Highlander Unbound (Lockhart Family Series #1)by Julia London
On leave from his Highland regiment, Captain Liam Lockhart comes to London on an urgent mission: to repossess the stolen family heirloom that could save his ancestral estate. He never dreamed it would involve surrendering his heart. But the beautiful and scandalous socialite Ellen Farnsworth sets his Highland blood aflame with a will as strong and reckless as his own. Though bound to Liam by a soul-searing passion, duty impels Ellen to commit a terrible betrayal.
Now, driven by passion, pride, and vengeance that know no bounds, this fearsome Highlander will reclaim not only his family's ancient treasure, but the one daring woman he was meant to love for all time.
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the Central Highlands of Scotland
A thick mist swirled around the sheepskin ghillie brogues that covered his feet, making it impossible to see where he was stepping. But stealth was imperative -- he could see the French camp through the trees directly ahead and wondered how they had managed to track him all the way to Scotland. Obviously, they were still searching for him, still intent on killing him, just as they had been on the Continent.
Liam crouched down behind a tree, observing them. They had stopped for the night, lying about a small fire, one of them roasting some small animal, blessedly unaware of the danger that lurked just beyond the tree line. God, but he wished he could see his men! His Scottish compatriots were just on the other side of the French camp, waiting for him. Liam stood, tried to move again, but the thick mist prevented it, and in fact, his legs felt as if weights had been tied to them, as if he were dragging them through water.
Suddenly, to his right, a flash of color -- a French soldier! Liam quickly reached for the dirk at his waist, but it was gone, dropped from the belt of his kilt. The soldier, returning from the call of nature, was startled to see him and fumbled for his pistol. His dagger, where was his dagger? There was no time to think -- Liam instantly dropped to his haunches, and in one swift movement pulled the ebony-handled sgian dubh from its sheath at the top of his stocking and lunged before the Frenchman could cry out.
They fell to the ground, Liam landing on top and knocking the air from the man's lungs as his pistol went flying into the mist. Silently and quickly, as if the man were a beast, Liam slit his throat as he had been trained to do, rolled off him and onto his feet, crouched down with his hands held before him, waiting for the next Frenchman.
What was that? A soft whistle -- the bastard Frog somehow had alerted the rest of them! Jesus God, where were his men? His breath coming in heavy grunts now, Liam took one step forward, felt something whisk across his ear, and unthinkingly swiped at it. Another step, and a movement to his left caught his eye. He jerked around, could not help but gasp at the sight of the two-headed troll that faced him, the same one that -- Could it be? -- had haunted his dreams when he was a wee lad.
He had no time to think; the troll started for him, swaying side to side to maintain its lumbering girth. Something was pushing at Liam's back, pushing him off balance, but he ignored it, focused only on the troll coming toward him, his hands outstretched, as if he meant to snatch him. His heart pounding, Liam gripped the bloodied sgian dubh and readied himself. Just as he was about to throw himself forward and tackle the troll, he felt a sharp jab to his bum, almost as if someone had wedged a boot --
Liam's eyes flew open; he saw his brother Griffin standing over him, a feather in his hand, and remembered, groggily, that the war with France was over.
"Ye were dreaming again, laddie," Griffin said matter-of-factly, and added with a lopsided smile, "I hope she was a bonny thing."
"Ugh," Liam groaned, and rolled over in his bed to bury his face in a pillow. "Why must ye bother me so, Grif? Can ye no' leave a man to sleep?"
"The sun is already shining on the loch, Liam. Yer mother asks after ye, and Payton Douglas has come -- did ye no' promise him a lesson in swordplay?"
Damn if he hadn't. "Aye," he said, yawning, "that I did." He reluctantly pulled the pillow from his face and blinked against the sunlight pouring into the room. He was drenched in sweat again, the result of another nocturnal battle with the French. He'd be glad when his regiment deployed and he could put his dreams behind him.
"Father is due back from Aberfoyle today," Griffin said, crossing over to the bureau against the wall to examine Liam's things there, "and Mother requests your presence at the supper table." He spared Liam a glance. "She's no' happy with yer prowling about in the wee hours of the morning."
Liam simply ignored that -- his family did not understand his need to keep his skills finely tuned, something that could only be accomplished by practicing various maneuvers at night as well as day. He pushed himself to his elbows, watched as Griffin picked up the hand-tooled leather ornamental sporran he had purchased from a leathersmith near Loch Ard. "I'll thank ye to put it down," he said as his brother peered inside.
With a chuckle, his brother obliged him by tossing the leather pouch back atop the bureau. He moved on to the length of plaid that Liam had draped across a chair, rubbed a corner of the fabric between his fingers, felt the weight of it. Griffin -- who had never been given to the old ways -- wore black pantaloons, a coat of dark brown superfine, and a pale gold waistcoat, striped in lovely shades of blue that reminded Liam of a flock of peacocks -- particularly the fat overfed ones that roamed the gardens in and around the family estate, Talla Dileas.
"'Twas hand woven by the old widow MacDuff," Liam informed him.
"Ah, of course it was, for who but the old lady MacDuff still makes them?" Griffin asked, and dropping the corner of plaid, turned his attention to Liam. He folded his arms across his chest, crossed one leg over the other, and glanced at his brother's naked chest. "Tell me, did ye learn to sleep bare-arsed in the army?"
"No," Liam said, pushing his legs over the side of the bed, "I learned to sleep bare-arsed in the ladies' boudoirs."
Griffin laughed, his grin as wide and as inviting as their sister Mared's. With a yawn, Liam studied his younger brother. He was built like Liam -- tall, muscular, dark brown hair, and eyes as green as heather -- but he wasn't quite as big as Liam, having more of the slender, aristocratic frame than the warrior physique for which Liam prided himself. And he was, admittedly, a very handsome man, whereas Liam was...well, plain.
Still laughing, Griffin moved toward the old plank wood door. "I'll tell Douglas ye'll join him yet," he said. "And I'll tell yer lady mother that ye have indeed promised to attend supper." He stooped and ducked out of the cavernous tower chamber where the lairds of Lockhart had slept for decades until one had come along and added an entire manor to it.
Liam stood up, let the sheet slip from his naked body, stretched his arms high above his head, then moved to the narrow slit of a window that overlooked the old bailey.
That was Payton Douglas he saw below, parrying his own shadow. Liam rolled his eyes -- there wasn't a Scot around Loch Chon who didn't think he could be a soldier. But it took more than a wish. It took strength and cunning and courage. He would know, naturally -- he had worked his way up through the ranks of the Highland Regiments over the last ten years, had achieved the vaulted status of captain, and had earned not one, but four medals of honor for heroic feats in the Peninsular Wars and at Waterloo. Yes, he knew a thing or two about soldiering, and in his estimation there weren't many men who had the character for it.
This was precisely what he intended to demonstrate to Payton Douglas.
It was no secret around Loch Chon that there was no love lost between the Douglases and the Lockharts; it was a distrust that went back centuries. Just what, exactly, had happened between them, Liam didn't know. He only knew that Payton was a Douglas. Nonetheless, he couldn't help but admire him -- he was a capable man, prosperous in hard times...but not so admirable that Liam would give him as much as an inch.
Aye, he'd just have a look at what Douglas had beneath that fancy coat he wore. With a low chuckle of glee, Liam turned from the window, walked to where the plaid was draped, and proceeded to dress.
As he waited for Liam (what full-grown man could sleep so late in the bloody day?), Payton amused himself by fencing with his shadow on the old bailey wall. He hadn't a clue how to go about it, as he had never had the luxury of fencing lessons. But he had seen a few duels and was rather convinced it really wasn't so difficult. He thrust forward, withdrew, and thrust again, moving his way down the massive stone wall. But he quickly was bored with that and amused himself further by imagining Lockharts were attacking him from all angles. He spun around, jabbed his sword in the air, then spun around again, prepared to lunge, but with a small exclamation of surprise, he stumbled backward, knocking up against the wall and dropping his old dull sword.
"Christ Jesus, Mared, ye could startle a man clear out of his wits!" he exclaimed hotly as he tried to catch his breath.
Having appeared from nowhere, Liam's younger sister shrugged insouciantly, flipped the long tail of her braid over her shoulder, and adjusted the heavy basket she held at her hip. "Ye should look where ye point that thing."
Oh, how very helpful. Hands on hips, Payton glared down at Mared. Fat lot of good it did -- she hardly seemed to notice. This one had to be the most exasperating of all the bloody Lockharts, which was in and of itself a rather remarkable accomplishment, since they were the most exasperating group of human beings he had ever known.
Mared's dark green gaze flicked to where his sword lay on the ground. "One canna help but wince when a man is foiled by a stone wall, can one?" she drawled.
Oh, aye, she was exasperating, maddeningly so, and Payton wished to high heaven she weren't so bloody beautiful. But in that gown of emerald that matched the deep color of her eyes, she was, in a word, bewitching. The emphasis, of course, being on witch. He leaned over, snatched up his sword, and proceeded to knock the dirt from the handle. "Ye've a tongue as sharp as a serpent, Mared," he said, looking up from the sword's handle, "but damn me if ye donna look as bonny as a clear summer day."
With a snort, Mared rolled her eyes. "There's no point to yer flattery, Douglas."
"Should beauty no' be admired, then?"
Mared's eyes narrowed; she reached into the large basket she held, withdrew a bramble berry, and popped it into her mouth. "Ye must take me for a featherbrain," she said, nonchalantly chewing the berry. "Ye donna admire beauty, ye admire land, that's all." She helped herself to another berry. "And ye ask after the Lockhart lands as if they were barren."
Ah-ha! So she had heard of his inquiries as to the acreage dedicated to cattle on Lockhart land, inquiries that had been made discreetly in Aberfoyle. How she had discovered it, he could only guess, but he'd wager a month's income that it had something to do with those green eyes of hers. "Ach, yer a naïve lass," he said, with a dismissive flick of his wrist. "Ye confuse a man's appreciation with yer foolish pride."
"Foolish pride?" She grunted her opinion of that sentiment and ate another berry. "And ye confuse ambition with centuries of history, Douglas."
Now it was Payton's turn to snort disdainfully, and he pointed the tip of his sword to the ground where her scuffed black leather boots peeked out beneath her gown. "Foolish and stubborn, that is what ye are, Mared Lockhart. Will ye deny, then, that the Douglas and Lockhart lands, if they were one, would prosper more than when they are apart?"
"Diah, ye must have lost yer mind! Why would a Lockhart ever join with a Douglas?"
"So that he...or she, as the unlikely case may be...might double the estate profits by giving wider range to the sheep. That's why."
Mared stilled. Blinked. "I think ye have lost yer bloody mind!" she exclaimed, and suddenly burst out laughing. "Honestly, Douglas, do ye truly think we'd trade our coos for sheep?"
Payton glowered at her. Beauty or not, she was as thick-skulled as every Lockhart he had ever known. "Ach, ye're a foolish lot, ye Lockharts! Ye willna face the truth, willna admit ye are drowning in debt and that yer cattle willna bring what ye need to survive! Sheep, Mared! They need less land and can traverse the terrain, whereas yer bloody coos devour what grass there is by midsummer. And everyone around Loch Chon knows that without the rents from yer tenants, ye canna keep yer head above water."
Mared's eyes sparked with fury. She abruptly adjusted the basket she was holding and wagged a slender finger at him. "Ye willna speak to me thus, Douglas! And ye will never put yer dirty hands on Lockhart land!"
"Mared, leannan, let the poor bastard be!"
Mared and Payton both turned as Liam strode purposefully into the old bailey, his plaid swinging around his knees, a thick leather belt holding the pristine white shirt he had tucked into the folds. Payton could not help but smile -- Liam Lockhart held fast and strong to tradition and honor, and wore his Scottish pride like a bloody badge. He truly admired his loyalty. And he envied Liam's life thus far -- on more than one occasion Payton wished he had gone off to experience life as Liam had done instead of attending the college as his father had insisted.
Liam stopped several yards in front of Payton and Mared, braced himself on his sturdy legs, and withdrew his sword from its scabbard. He held it as if it weighed nothing, point down, and silently perused Payton. After a moment, he gave a sly smile to Mared. "Best remove yerself from harm, lass," he said casually. "Douglas here would like a wee lesson in swordplay. Am I right, Douglas?"
"If ye'd be of a mind," Payton answered amicably.
"Ach," Mared muttered, "what foolishness." But she did as Liam suggested, walking to a crumbling old bench along the stone wall. To Payton's dismay, she put her basket aside and sat herself down, as if she intended to watch the lesson.
"So ye desire a lesson," Liam said again, slowly lifting the tip of his sword and drawing Payton's attention away from Mared.
"Aye," he nodded. "I've heard there's none better with a saber than Liam of Lockhart."
Liam snorted, lifted his sword. " 'Tis true -- I am the best. No man proved better." He took a step, then another, slowly circling as Payton stood patiently, letting the captain have his moment. Liam came to a halt in front of him, and touched the button of Payton's waistcoat with the tip of his sword. "Have ye ever fought a man sword to sword?"
Liam grinned. "I thought as much, or ye'd know to remove yer coat. Ye canna fight all trussed up like a Christmas goose."
Payton gave him a thin smile, thrust off his coat, and, for good measure, his waistcoat, too, tossing them onto the bench where Mared sat. She smiled wickedly, as if she hoped to see him sliced to ribbons. Payton wasn't entirely sure she wouldn't be obliged. He turned to Liam. "Let's have at it then, shall we?"
A broad, predatory smile spread across Liam's lips. "En garde," he said quietly, and instantly moved one leg back, settling on it, while he held the other out from his body, bent at the knee.
Payton lifted his sword, mimicking him, but Liam groaned, rolled his eyes, and touched his sword to Payton's. "What are ye doing then, Douglas? Put yer hand on yer hip there, and lift yer sword...aye, that's how 'tis done. Ye'll want to sweep aside or force mine down, do ye see?" he asked, demonstrating. Payton nodded that he did, and listened intently as Liam went on to explain how to lunge in attack, recover, and lunge again, attacking head, flank, and chest. "The blade precedes the body -- it should land on yer target before yer foot hits the ground. Do ye see, then?"
"Aye," Payton grunted.
They practiced lunging, legs bent, and recovering to the en garde position. Then Liam showed him how to parry, to defend himself in the face of attack, to cross-step, launch an attack, and cross-step again. His technique was, Payton thought, amazingly delicate for a man so large. He felt thick and awkward in comparison, not at all graceful like Liam.
"Aye, ye've got the feel for it," Liam said, nodding, after they had shadow-fenced along the old bailey wall. "So let's see how ye be in combat," he said, and startled Payton with a sudden lunge forward that left the tip of his saber resting on Payton's belt.
He glanced up at Liam, smiled crookedly. "Ye wouldna be trying to slice off me drawers, now would ye?"
Liam laughed low. "Get yer sword up, man!" he warned Payton, and thrust again, slicing cleanly through the billowing sleeve of Payton's shirt. Suddenly, they were moving, Payton retreating, lumbering backward, desperately trying to defend himself without falling. "Ach, did ye learn nothing? Heel to toe, heel to toe!" Liam shouted at him, but Payton unexpectedly collided hard with a wall and dropped his sword. Liam thrust the tip of his saber to Payton's neck. "Tsk-tsk," he said, shaking his head. "Pity, this. I have ye in death's grip."
Payton's chest was heaving. He blinked against the sun glinting off Liam's sword, thought about Mared watching him take this beating, and slowly slid down the wall to his haunches, groping for his sword as Liam calmly kept him penned. He nodded, tried to catch his breath. "I see why they say ye are the best, Lockhart."
"Aye." Liam grinned. "Ye've too much in the arm; no' enough in yer wrist," he said. "And ye must remember to keep yer eye on the best angle to strike."
His sword in hand, Payton nodded, slowly pushed himself up to his feet. "No' enough in the wrist," he repeated. "Like this, then?" he asked, and before Liam could respond, Payton lunged, miraculously catching him off-guard. He lunged again, heel to toe, heel to toe, thrusting wildly at the head, chest, and flank, forcing Liam to retreat.
The two danced to the middle of the old bailey so fast that Payton couldn't even say how it had happened -- but he was still in command, still directing the play. The rapid sound of steel on steel sliced through the morning air, setting his teeth on edge. Liam seemed to be back on his heels, and Payton desperately fought to keep him there, jabbing forward, again and again, until he had forced Liam up against the wall, swept his saber aside, and penned him at the throat with his arm.
But instead of being angry, Liam laughed. "Ah, so ye did learn a thing or two," he said, and abruptly and fluidly pushed and slipped out of Payton's hold, spun around, and knocked Payton back with the force of his saber across his chest. Payton went down with a great thunk, landing square on his back and with the wind knocked from his lungs. Liam was instantly on top of him, a boot on his abdomen, the tip of the saber at his throat, and his free hand held high in the air in triumph.
For a brief moment, Payton believed Liam would kill him. Until Liam threw his head back and laughed, and offered him a hand up.
And somewhere on the edge of his consciousness, Payton heard Mared exclaim in disappointment, "Ach, for the love of God!"
Carson Lockhart arrived at Talla Dileas from Aberfoyle late that afternoon, kissed his wife, Aila, fully on the lips, and motioned for Dudley, his longtime butler, to pour a dram of whiskey so that he might wash the dirt of the road from his throat.
Aila put aside her mending and watched her husband, quietly assessing him. She had been married to the man for thirty-eight years and could read him like a book. And judging by his dejected expression, she could see that things had not gone well in Aberfoyle. She waited until he was seated comfortably, had drunk his first whiskey and had his second in hand before she spoke. "Well, Carson. What news have ye brought us, then?"
Her husband grimaced at the question, shoved fingers through a thick shock of gray hair. " 'Tis no' good," he admitted. "They willna lend us another farthing if me very life depended on it."
That news was hardly unexpected, but they had hoped for better. The old Lockhart estate had grown increasingly hard to maintain in an era of new farming techniques and growing industry, and the family had long since overextended their welcome at the Royal Bank of Scotland. As their debts had mounted, they had come to the conclusion that they could not support so many tenants. The family had agreed they would buy out the crofters who had farmed Lockhart soil for generations -- they would offer a fair price and would not, as other lairds had done, push them from their homes. Theirs was a noble intent, but that intent was quietly bankrupting the family.
Aila looked thoughtfully at the thick-paned windows that bordered a wall of what had once been the old castle's great hall. She wondered if her family would laugh at the idea she had been nurturing the last two weeks. It was a rather ridiculous plan, she'd be the first to admit, but in light of their dire financial situation, it seemed at least worth discussion. They had to do something soon before they lost Talla Dileas and were forced to join the thousands of Highlanders looking for work in Glasgow. The very thought made her shudder; she imagined such an event would kill Carson. She glanced at her husband, whose eyelids were sliding to half-mast, and came to her feet, moving to the great wing-backed chair on which he sat. She ran her hand over the top of his head, leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Shut yer eyes, love," she murmured, taking the whiskey glass from his hand. "We'll speak of it later."
One could hardly call it supper by their former standard of living.
It consisted of bannocks, or oat cakes, a rather spindly grouse, a bowl of bramble berries, and black bun cake. "We've no food to speak of, milady," Dudley's wife, the family cook, had complained to Aila earlier in the week. "I've naugh' but oats."
"Then we'll eat bannocks," Aila had said sharply, frustrated with their increasing poverty, and then had sent Liam into the forest to find game. The bramble berries were thanks to Mared's diligent efforts to climb to the top of Din Footh to pick them, and the black bun cake courtesy of some rotting fruit. It was fare they could expect until the first of the month when the rents came in -- what paltry few were left, anyway.
When the family sat down to supper, they politely ignored the sparse menu, and sipped cautiously from a dwindling supply of wine.
Aila looked down the table, quietly admiring her children. Each of the three was educated and well traveled, something she and Carson had managed to accomplish before things got so bad.
There was Liam, big and strong, the proud soldier. He was Aila's restless child, the one who had always chafed at the lack of activity in and around Loch Chon. As a boy he had been the most trouble, getting into so many fights that his face was permanently battered. And now this jagged scar, gained at the Battle of Waterloo, new enough that it was still quite garishly red. Even now, at the age of five and thirty, having been home from the Continent only a month, Liam's restlessness rattled the old house -- he had, in this short time, engaged in two fistfights, taught three men how to fence, and had dragged a protesting Griffin to hunt deep in the forest at least twice a week -- to keep his soldier skills honed, he said.
Then there was Griffin, her middle child, who, like Aila's father, whom he so closely resembled, looked so handsome in all his finery and was far more interested in social events than hunting or fighting. Unlike Liam, Griffin preferred the riches of life and was ambitious toward that end, wanting a stature in society Aila feared the family would never achieve. But it was Griffin who kept them thinking, kept them looking forward -- he was constantly urging his father to consider new risk-taking ventures that would make the estate more profitable. Given their present circumstances, Aila could not argue with his point of view. Carson, on the other hand, could and did. God love him, but her husband was tucked comfortably in bed with the old way of thinking and was not ready to rise up with a new day.
And then there was Mared, her darling, beautiful Mared, marked by a ridiculous ancient curse that she'd never marry until she faced the Devil himself. Mared hardly believed in such nonsense -- certainly none of the family did -- but many of the locals in and around Loch Chon did. They regarded her as something of a curiosity, whispered behind their hands about her. Long ago, when she was just a wee lass, Mared had abandoned any pretense of believing she could overcome the wretched curse and lived as she desired, convinced she had nothing to lose, but sadly, just as convinced she had nothing to gain.
Aila would do anything for the four people seated at her table. Anything. Even break the law, for she was certain the English would perceive her plan to be unlawful, even if it was right.
Liam happily devoured his supper, oblivious to the lack of variety, regaling them with tales of the fencing lesson he had given Payton Douglas. "He gave me quite a fight, I'll hand him that," he said. "With a bit of proper tutelage, he'd make a decent soldier, he would."
Mared snorted. "Ye speak as if he is our friend, Liam," she chided her older brother. "Have ye forgotten? He is a Douglas! And he wasna so promising as ye say."
"Ah, Mared, how coldly ye speak of our neighbor!" Griffin exclaimed laughingly. "I'd think ye'd be kinder in yer manner, since ye spend so much time traipsing past the man's house," he added, absently pushing a bit of grouse around on his plate. "Donna pretend now -- ye've a soft spot in yer heart for the Douglas."
The dark rose of a blush bled into Mared's fair cheeks; she gaped at her brother. "How dare ye say such a vile thing, Griffin! I'd sooner cut me wrist and bleed to death before I'd find room in my heart for a Douglas!"
"Ah, come now," Carson said gruffly through a mouth full of bannock cakes. "The man's really no' so bad, is he, then?"
Appalled, Mared shifted her gaze to her father as Griffin and Liam exchanged a chuckle. "Father, ye donna know what ye say!" she exclaimed, sparing a heated glance at her brothers. "Do ye know what he said to me just today, then?"
"Aye -- that his heart had winged its way to yer window, but ye wouldna let it in," Griffin said poetically, to which Liam guffawed.
Mared grasped the edge of the table and stared at her father. "He said if we were of a mind to save our land, we'd join the Douglas lands as one and give over the coos for sheep!"
That stopped everyone cold. Liam and Griffin leaned forward at the same time, both of them frowning at their little sister. "Ye misunderstood him, then, Mared. He'd no' say such a thing," Griffin challenged her.
"Aye, he did! He said, 'Mared, will ye deny, then, that the Douglas and Lockhart lands, if they were one, would prosper more than when they are apart?' I said, 'Ye must have lost yer mind!'"
"He said what?" Carson bellowed.
"That we'd all prosper if our lands were together, no' apart," she repeated, smiling with smug satisfaction at her brothers.
No one said anything for a moment, until Griffin opined, "In truth, Father, he has a valid point -- "
"The bloody hell he does!" Carson shouted. "I'll be damned if a Douglas will possess one rock of Lockhart land!"
"I should have sliced his arse right off his backside when I had the chance!"
"Liam!" Aila interrupted.
"So Douglas wants our land, does he now?" Carson demanded. Mared nodded furiously. "And there's no' a blessed thing to be done for it, no' with the debt we carry," Carson moaned further.
"'Tis true, Father, that we're losing income with the beeves," Griffin observed.
"I'll no' change the way the Lockharts have prospered for five bloody centuries, Griffin!"
"There is perhaps another course, mo ghraid," Aila ventured, drawing everyone's attention.
"What?" Carson demanded.
Aila lowered her wineglass and looked at the four of them. "Bear with me, then," she said. "Ye'll think I've gone daft. But I've been reading a book written by yer father's father -- a family history of sorts. It tells about the tragic death of the first Lady of Lockhart. Ye will remember her, will ye no', from yer studies?"
Mared nodded eagerly; Griffin rolled his eyes, and Liam looked at her blankly.
"Ach, Aila, ye donna believe that Lady's curse, now, do ye?" Carson groused.
"No, Carson," she clucked. " 'Tis no' the curse that interests me. 'Tis the beastie."
"The beastie?" Liam scoffed. "Mother, they donna exist -- "
"I know," she said, politely but firmly cutting him off. "But there did exist a gold statue of a beastie with ruby eyes, mouth, and tail. It was given as a token of esteem to the first Lady of Lockhart by her doomed lover." That succeeded in gaining everyone's undivided attention, and Aila proceeded to tell them how the Lady of Lockhart had given the statue to her daughter, how it was stolen by the English Lockharts, then the Scottish Lockharts, and back and forth, again and again, until no one could remember any longer. "The point is," she concluded, "the beastie has been in England since the Jacobite rebellion. But it belongs to us. And 'tis worth a small fortune."
Griffin's green eyes suddenly lit with understanding. "Mother, God bless ye!" he exclaimed. "Do ye suggest what I think ye suggest, then?"
"I donna understand," Mared said, looking to Griffin.
"If the statue belongs to us, we could sell it. Do ye see, Father? The gold and rubies -- there'd be enough to pay our debts!"
"Aye, I see," Carson said slowly, shifting his gaze to Aila. "But how is it then, that yer dear mother supposes we get it back? You know what they say about the blasted beastie -- 'tis English, for it always slips through the fingers of the Scot who possesses him."
A fine question. And one for which Aila did not have an answer. "I've no' thought of everything, Carson," she said with a frown. "But I put no stock in curses and magic. The beastie is in England because the English Lockharts stole it from the Scottish Lockharts, and I rather suppose we must have someone steal it back."
"Steal it?" Mared squealed.
"I'll fetch it," Liam said instantly and matter-of-factly.
"Oh, Liam, I didna mean my children," Aila quickly interjected.
"Honestly, Mother," Liam said with an impatient shake of his head. "Ye have a fine idea indeed. And ye canna deny that I am the likely one to go. I am a captain in the army, eh? A captain in the most esteemed military regiment of the crown."
When no one seemed to understand his point, Liam groaned. "I've been trained for this sort of thing, have I no'? Trained to find things, and should something go wrong, I am best appointed to manage, then."
"Aye, aye, indeed ye are," Mared readily agreed. "I saw him duel today, Mother. 'Tis true -- he's quite good."
"I should hope he willna have to duel, Mared," said Aila.
"And he's been to London -- a year's training at the military college," added Griffin.
"During which time I acquainted myself with our cousin Nigel Lockhart, irritating bootlick that he is," Liam gruffly reminded them.
Aila looked down the table at Carson. His gray-green eyes were gleaming now, and he nodded. "Aye...they are right, love. Our Liam is perfect for it. We need only make a plan."
Liam draped one arm across the back of his chair.
"I've an idea," he said, and with all confidence, over the black bun cake, he laid out his scenario -- he would go to London and befriend Cousin Nigel. "Like taking candy from a bairn," Liam scoffed. He would present himself as a disenchanted, disowned Scottish Lockhart -- "Shouldna be very hard to portray," quipped Griffin -- and relying on the assumption that everyone enjoys a little gossip now and then, particularly the airing of dirty family linens, Liam would use that to ingratiate himself to Nigel and earn an invitation to the Lockhart house in London, where he would find the statue.
Once he discovered its location, he would simply slip into the house under the cloak of night, retrieve it with all due stealth -- "I've been commended for me cleverness," Liam reminded them -- and be halfway back to Scotland before the English Lockharts ever knew the blessed thing was gone.
By the time they had moved into the old great hall, the five Lockharts had argued the plan from every conceivable angle until they were convinced that their plan was not only workable, but really rather brilliant in its simplicity. If their arms had been a bit longer, they might have exhausted themselves with all the pats they gave each other on their backs.
Copyright © 2004 by Dinah Dinwiddie
Meet the Author
Julia London is the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Publisher's Weekly bestselling author of historical romance, contemporary romance, and women's fiction with strong romantic elements, including the Secrets of Hadley Green bestselling series, and the Homecoming Ranch series. She is a four-time finalist for the RITA Award of Excellence in Romantic Fiction, and the recipient of Romantic Times Bookclub's Best Historical Novel. She lives in Austin, Texas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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THIS WAS MY FIRST BOOK BY JULIA LONDON, BUT CERTAINLY WON'T BE MY LAST!! CAN HARDLY WAIT FOR THE STORY OF GRIF AND MARED!! SENSUAL, AND EXCITING. A REAL PAGE TURNER!!
This book was fantastic! Absolutely fantastic. The best book I have ever read!!!!!!!! It was so Funny! It was so sad! It was so romantic! It made me feel alive I loved it!
Even though it is 1816 and a few years have passed since the armed combat ended, Navy Captain Liam Lockhart still suffers from battle fatigue. However, he has other concerns besides his nightmares as his family is broke. He agrees with the proposal to steal back a gold beastie heirloom from the English branch of the family for the Scottish Lockharts to sell.................... In London in the house where he rents a room at usury rates he meets nine year old Natalie, granddaughter of his nasty landlord. Through the child who constantly visits him, Liam meets Ellen, the lass¿ mother. Liam falls in love with Ellen, but she seduces the location of the heirloom from him and steals it to insure a future for Natalie. Liam is filled with rage and a need of vengeance for he allowed passion to hurt his family and devastate his honor. He will follow Ellen¿s trail to wherever it leads, for he will regain the beastie and avenge the betrayal.................................... Readers will appreciate this exciting Regency romance in which a sailor scorned is someone to beware of as Ellen will learn. Natalie is too precocious though readers will understand her need for any companionship beyond her mom while her grandfather is a very odious a soul who deserves an eternity of loneliness. The lead couple is a delightful duo, who make the tale, as Ellen feels bad for what she did to the man she loves, but like any lioness feels her first priority is her cub. Fans will enjoy this interesting tale.......................... Harriet Klausner
Love is what happens when your busy with other plans. So true for Liam Lockhart when he must travel to London to gain back a Family treasure that was stolen from their family. Liam falls in love with Ellie and her young daughter. But Ellie's dire need for the means to leave her Father's household leads to betrayal. "I thought we were two people caught up in extraordinary circumstance, who had found each other in spite it all, if only a moment in time. I never thought it was a game, and I never thought we were anything but honest with one another. What a Goddamn fool I was, eh?" My favorite scene out of the book aside from the obvious happy ending they will have, with a hint to the next novel. I loved the story once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. A great read I will gladly re-read any time. Kudos Julia London another book I love.
The first 125 pages were torturous. I about put the book away, never to finish. Then finally the characters stopped making me wince. This is an obviouse trilogy with characters that aren't really that likeable. Still trying to decide if I should read #2. I figure it will take all three siblings to achieve the prize.
I have not been able to finish this book. I will read a chapter and move on to another book. I find it very slow moving and have yet to connect with the main characters. I keep hoping it will get better but so far I am disappointed. This is the first book I have read from this author and this is the first book in her trilogy. I can't see myself reading the others.
THIS IS MY FIRST BOOK BY THIS AUTHOR AND SINCE I BOUGHT THE SECOND BOOK IN THE SERIES I WILL READ IT. ON A SENSUAL SCALE OF 1-10 IT IS A 6 BUT NOT SURE I CARE FOR THE 'EXTRAS' USED IN LOVEMAKING. I NEVER HAVE READ A BOOK WHERE THE ENDING IS RUSHED AND NOT BROUGHT TO A SATISFYING CLOSING. THIS ONE LEFT A READER TWISTING IN THE WIND LIKE A HANGING MAN..
My first Julia London and certainly not my last! I really enjoyed her writing style, it's informal compared to the time period of the story. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of the next two volumes. Hurry!
I have never read a romantic noval before and this one was wonderful. When I bought it I asked the sales clerk for brown paper bag to put in! LOL Just kidding. It was well worth the time to read and I cant wait until the other book in this family are published!!
The beastie was admittedly hideous, but nonetheless, priceless. The gold and ruby statue was valuable enough to save Liam's family home, if he could recover it. The mission was important enough to impel the Scotsman out of the Highlands to noisy, ugly London. He finds a room in a disagreeable Englishman's home, never expecting what will happen next. ...................... Liam runs across a little girl with a vivid imagination who introduces him to her mother, Ellen Farnsworth. She steals his heart instantly, but he is sure she is unavailable. Finding that she is not married is almost as great a treasure as the beastie, until Liam learns that Ellen is an even more skillful thief than he thought. She took his heart, the beastie, and as a last indignity, his kilt. He sets off for home, determined to find her and reclaim a bit of his own. Will even her good reasons be sufficient to calm his temper and excuse her betrayal? ........................ *** Julia London reveals her grasp of the complexity of love as she intertwines characters lives and multifaceted motivations. Family ties are contrasted, both good and bad. One moment the story is light hearted, and with the turn of a page, cutting truth is sharply revealed. Readers will be left on the edge of their seat at the cliff hanger ending. ***