Capturing the Reluctant Highlander (Preview)
Late April 1752
“It will be your birthday soon. Is that not enough?” Ruth repeated her sister’s words as she sat upon the hill, pen and drawing paper in hand. William Fraser, her new brother-in-law had gifted her with some drawing materials as an early birthday gift, and she could not have been more pleased. She loved her new brother, and he understood her in a way that her sister did not. She and her sister had always been different, but the difference was becoming even more apparent as Ruth became more and more irritated at her growing sense of isolation.
“No, ‘tis not enough,” she breathed, remembering her sister’s disappointed expression. Ruth swooped her pen across the page and looked up at the surrounding hilltops. Scotland was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. To be fair, it was the only place she had ever seen, besides her previous home in London, of course, but at the time of moving only a few months ago, it had taken her breath away. Even now, she loved the green of the grass, the swish of the heather on the moors, and the gray of the sea more than anything. They inspired her, and she would run to them whenever she could, but they were not enough for her. She longed to move, to run, to have adventures, and to see as many places as she could before she laid her head to rest in her grave. And then the nightmares had come to haunt her mind every night. Nightmares of her father returning and placing her back in her restrictive life once again.
Her drawing was her other solace. She would draw maps or landscapes, and there was plenty to offer her in the surrounding wilds of William’s family home. Today, she wanted to capture the hills of Brechin in the beautiful light that came when it was about to rain. Marianne, her sister, had given up warning Ruth of the dangers of wandering in the rain, but Ruth knew she still waited nervously for her younger sister’s safe arrival home. Especially now that Marianne was pregnant with William’s child, she had become even more anxious. It was becoming almost unbearable for ‘wild Ruth’, for that is what William and Jamie, the laird of the clan in the area, had come to call her.
Whenever she would gallop faster than their horses or proclaim her desire for an expedition across the sea, William and Jamie would say “Och, Wild Ruth is at it again. One day, she may just up and leave us.”
Ruth kept drawing, but in her heart and mind, she whispered, “Yes, yes, I will.” She sighed. She hadn’t told her sister that, yet. She knew it would only send her into worrying about her more than she already did. She did not tell her of her nightmares either. There didn’t seem to be a point. Marianne had fallen in love with William, and, along with Ruth, had fled their father’s house in London. Lord Browne had arranged for Marianne to marry one of his friends, but they left him and London, so that Marianne could live a life of happiness and freedom. Ruth was grateful to her sister for rescuing her. She really was. But, now that Marianne was happy in her new life with her new family, for that was what she wanted, a true home; whereas Ruth didn’t want to do what was conventional or normal. Ruth desired freedom more than anything else, and Scotland had given her that, but in this small isolated place, she still had to “fit in” as a woman and do what women do.
“We are out of our father’s clutches forever! You may do as you please!” Marianne had begged Ruth to feel happy in her fate.
“I know, Marianne. It is wonderful, but why can’t you understand? I want a new life. I want to go and to do things.”
“But why must you? Can you not be happy in your family here? Have I become not enough for you?”
Ruth sat down and shook her head. Tears brimmed at her eyes. She whispered, “Marianne, I wish I could make you understand. This desire gnaws and aches in my every fiber. I want so much more for my life.”
Marianne sat down next to Ruth and placed a soft hand on her back. “Help me to understand, Ruth.”
But Ruth left the room, nearly in tears, hating herself for what she was doing to her sister, but also for having this feeling that she could not, would not, give up. She would run away. One day.
But, those plans were not for now. Other things filled her mind on this glorious day. There was the May Day festival, which Marianne and Amelia, Jamie’s wife, had asked her to take part in. Ruth loved parties and would love to mix with her friends in the village, but she was not happy to have been relegated to such womanly tasks as party preparations. It was to be held in a few weeks, and Marianne had suggested her aid to help get her out of the funk that had pervaded her mind of late. The nightmares had begun only a month or so before, and her desire to leave also grew at the same time.
And, on top of that, the beautiful, intriguing, irritatingly evasive Troy Ferguson seemed to be everywhere and nowhere. He and the Laird and Lady were friends, and so she would see him up at the clan parties or family gatherings quite often. He was also the parish minister, and so she would see him every Sunday at the pulpit, doling out advice about duty and kindness and love. That was all well and good, but why would he not speak to her?
Ever since their discussion about traveling after the birth of Amelia’s son, James, when Troy had deigned to tell her a few small tidbits of his mysterious life, he had seemingly avoided all contact. He’d even gone so far as to turn a shoulder to her at social gatherings! He was polite for the most part, engaging in small pleasantries if he was forced into conversation with her, but he could not look at her face, and Ruth was annoyed by it.
What was so repellent about her? She had plenty of friends in the village and plenty of suitors as well, if she was being honest. She got along with everyone except for her sister at the moment, so why should the minister practically shun her?
It was a question she’d been mulling over for months, and she wished she could just let it go and turn up her nose at him in response. She tried, but it still ate away at her. And ever since she’d first glimpsed his large form behind the bridal couple at Marianne’s wedding, she had been fascinated by him. He was like an exotic figure from a foreign land with his unique Scottish accent and mysterious expressions. And he was far too handsome for a minister. She’d seen many more young women in the church pews glance up at him from underneath their eyelashes, hopeful for an approving glance from him.
But to her relief, he was not flirtatious, and they would usually leave the service disappointed. William liked him, and that, she knew, was a good thing. Ruth sighed again, her focus not quite on her drawing but on the thoughts that swirled inside of her. How can I get him to notice me?
Amidst her own thoughts, Ruth did not notice the change in the breeze or the darkening of the clouds overhead. She was not afraid of rain, but it was rather unpleasant to get caught in, especially when one had their drawing materials with them.
Soon enough, a raindrop fell onto her page, smudging the freshly laid ink. Ruth made an annoyed sound and looked up into the sky with a slight gasp. She noticed the whipping of the wind and the silence that had come over the area. She clasped onto the reigns of her horse, Emerald, and untied her from the tree that stood close by. “Come, Emerald, we must fly like the wind!”
She patted Emerald on her white nose, and, after gathering her materials, climbed astride her. She was unendingly grateful to Amelia who “outlawed” side saddles at her stables, and so she could ride freely like a true adventurer. The rain began to come down harder now, but Ruth trusted Emeralds sure-footedness. She had been a gift from the laird’s stables, and so she knew the Brechin hillsides by heart.
Ruth clicked her tongue, and Emerald was on her way, rushing down the hill towards William’s home far in the distance. Rain began to drip into her eyes and mouth, so she decided to lean down against the horse to protect her face. She closed her eyes and simply trusted that Emerald knew the way.
She smiled to herself. If she could not yet have her big adventure, these small adventures were enough to fill her yawning appetite in the meantime. She breathed in the comforting smell of Emerald’s hide intermixed with the fresh rain and held on tighter. But suddenly, Emerald reared up at something in the path that had scared her, and her hooves slid along the muddy stream that had appeared in the heavy rainfall. In her surprise, Ruth cried out and fell back off the horse, down and down she went, and suddenly, there was a flash of pain and everything went dark.
Marianne Fraser, three months pregnant, wandered in front of the fire, awaiting Ruth’s arrival. She had not yet returned, and the rain was falling fast and hard. Marianne tried to calm the fluttering of her heart. She had become more nervous of late, with the onset of her pregnancy and Ruth’s discontent with her situation. How could she help her sister be more comfortable and happier? Were they not free from their Father’s control? Did they not achieve that?
Ruth had been happy when they’d first arrived in Scotland, the free life just opening up before them like the horizon. But something had changed. Now Ruth had taken to the hills nearly every day since the beginning of this malaise or unease about their way of life. She would argue with Marianne about nearly everything, especially if it had to do with “women’s work” or marriage or anything conventional. William was the only one that could talk any sense into her, and she raged at that thought. She was her own sister, after all. What had happened to make her change so much? Did Ruth no longer love her?
And then there was Troy Ferguson. Without having heard from Ruth herself, she could tell Ruth was intrigued by him. He was a handsome man to be sure, and very funny, and very intelligent, but he did not seem at all interested in Ruth, and she wanted to make sure Ruth did not suffer overmuch from disappointment at unrequited love. Marianne thought perhaps that was what had brought upon her low mood.
She feared for her sister’s heart more than anything, and William needed to often remind her that Ruth was to soon turn 22 and must be allowed to be a free woman and live her own life in the way she thinks is best. Marianne would agree if it was any other woman, but Ruth, so innocent and naive about the ways of the world, wanted things she had no business wanting. At least not until she knew everything about those things. She was afraid Ruth would be hurt in more ways than one if she loosened her ties on her at all. She couldn’t just give up caring about her sister’s well-being.
Suddenly, a harsh knock sounded at the door, and with a spark of hope, Marianne rushed to answer it, heaving the heavy oak door open to greet the roaring wind and the rain. A tall figure with a brown three-cornered hat emerged into the firelight. It was a very wet Troy, and he was carrying a very wet, unconscious Ruth in his arms.
Marianne gasped, and simply pointed to the long couch that stood by the fire before she could find her words. She found her voice eventually as she shut the storm out behind them. “Troy! What has happened?”
Troy laid Ruth softly down upon the couch and stood up next to Marianne, taking off his sodden hat. Marianne knelt down next to her sister as best she could in her condition. Troy began breathlessly, “‘Tis my fault, Marianne. I was out walking in the rain, and I came upon her horse, scaring it tae high Heaven. It bumped her from its back, and she fell, hitting her head. We need tae see if she’s broken any bones. I can take a look, but we should call the doctor.”
“Of course!” Marianne rushed off to ask a servant to take the horse for the doctor before Troy could object to a pregnant woman rushing off to do anything.
After Marianne left the room, Troy knelt beside a sleeping Ruth. His boots squeaked with the movement, and he dripped water onto the rug. Ruth’s loose, reddish-brown hair was matted around her face, and he pushed it out of the way lightly with his fingertips. Her lovely pink mouth was slightly open, and Troy remarked how peaceful she looked as she lay on the sofa in her sodden, brown riding habit that clung a little too tightly to her chest and waist. He tried not to notice, but it was impossible.
Troy had never met someone as enticing as Ruth. Certainly, he had met with and bedded many an intriguing and beautiful woman, but Ruth was different. She struck him to the heart, her beauty fraught with layers and layers of something else he couldn’t quite identify.
He had avoided her eyes and her person for months on end, ever since he’d let himself slip and open up to her, asking her about her dreams for the future. She had looked positively gleeful, but he couldn’t let her in. He couldn’t stray from his goal and his life purpose.
But right now, he felt safe in her unconscious presence, for when she would open her eyes, it was as if he would be pinned to the wall, her seeing everything about him and making him feel things he did not want to feel, things which he refused to feel if he wanted to keep himself on the right path. He sighed and said quietly, “Och, lass,” the longing building in his chest.
Ruth’s eyes slowly flickered open and pierced into Troy’s, their soft brown depths gazing up at him. A lazy smile spread across Ruth’s face as she took in Troy. His fingertips were still on the side of her face, and he didn’t remove them right away. She saw his rough beard and his beautiful green eyes that seemed to stand out even more with the closeness of his person. She could see tiny droplets of water that dripped from his wet, brown hair, down his cheeks, and onto his shoulders, his very broad, firm shoulders. She took in his whole form. The man was pure muscle. She thought maybe she was having a dream. It felt like a deep, delicious dream because Troy did not remove his eyes from hers as he had so often in the past.
A cleared throat from behind them surprised Troy into standing up. He turned to see William Fraser with his arms crossed. “And what are ye doing, lad?” He said with a smirk and one eyebrow raised.
Troy, slightly embarrassed, motioned to Ruth on the couch. William rushed over. “What’s happened, ye wild girl? Are ye all right?”
Ruth smiled and attempted to sit up, but then lay back again, laying a hand on her arm, a grimace on her face. “Ah, everything seems to hurt, I see. I fell off Emerald in the rain, and then, I don’t remember what happened.” She turned to Troy, her voice softening. “Why are you here?”
William laughed as he noted his sister’s demure expression, reserved only for Troy. “Och, sister, ye have a way with words. From what I gather, Troy is the one who rescued ye from yer dangerous adventure and brought ye back tae us. Is that right, Troy?”
Troy coughed. “Aye.” He looked at Ruth again, and she felt an enjoyable tingle at his repeated gaze. “I must apologize, Ruth, for I was walking in the rain, and my presence must have surprised Emerald.”
She waved a hand in response as if to say it was no matter. “All is well, Mr. Ferguson. I must thank you for rescuing me. I must look to be quite the damsel in distress, not the preferred role I’d like to play, but I have you to blame for that.” She smiled, and Troy smiled back.
Marianne had just returned and heard the end of her sentence. “Ruth! Can we not be kind to the minister?”
Troy chuckled. “I believe she is making a joke at my expense. That will teach me not to walk in the rain anymore.”
William stood to place a warm arm around Marianne. Marianne said, “The doctor has been fetched.”
Troy stepped forward again. “If ye both don’t mind, I’ve a bit of medical experience meself. I could take a look at the bone and can try tae set it. We dinnae want the swelling tae become too much.”
William smirked, and Marianne smiled. They glanced at each other briefly. “Of course, Troy. If you feel you have the expertise.”
Troy knelt down beside Ruth once again, and Ruth’s heart gave a little flutter. Troy was about to touch her. Again. She was afraid he would hear her heart pounding in her chest, and she did not want the embarrassment, but his voice and expression soothed her.
“Dinnae worry. I have done this many times before.” He turned to Ruth whose eyes were already on him. He reached out his hands. “May I, lass?” He said softly and tenderly, and Ruth had to will herself not to melt. This man had ignored her for months and suddenly he was being so kind, loving, and dare she say it, sensual?
“Of course,” she seemed to whisper back, and he grinned before taking her arm in his hands. He felt the bone of her lower arm and watched her face as she winced.
“I’m sorry tae hurt ye, but I’m tryin’ tae find the break.”
Ruth willed herself to not feel pain. She would not look womanly and weak in front of this man! She gritted her teeth and used her words instead of her expression to convey her pain. “There! That is where it hurts the most.”
He nodded. “Well, ye are a lucky one, no thanks tae me. The bone has not come loose from its path, but there may a slight crack in it. We will just need tae wrap it, and ye’ll need tae rest as ye’ve hurt yer head as well. How can I ever make amends?”
You could kiss me. The thought came to her unbidden, and her eyes opened wide at her own salaciousness. Troy drew back, surprised. “Have I said something wrong?”
She shook her head, “No, no.” She coughed. “Thank you.”
Marianne perked up. “I have an idea. Not that you need to make amends, Troy, but Ruth will be needing a little assistance now that she is injured. She is planning the May Day festival. Would you be interested in helping her out? I know you have your own part to play in it, but everyone else is busy.”
He stood up and moved his hand through his wet, brown hair. He paused for a moment. That would mean he’d need to spend more time with Ruth, and he was not sure he wanted to do that. Well, he wanted to, but he wasn’t sure he should.
“Aye…I could do that.”
Ruth’s eager face dimmed slightly at his hesitation, but she was grateful to Marianne for her brilliant idea. She knew that Marianne would not stand in the way of love! She would have to thank her later.
Ruth smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Ferguson. I would be most grateful for your assistance. Party planning is not quite my forte, as it were.”
He nodded, and then changed the subject. “Well, I will take my leave of ye all. Even though there is no break, I think ‘twould be best for the doctor tae examine her properly as well. I am no physician.”
He needed to go. He had now tied himself to working with this woman for the next few weeks, so he would need to think of a new plan of keeping his ideas and forbidden thoughts at bay while they worked closely together. Her smile and eager expression only strengthened his resolve to leave quickly. She was so endearing and sweet. He had never heard a woman speak as she did. Ever since the first night when she’d told him of her dream to travel, Troy had felt the desire to bring her into his arms; but that could not be. First of all, that was no way for a minister to act with a member of his congregation. And secondly, he couldn’t afford such behavior. That life was behind him now and everything that came with it: the bawdy women, the reckless behavior, the fighting, the overindulgence. He wasn’t that man anymore. He had to make up for his past, and so he edged towards the door, hopeful the family would let him leave without too much argument.
Marianne replied, “Oh, will ye not stay for tea? Or some wine? It is a long journey back in the rain and the cold! ‘Twould not be right of me to release you into the wilds.”
He chuckled nervously and brushed through his wet hair again before donning his wet cap. “Please dinnae worry about me, Marianne. I am a seasoned rain-walker, and I shall find my way well enough.”
Ruth sat up quickly and then winced again in pain. “Oh, and Emerald? Where is she? Is she all right?”
“Aye, she is well, lass. She rests in her stable, dry now. She hadn’t gone far. Poor thing, I think she felt a bit of guilt for kicking ye off her back.”
“Ahh, well I will go and see her as soon as I feel ready to, to let her know that everything is fine. But she’ll have to do her best to stay clear of you in future though.”
Troy smiled at her grin and felt a tinge of something. Was it desire? He didn’t want to explore that idea. This woman was trouble.
“And before you go, may I ask what makes a man wander about in the dark and the rain?” Ruth’s right eyebrow raised in question.
William joined in. “Aye, I’m curious as well. Ye’ve not said such a thing before tae us, lad.”
Troy searched around for a reason. Because I’ve spent many years aboard a pirate ship? No, that would not do. He centered upon an idea. “Och, I thought ‘twas the Scottish way. We’ve no respite from the rain for most of the year, so I took it upon meself to fight back against it.” He shrugged and pulled his wet coat back over his shoulders.
The family laughed at his answer, but Ruth had seen his hesitation and the concern in his eyes as he searched for an acceptable response.
“Goodnight tae ye all.” He nodded, grinning with that beautiful smile of his. “And I will hear about yer progress from William, I hope.” He looked at Ruth briefly.
“Aye,” William replied gruffly and turned back to see Ruth.
Marianne said, “Thank you again, Troy!”
“Yes, thank you…Troy. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” Ruth stared at Troy across the room, willing him to stay and stop being so ridiculous, but he only bowed his head, and before giving her one last glance, slipped out into the night, shutting the heavy door behind him.
Ruth leaned back against the sofa, letting out a sigh. What was this man hiding? Well, she had all of the weeks preparing for the May Day festival to find out.
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