Authors: Whisper of Roses
“HELLO, BRAT,” HE SAID.
She felt that old, familiar kick in the stomach and knew she was standing face-to-face in the moonlit tower with Morgan MacDonnell, his boyish promise of masculine beauty come to devastating fruition.
Mortified by her own boldness, she snatched her hand back.
A wry grin touched his lips. “I suppose if you’d have known it was me, you’d have let me bleed to death.”
Terrified she was going to revert to a stammering six-year-old, she snapped, “I’d say not. You were dripping all over Mama’s Flemish rug.”
To hide her consternation, she lowered her gaze.
“You’ve grown,” she blurted out accusingly.
“So have you.”
His low, amused tone warned her. She looked up to find his gaze taking a leisurely jaunt up her body, finally coming to rest with bold regard on her face. A splinter of anger twisted in her heart. For so long she had yearned for him to look at her with affection.
Why did he have to choose now, when she sensed his admiration might be even more lethal than his enmity?
Bantam Books by Teresa Medeiros
BREATH OF MAGIC
THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST
CHARMING THE PRINCE
FAIREST OF THEM ALL
HEATHER AND VELVET
LADY OF CONQUEST
ONCE AN ANGEL
SHADOWS AND LACE
THIEF OF HEARTS
TOUCH OF ENCHANTMENT
A WHISPER OF ROSES
A KISS TO REMEMBER
A WHISPER OF ROSES
A Bantam Book / October 1993
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1993 by Teresa Medeiros.
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I remember rainy days and countless games of Aggravation. You were the Kool-Aid mom and all my friends wished you were theirs. You were born to be a mother, Mama, and I’m so thankful God made you mine.
To Wendy and Nita, for their steadfast support and for being such joys to work with.
To Ada Hatcher, for always being there and for being a “mom” to all of us.
For Dan and Doris Medeiros, who gave me my house, their love, and the greatest gift of all—their wonderful son.
I want to thank
the booksellers who have given me something even more precious than their support—their friendship. Roses to Vivian Witherow, Pam Young, Dee Clingman, and a special bouquet to Nancy Stratton and Sandra Porter, who have been with me since the beginning and have never had me arrested for loitering in their store.
To the memory of Gene Roddenberry, whose own creation has given me countless hours of pleasure and a swashbuckling hero to fuel all my fantasies.
SCOTLAND, THE HIGHLANDS
Sabrina Cameron rubbed one of her mother’s plump tea roses beneath her uptilted nose. Tiny feathers of pollen tickled her nostrils. She sneezed, then clapped a chubby hand over her mouth and burrowed deeper into the hedge.
The MacDonnells were coming, and one careless move might see her bones melted to Cameron stew before this day was done.
She shivered in horrified delight. The MacDonnells had haunted her nightmares for most of her short life. Fearsome giants they were, her brothers whispered by candlelight, half man and half beastie. Great shaggy creatures who walked on two legs and wore nothing but fresh animal skins. The children of Cameron Glen trembled in fear of them, and men full grown took care not to wander far from the village after dusk.
On moonless nights, when the hounds whimpered and howled around the manor walls, it was said a MacDonnell was stalking the shadowy forests, searching for a naughty boy or girl to carry back to his lair.
Sabrina parted the glossy leaves to peer out. Her mother knelt at the edge of the garden path, stabbing the earth around her rosebushes with a silver trowel. Low-hanging clouds that boded rain splintered the sun into dazzling spills of red in her upswept hair. A knot of pug-faced puppies nested on her abandoned mantle.
A grunt and a giggle sounded a warning as the iron gate came crashing open and Sabrina’s brothers galloped into the garden. Brian rode on Alexander’s shoulders, bellowing orders and whacking him with a rowan twig. Alex’s whinnies rose to yelps. He arched his back, tumbling his younger brother into the slick grass. They rolled, locked in battle, straight into the folds of their mother’s skirt.
Elizabeth Cameron separated the roiling mass of strawberry curls with a skill born of ten years’ practice. The boys hung by their tunics, trapped into sheepish surrender.
She shook them gently, her English accent clipped with annoyance. “I ought to bang your stony little heads together. Do you want your baby sister to learn your roguish ways?”
She brushed at the grass stains scoured into the knees of their finest trews. Brian returned the favor by spitting on his palm and scrubbing a smudge of dirt from her cheek.
Alex clicked his heels together, his own Scots burr bristling with importance. “Papa sent us with a message. The MacDonnell is a-comin’.”
Brian cast the quivering hedge a sly glance. “And they say he’s hungry. With a taste for wee black-haired lassies.”
Sabrina came scrambling out of her hiding place. “Did you see him? Is he truly covered with hair from head to toes?”
“Aye, and he’s got sharp, pointed fangs fair
drippin’ with blood.” Alex curled his hands into claws and bared his teeth at her.
“Alex!” his mother said sharply. “Stop filling your sister’s head with nonsense.”
“Pay your mother heed, lad.” The lilting burr snapped all their heads around. “My princess’s wee ears are fairly bursting with nonsense now.”
“Papa!” Sabrina hurtled toward the man at the gate.
The Cameron’s presence seemed to fill the walled garden as he swept his only daughter up into his arms. She was such a tiny replica of him that he might have sculpted her with his own hands. Her dark blue eyes sparkled beneath smoky lashes. As Sabrina smacked his beard with kisses, he winked at his wife over her inky curls.
Sabrina tweaked the chest hair spilling over his doublet. “Is it true, Papa, that MacDonnells have great tufts of hair on the soles of their feet and all their spoons are carved of human ribs?”
Alex and Brian punched each other, choking back giggles.
“Perhaps you should ask our guest yourself when he arrives.” The Cameron glowered at his sons. “Until then, do not heed the gossip of young idiots.”
As he lowered Sabrina, she gazed up at him, a whisper away from confiding her deepest hope about the MacDonnell. But he was already striding toward his wife.
He pressed a kiss to her upturned lips. “I’m in your debt, Beth, for agreeing to let the lad come. If the MacDonnell can trust me to foster his son for the summer, perhaps he can learn to trust me in other ways as well.”
Alex poked a worm with a stick. “Papa commands we be kind to the boy. He says we must make him welcome and never mention the fact that his papa is a treacherous bastard as likely to gut a man in his sleep and roast his entrails as—”
At his wife’s shocked gaze, the Cameron clapped
a hand over Alex’s mouth. “I never said that. He must have heard it from one of the other men.”
Brian took advantage of Alex’s captivity to deliver a pinch to his brother’s thigh. Alex tackled him, fists flying. Sabrina took a step out of their path and fell over the sleeping puppies, who awoke with a cacophony of piercing yelps.
From where she sprawled in the grass, Sabrina was the first to see the boy. His stillness was absolute. She had no way of knowing how long he had stood there, watching them. Too long if the sullen set of his jaw was any indication.
Curiosity overcame her fear. She climbed to her feet. The MacDonnell did have a lot of hair, but most of it hung in a wild, sandy tangle past his shoulders. His furs weren’t fresh or dripping blood, but ratted and worn bare in spots. Sweat and dirt streaked his face and grimed the bare feet poking out from beneath his leggings. A tattered pack hung over one shoulder. To Sabrina, this MacDonnell did not look particularly fierce.
But as she crept toward him, she realized she was wrong. A feral energy coiled in his stance. He reminded her of an animal, wild and far more dangerous for being cornered. Her nose twitched at his crisp scent. He smelled of freshly turned dirt and sunshine as if he’d spent more than one night sleeping under the pines. His skin was bronzed, his eyes the dusky green of a glade on a summer day. The undeniable light of intelligence glimmered in their depths.
She danced forward and made an awkward dip. “Hello, boy. Welcome to Cameron.”
The blows between Alex and Brian ended in a soft thud. The puppies’ yips died to whimpers. With a haughty flick of his eyelids that would have done a monarch proud, the young MacDonnell dismissed Sabrina as if she had been a slug that pushed its way out of the dirt at his feet. Her cheeks flamed.
The fire in them cooled as her father’s hands fell on her shoulders. “My daughter phrased our welcome as well as I could have. Welcome to Cameron, lad.”
“I ain’t your lad,” he barked. “My name is Morgan Thayer MacDonnell, son of Angus MacDonnell and heir to the chieftainship of MacDonnell.”
Sabrina was impressed by the number of “MacDonnells” he’d managed to cram into one sentence. He stood so straight that it made her spine ache. She offered him a tentative smile. He looked away. Brian and Alex blinked at him, their gazes measuring but not unkind.
“We hope you’ll do us the honor of considering Cameron your home until the end of the summer,” her father said.
“Can’t come too bloody soon for me,” the boy murmured in a burr thick enough to cut with a blade.
The Cameron opened his mouth, but his wife waved him to silence. She was the only one who realized Morgan kept his jaw clenched to keep it from trembling.
Elizabeth came forward and gently laid her hand on his cheek. “I dare say you’ll be missing your mother and father, won’t you, son?”
He shoved her hand away. “Never had no mother and I won’t be needin’ one now. ’Specially not some bloody Sassenach.” Sabrina did not understand the word, but her mother paled.