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Highlanders, HOLT Medallions, and BFFs… by Alyson McLayne

How many of you have friends that go waaaaaaay back? So far back that when you look at pictures of the two of you, you can’t believe you were ever that young (or that thin). Your hairstyles and the clothes you’re wearing make you laugh (or groan—it was the 80’s, after all), but you love the happy, carefree smiles on your faces. :)

Well, I have one of those friends, and she visited me today—all the way from Spain.

Trina and I first met in Mrs. Lang’s grade three class when we were eight years old. We lived in a small, northern city called Prince George surrounded by wilderness—and bears. Lots of bears. Winter meant snow piled high against our windows and summer meant trips down south to warmer climes or camping lake-side in tent trailers. 

At eighteen we bought rucksacks and two plane tickets Down Under and we backpacked together throughout New Zealand and Australia—me with my pasty-white skin, slathering on sunscreen, and her turning a beautiful golden brown. There were no bears to worry about down there, just mad kangaroos, great white sharks and poisonous snakes and insects. 

It was wonderful!

Trina never lived in Canada again after that. She stayed Down Under for a while with someone she met there, and when they broke up, she moved to Hong Kong where she eventually met her European husband. They ended up in Germany for several years before finally settling in Spain. She never wanted kids and has built up an art studio in her village, teaching classes, painting, and creating mosaics and ceramic figurines that she displays in various art galleries. She works with clay, oils, and paint brushes, and has a kiln in her studio.
My journey was more traditional. I returned home, got my degree, and then a few years later moved to Vancouver and met my husband. We had cats, dogs, kids, and mortgages—in that order. I always wanted children, and after struggling to conceive for several years, my husband and I were finally blessed with twins who are now seven. Between school drop off and pickup, I write adventure-filled historical romances set in the Scottish Highlands—I also write in my car as I wait for dance class and hockey practice to end, and I dictate scenes and story ideas into my phone while I’m walking the dog. The only physical, hands-on tools I work with are my laptop and sometimes my phone, and I only get to hold my art when my books are published.
Our lives are so very different… yet the same.

We spent the day together talking about family, relationships, getting older, and gossiping about news from our home town—about people we knew when we were eight or eleven or sixteen. And yes, we also went shoe shopping. 

Alas, we weren’t buying high heels anymore.

We talked about sex and menopause and the weird new lumps and bumps on our bodies. We even lifted our shirts to laughingly inspect the various rolls on our bellies and decide what kind of “fat” they were. Toxic fat? Baby fat? Stress fat? Menopause fat?


When my kids got out of school—Auntie Trina!!—we took the dog for a walk to the park, and after dinner, we sat in my driveway on lawn chairs while the kids zoomed around on their scooters. 

It was a glorious day.

We both have milestone birthdays coming up this year, and our lives don’t intertwine anymore in the way they did when we were kids or in the way my life intertwines with my mom-friends or my writer-friends. Still, we’re connected at a deeper level. We’re not just part of the sisterhood, following the same path, we are sisters.

Sisters because of our long history and common childhood experiences and memories, sisters because of mutual respect and admiration, sisters because we can say and do anything around each other and then laugh together, cry together, or call each other a dick.

Sisters because of a deep, abiding love. 

When I think about it, Trina’s probably the reason I often write strong female friendships in my books—the ones full of eye-rolling, laughter, and unconditional acceptance.

My book HIGHLAND CONQUEST (#2 in The Sons Of Gregor MacLeod) is dedicated to Trina because my heroine, Amber, has a long-time best friend named Isla. The scenes between Amber and Isla are some of my favorites. 

Like this one:
“Amber MacPherson you wait right there!”
Amber turned and scowled at Isla as the pregnant woman waddled down the passageway toward her. Her friend got bigger every day, and that glowing, energized state she’d had two months ago had turned into uncomfortable exhaustion. “Or what? You’re going to chase me down? Bump me with your belly?”
“Nay, I’ll tell our laird and make him chase you down. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll tell my husband you were mean to me, and you willna like what he does to you then.”
“I wasn’t mean to you.”
“Aye, you were. You made fun of my belly.” Suddenly she leaned against the stone wall and made a pained face.
Amber rushed over. “What is it?”
Isla grabbed her sleeve and held tight. “My way of getting you to come here. You’re right, I canna chase you, but I can hold on for as long as it takes.” She straightened from the wall, her brown eyes determined. “I spoke to Niall and he said you were free for a while.”
She blew a short, dismissive sound through her lips. “What does Niall know?”
“Everything. You canna fart without him knowing.”
Amber laughed. “Having trouble, are we?”
“Aye, the romance in my marriage died the moment Alban got me with bairn.”
“Tell that to your husband. He worships every inch of you—belly most of all.”
When Isla simply nodded, Amber laughed again.
“’Tis time,” Isla said. “You’ve been putting me off for days. You doona want me making the trek up here when it’s dangerous, do you? Because you know I will.”
Amber sighed and scowled again. “All right. Lead on.”
When Isla tugged her arm, she followed her down the hall to her old chamber, dragging her feet. A fire roared inside and a chair had been set up next to it, a bowl of water, a brush, a towel, and a blade sharpened to a razor’s edge set on a table beside the open window.
“Sit,” Isla said, then wrapped a towel around Amber’s shoulders, wet the brush, and began to work it through her jagged curls until they were soaked. “I canna believe it’s taken me so long to get you here, especially with our new laird visiting you every night.”
Amber saw where this was headed and pressed her lips tightly together.
“So that’s the way it’s going to be, is it?” Isla asked as she put down the brush and fussed with Amber’s hair, lifting it and pulling it, even playing with her part. “Not even a wee morsel of information? Niall tells me you fight with Laird MacKay. A lot. And he fights back.”
Amber scoffed. “The two of you, like a couple of interfering old women.”
“Well, maybe if you gave me some information…”
What could she tell her friend? Certainly naught about Machar Murray or being the bait to catch him. But there were other things, things she clamored to talk about, needed to talk about.
“What do you want to know?” she blurted out, her heart racing.
Isla’s eyes jumped to hers, the razor in her hand forgotten. “Really?”
“Aye. Quickly, now, before I change my mind.”
“Umm… Have you kissed him?”
“Was it a good kiss?”
“Oh, Lord. Have you touched him?”
“Of course I’ve touched him. I just said I kissed him, didn’t I?”
“No, I meant down there. Did you touch his cock?”
Her cheeks burned, and she groaned, rethinking her idea to share. “Nay.”
“Did he touch you? And I doona mean kissing. Has he touched you with his hands below your neck.”
Amber couldn’t get the words out, so she just nodded.
“But you haven’t—”
She rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated breath. “God’s blood, I just told you I haven’t touched his cock. Last I heard, that part of his body was an integral part of tupping.”
Isla leaned down, her bonnie brown gaze intent on Amber’s. “Dearling, are you still a maid? God’s truth, I’ve been so worried for you the past few years with Machar Murray hounding you. If he touched you in any way, you have to know it’s not your fault.”
Amber’s chest tightened, and the feeling continued up her throat and behind her eyes until she felt them tear up. She dashed them away with the back of her hand.
“He ne’er touched me. That’s not to say he didn’t come close a few times. Twice he came by my cottage at night when I was alone, but I managed to get out and hide before he caught me. Then that last night at the castle he locked me in his chamber, but Niall got me out in time.”
She threw her arms around Isla and squeezed tight. “When I left, I ne’er thought I’d see any of you again. This terrible man, who thought he could do whate’er he wanted to me, to the rest of us, had chased me out of my home. Because he felt like he had some right to me. I was so angry. And so…sad.”
Isla was crying now too, and hugged her back. “And then Laird Lachlan MacKay appeared. Bigger and bonnier than life itself.”
“He pulled me from my horse, dragged me through the scrub, and tied me up.”
“So fierce. Protective and commanding. Yet…gentle.”
“Were you not listening to me? He. Dragged. Me. Through. The. Scrub.”
“I listened. There’s listening here”—she touched her ears—“and then listening here”—she touched Amber’s heart.
Amber raised a brow and tried to keep a straight face, but when she saw Isla’s lips twitch, she burst out laughing—they both did. After a minute, she sighed and said almost dreamily, “He just…doesn’t care.”
Isla pulled back. “What do you mean he doesn’t care? He’s been verra helpful with everyone. Kind and generous with his time.”
“Nay, I meant…he doesn’t care who I am or who I’m not. If I swear, if I’m a witch, if I’m bonnie or not bonnie, if I’m elbow deep inside someone’s belly, or pushing bone back into someone’s leg, if I’m dirty and bloody and smell of guts and—”
“Enough!” Isla held a hand over her mouth. “He may not care, but I do.”
Amber rolled her eyes. “Well, you better get used to it. What do you think’s going to happen when you have bairns? I could fill your head with—” She stopped at the horrified look on Isla’s face. “Aye, best you doona know. It’ll be lovely. You’ll push out a perfect, wee bairn, all sweet and pink, and I’ll hand him or her to you wrapped in soft white linen. Just like the baby Jesus.”
Isla squeaked and made the sign of the cross over her chest. “Lord have mercy, you’ll bring the devil down on both of us.”
“See, now, Lachlan would have thought that was funny.”
Isla gave her an assessing stare, picked up her blade, and started to shape Amber’s hair. “Are you in love with him, then?” she asked after a minute, slicing and fluffing and layering the strands.
Amber found herself holding her breath. “I am in…great annoyance with him most times. And in great…infatuation with him other times. I think about him often—where he is, what he’s doing, how his hands and mouth would feel on my body. Things occur to me, interesting things, mundane things, and he’s the one I want to share them with.” She scowled. “He makes me laugh.”
Isla scowled back, “He should be hanged.”
“The only man whoe’er made me laugh before was Niall.”
“And you certainly doona want to tup Niall.”
“I ne’er said I wanted to tup Lachlan either. I said I want his hands and his mouth on my body, but I have no interest in tupping.”
“But if you were married—”
“I ne’er said I wanted to marry him, either. And I’m certain he doesn’t want to marry me.”
“Why doona you want to marry him?”
“Well…why should I?”
“To have bairns.”
“I doona know if I want bairns.”
“Aye, you do. To have intercourse, then.”
“I doona want to have intercourse.”
Isla rolled her eyes. “Aye, Amber, you do. You willna be able to get enough of it.” She put down her blade and stared at her, fluffing and tugging strands into place. Finally, she said, “To have a man to call your own, who claims you as his own, who you can tell everything to and he’ll understand what you mean even if you tell him naught.”
“Sounds like witchcraft to me.”
“Nay, ’tis something divine, something sacred between the two of you, not profane or mundane, and when you have it, you’ll know. Do you want that, Amber?”
“I… I… Aye, maybe I do.”
“Well, is Lachlan the man who can give you that?”
“I doona know.”
Isla carefully took off the towel and shook it out the window. “I wish we had a mirror, so you could see how bonnie you look. If we were at court, you would start a trend for all the ladies to have short hair. Your eyes were beautiful before, but now they’re dazzling. And your lips and cheeks… Amber, you look like an angel.”
Amber raised her fingers to her hair. The ends fell evenly about halfway down her neck, with shorter pieces on top and others framing her face.
Isla kissed her cheek. “Niall has asked Alban and me to be there this evening, but I’m not feeling well enough. I’ll leave it up to you whether you tell Niall. Maybe you’ll want to be alone with Lachlan tonight.”

HIGHLAND CONQUEST has been nominated for the 2019 HOLT Medallion award. It's a heart-warming love story between Amber and Lachlan filled with humor, intrigue, and adventure. It’s also about friendship. Friendship between Gregor MacLeod's foster sons, and, just as importantly, friendship between Amber and Isla. 

Best Friends Forever.

May we all have an Isla, or a Trina, in our lives.

* * * *

Alyson McLayne writes historical romance set in the Highlands of Scotland. Highland Conquest, Book 2 in her series, The Sons Of Gregor MacLeod, is out now!
He was looking for vengeange…
Laird Lachlan MacKay never planned on leading his clan, but when his older brother was murdered, he was left with no choice. His vow to avenge his brother has led him to the MacPherson clan—and their bewitching healer, Amber.
Instead, he found her
Amber MacPherson is desperate. Dressed as a boy to escape her clan's treacherous leader, she runs right into Lachlan—who orders her detained. At first she causes him nothing but frustration, especially when she blackmails him into helping her clan. But when she’s threatened by the same man who murdered his brother, Lachlan will do whatever it takes to keep her safe—and by his side.

Snag your copy today!
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! 

And if you want to see more of Trina Doerr's art, please check out her website at or catch up with her on Facebook


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