Capturing a Highland Rogue (Preview)
Early August 1751, London
Marianne Browne clapped excitedly. An opened letter lay before her on her oak writing desk, and her friend Amelia’s familiar scrawl was facing upwards. Marianne sat back, sighing, a grin on her face. “The baby will be here soon!” Marianne moved a few auburn curls from her face that had fallen loose. She looked out of the window of the drawing-room, spying the busy streets of London full with workers going about their daily activities: vendors displaying their wares and maids scurrying by with baskets as they weaved between oncoming carriages.
She sat thoughtfully for a moment, her elbow on the desk and her chin in her hand, daydreaming. Her friend Amelia lived in a beautiful, entrancing Scottish castle in the Highlands of Scotland, far away from…here. Marianne frowned and was annoyingly wrested from her beautiful daydream. “Oh, why did I come back?” she grumbled into the air of the empty drawing-room as she slumped back in her desk chair. A gray and white cat meowed at her side, begging to sit on her lap. It placed its white paws on her chair, and Marianne looked down and smiled. The cat jumped into her lap, and Marianne wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, D’Artagnan. That’s right. I came back because of father, and…that kiss.”
D’Artagnan turned around once and then snuggled into her lap, blissfully unaware of his owner’s distress. Marianne’s face turned serious as she began to remember what had happened back in the cottage in Scotland, far away from her father’s watchful eye, and far away from any sense. She didn’t think she could ever forgive herself for her one moment of weakness. It would rage against her mind for eternity, she thought. She sighed again, this time in frustration, and D’Artagnan jumped off her lap and onto the floor when Marianne’s sister, Ruth, entered the room.
Ruth was the near copy of her older sister, with the same long auburn curls twirled up into a bun, but Marianne’s green eyes had come from her mother, Katherine, while Ruth had received her father’s brown ones. But, while Ruth’s skin was flawless, Marianne had a spattering of freckles across her nose.
Ruth was the wild one, while Marianne had been blessed with a rigid sense of morality and decorum, except for that one wild moment in the Scottish Highlands. Ruth had entered with loose curls falling from her coiffure and a slight tear in her riding dress. “Marianne!” Ruth yelled as she entered the room and flopped onto a couch. “The weather is absolutely blissful this morning. You should have come to ride with me!”
Marianne made her expression serious, but her eyes laughed. “’Tis indelicate, dear sister, for a woman to ride, and for her to ride in such a state. Look at your torn dress.” She motioned to the small tear at her sister’s neckline.
Ruth rolled her eyes, “Oh, sister, do you never tire of such rigid ideas? Where is this William Fraser I’ve heard you grumble about for too long? He seemed to ruffle your feathers sure enough. I could use his help to convince you to relax.”
Marianne winced slightly at the mention of William’s name. She had told her sister about her time in Scotland, even about her time with William, a young and handsome Scotsman, a friend of Amelia’s husband, Jamie Kinnaird, Laird of the Kinnaird clan. But she hadn’t told her everything and knew Ruth would love the detail and would hold it over her head forever.
Ruth placed her hand across her forehead and leaned back on the couch with a flourish of drama. “Oh, William Fraser! Please do come and rescue me from my rigid and unrelenting sister. I shall die from an overindulgence of Bible verses and prayers!” Marianne couldn’t help but chuckle and knew William would have loved to guffaw at such a theatrical display.
Marianne stood and walked over to her reclining sister and helped her sister stand. Ruth laughing as Marianne wrapped her arms around her sister. “My dear, where would we be without the Bible? Why Father would have nothing to say to us if not for that.”
Both girls burst into laughter, letting go of their embrace. After a few moments, Marianne’s smile faltered slightly. “Ruth,” she began, turning her green eyes on her sister, “I have just received another letter from Amelia. She is now seven months pregnant.”
Ruth’s smile widened. “Why, that’s wonderful news! The Scottish princess must be blissfully happy!”
Marianne smiled at the nickname her sister had given Amelia. “Yes, she is very excited, and everyone is happy to help prepare for the baby. But…but she has requested that I return to her if I have time. She has been feeling too fatigued lately and would love a little company.”
She watched as her younger sister’s fierce and wild countenance crumbled slightly at the statement. Ruth sat down on the couch, and Marianne sat down next to her.
Ruth’s voice was quieter now. “How long would you be gone?”
The girl’s last sojourn to Scotland had wounded her sister, not for any jealousy, but because Ruth did not want to be left alone as the sole target of their father’s fury and biblical principles. It had not been easy since their mother had died four years prior.
Marianne placed a hand upon her sister’s. She worried that her desire to see Amelia was for purely selfish reasons. “It will only be until the baby is born.”
“But that is two months away. Two long months alone…with him. You know he won’t let me see anyone unless it is at a sanctioned gathering.” Ruth’s eyes welled up. Her beautiful and powerful sister could still be broken by her father.
Marianne had an idea. “Why don’t I ask if you can come with me? Now that Amelia has returned to favor as a “Scottish Princess”, father has no objections to our seeing her.”
Ruth’s brows furrowed, “But you know he’ll never let us both go. He can’t bear the thought of having no one to scold.”
Setting her mouth in a firm line, Marianne was resolved. “Well, there is no harm in trying. I know Amelia wouldn’t mind. Let me ask him and see what he says. Perhaps he is feeling generous this morning.”
Ruth seemed comforted by the prospect and wiped a tear from her cheek. Marianne smiled and stood once again, smoothing her green gown in preparation for the conversation with her father. He was diligent about reminding them that one of their duties as women was to always be dressed impeccably. “A disorganized image speaks of a disorganized and muddled heart.” His words rang in her ears…always.
It had taken Marianne a few hours to formulate the words to ask her father if she and her sister could visit Amelia and her family in Scotland. They had spent the afternoon meal in silence. Ruth had looked to Marianne with wide eyes, prodding her sister to ask him as he bent over his plate, not once looking upon his two beautiful daughters at the end of the long table.
It had not been the time to ask him. He would have grumbled that his mealtime was being taken up with such nonsense and frivolous chatter. He would much prefer to be approached later, on a full stomach with a cup of tea in hand. That would make him docile enough. So, here she was, pacing outside his study, nearly wearing a hole in the carpet beneath her slippers as her gown rustled back and forth as she walked. She was thinking, worrying, hoping all at once. Clasping and unclasping her hands, she twirled a curl absentmindedly, gripping her bottom lip in her teeth.
He would see sense, surely! He would not want to prevent me from going to my friend. And why should he stop Ruth from accompanying me? There was nothing happening in London of interest, no balls, no suitors, no lessons to miss in the two months.
The young girl was brought back from her thoughts by the sound of a desk chair moving from inside her father’s study. She took a few deep breaths, moved her lips over the lines she had prepared, and then knocked softly on the door. A grumbling voice called harshly from within. “Come in.”
Marianne swung the door open to find her father standing at one of his many heavy-laden shelves, his back to her. His stark white hair was made even whiter next to his black coat, which he wore every day. His pants were also black and led down to a pair of black boots. He turned slightly, and his white and gray beard matched the gray bushy eyebrows that hovered over his brown eyes as he squinted through grey eyelashes. He had not turned to acknowledge his daughter’s arrival.
Walking forward with trepidation, Marianne folded her hands in front of her. Her father loved a subservient woman. She had played this role on many occasions.
“Father…” she began slowly.
A “Hmph” was given in reply, and still, without looking at her, Lord Browne brought the volume to his desk and sat down. Marianne paused and looked around at the study. It had been a forbidden place for her and her sister growing up. It always loomed in her mind as a dark and scary place, but now, as an older woman, she found it quite cozy, with its dark wooden shelves, tables of open books, a dark wood desk, a comfy armchair, and a fireplace, which was not lit. It would have been a dream escape for readers like Marianne and Amelia, except for the grumpy old man who sat at its center and swamped the room with his ill-temper.
“Father,” Marianne repeated. This time Lord Browne looked up. “What is it, Marianne? I am busy at the moment. A man should never be disturbed in his study, the sacred heart of his home. Men have important work to complete.” Marianne glanced at the book he had been reading. It was a book about famous painters. She almost wanted to smirk. So, her father was not completing an “important” task for the House of Lords. He was simply reading. He had never said as much, but she knew her father enjoyed studying and looking at paintings, and she wondered idly if he had ever attempted to paint himself. It would have most likely been too sinful an indulgence in his mind, for many painters were heathens and reprobates.
“Well, Father, I would like to inform you that Amelia is now 7 months pregnant, so her baby will be coming soon.” Marianne paused, taking her time.
Lord Browne nodded. “Ah, yes, well she was is a lucky woman, your friend. She was saved by a man’s money, though why he wanted to pick up the scraps is beyond me.” Marianne could feel herself beginning to get angry, but tried to stamp down the fire that was growing within her. Getting mad at her father never worked. He treated a woman’s anger like the tantrums of a young child and would pay no heed. He would simply push her out of his study and be done with it. She wished she could scream into his face that Amelia had actually been able to pay Jamie’s contribution back with the money she earned from her writing, but her father would either feign disinterest or disbelief.
“Yes, well,” Marianne’s voice was surprisingly calm, masking the rage that filled her. “Father, Amelia has requested that I join her to assist with preparations for the new baby if at all possible. She is not feeling well of late and would like the company. Since I have made the journey before, and you know the family are well-connected, the mother of the laird is the daughter of an English viscount, I thought you might be inclined to allow me to visit again.”
Lord Browne hmphed again. She waited impatiently for his reply, hoping it wouldn’t be one that would make her want to kick and scream.
“You are an old maid, my daughter, at the ripe old age of 27. You might want to turn your mind to marriage prospects and babies of your own, rather than frittering your good years away in the god-forsaken land of the Scots, depraved, beastly men that they are.” He set his chin in defiance, and Marianne knew what was about to come.
“From the book of Proverbs, Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” Lord Browne shook a finger at his daughter, whose face had turned pink, hinting at the anger that was inside of her. “You should be wise, my dear and do what a woman is meant to do.”
Marianne balled her hands into fists until her knuckles turned white, but she was well practiced at hiding her feelings from her father. “It will only be two months, Father. I can resume my search for a husband when I return.” She hoped he wouldn’t notice the sarcasm that was dripping from her words, or else he definitely would not let her go.
He leaned back in his chair, savoring any moment to flex his power over his daughters. He folded his hands across his ample belly and scrutinized his daughter. The pause seemed interminable.
“If you will promise to return as soon as the baby is born, then I will agree to let you go.”
Marianne’s heart soared, but then it sank once again. As soon as the baby is born? That’s too soon! She knew she mustn’t argue, or else she would lose even this. Now was the time to mention Ruth.
“Oh, thank you, Father! Yes, yes, of course I shall return promptly. I will keep you informed as to the baby’s arrival.” Lord Browne nodded wordlessly and started to return to his book, as she cleared her throat, knowing this was her only chance.
“Oh, Father?” He paused and looked up once again. “May Ruth accompany me? She has naught to do here at home and will miss me greatly when I leave. Would it be too much trouble to ask if she may come along?”
As soon as the question exited her mouth, she knew she had pushed too far.
His response came as a low grumble of a storm far in the distance. It threatened to come closer. Her father’s mouth was set into a firm line, and his cheeks flushed pink slightly. She knew he was displeased.
He burst forth, “Two women out alone, away from their family to do Lord knows what? Two women? Are you not satisfied with permission to go yourself, Marianne, that you must push me to the edge of reason and request the company of your sister as well?”
He stayed seated, but his voice had risen to fill the small room. The image of a laughing William came to her mind, and she thought how nice it must be to be in a man’s presence who was constantly merry. Too bad she detested his impertinence, cocky demeanor, and lack of religion and gentlemanly manners. And yet, his ability to laugh was something she found endearing, albeit sometimes annoying when it was at her expense.
Marianne held her breath until her father’s tirade was over, hoping that he would still let her go to Amelia. “ ‘Tis bad enough you are asking to go, shunning your duties as a future wife and mother; but to drag along your sister, who is too young and impressionable to be away from her father, is outrageous! Your sister is far too wild in her manners to know the difference between good behavior and bad. She must stay close to me, or she will bring this family into scandal! You, at least, can be expected to act with decorum and morality.”
He waved his hand towards her as if he was begrudgingly sending a half compliment. Once he had finished his bitter rebuke and was leaning again into his seat, Marianne paused, picking over her words carefully to smooth over the delicate situation.
She nodded in faux agreement. “I understand, Father. You are correct. Perhaps it was too much of me to ask for both of us to go when you have been so generous as to allow me to go. I will take my lady’s maid to give you some comfort while I am gone.”
Lord Browne sighed, adding gruffly, “Yes, yes. All in order. You may take the other carriage as well, but the Kinnairds will have to house the coachman and horses themselves, you know. There will no extra expense made on my part for this inconvenience.”
Marianne smiled. “Thank you, Father. I shall write to Amelia directly, and I will leave within the next few days.”
Lord Browne waved her off and returned to his book, as Marianne walked out of the study and shut the door behind her. The silence surrounded her in the hallway, and she took a few deep breaths, calming herself after such an ordeal. In her mind she kept repeating, He said yes. He said yes. Hurry to leave before he changes his mind! But, her heart fell at the prospect of having to tell Ruth her father’s decision. How could she make it up to her sister? She needed to go to Amelia; she must go! For this could be her last chance for a small taste of freedom before her father forced her into marriage. But she was still sorry for her younger sister who would have to endure their father’s rages and reprimands all on her own.
Brushing her hair out of her face, she walked determinedly to Ruth’s room, rehearsing the words she would say to her sister.
William Fraser sat in front of the fireplace at his homestead, only a few miles south of Kinnaird Castle, his tall, strong frame too large for the armchair. It had been a cold day out at work with Laird Jamie, helping to secure new sheep for the flock, as well as assisting with the care and maintenance of the current flock. The Kinnaird clan, despite England’s takeover of Scotland and the destruction of Scottish life, was still going strong, financially powerful and successful. They needed to give a portion of their wealth to the crown, but a few months ago, Jamie had helped create a system that allowed all of the remaining clan members to stay on their land as farmers, instead of taking up all the free land for sheep farming to serve his own and the crown’s needs.
While other clansmen and workers had been forced to flee Scotland or flee to the coastal areas to work in industry, William was proud of his friend’s efforts to try and retain their old way of life and protect those on his land, despite the Highland Clearances.
William was grateful to Jamie for his kindness and welcome. Since the Battle of Culloden 5 years ago, William was left alone in the world. His mother had died long ago, but both his brother and father had died in battle, and his former fiancé had perished in an illness. Jamie had taken William in as friend and brother, and William could very well call the Laird’s mother, Fiona, his own. He sat, entranced by the fire, drinking a glass of whiskey after the long, cold day, feeling the emptiness of his home.
William spent most of his time at Kinnaird Castle. He preferred it so, for here, ghosts lingered, and the pain of the past did not dissipate. He felt guilty, betrayed, angry and sad. It was an annoying mix of emotions which he would prefer to laugh away. He was 27 when the Battle of Culloden raged, and had been lying unconscious, injured from a previous battle, and was unable to partake in the battle that had taken his brother’s and father’s lives. Perhaps, if he had been there, his father and brother would still be alive? He would have gladly traded his life for theirs because this fate of dark loneliness was far worse.
The firelight shone against William’s curly hair and rough beard, making it seem redder by its glow. His light green eyes stared into the flames, and his mind wandered from the battle to Jamie, to Amelia’s impending labor, and then to…Lady Browne, or Marianne. He found his mind often turning to her when he felt as though the ghosts would take him in, their icy tendrils wrapping around his thoughts, threatening to block out all rays of hope and happiness.
In his mind, he saw Marianne’s curly auburn hair and green eyes, the freckles across her pale nose, and her expression screwed up in frustration at him. The image always made him smile. He had loved to fluster her, for it brought an attractive color to her cheeks, and her tongue, customarily reserved for kind words to Amelia and the rest of the family, was filled with witty, yet vitriolic phrases just for him. But, she’d gone months ago, and while he was sure she had long forgotten him, he was still flicking through moments with her when he was alone. He wondered if she ever thought of that time in the cottage. It had been puzzling to him, and his inner voice wondered if Marianne would like his home and if her presence would send away the ghosts that haunted its halls. But, he chided himself for such a romantic notion. It bothered him that she continued to plague his mind so many months since last seeing her. No, he must remain alone. Women were not to be trusted.
Rubbing his face he tried to banish the picture from his mind. “Och, lass, ye fill me mind constantly. Perhaps it’s time I take a trip tae Brechin’s brothel,” he whispered to the empty room. Drinking the last of his whiskey, he stood, seeming even taller in the small, desolate space, the room that had been left unused for so long. He had employed a housekeeper and groundskeeper to keep an eye on the place, but he was never really there, so he had no need for the usual comforts of home and had gotten rid of many things that had once filled it.
There was though, one thing that he hadn’t been able to get rid of it, and with it, the whispers of the past were forever locked. On a side table lay a silhouette encased in a brass frame. His eyes wandered over the familiar outline. “Mairi,” he whispered, his mouth remembering the feel of her name, for he had said it many times, both when she was alive, and in tears after she had passed.
Perhaps he should have destroyed the image of his former love before she died, and before she made him hate her, but in truth, her death had subdued his anger at her, and he was only left with fear, emptiness, and regret.
Marianne finally found Ruth in her bedroom, sitting at a small desk by the window, poring over a map of England and Scotland in a book. Ruth was always in search of adventure, and exploring maps had been one of her favorite youthful pastimes, and one she hadn’t lost. She watched quietly as her sister’s finger followed a trail along the path from London to the coast of Scotland, to Brechin.
Marianne knew that the response from their father would hurt Ruth deeply, even more now that she was planning the trip in her mind, dreaming about Scottish castles and misty moors. Marianne cleared her throat to announce her presence.
Ruth turned abruptly, her eyes wide with fright until she saw it was her sister, and let out a sigh of relief. “My goodness, you’re one for sneaking around. Come, look at the journey! I know you’ve done it before, but just look at how long it is. It’s amazing how much ground we will cover in just a carriage and horses!”
Marianne moved closer and sat near the desk. She laid her hand on her sister’s arm, and Ruth’s smile faded, seeing her older sister’s sad expression. “Ruth, Father has allowed me to go. I have asked him for permission for you to go as well, but there was no convincing him. He does not want you out of his sight. He still believes you to be too young to do so.” Marianne bowed her head in apology and a plea for forgiveness.
Ruth was silent for a moment, and then she stood, pulling her arm away from Marianne’s grasp. “I told you, Marianne, did I not? It was cruel of you to have given me so much hope that he would acquiesce. He is still our father, our king, our prison warden, forever and ever it would seem! Me, too young? I am 21 years old, and I’ve barely seen the world! Is there not a crime in that? We women must be banished to the drawing rooms and bedrooms of our homes with the strappings of corsets and gowns upon us!” Ruth’s face was pink with anger, and her arms flailed as she yelled the words.
Marianne was quiet. “I know…I…I am sorry. I desperately wanted you to go. Amelia would have loved to see you.”
“But, now you must go alone and revel in your good fortune. You are old enough to take care of yourself, I suppose.” She folded her arms, but then unfolded them, and sat down harshly on her bed, a hopeless expression on her face. Her voice faltered, and then it quieted, “Am I never to be free?”
Marianne rushed to her sister, kneeling before the girl and taking her hands. She thought for the first time that maybe it would have been better if they both had been born men, to fully taste the sweet flavor of freedom. “You will, my dear. We will both be free one day. This tyranny cannot last forever. I promise you that. One day, we will be free. But, now I must go to my friend who needs my help. Father has made me promise to return as soon as the baby is born, and I will do that. In only two months, I will be back at your side. Does that not bring you some comfort?”
The heat of anger had slightly left Ruth’s eyes, and she gripped Marianne tightly. “For once, I agree with Father and am glad he has made you promise to return. There is no running away. At least not without me.” She smiled, and they both giggled. Running away had always been a joke between them. It seemed like an idea from a book that was unreal; it could never really be accomplished.
“I will return, Ruth. I will give your love to Amelia and the new baby.”
Marianne went directly to her writing desk and wrote back to Amelia, excitedly about her arrival. The next few days were spent packing and purchasing a few small gifts for everyone since she wanted to make sure her letter arrived before her. On the morning of her departure, Marianne stood in the hallway, gripping her small purse in her hand, her trunks waiting to be loaded into the carriage. Margrete, her lady’s maid, had left to inform the coachman that she was ready to depart.
Her teeth gripped her lip as her excitement mounted, but she also felt a deep concern for her sister. Ruth entered the room to say goodbye, and looked cheerful enough, and Marianne was comforted. “Goodbye, Marianne. Have a safe journey, and do not forget any details! You will tell me everything that has happened and provide any details on the infamous Mr. Fraser.” She whispered his name in Marianne’s ear so that she wouldn’t invite her father’s rage on hearing a man’s name mentioned by his daughters in his home.
Marianne tsked at her sister’s impertinence and smiled, “I shall, Ruth. I shall write to you as often as I can! Do not worry; all details will be given.” Except for the details of that one event that has already happened, and definitely would not happen again.
Ruth gave her a quick hug. “Now, I must leave you before the coach takes your trunks. It will be hard enough to hear the movement of wheels taking you away from me, but I don’t want to see it as well!”
Marianne clasped her sister’s hand. “I understand, Ruth. Goodbye! Best of luck with Father. I will see you soon!”
The coachman entered the house and began moving the trunks to the carriage with the help of a footman and the instruction of Margrete. Marianne watched them and felt her excitement build. Behind her, Lord Browne entered the room, a document in his hands. He grumbled behind her, and she turned towards him.
“Marianne, daughter, here is a letter of instruction for you that I do not want you to open until you are safely in the carriage. I wish you good travels to your destination. Be virtuous and upright, and do not disgrace me.”
Marianne nodded wordlessly and reached out her hand to take the letter. “Thank you, Father. I shall write to you with updates about Amelia’s condition.”
“Good. Now take your leave. Do not cry, for tears are a woman’s weakness.”
“Yes, Father.” She turned to go and walked out the door, feeling the clutches of restriction slowly loosen with each step, and as soon as she entered the carriage with Margrete, they would tear away completely, and she could breathe again. Marianne hadn’t realized the beauty of this feeling until she was allowed to go to Kinnaird Castle alone without her father the first time. It had been a dream.
Margrete waited for her to enter the carriage, as the footman held the door open, and followed soon after. Once the wheels began moving from her London home, Marianne breathed a sigh of relief, like she had been holding her breath for too long. Her maid smiled, noting her mistress’ enjoyment as Marianne clutched the ring that hung from her necklace, her mother’s old wedding ring. It had been a sort of talisman to help keep her mother’s memory alive, as well as fill her with strength and joy when needed.
Marianne smiled back briefly, but there were more pressing matters. Quickly she tore open the letter from her father, assuming it would be a lesson on morality and biblical principles, for which she understood and therefore were unnecessary for her to hear once again. However, as her eyes glided across the page, the words she read were much, much worse.
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