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Authors: Karen Ranney

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Historical, #scottish romance, #Historical Romance, #ranney romance

A Promise of Love

BOOK: A Promise of Love
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What others are saying about A Promise of Love:

 

A Promise of Love - A thing of beauty from the first word to the last describes Ms. Ranney's latest creation set in Scotland. Anyone even remotely interested in Scotland should not miss this poignant, wonderful romance. Old Book Barn Gazette

 

A Promise of Love - Karen Ranney is a brilliant writer, with a talent for evoking emotions and bringing scenes to life that is refreshing, although unfortunately rare, these days. Her first book, Tapestry, is one of my all-time keepers, and now A Promise of Love is promised a place beside Tapestry on my bookshelf. Don't miss this one. Affaire de Coeur

 

A Promise of Love - A magnificent story that mesmerized me from the beginning. Ms. Ranney has an awesome talent for touching the mind and heart of the reader. Although she covers the topic of physical abuse and evil personified, it is her overall theme of love and its power to heal that made this book impossible to put down. The sensitivity, compassion and tenderness Alisdair shows Judith as he heals her tormented body and soul makes him a hero every reader will adore. Judith's courage and determination are an inspiration to all women. Rendezvous

 

Karen Ranney has written an emotional, complicated romance about two people from opposing cultures who find love, courage and strength to vanquish despair and prejudice. Romantic Times

 

 

A Promise of Love

 

Karen Ranney

 

Smashwords Edition

 

Copyright 2010 Karen Ranney

 

Discover other titles by Karen Ranney at Smashwords.com.

 

Smashwords Edition Licensing Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

"By God, not again!” William Cuthbertson glared at his oldest daughter. "You show up more often than a pebble in my shoe, girl! What is it this time?"

Judith Cuthbertson Willoughby Henderson looked down at the stone steps. The lone blue feather from her bonnet was soaked; dye drizzled from its tip to mix with the puddle of muddy water at her feet. The rain had finally stopped, but too late to matter. Her slippers were ruined, her stockings sodden, the hem of her best blue dress was caked with mud.

The coach ride had lasted three days; she’d no coin to purchase accommodations. Sleeping had been accomplished by sitting in the corner of the jostling carriage, wedging herself against the wall. Despite her letter home, there had been no wagon waiting at the crossroads. She’d waited for an hour, then placed the box under her arm, grabbed the weight of her skirt with both hands and proceeded up the lane she’d walked so many times as a young girl.

Half way here, the rain had come, a precursor to her welcome.

Standing on the steps of the manor house she’d called home for most of her life, Judith wondered if she had ever before felt as unwelcome as she did at this particular moment.

It came as no surprise that her father insisted upon explanations now, nor was his anger entirely unexpected. Of course he would be enraged that she was, once again, dependent upon his charity. She had managed to anger him by simply breathing.

Judith ignored the familiar flash of pain.

"Have you nothing to say, girl? You, the oldest of my girls and the only one to return home like a bad penny!" he roared.

He lifted his balled fist toward Judith, but she remained rigid, shuttering her eyes against the blur of his descending hand. The air of its passage brushed against her cheek as his fist missed her face by a scant inch.

A long moment later, she looked up and met his angry gaze with a calm and placid facade. It was a lesson she had finally learned.

"The Matthew’s were emigrating to the Colonies, sir. There was no coin for my passage." The words were said calmly, softly. Her blue eyes were clear, without guile. No emotion shone at all, except for fatigue, but then, she could not totally mask her exhaustion. There was nothing about the telling of the tale to indicate that it had been conjured up during the long walk home.

"And why did you not become indentured, then?” Her father’s face was suffused with red as he continued to glare at her. Judith looked down at her feet, at the small box tied with string which contained all her worldly possessions. What a pitiful sight it was.

Instead of elaborating on her lie, she answered him simply. "I will not be an encumbrance, sir. Perhaps I could find another position, somewhere." Or, was it her burden to fail at servitude as adroitly as she had at marriage?

The squire was not appeased. To have her return again was outside of enough! Was she a plague upon his life?

"Is there no welcome for me here, then?" Judith finally asked, screwing up her courage. Where would she go if he would not allow her to stay? Her married sisters were too afraid of her father to give her shelter. Nor would she willingly knock upon the poorhouse door. What, then, would she do? Accept Hiram Matthew’s invitation to whoredom?

Not again.

William Cuthbertson stared into his daughter’s face knowing that, in this at least, he had no choice. Her presence shamed him, yet his refusal to grant her entrance would only provide fodder for the gossiping harpies in the neighborhood. He nodded finally and grudgingly stepped aside, allowing her to mount the steps for the comfort of the solar, her mother and her chattering sisters.

Judith summoned the last of her strength as she climbed the stone stairs. At the door, she turned, looking back at her father. It had ever been this way. She had realized long ago there would never be affection from him. As a child, though, she had prayed to have been left as a fairy changeling’s gift, pretending that she was not related to the squire at all. Somehow, it was easier to believe she was not his child than to accept he truly cared nothing for her.

He watched her close the heavy oak door. So, she was back again, was she?

She was an unnatural female, his daughter. She bore no resemblance to her sisters, or his wife, nothing about her mirrored his own healthy looks. If his wife had been another sort of woman, the squire would have believed himself supporting a bastard all these years. Judith was tall, an oddity in a woman. Her hair was brown, not blonde like the Cuthbertsons, her eyes a shade of blue so dark it disquieted him.

Yet, it was not simply her physical appearance which marked her as different. There was a restrained air about her which spoke not of tranquility, but rather of duplicity. Sometimes, he saw a spark of rage in those odd eyes of hers, but in the next second it was gone, to be replaced by a docility he did not trust.

The girl had not taken to marriage the way a gentlewoman should, resisting from the first. He had wed her to a neighbor, only to have her return within months. He had then wed her to a soldier, whose stern countenance and air of authority should have meant the end of her stubborn ways. A few years later, she was his burden again, a wan shadow of herself, but still determined to plague his old age. Widowed twice over, she should have brought money or land with her, instead, she cost him in room and board.

She’d returned for the last time. She was twenty-four years old, doomed to remain in his household for the rest of her life. Unless he did something to ensure she never came back.

He almost smiled at the thought.

 

****

 

Madelaine Cuthbertson hugged her oldest daughter tightly, almost in apology for having faced the Squire alone. Once, she had been an attractive woman. Twelve births since she had married at seventeen had aged her until she looked as frail as a fragile summer flower. Only five of those children had survived childhood and, as the Squire was quick to point out, they were all worthless girls.

Madelaine's hair had whitened as her husband's, nature softly bleaching the soft strands of blond around her face until it appeared as if she wore a halo. In fact, everyone who knew her thought she had a spirit and a personality to match the most devoted of God's angels. She was a peacemaker in a house whose walls trembled with the Squire's temper, a soothing presence in a room filled with the sometimes whiny voices of her daughters, a gentle soul in a life that had not been gentle although it had not lacked in comfort.

Judith gripped her mother's arms tightly, kissed her cheeks and reluctantly pulled away to answer the questions from her sisters.

They were all present in the room, even Sally and Jane, who had both married the year before. Their husbands' farms were not far away, a fact which enabled them to visit their mother often, bringing with them their infant sons, who were feted and spoiled as only boys can be in a totally female household.

Two months had not made a substantial difference in her third sister’s appearance, Judith thought, but there seemed to be a serenity about Dorothea which had been missing before. Dorothea did not seem to dread her marriage, but, instead, eagerly anticipated it.

Elizabeth, the youngest of the five, had not changed at all. At fifteen, she was the antithesis of the Cuthbertson females, who matured early. There would always be something childlike about Elizabeth. By unspoken agreement, Judith had been her champion, protecting her from the harsh and sometimes critical judgments of others, including her father. He knew well that Elizabeth was different from his other daughters, but refused to believe that she could not be changed by a little discipline and hard work. The fact that he had not succeeded in his approach was due more to the nature of Elizabeth's malady than to Judith's occasional pleading intervention.

"Tell me what happened, Judith," her mother coaxed, leading her to a cushion by the fire. Even in spring the old house was dank and chill. Judith sank gratefully beside the hearth, allowing Elizabeth to take the box from her hand, and Sally, her still dripping bonnet. She slipped the top two buttons of her dress free, then ignored the clinging of the sodden cloth. She could endure the discomfort a little longer.

She had borne far worse.

Judith knew her mother wasn't speaking about her father's welcome.

"The Matthews were emigrating to the Colonies, Mother," she said, repeating the same lie she'd told her father. Judith fervently hoped her mother wouldn't pry beyond that sketchy explanation.

Hiram Matthews was a fawning, drooling letch, who seemed intent upon waylaying her at every opportunity, even as she escorted his children on their morning walks. He wanted her to accompany him on a journey, true, but it would have lasted no farther than the most convenient inn. Her last employer seemed fixed upon the idea that her duties should be nurse to his children, companion to his wife and his occasional whore, whenever chance and inclination made that possible.

Madelaine Cuthbertson knew there was more to the story than her daughter was telling, but she was also aware that unless her oldest child chose to divulge it, there was little she would learn. While the other girls seemed to share their every thought, Judith would often remain quiet and watchful, engrossed not in being the center of attention as much as she was in observing life around her. As an adult, Judith remained as unapproachable as she had been as a child, contained in herself. Madelaine suspected that Judith’s silences hid far more than a simple wish to avoid discussing herself.

Yet, despite Madelaine’s appearance, she was not a saint, nor did she have the courage of one. There had been times in the past when she might have broached the wall surrounding her oldest child, but she had never done so. And this moment passed also, the opportunity for candor untaken, the bridge untraveled.

Judith sat, staring at her hands, trapped in her isolation and her mother did not disturb the sanctity of it.

Elizabeth sat as quietly beside her, occupied with the box and the string's intricate knots.

BOOK: A Promise of Love
7.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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