ‘Tis no’ rotted. He lowered himself down to it and propped back into the corner, settling Katie on his lap in the process. Every few seconds, she shuddered and weakly struggled to rise out of his arms. Ramsay just held her closer, barely expending any energy to keep her in his embrace. Finally, she sagged against him, her chest still heaving from her sobs. Her fit of anger spent, she nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck and he pulled a fold of his kilt across her trembling body. ‘Twas a warm night but the stone croft was cool, and he feared she might be going into shock. Must keep her warm and safe. Must get her t’sleep.

Katie sniffed and hiccupped as she weakly thumped her fist against his chest again and again. “I hate you.”

He felt more than heard her hoarse ranting. Closing his eyes against her pain and his own pain as well, he quietly endured every word she uttered. Her cries cut him deep and he deserved every wound.

“I honest to God hate you for all this. I hate you for making me cry,” she choked out as she knotted his léine in her fist and curled her hand to her mouth, holding the cloth tight against her lips to muffle her sobs.

“I know, lass. I know. Hush now.” Ramsay made low shushing sounds as he stroked her hair and held her tighter. There was no way the lass could hate him nearly as much as he hated himself right now. “’Tis no’ shame in tears, lass,” he whispered with a gentle kiss to the top of her head. “Cry all ye like—I swear ‘twill be our secret. A secret I’ll take to my grave.”

Gradually, Katie quieted, then finally grew still. Her ragged breathing evened out and settled into the smooth soft rhythm of a deep exhausted sleep.

Ramsay pressed another kiss to the top of her head, pausing to breathe in her scent to balm his soul. He shifted back and stared up into the darkness, memorizing the comforting warm weight of her sleeping in his arms.

I will get us back as soon as possible, dear one. I swear it.

The only problem with that resolution was that he knew deep in his heart that once they arrived back in the century in which they belonged, he’d never see Katie again.