Capturing the Reluctant Highlander – Extended Epilogue
Amelia watched as Prince Charles and her young son, Jamie, played near the hearth. Her heart was full. Her husband, Jamie, was regaling his guests with a story about their time in London, something to do with the stuffy foppish Englishmen he’d come into contact with, and she smiled.
Who had ever known that life would turn out as it had? She was once a young Lady in England, proud and frivolous, hoping for a marriage to a handsome, wealthy, young, aristocrat. And now, she was still a Lady, of sorts, but she was anything but frivolous and proud, and she was happier than she had ever thought possible.
Before her sat her entire family. Her parents, Lord Jonathon Parker and his wife, Henrietta, and Jamie’s mother, Fiona, laughed along to Jamie’s story. William and Marianne sat nearby, Marianne holding her new child, a daughter she’d named Seoighe, to express the joy she found in her new life. The newlyweds, Ruth and Troy, sat near each other, hand-in-hand, often glancing at each other.
Amelia was content. This was her adopted tribe, her Scottish clan, and it meant more to her than she’d ever thought anything could. More than the poems that poured from her soul onto the page. More than the thought of having status in London. More so than herself. She loved these people, and she wished them all the happiness in the world. She chuckled to think that her best friend and her best friend’s sister had all found lovers and husbands among the Highland men.
If someone had told her that years before, she would have scoffed at such an idea. Married to a Highlander? One of the brutish, barbaric, and primitive lot? And now, she had been proved wrong. For Jamie had grown into a man she loved more each and every day. He led his people and his family with compassion, love, and mercy. He was an attentive lover, a kind husband, and wonderful person. Tears came to her eyes as she thought of it. This was true happiness, indeed.
Marianne watched, smiling, as Jamie told tales of his time in London. He was so animated and had such scathing remarks to say about the English, that it was highly entertaining. In the past, she might have been offended, but she knew he was speaking the truth. He spoke only of the fops and wigged men that seemed to pervade London’s inner circle and had not a moral bone to share between them.
She held tighter to her young daughter. The labor had been hard, but it had been oh so worth it. To be given such joy at the meeting of her daughter, Marianne thought she should name her Joyce, or Seoighe in Gaelic. But even before this child, her joy had been complete. She had William, her sister, and Amelia, and the fullness of love that surrounded her in her new family.
Once Jamie had finished his tale which had the whole family in stitches, he turned to Ruth and Troy. “And so, ye two, when will ye be leaving us once again tae head tae the high seas?”
Ruth beamed, her happiness in full, having returned from a lovely trip around Scotland, Ireland, and England. She loved being a captain’s wife. She looked healthy and fresh, and both of their faces were tanned from their time at sea. Troy’s hand was on her shoulder, making small circles with his forefinger. She was safe, comfortable, and free.
“Well, we’d leave right away, of course, but we didn’t want to disappoint all of you,” Ruth said with a mischievous grin, and Amelia laughed.
“Ah well, we cannot compete with the ocean, I suppose. When will your next adventure be?”
Troy responded, “Well, I have agreed tae take a ship of goods tae the Americas and bring back American cotton for the English mills. I never thought I’d be doing business with Englishmen, I can assure ye, but I suppose I didnae think I would be married tae one either.”
Ruth smiled at him.
Fiona, Jamie’s mother, broke in, interested. “And do none of the sailors give you trouble about having a woman aboard? You always hear in adventure and pirate stories that women are seen to be bad luck on a ship.”
Troy eyed Ruth knowingly and grinned. They had not told everyone of Troy’s past, besides Amelia and Jamie, feeling it would be better this way. “Ye are right, Lady Kinnaird. Pirates do say that, but once the sailors see what a prime navigator my wife is, they come around soon enough. She has brought me nothing but good luck.” Troy squeezed Ruth’s shoulder, and she chuckled.
“It took some convincing, mind you, but I can be quite forceful when necessary.”
William laughed. “I can agree tae that, lass.”
Jamie broke in. “Well, shall we have dinner, then? I’m starved, and there’s no point in sitting around talking with empty bellies.”
The servants were already prepared, being called in to bring warm meat, bread, potatoes, and vegetables. Plenty of mutton filled the table as the Kinnaird flock had grown to such an extent that they were able to kill some of the sheep for meat.
Jamie moved to the head of the table, his brown hair in a tight bun at the nape of his neck, his waistcoat taught over his strong body. He called over the group as they took their seats around the oak table, talking excitedly with one another. It was not a holiday, but it felt like one. “Raise yer glasses, ye bloody loud lot, and let’s toast tae our reunion.” Everyone raised their glasses of wine and ale.” Jamie put a hand behind his back and cleared his throat. “I’m not quite one for emotional speeches. ‘Tis my wife that has the beautiful words.” He winked at Amelia, who colored under his praise. “But I cannae express fully how grateful I am tae have met ye all. Before ye, ‘twas just me and my mother, as well as William there, but he hardly counts.” William grumbled in faux indignation, and everyone laughed.
“We didnae know it, but we were missing a family. By meeting Amelia, we brought in Lord and Lady Parker, and Marianne, and of course, wild Ruth.” He smiled at her. “Then the minister came intae the story.” Everyone chuckled once more, and Troy grinned. “We couldnae let him get away. Or at least Ruth couldnae.” Everyone burst into laughter, and Ruth rolled her eyes.
Jamie paused, looking at each of them. “Ye make Brechin better than it ever could have been, and I wantae thank each and every one of ye. Ye are always welcome in the castle, for here is family. Slainte!”
The women of the group had moistened eyes, and the men pretended they did not. They drank their glasses heartily and began to speak again to each other with warmth, eating and drinking in earnest.
Amelia looked up at him admiringly as Jamie watched over his old and new family. He was the laird, and such a laird he was, still as devilishly handsome as the day she met him, bumping into him outside of the castle as he stumbled home drunkenly from the bar. She laid her hand on his hand and squeezed it.
In fact, Amelia reflected, all three of the gentlemen that she, her best friend, and her best friend’s sister had married were all devilishly handsome and rogues in their own way. All three women had fallen for them hard and through difficulty, but it had all come right in the end. That’s what Amelia loved the most, and what fueled her poetry. Healing, reconciliation, restoration of happiness. After her father’s debts were paid, and she was able to release him from debtor’s prison, he and her mother were restored to each other, and her happy parents were restored to her.
And, Marianne had William, such a dear friend. So roguish and charming, yet solid of character, and patient and kind. She had never seen a man love a woman so, perhaps besides Jamie, and of course, the new addition of Troy Ferguson.
Whenever Amelia let her glance fall upon those two as they spoke to each other in smiling whispers, her heart was light. Marianne had told her all that had happened since she had been away in London, and she was so grateful. She knew that there had been something between the pair of them that she wouldn’t want them to miss out on, and she was so happy they’d found it. The two of them looked just as happy as could be, laughing and smiling to each other as they shared intimacies.
Amelia supposed her matchmaking work was done. First with Marianne and William and now with Ruth and Troy. Perhaps one day with little Jamie, she thought with a smirk.
A maid entered the room and approached Marianne with a curtsy and a note. “Ma’am, there is a man here tae see ye. He requests the presence of ye and Mrs. Ferguson at the back entrance.”
“Thank you,” Marianne replied with confusion and looked at an equally confused Ruth. The whole of the company stopped eating and began to speculate as to who it could be. William said, “Want me tae come with ye, love?”
Marianne shook her head, her heart beginning to beat a bit faster with nerves. “No. Stay with Seoighe. I will go with Ruth.”
He nodded and took his daughter from her arms, smiling down at her young face. Marianne and Ruth left together, both of them feeling the same thing. “‘Tis Father isn’t it?” Ruth asked, an icy dread surrounding her heart. “But why? For what purpose? There is naught he can do tae us now,” she reassured herself.
They followed the maid to the back entrance, which was usually restricted to servants, but for some reason was requested by the uninvited guest. They glanced at each other again briefly as they saw the hooded figure awaiting them by the door.
The maid curtsied and left them alone with the man who removed his cloak. It was Lord Anthony Browne. He looked so changed they hardly recognized him.
“Father?” Ruth asked timidly, unsure of who she was looking at, but the familiar features remained the same.
He nodded, smiling. “Yes girls. ‘Tis I, your father.” He glanced at Ruth and moved to hold both of her hands in his own. Ruth tensed at such an intimacy and nearly pulled away, but she saw a kindness in his eyes she had not seen before.
“Ruth, I am so glad you are well. I heard that you were returned to Brechin, and I was grateful for it.” He looked down. “Please forgive your father for what he did. To attempt to push you into an unwanted marriage.” He moved to Marianne. “And forgive me as well, my dear. Forgive me for everything, if you can find it in your hearts.”
Marianne and Ruth were frozen. They were so shocked by the speech, but they were also surprised by his demeanor. He was not rude or brutish or imposing. He was subdued, reserved, polite, and kind. Who was this man who had so lately been their deplorable father?
Marianne, recovering more quickly, spoke first. “Father, are you in earnest?”
Lord Browne dropped her hands and sighed. “I know it must seem strange to you both, but I have had a change. A change I would like you to know about.” He paused. “I have been married.”
Marianne and Ruth gasped in surprise. “Married? To whom?”
“To a woman who I know you will love and admire. And,” he added with a chuckle, “she is a Scotswoman.”
Ruth burst into laughter. “Well that certainly is a change, Father.”
Lord Browne turned to the side and motioned with his hand. Marianne and Ruth were surprised to see another cloaked figure, lingering in the shadows. The figure stepped forward timidly and grasped the hand of Lord Browne.
“This,” Lord Browne began, “is Aila, my new wife. Aila, these are my daughters.”
The hood of the cloak fell back to reveal an older woman, a woman whose beauty remained in her kind face. She smiled at the women, bowing her head slightly. Still surprised, Marianne and Ruth nodded in return and gave their hands in introduction.”
“You are most welcome, Lady Browne.” Marianne smiled, and Aila blushed. “Didnae expect tae have a title, tae be sure. Ye must call me Aila, my dear.”
Lord Browne grinned. “Well, you are a lady after all, Aila, despite the fact that we must sell my estate in London.”
She waved a hand away. “I care not for things as that. I would feel most uncomfortable living in London, pretending tae be a fancy lady.”
Ruth liked her instantly and smiled at her new stepmother. “We are most glad to have you, Aila.”
Marianne was beaming, feeling her muscles relax. Perhaps it was really true. Her father had changed. “Father, Aila has brought about this change in you?”
He nodded, smiling. “I’m afraid so, my dears, but it was coming before that. Ever since I left the house after our discussion, Marianne, I was a broken man. Angry, full of hatred and bitterness, seeking only my own comfort. But I decided to stay in Scotland, so that I could hear news of you both if anything came up. I knew I could not return to London because of my shame. I stayed in a nearby village, and the townspeople brought me back to life. I was put to work. Good, honest work, and there I met my love.”
“But the home in London? Your position in the House of Lords?” Ruth asked.
“I have left the position, but the home remains. I will need to return to sell it in order to cover debts, I’m afraid, but ‘tis no matter. I wish to remain in Scotland.”
Ruth was bowled over again with surprise, but at this statement, she knew that something new and wonderful had taken hold of her father. “Come,” she said to him, surprising herself. “Come and meet my husband anew. Come, Aila, to meet everyone.” She grabbed onto Aila’s hand.
“Yes, Father and stepmother,” Marianne said, taking Lord Browne’s arm, “Come and meet your granddaughter.”
Lord Browne smiled, and his eyes were moist. Aila was beaming. “I thank the Lord each day for you girls, and I ask for his forgiveness for how I was to you. Your mother would have been ashamed. I would be most happy to meet your new family.”
The four of them walked together towards the main hall, smiling, their hearts finally feeling at rest after so many months of resentment and anger. They entered the main hall to the surprise of their family, clan Kinnaird. There were now no regrets or sadness between them anymore. It was only love and a budding, fresh hope.
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