Rose – Lily Baldwin

Rose MacVie stood on her favorite rock, gazing at the moon, which hovered above the twilightblue sea. It cast a rippling white reflection, stretching like an arm across the water. The moon reached for Rose. She felt the pull within her, the light straining to touch her lonely, restless heart—for the moon was a kindred spirit. It, too, knew what it meant to be alone. Fire blazed inside the heavenly body that could never be fully released. It hung in the night sky, cool and somber, with only the softest light able to escape the confines of its celestial skin. Like the moon, Rose could never escape her fate. Fire forever burned inside her. Some days it blazed red-hot, cruelly licking the open wounds in her heart—three deep, cavernous, and bloody gashes that could never heal, not in a thousand years, not in this world or the next. “Ye’ve been out here for a long time.” Rose whirled around. Ian, her youngest brother, stood behind her, a gentle smile curving his lips. “I’ve been waiting for ye on the beach for hours now,” he said, his voice kind. He moved toward her tentatively as if she were an animal he did not wish to spook.

“I have something for ye.” Rose turned back to face the water and drew a deep breath, fighting to suppress the pit of emptiness that threatened to consume her from the inside out. She had to be strong. Ian needed her. Once more, swallowing her own pain, she silently bid goodnight to the moon and the sea. They would be there for her again as sure as her need for them would return. Joining Ian, they walked the shore together in silence for several minutes. At length, he said, “Ye haven’t been at supper for a few nights.” His tone held a casualness she knew he did not feel. Despite how he tried, Ian could not hide his concern for her, none of her brothers could.

But they did not worry alone. Having felt listless for months and months, she fretted over her own wellbeing. But what her brothers didn’t know was how lonely their nightly suppers made her feel. Jack, Quinn, and Rory were all happily married now with children of their own. And just last week, Alec and Joanie announced they were going to have a baby. In her heart, Rose could not have been happier for them. Alec and Joanie were no strangers to suffering. They had to walk through hell and back to find the happiness that now shaped their lives. But somehow the fullness of their love made the emptiness of her own arms that much clearer. Rose scowled—not at Ian or Alec or any of her brothers.

The person she scorned was herself. Why must she despair? Where had her spirit gone? She knew the answer. Despite how happy she was for her siblings, she could not help but feel peripheral to their life on the island. Her family’s lives continued to evolve while hers remained the same—no different now than after that tragic day eight years ago when her own family had been taken from her. Once upon a time, the MacVies had lived ordinary lives as fishermen and dockhands within the heart of Berwick, Scotland’s busiest and most prosperous port. But the hammer of Longshanks—the English King—pummeled the city to nothing. When the dust settled, thousands of innocents had been slaughtered, including her husband and their three precious daughters. In the beginning, there had been only anguish, blinding pain that stole her breath, her mind, her soul, even her will to live. She never would have made it through those dark days following the massacre if her brothers hadn’t needed her. Years later, the grief still flowed through her.

It lived in her blood, in the food she tasted, and in the flowers she smelled. It was ubiquitous as the stars at night or the sea that stretched for all eternity. But she had made peace with her pain. She did not rail against it anymore, nor did she try to ignore it. It was a part of her, no different than her hands or her feet or the heart that beat in her chest. But something darker than grief had begun to move within her, something insidious and consuming—an emptiness that left her always tired and so very lonely. It mocked her and judged her, making her feel unworthy of happiness. She dug in her heels, stopping in her tracks. She pressed her hand over her mouth, silencing the sob that ached to be freed. She couldn’t draw breath as, once more, her mind’s eye revealed the monotony of her own life stretching out before her, empty and unchanging, year after year dragging to a close without the warmth of a man lying beside her or her children to care for or grandchildren to bounce on her knee.

Brows drawn, Ian reached for her. “What is it?” he asked. Tears stung her eyes. She stepped free from his embrace. “I’m sorry, Ian. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” “Aye, ye do,” he said, his tone gentle but insistent. “Ye just don’t want to say it, because ye hate to complain. But I’m giving ye permission. Right now, Rose, say what ye feel.

” She clenched her fists, her heart unraveling beyond the confines of her usual control. “I just want more for myself.” She opened her hands, palms up. “They’re so empty when once they were so very full.” She dropped her hands to her side. “I may have many years left to my life. I do not want to spend them steeped in naught but regret.” Once again, Ian pulled her close. “Ye ken ye’re not truly alone. Ye will always have yer family.

” She pressed her lips tight against the familiar platitude. “Ye must think me so ungrateful,” she said through clenched teeth, angry at her own weakness. Ian crooked his thumb beneath her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “I didn’t mean to diminish yer words. I just need to affirm to ye how essential and loved ye are. But of us all, ‘tis ye who has suffered most, and ye’re more than entitled to yer feelings.” He shook his head. “I wish there was some way I could take it all away. If I could reach up to heaven and pluck yer daughters from the sky, I would.” Rose’s shoulders sagged.

She took a deep breath. “No one can. And although I grieve for them every day, a part of me understands this and has reconciled myself to my fate—But ‘tis my fate that mocks me with its barrenness.” She stretched her arms wide as if to encompass the whole of Colonsay. “And this island. This wonderful haven that protects all I hold dear, my heroic brothers who have sacrificed their freedom for Scotland—who are outlaws to the crown, wanted men. This island has saved them, allowed them a place where they can live happily ever after. But this is a place to end up, not to begin. I will never find what my heart craves on these isolated shores.” Ian seized her hands, his eyes bright with hope.

“But don’t ye see, this is just the beginning for the MacVies—a new beginning. I’m going to make us merchants. We will have ships, Rose, big ones.” He pulled her farther down the coast and stopped in front of a large bulky object, completely covered by an old patched sail cloth. He turned to her. “And I’ll need a quarter master.” She pressed her hand to her chest. “Me?” she said, not hiding her surprise. Then she cocked her brow at her youngest brother. “Ian, no man in his right mind will sail a ship with a woman as its quarter master.

” Ian puffed out his chest. Although he was only one and twenty, he stood more than six and a half feet tall. With his fiery red curls, he was an intimidating sight. A gentle pup, more often than not, but when provoked, he had an explosive temper. So, too, had she in her youth, but over the years she had learned control…most of the time, at least. He crossed his arms over his massive chest. “They will if they want to sail my ship.” With his next breath, he relaxed and smiled. The lion once more gave way to the lamb. “Anyway,” he continued, “ye’re a fine sailor.

Ye always bring us luck when ye join us fishing. And speaking of fishing…” he said, a smile spreading across his face as he reached for the large sail cloth that covered whatever he sought to conceal. “This is for ye.” He whisked the cloth away. She gasped, and a smile came unbidden to her lips while her gaze traced the sleek lines of a newly fashioned sailing skiff. Although large enough for two passengers, she was certain she could handle the small vessel on her own. Jumping high, she threw her arms around Ian’s neck. “’Tis magnificent!” He laughed and squeezed her tightly before setting her feet back on the ground. Her hand shook as she ran her fingers across the oarlock. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

” Still smiling, she looked up at Ian. “Will ye try her out with me on the morrow?” His smile faltered, causing her own to disappear. “What is it?” she asked. He looked at her for a moment as if measuring his words. “Just say whatever is on yer mind. Ye know I do not suffer such nonsense as sparing my feelings. What is it?” He set his lips in a grim line before saying, “I received a missive from Abbot Matthew earlier today.” A chill of dread shot up her spine. “I…I did not know a messenger came,” she stammered while she fought for calm. Ian rubbed the back of his neck.

“Ye’ve stayed away. No one wanted to disturb ye.” Abbot Matthew led Scotland’s army of secret rebels. Jack, Quinn, Rory, and Alec had all carried out missions for the abbot, but they had retired their swords, all except Ian. She knew there was only one reason why the abbot would have sent a message to her youngest brother. The cause for Scottish independence needed a MacVie, and Ian was the only one left whose identity remained a secret. “Ye’re wanted for a mission,” she said quietly. he nodded. “I leave at daybreak.” She turned away and looked out to sea, her heartache both soothed and fueled by the tumultuous waves.

“Rose,” he said. “Aye,” she muttered. Her chest felt hollow as if her heart was too empty to beat. “Abbot Matthew once told me that God is like the stars guiding a man’s ship, but ‘tis the man who makes his own destiny.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and started to lead her up the beach toward the large thatched hut where the MacVies had gathered to give Ian a send-off. “What are ye trying to tell me?” she asked. “I’m telling ye that yer destiny is not yet written.” Chapter One Tristan Thatcher once again read the saccharine words scratched by his father’s hand on the rumpled missive delivered that morning when his ship pulled into Port Rìgh on Skye. Dear Tristan, I have the most joyous news to share with you, my son. “Joyous, indeed,” Tristan muttered angrily, his brow furrowing deeper still.

With regard to procuring for you a wife, I have made the most propitious match. “Favorable for all involved accept me,” he scoffed and lunged to his feet, continuing to read. Prepare yourself, my son, for good tidings. Tristan skimmed through the next several paragraphs summarizing Baron Roxwell’s poorly managed estates and dwindling coffers, for which Tristan’s father could not be more delighted—the reason for his glee was where Tristan started to read more closely. Baron Roxwell’s daughter, Abigail, is a comely enough lass. “What does it matter when her heart’s as black as soot,” he snapped angrily at the parchment, which refused to satisfy his temper with a reply he could shoot down. Resisting the urge to crumple the already abused paper in his fist, he read on. “Baron Roxwell has consented to a betrothal between you and Abigail. Thus, uniting our families and making you Lord Tristan Thatcher. It is a dream come true.

” A sharp rapping sounded at the door the instant before it swung open and a tall, slender man entered Tristan’s cramped quarters. “This is a nightmare, but one from which I cannot wake,” Tristan growled to his quarter master. Philip leaned against the door. “Can I assume you have not figured a way out of your betrothal?” Tristan held up the parchment. “I have read my father’s letter countless times, hoping I somehow missed the jest.” Philip shook his head. “I believe your father is gravely serious. Unfortunately for you, he means every word. I’m sorry, Captain, but you’re as good as married.” Tristan sat down at his small desk, determined to read the letter again.

“We must have missed something. My father cannot mean to have betrothed me without my consent—while I’m leagues away. I am five and thirty. Fathers do not betroth their grown sons.” He had no wish to disrespect his father, but he also refused to be a pawn in Owen Thatcher’s pursuit of something that was contrary to Tristan’s beliefs. It was not marriage itself that he opposed, although as a sailor he never fancied the idea of marrying a woman only to leave her alone most of the year. It was his father’s desire for an aristocratic title that Tristan fundamentally opposed. He had never understood his father’s fascination with the peerage. Tristan saw the lot as lazy and entitled leeches who thrived off the labor of others. Unlike the Thatcher family, Baron Roxwell had not earned his esteemed position in society.

He had simply been born to it. In contrast, Tristan’s father had started out a penniless London dockhand. Over the years, Owen worked his way to Captain. And when Tristan came of age, he had propelled the family business forward. Now, they were some of the most successful merchants in Christendom with fleets of ships that traveled from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Still, somehow this wasn’t enough for Owen. Another knock sounded. “Enter,” he barked. A thin, freckled face slowly peered around the door. “Sorry, Captain.

I didn’t mean to intrude.” Tristan took a deep breath. He could tell his brash tone had startled his cabin boy. “You needn’t apologize, Simon.” He held up the letter in his hand. “A matter of grave importance has vexed me, but it is my problem, not yours. What do you have to report?” A smile replaced Simon’s frown. “Nelson has spotted something drifting toward us.” Tristan dropped the letter on his narrow bed. “Let us go see what he has found.

” Both Simon and Philip backed into the hallway, allowing Tristan to take lead up the stairs. Stepping onto the main deck, Tristan scanned his ship. His crew lined the starboard side, clearly struggling to see what Nelson had spotted from his high perch. Tristan cupped his hands around his mouth. “What do you see, Nelson?” A thin, grizzly face with a nearly toothless grin smiled down at him over the sides of the crow’s nest, but, an instant later, his smile vanished as the line he held slipped from his gnarled fingers. Quickly, Nelson scampered from his perch and nimbly crossed the yard, seizing the line before he climbed back into the lookout. Tristan grinned up at the ancient sailor whose wiry body moved like a man a quarter of his age. Again, the weathered face peered down from above. “Can’t say for certain yet, Captain, but there’s something adrift out there.” Then he pointed up to the twilight-blue sky.

“’Tis a blessing it be summer, and the moon is full. Whatever sails this way will not be able to sneak up on us. I’ll see it first.” “Good man,” Tristan called. “Keep your eyes starboard. I wait for your report.” “Aye aye, Captain.” Tristan crossed the main deck and climbed the stairs to the forecastle and was soon joined by Philip. Keeping his eyes trained on the shadowy sea, Tristan said to his quarter master, “I must find a way out of this betrothal without shaming my father.” “Shaming him?” Philip said, the incredulity in his tone drew Tristian’s gaze.

“Captain, if you refuse this betrothal, your father could be thrown in the stocks or imprisoned. By the Saints, you speak of breaking a contract with nobility. His very life may be forfeit and yours.” Tristan gripped the ship’s rail, releasing a frustrated growl. “There must be a way. You know Baron Roxwell’s character. He’s a deplorable man. His own gambling and greed has brought his family low enough that he would consider betrothing his daughter to a commoner.” Philip arched his brow at him. “You may not be of noble birth, but I would hardly call you common.

You are wealthier than many lords.” Tristan threw his hands up. “What does it matter? I refuse to bind myself to such a ruthless family. Baron Roxwell is the epitome of all I despise in their class.” Philip looked at him dead on. “I’m sorry, Captain. The only way this match might have been avoided is if you were already married when the message arrived.” Tristan fisted his hands together. “I’m not married as you well know. Do not tell me there is no other way.

” He expelled a long breath, trying to regain control. Staring out to sea, he strained to see the object drifting near, but nothing broke the calm surface. Gentle waves lapped against the hull. “You could always get married,” Philip suggested. Tristan turned and raised a brow at him. “Isn’t it rather late for that?” Philip shrugged. “As you’ve said, you are leagues away from London. No one of consequence could account for the last year of your life. Who’s to say you weren’t married when we arrived at Port Rìgh.” Tristan shook his head.

“I see where you’re going with this, but let us hurry to the part where we dismiss your idea. If I knew a woman I wished to marry, I would have done so already. Anyway, you know my mind on marriage. I am a man of the sea.” Philip crossed his arms over his chest. “Marrying anyone else would be better than Abigail Roxwell. I heard she had her serving maid flogged for plucking her eyebrows too thin.” Tristan groaned and bent forward, letting his forehead rest on the rail. “I agree with your logic, but I refuse to be forced into one marriage to escape another.” Damn Owen and his stubborn hypocrisy.

Tristan stood straight and raked his hand through his hair. “It astounds me that my father can be so sensible in every other regard but his ambition to elevate his family to nobility. He cannot see his own folly.” “Mayhap, there is another way,” Philip murmured. Tristan watched his quarter master slowly pace the forecastle. “Yes, indeed, it just might work.” “What are you mumbling about?” Tristan said impatiently. Philip whirled around, his eyes gleaming. “You could falsify a wedding.” Had his quarter master gone daft? “What are you talking about? Falsify a wedding? What is that supposed to even mean?” A slight smile curved Philips lips.

“Yes!” he said, clearly approving his own plan before Tristan even understood it.

.

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