Authors: Escape To The Highlands
Escape to the Highlands
The MacKinnon Clan
Cover design by April Holthaus
Edited by: Sue Soares
Printed in the United States
First Printing: January 2014
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2014 April Holthaus
Dedicated to the one woman who inspires me the most in life, my sister Marie. Your strength, heart and willingness to never give up no matter the circumstance makes you the strongest woman I have ever known.
I love you dearly!
I would first like to acknowledge the woman who has been my greatest inspiration, Author Suzan Tisdale. Her direction, guidance and support have meant so much to me as a writer and it has been an honor to be part of her Highland Lassies Street Team. I would also like to give a special thank you to my editor Sue Soares for her amazing work to help make my book successful.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge my readers and Facebook fans. Without you, all of this would not be possible.
Highland Daydreams: Chapter 1
The Honor of a Highlander: Chapter 1
About the Author
“Damn him,” Jacqueline said to herself as she snatched a ball of dough from the kitchen counter and began to forcefully knead into it onto the flour-covered table. Pounding and rolling, Jacqueline tried to hold back the tears stinging her eyes, but it was no use.
Distracted by her jumbled thoughts, Jacqueline became startled as Maggie swung open the door behind her, causing Jacqueline to drop the dough onto the ground.
“Good heavens, my lady. With all that noise you be making, you are going to wake old bones right from their graves,” Maggie said as she rushed into the kitchen.
“I apologize, Maggie. I only wanted to help you get a start on baking your morning butter rolls, but it looks like I have made a mess of things,” Jacqueline said as she picked up the dough and placed it onto the table looking around at the particles of flour dust dancing through the air.
“Oh my lady you cannot hide those red eyes from me. What is it?” Maggie said in a comforting tone, placing Jacqueline’s hands inside hers.
Maggie always had a maternal way about her; she was the only mother Jacqueline had ever known. Jacqueline looked down in despair.
With a soft voice she explained, “The contract has been signed. I am to marry Lord Wessex tomorrow. He is to arrive this afternoon for the trials of the prisoners the guards had brought in two nights ago. After the trails, I am to leave with Lord Wessex in two or three days hence.”
“But what of James, my lady? I thought that brave boy was going to ask for your hand in marriage.”
Jacqueline’s eyes teared up. “He did. My brother refused. He said that he was not good enough to marry his sister. Maggie, I cannot marry Lord Wessex.”
“Oh, my lady. Perhaps marrying Lord Wessex will not be so bad. He is a very powerful man and will treat you well. And living in such a grand castle as his, well, you will be treated like royalty I would imagine.”
As Jacqueline stared out the window past her, Maggie continued to talk about the luxuries of Lord Wessex’s holding, her words becoming increasingly muffled. She watched as a small herd of sheep peacefully grazed upon the pasture. How free they look, Jacqueline thought to herself. Unlike how she felt. The hold her brother had over her made her feel completely powerless. She felt no different than the prisoners who inhabited the dungeons below. And like a lightning strike, an idea popped into Jacqueline’s head; one that would ensure her freedom from the bonds of marriage.
“Maggie, I need for you to send a message to James. Tell me to meet me in the stable before the morning meal is served. Will you?” Jacqueline asked with pleading eyes.
Maggie huffed and nodded her head in agreement. Jacqueline quickly left the kitchen and set off towards her bedchamber up the narrow staircase. Jacqueline opened the heavy wooden door to her chamber and stepped inside. Scattering about the room, she slipped on her slippers and threw a heavy cloak over her shoulders.
Jacqueline paced back and forth, allowing Maggie enough time for to find James and give him her message. Her plan was sound. If she and James were to run away, marry in secret or perhaps if she were to bed with him, Lord Wessex would no longer want her and it would force her brother’s hand to agree to James’ proposal. No one would want a spoiled woman.
Jacqueline went to the window and looked down at the scene below. The cool air outside was still crisp since not all of the snow had melted with the warming season just beginning. The weather as of late had been quite unusual with spring starting so late in the year.
The bailey below was scarce but soon the townspeople would fill the courtyard, especially with the guests arriving this afternoon. Along the castle wall, she noticed that the platform for the gallows had already been constructed. She shuddered seeing the empty beam overhead where several ropes would be tied to in knots to act as nooses. Jacqueline felt her heart tug with the sympathy she felt for the Scottish prisoners.
As much sympathy as she had for them, she refused to allow her blackened heart to condemn them for the sins of another. In her heart, only one Scot she would loathe for all time, Douglas MacKinnon, the man who killed her parents. Her parents now, were only a bleak and distant memory.
Jacqueline wondered what made these prisoners so different that Lord Wessex urgently requested to be in attendance for their hearings. Her cousin Richard, the Duke of Carlisle had always held these trials himself as granted by King Edward.
Taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Jacqueline saw Maggie scurry across the courtyard and towards the back door of the keep near the kitchen. Jacqueline was just about to chase after her when her brother Wayland surprised her with his brisk stern voice from behind.
“There you are. What are you doing?”
“Nothing, you startled me Brother.”
I should have barred the door.
“Look at you, covered in flour. You have been down in the kitchens already this morning I see. Well, change your gown. I have word that Lord Wessex is arriving earlier than scheduled. He is within the village and will arrive shortly. You will join us in the great hall to greet him,” Wayland said as he walked out of the room before allowing Jacqueline any time to respond.
Jacqueline grumbled and looked down at her gown. She had not noticed that it was indeed covered in flour dust. Glancing back at the window, she worried that she would not have enough time to make it to the stables and to the great hall before Lord Wessex’s arrival.
Grabbing onto a light blue gown from out of her wardrobe, she slipped out of her dirty one and donned the new one that she could easily adjust the ties on the front without assistance from one of the servants. Pulling the pins out of her golden blond hair, she shook her head allowing her hair to flow down the expanse of her back in waves of curls.
Jacqueline once again slipped into the oversized cloak and went off to meet James in the stables. At the bottom of the stairs, she peeked around the corner to see if anyone was in the hall. With no one in sight, Jacqueline quietly snuck out the door and ran towards the stables.
When she arrived, the stables were vacant other than the young stable boy who tended the horses. Noticing that he was occupied with her cousin’s stallion at the far end of the stalls, Jacqueline looked around for James. But he was nowhere to be found. Her heart beat faster from fear that her plans to run off with James would fail if he did not show.
Four months have passed since James mustered up the courage to confess his love to her. Because of her brother, they would often have to meet in secret, which was becoming increasingly difficult. It wasn’t until her brother Wayland signed the contract between her and Lord Wessex that their desire to be together was in danger.
Jacqueline pressed her back against the wooden frame allowing her shoulders to slump downward. What seemed like hours, Jacqueline held her breath in anticipation every time she saw someone pass by. But none of them were her beloved.
Alarmed by the commotion of the guards at the gate, Jacqueline looked out the doorway at the oncoming riders. The massive beasts rode in with their heads held high, draped in the king’s colors. By their fine attire and dominating appearance, she thought the men who rode in to be far above her own station. The leader of the group was a handsome well-dressed man but carried with him a vulgar expression. Old enough to be her father, Jacqueline cringed at the thought of this man as her future husband.
Oh James, where are you?
Knowing that she could wait no longer, Jacqueline sulked back towards the castle. Feeling hopeless, she wrapped her arms around her waist and let her skirt drag upon the dirt ground. Jacqueline made her way into the great hall to join her brother and cousin in greeting.
“Sir Richard, may I present, Lord Charles Wessex,” the young squire Tad announced the honorary guest.
“My Lord, it is good of you to come. Let me introduce you to Wayland Renold who has recently been given rank by our majesty and his sister Jacqueline,” her cousin Richard said.
Holding out his hand, Lord Wessex gave Wayland a firm steady handshake, then turned his attention to Jacqueline.
Raising her hand, he kissed the back of it and replied, “My lady. You are even more beautiful than I had imagined. I look forward to getting better acquainted while I am here before our vows of marriage tomorrow.”
Jacqueline curtsied but remained speechless.
Turning back to her cousin Richard, he stated, “Where are the prisoners my men brought here for the trials? I will be personally holding their tribunal and hearing their confessions. These men, I have been told ally with William Wallace. They have been kept imprisoned at the dungeons in Hastings until I could ride in from London. The king expects their punishment to be swift.”
William Wallace’s men? Jacqueline had heard many stories of the infamous William Wallace. He was said to be a giant of a man; a ruthless killer. Many Englishmen died at the hands of Wallace’s brutal army. Jacqueline knew the fate of the men in the dungeon would result only in death.
“Of course, My Lord. They wait in the dungeon below. Wayland and I will join you in the library where we can talk privately,” her cousin responded and held up his right hand to lead the way.
Lord Wessex turned to Jacqueline and gave her a genuine smile. “Until I see you again, my lady,” he said as he bowed his head to her and followed her brother and cousin towards the library.
Jacqueline was grateful the meeting was brief. She needed to seek out Maggie to find out why James had not met her in the stable. Hating to admit it to herself, Lord Wessex did appear to be an honorable and kind man. If her feelings for James were not ones of love, Jacqueline would consider marriage to Lord Wessex to be a good match and of good fortune.
Trying to pace herself from running at a sprint, Jacqueline swung open the door to the kitchen. A few other women of the kitchen staff were preparing the meal in honor of Lord Wessex. Finding Maggie among them, she grabbed onto Maggie’s upper arm, almost dragging her to the corner of the room to interrogate her about what had happened with James.