The Clan MacLaren #3
The Heart of the Emerald
Ross, Juliet and son, Alec, return to Glenhaven in the Scottish Highlands with heavy hearts. They have reluctantly said goodbye to Ross’ two sisters. Glynis and Heather, along with Heather’s husband Jamie, who had to flee Scotland after the 1715 Uprising. When the couple returns home, troubling news greets them. While away, pompous and entitled John Alder and Juliet’s old suitor, had come to the castle looking for them. He is now on the brink of madness, driven by one thought. Find Juliet and make her his own. Fearing for her son’s safety, Juliet will do anything to protect Alec, but Ross may have a plan of his own.
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Genre: Historical Romance
~ Pink Satin Romance ~
Juliet’s happy mood slowly drained from her body. The closer they came to Glenhaven Castle, the more her nerves tingled, and her head ached. She could hear her father-in-law’s words as they rode toward their destination. “The bloody Sassenach is back? Didna she fall into the North Sea as I prayed nightly? My son would be free to marry anyone of his choosing. A good Highland lass from the Kinkaid clan or the MacDonalds’...”
Donnach MacLaren’s feelings had not changed for his daughter-in-law since she arrived from England last year. Juliet covered her ears to block out the imaginary sound of his voice.
“Juliet.” Ross slowed the horses and leaned against her. “Are ye all right, lass? Ye look as if ye saw a ghost.”
“Perhaps I have,” she answered with a light laugh that sounded more like a sob. “The ghost of me. The innocent English girl sent to Glenhaven by King George to be your bride.” Juliet lowered her eyes. “Except it was all lies. Our marriage paid off my father’s debt to the king, and His Majesty did not care if I lived or died. And once I arrived, I discovered you did not want to marry me.”
“I was a fool, wasna I?” He wrapped his strong arm around her waist and pulled her to him, kissing the side of her head. “My bonny lass. Ye of sapphire eyes, full lips touched by the pink flowers of the woods, and hair that casts off a red glow in the light. It is what I see when I look at ye. To me, ye are not a Sassenach, an English noblewoman, or the enemy. Ye are my wife. The minute I saw ye, I was taken with ye.” He breathed into her hair. “And still am.”
“Da!” Alec, their three-year-old son, called from the back of the wagon. “Go faster! Lil’ Horsie wants to go home.” Alec’s pony had been tied to the back of the wagon and accompanied the family on their journey.
“Och, son, we will be home soon enough.” Ross shook the reins, and the horses sped up. “We are almost to Glenhaven village.”
“Cowan!” Alec said excitedly, pounding his feet on the floorboards.
“Aye, yer friend will be happy to see ye.” Ross nodded and smiled at Juliet. Although Cowan was five years older, the boys had bonded in friendship thanks to his wife.
“And Mum,” Alec called out.
“He likes yer mum well enough. He will be happy to see ye both.” Ross chuckled as he gave Juliet a nudge. “If the lad was older, I might have had to fight him for yer hand.”
“Very funny.” Juliet shifted in her seat. “At least someone in Glenhaven cares for me.”
Ross leaned back, widening his green eyes. “And I dinna?” He teased.
“You know what I mean,” Juliet said as she crossed her arms. “Your father would rather see me fall off this wagon and lost forever than return home.”
Ross closed one eye and stared at her. “Ye may be right, wife. But ye also ken I will be chief one day. He kens it too and can only push me so far. Mum would have his head if we left this place for good.”
Juliet let out a gasp. “No! This is your home. We will never leave.”
“No.” Ross shook his head. “I suppose not. So ye see, Da wants his family here. After me, Alec is next in line, and Donnach wants the boy close. Wait until he hears the lad’s accent.” He laughed and snorted at the same time.
“What accent?” Juliet cocked her head.
“Ye have been reading to the lad every day for months, Juliet. He hears yer voice the most. His brogue is slowly fading. Ye havena noticed?”
“He is beginning to sound like me, a Sassenach? What is wrong with that?” Juliet placed her elbow into her husband’s ribs and gave a good shove.
“Not a thing!” Ross jumped to get away from her. “If ye keep it up, lassie, I will have to stop the wagon and take ye into the woods.”
“Whatever for?” Juliet looked at him from under her lashes.
“Ye ken as well as I do. Canna say in front of the lad.” Ross smiled.
Juliet slid her hand across his back, feeling the strong muscles under his shirt. She ran her hand up into his dark loose hair which brushed his shoulders then along the back of his neck.
“Juliet,” Ross whispered.
“I will stop. But promise me a good supper, a soft bed, and I am yours.” She pursed her lips.
“And I will hold ye to it.” Ross gave her a quick kiss as he pulled up on the reins at the ridge overlooking the village of Glenhaven. “Look, lad. Yer home.”
Gray stone cottages with dark brown thatched roofs and smoking chimneys, a chapel, and workshops filled the valley below them. Fields of crops surrounded the outskirts of town, and Juliet could see people tending to them. One man carried a hoe over his shoulder, while women weeded in between the small plants. Another man walked behind a plow strapped to a horse. Everyone was hard at work.
In was almost noon, according to the sun’s position, as it crept to its highest point in the sky. Juliet turned and watched her young son stand and dance in the back of the wagon. A strong and sturdy boy, his white blond hair reflected the sunlight peeking through the trees. When he glanced her way, she melted as he looked upon her with the MacLaren emerald eyes. His navy blue and grass green kilt bounced around his chubby legs, and she had to laugh at the sight.
“I am a good dancer, aye?” Alec placed his hands on his hips.
“Oh yes, very good. “Juliet nodded.
“And do you think my other mother is watching me from heaven?” he asked as he glanced up at the blue sky.
Juliet’s stomach flipped, and she fought to steady her voice. “Yes Alec, she is, and so is your da.”
Alec Kinkaid MacLaren had been born to Ross’ oldest sister, Greer, who died of a fever at the beginning of the new year. Greer had begged Ross and Juliet to raise her son, having lost her husband, Ewan Kinkaid, during the Uprising in the fall of 1715. They had no idea at the time she would pass away from illness a few months later and assured her they would take care of the boy. Now Alec was their son, and perhaps their only child as Juliet kept reminding herself. She and Ross had been married a year without any signs of a baby.
The child’s voice startled her, bringing her back to the moment. “Yes?”
“Is it all right if I love you a little more...than her?” He pointed skyward.
Tears filled her eyes, and Juliet fought to find an answer.
“Aye, laddie,” Ross said, saving her. “I love her a little more too.” He laced his fingers through Juliet’s.
She squeezed his hand in thanks, swallowing the lump that had grown in her throat. Juliet wiped her eyes with her sleeve, dabbing the corners carefully. Finally able to take a normal breath, she whispered, “Thank you.”
Ross guided the horses and wagon down the incline to the village, which sat between two hills. Juliet glanced across the tops of the thatched roofs, and her eyes traveled up the next hill to Glenhaven Castle, perched almost at the top. The castle, built of light gray stone, stood three stories high. Arched windows ran along the first two floors. Square windows with triangular peaks sat above those arches on the third floor. A dark gray roof offset the lighter stone, as did the turrets on top of each corner tower.
So familiar now, but at one time Juliet had wondered what secrets it held. The first time she had seen the majestic castle, she had wondered if it would be a prison or a home. At times, she thought she knew the answer, but whenever her father-in-law was close by, she did not. Juliet clung to Ross’ hand. With him by her side, she could handle Donnach or anything that came her way.
They bumped along until they reached the road running through the middle of the village. Most people were hard at work in the fields or tending their animals, appearing too busy to notice the wagon. But Juliet was aware someone watched even as most of them did not. She looked for Cowan as they passed his home, but there was no sign of him.
“Good day!” Alec yelled, making Juliet turn in her seat.
Cowan’s mother had come out of the house when the back of the wagon went by the doorway. She crossed herself at the sight of them. “God is gracious and heard our prayers. ’Tis good to see our chief’s son and family come home safely.”
“Thank ye, Gracie, and good day to ye.” Ross pulled up the reins, and the horses slowed to a stop. “Is young Cowan home? We would like to take him up to the castle to play with Alec.”
“Ye just missed him, sir.” Gracie lowered her eyes as she approached and curtsied. “He went off looking for his brother. The older one is gonna be the death of me. That boy should be here helping me. Instead he is off in the woods, doing what God only kens. Cowan promised to return with him soon. As a reward, I will send him up to the castle.”
“Thank you, Gracie,” Juliet said as she dug in her bag for a shilling. “Could you send some bread and biscuits with him?” She handed Ross the coin to give her.
Gracie waved her hand. “I take no payment from ye, madam. Ye will get yer biscuits though…and more.” She nodded and gave Juliet a wide smile.
Juliet nudged Ross, and he cleared his throat. “I insist.” He held the money in the palm of his hand, waiting for her to take it.
Finally, Gracie gave in. “Och, Ross, ye MacLarens are my family. Ye ken that. I will send more than enough for the lot of ye!”
Ross laughed. “I am sure ye will, Gracie.” He looked at Juliet. “I would like to stop at the blacksmith’s and let Gordon ken of Jamie’s fate.”
“Of course.” Juliet nodded. Jamie MacGregor had come to the village as an apprentice to Gordon. Ross’ youngest sister, Heather, met him, and the two fell in love and married.
Gordon was hard at work, pulling heated bars of yellow-hot iron from the brick hearth with a large set of tongs. Ross brought the wagon to a halt in front of the three-sided shop. A hood above the forge took the billowing smoke up and away from the lower level. The fire raged high and hot, and Juliet could feel the heat from where she sat.
“Good day to ye, Gordon!” Ross called to him and raised his hand in greeting.
The older man, his face red from the heat and sweat trickling down the sides of his head, looked up from his work and smiled. “Good day to ye, sir. ’Tis a good sign ye are here.” He carried the tongs to his work area, picked up a sledgehammer and came down hard on the heated iron. “Alastair!”
A young boy, red-haired and freckled, came running from the back of the shop. “Aye, sir?”
“Give this some good whacks while I speak with the chief’s son.” He handed the hammer to the short, pudgy boy, who looked no more than twelve. “It will build yer muscle.” He laughed and shook his head. “These young ones get tired so fast, but I promised my sister I would train him. They dinna ken how to put in a hard day’s work. It will take some time before my nephew builds some muscle.”
Juliet bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. The boy appeared to be exhausted after a few blows to the iron. He stepped back, let out a breath, dropped his shoulders, and returned to his task at hand.
“Gracie has asked me to take on Bryce, her oldest, some time this year. But first, I need to give all my time and attention to this one.” Gordon cocked his head toward Alastair wiping his brow. He ran his hand over his gray hair, which was tied tightly back in a tail, not a hair out of place. He watched his nephew strike the iron, nodded at him, and approached the wagon.
“Good luck with Bryce.” Ross chuckled. “If I remember Cowan’s words correctly, his brother likes play more than work.”
“He will learn what it means to work,” Gordon said as he shook Ross’ hand. “The bairns made it away safely?” He shook his head. “I ken Jamie and Heather are married and not really small ones, but in my heart,” Gordon said with a sigh, “I think of them as such. I ken Heather since the day she was born. And yer sister Glynis went with them?”
“Aye, they sailed from Crail three days ago to Le Havre, France,” Ross answered. “From there they will sail to America. And,” he said as he lowered his voice, “they have a new name. No one in the colonies will ken who Jamie MacGregor is, let alone hear the name...unless there are others already living there.” He lifted his shoulder. “We will never ken. There could be scores of MacGregors in the colonies...or not.”
Gordon raised his brows. “How did the lad take it? To change yer name, give it up to never hear it again…”
“He accepted it as the man he is. Jamie kens he must protect his wife and unborn bairn from the English.” Ross shifted on the wagon bench. “I think it best not to mention he has a new name to anyone in the village. The less who ken, the better.”
Gordon held up his hand. “Dinna tell me the name. I willna say a word about the change. May the good Lord watch over them and keep them safe.” He crossed himself and dipped at the waist. “Yer father awaits yer return, Ross. I will keep ye no longer. Ye should make haste.”
“He kens we are on our way?” Ross leaned back and glanced at Juliet, giving her a shrug.
“The old man kens everything.” Gordon lifted his brows, gave the horse closest to him a swat on the rump, and they were on their way again. Up the hill, through the forest, to Glenhaven Castle.
What awaits us? Juliet shivered although the May afternoon was quite pleasant.