Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
Papa said maybe she needed killing. It was a most unfortunate remark for a father to make in front of his daughters, and Baron Jamison realized his blunder as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He was, of course, immediately made sorry for blurting out his unkind comment.
Three of his four daughters had already taken to heart the foul gossip about Alec Kincaid. They didn't much care for their father's view on the atrocity, either. The baron's twins, Agnes and Alice, wept loudly and, as was their particularly irritating habit, in unison as well, while their usually sweet-tempered sister Mary marched a brisk path around the oblong table in the great hall, where their confused father sat slumped over a goblet of guilt-soothing ale. In between the twins' noisy choruses of outrage, his gentle little Mary interjected one sinful tattle after another she'd heard about the Highland warrior who would be arriving at their home in a paltry week's time.
Mary, deliberately or nay, was stirring the twins into a full lather of snorting and screeching. It was enough to try the patience of the devil himself.
Papa tried to give the Scotsman his full defense. Since he'd never actually met the warrior, or heard anything but ill, unrepeatable rumors about the man's black character, he was therefore forced to make up all his favorable remarks.
And all for naught.
Aye, it was wasted effort on his part, for his daughters weren't paying the least attention to what he was saying. That shouldn't have surprised him, he realized with a grunt and a good belch; his angels never listened to his opinions.
The baron was terribly inept at soothing his daughters when they were in a state, a fact that hadn't particularly bothered him until today. Now however, he felt it most important to gain the upper hand. He didn't want to look the fool in front of his uninvited guests, be they Scots or nay, and fool he'd certainly be called if his daughters continued to ignore his instructions.
After downing a third gulp of ale, the baron summoned up a bit of gumption. He slammed his fist down on the wooden table as an attention-getter, then announced that all this talk about the Scotsman being a murderer was nonsense.
When that statement didn't get any reaction or notice, his irritation got the better of him. All right, then, he decided, if all the gossip turned true, then mayhap the Scotsman's wife had been deserving of the foul deed. It had probably just started out as a proper thrashing, he speculated, and as things had a way of doing, the beating had gotten a wee bit out of hand.
That explanation made perfectly good sense to Baron Jamison. His comments gained him an attentive audience, too, but the incredulous looks on his daughters' faces weren't the result he'd hoped to accomplish. His precious angels stared at him in horror, as if they'd just spotted a giant leech hanging off the tip of his nose. They thought him daft, he suddenly realized. The baron's weak temper exploded full measure then, and he bellowed that the sorry woman had probably sassed her lord back once too often. It was a lesson that his disrespectful daughters would do well to take to heart.
The baron had only meant to put the fear of God and father into his daughters. He knew he'd failed in the extreme when the twins started shouting again. The sound made his head ache. He cupped his hands over his ears to block out the grating noise, then closed his eyes against the hot glare Mary was giving him. The baron actually slumped lower in his chair, until his knobby knees were scraping the floor. His head was bent, his gumption gone, and in desperation, he turned to his faithful servant, Herman, and ordered him to fetch his youngest daughter.
The gray-haired servant looked relieved by the order nodding several times before shuffling out of the room to do his lord's bidding. The baron could have sworn on the Holy Cross that he heard the servant mutter under his breath that it was high time that order was given.
A scant ten minutes elapsed before the baron's namesake walked into the middle of the chaos. Baron Jamison immediately straightened in his chair. After giving Herman a good glare to let him know he'd heard his whispered criticism, he let go of his scowl. And when he turned to watch his youngest, he let out a long sigh of relief.
His Jamie would take charge.
Baron Jamison realized he was smiling now, then admitted to himself that it just wasn't possible to stay sour when his Jamie was near.
She was such a bewitching sight, so pleasing to look upon, in fact, that a man could forget all his worries. Her presence was as commanding as her beauty, too. Jamie had been endowed with her mama's handsome looks. She had long raven-colored hair, violet eyes that reminded her papa of springtime, and skin as flawless and pure as her heart.
Although the baron boasted of loving all his daughters, in secret, Jamie was his pride and joy. It was a most amazing fact, considering he wasn't her true blood father. Jamie's mother was the baron's second wife. She had come to him when she was nearly full term with her daughter. The man who'd fathered Jamie had died in battle, a bare month after wedding and bedding his bride.
The baron had accepted the infant as his own, forbidding anyone to refer to her as his stepdaughter. From the moment he'd first held her in his arms, she had belonged to him.
Jamie was the youngest and the most magnificent of his angels. The twins, and Mary as well, were gifted with a quiet beauty, the kind that grew on a man with time and notice, but his dear little Jamie, with just one look, could fairly knock the wind out of a man. Her smile had been known to nudge a knight clear off his mount, or so her papa liked to exaggerate to his friends.
Yet there was no petty jealousy among his girls. Agnes, Alice, and Mary instinctively turned to their little sister for guidance in all matters of significance. They leaned on her almost as often as their papa did.
Jamie was now the true mistress of their home. Since the day of her mama's burial, his youngest had taken on that burden. She'd proven her value early, and the baron, liking order but having no gift for establishing it, had been most relieved to give Jamie full responsibility.
She never disappointed him. Jamie was such a sensible, untroubling daughter. She never cried, either, not since the day her mama passed on. Agnes and Alice would have done well to learn from their sister's disciplined nature, the baron thought. They tended to cry over just about everything. To his mind, their looks saved them from being completely worthless, but still he pitied the lords who would someday be saddled with his emotional daughters.
The baron worried most for his Mary. Though he never voiced the criticism, he knew she was a might more selfish than was considered fashionable. She put her own wants above those of her sisters. The bigger sin, however, was putting herself above her papa.
Aye, Mary was a worry, and a mischief-maker, too. She liked to plow up trouble just for the sheer joy of it. The baron had a nagging suspicion that Jamie was giving Mary unladylike ideas, but he never dared voice that notion, lest he be proven wrong, and fall from grace in his youngest's eyes.
Copyright © 1989 by Julie Garwood