Set in 1745, Rebellion tells the story of Serena MacGregor, whose hatred of all things English extends to her brother’s friend Brigham Langston. He’ll prove himself worthy of the MacGregor’s respect, but piercing Serena’s pride will take all the passion he can muster.
About the Author
Date of Birth:1950
Place of Birth:Silver Spring, Maryland
Read an Excerpt
Glenroe Forest, Scotland, 1735
They came at dusk, when the villagers were at their evening meal, and the peat fires sent smoke curling from the chimneys into the chill November air. There had been snow the week before, and the sun had beaten down and then retreated until the frost had set hard as rock under the bare trees. The sound of approaching horses rang like thunder through the forest, sending small animals racing and scrambling for cover.
Serena MacGregor shifted her baby brother on her hip and went to the window. Her father and the men were returning early from their hunting trip, she thought, but there were no shouts of greeting from the outlying cottages, no bursts of laughter.
She waited, her nose all but pressed against the window glazing, straining for the first signs of their return and fighting back her resentment that she, a girl, was not permitted to join hunting parties.
Coll had gone, though he was barely fourteen and not as skilled with a bow as she herself. And Coll had been allowed to go since he was seven. Serena’s mouth became a pout as she gazed out through the lowering light. Her older brother would talk of nothing but the hunt for days, while she would have to be content to sit and spin.
Little Malcolm began to fuss and she jiggled him automatically as she stared down the rough path between the crofts and cottages. “Hush now, Papa doesn’t want to hear you squalling the minute he walks in the door.” But something made her hold him closer and look nervously over her shoulder for her mother.
The lamps were lighted and there was the scent of good, rich stew simmering over the kitchen fire. The house was neat as a pin. She and her mother and her little sister Gwen had worked all day to make it so. The floors were scrubbed, the tables polished. There wasn’t a cobweb to be found in any corner. Serena’s arms ached just thinking of it. The wash had been done and the little lavender sachets her mother loved so much were tucked in the chests.
Because her father was laird, they had the best house for miles around, built of fine blue slate. Her mother wasn’t one to let dust settle on it.
Everything looked normal, but something had set her heart to racing. Grabbing a shawl, Serena wrapped it around Malcolm and opened the door to look for her father.
There was no wind, no sound but the horses’ hooves beating against the hard frost on the path. They would ride over the rise any moment, she thought, and for a reason she couldn’t name, she shuddered. When she heard the first scream, she stumbled backward. She had already righted herself and started forward when her mother called out to her.
“Serena, come back in. Hurry.”
Fiona MacGregor, her usually lovely face pinched and pale, rushed down the stairs. Her hair, the same red-gold shade as Serena’s, was pinned back and caught in a snood. She didn’t pat it into place, as was her habit before welcoming her husband home.
“Hurry, girl, for God’s sake.” Fiona grabbed her daughter’s arm and dragged her inside. “Take the bairn upstairs to your sister. Stay there.”
“It’s not your father.”
Serena saw then, as the horses crested the hill, not the hunting plaid of the MacGregor but the red coats of English dragoons. She was only eight, but she had heard the tales of pillage and oppression. Eight was old enough to be outraged.
“What do they want? We’ve done nothing.”
“It’s not necessary to do, only to be.” Fiona closed the door, then bolted it, more out of defiance than of any hope it would keep out intruders. “Serena—”
A small, slender woman, she gripped her daughter’s shoulders. She had been the favored daughter of an indulgent father, then the adored wife of a loving husband, but Fiona was no weakling. Perhaps that was why the men in her life had given her their respect, as well as their affection.
“Go upstairs into the nursery. Keep Malcolm and Gwen with you. Don’t come out until I tell you.”
The valley echoed with another scream, and with wild weeping. Through the window they saw the thatched roof of a cottage rise in flames. Fiona could only thank God her husband and son hadn’t returned.
“I want to stay with you,” Serena’s wide green eyes overwhelmed her face, damp now with the beginnings of tears. But her mouth, the one her father called stubborn, firmed. “Papa wouldn’t want me to leave you alone.”
“He would want you to do as you’re told.” Fiona heard the horses stop at the door. There was a jingle of spurs and the sound of men shouting. “Go now.” She turned her daughter and pushed her toward the stairs. “Keep the babies safe.”
As Malcolm began to wail, Serena fled up the steps. She was on the landing when she heard the door burst in. She stopped and turned to see her mother face half a dozen dragoons. One stepped forward and bowed. Even from a distance, Serena could see that the gesture was an insult.
“Serena?” little Gwen called from the stairs above.
“Take the baby.” Serena pushed Malcolm into Gwen’s pudgy five-year-old arms. “Go into the nursery and shut the door.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Hurry—keep him quiet if you can.” From her apron pocket she dug a sugarplum she’d been saving. “Take this and go before they see us.” Crouching at the top of the stairs, she watched.
“Fiona MacGregor?” said the dragoon with the fancy stripes.
“I am Lady MacGregor.” Fiona kept her shoulders back and her eyes level. Her only thought now was to protect her children and her home. Since fighting was impossible, she used the only weapon at hand—her dignity. “By what right do you break into my home?”
“By the right of an officer of the king.”
“And your name?”
“Captain Standish, at your service.” He drew off his gloves, waiting, hoping, to see fear. “Where is your husband … Lady MacGregor?”
“The laird and his men are hunting.”
Standish signaled, sending three of his men on a search of the house. One overturned a table as he passed. Though her mouth was dry as dust, Fiona held her ground. She knew he could order her home torched, as easily as he had her tenants’ cottages. There was little hope that her rank, or her husband’s, would protect them. Her only choice was to meet insult with insult, and calmly.
“As you’ve seen, we are mostly women and children here. Your … visit is ill-timed if you wish to have words with the MacGregor or his men. Or perhaps that is why you and your soldiers come so bravely into Glenroe.”
He slapped her then, sending her staggering backward from the force of the blow.
“My father will kill you for that.” Serena flew down the stairs like a bullet and launched herself at the officer. He swore as she dug her teeth into his hand, then swept her aside.
“Damn devil’s brat drew blood.” He lifted his fist, but Fiona flung herself between him and her daughter.
“Do King George’s men beat small children? Is that how the English rule?”
Standish was breathing fast. It was a matter of pride now. He could hardly let his men see him bested by a woman and child, especially when they were Scottish scum. His orders were only to search and question. It was a pity the sniveling Argyll had convinced the queen, in her role as regent, not to enforce the Bill of Pains and Penalties. Scotland would indeed have been a hunting ground if she had. Still, Queen Caroline was furious with her Scottish subjects, and in any case she was hardly likely to hear of an isolated incident in the Highlands.
He signaled to one of the dragoons. “Take that brat upstairs and lock her up.”
Without a word the soldier scooped Serena up, doing his best to avoid her feet and teeth and pummeling fists. As she fought, she screamed for her mother and cursed the soldiers.
“You raise wildcats in the Highlands, milady.” The officer wrapped a fresh handkerchief around his hand.
“She is unused to seeing her mother, or any woman, struck by a man.”
His hand was throbbing. He would not regain his men’s esteem by thrashing a puny child. But the mother … He smiled as he let his gaze wander over her. The mother was a different matter.
“Your husband is suspected of involvement with the murder of Captain Porteous.”
“The Captain Porteous who was sentenced to death by the courts for firing into a crowd?”
“He was reprieved, madam.” Standish laid a hand lightly on the hilt of his sword. Even among his own kind he was considered cruel. Fear and intimidation kept his men in line; the same would work with one Scottish whore. “Captain Porteous fired on a group of rioters at a public execution. Then he was taken from prison and hanged by persons unknown.”
“I find it difficult to sympathize with his fate, but neither I nor anyone in my family know of such matters.”
“If it’s found differently, your husband would be a murderer and a traitor. And you, Lady MacGregor, would have no protection.”
“I have nothing to tell you.”
“A pity.” He smiled and moved a step closer. “Shall I show you what happens to unprotected women?”
* * *
Upstairs, Serena beat on the door until her hands were raw. Behind her, Gwen huddled with Malcolm and wept. There was no light in the nursery but for the moon and the flames from the fired cottages. Outside she could hear people shouting, women wailing, but her thoughts were all for her mother—left below, alone and unprotected, with the English.
When the door opened, Serena stumbled back. She saw the red coat, heard the jangle of spurs. Then she saw her mother, naked, bruised, her beautiful hair a wild mass around her face and shoulders. Fiona fell to her knees at Serena’s feet.
“Mama.” Serena knelt beside her, touched a tentative hand to her shoulder. She’d seen her mother weep before, but not like this, not these silent, hopeless tears. Because Fiona’s skin was cold to the touch, Serena dragged a blanket from the chest and wrapped it around her.
While she listened to the dragoons ride off, Serena held her mother with one arm and cuddled Gwen and Malcolm with the other. She had only the vaguest understanding of what had happened, but it was enough to make her hate, and to make her vow revenge.
Brigham Langston, the fourth earl of Ashburn, sat at breakfast in his elegant town house and frowned over the letter. It was certainly one he’d been expecting, one he’d been waiting and watching for. Now that it was here, he read each word carefully, his gray eyes serious and his full mouth firm. It wasn’t often a man received a letter that could change his life.
“Damn it, Brig, how long are you going to keep me waiting?” Coll MacGregor, the quick-tempered, redheaded Scot who had been Brigham’s companion on certain journeys through Italy and France, seemed unable to sit quietly while Brigham read.
In answer, Brigham merely lifted one narrow hand, white-skinned and foaming with lace at the wrist. He was accustomed to Coll’s outbursts, and for the most part enjoyed them. But this time, this very important time, he would hold his friend off until he’d read the letter through again.
“It’s from him, is it not? Damn you to hell and back, it is from him. From the Prince.” Coll pushed away from the table to pace. Only the manners hammered into him by his mother kept him from tearing the letter from Brigham’s hand. Although, the knowledge that despite the difference in size and girth, Brigham could hold his own in a fight might also have played a certain role in his decision. “I’ve as much right as you.”
Brigham looked up at that, letting his gaze pass over the man who was now striding around the small salon with enough force to make the china rattle. Though his muscles were tense and his mind was shooting off in a dozen directions, Brigham’s voice was mild.
“Of course you do, but the letter is, nonetheless, addressed to me.”
“Only because it’s easier to smuggle a letter to the high-and-mighty English earl of Ashburn than it is to a MacGregor. We’re all under suspicion of being rebels in Scotland.” Coll’s sharp green eyes were alight with challenge. When Brigham merely returned to the letter, Coll swore again and dropped into his chair. “You’re enough to try a man’s soul.”
“Thank you.” Setting the letter beside his plate, Brigham poured more coffee. His hand was as steady as it was when he gripped the hilt of a sword or the butt of a pistol. And, indeed, this letter was a weapon of war. “You are quite right on all counts, my dear. The letter is from Prince Charles.” Brigham sipped his coffee.
“Well, what does he say?”
When Brigham indicated the letter with a wave of his hand, Coll pounced on it. The missive was written in French, and though his command of the language was not as good as Brigham’s, he struggled through it.
As he did, Brigham studied the room around him. The wallpaper had been chosen by his grandmother, a woman he remembered as much for her soft Scottish burr as for her stubbornness. It was a deep, glassy blue that she’d said reminded her of the lochs of her homeland. The furnishings were elegant, almost delicate, with their sweeping curves and gilt edges. The graceful Meissen porcelain figurines she had prized still stood on the little round table by the window.
As a boy he’d been allowed to look but not to touch, and his fingers had always itched to hold the statue of the shepherdess with the long porcelain hair and the fragile face.
There was a portrait of Mary MacDonald, the strong-willed woman who had become Lady Ashburn. It stood over the crackling fire and showed her at an age very close to what her grandson claimed now. She’d been tall for a woman and reed-slim, with a glorious mane of ebony hair around a narrow, fine-boned face. There was a look in the way she tilted her head that said she could be persuaded but not forced, asked but not commanded,
The same features, the same coloring, had been passed down to her grandson. They were no less elegant in their masculine form—the high forehead, the hollowed cheeks and full month. But Brigham had inherited more than his height and his gray eyes from Mary. He’d also inherited her passions and her sense of justice.
He thought of the letter, of the decisions to be made, and toasted the portrait.
You’d have me go, he thought. All the stories you told me, that belief in the rightness of the Stuart cause you planted in my head during the years you raised and cared for me. If you were still alive, you’d go yourself. So how can I not?
“So it’s time.” Coll folded the letter. In his voice, in his eyes, were both excitement and tension. He was twenty-four, only six months younger than Brigham, but this was a moment he had been awaiting for most of his life.
“You have to learn to read between the lines, Coll.” This time Brigham rose. “Charles is still holding out hope of support from the French, though he’s beginning to realize King Louis would rather talk than act.” Frowning, he twitched back the curtain and looked out at his dormant gardens. They would explode with color and scent in the spring. But it was unlikely he would be there to see them in the spring.
“When we were at court, Louis was more than interested in our cause. He has no more liking for the Hanoverian puppet on the throne than we,” Coll said.
“No, but that doesn’t mean he’ll open his coffers to the Bonnie Prince and the Stuart cause. Charles’s notion of fitting out a frigate and sailing for Scotland seems more realistic. But these things take time.”
“Which is where we come in.”
Brigham let the drapes fall back into place. “You know the mood of Scotland better than I. How much support will he get?”
“Enough.” With the confidence of pride and youth, Coll grinned. “The clans will rise for the true king and fight to the man behind him.” He rose then, knowing what his friend was asking. Brigham would be risking more than his life in Scotland. His title, his home and his reputation could be lost. “Brig, I could take the letter, go to my family and from there spread word throughout the Highland clans. It isn’t necessary for you to go, as well.”
One black brow rose, and Brigham nearly smiled. “I’m of so little use?”
“To hell with that.” Coll’s voice was bluff, his gestures wide. Both were as much a part of him as the rumbling cadences of his homeland and his fierce pride in it. “A man like you, one who knows how to talk, how to fight, an English aristocrat willing to join the rebellion? No one knows better than I just what you can do. After all, you saved my life more than once in Italy and, aye, in France, as well.”
“Don’t be boring, Coll.” Brigham flicked at the lace at his wrist. “It’s unlike you.”
Coll’s wide face folded into a grin. “Aye, and there’s something to be said for the way you can turn into the earl of Ashburn in the blink of an eye.”
“My dear, I am the earl of Ashburn.”
Humor kindled in Coll’s eyes. When they stood together like this, the contrasts between the men were marked. Brigham with his trim build, Coll with his brawny one. Brigham with his elegant, even languid manners, Coll rough-and-ready. But no one knew better than the Scot just what lay beneath the well-cut coats and the lace.
“It wasn’t the earl of Ashburn who fought back-to-back with me when our coach was attacked outside of Calais. It wasn’t the earl of Ashburn who damned near drank me, a MacGregor, under the table in that grimy little gaming hell in Rome.”
“I assure you it was, as I remember both incidents very well.”
Coll knew better than to banter words with Brigham. “Brigham, be serious. As the earl of Ashburn you deserve to stay in England, go to your balls and card parties. You could still do the cause good here, with your ear to the ground.”
“If I’m going to fight, I’d like to have you beside me. Will you come?”
Brigham studied his friend, then shifted his gaze up and beyond, to the portrait of his grandmother. “Of course.”
* * *
The weather in London was cold and dank. It remained so three days later, when the two men began their journey north. They would travel to the border in the relative comfort of Brigham’s coach, then take the rest on horseback.
For anyone who remained in London during the miserable January weather and chose to inquire, Lord Ashburn was making a casual journey to Scotland to visit the family of his friend.
There were a few who knew better, a handful of staunch Tories and English Jacobites whom Brigham trusted. To them he left in trust his family home, Ashburn Manor, as well as his house in London and the disposition of his servants. What could be taken without undue notice, he took. What could not, he left behind with the full knowledge that it probably would be months, perhaps even years, before he could return to claim them. The portrait of his grandmother still stood above the mantel, but on a sentimental whim he’d had the statue of the shepherdess wrapped for the journey.
There was gold, a good deal more than was needed for a visit to the family of a friend, in a locked chest beneath the floor of the coach.
They were forced to move slowly, more slowly than Brigham cared for, but the roads were slick, and occasional flurries of snow had the driver walking the team. Brigham would have preferred a good horse beneath him and the freedom of a gallop.
A look out the window showed him that the weather to the north could only be worse. With what patience he’d learned to cultivate, Brigham sat back, rested his booted feet on the opposite seat, where Coll sat dozing, and let his thoughts drift back to Paris, where he had spent a few glittering months the year before. That was the France of Louis XV: opulent, glamorous, all light and music. There had been lovely women there, with their powdered hair and scandalous gowns. It had been easy to flirt, and more. A young English lord with a fat purse and a talent for raillery had little trouble making a place in society.
He had enjoyed it, the lustiness and laziness of it. But it was also true that he’d begun to feel restless, fretting for action and purpose. The Langstons had always enjoyed the intrigue of politics as much as the sparkle of balls and routs. Just as for three generations they had silently sworn their loyalty to the Stuarts—the rightful kings of England.
So when Prince Charles Edward had come to France, a magnetic man of courage and energy, Brigham had offered his aid and his oath. Many would have called him traitor. No doubt the fusty Whigs who supported the German who now sat upon the English throne would have wished Brigham hanged as one if they had known. But Brigham’s loyalty was to the Stuart cause, to which his family had always held true, not to the fat German usurper George. He’d not forgotten the stories his grandmother had told him of the disastrous rebellion of ‘15, and of the proscriptions and executions before and after it.
As the landscape grew wilder and the city of London seemed so far away he thought once again that the House of Hanover had done little—had not even tried—to endear itself to Scotland. There had always been the threat of war, from the north or from across the Channel. If England was to be made strong, it would need its rightful king.
It had been more than the Prince’s clear eyes and fair looks that had decided Brigham to stand with him. It had been his drive and ambition, and perhaps his youthful confidence that he could, and would, claim what was his.
* * *
They stopped for the night at a small inn where the Lowland plains started to rise into the true Highlands. Brigham’s gold, and his title, earned them dry sheets and a private parlor. Fed and warmed by the leaping fire, they diced and drank too much ale while the wind swept down from the mountains and hammered at the walls. For a few hours they were simply two well-to-do young men who shared a friendship and an adventure.
“Damn your bones, Brig, you’re a lucky bastard tonight.”
“So it would seem.” Brigham scooped up the dice and the coins. His eyes, bright with humor, met Coll’s. “Shall we find a new game?”
“Roll.” Coll grinned and shoved more coins to the center of the table. “Your luck’s bound to change.” When the dice fell, he snickered. “If I can’t beat that …” When his roll fell short, he shook his head. “Seems you can’t lose. Like the night in Paris you played the duke for the affections of that sweet mademoiselle.”
Brigham poured more ale. “With or without the dice, I’d already won the mademoiselle’s affections.”
Laughing thunderously, Coll slapped more coins on the table. “Your luck can’t hang sunny all the time. Though I for one hope it holds for the months to come.”
Brigham swept his gaze upward and assured himself that the door to the parlor was closed. “It’s more a matter of Charles’s luck than mine.”
“Aye, he’s what we’ve needed. His father has always been lacking in ambition and too sure of his own defeat.” He lifted his tankard of ale. “To the Bonnie Prince.” “He’ll need more than his looks and a clever tongue.” Coll’s red brows rose. “Do you doubt the MacGregors?” “You’re the only MacGregor I know.” Before Coll could begin an oration on his clan, Brigham asked quickly, “What of your family, Coll? You’ll be pleased to see them again.”
“It’s been a long year. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the sights of Rome and Paris, but when a man’s born in the Highlands, he prefers to die there.” Coll drank deeply, thinking of purple moors and deep blue lochs. “I know the family is well from the last letter my mother sent me, but I’ll feel better seeing for myself. Malcolm will be nigh on ten now, and a hellion, I’m told.” He grinned, full of pride. “Then so are we all.”
“You told me your sister was an angel.”
“Gwen.” The tenderness invaded his voice. “Little Gwen. So she is, sweet-tempered, patient, pretty as new cream.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting her.”
“And still in the schoolroom,” Coll told him. “I’ll be around to see you don’t forget it.”
A little hazy with ale, Brigham tilted back in his chair. “You’ve another sister.”
“Serena.” Coll jiggled the dice box in his palm. “God knows the lass was misnamed. A wildcat she is, and I’ve the scars to prove it. Serena MacGregor has the devil’s own temper and a quick fist.”
“But is she pretty?”
“She’s not hard to look at,” said her brother. “My mother tells me the boys have started courting this past year, and Serena sends them off with boxed ears, scrambling for cover.”
“Perhaps they have yet to find the, ah, proper way to court her.”
“Hah! I crossed her once, and she grabbed my grandfather’s claymore from the wall and chased me into the forest.” The pride came through, if not the tenderness. “I pity the man who sets his sights on her.”
“An amazon.” Brigham pictured a strapping, ruddy-cheeked girl with Coll’s broad features and wild red hair. Healthy as a milkmaid, he imagined, and just as sassy. “I prefer the milder sort.”
“Isn’t a mild bone in her body, but she’s true.” The ale was swimming in Coll’s head, but that didn’t stop him from lifting the tankard again. “I told you about the night the dragoons came to Glenroe.”
Coll’s eyes darkened with the memory. “After they’d finished shaming my mother and firing roofs, Serena nursed her. She was hardly more than a bairn herself, but she got my mother into bed and tended her and the children until we returned. There was a bruise on her face where that black bastard had knocked her aside, but she didn’t cry. She sat, dry-eyed, and told us the whole tale.”
Brigham laid a hand over his friend’s. “The time’s past for revenge, Coll, but not for justice.”
“I’ll take both,” Coll murmured, and tossed the dice again.
* * *
They started out early the next morning. Brigham’s head ached, but the cold, blustery air soon cleared it. They went on horseback, allowing the coach to follow at a sedate pace.
Now they were truly in the land he’d been told of as a child. It was wild and rough, with crags rising high and moors spread out and desolate. Prominent peaks pierced the milky gray of the sky, sometimes cut through with tumbling waterfalls and icy rivers thick with fish. In other places rocks were tumbled as though they had been dice rolled by a careless hand. It seemed an ancient place, one for gods and fairies, yet he saw an occasional cottage, smoke belching from the central opening in the thatch.
The ground was heaped with snow, and the wind blew it in sheets across the road. At times they were nearly blinded by it as Coll led the way up the rising, rut-filled hills. Caves opened out of rock. Here and there were signs that shelter had been taken in them. Lakes, their waters a dark, dangerous blue, were crusted at the edges with ice. The effects of the ale were whisked away by a damp cold that stung the air and penetrated even the layers of a greatcoat.
They rode hard when the land permitted, then picked their way through snowdrifts as high as a man’s waist. Cautious, they bypassed the forts the English had built and avoided the hospitality that would have been given unhesitatingly at any cottage. Hospitality, Coll had warned Brigham, would include questions about every aspect of their journey, their families and their destination. Strangers were rare in the Highlands, and prized for their news as much as their company.
Rather than risk the details of their journey being passed from village to village, they kept to the rougher roads and hills before stopping at a tavern to rest the horses and take their midday meal. The floors were dirt, the chimney no more than a hole in the roof that kept as much smoke in as it let out. The single cramped room smelled of its occupants and of yesterday’s fish. It was hardly a spot the fourth earl of Ashburn would be likely to frequent, but the fire was hot and the meat almost fresh.
Beneath the greatcoat, which now hung drying in front of the fire, Brigham wore dun-colored riding breeches and a shirt of fine lawn with his plainest riding coat. But though it might be plain, it fit without a wrinkle over his broad shoulders, and its buttons were silver. His boots had been dulled a bit by the weather but were unmistakably of good leather. His thick mane of hair was tied back with a ribbon, and on his narrow hands he wore his family seal and an emerald. He was hardly dressed in his best court attire, but nonetheless he drew stares and curious whispers.
“They don’t see the likes of you in this hole,” Coll said. Comfortable in his kilt and bonnet, with the pine sprig of his clan tucked into the band, he dug hungrily into his meat pie.
“Apparently.” Brigham ate lazily, but his eyes, behind half-closed lids, remained alert. “Such admiration would delight my tailor.”
“Oh, it’s only partly the clothes.” Coll raised his bicker of ale to drain it, and thought pleasantly of the whiskey he would share with his father that night. “You would look like an earl if you wore rags.” Anxious to be off, he tossed coins on the table. “The horses should be rested; let’s be off. We’re skirting Campbell country.” Coll’s manners were too polished to allow him to spit, but he would have liked to. “I’d prefer not to dally.”
Three men left the tavern before them, letting in a blast of cold and beautifully fresh air.
* * *
It had become difficult for Coll to contain his impatience. Now that he was back in the Highlands, he wanted nothing so much as to see his own home, his own family. The road twisted and climbed, occasionally winding by a huddle of cottages and cattle grazing on the rough, uneven ground. Men living here would have to keep an eye out for wildcats and badgers.
Though they had hours to ride, he could almost smell home—the forest, with its red deer and tawny owls. There would be a feast that night, and cups raised in toasts. London, with its crowded streets and fussy manners, was behind him.
Trees were scarce, only the little junipers pushing through on the leeside of boulders. In Scotland, even the brush had a difficult time surviving. Now and then they rode by a rumbling river or stream, to be challenged by the eerie, consuming silence that followed. The skies had cleared to a hard, brilliant blue. Above, majestic and glorious, a golden eagle circled.
Beside Coll, Brigham had suddenly gone rigid. Coll’s horse reared as Brigham pulled out his sword. “Guard your flank,” he shouted, then wheeled to face two riders who had burst out from behind a tumble of rock.
They rode sturdy garrons, shaggy Scottish ponies, and though their tartans were dulled with age and dirt, the blades of their fighting swords shone in the midafternoon sun. Brigham had only time enough to note that the men who charged had been in the tavern before there was the crash of steel against steel.
Beside him, Coll wielded his sword against two more. The high hills rang with the sounds of battle, the thunder of hooves against hard-packed ground. Gliding overhead, the eagle circled and waited.
The attackers had misjudged their quarry in Brigham. His hands were narrow, his body slender as a dancer’s, but his wrists were both wiry and supple. Using his knees to guide his mount, he fought with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. There might have been jewels on the hilts, but the blades were fashioned to kill.
He heard Coll shout and swear. For himself, he fought in deadly silence. Steel scraped as he defended himself, crashed when he took the offensive, driving at one foe and outmaneuvering the other. His eyes, usually a calm, clear gray, had darkened and narrowed like those of a wolf that scents blood. He gave his opponent’s sword one final, vicious parry and ran his own blade home.
The Scot screamed, but the sound lasted no more than a heartbeat. Blood splattered the snow as the man fell. His pony, frightened by the smell of death, ran clattering up the rocks. The other man, wild-eyed, renewed his attack with more ferocity and fear than finesse. The violence of the advance nearly cut through Brigham’s guard, and he felt the sting of the sword on his shoulder and the warm flow of blood where the point had ripped layers of clothing and found flesh. Brigham countered with swift, steady strokes, driving his quarry back and back, toward the rocks. His eyes stayed on his opponent’s face, never flickering, never wavering. With cool-headed precision, he parried and thrust and pierced the heart. Before the man had hit the ground, he was swinging back toward Coll.
It was one on one now, for another of the attackers lay dead behind Coll, and Brigham took time to draw a deep breath. Then he saw Coll’s horse slip, nearly stumble. He saw the blade flash and was racing toward his friend. The last man of the band of attackers looked up to see the horse and rider bearing down on him. With his three comrades dead, he wheeled the pony and scrambled up the rocks. “Coll! Are you hurt?”
“Aye, by God. Bloody Campbell.” He struggled not to slump in the saddle. His side, where the sword had pierced it, was on fire.
Brigham sheathed his sword. “Let me see to it.”
“No time. That jackal may come back with more.” Coll took out a handkerchief and pressed it to the wound, then brought his gloved hand back. It was sticky but steady. “I’m not done yet.” His eyes, still bright from battle, met Brigham’s. “We’ll be home by dusk.” With that, he sent his horse into a gallop.
They rode hard, with Brigham keeping one eye out for another ambush and the other on Coll. The big Scot was pale, but his pace never faltered. Only once, at Brigham’s insistence, did they stop so that the wound could be bound more satisfactorily.
Brigham didn’t like what he saw. The wound was deep, and Coll had lost far too much blood. Still, his friend was in a fever to reach Glenroe and his family, and Brigham would not have known where else to find help. Coll accepted the flask Brigham put to his lips and drank deeply. When the color seeped back into his face, Brigham helped him into the saddle.
They dropped down out of the hills into the forest at dusk, when the shadows were long and wavering. It smelled of pine and snow, with a faint wisp of smoke from a cottage farther on. A hare dashed across the path, then crashed through the brush. Behind it, like a flash, came a merlin. Winter berries, as big as thumbs, clung to thorny limbs.
Brigham knew Coll’s strength was flagging, and he paused long enough to make him drink again.
“I ran through this forest as a child,” Coll rasped. His breathing came quickly, but the brandy eased the pain. He’d be damned if he would die before the true fighting began. “Hunted in it, stole my first kiss in it. For the life of me, I can’t think why I ever left it.”
“To come back a hero,” Brigham said as he corked the flask.
Coll gave a laugh that turned into a cough. “Aye. There’s been a MacGregor in the Highlands since God put us here, and here we stay.” He turned to Brigham with a hint of the old arrogance. “You may be an earl, but my race is royal.”
“And you’re shedding your royal blood all over the forest. To home, Coll.”
They rode at an easy canter. When they passed the first cottages, cries went out. Out of houses, some fashioned from wood and stone, others built out of no more than mud and grass, people came. Though the pain was streaking up his side, Coll saluted. They crested a hill, and both men saw MacGregor House.
There was smoke winding out of the chimneys. Behind the glazed windows lamps, just lighted, were glowing. The sky to the west was ablaze with the last lights of the sun, and the blue slate glowed and seemed to turn to silver. It rose four stories, graced with turrets and towers, a house fashioned as much for war as for comfort. The roofs were of varying height, strung together in a confused yet somehow charming style.
There was a barn in the clearing, along with other outbuildings and grazing cattle. From somewhere came the hollow barking of a dog.
Behind them more people had come out of their homes. Out of one ran a woman, her basket empty. Brigham heard her shout and turned. And stared.
She was wrapped in a plaid like a mantle. In one hand she held a basket that swung wildly as she ran; the other hand held the hem of her skirt, and he could see the flash of petticoats and long legs. She was laughing as she ran, and her scarf fell down around her shoulders, leaving hair the color of the sunset flying behind her.
Her skin was like alabaster, though flushed now from delight and cold. Her features had been carved with a delicate hand, but the mouth was full and rich. Brigham could only stare and think of the shepherdess he had loved and admired as a child.
“Coll!” Her voice was low, filled with the music of laughter, rich with the burr of Scotland. Ignoring the horse’s dancing impatience, she gripped the bridle and turned up a face that made Brigham’s mouth turn dry. “I’ve had the fidgets all day and should have known you were the cause. We had no word you were coming. Did you forget how to write or were you too lazy?”
“A fine way to greet your brother.” Coll would have bent down to kiss her, but her face was swimming in front of his eyes. “The least you can do is show some manners to my friend. Brigham Langston, Lord Ashburn, my sister, Serena.”
Not hard to look at? For once, Brigham thought, Coll hadn’t exaggerated. Far from it. “Miss MacGregor.”
But Serena didn’t spare him a glance. “Coll, what is it? You’re hurt.” Even as she reached for him he slid from the saddle to her feet. “Oh, God, what’s this?” She pushed aside his coat and found the hastily bound wound.
“It’s opened again.” Brigham knelt beside her. “We should get him inside.”
Serena’s head shot up as she raked Brigham with rapier-sharp green eyes. It wasn’t fear in them, but fury. “Take your hands off him, English swine.” She shoved him aside and cradled her brother against her breast. With her own plaid she pressed against the wound to slow the bleeding. “How is it my brother comes home near death and you ride in with your fine sword sheathed and nary a scratch?”
Coll might have underplayed her beauty, Brigham decided as his mouth set, but not her temperament. “I think that’s best explained after Coll’s seen to.”
“Take your explanations back to London.” When he gathered Coll up to carry him, she all but pounced on him. “Leave him be, damn you. I won’t have you touching what’s mine.”
He let his gaze run up and down her until her cheeks glowed. “Believe me, madam,” he said, stiffly polite, “I’ve no desire to. If you’ll see to the horses, Miss MacGregor, I’ll take your brother in.”
She started to speak again, but one look at Coll’s white face had her biting back the words. With his greatcoat flapping around him and Coll in his arms, Brigham started toward the house.
Serena remembered the last time an Englishman had walked into her home. Snatching the reins of both horses, she hurried after Brigham, cursing him.
There was little time for introductions. Brigham was greeted at the door by a gangly black-haired serving girl who ran off wringing her hands and shouting for Lady MacGregor. Fiona came in, her cheeks flushed from the kitchen fire. At the sight of her son unconscious in the arms of a stranger, she went pale.
“Coll. Is he—”
“No, my lady, but the wound’s severe.”
With one very slender hand, she touched her son’s face. “Please, if you’d bring him upstairs.” She went ahead, calling out orders for water and bandages. “In here.” After pushing open a door, she looked over Brigham’s shoulder. “Gwen, thank God. Coll’s been wounded.”
Gwen, smaller and more delicately built than her mother and sister, hurried into the room. “Light the lamps, Molly,” she told the serving girl. “I’ll need plenty of light.” She was already pressing a hand to her brother’s brow. “He’s feverish.” His blood stained the plaid and ran red on the linen. “Can you help me take off his clothes?”
With a nod, Brigham began to work with her. She coolly sent for medicines and bowls of water; stacks of linen were rushed in. The young girl didn’t swoon at the sword wound as Brigham had feared, but competently began to clean and treat it. Even under her gentle hands, Coll began to mutter and thrash.
“Hold this, if you please.” Gwen gestured for Brigham to hold the pad she’d made against the wound while she poured syrup of poppies into a wooden cup. Fiona supported her son’s head while Gwen eased the potion past his lips. She murmured to him as she sat again and stitched up the wound without flinching.
“He’s lost a lot of blood,” she told her mother as she worked. “We’ll have to mind the fever.” Already Fiona was bathing her son’s head with a cool cloth.
“He’s strong. We won’t lose him now.” Fiona straightened and brushed at the hair that had fallen around her face. “I’m grateful to you for bringing him,” she told Brigham. “Will you tell me what happened?”
“We were attacked a few miles south of here. Coll believes it was Campbells.”
“I see.” Her lips tightened, but her voice remained calm. “I must apologize for not even offering you a chair or a hot drink. I’m Coll’s mother, Fiona MacGregor.”
“I’m Coll’s friend, Brigham Langston.”
Fiona managed a smile but kept her son’s limp hand in hers. “The earl of Ashburn, of course. Coll wrote of you. Please, let me have Molly take your coat and fetch you some refreshment.”
“He’s English.” Serena stood in the doorway. She’d taken off her plaid. All she wore now was a simple homespun dress of dark blue wool.
“I’m aware of that, Serena.” Fiona turned her strained smile back to Brigham. “Your coat, Lord Ashburn. You’ve had a long journey. I’m sure you’ll want a hot meal and some rest.” When he drew off his coat, Fiona’s gaze went to his shoulder. “Oh, you’re wounded.”
“A scratch,” Serena said as she flicked her gaze over it. She would have moved past him to her brother, but a look from Fiona stopped her.
“Take our guest down to the kitchen and tend to his hurts.”
“I’d sooner bandage a rat.”
“You’ll do as I say, and you’ll show the proper courtesy to a guest in our home.” The steel came into her voice. “Once his wounds are tended, see that he has a proper meal.”
“Lady MacGregor, it isn’t necessary.”
“Forgive me, my lord, it’s quite necessary. You’ll forgive me for not tending to you myself.” She picked up the cloth for Coll’s head again. “Serena?”
“Very well, Mother, for you.” Serena turned, giving a very small and deliberately insulting curtsy. “If you please, Lord Ashburn.”
He followed her down through a house far smaller than Ashburn Manor, and neat as a pin. They wound around a hallway and down two narrow flights because she chose to take him down the back stairs. Still, he paid little notice as he watched Serena’s stiff back. There were rich smells in the kitchen, spices, meat, from the kettle hung by a chain over the fire, the aroma of pies just baked. Serena indicated a small, spindle-legged chair.
“Please be seated, my lord.”
He did, and only by the slightest flicker of his eyes did he express his feelings when she ripped the sleeve from his shirt. “I hope you don’t faint at the sight of blood, Miss MacGregor.”
“It’s more likely you will at the sight of your mutilated shirt, Lord Ashburn.” She tossed the ruined sleeve aside and brought back a bowl of hot water and some clean cloths.
It was more than a scratch. English though he might be, she felt a bit ashamed of herself. He’d obviously opened the wound when he’d carried Coll inside. As she stanched the blood that had begun to run freely, she saw that the cut measured six inches or more along a well-muscled forearm.
His flesh was warm and smooth in her hands. He smelled not of perfumes and powders, as she imagined all Englishmen did, but of horses and sweat and blood. Oddly enough, it stirred something in her and made her fingers gentler than she’d intended.
She had the face of an angel, he thought as she bent over him. And the soul of a witch. An interesting combination, Brigham decided as he caught a whiff of lavender. The kind of mouth made for kissing, paired with hostile eyes designed to tear holes in a man. How would her hair feel, bunched in a man’s hands? He had an urge to stroke it, just to see her reaction. But one wound, he told himself, was enough for one day.
She worked competently and in silence, cleaning the wound and dabbing on one of Gwen’s herbal mixtures. The scent was pleasant, and made her think of the forest and flowers. Serena hardly noticed that his English blood was on her fingers.
She reached for the bandages. He shifted. All at once they were face-to-face, as close as a man and woman can come without embracing. She felt his breath feather across her lips and was surprised by the quick flutter of her heart. She noticed his eyes were gray, darker than they had been when he’d coolly assessed her on the road. His mouth was beautiful, curved now with the beginnings of a smile that changed his sharp-featured aristocratic face into something approachable.
She thought she felt his fingers on her hair but was certain she was mistaken. For a moment, perhaps two, her mind went blank and she could only look at him and wonder.
“Will I live?” he murmured.
There it was, that English voice, mocking, smug. She needed nothing else to drag her out of whatever spell his eyes had cast. She smiled at him and yanked the bandage tight enough to make him jerk.
“Oh, pardon, my lord,” she said with a flutter of lashes. “Have I hurt you?”
He gave her a mild look and thought it would be satisfying to throttle her. “Pray don’t regard it.”
“I will not.” She rose to remove the bowl of bloodstained water. “Odd, isn’t it, that English blood runs so thin?”
“I hadn’t noticed. The Scottish blood I shed today looked pale to me.”
She whirled back. “If it was Campbell blood, you rid the world of another badger, but I won’t be grateful to you for that, or anything.”
“You cut me to the quick, my lady, when your gratitude is what I live for.”
She snatched up a wooden bowl—though her mother would have meant for her to use the delft or the china—and scooped out stew and slapped it down so that more than a little slopped over the sides. She poured him ale and tossed a couple of oatcakes on a platter. A pity they weren’t stale.
“Your supper, my lord. Have a care not to choke on it.” He rose then, and for the first time she noticed that he was nearly as tall as her brother, though he carried less muscle and brawn. “Your brother warned me you were ill-tempered.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a story that kept you envolved throughout. I love Nora Roberts. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants love and mystery in one novel.
I love Nora Roberts' books and this one was awesome!! Beautiful love story told in the wilds of Scotland!! What's not to love!!
Great love story. Love Nora Roberts historical romances! Sizzling chemistry between the main characters and wonderful period references. My other favorite historical romance by Ms. Roberts is a book called LAWLESS, soooo good! I highly recommend it as well as REBELLION! S.A.K.
Great romantic story, I didn't know how I will enjoy a romance which happend in 1745 but it was really beautiful.
Enjoyed only wish she would follow up on ths familys adventure in the new wrld with another book
What is this? A clan of cats? May i join? Post soon please. ~IceFawn
The main meeting/war room place is the next result. This explains the reason for rebellion. The reason is, our leaders are corrupt and needto be replaced. They're all so full of themselves. We can take the camps for ourselves! We can do it! I will share the power with those that join! Everyone gets their share of power. I saw what Gaea's doing, and l dissagree with her, but she is right about one thing, the camps are unstable. Save them by joining us and now her! We will destroy the corrupt and create a new empire!
Name: Luna phelps . gender: female. personality: shy, sweet, and is sensitive. Looks: wavy black hair that has a navy blue tint (has long bangs that sometimes fall on her eyes), fair skin, dark sorrowful eyes, skinny. Clothes: sleeveless black top, navy jeans, and black tennis shoes. Weapon: spiked club and bow and arrows. Suggestion: has a crush on the main boy character. Or someone - random person
Im not in. Republic foreva