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Let Me Be Your Hero
By Elaine Coffman
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLennox Castle, Inchmurrin Island Loch Lomond, Scotland In the year of our Lord, 1741
It is said that the people of Scotland are molded by the landscape.
If that be true, then the four daughters of Alasdair, Lord Errick, 18th Earl of Errick and Mains, would be as tranquil and quiet as the slow, smooth running waters of the River Leven, whose very name comes from the Gaelic word llevyn, meaning slow.
But that was not the way of it.
In truth, when one thought of the earl's four young daughters, it did not evoke an image of the placid, meandering rivers or the sweet-natured and gentle hills at the southern end of the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond. Rather, they called to mind more high-spirited, descriptive Gaelic locution; that of the rugged glens and mountains of the northern end of the loch that gave birth to the tumultuous waterfalls and raging hill burns, so oft poetically described.
"Where a wild stream, with headlong shock,
Comes brawling down its bed of rock."
The earl's daughters considered it fortunate that, in 1390, Duncan, the 14th Earl, abandoned Balloch Castle on the Leven River in favor of a new stronghold on Inchmurrin Island, not only to escape the plague, but also because he considered it more secureagainst attack. Little did he know that almost four hundred years later, his gladsome descendants would delight in his choice of an island in the southern end of Loch Lomond - or mind you, that he chose the best and largest - as the place to build Lennox Castle.
And that is how it came to be that Lord Errick and his family happened to reside within the fortified walls of their stronghold, secluded in the beauty of a beloved, remote island called Inchmurrin.
Besides his daughters, Claire, fifteen; Kenna, fourteen; Greer, thirteen; and the youngest, ten-year-old Briana, the earl was also father to three sons: nineteen-year-old Breac, seventeen-year-old Ronaln, and Ken-drew, age twelve. In a time when treachery, murder and plots abounded, the earl's children passed a happy childhood within the confining bounds of Inchmurrin, protected and loved by their father, the powerful earl and chief of the ancient Celtic Clan Lennox.
As they grew older, the earl's eldest sons, Breac and Ronaln, began to leave the island to accompany their father as he groomed his heir, Breac, Master of Lennox, to follow him as the 19th Earl of Errick and Mains, and prepared Ronaln to be the man he was meant to be.
As for the earl's daughters, they were safely cocooned in the embrace of the lovely island, where they were free to explore the three-quarter-by-two-mile island, end to end, to their hearts' content - all under the watchful eye of their governess, Aggie Buchanan, and Dermot MacFarlane, who always accompanied them.
And speaking of the earl's daughters, they were, at this very moment, fighting their way through a dense growth of rhododendrons that grew near the remains of a seventh-century monastery founded by the tutelary saint of Paisley, St. Murrin, which was where the island got its name.
A light breeze stirred. Light filtered through the trees nearby. A stag drinking at the lake's edge lifted his head, water dripping from his muzzle. He sniffed the breeze searching for a scent before he turned to climb the bank. When he reached the highest vantage point, he stamped his foot and breathed heavily through flared nostrils.
The stag stamped again, and snorted as he lowered his head to swing his antlers, as if trying to meet some unknown challenge.
Leaves rustled. A twig snapped.
From somewhere within the dappled shadows of the woods laughter rang out, as if the rhododendrons themselves shook with the voice of joy.
Three young girls emerged, as if driven by a March wind. Wearing identical green capes, they ran out of the forest and stopped. One by one, they pushed their hoods back, and the sun drew fire from hair in varying shades of red.
Briana, the youngest, put her hands to her hips, in the same manner as Aggie often did, and called out, "Claire? Claire Lennox, are ye deaf?"
"No," a voice called back. "My hair is caught in the rhododendrons."
"We told ye not to be pushing yer hood back," Kenna said.
"Faith! I am as trussed as the knight what rode the hippogriff behind Atlantes!" Claire called back.
This was followed by such a racket coming from the thicket that Greer glared at her sisters and called out, "Claire, will ye be needin' some help?"
Leaves rustled. "Oof! Ouch! I willna have a hair on me haid if this keeps up. Ooch ...! Aah ... There! I ken I have it now, thank ye kindly."
The leaves parted, and Claire Lennox stepped into the clearing, her dress torn in half a dozen places, while a good portion of the rhododendron bush dangled from the long tendrils of her bright red hair.
Claire had barely joined her sisters when Aggie and Dermot came around the bend in the path, followed by three brindly gray deerhounds, Lord Duffus, MacTavish, and Maddy. The dogs caught the scent of the deer and broke into a run.
The stag was an old one, and wise, for instead of running he turned and leaped into the lake and began to swim toward the western shore. The dogs followed until Dermot called them back.
The dogs returned, and Lord Duffus, who so loved Claire, stopped next to her and sat down. He watched her with a soft look in his dark brown eyes. She smiled and spoke endearingly to him, then put a hand on his flat head and began to scratch her way back to his ears. She could not help smiling at his almost euphoric expression. Was there ever a dog who could turn ear-scratching into a mystical experience, or display a look of such enraptured bliss? Aah, ecstasy. There must be nothing like it.
While Claire was attending to Duffus's need for attention, Aggie had been observing Claire with a critical eye. "Och! Ye are a fright," she said. "'Tis glad I am that yer father is away, with him wanting ye to become a lady 'n all. Have ye forgotten what I said to ye, and how a lass must think o' herself as a flower? Ye with yer fair skin and red hair -'tis yer mother's Celtic bluid showing, ye ken, and ye must have a care for yer complexion." She stepped back and looked Claire over, as if wanting to make certain she did not miss something. "Tsk-tsk-tsk ..." "Tis no fine example ye be setting for yer sisters. To think that such affected tricks should flourish in the earl's eldest daughter. Why, just look at ye. How am I to teach ye the refinements when ye look like ye have been wallowing with the pigs? What have ye been into, lass?"
Excerpted from Let Me Be Your Hero by Elaine Coffman Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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