There’s nothing quite like a big, strapping man in a kilt… and this book has kilts aplenty! Keep reading for a sneak peek of THE STRIKER, the newest installment in Monica McCarty’s wildly popular Highland Guard series, on sale November 24th from Pocket Books! And keep an eye out for THE ROCK, the next book in the series out December 29th!

Chapter One

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.

They had him. Dugald MacDowell, the chief of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Galloway, the last of the significant Scots opposition to Bruce’s kingship, and the man responsible for the slaughter of over seven hundred men— including two of Bruce’s brothers. The bastard had eluded capture for years, but he’d finally made a mistake.

That his mistake was a weakness for the bride made it even more fitting, as it was Eoin’s foolish weakness for the same woman that had set the whole disaster in motion.

He felt for the carved piece of ivory in his sporran by instinct. It was there—as was the well-read piece of parchment beside it. Talismans of a sort, reminders of another, but he never went into battle without them.

“You’re sure he’ll be here?”

Eoin turned to the man who’d spoken: Ewen Lamont, his partner in the Highland Guard, and one of the dozen
men who’d accompanied him on this dangerous mission deep behind enemy lines. Though Bruce himself had led raids through Durham last summer, the king had had an army for support. If Eoin’s dozen men ran into trouble, they were on their own a hundred miles from the Scottish border. Of course, it was his job to make sure they didn’t run into trouble.

Opugnate acriter. Strike with force. That’s what he did, and what had earned him the war name of Striker among the elite warriors of Bruce’s secret Highland Guard. Like the striker who wielded the powerful blows of the hammer for the blacksmith, Eoin’s bold, just-on-the edge-of-crazy “pirate” tactics struck hard against their enemies. Today would be no different—except that this plan might be even bolder (and crazier) than usual. Which, admittedly, was saying something.

Eoin met his friend’s gaze, which was just visible beneath the visor of the full helm. “Aye, I’m sure. Nothing will keep MacDowell from his daughter’s wedding.”

The information about Maggie’s—Margaret’s—planned nuptials had fallen into his hands by chance. Eoin, Lamont, Robbie Boyd, and James Douglas had been with Edward Bruce, the king’s only remaining brother, in Galloway for the past month doing everything they could do to disrupt communication and the supply routes between the Mac- Dowell strongholds in Scotland’s southwest province of Galloway and Carlisle Castle in England, which was provisioning them. During one of these “disruptions,” they’d captured a bundle of missives, which included a letter from Sir John Conyers, the Constable of Barnard Castle for the Earl of Warwick, giving the date of Conyers’s marriage to MacDowell’s “beloved” daughter. Dugald had eight sons, but only one daughter, so there could be no mistake as to the identity of the bride.

Lamont gave him a long, knowing look. “I suspect the same could be said of you.”

Eoin’s lip curled in a smile that was edged with far more anger than amusement. “You’re right about that.”

This was one wedding he wouldn’t miss for the world. The fact that it would lead to the capture of his most hated enemy only made it more satisfying. Two debts, long in arrears, would be repaid this day.