Embrace the Dawn

Embrace the Dawn

by Kathleen Morgan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414313665
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 11/01/2007
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.56(w) x 8.24(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

Embrace the Dawn

By Kathleen Morgan

Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Kathleen Morgan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0842340971

Chapter One

Central Highlands, Scotland


Outside the old fortified castle a fierce storm raged.

Sheets of water pelted the long, leaded windows. Flashes of lightning illuminated the curtain of darkness, revealing glimpses of wind-swept trees and sodden landscape. Blasts of frigid air seeped through crumbling chinks in the ancient edifice, intensifying the stone-damp chill.

A spray of gooseflesh tightened the skin of Killian Campbell's lower arms. She clasped them more tightly to her, crushing the black velvet bodice of her gown, and shivered. Quickening her pace, she drew alongside Adam Campbell.

The laird of Castle Achallader glanced over as he led her up the winding stone staircase, a wry grin teasing the corners of his mouth. "A bit cool for yer blood tonight, is it, lass? Bear with it a moment more and we'll be in the library. The fire burning there will warm ye."

She smiled back at him. Dressed in a fine, white, lace-trimmed shirt and a blue-and-green plaid-which was little more than a length of tartan fabric gathered into a skirt, belted, and the rest slung across his shoulder and fastened with a large, silver brooch-the handsome, raven-haired man had been more than kind this evening. At Killian's express request, he hadwillingly slipped away from hosting a grand ball to personally escort her to the library.

"You'd think," she said, "after all these months in Scotland I'd have grown used to the dampness."

Adam chuckled. "Ye don't grow so much used to it as learn to ignore it. And even that takes years of living with the wind and rain. A mere six months here, after the warmth of yer home in the Colonies, are but a wee taste of things to come."

Killian gripped the oak balustrade. The time-smoothed wood felt solid, substantial, and even strangely comforting. Far more solid than the seven years of marriage she had worked so hard to save and now realized was beyond salvaging. Far more comforting than this strange, savage land her husband had insisted on dragging her and their son to in the hopes of mending their crumbling marriage. And certainly far more substantial than her self-confidence, battered from years of Alexander's extreme possessiveness, a possessiveness that had gradually disintegrated into constant suspicion and periodic beatings.

She sighed, casting the pointless regrets aside. She was, after all, her husband's property. Few would sympathize, much less care, and especially none of these brutish Highlanders.

"I don't know if I could ever adapt to this climate. Though it is similar to where I grew up as a child in Massachusetts, I'm afraid I've long ago come to love the warmth of Alexander's and my home in Virginia."

"Aye, lass." Adam paused at the head of the stairs, swung open the door before them, then motioned her forward. "I can well understand."

Killian stepped inside. The library was dimly lit, the fire blazing in the huge stone fireplace the only source of light. She glanced around, her perception one of shadowy furniture and stale air, tinged with the pungent scent of woodsmoke. Adam closed the door, then strode to two high-backed, heavily scrolled walnut armchairs with red-and-blue-brocaded, upholstered seats set before the hearth.

"Would ye care to sit?" He indicated a chair. "Rest yer bones a bit?"

"No, thank you. I'd rather stand."

Killian walked to one set of tall, dark walnut shelves covering three walls of the room. All were filled with books, many with the thick leather bindings and gilt overlay of volumes dearly bought.

Tentatively, reverently, she touched them, running her fingers down the spines of several finely wrought tomes. The raised leather-work felt opulent; the feel of fine craftsmanship sent ripples of appreciative awareness coursing through her.

She pulled a volume from its niche on the shelf, turning it to cradle the spine in the curve of her palm. She thumbed through the pages, admiring the elegant print, the occasional hand-drawn illustration. Here and there a word caught her eye, then a phrase, a paragraph.

Killian closed the volume and replaced it on the shelf. For one last, lingering moment her fingers traced the line of books, savoring their texture, their haunting promise of secrets untold-and the brief respite they seemed to offer from the brutal reality that was now her life.

Then she turned back to Adam. "I want to thank you for coming up here with me. I know you're Alexander's cousin-however distant-but at this moment you're the closest thing I have to kin." She smiled ruefully. "Especially now, so far from home."

He said nothing, eyeing her with quiet intensity.

"It's ... it's about Alexander," Killian forced herself to continue. "I think it's best I take Gavin and return home ... back to Virginia ... without him."

Adam's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "But Alexander announced this verra night ye all, yer son included, were staying with us until spring. I dinna understand."

She wet her lips, considering then discarding myriad ways in which to broach this delicate subject. How did one explain that one's husband-a man she had once adored and would've done anything to please-had become a monster? Indeed, who'd believe it of the affable, generous Alexander Campbell? Only his wife and son ever saw his dark side.

"My marriage to Alexander is over, Adam." As if the failure was all hers, Killian blushed furiously. After the years of insults and degradation, she almost believed it herself. Almost.

"This trip to Scotland was Alexander's idea. I'd no say in the matter. But this isn't-and never will be-my home. With or without Alexander, I mean to leave."

"So, ye came all the way to the Highlands because yer husband wished it, did ye? Yet what could ye possibly find here that'd mend it better than yer fine life on yer tobacco plantation in Virginia?"

Though she knew she shouldn't let it, Adam's skeptical query stung. "He claimed a visit back to his home and blood kin would help him set his mind aright."

"And ye, being the devoted wife that ye are, were willing to give him even that." Adam stroked his chin in thought. "What do ye want of me, lass?"

Her pulse quickening, she met his somber gaze. "A loan. A loan to cover the expense of obtaining passage back home."

"And how will ye repay me? Yer husband's tobacco plantation is held in his name, is it not? Do ye mean to hurry home and try to sell it behind his back?"

"No." Fiercely, Killian denied his accusation. "I can legally put claim to my dowry. I'll pay you out of that."

"And then what will ye do?"

She glanced toward the leaded window overlooking the huge forest only yards from Achallader's outer wall. Outside, the heavens continued to weep, the darkness punctuated by abrupt flashes of lightning. Funny how the weather mirrored her life of late. The sky poured out its sorrow, interspersed with bouts of frustrated, if impotent, anger.

"I don't know." The prospects for a divorced woman were dismal. Just not quite as dismal as her life as Alexander's wife. "Go home to my aunt and uncle, if they'll have me, I suppose. My uncle's shipping business is thriving. He may well need another clerk."

Killian turned back to Adam. "Before I wed Alexander, I kept all my uncle's books and was quite adept at it. Even after all these years, his letters still assure me he has yet to find another clerk as exacting as I."

Adam rose from his chair and walked over to stare into the fire. After a long moment, he looked up at her. "I feel for yer plight, lass. Truly I do. But Alexander's a fine, braw lad, and what ye ask of me goes against my sense of kinship with him. Mayhap ye don't understand how deeply a Highlander's-"

"I've an inkling, thank you." In spite of her best efforts to hide her disappointment, Killian knew there was an edge to her voice.

As courteously as possible, Adam had just refused to help her. She wasn't surprised. He was Alexander's blood kin, after all. Yet, without Adam's help, what was she to do?

From some place far away, a passing roll of thunder muted the pounding clamor of her heart. In one, dizzying rush all her tightly strung control, all her remaining strength, fled. Killian's knees buckled. She grasped frantically at the chair.

"Are ye all right, lass?" A look of concern tautened Adam's chiseled features. "Ye're white as a ghost. Do ye need to sit for a spell?"

"N-no, that won't be necessary." With an impassioned shake of her head, Killian flung the unsettling sensations aside. "I-I'm fine. All I need is some food. I was so worried and overwrought today, wondering how to approach you about my problem, that I haven't had much appetite." She managed a weak smile. "That's all it is. Just a little light-headedness."

Adam grasped her elbow to steady her. "Then a bit of hearty Scots food is what ye're needing. Ye're such a wee slip of a thing to go without eating all day. It's no surprise ye're so unwell." He tugged gently on her arm. "Come, we both should be returning to the Lion's Hall and the ball."

The big Highlander had been her one chance of help. Killian dragged in a deep, steadying breath. Surely, though, another opportunity would eventually come her way. In the meantime, all she had to do was not provoke her husband's violent temper and avoid him as much as possible whenever he became intoxicated. All she had to do was stay alive.

"Ah, yes, the ball." She met Adam's gaze, her pride refusing to allow her to weep or beg. "I've been selfish keeping you so long from your other guests. I beg pardon."

"Och, it was a pleasure, and no mistake. How often does one get the chance to have a bonny lassie all to oneself?"

"The pleasure was all mine."

A flicker of guilt, regret even, passed across Adam's face. He offered her his arm. "Shall we go?"

"Yes." She accepted his arm, then hesitated. "One thing more, if you please."

"Aye, lass?"

"If I could impose on you not to mention our little talk to my husband ... well, I'd be most grateful."

Adam nodded. "It's best, I think, I not involve myself in yer marital difficulties. In any way, if ye get my meaning?"

She dragged in a relieved breath. "Thank you. Thank you ever so much."

"Come along, then. I wouldn't want ye missing the bagpipes at midnight," he said as he began to lead Killian from the room. "I found some sheet music that must have been hidden away for years. One song's particularly lovely and addresses some daft old prophecy about Glencoe. It's called 'Glen of Weeping,' and the pipers will be playing it...."

The sound of laughter and happy voices engulfed them as they headed down the stairs and entered the lavishly decorated Lion's Hall. In spite of the gaiety, Killian felt removed, distant-as if she were viewing the scene from afar. Adam deposited her at a long table laden with food, filled her a plate, then grinned apologetically, mumbling something about other guests.

She turned numbly to her food. The meat and vegetables swam before her until they resembled a churning mass of color. Killian felt ill.

Quickly setting the plate aside, she hurried to the punch bowl. With trembling hands, she ladled herself a cupful of mulled cider. Its sweet, spice-scented aroma steadied her. She inhaled deeply.

The cup was warm in her hands. Killian clasped it to her. This was reality. This room, these people, this drink. The future-a future that held only two choices: continued suffering or escape-didn't matter tonight. On the morrow she'd face the dilemma anew, but not tonight.

She sipped the steaming cider carefully, praying its tart sweetness would soothe her stomach. Try as she might, though, she could barely taste it.

A hand settled suddenly around her arm, squeezing hard. Killian jumped. The cider sloshed over the sides of her cup, drenching her hand with its sticky sweetness.

"And where have ye been the past hour?" her husband, bending close, asked. "The dancing has begun-" he made a sharp, sweeping gesture- "and several folk commented on yer conspicuous absence."

Killian followed the direction of Alexander's hand. The hall was jammed with people. Some moved to the gay twanging of fiddle music floating down from the minstrel's gallery overlooking the room. Others stood about in groups, laughing and talking.

Alexander tugged on her arm. "Come along. I've told several of the nobles, the notable Sir John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, and Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon among them, all about my lovely young wife. If we don't hurry, they'll begin to wonder if ye're not avoiding them."

"No. Please, not now."

Killian dug in her heels. As unwise as it might ultimately be to refuse her husband, to be paraded tonight before strange men like some prize mare was more than she could endure.

"In a little while, perhaps," she pleaded. "I don't feel up to meeting anyone just now."

His eyes narrowed. "Are ye ill, then?"

"No. I'm fine. Just fine."

A muscle began to tick near Alexander's left cheekbone. "Have it yer way. Compose yerself, then come to me. Don't tarry overlong, though, or I won't be happy."

With that he strode off, disappearing in the press of bodies. Besides his voluminous belted plaid, Alexander, like many of the other men there, sported weaponry at even as innocuous an event as a ball. In addition to the ceremonial smallsword, he wore a small dagger known as a sgian dubh shoved into his knee-high stockings, and a flintlock pistol slipped in the back of his belt. But then Alexander had always possessed a fascination with weapons-a fascination, Killian now realized, shared by many others of his clan.

It seemed an integral part of the Scottish and, particularly, the Highland heritage. A heritage she had foolishly married into when, as an idealistic, overly romantic girl of seventeen, she had allowed the dashing and already tobacco-wealthy Alexander Campbell to sweep her off her feet.

But then, after the loss of her parents at an early age, and life with her father's dour brother and equally dreary wife, Alexander didn't have to press very hard to win Killian's consent. Killian had long dreamt of a happier life. Alexander Campbell seemed to promise that in every way.

If only she had known then of the fierce emotions and single-minded devotion of the Scots. Of their simple, direct way of dealing with anger and frustration, utilizing savage methods that usually culminated in violence and, frequently, even death.

She'd had more than her fill of Scottish ways just living with her husband. The increasingly brutal tactics he used to control and intimidate had only grown worse over the years.


Excerpted from Embrace the Dawn by Kathleen Morgan Copyright © 2002 by Kathleen Morgan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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