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England, May 1564
Drizzle, sheer as a bride's veil, laced the air; summer had arrived in the south of England. Basildon Castle, the ancestral home of the earls of Basildon, rose spectacularly out of the mist like a magnificent beast.
Upon one of the castle's tower walks paced a solitary young woman. Her eyes were anxious as she scanned the surrounding countryside, especially the road leading to the castle.
Brigette Edwina Devereux, second daughter of the late Earl of Basildon, searched the road below and saw what she dreaded. A troop of men were riding through the light mist toward Basildon Castle. Toward her! She shivered with apprehension.
"Lo! The bridegroom cometh!" whispered a voice near Brigette's ear. She whirled around and faced her younger sister, Heather.
"Once I'm wed," Brigette countered, "the queen's eyes will turn on you. Then you, obnoxious brat, will be wearing my slippers."
"As did our sister! When Kathryn was forced to wed the Irishman, you were less than kind." Heather smirked. "Now you'll wed and bed a savage from the north."
"One day Iain MacArthur will be the Earl of Dunridge and I will be his countess," Brigette returned, sounding more confident than she felt. "He's no rebel."
"He's worse than a rebel," Heather spat, then shuddered delicately. "Rebels kill for freedom. Highlanders kill for pleasure!"
"Liar!" Brigette screeched. "Freckle-face liar!"
The insult hit its mark. Heather shrieked in rage, but as her hand shot out to slap her sister, she was grabbed from behind.
"Let me go!" Heather screamed, struggling against her cousin, Spring. "Loose me, youbastard!"
Brigette gasped at her sister's words and Spring's hands dropped away instantly. Surprised, Heather faced her cousin and was ashamed when she saw the hurt in the other girl's eyes.
"Yes, my lady," Spring said coldly. "I'm only your base-born cousin. Lady Brigette's tirewoman."
"I'm sorry. I did not mean ... "
"The countess sent me to get you," Spring interrupted, looking at Brigette. "Your betrothed has arrived."
The three young women peered curiously over the battlement. Sir Henry Bagenal, Louise Devereux, and the young earl, Richard, stood in the courtyard to greet the Scotsman. Tall and well built, he shook Richard's hand first and nodded deferentially, then greeted Sir Henry. Finally, he bowed low over the dowager countess's hand.
"That must be Iain," Brigette whispered.
"The queen has done well by you, Brie," Spring commented.
"Richard is enjoying himself," Heather remarked. "He'll be furious that Lord MacArthur did not prostrate himself before the renowned Earl of Basildon."
Spring chuckled, but Brigette continued to stare silently at the man who was to be her husband. Heather and Spring looked at her and then each other.
"For once her tongue is still," Heather quipped.
Brigette turned then, a satisfied smile upon her face. "It's time I met my handsome Highlander." She left the tower walk at a dignified pace and then raced down the stairs until she reached ground level. After taking several deep breaths, she stepped outside.
Petite and graceful, Brigette was the picture of fragile femininity as all eyes followed her across the courtyard. Her expression was sweet and her large green eyes, sparkling with excitement, were shyly downcast. A few tendrils of hair, wild wisps of copper silk, had escaped her braids and warred with her image of passive innocence.
Irresistibly drawn, Brigette approached her betrothed without bothering to greet her family or Sir Henry. Her eyes traveled slowly up the Scotsman's body and met his interested stare.
He was tall and slim, but solidly built, his broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist and hips. His hair was light brown and his eyes were blue, containing a hint of amusement. Silently, Brigette thanked the fates for sending her a young and handsome husband.
Suddenly aware that she was staring, an embarrassed blush stained Brigette's cheeks. She smiled and curtsyed, then extended her hand. "Lord MacArthur, I am Lady Brigette."
"Lady Brigette," the Scotsman said, taking hold of her hand. "This misty courtyard has brightened immeasurably with your arrival."
Sir Henry cleared his throat. "Brie, this is Lord Percy MacArthur, your betrothed's brother."
"Oh!" Brigette yanked her hand back. Percy smiled and Brigette, crimson with embarrassment, glanced around the courtyard. "Lord Iain?"
"My brother is still in Scotland." Percy frowned at her bewildered expression. Damn his brother!
"Lord Iain was unable to make the trip," Sir Henry explained, "but sent Lord Percy in his stead."
"I'm to wed Lord Percy?" Brigette asked loudly. Percy chuckled and pockets of laughter erupted from his men-at-arms. The dowager countess shook her head in disapproval, and the young earl, Richard, wore a pained expression.
"To my infinite sorrow yer to wed Iain," Percy said.
"Brie, my dear," Madame Devereux intervened, "Lord Percy will stand as proxy for his brother."
"Proxy?!" Brigette shrieked, shocked and insulted. "No! I'll not wed the heathen by proxy!" Her gleaming green eyes met Percy's, daring him to challenge her words. "There will be no marriage!"
"Brigette!" Madame Devereux cried.
"The queen has commanded that you wed Lord Iain immediately," Sir Henry interjected.
"Let her marry him!" Brigette snapped, and Percy burst out laughing.
"Brie!" Richard entered the fray. "I am the Earl of Basildon and your liege lord. You will marry Iain MacArthur and keep your mouth shut!"
"The hell I will!" Turning her back, Brigette stalked away.
"You'll do as I say," Richard shouted, shaking his fist in the air, "or I'll cast you into the meanest dungeon!"
Brigette's pace quickened. Englishmen and Scotsmen alike valiantly smothered their mirth at the sight of the twelve-year-old earl demanding to be obeyed. Watching Brigette retreat, Percy was tickled to think Dunridge's future countess was an English lady with a Highland temper. How surprised Iain would be!
Brigette's expression was sullen as she walked toward the great hall that evening. She had spent the afternoon in her chamber, but not alone. The dowager countess had been Brigette's first visitor and had given her a terrible tongue-lashing. Brigette's behavior was unbecoming a lady and unacceptable from the daughter of an earl. Where were Brigette's pride and honor? Madame Devereux demanded that the Brigette at supper be a completely different young lady from the one who'd made such a spectacle of herself in the courtyard.
Later, Heather and Spring had skulked in and commiserated with her. Spring advised Brigette to speak with Lord Percy and learn what prevented Lord Iain from attending his own wedding. Heather took the practical approach. As she saw it, Brigette had two choices. She could marry Lord Iain or enter a French convent. Neither choice held much appeal.
"Bring no further disgrace upon our family," the dowager countess ordered sternly, intercepting her daughter at the entrance to the great hall.
"Keep a civil tongue in your head, sister," Richard whispered as she passed his seat at the high table.
Brigette ignored him.
Lord Percy rose, smiling, as Brigette moved to her place between Sir Henry and him. Sheepishly, she returned his smile.
"I'm sorry for my earlier behavior," Brigette apologized as supper's first course, leg of mutton stuffed with garlic and shoulder of veal, was served.
"There's nae need," Percy assured her. "Marriage is distressin' and -- "
"Distressing?" Brigette's voice rose with anxiety.
"I dinna mean bein' wed, but gettin' wed."
"Oh." Brigette flushed. "I realize you are not your brother's keeper," she said pleasantly, "and so may not be blamed for his ignorance."
Percy nearly choked on his food and wished Iain could hear his betrothed's insults.
"I mean -- "
"I ken yer meanin'," Percy interrupted.
"You've a strange accent," Brigette remarked, purposely changing the subject.
"Yer wrong," he teased. "Yer the one wi' the accent."
Brigette smiled and relaxed, pleased with Percy's wit. "Tell me about your home, my lord. I've never been anywhere but Essex."
"It's a land of lonely majesty," Percy began, a faraway look entering his eyes, "wi' white-capped peaks and lush green glens and sparklin' blue lochs." His eyes focused on Brigette's awe-struck expression and he smiled. "That's why a Highlander always goes home, Lady Brigette."
"It sounds lovely, but I would know more."
"Dunridge Castle will be yer home -- if ye wed my brother -- and is situated on the shore of Loch Awe in the Shire of Argyll," Percy told her. "On the opposite side of the loch is Inverary, which is the seat of the Duke of Argyll, the chief of clan Campbell of which the MacArthurs are part. Now that our bonnie Queen Mary is returned from France, the duke -- "
"Have you met the queen?" Brigette asked, her green eyes large with expectation.
"When there's a need, Black Jack or Iain travels to Edinburgh."
"My father. Ye know, this is my verra first journey to England," Percy continued. "I'd love to see yer brother's lands. Would ye care to ride wi' me in the mornin'?"
"Yes, but only if you'll call me Brie -- all my friends do."
"Brie?" Percy chuckled. "Like the cheese?"
The Scotsman's wit tickled Brigette and she burst out laughing, a melodious sound that drew the interested gaze of the great hall's occupants. Apparently, Lady Brigette's good humor was restored. The men from the north cast each other knowing glances. If Percy could so easily charm the temperamental lady, then Iain would have no problem taming her.
"Summer is here," Brigette announced as Percy and she rode out of Basildon the following morning.
"How can ye tell?"
"The air is warmer, the mist finer, and the trees are a tad greener than yesterday."
Percy smiled. "If ye like England's climate," he returned, "ye'll love Scotland's. It's colder and wetter and a bit greener in summer."
"I detest the rain and the cold." Brigette was irritated by the reminder of her marriage.
"And green?" he mocked gently.
Brigette's eyes darted to Percy, who was grinning at her, and she was unable to suppress a smile. He had been kind to her. Brigette was sorry she'd snapped at him. "I apologize for -- "
"Nae offense taken, Brie. Dealin' wi' great changes in yer life -- such as weddin' a foreigner -- can be difficult."
"I've no choice in the matter."
"Brie! Brie!" Over a small knoll of green came the young Earl of Basildon, riding hard. "Whatever are you thinking of, Brie, to ride unchaperoned?" Richard turned on his sister when he reached them. "It's not fitting, and Mother is furious!"
"The lass was safe wi' me."
"Oh!" Richard looked stricken. "I -- I did not mean ..."
Percy burst out laughing. "Ye English have a charmin' habit of apologizin' for what ye didna' mean. Let's ride together a bit," he suggested, "before Brie returns to prepare for her nuptials."
Expecting a protest, Richard glanced at his sister, but she said nothing. The three rode in companionable silence for a time and enjoyed the green lushness of the land.
"How long has this land been in the Devereux family?" Percy broke the silence.
"Basildon has been ours since my great-grandfather came from Wales with the Tudor," Richard answered.
"That's the queen's grandfather," Brigette added. "As a reward for his loyalty and service to the Tudor, our great-grandfather was given our great-grandmother, the heiress of all you see."
"We're distant cousins of the queen," Richard interjected proudly.
"But yer mother is French?"
"Yes," Richard answered. "Father was in France on King Henry's business and married Mother -- "
"Without the king's permission," Brigette interrupted.
Percy smiled, thinking the children were molded from the father, who had obviously been willful himself.
"But the king was forgiving of his favorite fourth cousin," Richard continued, "and so here we are."
"Three years ago Father was killed by poachers and we became wards of the queen," Brigette said. "I suppose you also have poachers and such in Scotland?"
"In the Highlands," Percy told them, "one clan raids another -- for fun and profit, ye might say."
"Fun!" Brigette recalled Heather's dire words and trembled.
"That's why Iain remained in Scotland." Percy glanced at Brigette. "Murdac Menzies has been raidin' MacArthur territory. Black Jack was called to Edinburgh and needed Iain to supervise Dunridge's defenses. Spring, summer, and autumn are our raidin' seasons."
"Then Highlanders do kill for pleasure?" Brigette was unable to bite back the question.
Percy looked at her sharply, but his voice was gentle when he spoke. "Nae sane mon kills for pleasure, lass, nor does he cause pain where there need be none. I hope ye willna' be holdin' Iain's absence against him."
Brigette squirmed in her saddle, then blurted out, "Why didn't you remain at Dunridge instead of Iain?"
"I think we should return now, or ye'll be late for yer own weddin'," Percy suggested, ignoring her question. Percy was not about to admit to his future sister-in-law that his father and brother considered him a happy-go-lucky blockhead and refused to place Dunridge's defenses in his hands.
Afternoon raced toward dusk, and the shadows in the earl's study lengthened. Sir Henry, Percy, and Father Dowd stood in front of the hearth and chatted while Richard and Heather paced the chamber like caged animals. Occasionally, Sir Henry's eyes drifted to the dowager countess, whose own eyes drifted anxiously to the door. Brigette was late for the ceremony that would bind her to Iain MacArthur.
Humph! Madame Devereux thought. It was not the kind of wedding an earl's daughter should have. Curse Iain MacArthur! And while the Lord was at it, He might as well damn the queen, who'd made the unlikely match in the first place and insisted the marriage take place immediately.
Since the marriage was by proxy, the dowager countess had dispensed with all the fanfare, including the chapel service. Brigette was a faithful Catholic, but she'd already been humiliated by the groom's absence. The countess knew her daughter's pride could bear no more insult.
"Where is she?" Richard snarled, annoyed to be kept waiting.
"It's the bride's prerogative to be late," Percy said, glancing at the pacing boy.
"My God!" Heather cried, with a horrified expression. She stepped away from the door and Brigette entered, making six mouths drop in amazement.
The bride was dressed in black, one of her mother's mourning gowns having been appropriated. Her copper hair was parted in the middle, pulled back severely into a tight knot at the nape of her neck and covered with a black veil. She might be forced to wed the ignorant Scotsman, but all would know she went unwillingly into that blissful state of matrimony.
Brigette paused inside the doorway for effect. Her flashing green eyes were alive with defiance, challenging all to censor her attire.
"Brigette Edwina Devereux!" the countess shrieked, scandalized.
"Shall I appear the radiant bride for an absent groom?"
Richard stepped forward, intending to order his sister back upstairs, but Percy placed a restraining hand on his arm. It was better to let the lass vent her anger before she met her husband. Iain was a good man, but unlikely to be amused by his bride's antics.
Surveying Brigette's attire from head to toe, Percy crossed the chamber. His shoulders trembled with the effort to hold back his laughter. His eyes met hers; she was ready to do battle. Sobering, Percy offered his hand and an encouraging smile. Brigette hesitated, surprised by his lack of anger, and then placed her hand in his. They walked across the chamber to Father Dowd.
The old priest looked Brigette up and down as if she'd suddenly turned purple. He shook his head and silently thanked the Lord for his vow of celibacy. The ceremony began.
When the moment came to speak her vows, Brigette hesitated, unable to find her voice through her constricting throat. She glanced at her mother, whose expression was stern, and then at Sir Henry, who looked away in embarrassment. She cleared her throat. As Brigette whispered the words binding her to Iain MacArthur, a feeling of helplessness descended upon her. Now she was at the heathen's mercy!
The final words were spoken. Sir Henry led Percy and Brigette to the desk across the chamber to sign the necessary documents. In the name of the queen, Sir Henry signed first, then passed the quill to Percy, who signed with a flourish in the name of Iain MacArthur. Brigette stared dumbly at the quill when Percy held it out to her.
The dowager countess opened her mouth to scold, but Percy placed the quill in Brigette's hand and gestured to the marriage documents. Accepting her fate, Brigette signed with a bold flourish. She was Lady MacArthur now, for better or worse.
The dowager countess instantly grabbed her daughter's arm and steered her toward the door, saying, "I'm certain you'll want to change your lovely gown before supper, my dear."
Reading the warning in her mother's eyes, Brigette nodded and left. As she crossed the foyer, a peal of masculine laughter rang out, Percy's tight control having broken.
Copyright © 1991 by Patricia H. Grasso
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book seemed to go on forever, and not in a good way. Waste of time and money. There are some good chapters in this book and the plot was decent just not something that captured my interest
You must read this i bought it and read it in one day a wonderful story you will laugh and cry mostly laugh
Enjoyed the first book I read by Patricia Grasso, entitled Marrying The Marquis, and really enjoyed this one even more so.