Capturing a Highland Rogue – Extended Epilogue


Amelia sat up in bed, “And what happened to the two men on the ground?”


Marianne looked up at William. “Well, we had to help them if we could. It seemed too cruel to leave them out in the field all alone.”


William grumbled and crossed his arms. “It seemed tae cruel tae ye, but not tae me.”


Marianne shrugged. “We had to do something! We laid them into the carriage and drove them to the next inn, with their horses trailing behind.” She gave William a scolding look. “‘Twas never my intention to murder them, of course.”


“Dinnae ye remember they were there tae murder me?” William had raised his voice, but it was in jest.


“Ah, yes, and what quiet we would have had around here if they had done so,” Marianne smirked at him.


“Och, lass, ye’ll be the death of me tae be sure.” But despite being exasperated, he grasped onto her hand as they stood by Amelia’s bed.


Amelia, despite her fatigue, was looking well, now that Marianne and William had returned, and all was good in the world again.


“So, when is the wedding?” Amelia asked, her eyes bright with happiness and eagerness.


“Well, we thought you would like to wait until the baby is born, so you can appear in person.”


“Nonsense!” Amelia threw off the covers. We shall have it as soon as possible. Ring the bell for me, Marianne. If possible, we will have it today! We have the minister, and there is everyone here whom you both love!” Marianne passed Amelia her dressing robe, and Amelia looked between the two of them. “If that is agreeable to you both, of course.”


William laughed, “‘Tis most agreeable, lass, but dinnae let Jamie blame me for ye getting out of bed.”


“Oh, do not worry about him. He knows I have been longing for this day for an age!” She smiled and stood. I will prepare everything. We need to find you a gown, Marianne. Simply go to your rooms, and I will let you know when everything is ready!”


“Are you certain you do not wish my help?”


“Not at all! You have been through a rather unpleasant adventure. Let this be my gift to you, my friend!” She kissed Marianne on the cheek and shooed the two of them out the door.


Once the door closed behind them, William looked down at Marianne and began stroking her back with his fingertip. Marianne shivered. “Since we’ve got the time, why dinnae we have our first lesson?”


“Oh? What did you have in mind?” she asked, her eyes flashing with desire.


“I was thinking about something…physical. Something pleasurable. Something that I’ve been waiting about 11 days for.” He grinned.


Marianne walked with her hands on her hips as they neared William’s bedroom. “Whatever could that be, I wonder?” And she ran on ahead towards the door, shrieking as William chased her. Marianne reached the door first, her back to it, and William grabbed her waist. She opened the door, and they went inside, not taking their eyes off of each other. William bent to kiss her, and she pushed him away laughing. She stood before him by the fireplace and unbuttoned her dress, first the bodice, and then the skirt, stepping out of it as William sat on the bed. “Since when did ye become such a temptress, lass? Ye know just what tae do tae make a man rigid.”


She stood before him in only her corset and shift, “Well, I’ll need your help with the last part.”


He stood, bowing obsequiously. “I would be happy tae assist, for such a delectable Sassenach.”


Marianne giggled and kept smiling as William worked her laces loose. Sometimes he paused and laid a warm kiss on her neck as he worked his fingers down her back. She whispered, “I look forward to my first lesson.”


“First of many,” he replied huskily, before placing another kiss on her jawline.


Soon her corset was loosened, and it fell to the ground. She removed her shift, and it fluttered lightly to the floor, laying in silken folds. She stood before him, no fear in her eyes, and stared at his face full of wonder. His voice was quiet with awe. “I will never tire of looking at ye, lass. Come.”


He led her to the bed, and she laid down. He removed his clothes quickly, and Marianne chuckled at his speed.


“Ye cannae blame a man for his hurried disrobement in such conditions.”


He laid next to her, and she reached out to touch a hand to his rigid member, which stood tall as he lay back on the sheets. “I’ve never done this before; is this the lesson you had in mind?” William had trouble speaking as she moved her hand slowly up and down the smooth flesh. “Nay, Marianne, it seems ye know exactly what tae do and need no instruction,” he added between quickened breaths.


She leaned forward and placed her lips at the top of the shaft before taking it further into her mouth. William groaned, and Marianne felt confident she was on the right track. “Lass, wait.” She paused, confused.


“‘Tis nothing wrong with yer performance,” he chuckled, “but I want tae give ye pleasure tae. Come, sit astride me.”


Marianne raised an eyebrow. “Like a horse?”


“Aye, like a horse.” She followed his instructions, and he held onto her waist. “Lead me in, lass.” Marianne guided him into her as he pushed her down onto his hardness. She gasped with the feeling of him filling her.


“How does that feel?” He asked and continued to guide her as she moved up and down.


Marianne whispered as tingles of pleasure covered her body, “Blissful.”


She stared down at William, who stared back, and they were silent as she rode him, both of their pleasures rising with each thrust. They came together, and Marianne shuddered as she fell forward onto him, crying out with ecstasy.


She lay atop him for a time, and he spoke softly, “Ye are more beautiful each time I bring ye tae yer pleasure. Lucky for me, I get tae marry ye today.”


Marianne grinned as she pulled away and laid next to him. “So, our lives will be full of lessons like that?” And she trailed a finger along his hard chest.


William wrapped an arm around her. “Aye, love. We can have as many lessons as ye like.”


* * *

A few hours later, William stood nervously in the church, adjusting the coat he had found in an old trunk. It was the nicest one he owned, and he had never had any reason to wear it before today. Troy stood next to him, smiling with encouragement. In the audience were a beaming Ruth, Margrete, John, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher, Henrietta Parker, Fiona, Mr. Johnson, and Jamie and Amelia. He surveyed the crowd, smiling at each one. These were all the people he loved in one room. Well, he didn’t love Mr. Johnson, but he was eternally grateful to him for making the trip with Marianne’s mother’s ring. He held the ring tightly in his hands, a secret gift for Marianne. It gave him strength.


While he was looking down, the door at the end of the church opened. Jonathon Parker and Marianne stood there, ready to enter. Lord Parker had kindly agreed to walk Marianne down the aisle since Lord Browne was not here and would never have approved the match.


William’s eyes were caught by the beauty of his bride. She wore an emerald dress, which matched her eyes perfectly. His eyes moistened with tears at the sight of a tartan sash hanging across her shoulder in the Fraser colors. He glanced at Amelia and nodded to her in gratitude. Amelia beamed. Marianne and Lord Parker walked slowly down the aisle, the bride carrying a bouquet of flowers freshly picked by Ruth and Margrete. It seemed an age before she reached the altar, but her eyes never left William. He watched her glide towards him, and he never remembered a time when he was happier.


Mairi was nothing but a blurry image from the past. Nothing mattered now, except this moment, and the future he would have with the woman who had stolen his heart. She was everything he could have ever wished for, and he knew he did not deserve her. But she had chosen him, and that made all the difference.


Finally, Marianne arrived, and she handed her flowers to a sitting Amelia before reaching out to hold William’s hand. The groom smiled, gripping her hand tightly.


Troy began the vows, but Marianne and William hardly heard him, as their minds were full of one another. It came time for the rings, and Marianne slipped William’s slowly onto his finger. Once William held out the ring for Marianne and began to place it on her finger, Marianne covered her mouth. “My mother’s ring,” she whispered with awe. “Aye, Margrete told me where it was, and we sent word right away to Mr. Johnson.” He kissed the finger where he had placed the ring. Tears began to stream down Marianne’s face.


After the pronouncement of their marriage, Troy, began, “You may kiss the bri-”  but William pulled Marianne close before the minister could finish the phrase, and she leaned into his tender kiss.


The audience laughed, clapped, and cheered as William held Marianne’s face in his hands. “You are my heroine, Marianne Browne. Let me spend the rest of my life being yer hero.”


She sighed, “Ridiculous man. You are a rogue and a devilish blaigeard, but you have been my hero from the first moment we met.”


Extended Epilogue


As Ruth watched Marianne and William wed, it was difficult for her eyes not to be drawn to the minister behind them. She had never met a minister so young or so handsome; his shoulders nearly burst from his coat, and his jawline was strong and stark, even hidden under a slight beard.


She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but there was something about him that drew her. He seemed an exotic figure, having come from some faraway land to stand before her eyes.


But then Marianne and William kissed, embracing each other tightly, and Ruth sighed with happiness for her sister. Finally, she was free. They were both free to do as they liked. What an odd feeling it was. She clapped her hands as the new couple walked back down the aisle. They would go back to the castle for a large celebration with the whole clan.


Ruth’s eyes followed the minister as he followed the crowd leaving the church. It was an odd feeling to be free. She wasn’t sure what she was to do first. Break every rule her father ever placed upon them? No, that didn’t sound quite right, although it was tempting. Perhaps she could try out a few things and see how they struck her?


* * *

A few short weeks later, the small group of Kinnaird castle inhabitants wandered the main hall. Amelia could be heard upstairs, yelling with pain. Jamie was pacing in front of the fire, back and forth, Prince Charlie following him and barking with each outcry from Amelia.


“Bloody hell, this is pure torture,” Jamie grumbled as he moved, his balled fists hanging at his sides. “How can a man endure it?”


Marianne walked up to him and placed a hand on his arm. She smiled, “Remember, Jamie, she is enduring far worse upstairs. All will be well!”


Jamie nodded and continued his pacing rhythm, his brows furrowed in anger and concern.


William came up behind Marianne and placed his hands on her shoulders. He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Soon, ye shall be an aunt tae the child about tae be born.”


She turned smiling, and William kept her in his arms. She looked up into his face. “Aye, and you shall become an uncle. What fitting roles for us.”


William began twirling a strand of her auburn hair with his finger. “Might we also fill the roles of parents one day?”


Marianne nodded. “I shall certainly enjoy the process.” She winked at her new husband and placed her cheek on his chest. She sighed with contentment. It had only been a few weeks, but it had been wedded bliss. William and Marianne and Ruth had moved into William’s nearby home after the wedding, but they had returned to the castle to help the family with the birth.


Marianne had become the true mistress of the Fraser house and had brought many things out from the dusty trunks and shadowy corners to be once again proudly displayed. Instead of an empty, ghostly place, the Fraser homestead became warm and cheery, with portraits and ornaments lining the walls. William, Marianne, and Ruth were very happy there together. Ruth could remember many a time when Marianne would chide William good-naturedly for hiding away his family memories.


“William, why is this in an old trunk? No wonder the house felt so ghostly to you, with naught on its walls!” William would apologize profusely in his roguish manner before kissing Marianne into silence. Ruth had to excuse herself from the room on more than one occasion.


One night, William finally relinquished the hold Mairi had over him and placed her image in the flames of his hearth, the past and its fears gone in a moment. Marianne placed her hand on his arm. “Are you well?” William grinned and grabbed Marianne by the waist, before staring deeply into her eyes. “I am more than well, lass. I am the happiest man tae ever have lived, I reckon.” At that, Marianne had breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that William had finally let go of the woman that had tried to ruin him with her betrayal.


Ruth had heard their conversation as she stopped in the hallway before entering the main room. She smiled and placed a hand on her heart. Her sister had truly found a love that was safe, warm and free. She hoped, too, for her own love one day, and her mind briefly flashed to the dashing Troy Ferguson, whom she had been keeping her eye on since she moved to Scotland.


In their time together, since leaving Lord Browne’s household, Ruth had come to love William as a true brother, and she thanked Heaven every day for the good fortune of her sister to have married such a kind and humorous man.


But now, they were awaiting the birth of the first Kinnaird child. Fiona and Henrietta were upstairs assisting the midwife with the delivery, while Marianne was asked to stay with Jamie and attempt to calm him. Lord Parker and Troy Ferguson made up the other members of the group.


Suddenly, the cries of Amelia stopped, and they heard footsteps in the corridor. A maid arrived hurriedly, “Come, quick! The babe has been born! A fine son!”


Jamie’s eyes went wide, and he dashed up the corridor in front of the maid to Amelia’s room. The rest of them followed behind. Marianne could barely contain her excitement, but she knew she must allow the father to enter the room first.


Jamie burst in like a bull, desperate to see his wife in good health and his new child. Amelia smiled wearily from the bed, and Jamie ran to her and knelt beside her. “Are ye well, lass?” He kissed her hands. “I was so worried about ye. Hearing yer screams from the main hall was like a knife tae me very heart.” He touched her cheek with his fingertips.


Amelia chuckled, “All is well, dear husband. Do not worry about me. Do you not wish to see your new son?” She turned her eyes toward Fiona, who held onto the new babe who was crying. Jamie turned as well, and his eyes moistened at the sight.


Fiona handed the baby to Jamie, and he took him gingerly into his hands. “Congratulations, my son. You will be a wonderful father, just like yours was to you.” And she kissed him on the cheek. Jamie smiled down at his son, swinging him softly in his arms.


“What shall we call him, Amelia?”


Amelia said, “I think James is a fine, strong name. To remember his fine grandfather, and to honor his father. What do you think?”


Jamie looked up at his wife. “Aye, ‘tis a good idea. James William Kinnaird.”


At that, William stirred behind Jamie, and Jamie turned to him. “What do ye think? Ye will be an uncle tae him, and he ought tae have the name of so good a man.”


William grinned and touched Jamie’s shoulder. “Aye, and he will learn all there is tae learn about fighting and women from me, tae be sure.” He laughed and touched the head of young James softly.


Marianne’s heart melted at the sight, but she still responded slyly, “Oh, are you such an expert then?”


Amelia held out her hands for Marianne. “Come to me, my friend!”


Marianne rushed over and kissed Amelia’s hands. “You have done well, Amelia! But you must rest now before you get back into your normal, busy routine.”


Amelia nodded. “Ah, yes, if I must.” She put her mouth close to Marianne’s ear. “You will make a cousin for my little James, won’t you?”


Marianne smiled and whispered back. “I already have.” Amelia gasped slightly, and Marianne shushed her. “Do not tell William. I want it to be a surprise.”


Amelia pulled away and winked before closing her eyes to rest.


* * *

After the excitement of the birth, Jamie, Fiona, and Henrietta brought the baby to his nursery to watch over him while Amelia slept. Ruth, William, Marianne, Troy, and Lord Parker returned to the main hall.


Luckily, after many failed attempts to speak to Troy in private these past weeks to learn more about him, Ruth finally had her chance. They were sitting next to each other by the fire, sipping wine. Marianne and William were talking quietly with Lord Parker at the long dining table.


She knew she was not too experienced with men, but men often liked her and wished to speak to her at parties and other gatherings. Ruth hoped she would use the right words with Mr. Ferguson as she built up her courage to talk to him.


She cleared her throat, “Mr. Ferguson, your accent intrigues me. It rings Scottish, but it is not the same as the other Scottish gentlemen around these parts. From whence do you hail?”


Troy looked over at Miss Browne nervously. He had noticed her watching him these many weeks, and wasn’t sure what it meant. She unnerved him with her striking looks and her confident air. Her long auburn curls were often hanging down past her shoulders, instead of being pulled up like most women wore their hair. Her features were not traditionally pretty, but they intrigued and enticed a man to look twice. Her dark brown eyes under thick lashes always sparkled and looked as if they knew something he didn’t, and her pink lips were always smiling.


He had sworn to leave the recklessness, the drinking, and the women of his former life behind, never to return to them again, but this woman recently in his sphere, made him sit up and take notice. He didn’t like it. He was a man of the cloth now, and he could not be swayed by temptations, luscious though they may be. He would have to make it appear that he had no interest in her and avoid her as much as possible.


He cleared his throat and did not look long at her face. “I was born in the Lowlands, but I have moved from place tae place. I have traveled a fair bit in my time, once I grew old enough.”


“Ah.” There was that knowing glance again. “That would explain the interesting tinge to your accent.” Her eyes brightened. “I have always been a lover of travel, although…I have never been anywhere. Where have you traveled?”


Troy’s heart flipped as her features curved into a smile. Her face was so innocent and so full of eagerness that he ached to draw her into his arms. He couldn’t help but smile in return. He found himself wanting to impress her. “Many places. I’ve been as far west as the Americas, and as far south as the southern tip of Africa.”


Ruth’s eyes widened with interest. “Oh, to be a man and to be allowed on such adventures.”


Troy surprised himself by asking her the question, “What do ye dream of, Ruth? I mean, Miss Browne?” He blushed slightly at the lack of social grace, and his surprising endeavor to ask such a personal question.


She chuckled. “Please, do call me Ruth. I assume we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”


Troy hated how that idea made him happy.


She sighed, “To be truthful, I would take the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything.”


She sounded almost dreamlike as she spoke the words, and he could tell there was a tinge of sadness about her past life. He thought of his own past, and how it had been exciting but…too much. Would this new life in Scotland be enough for him though? It didn’t seem like it would be enough for Ruth, and in that, they may be kindred spirits.


Yes, this woman was going to put a dent in his plan of living the lonely and pure minister’s life.


If you want to stay updated on my next book, and want to know about secret deals, please click the button below!

If you haven’t already, please leave your review on Amazon

Fighting for a Highland Heart – Extended Epilogue


Bishop’s Palace,
The Orkney Islands,
February 1773


The old bishop was dying.


He was doing it in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable, of course – gilt ornamentation shone warmly around the fireplace and on the backs of chairs, and the strong early spring sunlight glinted off the sea and shone brightly in through the wondrously worked stained glass of the high windows. Firelight struck sparks from polished silverware which sat on a low wooden table covered by a silken black cloth and shone through the ancient, cobwebby wine bottle, a vibrant and lustrous red. Opulent rugs covered the stone floor, coming right up to the side of the sumptuous bed.


The bed covers were of silk and sable and the best quality wool, and the dyes of blue and purple and red set off the shining silver ornamentation which graced their edges and ran like riotous ivy across their width in flower-like patterns. The bed itself was solid Cheshire oak, a mighty example of the woodworker’s craft, and one which had stood the test of time and housed many bishops between its fantastically-carved posts.


But for all that, there was no getting away from the fact. The old bishop who occupied the bed was a man not long for this world. Rognvald Grant had been a mighty man, a powerful speaker and a physically imposing character, and a man of huge appetites who, despite his spiritual calling, had not scrupled to indulge his senses. In those days, his institution had been a fertile ground for a man like him to satisfy what he saw as the well-earned advantages of his powerful and influential position, and the result was a man who, by the time his later years were gaining on him, had become more than just physically imposing.


All that was gone now. The great, swinging belly, the red drinker’s nose, and the merry, dancing eyes had given way to reveal a thin man with sallow cheeks and dull eyes, a figure who seemed – to those who knew him best – to dwindle by the day to a thin, wan shadow of his former self. He coughed, weakly, and there was a smell of illness in the room which the scented candles on the table and the sweet applewood of the fire could not wholly mask. Grey hair hung lankly on either side of his face as he struggled himself up into a sitting position. There was a knock on the door.


The bishop did not attempt to answer. He knew that the young priest would enter whether he did so or not, and he desired at this point to conserve his energy. Sure enough, the door swung open and young Father Hallam’s anxious-looking face peered round.


“Your excellency?” he enquired, his soft, lilting Orcadian accent giving a singing tone to the words. Excellency thought the old bishop bitterly. Nothing excellent about this situation. He coughed again, and weakly gestured the younger man in. Father Hallam came, somewhat reluctantly, into the plush, overheated room.


“Your excellency, Allan Holm from the town has come to say that a ship approaches – he believes it to be your brother’s vessel. They are flying your family colours, the colours of Clan Grant.”


The old bishop heaved a great sigh of relief.


“Ahh, thank God,” he said in a cracked voice. “Thank God that they have come at last.”


“Amen,” muttered the young priest, bobbing his head.


“Some… some wine, please, Hallam,” said the old man. “And help me to sit up, will you? I will want you to help me dress and ready for them. Yes, yes,” he said, holding up a hand to stall the younger man’s protests, “I know I am too weak for it. With this illness, the strain of dressing and greeting them formally will probably kill me, but, Hallam, I do not care. This is the end for me, whatever happens, and if the last thing that I do is to greet my brother and his family properly, well, so it shall be. Come, Hallam, some wine. And help me to sit up, for God’s sake. Come along, man, I am not contagious. If I were, you would have found out long ago. Come on, now.”


The young priest bowed his head to that and came over to the old bishop, carefully helping him to arrange the pillows and get comfortable with surprising gentleness. Then he turned and, with great care, poured some of the rich red wine into the waiting goblet. The bishop’s hands shook a little as he took it.


“You know, Hallam,” he said after a moment, as the young man moved around the room gathering garments to dress him, “I have waited a long time for this day. It’s many years since I have seen my brother, and even longer since I have seen his children. Oh, we have written to one another, of course, and I saw the eldest boy, John, when he was perhaps five years or so, but his daughters were just babes the last time I was on the mainland. My brother Iain writes that he will bring his son John and John’s wife Alice with him this time, and the two eldest of his unmarried daughters, too! It will be a delight to see them all, you know, and I hope that perhaps the daughters might take a liking to these islands which you and I, Hallam, call home.”


The young priest had the feeling that the bishop was leading up to something. The old man had not spoken so much in weeks, and there was a note of the old jocular voice which he and his colleagues in the bishopric of Orkney had all come to know so well over their long careers here. Father Hallam kept quiet, moving here and there about the room, and only glancing at the bishop once, with a small, encouraging smile. The bishop’s eyes were on him, and there was a slight smile on the old man’s withered face.


“You know, Hallam, there is more to it than that, of course.”


The younger man’s movement’s slowed. Now, he thought, they were approaching the matter.


“I wish to see my brother before my passing, of course, that is why I have called for him, but there is more to it, and to you, my dear Father Hallam, I think I may in confidence divulge my secret. Yes,” he went on with a quiet laugh which turned into a cough, “yes. You shall be my confessor, Father Hallam, and you shall know what it is I have kept secret through all these many years of my career here. You know, father, and let it be a lesson to you – I have sinned and sinned grievously. Father Hallam, I have sent for my brother to ask him to see to it that a young man whom I have long watched in secret comes into his own once my death has passed.”


The young priest had frozen where he stood, his arms full of luxurious fabric, his eyes down, not meeting the bishops gaze.


“Come, Father Hallam, look me in the eye and admit to me that you have long suspected it.”


As if drawn by some will other than his own, Father Hallam’s eyes lifted up to meet the bloodshot, yellowed eyes of his superior.


“Your Excellency,” he said, and his own voice sounded hoarse as a crow’s in his ears, “I beg you, of what is it that you speak?”


“Of my son, Father Hallam,” said the old man, remorselessly. “I speak to you about my son.”

* * *


“Come on, Katheryn!” cried the boy. The wind whipped his wild hair, and the toned muscles in his bare calves flexed as he leapt, cleanly as a goat, from rock to rock. He was barefooted, and his trousers were shorn off at the knee to keep from becoming ragged. His clothing was clean, though it was old and much repaired. His sister, Katheryn, was as dark-haired as he was, but she moved more slowly from rock to rock as she followed him with a thoughtful expression on her handsome, freckled face. The wind toyed a lock of her dark hair from out of its cap and caressed it around her strong jaw as she made her way down to the waterside.


Behind them, the flat expanse of the Orcadian fields stretched off back toward the town, broken here and there by long lines of dry-stone wall and little low stone houses. This was an incredible place, so flat and treeless that the wind off the North Sea swept continually across it, buffeting the people and the homes and towns, weathering their faces and teaching them respect and love for the sea from an early age.


When Katheryn made it to the water’s edge, she found her brother with his hessian sack open by his side, expertly peeling the large, healthy clams from the rocks with his belt-knife and flipping them into the bag. She crouched and joined him there.


They had been working for perhaps an hour when Katheryn heard a voice calling them and looked up. She nudged the boy’s arm and pointed.


“It’s Tom,” she murmured. Tom was their mother’s husband, and though neither Tom nor their mother was shy about the fact that he was not their father, both the youngsters were obliged to cede Tom the respect that a true father would have demanded. Now, Tom was standing up in a little rowboat which he had brought in as close to the rocks as possible. He was waving and hallooing at them to get their attention. When he saw they were looking at him, he put his hands to his mouth like a trumpet and called.


“Go back home!” they heard him cry. “Your mother says, go back home right away!”


“But we’ve only been out an hour,” the boy objected, and his sister shrugged.


“Must be important,” she responded. “Come on. No point in hanging about.”


With the casual acceptance of the young, brother and sister both swung their partly-full sacks over their shoulders and turned to pick their way back up the rocks to the grassy sward, where they would run back the mile or so to their village.

* * *


“There’s the harbour!” exclaimed John Grant. Alice leaned on the rail beside him, gazing out over the land.


“It’s so flat!” she exclaimed. “But it looks like a busy little harbour and a fine-looking wee town.”


“Aye,” said John. “They are a different folk from us of the Highlands – more Norse than Scots in many ways. They are a strong, hardy, seafaring folk, too.”


“And powerfully religious,” put in Iain Grant, coming up behind them. Iain had aged well in the last six years. Since peace had been established between himself and Lord Snedden, his daughter Flora successfully married to Ranald Carlisle of Balmore, and his son John to the daughter of the MacPhersons, his old allies, Iain was a man who felt his work in life mostly complete. His days had become pleasant and full of the small joys that are the province of a grandfather, as John and Alice had given him two grandchildren since their wedding.


All had been peaceful, that was until the letter had come from his brother Rognvald, who had for many years been the bishop of Orkney. Rognvald was two years younger than Iain, but he had a taste for rich food and good wine which his calling had given him ample opportunity to indulge, and those appetites had taken their toll. He had written to Iain that he was dying and implored him to travel north to Orkney and speak with him, one last time.


I beg you, he had written, come at once and bring your children. I have words to impart to you which are too sensitive to put in writing, and I would like your eldest son at least should witness them.


These words had troubled Iain the whole journey. What could Rognvald have to tell him that could not be put in a letter, and that required such a powerful witness as Iain’s own son and heir before they could be told?


“I wonder what on earth he can have to tell me?” Iain mused, unaware that he had spoken out loud. It was Alice who answered. She reached out and clapped her father-in-law on the shoulder in a friendly, companionable way.


“Only one way to find out,” she said, and he nodded his head to that.


But he had the strangest feeling, deep in his heart of hearts, that whatever it was it would only mean one thing for him and his family.




If you haven’t already, please leave your review on Amazon

Highlander’s Rightful Claim – Extended Epilogue


After the defeat of Murdoch Mackintosh and the marriage of Andrew to Nairne, the glen was at peace. Andrew Cameron was a benevolent Laird, and he devoted much time and energy to ensuring that the Cameron’s and the Mackintosh’s lived harmoniously together.



No longer did the Cameron’s live in the crofts high on the mountainside, but instead they brought their animals down to the pastures of the glen and farmed around the castle. There was great prosperity amongst the people, and it was said that nowhere else in Scotland did folks live so peacefully together.



The forest dwellers too came out of hiding and under Andrew’s wise leadership there was much happiness, for the Laird of the Cameron’s was not only as brave as his father, but he was also just as kind. He welcomed Rhona and Stewart to live with him and Nairne at the castle. Alongside Una and Duncan, who themselves later found a romantic attraction, the family lived together happily for many years.



Andrew and Nairne were blessed with three bonnie bairns, two boys and a girl. The eldest they named Stewart, in honor of Andrew’s stepfather, and the second they named Rory, each had a second name too, Iain, after Andrew’s father and the memory of the old Laird was always upheld, so that his grandchildren often spoke of him. The girl was a bonnie lassie, just like her mother, and even at a tender age, all who saw her commented upon her beauty. Her name was Lorna, and she was the apple of her mother’s eye and that of her grandmother’s who doted upon her, often spoiling her with gifts.



With peace having come upon the glen and the two clans united, Andrew passed his days happily with Nairne. They would often take walks out into the forest, visiting Cairstine and Alistair at their cottage in the woods, or swimming in the pools. Andrew’s Godmother had remained in the forest, but she often made the walk to the castle to see Rhona or to sell her herbs at the market.



It was to that same pool where they had first met that they often returned, walking together through the forest hand in hand. The cares of the past were long forgotten, and the hardships of their early days now long gone. The glen was at peace, and though Andrew still wore his sword at his side, he never had cause to draw it in defence. Instead, it was a symbol of his authority and one which all looked up to and respected.



It was a bright summer day, the sky blue and clear, as together Andrew and Nairne made their way through the forest towards the pool. They were accompanied by their children, the three bairns running ahead with the dogs and not a happier scene could be imagined in all the glens of Scotland.



“I wonder how many times ye and I have walked this way, Andrew?” Nairne ran her hands through a bank of wildflowers growing along the side of the path, their scent perfuming the air, and plucked a bunch from the ground and brought it close to her face.



“Many, many times,” Andrew laughed, as he turned to kiss her.



“And every time I see something new, something more beautiful than before,” and  looking up at the canopy above, she twirled around in a little dance, “see up there, the way the trees enfold us, tis’ like walking through an archway in some grand castle, nature is a far better architect than man.”



“And now we can show the bairns the beauty of this place tae,” Andrew looked ahead to where Stewart, Rory and Lorna were playing together up ahead.



“Aye, and they tae delight in this place, just like their mother and father.”



“Except they never have tae sneak off here as we used tae,” Andrew shook his head in good humor, as they emerged hand in hand into the glade where the waterfall gushed into the pool from high above on the mountainside.



“May we swim, mother?” Rory called out to Nairne, as the three children stood upon the bank by the pool.



“Aye, ye may swim, see who can be the first tae reach the waterfall and then challenge yer father tae follow y.” Nairne settled herself down on the rock upon which she used to wait for Andrew all those years ago.



“If I am swimming, then so are ye,” Andrew called back to her, wading into the water.



“I shall watch, but the sun is warm, and so I may be persuaded tae join ye,” Nairne watched as her husband swam after the children who had already struck out strongly across the water towards the waterfall.



They remained there for much of the day, and it was a scene often repeated in the years to come. Andrew, Nairne and the bairns would make their way into the forest and swim in the pool. As the three youngsters grew older, they would often go there alone, taking the same paths and ways that their parents had done in their youth. The forest was as much their home as the castle, and they would often visit Cairstine and Alistair, who had been appointed Godparents of the children, continuing the family tradition.



As the years went by, Nairne and Andrew lived a happy life together, though at times it was, like any life, tinged with sadness. Twenty-one years of marriage to Murdoch Mackintosh had taken its toll upon Nairne’s mother, Una. As time went by, she grew weaker and less able to manage without her daughter’s help. It was five years after Nairne and Andrew’s marriage that she passed away laid to rest in the village Kirk where Nairne would often go and visit her, sitting by her mother’s tomb and speaking with her as if still alive.



It had been her mother and her mother alone that had made life bearable for Nairne before she met Andrew and she never forgot the gentle kindness of the woman who had so long protected her against her father’s wicked ways. His name was all but forgotten, and it was only in idle moments that Nairne’s thoughts turned to her father. She had no wish to hold his memory and did her best to forget him, the evils of the past long gone as she looked forward to a happy future ahead.



Rhona and Stewart also grew old, the years of hardship on the crofts taking their toll, but Rhona was hardy, and she lived for many years. Outliving both Stewart and Duncan to reach a ripe old age. Her twenty-one years of exile on the crofts had given her a determination unmatched by others, and now that she had returned home to the castle, had every intention of living life to the full. She delighted in her grandchildren and would often accompany them into the forest to swim at the pool. Indeed, so often did she take them there, that Andrew had to remind her of her own words about duties and chores when the bairns were once again missing from their lessons.



Young Stewart grew into a fine figure of a man, and since his earliest years, was told that it was his destiny to become Laird. A fate which, unlike his father, he relished. Raised in the castle, with all its pomp and grandeur, he grew into a natural successor to his father, one who would surely inherit Andrew’s kindness and benevolence, not to mention his strength and nobility.



“Ye have a fine inheritance before ye,” Andrew said one afternoon, as he and Stewart rode out of the forest and up onto the mountainside.



Stewart was now eighteen, and his father had brought him up to the crofts to show him where the Cameron’s once lived in exile and make him see just how hard-fought their lives had once been.



“And this is where ye lived, father?” the boy surveyed the scene, the crofts lying in some disrepair, abandoned by the Cameron’s who now lived around the castle.



He was a good-looking boy, with his mother’s eyes and his father’s stature, and he rode proudly upon his horse, following his father, the man he looked up to and respected more than any another.



“Aye, as a laddie, and it is from here that we launched our attack upon the castle. Marching down intae the forest and routing Murdoch on the battlefield.”



He rarely had cause to come here anymore, but the sight of the crofts always brought back a flood of memories as he recalled both the happy and sad times of life up in the hills.



“And from here ye used tae run down intae the forest tae meet mother by the pool?” Stewart smiled at his father, who still blushed a little after all these years.



“Aye, and when ye meet a lassie who so captures yer heart as yer mother did mine then I expect ye shall do the same, laddie,” Andrew dismounted his horse and led it towards the crofts.



“It is a lonely place,” Stewart followed his father to the ruined croft which had once been home to Rhona, Stewart, Duncan and Andrew.



“Aye, it had tae be, else we would have felt the wrath of the Mackintosh’s on more occasions than we did.”



“I cannae believe that we were once at war with them. Now they are our closest friends, there is no distinction between us, the Mackintosh’s are our kin, just as the forest folk are,” Stewart shook his head in disbelief.



“Aye, but it was not always so, laddie, look behind ye.” Andrew pointed out over the glen where the forest lay thick and vast before them. “The forest was a hiding place for all those who felt Murdoch’s wrath, and here at the crofts, we were only able tae defend ourselves because of the mountainside which made an attack difficult. We were a scattered people, and many doubted that we could ever achieve victory over Murdoch and his men, but we prevailed, and now the glen is at peace.”



The two stood together for some time, looking out over the forest and towards the far-off castle in the distance.



“I hope there shall never see such conflict again,” Stewart said, “and I shall pledge to keep this glen a place of peace for all who come under the protection of the Cameron banner.”



Andrew smiled and placed his hand onto his son’s shoulder.



“Ye are a good laddie, and I hope that like yer father ye shall find happiness with a good lassie, yer mother is the love of my life, and she has given me ye three bairns as a further blessing. Ye have a Cameron’s heart, Stewart , but ye also have that of a Mackintosh tae. I have no doubt that ye will make a fine Laird, though I hope for many more years more myself before that day comes.”



“Many more years, father, for ye and for mother.” Together they set off back down the mountainside, riding sided by side as father and son, Laird and heir, Cameron and Cameron.



Andrew and Nairne did have many more years together, and even in their old age, they still walked out to the pool and swam, remembering their youth and ever rekindling their passion for one another. Theirs was a love that ran even deeper than the pool in the glade where first they had met, a love so profound that it had united two peoples together as one. Neither Nairne nor Andrew could imagine life without the other, and together they spent the rest of their lives as one, delighting in all that life had to offer them. A happier union could not be imagined, and each day, they spoke of their love for each other, a love once forbidden and now realised for eternity.

If you haven’t already, please leave your review on Amazon

Capturing the Highlander’s Heart – Extended Epilogue


Marianne washed her hands in the basin in the kitchen. It had been a hard few months, but it had been so freeing. She, of course, wanted to be there for every second of Amelia’s birth experience, but she had another reason for enjoying her time at Kinnaird Castle. It was a chance to be out from under her father’s thumb. Lord Browne had always been tough and demanding and restrictive, but ever since she’d reached marriageable age, he was practically unbearable.



He had been attempting to marry her off to the most eligible bachelors in London. Unfortunately for him, eligible meant disgustingly rich, but also 20 or more years her senior. Why oh why, she often wondered, would he want his only daughter to be married off to someone who was nearly his age? Had he no thought to her happiness?



She scrubbed and scrubbed her hands with the lard soap in the kitchen. She had been helping Henrietta work in the herb garden, Henrietta hoping the herbs would be ready in time to help Amelia in the birth and after, and Marianne’s hands had been stained with dirt.



They were celebrating mid-Summer in Scotland, and so the weather was generally fair with a few rain showers, and Henrietta and Marianne would be out in the herb garden any day that the sun was sneaking out from behind the clouds.



Marianne smiled. Despite feeling free, she had enjoyed her time in the castle. Fiona was lovely, always wanting to be of help to anyone who needed it, loving a good gossip and walk around the grounds. Lord Parker was always laughing and telling jokes, entertaining Jamie and William. And there was William Fraser. A man who confused her. And Marianne Browne, she thought, was never confused.



But, he, he got under her skin. Ever since she’d first arrived, it was if he was pinpointing her for his target of flirtations. Had he no other woman to torment? Since he’d lost his gambling and nightlife partner in Jamie, perhaps he was desperate for a woman to flirt with. That was the way Amelia made it seem when she would mention it to her. He was never unkind or totally inappropriate, but he always made her feel unsettled…and a warmth would come to redden her cheeks which would make him laugh and laugh. He was always laughing.



Marianne finished washing her hands and dried them on the cloth nearby. She would meet Amelia for tea in Amelia’s room, for she had taken to a lot of bed rest of late. She moved to leave the kitchen, and found William once again in her path, looking as if he was about to enter. They bumped into each other again, and a memory flashed into Marianne’s mind. She thought back to that time in the cottage when William had come to visit when Henrietta was ill. Marianne had surprised herself and done something she wished she hadn’t. For that’s what seemed to spur William to action, keeping him hanging around her as he did, with a constant grin on his face, as if they’d shared a secret, which they did, but she hated herself for it.



Why, why, had she done it?



Marianne’s’ mind returned to reality, and she realized her hands were on William’s chest. William looked down in surprise and then, that grin came back, that old familiar grin. Marianne pushed away, her brow furrowing again, forming her face into the same look she gave William every time: consternation and indignation. This always spurred him to laughter, but this time, he didn’t laugh, despite the smile on his face.



“What were ye doing in there, Lady Browne?” William had continued to use her official title as if to mock her in some way.



She rose to her full height, attempting to portray the virtuous and moral woman she was, despite her moment of weakness. “I was just washing my hands. Henrietta and I were working in the herb garden, in preparation for the new baby.”



“Well, that sounds lovely.” He sounded genuine and gave her a large smile. “I was attempting to find the origin of a few tarts, as I’d heard around the castle that the servants had made a fresh batch, and the men need a bit of sustenance before heading out into the fields once again.” Jamie, Lord Parker, William, and Mr. Fletcher had finally secured the flock and began grazing them in the new pasture. They were preparing themselves for the harvest of wool and deciding how to go about it. William looked over Marianne’s head through the kitchen door, searching for the sight or smell of freshly baked goods. She turned her head back into the room to look as well.



“I…ah, did not see any in there. Perhaps you are mistaken?” She turned back to him and lifted an eyebrow. “You’ll have to sate your tart desires elsewhere.”



William smiled again, even wider, always happy when on the verge of a verbal sparring match. “Ah, yes, William Fraser, always and constantly mistaken. My, wouldnae ye love that, lass? But, I hate tae disappoint, I’d heard it from a servant herself. Perhaps I will ask her again and…sate my desires.” He lingered on these last few words, hoping to catch a blush from the virtuous Marianne.



A tingle of frustration ran through her at the thought of William talking to another woman. William didn’t talk to women. He wooed them, and it bothered her, the thought of his strong, muscled arm leaning against the wall, staring into the eyes of a young serving woman, who would no doubt welcome his flirtations and affections.



She brushed this thought away quickly, feeling angry at herself. She responded tersely, “Perhaps you should.” And she hurried from the kitchen to find Amelia in her room for tea, leaving an entertained William in her wake.



She entered Amelia’s room. It was quiet, and she feared she would be waking Amelia from her daily nap, but she found her sitting in her chair, watching the crackling fire, and writing. “Tea, Amelia?”



A tired Amelia smiled at her friend and reached out her hand. “Yes, tea would be divine, Marianne.” Amelia’s belly had grown, and she would be giving birth in the next month or two. She was looking a bit strained and tired these days and everyone was eagerly awaiting the new addition to the clan. But, her poem of the two lovers had been published in a beautiful black volume, and it stood proudly on the mantle. The money Amelia had received for her work was more than she’d ever expected, and she was able to repay Jamie back for all the debts of her father. He at first refused such a debt, claiming that she could use the money in any way she saw fit, and so they compromised. She would use it to help the clan’s poorest families who needed new materials for their farms or businesses, and they could keep their Scottish way of life.



“I called for tea on my way up to your room. I knew you would like some.”



“Thank you.” Amelia replied. Marianne sat down in the chair opposite.



“Writing a new poem, Amelia? You have become quite the well-known poetess.” Marianne smiled, thinking of her friend’s publication having been written about in the London newspaper. “You are all everyone is discussing in London, when I returned for a brief time.”



Amelia waved the praise away, turning shy at the recognition. She had been shown a newspaper that Fiona had received from London praising the work, but she hadn’t been able to bring herself to read it, feeling nervous under such direct praise. And, so, Jamie had read it to her as they lay in their bed intertwined one morning, and tears filled her eyes. “I am so proud of ye, my love. Proud tae have such a wife. I hope our child will gain all of yer intelligence.” And Amelia felt as if her new life could not have gotten any better, for she had found a man who did not tie her down or control her or try to diminish her accomplishments. She was certain Charles would not have allowed her to be published, let alone write at all. It would not have been a woman’s duty, in his mind. She felt a wave of relief at having sidestepped such a match so long ago.



After getting lost in her thoughts for a few moments, she replied to Marianne, “Yes, I am working on a new one, but I find my mind is a little cloudy with fatigue these days.” She smiled, “It seems pregnancy has sapped all of my strength. Soon this boy or girl will remove all my ideas and become the poet or poetess themselves!” She chuckled, moving her pen and book to the table by the armchair, and placing her hands upon her large belly. She looked at Marianne, whose expression had turned confused or irritated. She was grateful daily for her friend’s comforting presence, and she waited to hear what her beautiful friend would say next.



Marianne paused for a moment, before saying, “You know, I bumped into William Fraser outside the kitchens again. Am I never to not be tormented by that man? It seems he goes out of his way to find me and ridicule me!”



Amelia’s face lit up despite her fatigue. She laughed. “My dear Marianne, I thought you were getting used to his ‘torment’. Is he not entertaining you? I thought I have seen you smile once or twice after speaking to him.”



A part of Marianne wanted to say yes, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. She shook her head. “Do not accuse me of such an act of encouragement. I…I thought he had plenty of other women to focus his…charms on. Why must he choose me?”



“Hmm…so you do find him charming then?” She laughed heartily at Marianne’s aghast expression. “Oh, Marianne. I find him incredibly charming. He has been a good friend to us all. He is like family. He is so sweet and gentlemanly, and he is very merry. But to answer your question, why, I think he may have developed a liking for you.” Amelia winked at her friend.



Marianne’s heart flipped in her chest. Her shock was evident on her face as she gasped and asked her friend incredulously. “Me? You must be joking.” This was the first time Amelia had even hinted at such an idea, and she wondered why she was saying so now.



“I have been thinking it for some time but did not want to unsettle you. Why else would he follow you around the castle, curtail his other habits, and focus all his so-called charms upon you, my friend? He must feel something for you. William is not one to spend so much time on one woman without having feelings for her.”



Marianne frowned, thinking this over. She hadn’t thought of it like that. But, no that couldn’t be true at all. He was never serious, and he was always trying to make her blush. If he had liked her, he would have tried to engage her in serious conversation or tried to be respectful.



Amelia turned her head to the side, watching Marianne’s mind work and expression flit from one emotion to the next. It tickled her to see William fawn over Marianne and have Marianne reject his every advance. She decided to use what matchmaking powers she had, now that her own love story had worked out pleasantly.



“Perhaps you’re enjoying his advances and should consider him as a prospect?” She waited for the explosion of emotion from her friend.



“I…I…no, of course not! And if you were not pregnant, you would receive even more of my wrath, Amelia!” Marianne reddened, and Amelia was satisfied with her friend’s ardent reaction. Inside, Marianne’s mind continued to work, and she grew angrier and angrier at the thought of William Fraser having any effect on her emotions. No, she would not give him a chance. And she would tell him so the next time he chose to bump into her in any of the castle hallways.

If you haven’t already, please leave your review on Amazon

Fighting for a Highland Rose – Extended Epilogue

Glenoran, Inverness-shire, July 1768


“Aye,” said James Macpherson, leaning back in his seat with an air of satisfaction, “the laddie certainly does tak’ efter ye, son.”

“In looks, maybe,” replied Murdo, “but if he has inherited my body, he has his mother’s brains in his head, and I thank God for that!”

James laughed heartily, coughed before clapping his son on the shoulder.

“You’re no’ wrong there, Murdo!” he said.

The two men were sitting at their ease in the shade of a spreading apple tree. It was high summer and the sun was blazing down with a heat rare in the northern glens of the MacPhersons. Behind them, the looming stone bulk of Glenoran castle soaked up the warmth. The sky was blue and flecked with fluffy white clouds, little birds sang and darted back and forth from the branches of the tree under which they sat, hunting to feed their fast-growing young. All around them, the sheltered apple orchard, the pride of the gardeners of Glenoran buzzed with a life of insects and birds.

A little way away from where Murdo and James sat, a tall, strongly built youth was diligently working his way through a pile of logs with a long, two-handed axe. That winter a big apple tree had been hit by lightning, and Colum MacPherson, Murdo’s son and heir, had spent three weeks working with one of the gardeners to saw it into round disks and stack it to dry out a little for splitting in the summer. Now, as his father and grandfather watched, Colum took great pleasure in the satisfying task of heaving the heavy roundels into place and splitting them up into smaller logs. The sweet-smelling wood was a rare commodity, and it would not be used for just any fire in the castle. Instead, Colum had conceived the idea of setting up a smokery for the curing of meat and the smoking of cheeses, and was hoping to use the applewood for this project. The powerful muscles in his back rippled as he swung the axe, and beads of sweat made his tanned skin glisten. His shirt, discarded in the hot weather, hung from a branch of a nearby tree.

James spoke to Murdo again, more quietly, though Colum was already out of earshot.

“How go the arrangements for his betrothal?” Murdo sighed heavily.

“It’s no’ as easy as we thought it would be. Iain Grant is a canny man, and he willnae tak’ a decision like that lightly. He prevaricates and procrastinates; indeed, he seems tae hae become a fretful auld man since the days when we fought side-by-side tae regain my wife frae the English.”

“Aye, weel, twenty years will dae that tae a man,” said James, shifting in his seat. James was unsure exactly of his own age. At least sixty-five, he thought. He had been twenty when Murdo was born, and now Murdo was forty-two. But the records of James’ own birth had been lost, and he himself had lost count over the years. In the large scheme of things, he supposed it did not really matter. He groaned. Murdo was nodding agreement.

“Ye are right, faither,and it’s nae bad thing, no’ really. Iain Grant is chief o’ his clan, and he is right tae ca’ canny when it comes tae the marriage o’ his daughters. This land is changing, and the Laird Carlisle o’ Balmore is a complication baith for the Grants and the MacPhersons. Iain Grant is rightly cautious o’ making a marriage which might mak’ Laird Carlisle feel threatened.”

James made a disgusted noise in his throat.

Laird Carlisle,” he scoffed. “A fine name tae clap ontae an Edinburgh gentry, up here tae naethin’ but mak’ money frae sheep and roust the local bodies aff o’ the land they hae lived on for generations beyond count! ‘Laird’ indeed. Man, when I was yer age, Murdo, it took mair than a pouch o’ King’s gold an’ a daft title tae mak’ a laird! We had tae earn it, and it was a bloody and fearful business for a’ that! I’d like tae tak’ yon ‘laird’ out tae the moors and gie him a go – I’d run him through wi’ one hand tied behind my back, I tell ye!”

Murdo laughed.

“I dinnae doubt that ye would!” he said. “But for a’ that I am mighty glad o’ the peace. The long truce has brought peace and prosperity tae our people, and has allowed my son tae grow up wi’out the threat o’ war hangin’ constantly ower his heid. That’s worth a bit o’ annoyance frae the gentry.”

James shrugged in reluctant agreement, but he did not look convinced.

“It may be so,” he said. “I dinnae deny that I’m glad tae hae watched the twins grow up in peace. But though the truce we built protects our people here, the stories I’m hearing frae elsewhere in the land are horrifying. Poor folk burned out o’ their cottages and deported, or forced tae emigrate owerseas, and a’ in the name o’ whit; sheep? Just because it hasnae reached this far doesnae mean it cannae.”

“Look at you two, sitting grumbling in the shade like a couple of old men!” said a merry voice behind them. “Have you nothing better to do than to watch other men work?”

James looked round with a sardonic eye, “whit dae ye mean like and auld man? I am an auld man!” But Murdo stood up from his chair and turned with a smile to take his wife in his arms.

Emily MacPherson had aged well over the last twenty years. Despite her time in the highlands, her accent remained distinctly English. The blazing flame of her red hair had cooled as silver begun to make its way through it, but she still kept it long, and was pleased to wear it out as often as she could. Her figure had filled out, of course, and she had given birth to five children, though tragically only her first two, the twins, had made it to adulthood.

She was a worker, always setting to some task or other around the castle and the grounds, or riding out to assist the people in the hamlets and villages which paid tithe and acknowledged the MacPhersons of Glenoran as their lords. Her arms were strong and herback straight, for all of her forty years, she greeted her husband with the same delight and pleasure as she had always done. The freckles stood out against her tanned face, and her eyes sparkled as he took her in his arms and kissed her.

Glancing up from his task, Colum MacPherson saw his mother and father embracing and smiled. They were like a pair of young lovers courting. When he had been younger, he and his sister had found their parents’ physical affection for each other embarrassing, but these days he was proud of it. He knew enough of their story to know that they deserved every ounce of happiness they could, and he wondered, without much hope, if he would ever find a love to match theirs?

The thought immediately drew him onto thoughts of his betrothal, and his heart sank. What love could there be between two who did not know each other, and who married to cement the alliance between their clans? He felt a familiar sinking feeling in his belly, and grit his teeth against it.

There was a pitcher of water on a little table where his father and grandfather had been sitting. Colum dropped the axehead into the chopping block with a satisfying thunk and strode over toward his family, grabbing his shirt from the branch and hauling it on as he walked. The older folk smiled at him as he approached, and his grandfather called out, “Weel, laddie, that’s one way tae keep in shape!”

Colum rolled his eyes toward the woodpile and smiled at the old man, before hooking the water pitcher with two fingers and drinking deeply. When he was done, he spoke to Emily.

“Are ye weel, mither? And where is Alice today? I havnae seen her since last night at dinner?”

“Your sister rode out at first light down to Miekleburn village, on the the border with the Balmore estate. We had tidings from there in the night that many people have been taken with a mysterious sickness. There have been three deaths in the past week, and many more are sick. She has taken the sisters Beatrice and Clara Morton with her. I tried to make her take a few men too, but she wouldn’t hear of it. You know what she is like in such matters.”

They all smiled at this, but then Colum frowned again.

“I am sorry tae hear that there’s sickness in the village. God forbid that it should spread as others we hae seen!”

“Weel,” said James bitterly, “if it does, it will certainly free the Laird Carlisle o’ Balmore frae a difficult problem.”

“Eh?” said Murdo. “Whit are ye talking about?”

“Dinnae tell me ye havnae heard,” said James. “He wants the moorland around Miekleburn for his sheep, but the folk o’ the village farm the fertile land nearby their homes, and dig the land that’s further awa’ for peat tae heat their hames. The terms of the truce dinnae allow Carlisle tae clear folk aff the land on Balmore, as ye ken, and since mast o’ the land is already empty that’s no’ a problem for him. But now he’s got his eye on that bit o’ land, and ye mark my words, he will be rubbing his hands wi’ glee tae hear o’ a sickness in the village which might dae the clearing for him wi’out any difficulty, aye him and that gluttonous son o’ his.”

“I heard that the son is tae be married,” added Colum. He had sat down with his back to the apple tree, and Emily had sat down beside Murdo, her head pillowed on his arm as she listened to the conversation.

“Aye, that’s right,” said James, nodding vigorously. “Auld Laird Carlisle has set it up wi’ a wool and sheep merchant frae down near York, ower the border in the north o’ England. Bright, the merchant’s name is; an Irishman whae come ower wi’ his family ten years ago or so, and did that weel for himself that Laird Carlisle will marry his only son tae Bright’s daughter, tae cement the trading alliance.”

“Apparently they are expecting her arrival any day now,” said Emily.

James made a thoughtful sound and shook his head in disapproval.

“Imagine that,” he said consideringly, “marrying yer son aff tae secure a discount on sheep.”

“How is it any different to marrying your son off to secure an alliance between clans?” said Colum, and immediately wished he hadn’t spoken. His parents and his grandfather swelled up with indignation and began to speak at once.

“It’s no’ the same at a’…”

“Nothing like the same…”

“Now, son, ye ken it’s no’ like that…”

Colum couldn’t help but give a wry laugh. He held up both hands in placating apology.

“Sorry, sorry!” he said smilingly. “O’ course it’s no’ the same, I understand.”

The immediate way they accepted hiswords and settled back down again was almost more irritating than the self-righteousness that it was different.

“We are all to be invited to the wedding,” said Emily, as if nothing had happened.

“Oh, aye?” said Murdo without much relish. James cursed and made a disgusted sound in his throat.

“Oh, come on,” chided Emily. “I know that Lord Carlisle and his son are not exactly noble highlanders, but this is the price of peace! Honestly, you men! What happened to diplomacy and tact and keeping the peace? It will be a few days at most, and then you can come back home having done your duty and never have to look at them again.”

“Diplomacy?” James grumbled. “I’d like tae gie that so-called Laird Carlisle a firm boot in the backside for diplomacy. If he could put his fists up against me and dook it out like a man then maybe I could feel a bit better disposed toward him.”

Murdo, Emily, and Colum laughed at the old man’s cantankerousness. Colum rose, took another drink of water and stretched, feeling his cramped limbs pop satisfyingly as he did so.

“Weel,” he said, “I want tae mak’ a bit mair progress wi’ that woodpile this efternoon.”

“Dae ye fancy a hand wi’ it, son?” said Murdo. Colum knew that his father was hoping to talk further about the betrothal arrangements. He did not want to talk about that right now. He was resigned to the fact that it would happen, prepared to do his duty, but that was as far as he would go. His father’s efforts to make him glad about it would just make the whole thing harder for him.

“No, thank ye faither,” he replied politely. “But I would rather just get on wi’ it myself. It’s a good time for me tae think things ower myself, ye ken?”

“Aye,” said Murdo smiling. “I ken.”

Colum turned and wandered back over to the woodpile. There was a lot left to do, and it would take him more than just this afternoon. As he heaved the axe out of the woodblock and set about his task again, his thoughts were of the Yorkshire bride who was, even now, travelling north to Scotland to marry the son of their neighbour, Laird Carlisle of Balmore. He wondered how she was feeling about it. If he found the prospect of marrying Iain Grant’s daughter distressing – a girl at least from the same land as him and would come to live with him at his home – then how much worse must it be for this daughter of Bright the wool-merchant, coming to a new land and a new house, and all to secure commercial advantage? Colum felt sure that if she were not absolutely terrified by the prospect, then she must be a very plucky girl indeed.

If you haven’t already, please leave your review on Amazon