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A Sneak Peek of HIGHLAND THIEF! And a GIVEAWAY!! by Alyson McLayne


Ah, September... 

You crazy, busy, son of a bitch. Thank God you’re almost over!
Until I had school-aged kids, September was just the beginning of fall. Even when I was a kid, and I had to go back to school, I never had to bend my calendar around like Uri Gellar on steroids the way I do now. The only person I ever thought about back then was me!
Now September is defined by the 2 kids, start-of-school, call-for-volunteers, after-school-activity/play-date craziness where you try to cram 3 hours worth of work into a one-hour stint in the car during piano lessons because you forgot about your daughter’s Noisy Reading session on Friday morning.
Dance classes and hockey practice at the same time? Sure! Why not?
Doctor and dentist appointments all scheduled in the same week? Well, of course they are!
Indoor runners, back packs, and tap shoes all suddenly worn out on the same day? Afraid so.
This is why grocery stores always put Lunchables on sale and at the front of the store during the first two weeks of school—catch working parents while they’re wild-eyed and reeling!

September... I'm done with you. 

Seriously—we’re done! Not only do I have a wicked new planner (or 3), tomorrow is October! 
I have several calendar/planners—on my phone, my computer, my desk, and in the kitchen—because if one birthday party or special helper day gets missed, mommy will live to regret it!
Hence, I set up a system this year to deal with the onslaught of school notes that come home every day and are either left in backpacks (along with empty yogurt containers and banana peels) or taken out at some random time and promptly lost.
Now if only, I could get the rugrats to stick to it!  

What about HIGHLAND THIEF? 

All this planning for September had me thinking about my heroine, Isobel, from my up-coming book HIGHLAND THIEF—book 5 in The Sons Of Gregor MacLeod series. Isobel is a planner. And a plotter. And she writes extensive lists and draws elaborate diagrams of the traps she devises to spring on people who deserve to be taken down a notch—whether they’re her laird (and brother) or the village miller cheating his customers.
And her clan LOVE her for it. It balances the scales and redresses wrongs that are beneath the notice of the laird...but not their beloved Lady Isobel.
Highland Thief isn't out yet, but I do have a scene I can share with you that I ended up cutting during my big revision this month—a scene I loved but it slowed down the overall pacing of the story. So, keep reading for a fun, (unedited and probably too long!) sneak peek at Isobel planning one of her traps!
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HIGHLAND THIEF—EXCERPT
(From The Cutting Room Floor!)
Sinking into her brother’s chair, Isobel took a moment to go over her plan again with fresh eyes. The problem with trying to catch her brother, or one of his foster brothers, off guard was that they’d been trained to spot any anomaly—whether it was people who were out of place or changes in their environment.
Luckily, her brother had been distracted with his bride and newly-found son, Ewan, and Isobel felt she had a good chance of tricking him this time. But something about the plan was bothering her… something she’d missed.
The sound of lightly, running feet caught her attention, and Isobel looked up in time to see her sister-in-law hurry through the door, hope and excitement shining from her beautiful face. When she saw Isobel at the desk, the light faded.
“Oh,” Deirdre said, her disappointment palpable. “I thought maybe you were Gavin. Not that I’m unhappy to see you, of course.”
Isobel laughed. “Aye, you are. But ’tis understandable. You’re as daft as a duck in love with my brother.”
Deirdre plopped down on the chair in front of the desk, facing Isobel, her hands resting on her belly. “I am not daft. Well, maybe just a little.” She sighed. “I thought they’d be back by now. It’s been seven weeks.”
“They will be. Soon. I received word earlier.” She found the message on top of one of Master Carmichael’s piles and held it out to her. “Here.”
Deirdre leaned forward eagerly and pulled the letter from her hand.
Isobel turned her gaze back to her plan and walked her fingers across the paper to guess the number of paces between the edge of the glade and the pit of manure she’d filled up a few days ago.
That’s when it struck her. Even if she could distract Gavin long enough so he didn’t notice the pit before he stepped into it, how could she stop him from smelling it?
“How’d you get in here?” Deirdre asked, breaking Isobel’s concentration. “I asked Master Carmichael to let me in a few weeks ago, but he was most reluctant. He didn’t actually say no, but he also never let me in. And he gave me such a look that I ne’er asked again.”
Isobel grinned and held up her key. “He canna keep me out—no matter how hard he tries.”
Deirdre’s eyes widened. “Did Gavin give you that?”
“Nay.” She slipped the key back within the folds of her arisaid.  “I took his and had a copy made. How else could I know what was going on in the clan and with his foster brothers? He doesn’t tell me everything.”
Deirdre’s mouth opened in surprise. “So you break in?”
“Nay, that’s what I would do if I didn’t have a key. I simply unlock the door and step inside. Until he changes the locks, there’s naught he can do about it—and he knows it.”
Deirdre shook her head. “I’ll be sure to tell him you said that as soon as he’s back.”
“Tell Master Carmichael, too, and watch his face turn purple. ’Tis most amusing.”
“Oh, Isobel,” Deirdre laughed, shaking her head at the same time. “’Tis a wonder the man is still alive.” Her amusement made her grey eyes dance.
When she dropped her palm back to her stomach and rubbed softly, Isobel’s brow creased. That was the second time her sister-in-law had rubbed or patted her belly. She scrutinized Deirdre’s face. She was as lovely as ever with her lush features and long, dark hair—almost as dark as Kerr’s hair, which wasn’t surprising as they shared a great grandmother—but her eyes were shadowed and her fair skin peaked.
“Are you feeling well?” she asked.
“Aye. Just tired.”
“And the sickness has subsided?”
“For the most part.”
The plaid Deirdre had pleated around her middle hid her pregnancy well—not that there was much to see. Based on her last menses, the healer guessed the wee bairn inside her was barely three months old.
When she first found out, Deirdre hadn’t told anyone, as Gavin had already left with their allies to finish the fight with the MacIntyres and the MacColls, and she’d wanted her husband to be the first to know. Followed by their son, Ewan, of course.
But Isobel had figured it out.
It frightened her to think of losing Deirdre to childbirth like so many women before her. If that were to happen, she feared for her brother.
To lose her now would shatter him—would shatter them all. Deirdre hadn’t just rescued Ewan after he’d disappeared three years ago, she hadn’t just brought Gavin back to them from the dark place that had consumed him, she’d saved all the MacKinnons, Gavin’s foster brothers, and Gregor MacLeod as well. When the MacIntyres and MacColls had first attacked, it was Deirdre who’d crumbled the half-built cathedral down on top of them—killing them all.
Except one man, of course—the dark-haired master-mind behind all the attacks on the foster brothers and Gregor MacLeod in the last few years.
Verily, Deirdre was an angel sent to save them, and Gavin loved her beyond reason. So did Isobel.
Not that Deirdre needed to know that.
“Enjoy the fresh air and sunlight while you can,” Isobel said, her lips tilting into a wicked grin. “My brother will take one look at you—your breasts even bigger than before, although God knows how that’s possible—and you will be on your back, staring at the ceiling for days.”
Deirdre sniffed—a dismissive, disdainful sound. “Shows how little you know. ’Tis not always the ceiling I’ll be facing. Gavin and I are more imaginative than that.”
Isobel burst into laughter. Aye, her beloved friend had a wee bit of the devil inside her too. “Well, take advantage while you still can. Before long, you willna be able to move. You married into a family of giants, not to mention you have Kerr’s blood running through your veins. He’s part monster. That wee lad you’re carrying will be half your size by the time he comes out.”
“Nay, I’m going to have a wee lass, as sweet and patient and kind-spoken as you.”
Isobel put on a beatific smile. “I am sweet, aren’t I? And I do say the nicest things.” Never mind that she had a plan laid out before her to lure her brother into a pit of manure.
Deirdre snorted, but then she sighed and placed her hands over her belly again. “You’re fortunate to be so tall, Isobel. Your body will easily accommodate a growing bairn. ’Tis how it was with my sisters. I’m afraid I will look like Farmer Busby’s prize sow before long.”
“You should be so lucky. Ophelia is a dear. I love that pig.”
Deirdre’s gaze turned speculative as she looked at her. “Your body will change too, when you have bairn. And not just your belly. You may not mind growing rounder at all.”
A familiar pang of envy squeezed Isobel’s chest—her very flat chest. “I doona think I’ll e’er be pregnant. I willna marry Kerr, and he runs off any other man who might be interested in me. I’ll have to make-do with being an indulgent aunt to Ewan and the rest of yours and Gavin’s horde.”
Deirdre frowned. “I’ll speak to Gavin about that when he returns. And to Kerr as well. It was my intention to do so before, but with Gavin being injured, I forgot. I canna believe Kerr means to cause you such distress. You’ve had an understanding of sorts between the two of you for a long time. ’Tis possible he thinks it’s only a matter of time before you marry. If your heart is truly set against him, Gavin must make it clear that he isna to interfere—even if it means he’s no longer welcome here for a while.”
Isobel dropped her eyes, her lips clamped together to hold in the protest that had risen in her breast. It filled her throat, until she couldn’t breathe around it.
Gah, I’m an addle-pated woman! Kerr MacAlister is not the man for me.
“Doona worry yourself,” she said, trying to lighten her voice. “If your cousin e’er works up the courage to ask me, I’ll make it verra clear to him that I havenae any intention of marrying him. But for now there is none other who has caught my eye, and it saves me having to turn down suitors who only want me for this.” She circled her finger around her face. “They think they’re getting the Beauty of the Highlands, when in actual fact they’re getting…” She had to think about how to describe herself. Her real self.
Deirdre raised a brow. “…The Devil of the Highlands?”
A puff of laughter blew out. “Aye, maybe. I was going to say the Best Plotter or Trap-Setter of the Highlands, but Devil sounds better.”
“Is that what you do? Set traps for people who deserve it?”
“I suppose so, but it’s not always an elaborate trap. As long as I let them know in some way that their behavior has been noted and found wanting.”
“So…a public shaming of sorts?”
“Perhaps.” She leaned toward Deirdre. “Doona you see? It balances the scales. Restores power to the person who has been maltreated and maintains the equilibrium of the clan. If ’tis a serious crime like theft or murder, I leave that to Gavin. But in this case,” she indicated the parchment spread over the desk in front of her, “the offender was Gavin. He treated you terribly and has to pay for it.”
Deirdre’s eyes grew round as she looked—upside-down—at the plan Isobel had devised.
“But… I’ve forgiven him. What if he gets hurt?”
“The only thing that will be hurt is his dignity. And maybe his shoes. And believe me, he’ll feel better afterward. And you will too. I am declaring, on behalf of the clan, that I saw what he did to you and I’ve condemned it. You’ll both thank me for it later.
Deirdre shook her head. “Isobel MacKinnon, you’ve lost your mind.”
“Nay, I havenae. It facilitates healing within the clan. You’ll see.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Gavin reuniting me with Ewan and marrying me facilitates healing. Every time he tells me he loves me facilitates healing.” She rose and turned the parchment around, so she could look at it closer, then stabbed her finger on the pit. “Manure does not facilitate healing!”
Isobel shrugged. “I think it does. Besides, I’ve already declared that Gavin is on my list. The clan is waiting.”
“Let them wait!”
“Nay.”
She could almost see Deirdre’s brilliant, mathematical mind analyzing and discarding the different options. “Well, then… I’m going to tell him.”
She had to bite her lip to hide her amusement. “Nay, you won’t. You’re an angel, and I’ve asked you not to.”
“You did not.”
“Deirdre, please doona tell Gavin about my plans—in any way. Even if he tries to trick you.”
“If he’s tricking me, I willna know that he’s tricking me, will I?”
“Aye, you will. You’re a verra smart woman.”
She glared at Isobel. “Well, what about Kerr?”
“What about him?”
“Have you set up a trap for him?”
“Nay.”
“Why not? If anyone deserves your ire it’s him. He deliberately provokes you.”
Isobel’s lips tightened and she turned the parchment back to face her. “I’ve tried. Numerous times. He always figures it out. ’Tis verra annoying—much like him. Kerr MacAlister enjoys being on my bad side.”
“When was the last time you tried?”
“Over a year ago.”
“Over a year ago!”
Isobel looked up at the stone ceiling and around the room. “Is there an echo in here?”
Deirdre huffed and turned the parchment back toward her. She leaned on the desk, eyes intent on the plan. “You obviously haven’t tried hard enough. I seems to me you should punish Kerr before you punish Gavin. How will the clan feel if you let Kerr get away with being annoying? You must redress things, Isobel.”
“Now who’s lost their mind? The clan doesn’t care about Kerr. That was just for me. Kerr’s punishment is in me not punishing him.”
Deirdre scoffed. “You just need a good enough distraction. How are you planning to distract Gavin?”
“I’m not. The man’s been walking around with his head in the clouds since he met you. He’ll not notice anything amiss until it’s too late.” Deirdre blushed prettily and smiled. Isobel rolled her eyes. “For the love of God, that’s not a good thing.”
Her sister-in-law grumbled and then sat back down in her chair. “All you need to do is make Kerr think you’re planning to pull the wool over Gavin’s eyes, when the trap is actually for him.”
Isobel stilled and her heart began to race. A budding excitement heated her skin. “I could ask for his help.”
“Is that something you would normally do?”
“Nay.”
“Then doona do that this time either. Doona do anything out of the ordinary or he’ll suspect you’re up to something.”
“But how will I get him out there?”
“Out where?”
“To the forest where I’ve set up the trap.”
“He’ll look for you. He always does.”
Isobel sat back in her chair, tapping her fingers on the desk as her mind sorted through the possibilities. It might work! She could distract Kerr with a second trap. Maybe a bag of prickles in the tree or a bucket of honey. Meanwhile, she would draw him toward the pit.
She whooped excitedly. “Deirdre, you’re a genius!” Picking up a quill, she jotted down the ideas that began tumbling through her head.
“Does that mean Gavin’s off the hook?” Deirdre asked.
“For now. I canna believe I ne’er thought of this before. Kerr will be looking up at the tree instead of down toward the pit. It’s sure to work!”
She jumped up and was organizing her various parchments, when a high pitched yell filled the air...
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HIGHLAND CAPTIVE
I'm, thrilled to say that book 4 in The Sons Of Gregor MacLeod, HIGHLAND CAPTIVE, featuring Deirdre and Gavin (and Isobel and Kerr!), has received fantastic reviews, including a STARRED review from Kirkus! If you haven't read the latest book in the series, yet, buy links are below!!
“Sizzling love scenes and a captivating, intelligent heroine… McLayne’s novel will appeal to those who enjoy expertly paced Highlands historicals with well-developed characters.” 
                                                                   —Publishers Weekly
"I absolutely loved the author’s expert delivery of strong emotion and for making me literally laugh out loud with witty banter, then take in a deep breath for the steamy slow burn romance that leaves a heated blush!"
                                                                   —Goodreads
SHE'D SAVED HIS SON. COULD SHE SAVE HIM AS WELL?
Laird Gavin MacKinnon is a changed man—and not for the better. Ever since his young son, Ewan, disappeared two years ago, Gavin has grown callous and bitter. Scouring the countryside, his search leads him to a mysterious woman who maintains the boy is hers. He decides to take them both and ask questions later. 
Deirdre MacIntyre will go with the brooding laird if it will keep her son safe. Gavin has to admit that the beautiful lass has a bond with Ewan, and things aren't adding up. When Deirdre's clan comes to claim her under threat of war, Gavin has a choice to make: fight for her or let her go.
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Snag Your Copy of HIGHLAND CAPTIVE Today!

HIGHLAND CONQUEST 
—Audiobook Giveaway!!
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Click the link below to enter to win an audio book copy of HIGHLAND CONQUEST
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Thanks for reading, everyone! It was a long one, lol. Have a great day!!
Alyson

Alyson McLayne is a mom of twins and an award-winning writer of contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance. She’s also a dog lover and cat servant with a serious stash of dark chocolate. After getting her degree in theater at the University of Alberta, she promptly moved to the West Coast of Canada where she worked in film for several years and met her Prop Master husband.

She and her family reside in Vancouver with their sweet but troublesome chocolate lab named Jasper.

Please catch up with Alyson on social media. She loves chatting with her readers! 


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