Saving the Broken Highlander – Ann Marie Scott

Caitlyn sighed with relief as she watched yet another young man mount his horse and leave the castle. He was the third that week and she hoped he would be the last, at least for a while. The Laird of Avenmount was a handsome young man who bred some of the best draught horses in Scotland, and she would have been very comfortably off had she married him, but she was not inclined to. Her mother, Eileen Brodie, tut-tutted in exasperation.“Oh, Caitlyn!” she wailed as they saw the horse and rider disappear over the drawbridge and out of sight. “What is wrong with this one?” “Nothing at all, Mammy,” Caitlyn sighed. “I am just not attracted to him. Don’t worry, he will have no trouble finding a wife.” “Caitlyn,” Eileen said, spreading her hands in a gesture of appeal. She frowned deeply as she looked at her beautiful, headstrong daughter. “I am not worried about him, Caitlyn. He is not my responsibility, but you are. You have turned down five young men in a fortnight! Soon they will stop coming and you will be left on the shelf—a spinster forever!” Caitlyn raised her eyebrows and cast her eyes heavenwards. “When they stop coming, Mammy, I will send a prayer of thanks to the Lord!” she replied, her voice rising to a shout. “I told you I will marry for love and for no other reason!” “And how can you come to love someone if you never get to know them?” Eileen asked, now angry.

“You are eighteen years old—you have two more years, then no decent man will look at you!” “Two years is plenty of time!” Caitlyn snapped. “And if I do not find the man that I want then so be it! I would rather be happily single than unhappily married!” She glared at her mother, who had been rendered speechless by her daughter’s outburst, then turned on her heel and left. Eileen looked at her daughter’s retreating back and gave another deep sigh. Soon the word would spread among young men of substance in the area that Caitlyn Brodie thought that she was too good for all of them, and no more suitors would come calling. Caitlyn, unusually for a woman, was the heir to an estate, but that would change with her marriage, when all her wealth would pass to her husband. This was part of the reason why she was so careful. She did not want a fortune hunter who would take all her material possessions and cast her aside or abuse her. Then there was the kind of man who took his wife out in public and showed her off while secretly having a string of Mistresses. No, when I get married my husband will be faithful to me and only me, she thought, or I will make him very sorry indeed! She looked outside, thinking that it might be a good time to take her mare Rosie out for a ride, but it was pouring with rain and the sky promised more to come, so she went to her favorite room, the library. She loved the big room, which was lined from floor to ceiling with books, their colorful spines painting the room in stripes of gold, royal blue, scarlet, bottle-green, and crimson.

It smelled of lavender wax wood polish, beeswax, and parchment, a scent that always made her happy. She loved it even more in winter when she could draw the thick brocade curtains over the window then sit in front of a roaring fire listening to the storm howling outside. She picked up a romance and began to read it, but after she realized that she was reading the same page over and over again, she admitted defeat and picked up something a bit more challenging, a book of genealogy. This was a subject that had always fascinated her, and she could have spent hours poring over generations of Brodies, McDonalds, McLarens, Baxters, and Bruces. The branches of their trees spread outward as they grew, intermingling with other trees and forming new branches. Some came to dead ends, and some became longer and stronger and sank new roots of their own. She was just becoming engrossed in the latest book when her father came in, his brow furrowed and his green eyes dark with anger. “What have you been saying to your mother?” he asked angrily. “She is weeping in the parlor and I have had to spend twenty minutes trying to calm her down!” “I told her, and I am telling you, Pa, that I want no more young hopefuls turning up on our doorstep asking for my hand!” She had risen to her feet and was glaring at him furiously. “I will marry the man I choose, and I will marry for love, even if he is a blacksmith!” John Brodie knew there was no point in arguing with his daughter when she was in this mood.

“We will talk later,” he growled, “when you can be more reasonable. Goodnight, Caitlyn.” Caitlyn sat down again, but the book could not hold her attention any more. She went to bed, but it was a long time before sleep claimed her. T 1 THE ACCIDENT he ground was rough and uneven after the recent storm, but Caitlyn and Eileen Brodie had traveled it literally hundreds of times, and they had no fear at all. The only problem they had was the discomfort of being jogged from one side of the carriage to the other, which Caitlyn always made into a game, exaggerating the sideways motion and giggling merrily. Eileen had never been quite so sanguine about it. She always made sure to go out with an empty stomach on days like this, because nausea often overtook her halfway through the journey and once or twice she had been obliged to stop the carriage to be sick. Today was a bad day, and Caitlyn forgot her lighthearted game and held onto her mother tightly. Eileen leaned on her daughter’s shoulder gratefully, thinking how fortunate she was, after four miscarriages, to have given birth to this perfectly beautiful young woman, even if she could be exasperating at times.

“How are you feeling, Mammy?” Caitlyn asked anxiously. “You look very pale.” “I will be fine as long as you hold onto me, darling,” Eileen replied, trying to summon up a smile. She felt queasy in the extreme, but she did not want to spoil the journey for Caitlyn, who always loved riding in the carriage. “I think we are in for more rain,” Caitlyn observed, looking up at the sky with a frown. “Those clouds look as if they are going to empty themselves on us at us any moment now!” Eileen put a hand over her mouth. Caitlyn, knowing the signs, ordered the carriage to stop so that her mother could be sick. Eileen got out of the carriage and vomited by the roadside. Caitlyn wiped her mouth with a wet towel she kept for just such emergencies, then they got back into their vehicle. “Are you fine, now, Mammy?” Caitlyn asked, her voice filled with worry.

“Don’t fret, sweetheart,” Eileen replied, kissing Caitlyn’s cheek. “I will be fine now that my stomach is empty. I missed breakfast on purpose but I thought an apple would do no harm. It seems I was wrong.” She smiled wanly at her daughter. “Come, if we wait much longer it will be dark by the time we get there, and your grandma will be dozing off over her sherry!” Caitlyn laughed. She loved going to see her grandma, who was an older version of her mother, full of fun and mischief, still daft enough to play practical jokes at the age of forty-five. In fact, today was her birthday, and their visit was a surprise. Caitlyn could not wait to see Lorina’s face light up when she saw them. It seemed that Eileen was a little better after she had been sick, and she was able to laugh and joke a little with Caitlyn, teasing her about two of the young lairds-to-be who had come to pay court to her.

Caitlyn still exasperated her, but now she could see the funny side of the saga. Some of the young men had been perfectly horrible. “Laird McNair was never going to be my husband!” Caitlyn laughed. “All that false flattery —” She got no further. The wagon suddenly gave a sharp, sickening jolt that drove them forward to hit the seat in front of them, then they were tumbling sideways as it fell onto its left side, rocked back and forth for a few seconds, then was still. With the first jarring bump and sideways jerk, they were propelled sideways and landed horizontally against the carriage door. Eileen screamed before she slammed into it, but stopped when Caitlyn fell on top of her. There was a painful thump as her head hit the door and she lay still. For a few shocked seconds Caitlyn could not make a sound and then she screamed and shook Eileen as hard as she could. “Mammy! Mammy!” she yelled.

“Wake up, Mammy! Wake up!” Eileen gave a loud groan then lapsed into unconsciousness again. Somehow, Caitlyn managed to get out of the carriage, and went to see how the coach driver, James Murray, was faring. He was dazed, but conscious, and Caitlyn was able to help him out. He stood for a few moments coming back to his senses, then he nodded to Caitlyn. “Come, Mistress,” he said, his voice still slightly groggy. “Let us get her oot o’ there an’ I will go fer help.” Between them, they managed to wrestle Eileen out of the carriage. The ground was hard and muddy but they had no choice but to lay her on it anyway. Caitlyn noticed that her mother’s left arm was bent at a strange angle. Perhaps it is broken, she thought anxiously.

“I will go for help, Mistress,” James said. “‘Tis best ye do not move her.” “Hurry, please!” Caitlyn was weeping. “She is in a bad way, I am sure of it.” However, someone else was watching them. Laird Alastair Duncan of Mullach Castle saw the drama unfold from his vantage point on the peak of the hill where his home stood. He did not waste a second, and immediately sent down a dozen servants with a cart to transport the injured woman back to his castle, before mounting his stallion to gallop down the hill and arrive there first. He took in the scene at a glance. The young woman was kneeling on the ground with the older woman’s head on her lap, rocking her back and forth and crooning to her under her breath. He took in the carriage, its wheels still spinning slowly, lying on its side on the road, and the large rock that had caused all the damage.

It had no doubt been sent tumbling down the hillside because of the previous night’s rain. Vaguely Alastair noticed that the red-haired girl holding her mother’s head was very beautiful, but that did not matter now. The most important matter was to get back to the castle so that they could tend to the injured woman. “Mistress, I am Laird Alastair Duncan, of Mullach Castle on top of the hill.” He pointed and Caitlyn saw an imposing granite building that spread sideways over the whole flat tableshaped hill. It was massive, she could see, but she had no time to contemplate it now. The large man who was now examining her mother’s shoulder was very tall and wellmuscled, with shoulder-length wavy brown hair and deep brown eyes. Somehow, although she had just met him, she knew he was very dependable. Though a trifle grim, there was something about him that was wholesome and strong. “I am Caitlyn Duncan, and this is Lady Eileen Duncan, my mother.

” He was examining her mother’s shoulder, pressing it gently with his fingertips. She noticed that his hands were big, and looked as though they did a lot of work, for the creases were filled with dirt, but for some reason that made her even more impressed with him. He did not shun hard work, and he made things grow. He looked up at her. “Your mother’s arm is dislocated,” he said gravely. “I can put it right, and it would be best done now while she can feel no pain.” Caitlyn thought for a second. “Do it,” she said decisively. She helped Alastair sit her up then supported her with the help of one of the chambermaids, while Alastair got a firm hold of her shoulder. He twisted it suddenly.

There was a loud click and the arm was straight again. Caitlyn looked at him in wonder. “How did you do that?” she asked, eyes wide. “When you are a laird and an estate manager you need to be able to do many things, Mistress,” he replied. “We still have to attend to your mother’s head—she has some bad bruising on her forehead. I will ride ahead and have a room prepared for her then ride into the village and get the Wise Woman.” He bent down and gently picked Eileen up as if she weighed nothing. He put her down on the straw mattress in the cart which had two thick blankets on it. One of the chambermaids was about to help Caitlyn up on the cart too, but Alastair was too impatient. He swept her up into his arms and sat her down beside her mother, while one of the servants draped a blanket around her shoulders.

“Thank you,” she said faintly, astonished. No man had ever lifted her like that before. He gave her a small bow then got onto his stallion, not using the stirrups but leaping on and landing lightly in the saddle. The big horse seemed to know what was expected of him without being told, and they looked like one creature as they bounded up the hill, flying up the steep gradient as if it were a smooth level road. Caitlyn’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes were round with amazement. For a moment she had forgotten about her mother, and when she remembered and looked down again Eileen’s eyes had fluttered open. Caitlyn sighed with relief. “Mammy, I was so afraid!” She kissed Eileen. “I thought for a minute you were not going to wake up!” “What happened?” Eileen asked groggily. “Where am I?” “The carriage hit a stone and turned over,” Caitlyn replied.

“You were thrown against the door and hit your head. You dislocated your arm too, but a very nice laird rescued us and put your arm right. He is taking us to his castle now.” Eileen looked at her daughter’s animated expression. “An…attractive young laird?” she asked archly. She may have been dazed, Caitlyn thought wryly, but she was still thinking about her daughter’s marriage prospects! Caitlyn blushed. “Yes,” she replied. “But very stern.” She frowned. “He looks as if he has never smiled in his life.

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