Bridget MacLeod needs some space from her well-intentioned but overbearing family who
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West Highlands, July, 1817
"Your secret will be safe with me forever."
Bridget MacLeod whispered the words, placed a sprig of rare white heather on her husband's grave, and stood. Her marriage to Brodie Cameron had been comfortable, not passionate. They had understood and respected each other. No one would ever know the truth they had kept shrouded.
She looked around the tidy stone-walled cemetery that held many of her ancestors. Generations of MacLeods had called the medieval castle perched up on the promontory cliff home. Although her brother, Ian, headed the clan, she had run the household. Until now.
Bridget tucked loosened strands of her long red hair behind her ear and smoothed her practical muslin gown. Then she walked through the wooden gate, secured the latch, and started up the hill. She sensed her life was about to change.
"Ye ken ye doona have to go," Ian said the next morning as Bridget set a small valise down by the entryway door next to a packed trunk. "We have plenty of room for ye to stay."
"And I could use help with the babes," Jillian, his wife, added.
"The twins are old enough to help ye now," Bridget replied. "They can keep the bairns out of trouble."
Jillian stopped just short of rolling her eyes. "Caitlin and Caylin are usually the cause of trouble, not the solution."
"Your home has always been here," Ian said.
"I have appreciated the hard work you do," Jillian said. "I hope you know that."
Bridget nodded. When Ian had brought his English wife home two years ago, she had never tried to take over running the household. Instead, they'd easily divided and shared duties. "I ken. Without Brodie, I feel like a ship's sail flapping in the wind."
"Brodie has only been gone five months. Give yourself time," Jillian answered. "We do not want you to leave."
Bridget smiled at both of them. "I truly need a change. Arisaig is only a hard day's ride away. Besides, with our sister finding she is with child, she willnae be able to help Robert much longer in the marine office. I can manage things until she's recovered from childbirth."
"That is months away." Jillian looked thoughtful. "Shauna may want to stay home with her new babe. Do you plan to live there permanently?"
Bridget wasn't sure. Shauna had invited her to come and stay as long as she needed to after Brodie's death from his illness last spring. Bridget just knew she wanted to make a life for herself somewhere.
"Robert willnae want his wife working once there is a family," Ian said.
As if that would make a difference. Shauna was only slightly less stubborn than Bridget. Neither of them took kindly to being told what they could not do.
She heard the carriage wheels crunch on the gravel outside and picked up her valise. She looked around the familiar foyer with its tiled floor. "I want to do this."
Ian sighed and hoisted the trunk onto a shoulder while Jillian hugged her. "I hope you will not be gone too long."
Bridget started to reply just as the fourteen-year-old twins came racing down the hall, nearly knocking over a vase of fresh flowers Jillian had put on a small table.
"We want to come too!" Caitlin shouted.
Caylin held up a satchel. "We're already packed."
"And ye will go right upstairs and unpack," Ian said in a tone that brooked no response, although both twins looked like they were going to argue anyway. Ian glowered at them. "Now, lasses."
Caitlin pouted and Caylin frowned. "But Bridget is leaving."
"She will come back to visit," Jillian said gently.
The twins turned to Bridget, their green eyes hopeful. "Will ye?"
Bridget hated making promises she might not keep. "I will try."
The twins rushed at her so forcefully she might have been bowled over except for the fact they were both clutching her tightly. For a moment, her resolve wavered. She had lived in this redone medieval castle her whole life. Then she hugged the girls back and followed Ian out the door to the waiting carriage.
Ian didn't speak as he strapped the trunk to the back of the coach and came around to open the door for her. Bridget was grateful for that. Sailing the stormy emotional sea of the past five months, she'd kept her feelings tightly sheeted in. Now was not the time to allow herself a weak moment. Instead, she returned Ian's curt nod and waved briefly at Jillian and the twins standing on the steps. Ian closed the door and she heard him give last-minute instructions to the guards that would ride alongside. Then the carriage lurched forward.
Bridget resisted the urge to look out the window one last time. What good would it do? She never cried, and right now, she felt perilously close to doing just that. She cleared her throat, lifted her chin, and folded her hands in her lap. This was Ian and Jillian's home now, a place where they could raise their bairns. Even though they had offered her a place to stay, she did not want to be the equivalent of a dowager aunt. At eight-and-twenty, she was no longer young, but Bridget did not want to grow old relying on Ian's charity.
She needed to take hold of her ship's tiller and steer her own course.
Early afternoon on the second day, the carriage finally reached Arisaig. Bridget would have preferred they just exchange horses at a coaching inn by Loch Morar and continue on, but evidently part of the instructions that Ian had given — which she hadn't heard — were orders for the driver and guards to spend the night at the inn lest brigands or marauders attack them after dark. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to bless Ian for taking precautions or curse him for thinking she was some delicate hothouse flower that needed pampering. Widowhood had not turned her into a whimpering fool.
At least she was here now. A new start to an independent life. Bridget looked out the carriage window as the carriage proceeded down the main street of the village. An open area on one side had a few stalls, indicating where the local market would be. Broken seashells paved the road and crunched beneath the horses hooves as they passed a small stone church with an array of tombstones, some upright and others slanting sideways, on either side of it. Past that, a wood-framed house stood, probably for the parson. A short distance away was the public house that, given its second story, probably also let rooms. A public stable and smithy were farther down the road. Behind those buildings would be the villagers' homes, nestled in the shadows of the rocky Creag Mhor.
As the carriage turned right at the end of the road, Bridget caught a glimpse of the sheltered shore of Loch nan Ceall. An actual Viking longboat bobbed on a mooring not far out. Pretty as it was, did anyone actually use a longboat anymore?
The water seemed so calm compared to the rough waves of Loch Shiel that crashed below her home. Former home, Bridget reminded herself. Still, the familiar scent of salty sea air was comforting. She could also see a small white-washed building set back from the water that probably served as the marine office.
The horses trotted down a narrow, hardened-dirt street with a few sparse trees on one side. They passed several small cottages and a large two-story wood flat home behind high hedges and tangled vines. Three houses later, the carriage rocked to a stop.
This was it then. Her new life awaited her. Bridget took a deep breath as the coachman opened the door. She stepped down and stood for a moment surveying her sister's home. It might be Bridget's new home too, at least for a while. Larger than the cottages, smaller than the house behind the rambling vegetation, Shauna's house sparkled with fresh white paint, green shutters, and varnished front door with a polished brass bell hanging from a bracket beside it. The short walkway was graveled with neatly trimmed lawn on either side. Everything looked shipshape, which wasn't surprising since Robert was a ship's captain and Shauna had a penchant for tidiness.
The coachman brought Bridget out of her reverie as he unloaded the trunk from the rumble seat with a grunt and carried it up the walkway.
"Ye will be spending the night here?" Bridget asked as he returned to the carriage.
The man shook his head and climbed up on the bench. "With the summer light, we can make it back to Lochailort before dark."
Bridget didn't need to ask why. The inn there was the only one within twenty miles and was also a popular spot for sailors coming up the loch. The proprietor kept the place well stocked with whisky and barrels of ale, and Bridget had seen several buxom serving maids when they'd stopped. Since Ian's guards were already waiting down the street for the carriage, arrangements had probably been made last evening for tonight's lodging and subsequent entertainment.
"Safe journey then, and thank ye," she said.
He nodded once and snapped the reins. Bridget watched as he drove away and then walked the short way to the door.
She pulled the rope attached to the clapper and listened to the clang of the bell. The sound seemed lonely on the silent street. She waited for footsteps from within but none came. She frowned slightly. Why did no one answer? Come to think on it, why hadn't someone come out when the carriage stopped? Robert might be at the marine office, but where was Shauna? Bridget pulled the bell rope again, a little harder this time.
"No one is home."
Bridget turned at the sound of the man's voice and then stifled a gasp. Alasdair MacDonald stood at the end of the walk, looking more magnificent than when she'd seen him months ago. He wore tight breeches, knee-high boots, and a leather jerkin with no shirt. With his heavily muscled arms and broad chest tanned deeply from the sun and his long, black hair blowing in the breeze behind him, he looked like a pirate.
She hadn't expected to see Alasdair here since Shauna had written he alternated his time on the Isle of Skye, establishing kelp farming, and Glasgow, helping Robert obtain contracts for the kelp's soda ash used in glassmaking.
His sea-green eyes widened at the sight of her. "What are ye doing here?"
Had Shauna told no one she was coming? Bridget shook her head, confused. "I could ask ye the same question."
Alasdair lifted a black eyebrow. "I live here." He came closer. "Do ye nae remember me?"
She wasn't very likely to forget the man, since she'd mended a gash to his thigh last spring. A wound that had not only warranted exposing the whole of his well-defined, brawny leg, but had also brought her face perilously close to his nether regions when she'd lowered her head to bite the thread she'd used to stitch him. Even now, her stomach fluttered a bit at the memory.
"Aye. I recall ye and your brothers rode back to Glenfinnan with Robert."
Alasdair grinned. "I recall ye tended to my wound."
Lord have mercy. The man had a wicked smile. Bridget hoped she wasn't blushing. She never blushed. And why was she suddenly flustered? She didn't get flustered either. She wasn't some silly school girl. "Ye were attacked by brigands."
His smile vanished. "Or MacLeans."
"They denied it," Bridget said, feeling more like she was on safe ground now talking about her neighbors.
"Denying doesnae mean it be the truth," Alasdair replied. "Owen MacLean dinnae like losing his bride to Robert."
"Shauna was never Owen's intended, despite what he thought," Bridget answered.
Alasdair shrugged. "Facts doona mean anything to some men." He glanced down at her trunk. "Have ye come for a visit?"
"I ..." Bridget hesitated, wondering if she should say she planned to stay. "I felt that I wanted a change from —"
"Ah." Alasdair's expression turned sympathetic. "Robert told me of your husband's passing. I am sorry."
"'Tis hard on a woman to be left alone."
Bridget frowned. She didn't want his pity. "I will be fine."
"I am surprised Ian dinnae insist ye stay with him, but Robert will take care of ye while ye are here."
She felt herself begin to bristle. Why did men think every woman wanted to be taken care of? The reason she'd come here was to establish some independence. Her father — rest his soul — had married her off early for the benefit of two clans. She'd done her duty. Was it so wrong to want to taste freedom? "I doona expect Robert to take care of me."
Alasdair grinned again, making Bridget bristle even more, probably because she didn't want to admit his smile had a decidedly disarming effect, much like the child she'd caught a week ago with a fistful of freshly baked scones and crumbs on his mouth. He'd insisted he was bringing the treats to her. "I can take care of myself."
"I think Shauna has told Robert she dinnae need taking care of either," Alasdair said."
He doesnae listen well."
That was Shauna's problem. Or Robert's. Bridget looked around. "Where are they?"
"What? Why would they be on Skye?"
"Robert wanted to check on one of the kelp farms. Shauna said it would be the last trip she'd be able to make with him before the bairn comes."
"But ... I wrote a letter letting them know when I would be arriving."
Alasdair frowned. "I doona think they got it."
A sinking feeling in Bridget's stomach threatened to fall all the way to her feet, anchoring them to the ground. Now what was she going to do? Her coachman was already gone, and who knew when Robert and Shauna would be back. Bridget worried her lip and then abruptly straightened her shoulders.
"Well, then. I will just stay at their house until they return. I doona think they would mind."
"Nae," Alasdair said and picked up her trunk, hoisted it to one shoulder, and turned to walk away.
"Wait! What do ye mean nae? Do ye think my sister wouldnae let me stay in her home?"
Alasdair stopped. "Aye, she would. Nae, ye willnae."
"What? Ye are nae making sense. And where are ye taking my trunk?" she asked when he started walking again.
"To my house."
"Wait!" Bridget hurried to catch up to him. "There is nae need for that. I can make do quite well until Shauna gets back."
"Ye will be safer at my house. I'll hear nae more of it." Alasdair replied over his shoulder as he continued on down the street.
Bridget stared at his broad, retreating back, tempted to lash out at him, although she suspected it would do not more good than it did with Ian. Bossy, arrogant men. However, this particular overbearing male had all her clothing in that trunk, so she had no recourse but to follow him. She muttered a few choice words under her breath.
Alasdair MacDonald was a complication she didn't need.
He was a damn fool. As he walked toward his house, Alasdair knew he was tempting the Fates by bringing Bridget MacLeod home with him. She wasn't a lost puppy or helpless kitten to be rescued. She wasn't a naïve, young lass either. The woman he remembered from his visit at Glenfinnan had given orders like a general and no one had questioned her, not even her brother. She would have been just fine staying at Robert's house by herself.
No one even locked their doors in Arisaig. There'd been only one possible crime in over a year, and even that had never been proven. He could have opened Robert's door and put her trunk inside. Why hadn't he? Alasdair grimaced. He was a damn fool, that's why.
"Is the trunk too heavy for ye?" Bridget asked as she reached his side and they started up his walkway.
Alasdair frowned at her. Did the lass think him weak? He'd tossed more than one of his brothers over his shoulder following a night of drinking or brawling. None of them, save for the young lads, weighed less than thirteen stone. Alasdair entertained a notion to pick Bridget up with his other arm and carry her as well just to prove his point, but the door to his home opened and his mother appeared on the doorstep.
"Do we have a guest?" she asked.
Bridget shook her head. "Nae —"
"Aye," Alasdair said.
His mother looked at him curiously. "Which is it?"
"A guest," Alasdair answered firmly before Bridget could respond. He bit back a grin as her hazel eyes flashed at him. Her bright red hair glowed like fire, and he suspected it matched her temper at the moment. He liked spirited women. They were usually equally passionate in bed.
He sobered. Bridget had only been widowed a few months. She had come to visit her sister because she needed a change. No doubt she mourned her husband greatly. Brodie Cameron had been a good man. Alasdair didn't need to be thinking of taking the man's grieving widow to his bed.
Although right now, he doubted grieving was on her mind. She looked like she wanted to slap him. Or maybe punch him, since she clenched a fist at her side.
Excerpted from "Rogue of the Moors"
Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Breeding.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was definitely not a historical romance. And as with the other books in the series, it needed a good editing. I am happy this was the last one.