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The Scottish Highlands
Lady Margaret Mackintosh tightened her fingers on her mare's reins and leaned forward in her stirrups. She was wearing a dark blue jacket with slashed sleeves and a man's tartan trews, which molded to her tall, slender shape. She wore them for riding; she had been riding so most of her life. The people of Glen Dhui, if they thought it strange to see Lady Meg gallop about dressed like a man, would never say so. She was their lady and they loved her.
Meg peered now through the soft and misty gloaming. Was it just her wistful thinking, or did she really see the flickering lights and shadowy buildings of Clashennic ahead? Surely there was an inn there that could provide her with a hot bath and a soft bed? Her skin and hair felt gritty from the long ride from Glen Dhui, and her body ached from her days in the saddle.
She had wondered many times since the journey started whether it was a wild goose chase, whether she should turn back, but always she remembered her father's words, more of an order than a plea.
"Bring Gregor Grant back to Glen Dhui, Meg. Bring him back here to me. He is the only one who can help us now."
Gregor Grant. He had occupied a part of her life since she was twelve years old, and yet she had never met him. She knew him through her father's memories and the stories of the Glen Dhui people, and the drawings she had found in the attic of Glen Dhui Castle. Meg felt as if she knew him very well indeed.
"Clashennic lies ahead, my lady."
Her tacksman, Duncan Forbes, called the comforting words back to her. Relief made his usually dour tones almost eager. He and several of his men had accompanied her on this desperate journey as protection against thieves and bandits, although since the government troops had set up camp in the Highlands, folk had been more law-abiding.
Nestled in the fold of the hills before them was the barracks town of Clashennic, and somewhere in that town was Gregor GrantCaptain Gregor Grant, she corrected herself -- the man whom her father believed would save them.
"How can you be so sure, Father?" she had asked him, her hand clasped in his as he sat before the fire.
He had looked at her with his cloudy blue eyes that once had been as sharp as hers, as if he could still see her face. "Because the boy I remember is honorable and loves Glen Dhui as much as we do, Meg. Because he will fight for the glen and its people. Because I believe that apart from you and me and the people themselves, he is the only one who will."
Except Glen Dhui was no longer his. It had been twelve years since Gregor Grant was Laird of Glen Dhui. Twelve years since the Grants had come out for the Stuarts in the 1715 Rebellion, and he had ridden into battle with his father, the old Laird, and lost. Lost everything. Seventeen-year- old Gregor had been imprisoned after the Battle of Preston, along with hundreds of other men. His father had died of apoplexy in terrible conditions in the prison. And it was there, in the gaol, that Gregor had met Meg's father -- a commander for the government troops -- and it had been her father who saw to his release.
Free he might have been. Saved from the hangman's noose or the steamy plantations of Jamaica or Barbados, Carolina or Virginia. But Gregor had lost his home, lost Glen Dhui. His family's punishment for taking part in the Rebellion was the confiscation of their home, their estate, and with it the title of Laird. Gregor and his mother and young sister had fled Glen Dhui and never returned -- they had had no choice. But the people had mourned them, him in particular -- he was the young Grant Laird -- and she suspected they mourned him still. She knew they had loved him, trusted him, set their hopes upon him. He had been their golden-haired boy, the light of their future.
And it seemed he still was.
"The lad will not let us down," Duncan Forbes had assured her when they had set out two days earlier.
Meg prayed his feelings were not misplaced. And yet she too was lifted by a new and vibrant hope as they rode toward their goal. If Gregor Grant was really all they said ... if he was the sort of man who would set aside his present circumstances to return to the glen he had known as a boy ... then Meg feared she was already more than half in love with him.
"There'll be an inn," Duncan said, noting her weariness. He had dropped back to ride at her side, and she met the gleam of his dark eyes in the growing darkness. "We'll stop there first, my lady, and ye can take your ease. Me and the men will search out Captain Grant for ye."
"Thank you, Duncan. Will you recognize him, do you think?"
"'Tis a while, but aye, I'll know him."
Meg nodded. She had never seen Gregor Grant herself, but she thought she would know him. His collection of boyhood sketches, found in the attic, and kept in a corner of her room, had drawn her attention again and again over the years. The sketches were delicate, so careful in their detail, romantic in their rendering, full of an emotion that spoke to her. The man ... the boy who created such works must be special. From her father's memories of the seventeen-year-old Gregor and her own daydreams, she visualized him as slender and fair, with the face of a poet and the long-fingered hands of an artist ...Beloved Highlander. Copyright © by Sara Bennett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.