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Highlander’s Mysterious Lady (Preview)

 

Chapter One

October 13th, North Yorkshire, England, 1890

Beatrice Margaret Smythe, Duchess of Marlow and widow of James Bartholomew Brown, the late Duke of Marlow, was sitting in her morning room, re-reading one of her favorite novels, when she heard the sound.

Chirping. An infernal chirping that, on a spring day in May when the sun was shining and all was well with the world, would be more than welcome—even rejoiced over. But at the current moment—when the clouds in the sky spoke of imminent rain and the trees were bare of their leaves, reminding the world that October was nearing its middle and winter would soon be upon them—the chirps were the very opposite. These happy sounds had no place in Beatrice’s melancholy life; not now, and (she suspected) not ever again. Not for her the sound of two birds merrily hopping about their nest.

Perhaps one bird crying out for its partner would be more suited to my situation, she thought morosely. She slammed her book shut and stood up from her chair.

Walking towards the window, she looked at their little forms hopping around their nest, balanced precariously on the windowsill.

It was dark enough outside that Beatrice could see a glimpse of her own reflection in the glass. Her black curls were set in a complicated twist, with rows of ringlets stacked back from her forehead. In the fashion of the time, her gown left her collarbones and neck bare, exposing her shockingly white skin, accentuated by the deep blue silk of her gown.

Beatrice noticed as she turned this way and that, looking at herself, that the silk elbow-length sleeves of her gown were loose. It was one of her older dresses, made just before James died. Back then, the sleeves had been fetchingly tight, showing off the curved shape of her arms. Now, however, they hung off her body in a way that would feed the gossip hounds.

I’ve lost weight, she realized with apathy. In the past, this would have worried her, but now, with no one left to care about her appearance other than herself, it was hardly worth fretting over. It didn’t matter how her gowns looked, how her body looked.

Looking back at the birds, Beatrice noticed they were both looking back at her, their small heads tilted, assessing and finding her wanting.

These birds were taunting her. If the chirping day in and day out wasn’t enough proof, this surely was. They had appeared just over two weeks ago, on the second anniversary of James’ death.

Beatrice had woken up feeling terrible; both because her beloved James was dead and because her walk in the rain the previous day had saddled her with an abysmal head cold.

She had been hoping that exercising would boost her spirits, or rather, her maid Sally had supposed so, sending her out with a shawl and instructions not to return for at least an hour.

However, Beatrice had been walking not ten minutes when the previously sunny day with a sky dotted with only a few clouds rapidly disappeared, replaced by an angry sky full of rain clouds that seemed to burst directly above her, soaking her to the bone in what felt like seconds. Beatrice had walked on, hoping that maybe the rain would wash her misery away, but instead, it had just given her a clogged nose and a headache that was still throbbing at her temples.

When she had returned to the morning room later to lie down, the chirping had started, those joyful little sounds making a mockery of her grief and sorrow on a day when all Beatrice wanted to do was lay down on the floor, curl herself into a ball, and disappear completely.

The birds had settled in the window just outside the morning room, building a nest right next to the glass, like they were trying to get as close to her as possible, to mock her more easily.

Beatrice could have had the nest moved, of course. She had thirty servants, and any one of them would be more than happy to help. She knew they all worried about her. They would jump at the chance to do something to relieve the near-permanent frown that had graced her formerly “cherubic cheeks,” as James had liked to call them, for the past two years.

But Beatrice needed those birds. Needed to watch them frittering about their nest, feeding their chicks and looking lovingly into each other’s tiny, beady eyes. These birds were living the life she had always wanted. They had each other their children and a home. Watching them allowed her to carry out a fantasy of how her life could have been, if only James hadn’t died. If only she hadn’t been deficient…if only her body had been able to do what God and nature intended.

The two of them and their babes, sitting happily in Charleston House with a roaring fire. Laughing, loving. No sadness, no death, no heartache to be seen. This was a fantasy, of course. The life they ought to have had…

After her miscarriages, Beatrice had felt so defeated, so empty.

If I cannot sire an heir, what use do I have? she had often thought after the loss of their second child. Now, she looked back and scorned her past self. Who cared about children? She had James back then. He was enough. Hadn’t she seen that? Why hadn’t she realized how truly blessed she was to have a husband who adored her? Maybe if she had appreciated him more, he would still be here. He wouldn’t be dead; Beatrice wouldn’t be a widow. She would have a purpose, a family.

Now, I have nothing, she thought, looking around the silent room. Just a large house, and no one to share it with except pitying servants.  

“Bea, you’re not really starin’ at them birds again, are ya?” a voice called from behind her, and Beatrice turned to find her maid, Sally, giving her a withering look.

Such insolence from a servant would not be tolerated in most of the noble households of England, but Beatrice ran a very different kind of house from most women of her set.

Even before James died, they had both made a point of treating their servants more like family than people who were tasked with waiting on them hand and foot. After all, they were not so very different—for all that one set wore working clothes and the other elegant frocks, overcoats, and cravats.

James had grown up the bastard son of the previous Duke of Marlow. His mother, a former maid in his father’s house, died in childbirth and left James in the care of her neighbors, a butcher and his wife, who were rich in love but poor in fortune.

The butcher and his wife knew of James’ origins, but neither of them expected the Duke to recognize his bastard son. It wasn’t done then or now, nearly thirty years later. James and boys like him were meant to keep to the class of their mothers—which, in James’ case, was very low indeed.

But when Richard Bartholomew, the Duke of Marlow, lost both his legitimate sons on the ship ferrying them back from their Grand Tour of Europe, James’ fate changed. His father sought him out, traveling to the small village outside of York where James was living. It turned out that the duke had no other living relatives whom he could pass the dukedom. He wanted to officially recognize James as his son, and thereby instate him as the next heir.

Practically overnight, James shifted from being a poor butcher’s son to the heir of one of the wealthiest titles in all of Britain. And when his father died a year later, James became the eighth Duke of Marlow.

It was a stark change from his previous life. James was used to cooking his own meals, washing his own clothing. He even knew how to make his own soap from leftover animal tallow. He was, in short, a working man, and though the dukedom gave him more fortune than he could ever dream of, it did not change his essence. James never forgot where he came from, never forgot that only luck separated him from people like his parents, people like his servants.

For her part, Beatrice was part of the nobility from birth, but she had the misfortune to be born the daughter of a man more interested in gambling away his fortune than investing it. By the time she was twenty-two, and meeting James at a bookshop in the middle of Mayfair, her family’s financial situation had grown so dire that she was forced to dismiss all but the cook from the family’s rapidly deteriorating household.

As a result, she rapidly had to adapt to completing many of the tasks that the household servants had formerly done. She learned how to mend dresses, adding small, inexpensive embellishments to them to make old gowns look new. She dusted the house, scrubbed the floors, sold off some of her father’s possessions when they lacked the money even to pay their chandler bills.

While her father deteriorated in wealth and in health, Beatrice learned to be almost totally self-sufficient. Her best friend Helena was her only connection to the outside world, to the nobility of which she was still technically a part. For all that she had been born into a different class, she and James were equals by the time they met at that bookshop while she and Helena were looking for a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

James’ humble nature was part of what made Beatrice fall in love with her husband. He was so different from most of the men of their set. He wasn’t frivolous, didn’t overly concern himself with his appearance. He didn’t waste money at the card tables or on women of the night. He donated as much as he could to charity, made a point of hiring the most destitute and desperate to work in his house, and treated everyone he met—no matter their race, age, or gender—with deference. He treated his title with respect and devotion, doing everything he could to ensure he lived up to the reputation the Kingwood title had in society.

James was, in short, the perfect man. And Beatrice missed him terribly.

I should have known he was too good to be true, she often thought. Thankfully, Sally interrupted then, preventing her from further destructive thoughts.

“You’ve got to stop punishin’ yourself, Bea. Stop staring at them birds, imaginin’ how it all could’ve been. Focus on the present, love. James would’ve wanted that for ya,” Sally said, taking Beatrice’s hand in hers.

Beatrice allowed herself to be led back to her chair and tucked into its overstuffed cushions, gratified to have someone else telling her body what to do and where to go. After she was settled in the chair, Sally shoving a hot cup of tea in her hands.

“Drink up. It’s sweet and milky, and exactly what you need at this moment, I expect,” Sally said, glaring at Beatrice until she dutifully took a sip from the cup in her hands.

It was pure bliss going down, the acidity of the black tea cut with the fresh cow’s milk and two generous helpings of sugar. In the circles Beatrice traveled in, sugar was de rigueur, a sign of wealth and privilege. But until James died, she had never taken her tea sweet. Now, however, she couldn’t get enough. The sugar never failed to revive her, those first few sips making her feel for like life might no be so wholly awful.

“Better?” Sally asked, crossing her arms over her ample bust and staring fixedly at Beatrice. Sally’s white-blonde hair was fixed in a serviceable bun at the nape of her neck, her blue eyes sparkling under her thin, dark eyebrows. Her small but curved figure was fitted into her usual uniform of smock, petticoat, corset, and apron, all of which were spotlessly clean. Sally was beautiful, more so than almost anyone Beatrice had ever met, with the exception of her friend Helena. If Sally hadn’t been born to a farming family in South Yorkshire, Beatrice was sure that she would have been spotted by some nobleman traveling through the area who would have proposed marriage to her on the spot.

However, for as good a turn of fortune this would have been for Sally, Beatrice was glad her friend had not been turned into a proper Lady, because then they never would have met, never have become friends. She never would have had Sally to save her and keep her from descending completely into oblivion after James died. Sally was now the most precious person in the world to her.

“Much. Thank you, Sal,” she said, answering her friend’s question before taking another sip of the delicious tea. She moaned softly, thankful for the warm liquid settling in her stomach, taking away the shivers the drafty room always gave her.

“Good. You’ve got a letter from Helena, and Frances has left a message requesting the pleasure of your company at dinner this evening,” Sally said, retrieving a card and letter from a pocket in her apron.

The calm from a moment ago disappeared with the mention of James’ cousin. Frances Bartholomew was the opposite of James in every way. He didn’t use the vast fortune inherited from his father to better himself or society. No, he did the exact opposite. In many ways, he reminded Beatrice of her late father—and that, more than anything, made her detest Frances. He was a selfish, pompous man who thought the world owed him something only for his noble birth.

James, kind heart that he was, had always made time for Frances, convinced that if he just mentored the man enough, he would eventually mature into someone who actually gave a fig about things. Beatrice thought Frances a lost cause, and meeting with him a waste of time, but James never wavered in his devotion to his cousin.

However, neither had ever gotten through to Frances. After he died, Frances seemed only more intent on bankrupting himself and frittering away his fortune. Beatrice sympathized with Frances; Lord knew she wanted to destroy herself sometimes, her grief was so intense, but she never did, because she had people that depended on her. That was the difference between people like her and James and people like Frances. The former recognized their responsibilities and knew they had to act for the good of many, not few. Frances and his kind, however, pretended that only their own lives mattered, and no one else’s.

“How many times have I begged off dinner with him?” Beatrice asked Sally, bracing herself for the answer. If it were more than three, then she really would need to accept his invitation this time. It wasn’t a matter of keeping up with appearances; it was more that if she didn’t check on Frances every now and again, he was liable to ruin himself—and as his only living relative, she would be forced to help him pick up the pieces.

“Two, love,” Sally said, and Beatrice breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank God. I have one excuse left, then. I can’t bear him today, Sally. I really can’t,” Beatrice said. Sally nodded with understanding. She detested Frances, had ever since the month that Beatrice had come out of mourning, and he got so drunk at dinner that he spilled wine all over the new dress she’d gotten made for the occasion.

Both women had spent days trying to get the stain out of the beautiful emerald green silk, but to no avail. The new dress, arrived straight from a prominent seamstress in London, was ruined. Sally never forgave Frances for such an egregious sin, and now she visibly glared at the man whenever he entered the house. It was rather funny, Beatrice thought, and possibly the only positive thing about Frances’ visits.

“Send him your regrets later. For now, read this letter from Helena. I’m sure it’ll cheer you up some. If the rain holds off, I think we ought to go for a walk later. You’re looking a little pale, love. You need some fresh air,” Sally said, patting Beatrice’s thin, sallow cheek before straightening up and turning to leave the room.

On her way out, she shouted, “And I’m having Edward move that nest tomorrow!”

Beatrice shrugged, knowing better than to argue with her friend. Sally was both the kindest and most fearsome woman she had ever met. She knew better than to disagree with her.

I ought to stop punishing myself, really, Beatrice thought as she took the letter opener Sally had brought and slid it under the seal. Those birds don’t deserve my ire, after all. All they’re doing is living, and here I am, giving them looks hateful enough to shock even the hardest of men.

“Dearest Bea,” the letter began. Beatrice smiled at the nickname, which only Sally, Helena, and James called her by. “I cannot believe how quickly autumn has passed us by. In typical Scottish fashion, the season was short, and now the cold winds of winter have arrived, forcing me into my thickest plaid gowns. I must get as much use out of them as I can, for soon I will need to change my wardrobe again.

I am with child, unexpectedly, and seem to be growing larger by the day. Marcus is overjoyed, and tells Padraig every night that he will soon have a new brother or sister. Poor Padraig has no idea what his papa talks of, but he smiles and laughs all the same, so I have hope that the transition from a family of three to one of four will not be too hard on him.

Now, onto the real reason why I have written to you: I want you to come for a visit. In fact, I implore you to do so. I hate thinking of you all alone in Yorkshire, with only Sally and the rest of the house to keep you company. Please, come to me and let me entertain you. I miss my best friend so much. Please, say yes. It is bad luck to deny a woman in my condition, you know.

Plan to stay through the next month. Samhain is in a few weeks, and I am desperate for you to witness the celebrations. The Celts really are fascinating people. There will be bonfires and tales of ghosts and witches and other frightening characters. It is always such fun, and I do so wish to share the tradition with you at least once.

I await your answer with bated breath and bloated belly.

All my love,

Your friend Helena, Lady Paterson.”

Beatrice smiled at her friend’s joke and put the letter down, leaning back into her chair.

This was not the first invitation Helena had extended to her over the last year. It was, in fact, her fourth. The previous three times, Beatrice had used a variety of paltry excuses she knew her friend must have seen through immediately—though Helena, being a well-bred lady of nobility in both England and Scotland—knew better than to say such a thing. The truth was that Beatrice hadn’t wanted to leave Charleston House any of those times.

She had left only once since James died, to attend functions during the season in London. She was so miserable, she had left after a mere two weeks; the balls and dinners, seeing couples dancing, courting and falling in love, too much for her delicate emotions. It brought back too many painful memories that she only visited in private, when she had a handkerchief nearby to dry her tears.

But perhaps it was finally time to venture out of the house again. After all, if she did not go now, it could be another year before she saw Helena. She hadn’t visited the previous year, since Padraig had only just been born.

Beatrice was ashamed to admit that she had, in fact, avoided Padraig thus far. Though he was her godson, the idea of seeing her friend’s child filled her with grief. She had not seen any babies since losing her own, and she worried that the sight of Helena’s boy would send her back into the depressive despair that had accompanied the loss of her babies.

It was selfish, and she knew that she was hurting her friend with her absence.

Perhaps seeing Padraig will be cathartic, she thought. There was a chance that seeing the baby would excite rather than sadden her. After all, he was the product of his mother, Beatrice’s dearest friend, and Marcus, who Beatrice considered the kindest, most generous man in the world, now that James was gone. Surely a baby born of such parentage could do nothing but inspire awe and joy in his audience?

Yes, it’s time, she told herself, standing up and exiting the morning room. It was time to move the bird’s nest, and to move also. To seek out new life, in the form of godsons and adventures. Perhaps it would bring a smile back to her wan face, a flush to her ubiquitously pallid skin.

Beatrice walked purposefully toward her chamber, flinging open the door and going directly to her desk, where fresh paper, quills, and inks awaited her.

Though the idea of leaving the house made her shiver with fear and apprehension, she nevertheless wetted her quill with ink and scrawled a quick note to Helena telling her that yes, she would come. She would leave tomorrow in the carriage, and expected to be there within four days.

Ringing her bell, she gave the letter to one of the footmen and directed him to send it as soon as possible. That way, I can’t go renege on my decision, she thought as she heard the footmen’s quick steps descend down the stairs.

The trip would be good for her. After all, not only would Beatrice get to see her best friend in the world, meet Padraig, and finally see Scotland, but she would also have the perfect excuse to get out of dinner when Frances inevitably left his card in a few weeks. That alone was worth the effort of traveling north.

 

Chapter Two

October 15th, Eilean Castle, Dornie, Scottish Highlands

“I cannae stay, Marcus. Ye ken that. This meetin’ is tae important,” Laird Brodie Paterson told his brother, retreating backward on his left leg.

“Will ye make sure yer back by next week, at least? Helena wants ye tae meet her friend. I think it’ll be good fer ye. We can celebrate Samhain together, show another Sassenach how we Celts celebrate our holidays. Besides, yer spendin’ far too much time alone, Brodie. It cannae be good fer ye,” Marcus said, lunging forward on his right leg.

They continued to fence, the conversation petering out into silence interrupted only by grunts of effort as they both attacked and retreated, allowing Brodie to digest what his brother had just said.

This wasn’t the first time Marcus had brought up what he termed Brodie’s “destructive lonesome tendencies.” In fact, if Brodie was counting correctly, this was the fifth time that his brother had raised the issue in as many months.

It was a gentler way of telling Brodie that he needed to wake himself up and out of the cloud of depression that had been following him for the past five months.

This, however, was far easier said than done, in part because Brodie didn’t want to wake up. He thought he deserved this depression, this sadness that had settled so deep in his bones that it felt like a physical weight.

He knew, of course, that it was wrong. He was a Laird. They weren’t supposed to be broken down by setbacks such as this. Lairds were meant to be strong, hearty, able to weather any and all challenges, not fall down at first sight of hardship like Brodie had done.

“Cripes, Brodie! Watch what yer’re daein’!” Marcus yelled as Brodie lunged forward and delivered a particularly vicious attack. “I thought this was a non-scorin’ assault!” he said, waving his foil between them, no doubt in an attempt to remind Brodie of the supposed “relaxed” nature of their fencing match.

Retreating, Brodie dropped his foil and undid the first two buttons of the tight white fencing jacket he wore, suddenly desperate for air. “I’m sorry, Marcus. I was distracted.”

“Aye, well, if that’s how ye strike when yer distracted, I hae nae hope of ever beatin’ ye at this confoundin’ sport, nae matter how many years I practice,” Marcus said, throwing his sword down on the floor and collapsing into a seat next to it.

“Talk to me, Brodie. Ye’ve been barmy fer months now, an’ I’ve tried to mind me tongue, but I cannae stay silent any longer. Helena’s noticed as well, an’ she’s threatening tae take ye aside an’ nae let ye leave til ye’ve told her all yer sorrows. An’ I can promise ye she’ll succeed. That Sassenach has more force’n th’ Scottish winds in winter, brother. Yer far better off speakin’ tae me now.”

“Tha’ was ye bein’ silent? Droppin’ hints what feels like every damn day, an’ havin’ yer wife glare at me across th’ table at th’ evenin’ meal?” Brodie asked in bemused disbelief. He, too, collapsed onto the floor.

Marcus narrowed his eyes at him for a moment before letting the false expression of anger fall from his face. It was nearly impossible for Marcus to look angry. He was happy, always had been. He was born with a smile on his face that had hardly left in all his twenty-nine years on God’s earth. It was made him such a joy to be around most of the time. Except during times like now—when Brodie was sad and wanted to stay that way. Then Marcus was the biggest annoyance in the world.

“Tell me what’s on yer mind, brother,” Marcus implored, sliding toward Brodie on the floor. His trews made squeaking sounds on the freshly waxed wood, and Brodie couldn’t help a smile in response to the silly sound, so opposite to the weighted nature of the conversation.

Marcus stared at him, clearly waiting for his response; however, Brodie’s smile dropped, and he heaved a great sigh.

“It’s Gavin, o’ course,” Brodie said, scrubbing a hand over his face and letting it rest over his eyes. He didn’t want to see his brother’s reaction. He knew it would be full of a mixture of sympathy and pity, two reactions Brodie hated seeing above all others.

He didn’t want to be sympathized with, pitied. That was for weak men. He didn’t want to be weak.

And to his mind, Gavin’s death summoned emotions that made him weak, and therefore ashamed. It was half the reason he stayed away from people now. He was supposed to the strong one, the laird, the man looking after everyone and making sure they were happy and well looked after. He wasn’t supposed to fall under a black cloud of emotion just because some child from the village was dead.

“I suspected as much,” Marcus added.

“Well done then, brother,” Brodie snapped, dropping his hand from his face. “An’ I’m sure ye’ll tell me next that it’s pathetic, but I can assure ye I already ken that. After all, he wasnae me son, me child. I hardly knew him afore he died. It shouldnae be affectin’ me this way, but it is. Because it’s my fault he died, an’ I cannae get over th’ guilt o’ that. I cannae keep it from consumin’ me, all I dae, think, say. It’s… ” he trailed off, unable to explain precisely how much the blame he felt over Gavin’s death had taken over his life.

Marcus sighed, reaching out a hand and clasping Brodie’s arm. “It’s not that simple, though—is it, brother? He might not hae been your child in th’ truest sense of the word, but ye loved him. An’ that’s more than enough tae explain the heartbreak yer feelin’—though I’ll hasten tae add that th’ lad’s death wasnae yer fault, nor anyone else’s, exceptin’ perhaps God, an’ He can answer fer His own transgressions.”

Brodie didn’t want to listen to all the reasons why his emotions were understandable, natural. He just wanted them gone. And talking about them didn’t help that goal—not at all.

“But while I dinnae like ye blamin’ yerself, it is all right tae miss him, Brodie. Ye ken that, daenae ye?”

As laird of much of the land surrounding Eilean Castle, it was Brodie’s duty to check in with the neighboring families from time to time; not to collect rent or look at a hole in the roof, an injured animal or a problem with the harvest, but simply to see how they were doing. These goodwill visits were a tradition started by his great-grandfather, and Brodie’s father, the previous Laird Paterson, had instilled the importance of them in Brodie before he died.

“Ye must always look after yer people, son, an’ that means visitin’ them when there’s nae need other than tae see how they are. It builds trust, ye ken, an’ it’s only th’ great lairds who are trusted by their people. I want ye tae be one such laird like I hae been, an’ me father afore me,” his father had told him.

Brodie had honored that tradition, going from cottage to cottage over a week last March. Gavin’s family occupied by the last house in his list, and it was there that Brodie met the most miraculous person he’d encountered in all his life.

The little boy was sick as a dog, with a cough that rattled his weak little lungs and had him nearly bending over in pain, but when he wasn’t coughing, he was the light of his family’s life—and soon, Brodie’s as well.

Thanks to his mother—a former governess from England who had fallen in love with a Scottish farmer and given up her life for him—Gavin could read. Only eight years old, Gavin was also exceptional at mathematics, could recite whole passages of the Bible from memory, and had a knack for crafting stories that tickled the ear of everyone that heard them. He was a beautiful, intelligent child, and the minute they met, Brodie had known he would anything to make sure the lad survived and accomplished all that he was no doubt destined to do.

But despite sending for all the best doctors, despite seeking advice from healers and anyone with any medical knowledge, Brodie couldn’t make Gavin better. The little boy got sicker and sicker over the rest of the spring, not responding to any of the suggested treatments. By the time the flowers were blooming in May, he was gone. Just like that, the beautiful spirit that had made everyone around him smile and laugh was gone. Brodie hadn’t even been there to say goodbye. He’d been on a ride to the next town, seeking out a woman famed for her natural healing abilities.

“I shouldae done more for him, Marcus. I shouldae kept tryin’,” Brodie said, wincing at the memory of Gavin on his deathbed—his skin nearly grey, his formerly bright blue eyes barely open.

“Ye did all ye could, brother. Sometimes, these things are beyond our control. But ye cannae keep sequesterin’ yerself from th’ rest o’ us. Ye cannae keep spendin’ all yer time alone, beratin’ yerself fer somethin’ that wasnae your fault. I didnae ken th’ lad well, but I doubt he wouldae wanted ye tae act thus.”

Brodie nodded, knowing that his brother was right.

“I ken yer still doin’ all yer duties, actin’ fer yer people. But hae ye considered actin’ fer yerself, Brodie? Yer nae just a laird, yer a man as well, an’ a man needs his family. His friends. People who love him. Please, stop shyin’ away from us. Padraig misses ye, I miss ye, Helena miss ye. Come back tae us, an’ let us help ye heal.”

“All righ’,” Brodie conceded, placing his hand over his brother’s. “When I come back from me trip, I can promise ye, I’ll be better. Maybe not completely back to me old ways, but I’ll try tae talk more, confide more,” he said, saying “confide” with a snooty tone that made Marcus smile.

“I’ll the use the time on the road tae think. Mayhaps I’ll be able tae work through some of this guilt I’m carryin’ around like a heavy load.”

“That’s what I like tae hear,” Marcus said, squeezing Brodie’s arm before releasing his grip and standing up.

“An’ now that we hae all the emotional chatter out o’ th’ way, what say ye tae a wee dram o’ whiskey before supper?”

“I say yes!” Brodie said, letting a small smile take over his face for the first time in what felt like months.

From now on, I’m sayin’ yes to it all, he promised himself. For Gavin, an’ for meself.


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  • Wow! This is what sets your writting apart from other authors. I was hooked the on the first paragraph and my interest kept growing through the last paragraph. I will wait for the release of your new book. I can get my house in Christmas order in the meantime. Thank you!

  • Strong beginning and foundation for the story to unfold. Just a reminder to double check spelling, e.g. morning vs. mourning.

  • What a sad beginning of a story of two hurting people. Their families and friends are working to help them heal. I am most eager to read this new novel.

  • Grabs your attention straight away even though it does have a somber tone the wisps of the future for both leads is right there. I did notice the cover picture lady does not have curling black hair as described ? not sure if that matters

  • I love the start. I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. It does have a sad beginning but I’m sure it’ll get a lot better.

  • Love it so far! I forgot it was just too chapters and was bummed to realize I couldn’t keep reading. Can’t wait for the rest. Thank you!

  • I loved it! I can’t wait to read more of this story. Your characters are so well-described, I find myself thinking of them as real people. I can picture them in my mind. What a wonderful beginning to what promises to be a fantastic tale!

  • Dear Fiona,
    I liked these 2 chapters and can’t wait for the rest of the story. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and unable to read so I’m starting to catch up now that I’m no longer taking very strong pain meds ( all I did was sleep) and feeling better. I’m so happy to be part of your preview group.

  • The two main characters have captured my imagination and I want to see where they go from here. Can’t wait for the rest of the book.

  • Loved it! My only suggestion is that Frances is most often used as a girl’s name, the feminine of Francis. It might be different in Scotland, though. Just 🤔.

  • Intriguing! There’s a lot of backstory, but probably necessary to set the scene for what’s to come. The prose is fluid and the characters show promise.
    However, I take issue with the names (a problem I have with many historical novels). Firstly, Francis is a boy’s name, Frances a girl’s.
    And secondly, as a Scot and an amateur genealogist, I checked on Padraig. An Irish name, not Scots. And in the period I presume this novel is set, namely early nineteenth century, there is not one single birth of a Padraig recorded. The website ScotlandsPeople is a wonderful resource for genuine names, and I recommend it highly.
    Full marks for the Scottish dialogue, though!

  • One of the best books I have ever read, but then again I am a “Highlander” freak. I love all Highland books and you are one of my favorite writers.

  • Needs significant editing. E.g., women don’t “sire” children; that’s the man’s part of the process. “Trews” are trousers, not footwear. Frances is usually a female’s name; Francis is the correct spelling for a male. Interesting story, though needs work.

  • Can’t wait to read the story. It sound like it is going to be very interesting. With two people suffering from sadness and depression, it makes me curious to see how they overcome their problems.

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