Highlander’s Impossible Love – Emilia C. Dunbar

Annabel had been reading what she had hoped was a sonnet of romance, but it was so dull that it had lulled her into a doze. She was awakened by a loud thud as the small book fell from her lap onto the floor, and she jumped to her feet with a startled cry before shaking her head and giving a nervous laugh. I am so clumsy! The fire in the grate had gone out, and her bedroom was becoming chilly, so she rang for a chambermaid to come and put more logs on it before going to the window and looking out at the freshly fallen snow that had settled on the ground and the bare branches of the trees. It was like a drawing done in charcoal, stark in its brutal simplicity, and it made her feel sad. Christmas and New Year had come and gone, and Annabel was looking forward to the appearance of her sister Janette, who had been visiting a close friend in Edinburgh. Janette had been due to arrive on Christmas Eve, but there had been no sign of her, or any word from her. The family had assumed that the atrocious weather had made the roads impassable, and it had been impossible to get a message to them. Hopefully, Janette had managed to lodge in an inn somewhere. However, it was now the late afternoon on the fourth of January, and darkness was falling on another day without her sister. Annabel had not slept the night before, or she would never have fallen asleep in the middle of the day. She was by now seriously worried, afraid that she would never see her older sister’s laughing merry brown eyes again or hear her infectious laugh, or pretend to be in pain due to one of Annabel’s famously tight hugs. She physically ached for Janette; there was a sore spot above her heart, and she often found herself weeping. Annabel was beginning to lose hope. She had stood at the window for hours, hoping to see the carriage carrying Janette bowling over the drawbridge. She had prayed furiously day after day for her sister’s safe return, almost wearing her knees out in the process.

And she had hardly eaten. Even the most delicious delicacy could not tempt her. She could not dismiss the fear that something was not right. She sighed and poured a glass of whiskey, reflecting that she had been drinking far too much of it in the last few days. But it truly felt like the only way to calm down. Annabel was once more standing at her bedroom window when she saw a black-clad horseman approaching the drawbridge. He was moving very slowly, and as she watched him, her heart plummeted. She turned, left her room, and descended the stairs, not rushing in joyful anticipation of Janette’s return, but treading slowly, dreading what she was about to discover. The rider dismounted in the courtyard just as Annabel reached the last step. The rider came forward and bowed to her.

He was a tall, powerful-looking man with stern gray eyes. “Milady Chisholm?” the man asked. “I have a letter for your father.” “I will take you to him,” she replied. Her heart was thundering in a wild tattoo. The letter contained bad news; somehow, she knew it. She had always had a sixth sense about these things, and now, as the guard handed over the letter and Annabel watched her father’s face freeze in disbelief, then crumple in grief, her premonition was confirmed. He had always been a demonstrative man, given to expressing his feelings freely, and now he tipped his head back and let out a mighty howl of grief. Annabel took the letter from his hand. M’Laird Chisholm, It is with deep regret that I must tell you that your daughter Janette has passed away.

We had very thick snow, and she was hunting with my family and me in the woods around our castle when her horse stumbled and she was thrown off. She hit her head on a boulder and died instantly without pain. We have interred her in our family crypt. Please accept our deepest condolences, and if there is anything my family can do, please let us know. Laird Keith McDonald Annabel stared at the letter, and for a moment, it seemed that her heart had stopped beating. She sank into a chair and began to weep. It was not real. Her sister could not be dead. She was the most lively and joyful person Annabel had ever known… But the letter did not lie. Annabel knew that the next time she saw Janette, they would be in heaven, and she hoped it would be soon.

Days and days of misery followed. Annabel’s mother, Gunna, seemed to be holding up better than anyone, although Annabel knew that she kept her emotions hidden, although she suspected that she found release behind closed doors in the shelter of her father’s arms. She had never seen two people who adored each other more than her parents. They had always been a fine example of what a marriage should be. Gradually, Annabel became accustomed to the absence of the sister she had loved. It would not be easy to live life without her support and companionship, she knew, but as the weeks went on, the burden became lighter. On the first day of springlike weather, when the sun shone in a blue sky, she took off her black dress and changed it for a gray one. She still missed Janette terribly, but she could cope. Time did heal, and she did not have nightmares anymore or expect to see her sister sitting in the parlor sewing and smiling. Gradually, life was returning to as normal as it was possible to be without her sister.

“Laird McKay is here tae see ye,” the butler informed John Chisholm as he sat in his office poring over his accounts on the bleakest day that winter offered that year. “He says ye’re expectin’ him, M’Laird.” “Damn!” the laird grumbled. “Show him in.” He had completely forgotten the appointment he had made with Janette’s fiancé. He had no idea what business the man had with him, since his daughter was dead. There would be no marriage and no alliance between their clans, but the least he could do was receive him with civility. He contemplated his whiskey bottle but settled for wine. Something told him that he would need a clear head. He stood up and went forward to shake hands with the man who had become a friend to him over the months he had been courting Janette.

This was the first time that John Chisholm had seen his friend since her death, and meeting him again brought back happy memories, which, conversely, made him feel sad. “M’Laird…how are you?” Findlay McKay asked sympathetically. “I have thought of you often since we last saw each other.” “As well as can be expected,” John replied, sighing. “It is difficult to say goodbye to my most precious daughter, who I thought would outlive me by years.” The other man was tall and handsome with thick black hair and a dark mustache and beard. His eyes were a deep, dark gray that seemed to see into one’s soul, and he had a habit of staring into a person’s eyes without blinking, which made them deeply uncomfortable. Still, he was generous, kind, and moderately wealthy, and John had been happy when he and Janette became betrothed. However, that was in the past, and now there was no Janette, and therefore no marriage. “My deepest condolences.

If there is anything I can do for you, I would be happy to be of some help.” “Thank you, Findlay,” John replied. “What brings you here?” The man took a long pause, looking for the right words, and then replied, “I wanted to renew our acquaintance,” he said while looking into John’s eyes to see his reaction. John knew right away what Findlay meant, but he urged him to continue with a small nod of his head. “Little time has passed since Janette left us, but I wished to speak to you about your other daughter.” The laird frowned. “What about her?” “She is of marriageable age,” Findlay replied slowly and cautiously. “And I wish to seek your permission to marry her. However, if you do not want me to, we will say no more about it, and there will be no hard feelings, of course.” He smiled and accepted a glass of wine from John.

“Thank you, my friend.” John gulped down his wine and began to pace the room, thinking. He turned to his friend again and found his penetrating eyes awaiting him. “I admit that I was not prepared for this,” John Chisolm admitted as he poured himself another glass of wine and sat down again, rubbing his bearded chin in agitation. “It seems to me that you want to replace one of my daughters with another.” He narrowed his eyes. “If that is the case, then I must refuse because my girls are quite different in character. Janette was quiet, biddable, and kind, and I am not saying that Annabel is not kind, because she is. However, she is headstrong, stubborn, and she speaks her mind. She will not lead you to an easy life.

Are you ready for this? I know you to be a tolerant man, but she is a great handful.” Findlay sighed and smiled. His voice was smooth like silk. By the initial reaction of John, he knew that he would be able to get what he wanted. “I have always liked Annabel for all the reasons you have just set forth,” he replied, smiling. “She loves to ride, and that is something which we both enjoy doing, and I have heard that she is interested in charity work, for which I respect her immensely. She is never idle, and I admire anyone who is selfless enough to work for the good of their neighbor. You can like and respect more than one person, John, but I leave the decision in your hands.” John sighed, thinking of all the times he had seen Findlay and Janette together. He had always been solicitous and kind to her, and she had always looked happy.

If Findlay McKay could make one of his daughters happy, then why not the other? He decided to summon Gunna. His wife appeared a few moments later, wearing a plain dark gray mourning dress. She was a striking woman, with a tumble of red curls as yet untouched by silver and the same golden-hazel eyes as her daughters, but she was much shorter than they were. John had always thought of her as his doll. She curtsied to Findlay, who stood up and bowed. “Milady,” he said fondly, “I trust you are well.” “Well enough, thank you, M’Laird,” she replied, sitting down and accepting a glass of wine from her husband. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” “I will come straight to the point, milady,” Findlay replied. “I wish to marry Annabel. She is a good woman, and I am already fond of her.

I am not seeking to replace Janette, but our families are good friends, and I feel that we can make a good match.” He looked at her with his charming eyes for a moment. “But as I said to Laird Chisholm, the decision is yours.” Gunna thought for a moment, then looked up at Findlay. “I think it would work out well,” she said, nodding. “As long as you bear in mind that Annabel is not like Janette in any way. Annabel is her father’s daughter in character, and Janette was mine.” “So I have been told,” Findlay replied, smiling. He sipped his wine and fiddled with his gloves while Gunna and John conversed in low voices. He was even more nervous this time than he had been before he proposed to Janette.

At last, they turned to face him again. “We both agree that the marriage is a good idea,” John said, smiling, “and that you will be a good match. I am sure that Annabel will think so too. Congratulations, M’Laird.” “Thank you, John, Lady Gunna!” Findlay smiled widely. “I will make her a good husband.”

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