Alistair must choose between giving up his son for Davina, or trying to rescue his wife and keep his son. Does he love Blane enough to fight for him? He loves Davina too much to let her go.
Roy Patillo, Castle Fàrdach’s accountant, and his wife, Ina, participate in Alistair’s and Davina’s wedding. Roy invites the couple to his home for a feast and to spend their wedding night in his guest chamber. The meal is interrupted by a messenger from Fàrdach Castle with the news Lady Maidie Munro is in labor with her bairn and requests the couple’s return to the castle. Maidie is the widow of recently deceased Clan Munro chief, Andrew Dubh Munro.
After the child’s birth, Alistair is called away to pursue reivers of the clan’s cattle. He is gone for several days. Davina stays in prayer for her husband’s safe return. She keeps busy with Maidie’s children and assists in tending the new bairn. On Alistair’s return, the couple spend their wedding night together in the chief’s chamber at Fàrdach Castle.
Bridget, Alistair’s first wife, will not let him call on their son, or allow Blane to visit Alistair at Fàrdach Castle. The chief decides to kidnap his son. Struan Sutherland, Bridget’s husband, has Davina taken in return and held hostage. Struan plans to exchange Davina for Blane. While the child, Alistair’s heir, is under the Sutherland’s control, he has guardianship over the chief’s vast land holdings and Castle of Contullich.
Kidnappers take Davina to a steading first, then a cave high on the braeside of Ben Wyvis. They attempt to go over the mountain into Sutherland territory, but the winter snows slow them down. Davina almost loses her life during the journey.
Alistair pursues the outlaws, but will he rescue his beloved Davina in time?
A Highland Love
“And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.’” Luke 15:9
November, 1519 A.D.
The borrowed beige silk gown with lovely green embroidery clung to her lithe form like a seamstress had spent hours stitching the garment. Her eyes, the color of golden barley in the field, sparkled and danced, while the corners of her rosy mouth turned up in a pleasant smile. Alistair gazed into the face of Davina, his heart bursting with love for the bonnie lass who stood with him before his friend, Maighstir Calum, Dingwall’s priest. She flashed a brilliant smile in return. His heart skipped a beat.
The good priest cleared his throat and repeated the vows for Alistair.
“Aye, I do,” he managed to say.
“Ye must repeat the vows, sir.” Irritation sounded in the cleric’s voice.
Alistair turned away from Davina and addressed his friend. “Would you repeat the vows, Calum?”
“Ye should listen better.”
Alistair nodded his dark head. He dared not look at his bride again, until the ceremony ended. The maighstir droned vows for Davina to repeat. He glanced her way, but she was intent on repeating the words. Finally Calum addressed the couple, pronounced them man and wife, and then told the groom to kiss the bride. Alistair caught Davina against his chest with his free arm until she sighed, then planted his lips atop her soft ones. Her arm embraced his neck when she returned his passion.
After a time, Maighstir Calum cleared his throat.
Alistair raised his head to search Davina’s face. “You’re mine now. I’ll ne’er let you go.”
“Aye, and you’re mine,” she said in return. “I’ll ne’er let you go.”
The hand of his witness, Roy Patillo, touched Alistair’s arm. “Sir, my wife has a dinner arranged for the two of you and Maighstir Calum.” Roy unbound the right hands of the couple from the handkertch holding them together. Before the ceremony, he had made a small cut in the palm of each one’s right palm, then bound the hands together with a kertch, indicating the two are now one.
The solicitor’s wife, Ina, who stood beside Davina, smiled and nodded her approval. “My household servants are preparing a meal and chamber for you and your bride, Sir Alistair.”
“Thank you, kind lady. My wife and I are honored to be your guests. We appreciate your hospitality.” Alistair turned to the cleric then pressed a gold coin into his hand.
With a nod, Calum smiled, made the sign of the cross, and blessed the couple. Alistair took up Davina’s arisaid and placed it around her shoulders, then donned his cloak. He placed her arm through his, escorting her from the kirk. The Patillos and Maighstir Calum followed. Stopping on the kirk’s stone steps, the groom picked up his beautiful bride and carried her to a waiting carriage, the same carriage that had fetched them from the tavern where they had spent the previous night in separate chambers, he remembered.
When seated, Alistair placed a protective arm around Davina’s shoulders. With his free hand, her took her chin then turned those soft rosy lips toward his. He gently pressed his mouth to hers, but passion and desire caused him to intensify the caress. A throat cleared at the carriage door. Alistair turned to see the priest climbing into the carriage, followed by Roy and Ina. The three crowded onto the opposite seat, their knees intertwining with Alistair’s and Davina’s. Ina straightened her skirts and clung to the door so her knees would not bump against Alistair’s. The crowded conditions forced him to removed his arm from his bride’s shoulder and shift his position.
The couple exchanged looks of consternation while the carriage bumped and jiggled down cobbled streets with puddles from melting snow left by the storm from three days ago. They passed several shops, the town hall, and the tavern where they spent last eve. The royal burgh of Dingwall, a Scandinavian word for meeting place, was also the location of the largest castle north of Sterling Castle. Alistair’s distant relative, Hector Munro, resided in the castle as governor of Dingwall. The governorship passed to Hector when Sir Seamus Andrew Munro died and his son, William, chose to remain at Fàrdach as Chief of Clan Munro instead of taking the position as Governor of Dingwall Castle. Hector opposed Alistair’s pardon that Chief Andrew Munro, William’s son, sought.
The carriage stopped in front of a house built of quarried stone and topped with a slate roof. A servant stood beside an open gate in a stone wall surrounding the yard. He rushed to the carriage, opened the door, and helped Ina disembark. He then assisted Roy and then Maighstir Calum. Alistair pushed the servant’s hand aside, reached the ground unassisted, and then turned to lift Davina from the carriage. With his bride in his arms, he moved past the group, through the gate, then crossed the yard to the home’s stone steps. He stopped on the small stoop while the servant rushed forward to open the door. The couple entered Roy’s home. Before putting her feet on the floor, Alistair bent his head and found Davina’s soft lips with his.
Davina moved her head. “You may put me down. The others are waiting to enter.”
Alistair placed her feet on the floor, but kept an arm around her waist as if afraid she would leave his presence. Stepping to one side, he whispered in her ear, “Now that you’re mine, I canna let you go.”
She smiled. “I’ll nae leave you. That you should ken by now.”
“I’m no’ certain of the possibility. You were reluctant to marry me.”
Davina searched his face. A line creased between her clouded eyes. “You doubt my love?”
The brave knight who never lacked for words when necessary had no answer. He did harbor a doubt concerning her love. She had been reluctant to accept his many marriage proposals until last eve at the tavern when a buxom serving lass made advances toward him. Suddenly Davina said they should be married if Maighstir Calum would circumvent the banns. He felt she had come to love him in her own way, so he grabbed her crumbs of affection.
The aroma of cooking food filled the room. Alistair’s stomach made so much noise while the servant took their wraps, an embarrassed flush colored his cheeks.
Davina glanced his way and smiled. “I’m hungry too. We had no time to break the fast this morn. One cup of tea does no’ last long.”
“Aye. ’Tis hardly a drop in my stomach.” He watched while the servant took the wraps from their companions.
Ina beckoned to the couple. “Come. We have a nice meal waiting. I ken you didn’t have much time to break the fast this morn and are famished.” She glanced at her husband. “Roy and I are hungry also. We dressed and left for the kirk in a rush after getting the message from Maighstir Calum.” She glanced at Davina. “You look verra bonnie in my daughter’s green dress. She is just your size and left the garment to be mended when she accidentally ripped a seam on her last visit.”
“Please thank your daughter for me, Madam. She saved me from being wed in traveling trews.”
“I certainly will, Lady Davina. ’Tis our pleasure, hers and mine, to share in your wedding.” Ina nodded toward the next room. “Come, let’s satisfy those empty stomachs.” She smiled at Alistair.
They entered the modest dining hall. A large tapestry of fruit trees and animals covered one wall. The portrait of a hunter dressed in a great plaide of muted colors, holding several rabbits, with two hounds by his side hung over a sideboard covered with platters of food and dishes of relish. A trestle table stood in the middle of the room, dressed with pewter trenchers, cups, and silver spoons. Large cloth kertches lay beside each trencher waiting for the diners to tie them around their necks. Two serving maids stood ready to serve the food. Another attendant who looked to be older than the others and probably the head housekeeper held a pitcher of ale.
Alistair assisted Davina with sitting on the bench, then took a seat beside her. He moved so his leg caressed hers under the table. The others sat across from them. Maids served roast pork and chicken, haggis, beats, turnips, and biscuits. Alistair took a hardy portion of each dish and three fluffy biscuits. Seldom had he been fortunate enough to have biscuits. Bannocks were the staple breads at his table. He noticed Davina took very small portions of each and picked at her food. He worried she may be having second thoughts about their marriage, but when she turned and flashed him a pleasant smile, his concern eased somewhat.
Roy asked a question. Alistair turned his gaze from Davina. “Pardon? I missed your question.”
The host laughed. “Have you been successful in deciphering Andrew’s ledgers? He had a particular way of keeping books that eluded me sometimes.”
“Nae. ’Tis the reason I came for you.” Alistair turned to gaze at Davina. “Then I got distracted.”
The others stopped eating. Roy cleared his throat to keep from laughing. Calum’s wide mouth stretched across his face, and Ina smiled while giving her husband a hard look to tone down his mirth.
Davina’s face flushed under Alistair’s intense brown eyes. His leg rubbing against her under the table made her heart beat a fast, pulsating rhythm, and her throat constrict so eating became difficult. Then his hand came to rest on her knee. This man, now her husband, aroused feelings she had long denied and suppressed. She had been keen on returning to London in the spring and resuming the social life left behind when her English husband, Sir Edward Townsend, died suddenly from a fever. Then this ruggedly handsome knight came into her life. Clan Munro elected him chief when her brother, Andrew Dubh Munro, died and left a son too young to lead. Gavin, her second brother, wished only to live with his lovely wife, Flora, and their family at Leslie Manor. Gavin possessed a restless soul and wanted no clan responsibility except assist Alistair as tanist.
“You’re no’ eating, Lady Davina. Are you no’ hungry?” Alistair asked while searching her face and squeezing her knee.
Looking around the table, she discretely moved his hand from her leg then gave him a piercing look. “I too am distracted,” she whispered.
He grinned. “We’ll soon be done with entertaining, a ghaoil.”
Davina gazed into her husband’s ruggedly handsome face with a battle scar across the left cheek. He resurrected dead emotions deep within her being. She could face staying at Fàrdach Castle through the dreary winter months and give up thoughts of returning to London with him at her side. Her heart filled to almost bursting at the sight of him in the borrowed wedding refinery. Alistair looked every inch the chief of a mighty Highland clan, dressed in a great plaide, secured by a large cairngorm stone on his shoulder, his dark hair glistening in the lamp light, and his dark brown eyes dancing.
Thank you, Lord, for bringing this fine mon into my life. I so need his strength, she silently prayed, then turned away to pick at her food and listen to the others. The topics of conversation did not hold her interest. Her mind drifted to thoughts of the future with Alistair. She would be his wife and companion, managing the everyday affairs of Fàrdach Castle with its many servants and attendants. She thought about Maidie, Andrew’s pregnant widow, who would give birth to her third child at any time. Her brother so wanted to be with his wife during the childbirth, but fate took him into death too soon. Alistair and Gavin would be present to receive the child into their care. The bairn would be well-loved.
A pounding on the front door startled those at the table. Eyes turned to follow the butler as he made his way to the entrance. An excited voice sounded from the portal. The door soon closed and the butler returned to whisper in Roy’s ear. An expression of concern covered the host’s face when the attendant stepped back.
“A messenger from Fàrdach is here with the news that Lady Maidie Munro is now in labor with her bairn. She requests the immediate return of the chief and Lady Davina to the castle,” Roy announced.
Davina and Alistair exchanged glances. He finally spoke with a shake of his head, “My regrets, wife. Our honeymoon has been delayed. We must return to Fàrdach immediately to assist this new life into the world.”
Davina saw the look of disappointment in her husband’s face and heard the regret in his voice. Her own heart filled with dismay over being denied the pleasure of her groom’s company on their wedding night. Duty called, and now she realized duty came first with Alistair.
He rose, then assisted her as the others followed suit. “Come, we must make ready to leave.” Searching her face he said, “I’m sorry, a ghaoil, but we must return to be with Maidie.” He bent to whisper, “Our chamber at Fàrdach is a most fitting place to spend our wedding night.” Alistair turned to Roy. “Will you give the messenger food and allow him to rest before returning to the castle?”
Roy nodded, “Certainly, sir. He is most welcome here.”
“Lady Davina and I will leave immediately. ’Tis a little past noontime now, and we can be within the castle walls by nightfall.” He took Davina’s arm. “We will change into our riding attire if your servant will show us to the chamber.”
They followed the maid to a third floor chamber, the one prepared for their wedding night. She opened the door and held it for the couple. How lovely the small chamber with a warm fire in the blazer, a single wooden armed chair with tapestry cushion, blue damask drapes on the one window and matching bed curtain. A beautiful silk counterpane covered the bed, and a wool rug graced the oak floor. Davina thought she would have loved spending her wedding night here.
When the maid closed the door behind them, Alistair took her into his arms, pressing her close so she could feel his heart beat. “I’m so verra sorry we cannot stay the night in this lovely chamber, but we must be on our way. A bairn will not wait.”
She tilted her head to look into his clouded eyes. “Aye. I understand. We must go to Maidie. I promised Andrew I would be with her at the birth of their child. Maidie needs our support.”
Alistair cupped her chin. “You’re heart is verra kind, my wife, verra kind and thoughtful. I love you dearly.”
His lips found hers and pressed softly then became more intense in his caress. He crushed her to his chest so she could barely breath. They exchanged passionate kisses for a long while. Alistair’s lips left hers to nibble on her ear, then follow the line of her neck to her shoulder.
She pushed away. “We must change to our riding garments and leave if we expect to reach Fàrdach before dark.”
His hands dropped to his side. A look of disappointment covered his face. “Make haste then.”
They changed clothing, donning the garments they had worn to Dingwall—Davina in trews, stockings, leather boots and jacket over a linen leine then all covered with a fur-lined arisaid; Alistair in a leine, wool jacket, riding trews, stockings and leathers boots. They folded the borrowed wedding garments and left them on the bed. Davina looked around the chamber one last time, regretting the way her wedding day ended.
Before opening the door, Alistair turned to Davina then wrapped his strong arms around her, tucking her head under his chin. “I so regret the ending to our wedding day. We should have been married in the chapel at Fàrdach Castle and spent a proper wedding night in our chamber there.”
His gentleness caused tears to sting her eyes. “We’re married now, and will be together forever. We’ll have a fine honeymoon, mayhap no’ tonight, but soon. I’m thinking of a secluded place on the banks of River Alness further into the Highlands.”
“Are you thinking of the hunters’ steading north of Drumainn?” His hand stroked her hair.
“Aye. I haven’t seen the site in many winters, but Andrew took me there once. ’Tis a beautiful place, and very private.” She backed away to look into his eyes now pooling with emotion. “We’ll go without telling where, except for Gavin in case he needs us.”
“’Tis a great plan, lady wife. I’ll have you to myself.” Alistair gazed at her lips then pressed them with a passionate kiss.
Roy Patillo and Ina met them in the parlor, both dressed in traveling clothes. “We’re going with you. Ina is a fine midwife and knows much about birthing. Isn’t the bairn arriving early?”
“Aye. Maidie expected the babe around Yuletide.” The thought of Maidie loosing Andrew’s child caused Davina’s heart to race. The lady had been under a lot of stress during Andrew’s illness and passing. She had never regained the composure so defining of her character.
Teddy, the lad from Fàrdach’s stables who came with the message, met them with horses. Roy had his groom saddle their mounts and his servants provide provisions for the journey. Teddy seemed warmer and eager to return to the castle.
“Teddy, ride ahead. Tell Lady Maidie we’re on our way and bringing Ina Patillo, an accomplished midwife,” Alistair ordered as he assisted Davina in mounting.
The lad spurred his garron into a gallop when he entered the road. Roy helped Ina, then handed her a leather bag that she carefully tied to her saddle. The men mounted, Alistair on his steud, Brody, and Roy on a garron from his stables.
“We’ll return when possible,” Roy told the butler. “If someone inquires of my whereabouts, tell them I’ll be away for awhile and leave a message. We’ll stay with Maidie until Ina is no longer needed. I plan to assist Alistair with Fàrdach’s accounts, and heavens above I have no idea how long that will take.” He turned to Alistair and smiled. The knight only raised his eyebrows in return.
The party departed and quickly urged their horses into a fast trot. Snow banked the road. Mud puddles of melted snow dotted the road. Traveling would not be easy, but they must make the castle before nightfall. The ladies could not spend the night on the open road. A threat of robbers and ne’er-do-wells added to the danger of travel after dark.
Davina felt safe with her husband riding close by. He stayed at her side until the road conditions demanded they ride single file, then he moved in front. Roy placed Ina in back of Davina, then he and a his guard, Jock, brought up the rear. The men kept a lookout for any unusual sound or movement. The sure-footed garrons picked their way through the mud. Alistair’s steud attempted to dance around the puddles, but had no trouble wading through them with his powerful flanks rippling in the effort. Brody’s training and strength would be needed if a fight ensued on the road.
As Davin watched Alistair’s broad back and powerful legs guiding his great steud, a surge of love coursed from her heart to the tip of her toes. Goose bumps rose on her arms. She pondered the change of her life in the last few mios, months, since returning from London. She still missed her friends and social life in the great city, but with this handsome knight at her side, she would become accustomed to the quiet solitude of the bonnie Scottish Highlands. Looking around, she took in the snow covered bens and braes, the great wooded glens now glistening white in feasgar, afternoon, sunlight, and realized her homeland was indeed beautiful. Peace invaded her soul. She laid to rest the great raging battle of her heart between returning to London and staying in the Highlands. The lovely Highlands with Alistair won.