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Alasdhair. His name—the name she hadn’t allowed herself to think, never mind say, for fear of the pain it caused—shimmered into her mind.

Her Alasdhair, he’d been once. Fleetingly.

Somehow, Ailsa found the courage to step through the gate and into his presence. It were better they get this over now, with no one else around. It had to be done. The pain would ease after this, as it did when a wound was lanced.

‘Alasdhair?’

Pain, pure and bright as the sharpest needle, pierced him.

Ailsa.

She sounded different. Her voice was older, of course, and lower—husky rather than musical—but he’d recognise her anywhere.

‘Ailsa.’ Her name felt rusty with disuse. His voice sounded hoarse.

They stared silently at each other. Six long years. They stood as if set in amber, drinking in the changes the years had wrought …

AUTHOR NOTE

Highland Scots have a long and successful history of emigration to North America. Jacobites on the run, impoverished lairds and dispossessed crofters alike sought fame and fortune in the New World in their droves during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in a bid to escape persecution or poverty. Some failed, some returned home, but many, like Alasdhair my hero, carved out a very successful life for themselves.

At the same time entrepreneurial Glaswegian merchants were taking advantage of the favourable Trade Winds to cross the Atlantic quicker than their English counterparts. Their clippers laden with consumer goods difficult to obtain in the New World, these canny Scots willingly granted the plantation owners credit with which to buy their goods—something their English counterparts were reluctant to do. Returning with a cargo of tobacco (and, sadly, in many cases slaves), the Tobacco Lords, as they came to be known, became rich on the proceeds, and by the middle of the eighteenth century completely dominated the trade. It was a logical step for plantation owners such as Alasdhair to enter into a business deal with these distributors, ensuring the best price for his own produce. It was actually the research I did for an article about Glasgow’s Merchant City, home of the Tobacco Lords, which planted the seed for Alasdhair’s story.

As a historian and writer of historical romances, authenticity matters a lot to me. As a Scot, evoking the true ambience of the Highlands is also something I’m passionate about. Though Errin Mhor, where this story is set, doesn’t actually exist, I know exactly where it is: on the west coast, near Oban. All the surrounding places mentioned in Alasdhair and Ailsa’s story are real places in my native Argyll. The Tigh an Truish, a drovers’ inn on the Isle of Seil, so called because it was where Highlanders going any further south swapped their plaids for trews, is still there today, as are many of the little ferry and drovers’ inns which would have provided my hero and heroine with shelter on their journey. They visit Inverary at the time the present-day castle was being built. In order to secure the view, the Duke of Argyll really did have the original fishing village ‘moved’ a few hundred yards along the banks of Loch Fyne, where the town, with its Palladian frontage, remains to this day.

If you visit Argyll you won’t find Errin Mhor, but I hope that you’ll discover for yourself the essence of it, which is far more beautiful than anything I could ever describe.

About the Author

Born and educated in Scotland, MARGUERITE KAYE originally qualified as a lawyer but chose not to practise—a decision which was a relief both to her and to the Scottish legal establishment. While carving out a successful career in IT, she occupied herself with her twin passions of studying history and reading, picking up first-class honours and a Masters degree along the way.

The course of her life changed dramatically when she found her soul mate. After an idyllic year out, spent travelling round the Mediterranean, Marguerite decided to take the plunge and pursue her life-long ambition to write for a living.

Marguerite has published history and travel articles, as well as short stories, but romances are her passion. Marguerite describes Georgette Heyer and Doris Day as her biggest early influences, and her partner as her inspiration.

Marguerite would love to hear from you. You can contact her at: Marguerite_Kaye@hotmail.co.uk

Previous novels by the same author:

THE WICKED LORD RASENBY

THE RAKE AND THE HEIRESS

INNOCENT IN THE SHEIKH’S HAREM

    (part of Summer Sheikhs anthology)

THE GOVERNESS AND THE SHEIKH

THE HIGHLANDER’S REDEMPTION*

*Highland Brides

and in Mills & Boon® Historical Undone! eBooks:

THE CAPTAIN’S WICKED WAGER

THE HIGHLANDER AND THE SEA SIREN

BITTEN BY DESIRE

TEMPTATION IS THE NIGHT

CLAIMED BY THE WOLF PRINCE BOUND TO THE WOLF PRINCE

THE HIGHLANDER AND THE WOLF PRINCESS

THE SHEIKH’S IMPETUOUS LOVE-SLAVE

The Highlander’s

Return

Marguerite Kaye

www.millsandboon.co.uk

For J, my own Highland hero! Again. And again.

And always. Just love.

Prologue

The Highlands, Scotland—Summer 1742

The sun was just beginning to set as they made sail for home and Errin Mhor. They had spent an idyllic day on the largest of the scattered string of islands known locally as the Necklace. The Highland sky was streaked with pink and burnished gold, slowly turning to crimson as the sun made its stately journey towards the horizon. The little skiff, An Rionnag, bobbed her way across the silver-tipped waves towards shore, her single sail catching the faint breeze that had risen with the turning of the tide.

Alasdhair sat in the stern, one hand keeping a loose hold on the tiller, the other arm resting along the side of the boat. They’d made this trip so many times he could probably navigate it blindfolded. He was sitting with his usual casual grace, bare-footed and bare-legged, wearing only his plaid and an old shirt, open at the neck. Facing him, from her seat in the prow, Ailsa smiled contentedly. It was her sixteenth birthday, which meant, Alasdhair had reminded her this morning, according to tradition that she was an adult now, free to do anything she wanted. All she had ever wanted was to escape, to get away from the oppressive atmosphere of the castle, released from the autocratic iron rule of her father and the cold indifference of her mother. But Ailsa knew that it wasn’t as simple as that. As a laird’s daughter, her life wasn’t hers to dictate. The clan and duty took precedence over personal desires. But on a day like this, what better place to escape to, albeit temporarily, than the island. Their island. On board The Star. With Alasdhair.

Her skin felt tight from the salty sea-spray and the heat of the sun. Her hair had escaped its braid as usual, curling wildly down her back, reaching almost to her waist. She felt pleasantly tired; the kind of contented lethargy that comes from a day spent laughing and lazing with no one but themselves to please.

A perfect day. As ever, she and Alasdhair had been in total accord. Despite the five-year gap that separated them, they had always been close. Closer still since Ailsa’s older brother Calumn, Alasdhair’s boyhood friend, had left Errin Mhor to join the Redcoat army. Now that it was just the two of them at the castle, they spent even more of their free time in each other’s company. The laird’s much-neglected daughter and his rebellious ward, kindred spirits united by adversity—for neither of them felt wanted, neither was loved.