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By Sarah Gabriel
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Sarah Gabriel
All right reserved.
Scotland, the Great Glen
"Preposterous," Alec muttered as he regarded the broadsheet in his hand. The creased, worn page had just been handed to him by the young officer standing before his makeshift desk in the field tent. " 'Highland menace,' it says here. Do you agree, Lieutenant Heron?"
"Perhaps, Captain." The young officer turned his black cocked hat nervously in his hands. "General Wade asked me to come here to tell you about my encounter with this, ah, menace."
Alec sifted through some of the papers on the table surface. "I've read several accounts in the few days I've been here, but you're the only one I've interviewed personally regarding the matter. This is the first I've seen of this broadsheet. She's rather fetching," Alec drawled, eyeing the page.
"Not so much in that drawing, perhaps, but she's very fetching in person." Heron cleared his throat.
"Ah." Alec tilted the page toward the lantern's glow to read the text again. In the silence, rain and wind battered the canvas shelter, and the door flaps billowed. The tent was crammed with a cot, a wooden chest piled with papers and books, the narrow folding table, and a rickety folding chair that Alec occupied. With nowhere to sit but the bed, the tall young lieutenant stood beneath the tent's peak.
" 'Katie Hell,' " Alec read aloud. " 'Notorious Highland wench.' " He tipped a brow as he scrutinized the illustration above the caption. " 'A thief and a spy, a threat to the crown . . . possessing a most peculiar magic.' What the devil does that mean?" He looked up.
"She's notorious among General Wade's troops, and she will lure a man like a siren -- before she steals documents out from under him. There is . . . a peculiar power about her. I cannot quite explain it. Have you come here intending to capture her, sir?"
"No. I'm a lawyer, not a constable. But since I was here reviewing legal documents, General Wade asked me to look into this matter as well. I'll take a written testimony of your encounter with this Katie Hell, if you don't mind, Lieutenant." He pulled a sheet of paper from a stack, picked up a pen, and dipped the point in a small inkpot.
"Of course, sir. She must be caught."
"Indeed. She's making a mockery of all of us with these antics." Alec turned his attention to the woodcut image printed on the page: a slender young woman with a pistol in one hand and a knife in the other. She was dressed in tartan knee breeches and a snug matching jacket, with a plaid sash crossing her ample bosom, and jaunty buckled shoes on her feet over stockings that clung to shapely calves. A Highland bonnet with a feather sat upon her hair, which was pulled back by a loop of ribbon, with fat curls spilling over one shoulder. A beauty mark graced her cheek, and her eyes were large and clear above a pouting mouth.
Alec began to read aloud.
Katie Hell, Notorious Highland Wench, acts as an intriguante for the Jacobite Cause. Using feminine wiles, this Highland wanton lures governmental soldiers with her charms, then renders her victims senseless and purloins the property of crown and king. Of a wild and unpredictable emperament, this siren is thought by superstitious Highlanders to possess the magic of the Scottish fairies . . .
He looked up at the young officer. "Was that your experience? Rendered senseless, and so on?"
"She, er, did hit me in the head with my pistol."
"Aye?" Alec glanced up, intrigued. "Go on."
"She's not like the silly strumpet in that drawing, though she has a quality to her that seems . . . almost magical, I'll admit. When I saw her, she wore a modest gown and had fine manners. I was enchanted, in a way. It never would have occurred to me that she practiced espionage, though I could believe she might possess . . . well, fairy magic. That is, until she took up my flintlock and knocked me in the head with it."
Alec nodded, perusing the page. "She looks more like a pirate than a fairy. Could you identify her if you saw her again?"
"I am not sure. It was dark, and there was only candlelight in my tent. She was a lovely and gentle young lady, innocent and educated. Not that painted harlot." He gestured toward the broadsheet. "She left a token behind. A white ribbon sewn like a rose. The white cockade of the Jacobites."
"Aye, she's left them before. I've seen other accounts -- what was your experience of her?" Alec poised the pen to write.
"Just as the sheet says, she is a siren. I could not resist her charms. There is something delectable about her."
"Siren. Delectable." Alec made a few more notes. "So you enjoyed a tryst with her?"
"I, uh, do not know." The black hat went round in circles in the officer's hands. "I cannot remember all of it."
Alec frowned. He had read the same in the other testimonies: the officers were never quite sure what transpired after they met the Highland wench, though they mentioned kissing, then they either fell asleep or passed out drunk. Alec suspected the girl might have used potions of some sort to affect the men. Upon waking, each officer found a white cockade and discovered documents missing from his quarters.
Heron shrugged. "And when I woke, the girl was gone."
Alec scratched his pen over the paper. "This girl is clever, Lieutenant. None of the officers seem to know who she is, what she looks like, or what exactly happened. They all seemed bewildered. Her ruse of having fairy magic is quite clever," he said wryly, "and even practical soldiers seem to believe it. Go on. Was anything missing from your tent?"
"Maps and chocolate."
"What?" Alec looked up in surprise.
Excerpted from Keeping Kate by Sarah Gabriel Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Gabriel.
Excerpted by permission.
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