Authors: Kristin Vayden
Tags: #Scottish, #Historical Romance, #Historical, #highlander, #highlander historical, #Regency, #Regency Romance, #highlander romance, #scottish historical, #Romance, #scottish romance
Knight of the Highlander
By Kristin Vayden
Published by Blue Tulip Publishing
Copyright © 2013 KRISTIN VAYDEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
KNIGHT OF THE HIGHLANDER
Copyright © 2013 KRISTIN VAYDEN
Cover Art designed by P.S. COVER DESIGN
For my husband, who fought for my heart and continues to pursue me each day. Also, for my sister. I love you and can't imagine this adventure in writing without you.
The Scottish Highlands were a constant thorn in England's side. As the reign of James II was in question, the Jacobite cause began to surge. William and Mary, those who would become the sovereign monarchs, sought out information on the loyalty of the Clans in Scotland, primarily the troublesome Highlanders. Ever wary of the English, a more subtle approach was chosen.
The duplicity needed for this assignment would put Colin Blackburn Murray's skill at espionage to the test, however he was undaunted. Raised by his Scottish Grandfather and English Mother, he knew language well and would use that knowledge to serve William of Orange to the benefit of England.
Never did he question his own abilities, never once did he think he'd fail, and he certainly never imagined he'd fall in love.
Gooseflesh rose on Arwynn's arms along with the delicious feeling of being watched. He was there, somewhere in the darkness. Although she had never seen his face or heard his voice, she knew his form, always hidden in shadow. How she wished she knew who followed her so diligently. After being ignored by a tyrant Father Laird and reclusive mother, she welcomed knowing she was protected by someone; however unknown. In her dreams he was handsome. His appearance changed with each dream, but what remained the same was the caring light that illuminated the depths of his gaze, whatever color. Compassion, care, love; all the things she had so desperately longed for and never received, at least since her brother's passing. How she missed Athair. But it had been years since his passing, and she'd not dwell on her silent pain a moment longer.
Shaking her head to dispel the fanciful thoughts, she continued on her task. Reaching down she filled the pitcher with water from the burn. She alone was trusted to bring water to her mother. With time her mother's mind had continued to drift further and further from reality. The sickness now caused her to imagine enemies behind each tapestry.
As she left the bubbling stream, she spotted a slight flutter of a startled butterfly. She paused and watched the dark trees, searching. Her heart beat faster, yet the sensible part of her mind prompted her to be careful. Perhaps he was an older member of the council simply looking out for her welfare, but how she hoped, even prayed he was more. Hope was what kept her looking forward to each day. Hope was all she had. With a resigned sigh, she turned toward the gate that would usher her to her home and prison.
Arywnn's auburn hair cascaded down her back in heavy waves as the untamable locks overcame the binding of her once tidy braid. The pounding of his heartbeat echoed in his ears as he gazed upon her beauty. Her green eyes were as richly colored as the leaves in spring, changing in hue to a lighter color when she smiled then deepening to a burning evergreen when her temper was tried. He wondered what color they'd cast if she were in the throes of passion, or what color they'd reflect after being thoroughly kissed. Her skin was perfectly smooth, the color of fresh cream. A light dusting of freckles accented her slightly upturned nose, but her lips were the color of fine red wine, full and soft. Not one of the women of court in their finery could hold a candle to her natural beauty. Even in her simple dress and plaid, she was breathtaking. The vibrant colors of the red, yellow and green Chattan plaid accented the curve of her hips as she shrugged the tartan higher, preventing it from falling off her shoulders. In the years he'd been among her clan, each year had graced her with more beauty, more grace. Helpless to stop himself, Colin watched her from the shadows, carefully concealed so that he would remain unnoticed, as always.
Four years he had remained in the shadows, unnoticeable and easily forgotten. He was accepted as the local blacksmith, he even used his given name, but everything else was a lie. Though people, even Arywnn, saw him often and conversed with him readily, it was all part of the job. Blend in, listen and report. His position as the clan blacksmith gave him the perfect opportunity to speak with most everyone in the clan, it also put him in a great position to hear gossip. Gossip usually lead to a thread of truth and the threads he'd discovered were weaving quite a tapestry of deception and intrigue.
He knew when he accepted his charge there would be challenges, yet he never imagined the restraint necessary to hide such a powerful force as love. More than anything he wanted to reach out, to call her name, to feel the honey of it on his lips, but he was sworn to silence. A silence that if broken would cost him dearly, but more importantly, it could cost her life. So, once again he waited
,breathing quietly as he shadowed her movements and took in his surroundings, absentmindedly absorbing the details to sort through later in his never ending search for information.
Colin tried to calm his racing heart by breathing deeply. The only thread of restraint stopping him from rushing after her and tasting her lips was the knowledge that he was protecting her by his silence. He would do anything for her, even if it meant drowning in his own unspoken adoration. As he waited for her to enter the gates, he thought back over his latest discovery. Indeed the Laird of the Chattan Clan was planning to rebel against the crown.
The Jacobites were rising.
The Chattan Laird was a shrewd man, void of emotion and battle hungry. Change was coming, a time where secrets would be revealed and light would illuminate the shadows. As he walked back through the forest and into the private entrance he built to access the rude keep, he began to plan.
"Arwynn? Is that you?" her mother called weakly to her.
Slowly Arwynn walked into the dark room, wincing at the sharp sour smell of vinegar. A maid left quickly carrying a bucket, but she knew it would only be an hour or so before her mother called the woman back to clean yet again. If only she was concerned about something more worthy than the cleanliness of her chamber, but Arwynn knew it was useless.
"Yes mother, I'm here. May I assist you?" Arywnn approached her mother's frail form on the feather mattress. Carefully she poured cool water into an earthen mug and handed it to her. Ever since her fever two summers ago, she hadn't been whole. Already she had been weak from worry about Athair. The fever sent her into fits of delirium that she had yet to recover from. Each season brought a new illness, each one taking a piece of her mother away till now, only the shell of the woman she once was remained. As if trying to control some aspect of her existence, her mother was obsessed with her chamber being clean.
Arywnn struggled to be joyful, yet her heart was so heavy. First Arthair, now her mother. Would everyone she loved be stripped away?
"They're coming you know," her mother whispered before taking a deep drink of water. "They'll take away Athair, and he'll never come back."
"I know mother, don't worry," Arywnn soothed
,resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Her mother didn't remember that her beloved son had perished. She only remembered that he planned to leave. Each time she spoke of it, Arywnn's heart bled anew with fresh pain at the loss of her beloved brother. The same brother that had left at her father's request to help the Jacobite uprising.
"He'll die, and he'll never return." Her blue eyes locked with Arywnn's.
Compassion for the woman who had bore her warmed Arywnn's heart
. Poor Woman
. She was lost in her own mind, and fear was her constant companion.
"Father will keep us safe." Arywnn tried to comfort her mother, but the words tasted bitter and brittle in her mouth. She doubted her father would even remember her existence, if not for the reason that she was the only heir now. Even then he often forgot her name.
With a sigh Arywnn leaned down and kissed her mother's paper-thin cheek and helped her settle back on the bed. After setting the pitcher of water on the side table and placing another blanket over her mother's sleeping form, she tiptoed out of the room.
A ride. She needed a ride. Anything to eliminate the strong scent of vinegar and hopelessness that covered her. She shrugged her plaid higher and headed back out into the gloomy weather that mirrored her heart.
The stable was a rough-hewn timber and stone structure that leaned on the castle wall for support. As she walked into the dimly lit room, the smell of sweet hay and leather greeted her.
Garten, her mount, nickered as she approached his stall. His massive black head bobbed a welcome. As she reached out, he pressed the soft velvet of his nose into her palm and breathed in her scent, calming at her presence. His warm breath heated her hand with moisture, and he pressed against her playfully. With a laugh, she kissed his nose and brushed the hair from his eyes. As she reached into her pocket, she withdrew a carrot and held it out. For the strength of the animal, he was surprisingly gentle as he tenderly reached out his neck and nibbled the carrot with his lips before biting it tentatively. Arywnn caressed his black coat and traced the star at the top of his head while he finished his treat. With a final pat to his neck, she began to ready him
"Goin' for a ride Lass?" A deep voice caused her cheeks to warm with a blush of awareness.
"Aye, 'tis a lovely day, don't ye think?" Arywnn asked, grinning wryly as she took in the misty rain and dark clouds.
"Och, yes, t'would be a pity to stay inside on such a day as this." Colin's lips twisted into a wry grin.
"My thought's exactly." Arywnn's eyebrow rose in a silent challenge.
"Of course, who would want tae stay warm 'n dry when they could go out and catch their death," he replied with a sarcastic tone that was tempered with a small smile.
"Not I," she replied with a saucy grin before patting Garten's neck.
"Then I'll leave ye to yer ride." Colin nodded his head and took a step back as he headed toward the hayloft.
Arywnn watched his broad retreating form. Dark unruly hair brushed his neck and curled slightly. His olive skin held a rosy hue from being near the forge. Although she couldn't see his face, his eyes weren't easily forgotten with their dark blue depths that gave the deception of being almost black. While Colin didn't speak much, when he did it was always kind. For that reason Arywnn liked him…more than she should. Oh, she played and teased with her dry wit, but her heart hammered violently whenever he was around.