Authors: Mimi Riser
“Mimi Riser has penned the most astounding tale of love, desire, mystery and suspense. I highly recommend
Eyes Of The Cat
to anyone who loves an intriguing story!” ~Ariana Dupré, award-winning author of
EYES OF THE CAT
Copyright 2012 by Mimi Riser
Cover by Melissa Alvarez
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review. Also, this ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
[Disclaimer: This novel is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.]
Eyes of the Cat
was originally published elsewhere under a different title. It has since been revised and re-edited. This is the new, expanded edition and contains material not found in any previous version.
Eyes Of The Cat
A Scottish castle.
A medieval Scottish castle in Texas?
Staring out the train’s dirt streaked window at endless arid plains, Tabitha Jeffries shook her head. She’d been chewing on the matter for days, but still found it difficult to swallow. It wasn’t the castle itself that disturbed her well-ordered proprieties so much—though that was part of it. A Highland castle ought to be in the Highlands of Scotland, oughtn’t it? It seemed not only peculiar, but also impractical to construct such a monstrous edifice out upon this scrubby terrain. Wherever did they find the stone for it?
Oh, right—it had been built from those mud bricks called adobe. That was some consolation, she supposed. Tabitha shook her head again without even realizing she did so. It was one of those irksome little habits her late aunt had never been able to quite cure her of. Another habit was the rapid jiggling of one knee or the other whenever she was agitated or engrossed in thought. At the moment, it was her right knee that bounced up and down.
bothered her was the reason for this journey. How could a family send a girl nearly halfway around the world to marry a man she’d never even seen? What kind of a man would accept an unknown bride? This was modern day 1883 America, not 1483 Scotland, for heaven’s sake. The whole idea was positively feudal. There was something almost indecent about such an arrangement.
Although she had to admit that Gabrina MacAllister—who was, after all, the girl affected by it—didn’t seem to think so. Tabitha had heard enough about family loyalties and honor and tradition these past days to last her until doomsday. She’d met only one of them so far, but was already sick of the entire MacAllister clan. And she was sick of tartan wool, too. It was hot and scratchy, not to mention inappropriate for a paid companion to wear her employer’s clothes.
“But me spare travelin’ gown fits you sae well, Tabby dear. And you look sae bonny in it,” the fluffy curled and fluffier brained Lady Gabrina had chattered cheerfully every morning of their tiring trek west. Her nickname, Gabby, suited her.
“You wouldna be sae cruel as tae deny a poor, lonely lass such a wee bit o’ comfort, would you? It makes me feel less homesick tae pretend I’ve a countrywoman alang side me. Why, with your fair hair and those green eyes, I could a’most swear you were a MacAllister. Leslie’s been sayin’ we could a’most be sisters.’Tis the reason I chose you. The other lasses your agency offered were all puddin’ faced hens, they were. I didna fancy bein’ cooped with any o’ them. But the moment I laid eyes on you, I said tae meself, now there be a Highland lass, whether she kens it or nay!”
Thank goodness this was only a temporary assignment. Their train would be rolling into Abilene Station any blessed moment now. Lady Gabby would be greeted and herded off by her Texas kinsmen, and her exhausted chaperone would have several well earned days all to herself before returning to Philadelphia and whatever needy damsel or matron the agency next assigned her to.
If it’s another Scotswoman, I’ll quit.
“This looks like the end of the line for us, ladies,” offered an attractive young man with a military bearing and British inflection, as the train screeched to a rocky stop. “Gad, you’d think someone would oil those wheels once in a while, wouldn’t you? If I ran my ships the way these lads run their locomotive, I’d be fish food on the bottom of the ocean by now.”
“Aye, Leslie, you’re a bonny, braw sailor, and Tabby and I both ken it. Dinna we, Tabby dear?”
“Well, you would have more personal knowledge of that than I, Lady Gabrina. Captain Lawrence is your family’s friend, after all. However, since he ferried you across the Atlantic without mishap, I believe I can safely assume that he’s a more than adequate seaman.” Tabitha rose from her seat in the private compartment to gather their hand luggage together.
Leslie Lawrence hurried to relieve her of the heavier pieces, and was rewarded with one of her rare smiles.
“And I know for a fact that he’s a most solicitous traveling companion.” She blushed at his returned grin. “I’m sure Lady Gabrina has already thanked you for it, Captain Lawrence, but I should like to add my own gratitude to hers. It was most chivalrous of you to take a leave of absence from your professional duties to see us safely out here.”
The handsome Englishman swept a small bow before her. “It was my extreme pleasure, Miss Jeffries, but not quite so altruistic as you seem to think, I’m afraid. You see, I was heading west, anyway. I…” He paused, suddenly blushing himself for no discernible reason. “Well, the truth of it is, I’ve resigned my naval commission and accepted the captainship of the merchant schooner
. She sails for the Orient out of San Francisco the end of this week. I’ve had to make special arrangements to get me there on time,” he finished in an awkward rush.
“Oh,” was all Tabitha could say. This was certainly a piece of news. Lawrence had had such a promising career it had seemed. Gabrina had confided that he would probably make admiral before he was forty. Whatever could have induced him to resign?
“Leslie! Why didna you tell me?”
With the lady’s faint, came the answer to Tabitha’s question.
Oh, dear Heaven, how awful
. She rummaged through her purse for the smelling salts she always carried for her overly hysterical, or overly corseted clients.
Why didn’t I guess this before?
It was so obvious, now she considered it. And so pathetically ironic.
Of course they’re in love!
Gabrina and Leslie had grown up in each other’s pockets, to hear them tell it. They’d probably been in love since childhood. But Leslie had been so ambitious, Gabrina must have thought he was married to his career. That was undoubtedly the real reason she’d agreed to this ridiculous marriage to her Texas cousin, Alan MacAllister—who must be one sorry specimen of a man to have agreed to such an impossibly medieval alliance, himself.
“I wish he were here right now. I’d give him a lesson in
he’d never forget,” Tabitha muttered to herself while fanning some lavender water under Gabrina’s pert little nose. She hadn’t been able to find the spirits of ammonia, so the lavender would have to do. It smelled nicer, anyway.
“Dearest, I wanted to tell you before now, honestly I did,” Leslie began the moment the girl’s eyelids started to flutter.
He’d been kneeling beside her, chafing her wrists and staring at her with such an agony of love, Tabitha almost could have fainted, herself, just from the backlash of his emotion. Except she really wasn’t the fainting kind. The prim maiden aunt who had raised her never allowed such self-indulgent displays as fainting.
have told you, darling, but I was afraid it wouldn’t make any difference. You seemed so determined on going through with this bloody marriage— Oh, I beg your pardon, Miss Jeffries.” He shot a sheepish glance at Tabitha.
“That’s quite all right, Captain Lawrence. I understand the provocation,” she assured him.
“But, Leslie dear”—Gabrina’s eyes filled with tears—“you didna give up your commission for
, did you?”
That was too much for the young captain. His British reserve broke and he swept her into his arms like a tidal wave swamping the shore.
“My commission? Dear God, what’s my commission worth without you? What’s
worth without you?” he choked out. “Give up my commission for you? Gabby, you little fool, don’t you realize I’d willingly give up my
Tabitha discreetly turned her back on them and stood staring out the compartment’s window at a row of wanted posters on a nearby wall. This was hardly a sort of behavior she approved of. But…well, she could understand the provocation. Or, rather, she thought she could imagine understanding the provocation. It wasn’t as though she had any actual personal experience in such things—or wanted any, for that matter. But surely, under these circumstances, it was… Wasn’t it?
Whew, it’s hot in here.
The little compartment felt like an oven. Tabitha realized she must be blushing all the way down to her toenails.
Oh, I don’t know what I think!
Except for the fact she was thoroughly disgusted with herself.
Behind her, Lady Gabrina had begun to sob.
Don’t tell me she’s one of those silly girls who cries when she’s happy.
Now Tabitha felt a trifle disgusted with Gabrina, too. She need not have been concerned, however. Gabrina MacAllister was anything but happy.
“Oh Leslie, you foolish laddie, you should’ve told me sooner,” she wailed. “’Tis too late now!”
“Darling, of course it’s not too late. It’s perfect timing, if you ask me.” Leslie chuckled indulgently. “I’ve already hired a private coach here to take us to El Paso. From there we can catch a train straight to San Francisco, where we’ll have just enough time to be married before the
sails. Her owners are quite amenable to you sailing with me. They feel a wife on board makes for a more stable captain.”
Gabrina sobbed harder than ever. “But you dinna understand. I’m
now. My people are meetin’ this train, and they’ll hold me tae me pledge. They’ll ne’re let me go with you!”
“They will once I talk to them and explain the situation, gentleman to gentleman. This isn’t ancient Scotland.” Leslie chuckled again. “We’re a civilized world today, and I’m sure your cousin Alan is a very reasonable man, dearest.”
“Reasonable?” His dearest’s voice cracked on the word. “A MacAllister?
She may actually have a point there.
From what Tabitha had heard so far of the Texas MacAllisters, logic did not seem to be one of their dominant characteristics. Long before any other white men had entered this territory, several score clansmen and women had arrived, fleeing the British persecutions that had plagued them in the decades following the Jacobite rebellion. They had built an adobe duplicate of their destroyed family fortress back in Scotland, and had lived cloistered in it ever since, a world unto themselves—as though they honestly believed they’d never left the Highlands. It was absurd, but a fact that might have to be reckoned with, nonetheless. What was it the Scots themselves said?
“What canna be cured, mun be endured,” she recited. The sound of her own voice surprised her and brought Gabrina’s weeping face up out of her hands.
“Why, Tabby”—she sniffled—“you sounded a’most like me.”
“Yes,” Tabitha said softly, “I know.” Very carefully, she turned from the window and confronted the couple. She had to move carefully because her heart had begun racing so fast she feared it might burst through her bodice if she made any too sudden gestures.
“Yes, Miss Jeffries?”
Tabitha glanced from him, to Gabrina, then back again. How could she put this to them? She could barely believe, herself, what she was about to propose. “I…I think that Lady Gabrina is probably correct. Her relatives here still operate on ancient Highland law. They’ll never allow you to simply walk away with her. The clan’s honor is at stake, and that kind of honor takes precedence over all else.”