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By Gabriel, Sarah
Avon BooksISBN: 0060736097
Love makes its own magic.
Inscription on the Fairy Cup of Duncrieff
Connor MacPherson heard their approach long before they appeared. Thick fog and darkness obscured the glen and the hills, and sounds were distorted. But the jangle of bridles, the creak of leather, the thud of hoofbeats on the old drover's track signaled the approach of the escort party.
His heart slammed suddenly, the long wait over. His left hand clenched the basket hilt of his sheathed sword. Katherine Sophia MacCarran -- Kate -- would soon be his bride, snatched away without warning, married swiftly. The marriage must be made this way, whether either of them wanted it. The folded paper tucked inside his shirt contained her name and his, a note signed by her brother, laird of Duncrieff and chief of Clan Carran.
He would honor Duncrieff's request. After all, Connor had caused the MacCarran to be captured and imprisoned -- and rumor now said that he had died a few days ago.
The pain of that cut deeper than he wanted to admit.
Striding ahead, footsteps silently crushing brown grass and old heather, he glanced back at his two companions, who followed like graceless bears. Their belted plaids, pale shirts, and faces were blurred in the shadows and mist, but he saw the gleam of pistols and swords. Weapons were illegal for Highlanders to carrynow. He and his men carried them nonetheless.
Slipping behind the shelter of a cluster of tall, ancient stones, Connor waited for his comrades. He bent to pick up the folded extra plaid that he had earlier stored in this same spot in anticipation of this night's work. Tucking the tartan cloth into the pocket formed by the folds of his own plaid, he turned.
"All is set?" he murmured in Gaelic.
"The ropes are in place," his ghillie, Neill Murray, replied. "And the priest is waiting at the old chapel in the hills."
Connor MacPherson nodded, watching as ghostly veils moved over the glen. Poised to spring like a wild cat, he could not even see his prey. He scowled, placed a hand on cool stone.
"This is a mere prank," his cousin, Andrew MacPherson, said. "We can do worse."
"No worse," Connor said. "We're inviting trouble enough."
"There are other ways to get a bride," Neill growled.
"None so fast as this," Connor replied quietly.
The chink and creak of saddles and the thud of hooves sounded closer now. As the milky veils drifted apart, he saw the ribbon of the drover's track for only a moment.
But he knew the course of the moorland road like his own hand, knew the placement of the two burns that poured down from the mountains to cross the moor. Even in obscuring mist he could gauge just where those bridges were, and how long it would take the escort to reach them.
"Horses," Neill murmured as the sound grew louder. "Two Highlanders on foot and two dragoons escorted the lass and her maid when they left the magistrate's house."
"Aye," Andrew confirmed. "We saw them earlier. After they dined there, Sir Henry sent her home with a military escort."
"Courteous of him," Connor drawled. "Sink the men and spare the ladies. Then slip away. If I'm caught for bride-stealing, I'll hang alone."
"We're at your back as always, Kinnoull," Neill said.
Connor ignored the bitter tug in his heart. Kinnoull. He had the title still, but not the property. The fact that Sir Henry Campbell inhabited his house now seared like fire in his belly.
Motioning to his companions, he strode forward cautiously. He would not crouch -- he was too tall a man for it, and too proud. He slipped behind an-other cluster of rocks and tilted his head to listen, hearing wind, water, the approaching escort. He could almost hear the hammer of his own heart.
He could still walk away, he told himself, and escape this madness. Kate MacCarran was a fine, bold lass, and though he had seen her but once, he knew she had fire and spit in her. Her brother had confirmed that she was involved in Jacobite espionage -- she would be a good match for an outlaw, though some might say that Connor MacPherson was no fit husband for a bride.
Foolishness, he told himself. He should not be here. On such a night, he should be sitting beside a fireside with a dram and his fiddle, alone with his music and his lost dreams. But the urge to proceed felt like a deep core hunger within, stronger even than his own unyielding pride.
The escort party came closer. Peering through the fog, Connor could just see the faint shapes of two Highlanders walking, followed by the cloaked women riding, and finally the dragoons mounted behind them.
He did not want a bride -- not yet, not this way. But that note bound him to an ill-omened promise, and he always kept his word. Always, though the man who had exacted this promise from him likely was dead. All the more reason that Connor felt he owed him, and his clan, this favor. Duncrieff had said that the girl must be stolen away and made a bride before others could interfere.
Easing around the cluster of stones, Connor narrowed his eyes. Not far ahead, to either side of the patch of ground where he stood, two burns crossed the glen, spanned by two wooden bridges. Through the fog he could see the escort party coming closer to the first bridge. Continues...
Excerpted from Stealing Sophie by Gabriel, Sarah Excerpted by permission.
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