Journey with Joe
Middlemarch Capture, Book 5
Dangerous thieves lurk in the great outdoors. Hold on to your heart…
Tomboy Mungo Caimbeulach seeks her father’s love. Unfortunately, she’s an unwanted imposition rather than a valuable daughter. When the coos she has raised from young are sold without her permission, she’s determined to retrieve them in the time-honored Scothage tradition. She’ll reave her coos, impress her father with this courageous endeavor and prove she’s worthy of his affection.
Shapeshifter Joe Mitchell dreams of raising cattle as he did on Earth, and purchasing his foundation herd is the first step. But color him shocked when the thief who steals from him is his mate—according to his feline half. Decisive, he follows in the footsteps of his brothers and captures Mungo. Now his plan is two-fold. Seduction of his feisty mate and safe passage for his cattle. Easier said than done when danger pounces from left and right during their journey home.
Mungo isn’t sure what to make of this cat-man with his propensity for stripping naked. Bossy—yes! But she can’t stop sneaking peeks and then there is the kissing and caressing…
Contains two strong characters with opposite goals, passion in the great outdoors, and more annoying dangers impeding their romance than Joe cares to mention!
Other Books in the Middlemarch Capture series
Read an Excerpt
Caimbeulach Clan, Scothage Highlands, Tiraq Mainland, Planet Tiraq
Mungo Caimbeulach glared through the dusty window of her chamber, fury quivering through her muscles as her gaze settled on the commotion in the courtyard below. The knot in her throat reined back her scream of frustration and nothing but a birdlike croak squeezed free. With the stout wooden door locked, she could do nothing. Tears shrouded her vision as she watched her youngest brother Adair laugh with the four strangers.
Her brother was selling her coos.
Animals she’d raised when no one had given them a chance of living. She’d persisted, tending the creatures in the wee hours, and now they made her father’s herd appear puny in comparison. Her coos bore glossy chestnut coats with shaggy protective hair. Their eyes were clear while their horns curved in graceful arcs above their heads. The cheese mistress sought milk from her coos because of its richness.
The coos belonged to her, and her brother had no right to sell them.
Determined steps across faded floor coverings took her to the door. She pounded her fists on the thick wood and demanded someone—anyone—to slide aside the lock and release her.
The story of her life.
Plaintive moos drew her past her narrow bed to the window again, and her nails dug into her palms as she watched the strangers drive her herd of thirty coos away from the Caimbeulach keep.
Four men and one dog.
Mungo knuckled away the annoying moisture at her eyes. Nay, not a dog. It was a big black cat behaving like a canine. Her coos were so docile they trotted in the direction the men urged them without hesitation. With her throat and chest so tight she could scarcely draw breath, she watched her coos disappear around a bend in the track.
Disappointment flooded her. Betrayed by her father. He’d organized this treachery. Mayhap it was the reason he’d left Adair to watch over the clan instead of taking his youngest son with him as usual. Instead, Aengus had ridden off with his two oldest sons Raibert and Cinead on a mystery excursion. Unusually, he hadn’t taken Reilynn, her stepmother, into his confidence, but Mungo suspected they’d gone reaving and would return with coos stolen from their neighboring clans. Such was the way in the Highlands of Scothage.
The lock on the outside of her chamber slid aside with a clunk. The door squeaked open, and her stepmother stood there, her bonny face pale, her smile tentative. Diminutive but with a core of inner strength, Reilynn carried a grace and dark beauty Mungo had no hope of emulating. From her lustrous ebony curls, confined in an intricate coil around her head, to her pristine green gown, her stepmother was everything Mungo was not.
“Adair told me to release ye now that the strangers have gone. I expect ye’re hungry. Yer brother ate the last of the porridge, but Janeet is baking bread. ’Tis almost done. I’ll make ye a platter so ye can break your fast.” She scanned Mungo’s appearance. Her tunic and leather trews. “Mayhap, ye should change into a gown first.”
“Did ye ken Father intended to sell my coos?” Mungo ignored her stepmother’s chiding tone as anger swept her anew. She balled her fists and gritted her teeth. Fury consumed her mind in a red haze, and it wouldnae have surprised her if smoke poured from her ears.
Reilynn flinched under her rage.
“Ye kenned.” Mungo’s jaw ached with tension. “Why did Father do this? Why dinnae ye warn me?”
Reilynn shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mungo. My suspicion is yer father expects ye to learn how to run a home and behave in a more feminine manner. Raising coos is for the lads, my sweet lass.”
“Mayhap he should’ve considered that when he gave me a boy’s name,” Mungo spat. “He ignores me. Why does it matter what I do?”
“Ach, Mungo. Aengus was out of his head with grief when yer mother died during yer birth. He loved her verra much.”
“He cannae even look at me,” Mungo said. “I am twenty-two rotations. His oldest child and he still ignores my presence.” She’d do almost anything for her father to notice her, to acknowledge her for once instead of sending his gaze past her left ear or over her head. “Surely he owes me forgiveness all these rotations later.”
“Yer mother had a weak heart. Her death was not yer fault,” Reilynn said.
“So ye’ve told me. If that is the truth, then why does Father treat me like the manure on the soles of his boots? Just once, I’d like him to meet my gaze and smile. Just once.”
“Mungo, I love ye as if ye were of my flesh. Ye ken that, aye?”
Mungo sighed and bowed her head in defeat. Her stepmother loved her and showed this strong regard every cycle. If it weren’t for Reilynn’s presence her life…
Mungo shuddered, hating the vision sliding stealthily into her mind. The older clanswomen told her she resembled her mother with her red hair, brown eyes and tan skin. She’d been lucky her father hadn’t slit her throat in the same way he butchered his coos when they became too old for breeding.
“I wish ye’d told me about my coos.”
“The knowledge wouldnae have helped ye, lass. Change into a gown before Adair or one of the other men tattle to yer father. Come to the kitchen when ye’re ready.” Reilynn bustled from Mungo’s chamber with a swish of green skirts.
Listless, Mungo closed her door and trudged to her clothing press. Before he’d departed on his mystery trip, her father had bid the maids to seize and burn her trews and tunics. She grabbed the nearest of her three gowns and tossed it on her bed in a quick burst of pique. Obviously, he had a plan, but Mungo couldnae fathom the whole of it. She removed her tunic, her trews, and folded them carefully to prevent creases before hiding them behind a loose stone in the wall. Her sole surviving pair, they’d escaped destruction since they’d been on her person at the time. A faded, insect-eaten tapestry covered this wall, and she doubted anyone kenned her hidey-hole.
Worry creased her brow as she donned the loathsome blue gown. She prayed the men responsible for her coos now treated them well. During this season, with the rapid growth of grass, her coos wouldnae lack for food. But where were the strangers taking them? What did they intend to do with them? Adair might answer her questions if she phrased them carefully.
Mungo laced the front of her gown and wrapped a thin shawl in the Caimbeulach navy and red over her shoulders to hide the fact she was almost spilling over the bodice. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she’d missed the evening meal because Adair had ordered her to her chamber. Her misdemeanor—speaking back to him instead of remaining silent about the way he’d eaten the last of the stew from the bowl before it reached her. And now, he’d sold her coos. She doubted she’d see the gold he’d received in trade, even though she’d paid for the calves with her own meager allowance.
Renewed anger pumped through her as she navigated the steep stone steps of the spiral staircase leading to the lower floor of the keep. She strode past the communal hall. Her brother’s guffaw drifted to her as she neared the kitchen, and her steps slowed. Despite the gurgling of her belly, she ducked back into the hall. Mungo slipped behind the navy synvelvet curtains that dressed the windows, and instead of taking in the view of the valley below, she eavesdropped.
“Mungo had no idea Father intended to sell her coos,” Adair said, his voice cheerful.
She gritted her teeth to bite back a snarled curse. Her three brothers took their lead from Aengus, and they, too, treated her with contempt.
“And the stupid foreigners have no inkling we’ll be reclaiming the coos during a blacklight raid.” Adair’s two best friends chuckled along with him, their hilarity echoing in the cavernous hall. “Father will be proud of me for thinking of it. He’s decided to arrange marriages to strengthen our clan ties. The lassies will line up for my attention once they learn of my additional coos and coin.”
Mungo frowned. Adair had ordered the sale rather than her father? No, that couldnae be right. Reilynn had kenned of the sale, so Father must’ve discussed it before his departure.
“When do we reave?” one of Adair’s friends asked. It sounded like Archie of the wandering hands and stinky breath.
“Before they reach the coast. Give them one cycle to settle and grow complacent then we’ll strike,” Adair said.
Mungo’s scowl deepened until her forehead wrinkled. They were taking her coos to the coast, which meant Adair hadn’t sold the herd to another clan. What if she followed the strangers and retrieved her coos? For once she might make her father proud. Mayhap, he’d see her value. Finding the herd would present no problems, but stealing her coos back might offer a challenge.
Adair and his friends left the hall, their ribald laughter fading, telling her they’d gone to the courtyard. Still, Mungo waited a fraction longer before she slipped from hiding.
Deep in thought, she ambled to the kitchen. She’d take her coos to the secret valley she’d discovered. Aye, that might work. The valley offered a refuge from sudden storms and had plenty of feed and water. Unfortunately, Adair’s tracking skills were unsurpassed, and she’d need to take her normal precautions when she entered the concealed portal.
“Ah, lass. There ye are.” Janeet, their chubby cook, bustled over to Mungo and squeezed her forearm. “Reilynn prepared a platter for ye. Sit, lass, and break yer fast.”
“Thank ye, Janeet.” Mungo dodged the three kitchen maids busily preparing vegetables and made her way to the wooden table at the far end of the big kitchen. The meaty scents drifting from the huge pots on the range had her stomach rumbling again. Whenever she wasn’t tending to her coos or locked in her chamber, she hid here in the kitchen to avoid her family.
She sat on a wooden stool. Hunger drove her to tear a piece of bread off the loaf. She spread tangy cheese over the hunk and stuffed it into her mouth, moaning aloud her appreciation.
The kitchen maids—three sisters—giggled.
Janeet tsked. “Don’t eat too fast, lass. I dinnae have time to fix ye if ye choke.”
“Yer bread is the best.”
“Go away with ye, lass,” Janeet said, flapping her hand in dismissal, but her cheeks pinked with pleasure at the compliment.
Mungo forced herself to eat with less haste and smiled her thanks when a fourth kitchen maid placed a mug of hot ale in front of her.
Relaxed in the familiar confines of the kitchen, Mungo allowed her mind to wander to her coos. The clink of a spoon against a pot, the firm cutting motion of a knife against a vegetable and the low chatter of the maids fell away as Mungo finessed and refined her plan.
She refused to fail.
For once, she’d make her father proud. He’d gaze at her and smile.
He’d see her.