Highlander’s Loathed Bride – Ann Marie Scott

Ewan loved his sword, and he was as good at, if not better at wielding it than any other young boy that he knew. At ten years old, he was not yet grown to manhood, but in his mind, he was a mighty warrior. His skill with a bow was also remarkable, and he had gone on many hunts with the boys of the local village of Forthallen, bringing back dozens of rabbits to cook. His grandfather, Donald MacKenzie, or Duff, as he was known to his friends, was the local laird, and although he was seventy years old, he was still a fine figure of a man. His black hair had become almost white, and he was a little shortsighted, but he still carried himself with the proud military bearing that befitted an ex-soldier. He was well liked and respected by his tenants, for he permitted them to hunt a limited portion of the game on his estate as long as the number of deer did not decline, so no one in Forthallen was ever without food. Many tenants of other estates were not so fortunate. There had been stories of English raids in the area around Stirling at the mouth of the River Forth, although it was thought that they were only stragglers from English forces further south. However, they were still a menace since rumor had it that they were starving and had to kill Scottish livestock and game to survive. Hungry men were always dangerous. That morning, Ewan’s father, Robert MacKenzie, had taken him aside and examined his sword, making sure that it was sharp and ready for battle. He nodded in approval when he had examined the blade. “Good,” he said, smiling at his son, who smiled back. “I feel safe enough to leave you in charge now. Look after your mother ’til I get back, Ewan, because there are too many Sassenachs out there who still have heads on their shoulders! I want to get a few of them and mount them on the wall in the Great Hall where all our guests can see them.

They will be very ugly, but they will show our friends what great warriors we are!” Ewan laughed. He knew his father was only jesting, and he loved his sense of fun. Robert was his hero, and Ewan wanted to grow up to be just like him. “When are you coming back, Pa?” he asked. “Not until I have at least a dozen heads,” Robert replied, kissing his son on his forehead. “Now, you are the second-in-command after Granda* , so make sure everything is in good order when I get back.” Then he kissed Ewan’s mother, Finella, and left, waving at them as he did so. A moment later, Ewan saw him riding over the drawbridge on Sheetan, his black warhorse. It was the last time he would ever see Robert MacKenzie. The moat was freezing, but it was a matter of honor that the future laird should be able to stay in longer than the servants’ sons.

Accordingly, every time he waded in, he would stay in the water and turn blue rather than leave while someone else was still in there. On the day after his father’s departure, he had just climbed out of the moat, last as usual, clutching a woolen blanket around himself. Even on a warm day in the middle of summer, his teeth chattered so hard his head was vibrating. Suddenly he heard his mother’s voice urgently calling his name, and as he went into the courtyard, she ran towards him with tears streaming down her face. She pulled him into such a tight embrace that he lost his breath for a moment, and his heart started to hammer with fear. “Mammy! Mammy, what is it?” he cried, pushing her away a little to look at her. “What is wrong?” She shook her head, unable to speak. Just then, his grandfather appeared and led them towards his private parlor. He said nothing ’til Ewan was sitting down in an armchair, then he grasped both his hands. “You must be very brave now, Ewan,” he said softly, blinking tears out of his eyes.

“Your father has been killed. He was shot in the back and died very quickly, and he suffered no pain.” For a moment, Ewan was numb. “Is he in heaven now?” “Yes, darling,” his mother replied, smiling through her tears. “He is with God, your Granny, your little sister Davina, and all the saints, and he is waiting for us to join him when our time comes.” “Ewan,” Duff said gently, “I am an old man, and when my time is up, you will inherit the castle and the estate and be the new laird.” Ewan thought about this for a moment, then turned to his mother. “Can I be the laird now?” he asked. “Then I can go and take the guard out and—” “No, darling,” Finella replied, shaking her head. “Not yet.

Not ’til you are grown up.” Ewan frowned fiercely and stood up, his hands balled into fists. “I hate the English. I will always hate them, ’til the day I die!” he growled. Then he marched out of the room. He did not cry then, at the funeral, or for years to come. I 1 never dreamed that happiness like this existed, Sarah wrote. At first, it seemed like a dream, but now, as I look at my baby daughter and my handsome husband, I feel truly alive for the first time ever. Oh, Violet, I only hope that our uncle can choose someone who makes you as happy as Callum makes me… The letter went on in the same vein until the end, and Violet read it with sadness and envy in her heart. Both of her older sisters had had to fight for their happiness but had found it in the end, and now Sarah and Susanna were contented mothers and wives.

The few times they had come to visit her, she had seen the joy that shone from them. How she envied them! At seventeen, Violet was one of the prettiest girls anyone had ever seen. Her long wavy hair was a slightly darker shade of blonde than her sisters. Her eyes were a peculiar shade of gray-violet, which led many people to believe that she had been named after the color of her eyes, which was not true since she had been named when she was a week old—when all babies’ eyes are still blue. However, it was a happy coincidence. She was tall and slender, with a tiny waist, full, womanly breasts, and a long swan-like neck. She sighed as she looked up from the letter to answer a knock at her chamber door. Her loathsome Uncle Michael, her guardian since her parents’ death three years before, had sent for her to give her some news, and a flutter of fear began in her stomach. News from her uncle was never good, and she had an awful premonition that this was going to be the worst kind. She was right.

As soon as she walked into the parlor, Michael Ainsworth gave her one of his snake-like smiles. He offered her a glass of wine, but she declined it politely and sat down. “I have something to tell you,” he said evenly as he sipped his wine. “You have found me a husband,” Violet said heavily. “My word!” His voice was admiring. “Do you have the Sight, Violet? How did you know?” “Because my sisters have told me all about this,” she replied. “They call it ‘the talk,’ and anyway, you never send for me unless it is something important, like my entire future.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. There was a long silence, during which she stared at him. It was as if a test of wills was going on to see who would speak first, but eventually, Michael did.

“You are right,” he confirmed. “I have picked someone for you.” “What is he?” Violet asked bitterly. “A criminal? An old lunatic with one foot in the grave? A pauper? Do tell, Uncle.” Michael shrugged. “If I told you he was young and handsome, you would not believe me,” he replied, shrugging. “In fact, you will not believe a word I say anyway, so I will tell you nothing; not out of spite, but because I know nothing about him apart from the fact that he is extremely wealthy.” “I see.” She looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Well, Uncle, I cannot force you to tell me anything, but I will tell you this.

I will kill myself before I let you put me in the hands of a horrible man like Laird Robertson, whom you chose for Susanna. When am I to leave?” “In ten days,” he replied. “That should give you time to assemble a trousseau, and make sure you get some underthings and pretty dresses that will appeal to a man’s eyes instead of those drab rags you always wear.” He looked scornfully at her plain gray woolen dress. “I think I can choose my own clothes, thank you!” she snapped, then turned on her heel and flounced out. She thought about Michael Ainsworth as she marched furiously up the stairs. Sometimes she fancied she could see a glint of madness in Michael’s eyes, as if he was possessed by something that was not quite human. It sometimes seemed that the darkness of evil was around him and in him, which was why she avoided his company as much as possible, even going so far as to take her meals in her room. She had not eaten with him since Sarah left, and had made up her mind that she never would. He never entertained guests apart from the occasional prostitute, and she had never spoken to any of those unfortunate women.

She had never been allowed to go and see her sisters’ homes because Michael knew that once she was in Scotland, she would run away from him as far and as fast as she could. Consequently, the only times she had seen her nephews and nieces were on the rare occasions when they visited. She desperately missed them all and hoped that of the three of them, she would be the lucky one who would fall instantly in love…but she supposed it was too much to hope for. When she entered her room, her lady’s maid, Bess, was there, putting away a pile of freshly laundered clothes. She was a fresh, pretty widow in her middle thirties, with dark blonde hair and warm brown eyes, and her shapely figure attracted the attention of many of the townsmen and servants. Bess could usually find something to smile at, but today she looked a little gloomy and sad, which was just the way Violet felt. “Something, wrong, mistress?” she asked, pausing in her task to look at Violet keenly. Violet shook her head in resignation, then sat down and put her face in her hands. When she looked up, her eyes were glittering with tears. “He has done it again, Bess,” she sighed.

“This time, it is my turn to be wed to some unknown man whose name he will not even share with me. I do not know if he is old, young, ugly, or handsome. I have no idea if he is a brute or a tender-hearted man. I am terrified, Bess.” Bess stood up and poured her mistress a glass of strong cider, then sat down beside her. “You must have hope, mistress,” she said soothingly. “Look at how Sarah and Susanna’s marriages succeeded. I have faith that yours will be the same. You will be fine. I have no idea how I know it; I just do.

” “What would I do without you, my friend?” Violet asked, smiling and patting Bess’s hand. “I may not have my sisters anymore, but I still have my Bess.” Bess laughed, and the sadness in her face disappeared. “And you always will,” she assured Violet. “I have ten days to get ready,” Violet told her. “And he wants me to have some underthings that are…attractive to my bridegroom. Is there enough time?” Bess slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Help!” she cried. “We will have to hurry, mistress. I will call on Amy Bright and see if she is not too busy.

She is the best seamstress in York, so it is said, but if she is not, then I will have to sew the things with my own hands.” “Can you use these ones?” Violet held her hands up, and Bess looked at her with narrowed eyes.

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