Ben stormed up the stone stairs leading to his private room in the keep, the eerie quiet of the castle at odds with the clawing panic that coursed through his body. The servants looked away as he passed them, each of them not willing to meet their laird’s eye. It was probably best that they did not, for at this very moment, Ben wasn’t sure what he would do should he see fear, sadness…pity, even, in their gazes. The long corridor toward his chamber was dark, the lanterns not yet lit for the evening, and he yelled out orders for the sconces to be lit. Muffled chatter sounded from behind his wife’s door, along with her sweet voice that was broken with intermittent sobs. He entered and read the room easily. The castle healer sat at the bedside, the old woman’s brow furrowed in worry and compassion. The redness of Aline’s eyes gave her despair away, and he joined her, pulling her tight against his chest. “What is wrong, lass?” She sobbed again, and he looked to the healer for enlightenment. “Tell me what causes this distress?” The healer sat back, folding her wrinkled hands within her lap. “The babe has been born and is now with a wet nurse. You have a son, Laird. A healthy babe who’ll grow up and do you proud, I’m sure. But what we thought was a twin sibling is nothing more than a hardened mass that will never be born or heal with time.” Ben frowned, leaning back to gain Aline’s attention.
“What does that mean?” “It means,” the healer said, standing, “there is nothing further I can do here.” The elder placed her hand gently on Aline’s brow. “May God bless you, my child.” Shock tore through him at the implication of the woman’s words and the finality of them. “There’s no second child?” He took a calming breath, his heart too fast in his chest. The room spun, and he clasped the headboard for support. “Are ye sure?” “Aye, I’m sure. ’Tis a miracle that you have a healthy child at all, but Lady Aline will unfortunately not recover from this birth. The birth of the boy has caused this mass to bleed—slowly—and it will not abate. I’m sorry, my laird.
” Aline sobbed against his chest, and he rubbed her back, not wanting to believe the healer’s words. “Leave us,” he barked, watching as the woman hobbled out of the room. “I’m going to die, aren’t I? I’m too young to die.” She sniffed, and tears burned behind his lids. He hated to see her like this, scared and desperate for salvation. “The old woman is mistaken. I’ll send a rider tonight to Castle Druiminn. Aedan will have Gwen come at my summons and see to ye. I know she’s there visiting after the birth of Aedan and Abby’s second child.” “’Twas a boy, was it not? I’m happy for them.
” Aline looked up at him, her beautiful face blotchy and red, either from the birthing ordeal or from crying, Ben wasn’t sure. “I had hoped to give ye two strong boys, but at least we have one. I hope I’ve not been a disappointment to ye.” He shook his head. “You were never a disappointment to me. I know we had an odd beginning, but it’s been an honor having ye as my wife. I hope I’ve not been a disappointment to ye, either.” Her pale hand reached out and stopped his words, her fingers cold against his lips. “You never were. ’Tis impossible for ye to be so.
” She slumped onto the bed. Ben studied her person and noted the ever-growing stain of red that spread upon the bedding. “I will send word straight away.” Standing, Aline reached out and grabbed his arm, shaking her head. “There is no time. Just promise me one thing, please.” Ben sat back down, taking her hand and fighting the gnawing ache opening inside his chest. “Anything, lass.” “Watch our precious lad. And as often as ye can, tell him how much I loved him.
How sorry I am that I didn’t get to see him grow up into the man I know he’ll become. One like you: strong, capable, and kind, if not a little savage around the edges.” Her weak smile wobbled, and Ben nodded, the lump in his throat denying him the ability to speak. “Of course,” he croaked out. “I’ll not let a day pass without such a reminder.” “I’m so cold.” The shiver that rocked her sent panic through his gut. No! She closed her eyes, and fear that she’d passed tore through him, followed by relief when he noted her shallow breathing. Ben lay down beside her, pulling her into the crook of his arm. Her hair smelt of roses, fresh and pretty, and he cursed the ailment that would take her life.
“I have ye, lass.” “Ye always did,” she said as her last breath left her body, and she stepped into the hands of the Lord. Ben pulled her hard against him and did something he’d never done before in his life. He cried. K CHAPTER 1 Present Day, Scotland enzie looked up at what was left of Castle Ross. It was hers. As of today, this massive structure, in need of a multitude of repairs, was all hers. She smiled down at the deed to the dilapidated castle. Thanks, in part, to her own estate that she used as a bed and breakfast, and let out for weddings, and weekend cooking tutorials. Not to mention her large stable and acreage that allowed people to stable their horses for a suitable fee.
After taking on Elderridge, a name her mother termed their home, Kenzie had ensured its survival by making it do what a lot of other estates were doing. She took opportunities when they came along, invested in the house, and now, thanks to her hard work, Castle Ross was hers. In time, this too, would earn its keep. Although she was a couple of years and a lot of hard work away from such a thing. She squealed and ran to the gate house that still stood, after all its years of sitting on the edge of collapse. Kenzie pinched herself, unable to believe it. Now, she just had to work with the English National Trust and have them approve all the repairs she wanted. Luckily, she wanted to keep the building exactly the same as it was when it was first built in 1435, although she was looking to add a modernized kitchen, bathrooms, and electrical work throughout. “I cannot believe you bought this place. And I cannot believe you were allowed to.
” Kenzie smiled as her oldest friend, Ann, slammed her car door shut and joined her at the gate. “I suppose you’ll need help building it and bringing Castle Ross back to its past grandeur.” “Are ye offering to help me then?” Kenzie asked, smiling at Ann as she looked about the fallen walls and the tree that was well established within what was once the great hall. “Perhaps, on weekends at least. It’s not like I have a life, so I suppose I better keep my friend, who also does not have a life, company.” Kenzie laughed, wrapping her arm about Ann’s shoulders and squeezing her. “Thank ye, sweetheart. I knew I could count on you.” “Hmm,” Ann said, walking toward the front doors of the building, which was really just remnants of the old entrance. “I gather with this new business venture that you’ll not be working at Castle Druiminn for the Laird Macleod anymore.
Is he happy with you branching off in this way?” “Richard is happy for me, and I only helped out at Druiminn while I got my own business up and running. It was only a temporary thing.” Kenzie walked through what was left of the front door. There wasn’t much left of the place, but Kenzie had support on the way. In two months, university students studying archaeology and architectural studies were due to arrive and help her restore the castle. It was a fantastic program that allowed her free help from skilled students, which in turn, allowed them to use their abilities to restore period and historical buildings. Not to mention, she planned on opening Castle Ross to the public for tours and hopefully, bring the castle back to its former glory so in the long run, it would pay for itself. The castle itself wasn’t overly large, certainly smaller than Druiminn castle, her ancestor’s estate up near the Isle of Skye, but it was not a small dwelling either. And with the support of her cousin, the laird, she’d gained consent to purchase the castle, under strict rules that she would have to abide by in the reconstruction. Everything she used to restore the building would have to be the exact material used during its construction.
Any stone that was required to replace missing or broken stone must be hand carved, sourced from the same quarry or the closest if said quarry was no longer available. The mortar would need to be a mixture of lime, sand, and seashells, since that was what had been used, being so close to the coast as they were. Wooden beams would also need to be cut and crafted by hand; everything would be as it was, except for the modern luxuries that were approved for the inside. It was no small task and would take months, years even, of work, but Kenzie was happy to do it, especially as she had always been fascinated with the house and the legend who had once lived within its walls. All her life, she’d heard stories of the last laird who had lived here, the Laird of Ross, Black Ben. The painting her ancestor Gwendolyn Macleod had painted of him that hung in Druiminn Castle had made her wonder about the man all her life. Black Ben, a devilishly handsome Scot who was famous throughout Scotland for being a brilliant swordsman and loyal to a fault, remained one of the country’s biggest mysteries—his disappearance from the history books, to this day, had never been solved. Not that anyone other than Ann was aware of Kenzie’s plan, but that unknown factor of Black Ben’s life would hopefully be solved. If she were game enough to try… “You’re lucky most of the outer walls still stand. At least they can be strengthened and give you a good base to work from.
” “Yes, and that most of the stones removed from the castle proper have been used in a stone fence just up the hill, which we can easily fetch and bring back, since that land was also part of my purchase. Anything else that’s needed can be sourced from the local quarry, the same place the building material came from back in 1435.” “I’m so proud of you, Kenzie. I know you’ll make this castle come back to life, just as you’ve always wanted.” Kenzie nodded, marveling at the massive step she’d taken. She walked into the old keep. The fireplace still stood, funny enough, and probably held up an outer wall, by the looks of it. She walked over to it, her hand gliding across the stone mantel, thoughts of Black Ben running through her mind. Had he stood at this very spot, deep in thought, and touched the stone, watching the fire lick at the wood? He had been one seriously hot Scot, and she liked to imagine him here, thinking, living, drinking, and enjoying his life to the fullest, as he was rumored to have done. “When are you heading back to Druiminn?”