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The Clan MacLaren #5

MacLaren Strong


by Nancy Pennick

MacLaren Strong by Nancy Pennick

“Remember no matter where we are or where we go, we are MacLaren strong.”

For the past ten years, the MacLarens have found peace and prosperity in colonial America. A disturbing letter from Scotland upsets their quiet summer and will affect each family member in a different way. When tragedy strikes Gregor’s Cove, it becomes the catalyst for future heartbreaking events. A surprise visitor arrives at his sister’s door, and Ross realizes his life will never be the same again. He fears for his wife, children and siblings knowing one day soon he will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

 


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Release Date: April 14, 2020
Genre: Historical Romance

~ Pink Satin Romance ~


Excerpt

 

Chapter One

 

June 1728

 

Elizabeth MacLaren did not resemble anyone in the family. Her cornflower blue eyes which could melt the hardest of hearts and the shade of golden-copper hair were uniquely hers. She had natural curl, unlike the rest of the MacLarens, making her the envy of the family. At nine years of age, she’d already developed a strong personality and stood up for her convictions, yet all who met her, loved her, for she was kind and caring plus a loyal friend.

The moment the newborn was placed in Juliet’s arms, she vowed to protect Lizbeth with her life. The tufts of orange on the baby’s sweet head had reminded her of the great queen of England, Elizabeth, who also bore the same color. Juliet immediately knew it would be the child’s name.

A portrait of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, had hung in one of the long hallways at her family estate in England. As a young girl, Juliet would gaze at the painting in awe, amazed a woman had ruled the country for so long. Elizabeth’s reign had been known as The Golden Age, one of peace and prosperity, which mirrored the feeling Lizbeth had brought to the family's home in America.

Juliet sat in her rocking chair on the front porch enjoying the sun and children at play.  Slowly over time, they’d settled into their life in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and it began to feel like home just as her husband Ross had pledged. Is it too good to be true? After all the turmoil in our first years of marriage, the next ten have been filled with peace. Not every day had been a good one, but the most challenging were quickly resolved.

“Mummy! Alec will not stop chasing me,” Lizbeth called to her.

Alec stopped short and placed his hands on his hips. “You are the one who wanted me to chase you.” He glanced toward Juliet with a pleading look for help.

Her heart soared at the fine man Alec had become. He’d been five when they came to America, so innocent with his white blond hair and emerald eyes. Unable to pronounce all the syllables in Elizabeth’s name, he’d been the one to christen her Lizbeth.

Her adopted son would turn sixteen in December, and she wondered if more physical changes were in store. His hair had slowly darkened over the years until it had reached light brown, yet he kept the MacLaren emerald eyes. Each day he reminded Juliet more and more of Ross even though he was the biological child of his deceased sister, Greer, and her husband, Ewan Kincaid. Ewan had been killed in the 1715 Uprising in Scotland and soon after Greer died of fever. Juliet shook her head as she recalled those unhappy times but reminded herself how lucky she had become.

Juliet gestured for the two children to come and sit on the porch steps. Lizbeth skipped toward her as Alec trailed behind dragging his feet.

“Lizbeth, Alec has just come home from school in Boston and is doing you a favor. After morning chores, he dedicates an hour to do as you wish, whether it be riding, reading or chasing you through the yard. He does not have to give you any time since he has become a man. Remember that.”

Lizbeth stuck out her lower lip. “Why do my brothers have to be so much older than me? I like playing with them.”

“There are many playmates in the village,” Alec answered. “Why we even have our own school now, thanks to Uncle Brodie. You never had to ride in the wagon to Dame School in Amboy. It was a long, cold trek in the winter.”

Lizbeth rolled her eyes. “That old story?”

Juliet laughed. “Your brother is right. Uncle Brodie’s dream to start a new village on his land grew with you, Lizbeth. By the time you were ready for school, Gregor’s Cove had a blacksmith, a chapel and a general store. He felt it was time for a school and inquired in town for a teacher to move here.”

“I went to her house for Dame School until I was seven.”

“Yes, you did. You learned your numbers and letters from Mrs. Murphy then graduated to the grammar school built in the village.”

“I learned them on the horn book, right, Mummy?” Lizbeth pursed her lips. “I still have it in my room. I would like to share with someone who needs it.”

“Very thoughtful, my darling.”

“Auntie Heather was not fond of us attending school here in Gregor’s Cove.” Alec reminded Juliet. “I stopped going into town as much and did not see my cousins as often. When the snow got bad, I used to stay at her and Uncle Jamie’s house for days during the winters. She misses those times together.”

“Why doesn’t Aunt Heather’s family move to Gregor’s Cove, Mummy?” Lizbeth widened her eyes as she looked at Juliet. “Da would have both sisters here, and Auntie would not be sad.”

Juliet’s heart melted. Oh, my little dove. You always want to solve everyone’s problems. “You know why. Uncle Jamie owns the blacksmith shop in Perth Amboy. He needs to live close to his work.”

“I would love to go to school with my cousins.” Lizbeth crossed her arms. “Alec had all the fun.”

“James and Annie were too young to go to school with me, Lizbeth. They are closer to your age. Rosslyn was the only cousin who attended, and she was two years younger. You did not miss out.” Alec stood and tousled her hair. “Look, Cowan, is bringing your horse.”

“Aye, sister, Princess Elizabeth is ready for yer morning ride.” Cowan bowed.

Her eldest son had grown so fast, leaving his boyhood years too quickly. Juliet had known Cowan since she’d first come to Glenhaven in Scotland to marry Ross. He had been a seven-year-old messenger boy from their village who delivered information to the chieftain of the clan, Ross’ father, Laird Donnach MacLaren.

Cowan had turned twenty-one in the spring. A distant cousin to the MacLarens, he’d come to America with the family, mainly for his safety after rescuing Ross from an English prison. His mother begged Ross to take him to the colonies, relinquishing her parental rights.

Shorter than the other MacLarens, Cowan held his own with his quick wit, kindness and strength. He had handsome features and was growing a beard like his favorite uncle. His coloring was nothing special, a medium brown, unlike Brodie’s auburn tones, but the facial hair suited him.

Cowan’s eleventh birthday had taken place aboard the ship Pembroke, during their 1718 crossing to America. Once they were situated in Perth Amboy, Ross and Juliet deemed him too old to attend Dame School with Alec. Ross had inquired about education opportunities in Boston. Their friend, Hiram Coward, a government official in the city, offered to look after the boy while he attended university and now did the same for Alec. Juliet had worried Cowan might not hold his own against the other students, since she’d been the one to tutor him while in her care. Cowan assured her she had done her duty and proved to be an excellent pupil. Now graduated and back at their farm, Cowan still went to Boston to study, wanting to become a lawyer like Hiram.

Juliet tuned back into her children’s conversation, listening to their speech. Each spoke in a different way, and although questioned by others through the years, she had stopped defending them long ago. People eventually accepted the family members as they were.

Cowan had kept his Scottish brogue, and Alec took up her English accent when he was barely four. Lizbeth spoke in what Juliet could only call American-speak, like her brother-in-law Brodie Gregor. Her daughter attended school and played with children from Scotland, England, Germany and Holland. The second generation seemed to blend seamlessly together picking up on each other’s cadence and new words for things.

“I will take ye riding, sister,” Cowan said. “Then yer coming home to help Mum with dinner.”

“But it is summer, Cowan. I do not have to go to school, and Mummy will not mind if I wade in the stream for a bit.” Lizbeth’s lovely blue eyes landed on Juliet.

“You may be indulged today since school has ended,” Juliet answered. “Starting tomorrow, you will have a list of chores to complete like your brothers.”

Alec jumped from the steps, poked Lizbeth in the side and taunted, “You cannot get your way all the time, my pretty. We have to work for our supper.” He took off running, letting out a wild hoot.

“Ooh!” Lizbeth hopped up and stamped her foot. “I will get you, Alec MacLaren. Just you wait!”

Juliet laughed as she watched Alec run down the road toward Gregor’s Cove. He’d acquired many friends and was popular among his peers, but he was not going there to find them. “Be back in two hours!” she called after him as she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“He is going to the blacksmiths, aye?” Ross said. “I believe his sword is ready.”

“Why does Alec need a sword, Da?” Lizbeth wrinkled her nose.

“Every Scot has one, my princess.” Ross bowed his head. “To protect those he loves.”

“Cowan?” Lizbeth turned to him. “Do you have one?”

“I do. Da and I practice in the woods where no one can get hurt or in the way.”

“Oh.” Lizbeth pursed her lips. “When do I get to make a sword?”

Ross threw his head back and laughed. “Who does that sound like, wife?”

Juliet smiled up at him. “Your sister, Glynis. She has trained her niece well.”

“Auntie Glynis says women can do anything,” Lizbeth answered. “Sometimes better than a man.” She giggled.

“Yer auntie is right about many things, daughter,” Ross said. “But, not that.”

Lizbeth stopped laughing. “I think she would say those are fighting words, Da.”

“Oh, no!” Ross clapped his forehead. “Do not tell her then.”

Lizbeth laughed. “I will not, but only if one day you will let me design my own sword.”

Ross nodded at Cowan standing between two horses. “It looks like yer brother is ready to take ye for a ride.” He took Juliet’s hand. “And, I need to speak with yer mother.”

“About the sword?” Lizbeth’s eyes widened in delight.

“No, nothing of the sort. Go now, before I change my mind and put ye to work.”

Lizbeth ran to Cowan who swung her up into the saddle. Juliet joined Ross at the edge of the steps and watched the two riders and horses trot down the path to the woods. Ross slipped his arm around her waist, pulling Juliet toward him and nuzzled her neck. “I thought they wouldna ever leave.”

“Ross, whatever do you have in mind?” Juliet looked at him, batting her lashes.

“’Tis hard to find time for us, Juliet. I love my children, but they always seem to be underfoot.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I dinna see a one of them. I would love to carry ye up the stairs to our bedroom if ye are in agreement.”

“I think I am.” Juliet wrapped her arms around him, taking in his fresh outdoor scent mixed with a light sweat from morning chores. She ran her hand along his clean-shaven jaw and up into his dark hair which fell around his shoulders. “After thirteen years of marriage, I am happy you still want me so.”

“Never speak in such a manner,” Ross whispered into her hair. “I will always want ye, no matter how old ye are. Besides, ye still look young, wife. A bonny lass at two and thirty.”

“You have given us a happy life, Ross.” Juliet held out her hands. “We lived on Brodie’s farm barely a year before you bought this land and built our house. You, in turn, helped him fulfill his dream of Gregor’s Cove. Many Scots who arrived in America had resigned themselves to servitude. Instead, they met Broden Gregor on the docks of Boston Harbor, looking for those who had a skill to offer or the will to work. He brought them here and gave them a place to live. All he asked was for a year of free labor in return. Once their debt was paid, they could follow their lot in life. Everyone stays. We help each other here and do not need slaves to tend our crops or take care of our homes.” She looked away. “As some others have done.”

“Do not think of him today, Juliet. ’Tis the beginning of summer, we have our children home, and I have my morning chores done. So, I will ask again. Will ye join me?”

“Yes,” she whispered, taking his hand and stepping into their two-story colonial home.

The house was not a Scottish castle or an English manor as Ross reminded her. Juliet did not need a grand lifestyle as she told him many times and loved the home more than any place she had lived. Family had helped build and decorate each room, and every piece of furniture had a story. Some had been ordered from the Vogel’s general store in Perth Amboy while others had been lovingly made by Ross’ strong hands. Besides his job as Amboy’s blacksmith, his sister Heather’s husband, Jamie, was also good at carpentry and lent an extra hand.

The couple crept up the steps. When Ross got to the top, he turned to Juliet. “This is our house. Why are we acting like robbers in the middle of the night?”

Juliet laughed and fell into his arms. “Because we feel as if we are.” She walked to the end of the hallway and into their bedroom.

A breeze flowed through the open windows, and the muslin curtains fluttered in the air currents. Juliet rolled the rose and blue quilt Heather had made them down to the edge of the bed and smoothed the sheets. She felt Ross’ hands on her back, untying her laces and unbraiding her hair.

“I love ye, Juliet, and the color of yer hair. ’Twas the first thing I noticed when I met ye, standing so tall and proud in the grand dining hall of my father’s castle. The candlelight gave yer brown hair a soft red glow, and I wished to run my hands through the silky locks. I moved from there to yer sweet lips, the color of a pink rose, plump and ready to be kissed. Then,” Ross said and turned her toward him as her dress floated to the floor, “I drank ye into my soul.” His lips came down softly on hers, and Juliet’s heart flipped as it always did. Her love for him was as strong as his and passion never waned.

They sank to the bed as one, and Juliet was carried away to another place where she and Ross only existed and shared their love.

* * *

Ross felt a warm hand on his back, massaging the muscles. “A little higher, please.”

“So, you are awake,” Juliet said.

“Aye, I am enjoying the quiet.” Juliet’s fingers circled the scar on his shoulder. “Is it quite faded, wife? After all the years, it should be.”

“I will always see it, Ross, even if it is a faint scar or completely gone. I will never forgive John Alder for trying to kill you and driving us from our home.”

“But, the knife didna kill me. The duke had poor aim.” Ross chuckled and jumped as Juliet poked his side. He slid out from under her hand and sat up on the mattress. “I never thought we’d escape the man, Juliet. His obsession with ye must have waned when we left Scotland since we have lived here in peace for years.”

“From the letters we receive from your parents, brother Duncan, and his wife, it appears John gave up building Essex Manor of Scotland soon after we left.”

“What did Alder think he was doing, Juliet? He planned to build a manor in Scotland when he had land to oversee in England. God’s teeth! He is the Duke of Essex. I still question if the man is daft or cunning.”

“John wanted to torment us, and the only way he could was to be in close proximity. If you remember, he threatened me and said the manor would be my new home. I shudder every time I think of it. I cannot believe I was once in love with the man.”

“Ye didna ken, my love. John thought he’d found an impressionable young girl who’d love and obey him because one day he’d be Duke of Essex.”

“He was kind and charming when he visited my father’s home, Ross. John planned to ask for my hand in marriage the day the proclamation arrived.”

“Good thing it did,” Ross snarled. “Yer father sold ye to the highest bidder and John lost.”

“It sounds terrible when you put it that way. Father is a weak man. He’s apologized for offering me as collateral to the king to pay his debt and I forgave him. How can I not, when it sent me to you?”

“Then we agree. Life is as it should be. John Alder is no longer a threat to you or our family.”

“When John left Scotland, it was a sign, Ross. He admitted defeat and went home to England the same year we sailed to America.”

“I can only hope ’tis true.”

“It took years to believe, but I do now.” Juliet rubbed Ross’ arm. “I am glad you finally trust Hiram and Edward.” She pursed her lips. “It took a long time.”

“The Coward brothers are Englishmen, Juliet, born and bred into the aristocracy. Edward is an officer in the King’s army and a loyal friend to John Alder, and Hiram is an official in the colonial government who could have me arrested at a moment’s notice. Forgive me if it took some time to trust them.”

“Those Sassenachs. How could they be trusted?” Juliet teased as she shook her head. “I almost miss your father calling me the name.”

Ross gathered her in his arms and kissed the side of her head, breathing in her warm vanilla scent. “I can call ye Sassenach any time ye wish,” he whispered and nuzzled against her naked body.

“I do not miss it that much.” Juliet laughed, making Ross’ heart soar. He loved to see Juliet happy and enjoying life.

When they first met, Ross never dreamed they would sail on a ship to America to start a new life. In fact, if someone told him his sister Heather would already live in New Jersey by the time his family left Scotland, he would have laughed them out of the castle. His youngest sister, Heather had married Jamie MacGregor at age sixteen, and after the Uprising of ’15, the MacGregor clan was in more danger than the rest. Donnach decided they must leave the country for their safety. Though frightened of being a pregnant wife in a foreign place, Heather still chose to leave with her husband.

And Glynis? His older sister by a year, his sibling soul mate, had volunteered to go with the young couple to the colonies. Strong and brave, Ross never pictured her falling in love with the captain of the Pembroke, Aaron Redding. Her story was full of pitfalls and hope, losing Aaron and finding him again to marry and sail away on his ship. Ross reconnected with his sister on his voyage to America which had turned tragic for his sister once again.

Barely a day from Boston Harbor, Aaron Redding had been lost to the sea during a violent storm. Devastated over losing him twice, Ross worried Glynis would not recover. Luckily, her first time in Perth Amboy had been a good one. Broden Gregor had befriended then fallen in love with his sister. He’d brought Glynis back to the living by hunting and fishing with her, offering to build her a small home on his land. He’d come close to asking her to marry him, and would have, if Aaron had not miraculously returned from the dead.

The second time, Aaron had not been as lucky. He truly died in the Atlantic Ocean ten years ago. Ross had watched the poor man drown after saving Glynis from the same fate. Poor bastard. ’Tis the life of a sea captain, I guess. But I have Brodie to thank for helping Glynis live again. If he’d not been a drunken sot in prison when we arrived, my sister may never have found herself. She dedicated her days to nursing him back to health.

“Ross? What are you thinking about?” Juliet slid her hand along his cheek.

“Glynis and Aaron.”

“Oh.”

“What do ye mean, wife?”

“Aaron has been dead a long while. I am surprised you are thinking of him and your sister as a couple.”

“No, ’tis not what I am doing. Brodie is a fine man and a good husband to Glynis. I was thinking back to the days when we lived in Scotland and our lives since then. Did ye ever think we’d come to America?”

“Now I see. You are reliving our journey.” Juliet turned to face him. “I never thought I would leave England, Ross, let alone Scotland. One thing I learned during our marriage is we can do anything as long as we are together.”

“Aye, wife, where ye are is my home.”

“And you, Ross, are my home.”

 

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