Over the past year, I’ve received many letters and questions from readers about the characters from When a Scot Ties the Knot — Maddie, Logan, Aunt Thea, and all of Logan’s men. It seems that many wanted to know that they all ended happily, and I did, too. So I wrote this bonus epilogue as a way to peek in on them a few years later. It got a bit long, so I decided to split it into three parts.
This are the first and second parts, out of three. Part three will be released Friday, December 23rd. If you’d like to get it in your inbox, make sure you’re signed up for my mailing list!
“You little thief. Get back here, you.”
Logan chased the giggling ruffian down the spiraling stairs of Lannair Castle and into the great hall, where a dozen people were making ready for the wedding that would take place that evening. Connor barreled straight for the groom himself.
“Not so fast, wee Master Connor.” Rabbie plucked the boy off his feet and looked to Logan. “What’s he done now?”
Logan made a ‘steady’ gesture. “Easy. Dinna jostle him.”
He approached his little hellion of a son with hands up, speaking in a low, soothing voice. “Now Connor, you know how much those beasties mean to your mum. She won’t take well to losing one. Spit it out now.”
The boy squirmed and shook his head, lips sealed shut.
Rabbie lowered his voice. “I’m glad to see you, Captain. I’ve been wanting to speak to you. About the wedding.”
“There’s not much later to be had,” Rabbie said. “I’ve been thinking. Pondering. About whether this is the right thing for me. For us, I mean.”
Logan cursed under his breath. He didn’t have time for Rabbie’s cold feet.
Spittle trickled down Connor’s chin.
That was it. Logan was going in.
He reached out, catching the lad by the chin and wriggling one finger between his wee jaws. He could feel it in there, perched on that plump drooling tongue. If he could just pry his mouth open a bit more, one sweep of his finger would do the trick.
“There we are,” he crooned, pressing at the hinge of the lad’s jaws. “Open up. That’s the way.”
“This is marriage,” Rabbie went on. “I dinna know that I’m ready.”
“Not now, Rabbie.”
“I mean, I love her. But those vows… they’re for a lifetime. What if I’m making a mistake?”
Logan growled. “Look around you. The trimming’s been hung. Maddie’s readied the house for guests, and the women have worked for days on the feast. I’m still your captain, and if I have to, I’ll order you to marry her.”
“It doesna work that way. A man has to make his own— Ahh!”
Connor bit down on Logan’s finger—hard.
And then had the temerity to giggle.
Logan took the boy from Rabbie’s grasp, caught him by the ankles, and turned him heels-up. “Spit it out.” He gave the boy a shake. “Spit it out now, or your mother is like to kill me.”
“What in heaven’s name is going on?”
Perfect. Maddie entered the hall just in time to see him holding their son by the ankles. Connor wriggled like a trout on the line. And then…
“I asked you to mind him for a hour or two,” Maddie said. “It hasn’t been twenty minutes. What’s happened?”
Logan turned the boy right-side up. “Your son ate a bug.”
“Your son ate a bug, I think you mean.” She took the squirming boy from his arms. “Which bug?”
“One of those beetles. The specimens that arrived from Hampshire.”
“Oh, no. I haven’t finished sketching them yet, let alone coloring the plates.”
“I tried to get it back.” Logan rubbed the back of his neck. “Look at the bright side. He’ll be happy with earwigs and grasshoppers for Christmas presents.”
Maddie gave a sigh, and the sound tugged at his heart. Between working and mothering and preparing for Rabbie’s wedding, her candle was lit at three ends. She’d been looking weary of late, and now he’d let her down.
“He’s cutting teeth again,” she said. “He’ll put anything in his mouth.” She plucked a bit of wedding shortbread from a nearby table and handed it to the boy. Connor set on it like a dog gnawing a bone. “Time for a lie-down, darling.” She headed for the stairs, little beetle-thief in arms.
Logan would have to come up with something verra creative to earn his way back in his wife’s good graces. But first, he had to deal with a reluctant groom. He was ready to take Rabbie by the ballocks and give them a sharp twist. Logan might have cost his wife a beetle and a much-needed rest, but this wedding would on as planned.
He turned and looked about the hall.
Rabbie was gone.
Visiting Callum was a mistake. Rabbie should have known it would be.
“You’re thinking on it too much,” Callum said. “She loves you. You love her. It’s simple.”
Aye. It was simple for Callum. The man was made to commit—to the army, to a laird, to a wife, to a family.
After they’d settled at Lannair, the captain had named Callum his land steward. The man’s toes had sunk roots straight into the boggy soil. Before long, he’d set eyes on a pretty young widow. He’d taken Leana as his wife, her young son as his own, and now they had twins in the cradle, as well.
“You canna be having doubts.” Callum balanced a pudgy bairn in one arm—that arm being his one good arm, since the war. “The day you first saw Sorcha, you told us all you were going to marry the lass.”
“Aye, but that was because I knew she’d never have me.” Rabbie sat at Callum’s kitchen table and let his head fall into his hands. His brain was spinning. “You know how I am. I vowed to never settle down. Went chasing after every lass in the county. Never dreamed a woman like that could be caught. Not by the likes of me.”
Sorcha Graham was the daughter of an Inverness printer. Beautiful. Lively. Quick as lightning. She could do far better than Rabbie MacInnes, a foot soldier with no family and precious little to his name.
“What if we wed, and then she—”
The twin Callum wasn’t holding—Angus, Agnes…Rabbie could never tell them part—began to wail from the cradle.
“Hold a moment,” Callum said. “She’s soiled her clout, most likely.” He handed the infant in his arm to Rabbie, then went crooning an old Gaelic melody as he plucked the other from the cradle. He gave the babe a sniff. “Aye! Soiled it right well, she did.”
God’s blood. Only Callum could sound enthused about wiping a bairn’s arse.
Rabbie held wee Angus awkwardly as Callum went about tending his daughter. “I’m just not certain I can do this.”
“Any of it. Home, wife, children.”
“You’re doing well with your first lesson.” He looked over at Angus. “I think he likes ye, Rab.”
The bairn dropped the wooden spoon he’d been gnawing, turned to look up at Rabbie—and burst into a piercing wail.
“See?” Rabbie said.
Callum laughed. “Ye’ll learn.”
“I never learn. My own mother said so, and the woman was never wrong.”
Well, that wasn’t quite true, Rabbie admitted to himself. His mother had been wrong about one thing. She’d taken a worthless lout to husband, and the choice had cost her dear. His father had been a drunkard, and not the jovial sort. Quick to raise his hand in anger and slow to come home with his wages. Nothing had given them such relief as the day he never came back at all, and Rabbie wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
It was all good and well for Callum for say this was easy to learn. He took to family life like a trout took to a stream. But the talent for being a decent husband and father… it didn’t run in Rabbie’s blood.
“There now.” Callum returned Agnes to the cradle, rinsed his hand, and came to admire the still-screaming Angus where he sat on Rabbie’s knee. “He’s got strong lungs, hasn’t he?”
That was one way of putting it. Rabbie gratefully gave Angus back. The babe knew his father. He quieted at once.
“There’s lamb stew in the pot,” Callum said. “Leana made it this morning before she went up to the castle. A proper meal and a pint of ale will settle you.”
Rabbie shook his head. He hadn’t eaten since yestermorn. At the mention of food, his innards twisted in a knot.
He rose to his feet. “I thank you for the offer, mo charaid. But I canna stay. There’s someone else I’m needing to see.”
A quarter-hour after leaving Callum’s cottage, Rabbie sat in another kitchen—this one belonging to Munro, the field surgeon who’d come with them to settle near Loch Lannair.
“I’m telling you, I’m ill,” Rabbie said. My brain’s gone to porridge, and my stomach’s paining me. I dinna think I can walk down the aisle.”
Munro sighed. “Give us a look, then.”
He poked Rabbie in the stomach, peered into his eyes and ears, and stuck a flat stick down his throat. Rabbie gagged.
A grim look came over the grizzled surgeon’s face.
“Well, what is it?” Rabbie’s gut twisted again. “Am I dying?”
“Maybe. But only because I’m likely to kill you.” He closed his doctoring bag. “Coming to my house and bothering me when you’re healthy as a bloody ox.”
“Healthy as a— No, no. Munro, I swear it. I’ve never felt so poorly in my life. I canna eat. I canna sleep.” Rabbie stuck out a hand. “Look, do you see that? I’ve got the shakes. Do you reckon it’s typhus? Or maybe quinsy.”
“I reckon its nerves, on account of you getting married tonight.”
Rabbie shook his head. “I dinna think I should take my vows. What if it’s catching, and Sorcha should fall ill? I canna take the risk, not until we find the remedy.”
“Oh, I have the remedy you’re needing,” Munro said. He pulled a crockery jug off a high shelf and uncorked it. “First, take a pull on this.”
Rabbie gave it a wary sniff. “It’s just whisky.”
“Aye. That’s your cure. A good draught of whisky. And if that doesn’t take, I’ll follow it with swift kick to the arse.” He took the whisky back. “Now leave.”
“You’re failing to understand, Munro. I dinna think I’m able to—”
“Rabbie.” The surgeon grasped him by the shoulders and spoke in a low, threatening growl. “I’ve a guest. Get out.”
Rabbie looked around the kitchen and peered into the small sitting room. There was no guest that he could see.
“Oh, Munro. Don’t be so unsympathetic.”
The voice came from the cottage’s single bedchamber. And it was a familiar one. English. Well-bred. Female.
Rabbie frowned. Nay. Surely that couldna be…
An older woman emerged from the bedchamber clad in one of Munro’s linen shirts—and nothing else.
Maddie MacKenzie’s Aunt Thea?
After sending a breezy greeting in Rabbie’s direction, she went to fill the kettle. “I have a new tonic in my trunk up at the castle. I’ll fetch it for you later.”
“Don’t you dare,” Munro scolded her. “You and your tonics. Leave the doctoring to someone who knows what he’s about.”
She ignored the grizzled surgeon, instead placing the kettle on its hook and swinging it over the fire. “I do sympathize, Rabbie. I’ll admit, I never saw the allure in marriage myself. I’m too fond of my freedom.”
Munro looked at Rabbie and lifted a hoary eyebrow. “Listen to the woman. She’s using me for my body.”
If she was, the surgeon didn’t appear unhappy about it. To the contrary. Rabbie thought he looked rather proud.
“Pish,” she said. “We’re friends. Friends who enjoy one another’s company from time to time. Nothing wrong with that. We’re too old to trouble with propriety.”
“Too old?” Munro made a gruff noise. “Give it a quarter-hour, woman. I’ll show ye how old and decrepit I am.”
“The kettle’s on. You’ve five minutes before it boils. Ten, at most.” She sauntered back into the bedchamber, humming a siren’s tune.
“Challenge accepted,” Munro muttered.
Rabbie shot to his feet. “What do you know. I’m feeling improved.”
“You’re only anxious.” Munro clapped him on the shoulder, steering him toward the door. “That’s natural. If you want my advice—dinna think on the pressures of marriage. Fix your mind on the pleasures of the wedding night.”
“Get out, lad.”
Munro shoved Rabbie through the door, then shut and barred it.
And that was the extent of his medical opinion.
Check in Wednesday for part II, featuring the strong, silent Fyfe and Grant, the soldier with an imperfect memory but a heart of gold.
“You were married, weren’t you, Fyfe?”
“Aye,” Fyfe replied warily. Though he surely didn’t know what Rabbie MacInnes wanted, coming around to ask while he was putting up winter feed.
“Was it a good match?”
“’Twas a short one.”
“Brought you nothing but heartache.”
“Precious little else.”
Fyfe’s marriage hadn’t lasted a year. Maggie died of childbed fever, and the babe went with her. Fyfe had joined the army the next week. He thought it would help him forget. Instead it had given him too much time to remember.
But it was years and years in the past now. Eventually, life carried on.
“See, this is why I like you, Fyfe.”
Fyfe snorted. The men of Lannair had been through war and worse together. They’d come to love one another like brothers. However—as was true with actual brothers—that didn’t mean they all liked each other. He and Rabbie had never been what one would call close.
Which made it damned odd that Rabbie had come to Fyfe’s cow-shed to puke out his deepest thoughts and feelings. Just piling on more refuse for Fyfe to shovel.
“You dinna talk much, but you follow what I’m saying.” Rabbie winged a small stone into the pasture. “Men like Logan, Callum… they’re too happy. They canna see the truth—that not every marriage is like theirs. But you know that. You’ve no intention to wed again.”
“There you’re wrong,” he answered.
“I’m wrong about what?”
“I’ve set my mind to marrying again.”
Rabbie was paying attention now. “Really? To whom?”
Rabbie looked puzzled. “Jamesi… Wait. Do you mean Ina? The laundress?”
My Ina, as he’d come to think of her.
Red hair, bright eyes. She lived in a cottage just down the path—the one by the stream. She hummed as she went about her washing. He’d come to treasure the sound of it.
“It won’t be any time soon,” he said. “Her husband ran off to America not quite six years ago. She must wait a full seven before he’s ruled dead.” He dug his pitchfork into the hay and tossed another forkful into the loft. “At any rate, I’ll thank you not to come around here complaining about being married this evening. There’s some of us who’d eagerly change places.”
“Fyfe, I… I’d no idea.”
“Well neither does she. I’ve not asked her yet. So dinna go about spreading tales.”
“No one would believe me if I tried.” He laughed. “Imagine it. Quiet, tetchy Fyfe, sick with love.”
“Sick of your company, more like. Go on, then. I’ve work to finish before I can bathe. I dinna suppose you want me at your wedding smelling of cattle.”
Once his visitor had finally gone, Fyfe returned to his work. He hadn’t lifted but another few bundles of hay when he heard approaching steps again. He looked up, ready to give Rabbie another earful.
Jamesina Muir rounded the corner, a basket of washing balanced on one hip. “Did ye mean it?”
Fyfe paused. How much had she heard?
“Did you mean what you told him just now?” she asked. “About wanting to marry me?”
She’d heard all of it, apparently.
He had no wish to deny it. “Aye. I did.”
Her brow wrinkled. “You’ve never said anything. Sometimes I fancied you looked my way a touch longer than necessary. But I never would have thought—”
“There isna much to say, is there? Not for another year.” He stabbed his fork into the hay and let it rest there. “And I’m not given to speeches.”
“I’ve noticed it,” she replied thoughtfully. “You’re always hard at your work.”
“When I’ve set myself to something, I dinna rest till it’s done.” He brushed his hands on his plaid. “I know what I want. I’ve been wanting it for some time. Twill be only a matter of whether you want it, too.”
He looked at her. She looked back at him.
There was some relief to having it out in the open. He hadn’t wanted to rush her. But now she knew. If she didn’t want him, she could tell him so.
Instead, she simply asked, “Have ye anything more for the washing?”
“Nothing that wasna set out.”
“What of that?”
He touched the dirt-streaked linen of his shirt. “This?”
“Aye. You told Rabbie ye mean to bathe before the wedding. I may as well take it now.”
Fyfe fixed his gaze on her. Something told him this wasn’t about laundry.
He crossed the byre in slow strides, until he stood just a few paces distant. He tugged the shirt free of his plaid and pulled it over his head. When his skin met the chilled air, clean sweat rose from his body like steam.
Ina’s eyes dropped. Not with bashfulness, but curiosity. She looked him head to toe, her lower lip caught beneath her front teeth.
He stood still, making himself free for her appraisal.
His life had been one of battle and hard work. He had the scars and muscles to prove it, and he wasn’t ashamed to show them. And since she was looking, he took the opportunity to rest a lingering look on her tempting bosom, and admire the curve of her cocked hip where it propped up the laundry basket.
He cocked an eyebrow. Well?
She’d been wed before, and so had he. They both knew what they were about. Did she like what she saw or not?
Wordlessly, he held out the shirt to her, and she took it.
He mouth tipped in a little smile. “’Twill be a verra long year.”
Fyfe watched her as she walked away, noting the sway in her hips.
Lass, ye have no idea.
Rabbie didn’t know what was happening today. His friends had all gone saft in the head. That was the only explanation. They’d grown so accustomed to homely comforts and female company, they’d forgotten the rough sorts they’d once been. They’d forgotten the scoundrel Rabbie still was.
Well, there was one man in Lannair who would recall his true nature.
Malcolm Allan Grant.
Grant had gone addled when he suffered a mortar blast during the war. He’d lost his memory of everything that came after the injury, and for some time, he had needed to be reminded again and again of his current surroundings—and of his family’s tragic deaths. He’d improved, slowly, ever since they’d come to Lannair. Most days, he no longer grew lost in the castle. He recalled new people if he saw them day after day. But some confusion lingered, and he still treated Rabbie as though they were on campaign—sleeping huddled in their plaids, telling jokes around the campfire.
When Rabbie entered the kitchen, Grant looked up from his heap of potato peelings. “Rabbie! What brings ye here?”
“In search of good company, I suppose.” Rabbie drew up a stool and sat next to his old friend. “That’s a great many tatties.”
“Aye, there’s to be a feast tonight.” He looked at Rabbie. “Remind me, what’s the occasion?”
“’Tis a wedding.” Rabbie rubbed his face. “Mine, I think.”
“Ah, I recall it now. That maid of yours finally gave in.” He reached for another potato.
Captain MacKenzie had named Grant the castle caretaker, but aside from locking the doors at night and standing watch if ever it was needed, he spent a good part of his day in the castle kitchen. He pared turnips and chopped potatoes, kneaded the dough for bread. The steady rhythm of it seemed to ground him, somehow.
“You’re a lucky bastard, to catch that one,” Grant said. “Bonny as the day is long.”
“Aye. And as gentle as winter’s first snowfall.”
“What’s she see in you, then?”
“I’ve no idea, mo charaid. None at all.” Rabbie plucked one of the potatoes from the heap, pulled his knife from his boot, and joined Grant in the paring. Perhaps the activity would help him sort through his thoughts, too. “You know me. I’m no woman’s idea of a husband.”
“’Tis a good thing you’re making it sacred this evening, then. Before she can come to her senses.”
“I’ve been thinking on it,” he told Grant in a low voice. “Perhaps ‘twould be kinder of me to let her go. Seeing as how I’m sure to disappoint her someday.”
“Och, ye willna disappoint her. You’ve charmed her by now.”
“Aye, but charming a sweetheart is one thing. I’ve no notion of how to keep a wife.”
“Of course you haven’t. You’ve never done it before.”
Well, Rabbie supposed that was true.
“Rabbie MacInnes.” Becky, the young maid of all work about Lannair Castle, emerged from the larder. “You’ve come to trouble us, I see. Don’t you have something else to do?”
“Maybe I came to give a certain kitchen maid one last look on this handsome face. Before I shackle myself in matrimony.”
Becky shook her head, annoyed.
“Sorry, lass,” he teased. “I know your heart was set on me, but I’ll be off the market.”
“Get along with you, then.” She gave the spit of roasting geese a turn, then pulled a meat pie from the oven. “If you want a proper wedding feast, you’d best leave us to cook it.”
“I’ll be gone soon enough.” After Becky moved across the kitchen and began to divide dough into bannocks, Rabbie lowered his voice. “See?” he told Grant. “You know what an incurable braggart I am. Usually, it comes to no harm. But these are vows. If canna I live up to my talk this time, Sorcha’s the one who’ll pay.”
Grant set aside his knife and stacked his brawny forearms on the table. “Let me tell ye, Rab. After that blast, my wits were scattered in all directions. Felt like I was breaking new paths in my brain, trying to connect one part to another. And somedays, I was just stumbling through a fog. But in all this time, I’ve never felt truly lost. Ye know the reason?”
“Because of you.”
“Aye, you. And the captain and Maddie, and Callum and Fyfe. Becky, as well.” He tilted his head toward the maid. “If ever I lose my way, I know one of you will point me in the right direction. I’m not frightened. Not anymore.”
Rabbie thought on it. His father hadn’t taught him a bloody thing about being a good husband and father, or even a decent man. But he was surrounded by examples of fine men now. Captain MacKenzie, Callum, Munro, Fyfe—even Grant. Rabbie liked to think he’d become a better man in his years living and working among them. Not a perfect man, by any means. But maybe Grant was right. If ever he grew unsure of his path, one of them would be around to point the way.
Rabbie laid both hands flat on the table and stood. Becky was right—he did have things to do. “Thank you, Grant. You’ve been verra helpful.”
“That was good of you, Grant.” Becky popped the bannocks in the oven. “I don’t know how you find the patience to listen to all the folk in this castle.”
“’Tis a pleasure.” He loaded the pared potatoes into their basket and brought them over to the pot of boiling water. “They’ve all helped me, and I’m glad to be of some help in return.”
Sooner or later, every soul in Lannair came and sat at the kitchen worktable as he pared potatoes or sliced turnips. They told him their secrets, plans, dreams…anything they might be ashamed to admit aloud to someone else. Grant supposed they came to him because even if he wished to break a confidence, he wasna likely to recall the story quite right.
It didn’t trouble him. He liked to listen, and he liked to feel he served a purpose at Lannair beyond locking the castle doors at night and lifting heavy things from one place to another.
Speaking of heavy things…
He hastened to help Becky, who was juggling a basket of eggs in one arm and a sack of oats in the other.
“Ye should let me do that,” he said.
He set aside the oats, then took the eggs from her and put them on the table.
When Grant turned back, she was very near to him. They were both breathing a bit hard, and on his side it wasn’t from the weight of the oats.
There were other reasons Grant liked to be in the kitchen. One other reason, in particular—and she was standing directly before him now. By God, she was bonny. Her cheeks were pink, and the little wisps of hair at her temples were curled from the heat of the kitchen.
His heartbeat rattled his ribs like cannon-fire.
“You’re a good man, Malcolm Grant.” She looked up at him shyly. “The best man I know.”
Before he knew what was happening, her arms were about his neck. And then her lips touched his, sweet and soft as petals. He gathered her in his big arms, lifting her off her feet so he could properly kiss her back. He wanted to be tender, but he also wanted… Christ, he just plain wanted.
She broke the kiss, and he was left with an echo of sweetness and warmth. A memory. One he’d hold onto with all his might.
His brain was awhirl with the magic of it. And just when he’d managed to catch his breath…
She turned his world on its ear with what she said next.
“Grant, I… I’ve fallen in love with you.”
He couldn’t speak.
“I don’t expect to hear anything in return. I’m only brave enough to tell you because I know you won’t recall this tomorrow.”
“You sound verra certain I won’t.”
“Sadly, yes. I am.”
He smiled a little. “Because you think I don’t recall the all other times we’ve kissed.”
Her arms slipped from his neck. “Did… Did you say—”
“Aye, lass. I recall every one. Well, nine of them at least. I might have missed a few before I started keeping notes.”
“Oh, Lord. You kept notes?” Her face was growing redder by the moment.
“I always write myself a note if something’s important to me. And your kisses are verra, verra important to me.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
He scrubbed a hand over his close-shorn scalp. “I didna know how to tell you.”
“This is so embarrassing.” She turned from him. “You must think I’m a fool.”
“Nothing of the sort.” He darted around her, trying to catch her eye. “Becky, why do ye think I come down to the kitchens day after day? It isna for the love of turnips.” He tucked a finger under her chin, tilting her head until she met his eye. “You’re so bonny. And so kind. I like the way ye laugh, the way ye smell. The way your hair falls over your brow sometimes. I like … Nay, I love being near you.”
“Then why not tell me the truth?”
“Because there’s no good in it.” He swallowed hard. “I couldna be the husband you deserve.”
“You’ve been thinking that way? The two of us, getting married?”
“Aye, lass. I’ve been thinking that way.” He took her waist in his hands. “Since long before the first time we kissed, even though I knew it was hopeless.”
“Why hopeless? We wouldn’t be without friends. Like you told Rabbie just now. The others would steer us back on the right path.”
“It isna the same. There’s parts of me what are still in pieces. I have dreams yet, some nights. What if I woke and didna know who was sleeping beside me?” He slid his hands around her, gathering the linen of her frock in fistfuls. “If ever I were to hurt you… I woulda know how to bear it. I couldna guard you, nor provide for you the way a man should for a wife.”
“I think you could.” Her eyes softened. “I think you could do most anything.”
With all his heart, he wanted to believe that. “With time, maybe. But who could know how long? I wouldna ask you to wait.”
“You aren’t asking me to wait, Malcolm Grant. I’m telling you I intend to do it anyway. If you love me in return, that is.”
He rested his forehead to hers. “I’m sore in love with ye, lass. The path from my heart to yours was worn long ago.”
“Then we’ll walk on together from here,” she whispered. “One step at a time.”
One step at a time.
Grant was a strong man, in body if not so much in his mind. But that devoted look in her eyes had him weak to his very bones.
God give him the grace to deserve her.
“By my counting,” he said, “we’ve had no fewer than nine first kisses. I reckon we’re ready to take that next step now.”
A bonny dimple formed in her cheek. With a quick glance to make certain no one was looking, she took him by the hand and led him toward the pantry.
Grant couldn’t wait to read the note he’d left himself tomorrow morning.
That evening, Rabbie stood in Lannair Castle’s great hall, dressed in his plaid, a new shirt, and a black tailcoat on loan from Captain MacKenzie. His stomach remained a knot of nerves, but his heart and his thoughts had quieted.
He could do this.
What was more, he wanted to do this.
He looked about the hall. The guests were assembled. Sorcha’s family had traveled from Inverness and beyond. There weren’t any MacInnes’s in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. Callum, Munro, Fyfe, Grant, the captain… they were all present, and they were his family.
Only one was person missing.
“Christ,” Rabbie muttered. “I knew it. I knew she’d eventually come to her senses and realize she’d be throwing away her life on me.”
“Easy,” Callum put his hand on Rabbie’s shoulder. “She’s probably meddling with her hair or her flowers. You know how women are.”
Agonizing minutes passed. The guests became restless. When footsteps finally tapped down the stairs, Rabbie sucked in his breath.
It wasn’t Sorcha.
The hall went stone silent as Maddie MacKenzie’s heels click-clacked down the length of the stone floor.
“Where is she?” Rabbie whispered. “She’s changed her mind, hasn’t she?”
“She didn’t say anything of the kind. But she’s asked to see you.”
His knees wobbled. “She’s going to leave me.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know it. She’s going to leave me, but she wouldna run off without telling me so to my face. She’s too good for that. Too good for me.”
“Rabbie. Go talk to her.”
He nodded with resignation. “Verra well.”
He found her in the bedchamber designated as the bride’s dressing room. She sat in a chair by the hearth, her hands knotted in her lap.
Rabbie stood in the doorway for a moment, just staring. If she was going to leave him, he was going to look on her while he could.
God, she was beautiful. Her dark hair was done up in curls and bound with gold ribbon. Gold edged her gown as well, glinting in the candlelight. His heart ached with the loveliness.
Eventually, he cleared his throat.
“Rabbie,” she said, turning. “Thank you for coming up.”
“No need to thank me, Sorcha. Whatever you have to say, I’ll hear it.”
She looked at the floor. “I’m not sure I can go down there.”
He closed his eyes as the air rushed from his lungs.
She went on, “I’m so—”
“Nay, lass. Dinna make excuses. Tis a relief to hear you say it, really. I wondered when you’d be wise enough to realize I dinna deserve you. Better now than years later.”
“Oh, no.” She stood. “Rabbie, it’s not that.”
She shook her head, and the tender look in her eyes gave him hope.
“Then what is it?” He moved toward her, cautious. “Is your father objecting?”
“Dinna tell me you’re afraid of the wedding night. Despite what ye may have heard rumored, I’m not so verra enormous.”
She laughed a little as she came into his embrace. “You always make me laugh.”
“’Tis my greatest joy, to hear you laugh.” He guided her to sit, then pulled up a chair beside her. “And ’tis my greatest fear that someday I’ll give you cause to cry.”
“Why would you fear that? Don’t you love me?”
“Lass, my heart was lost the moment I set eyes on you. Ask any one of the men down in that hall.” He touched her cheek. “So tell me. What’s in your heart? Do you not feel the same?”
“Of course I do. I love you desperately, Rab. It’s only…” She looked away. “A wedding. Marrying. We’re young. We’ve no notion what we’re doing. It feels as though we’re making a running leap from a cliff. I’m scared.”
There was nothing else for it. He chuckled.
She looked at him, wounded. “You’re laughing?”
“Not at you, Sorcha a gradh. ’Tis only that I’m glad to hear you say that. I’ve been feeling the same.”
“Oh, aye. Havena had a proper meal or a good sleep in two nights.”
She smiled, looking more like her usual self. “It’s been three for me.”
“Well, at least we can admit our true feelings to each other. There’s that, isn’t there?”
“Honesty’s important. And so is this.”
She leaned in and pressed her sweet lips to his, sliding her hand into his hair. He kissed her in return, with as much passion as he dared.
It felt like coming home.
He exhaled, feeling a lifetime’s worth of fear melt away. “There is that, as well.”
“Will it be enough, do you think?”
He was silent, considering. “Here’s the way I’m seeing it. If I’m going to take a running leap from a cliff… There’s no one else’s hand I’d rather be holding.”
He offered his hand.
She took it, interlacing her fingers with his. “Let’s go downstairs and be married.”
What with the toasts, feasting, fiddling, dancing, drinking… It was closer to morning than midnight by the time the wedding festivities drew to a whisky-doused end.
Maddie climbed the stairs to their bedchamber on weary feet. Logan followed close behind her.
Once they were safely behind a closed door, he sank against it and groaned. “Glad that’s over.”
He’d taken the words from her mouth. It had been a long day for them both. As she removed her jewelry, he tugged off his boots and peeled the knee-high socks from his calves.
“At least the wedding went forward,” he said. “I was worried there for a moment.”
“I wasn’t,” Maddie said. “I knew you would have prodded them down the aisle yourself, if they hadn’t gone willingly.” She turned her back to him so he could help her with the buttons of her gown.
“They had too much time to think on it,” he said. “If you ask me, we did it the right way.”
“What, marrying three hours after we’d met?”
“You weren’t a stranger to me,” he replied smugly. “I’d known you for near ten years, and loved you for half of them.”
“Well, if we’re arguing that point, I loved you first. I dreamed you up, remember.”
“Let’s just agree we were formed for each other.”
As she brushed her hair at the dressing table, Maddie watched her husband’s reflection in the mirror. He unwound the folds of his plaid, setting it aside before drawing his shirt over his head. Her gaze roamed the hard planes of his back and the sculpted muscles of his thighs.
Oh, yes, she thought. Well-formed indeed.
She set aside her brush and began doing up the buttons of her shift.
“Dinna trouble with that.” Coming up behind her, he took her waist in his hands and bent to nuzzle her neck.
She melted back against his chest with a sigh. “After the day we had, I can’t believe you still have the strength for this.”
“Woman, have you forgotten the time I was stabbed?” He guided her to the bed and drew her shift aside, baring her breast. “Even then I still had the strength for this.”
He drew her nipple into his mouth and teased her with his fingers until she was afire with longing.
“I’ll never get enough of this,” he said hoarsely. “The way my body fits with yours. The way you hold me so tight, like you willna let go.”
She gasped as he entered her. “You know I never would.”
They knew one another so well, they joined together like two halves of a whole. Maddie needed this every bit as much as he did. This feeling of being loved, desired, safe. Complete.
Soon they found an easy, familiar rhythm. He knew where she wanted to be kissed sweetly and where she liked a teasing bite. She knew how it made him wild when she grabbed his arse with both hands, the better to pull him deep.
When it was over, he held her close. “We’d have come together somehow. You know that, don’t you? If your letters hadna found me, I’d have gone searching for you.”
Maddie laughed to herself as she pictured the scene: A six-foot Highlander tromping the green hills of England, knocking on every door in search of a shy, bookish spinster.
But really, was that any less believable than the way they had met?
“I mean it, mo chridhe.” He stared deep into her eyes. “I would have found you.”
She laced her arms around his neck. “I would have waited.”
Thank you so much for reading, and for taking this journey with Maddie, Logan, and all the others. I hope you have the happiest of holidays, and a new year full of wonderful surprises.