Authors: Ceci Giltenan
Tags: #historical romance
Champagne Books Presents
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
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Copyright 2014 by Ceci Giltanen
Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey
Produced in Canada
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Other Books By Ceci Giltanen
To my husband and children, who make my life whole--You mean the world to me.
To my beta readers, Ann, Rhonda, Barb and Suzan-- a heart-felt thank you for your time and wonderful suggestions. Highland Courage is better because of you.
To my editor Diane Breton—your guidance and considerable skill helped me take nice stories and turn them into great reads. Thank you doesn’t quite say it, but they are the only words I have.
Brigid Brig ID
Cael KAH el
Carraigile Kah rah GEEL
Cathal KAH hul
Cnocreidh Kuhrock RAY
Currancreag KOO ran kreeg
Duncurra Doon KOO rah
Mairead mah RAID
Miach MEE ock
Neacel NEE uh kul
Seoras SHEOR us
Sine SHEE na
(BAIRn) A baby
(BREEdt) Also called a kertch, this is a square of pure white linen that is folded in half and worn by married women to cover their hair. It is a symbol of the Holy Trinity, under whose guidance the married woman walks.
(LAY in ah) A full tunic-like garment. A woman’s
is a full-length dress with full sleeves that is worn belted at the waist. A man’s
would only come to his knees, similar to a long shirt. Both men and women generally wore a plaid over this garment.
Wheesht Hush, shhh
“Courage does not always roar, sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
~Mary Ann Radmacher
Carraigile, The Western Highlands, Mid-September 1360
Her father looked bewildered. “Mairead, don’t ye want to be married? Look at how happy your sisters are. Ye love your nieces and nephews. Don’t ye want to be a mother?”
Cathal MacKenzie had tried for years to make a match his youngest daughter would accept. Now she suspected his patience was at an end, and he would no longer wait for her approval. Her father had arranged strategically sound marriages for his six oldest children, and they all seemed to be very happy. “Da, I do love the children, but with eight living here and three more when Annag and Hogan visit, why does anything need to change? I’m happy with things the way they are.”
Her mother, Brigid, tried reasoning with her. “Mairead, my sweet lass, things can’t stay as they are forever. I know ye don’t want to live the religious life. Ye would miss your family too much, and I couldn’t bear to think of ye locked up in a cloister. Please, dear one, it is time ye were married.”
“Why, Mama? Why can’t I just stay here?”
Mairead desperately wanted to avoid the discussion of marriage, but the look of pity in her mother’s eyes spoke volumes. Mairead fought to hold back her tears. She hadn’t cried in seven years, and she wouldn’t start now. Mairead pleaded silently for her mother to intervene, to tell her she never had to marry or leave home if she chose not to.
Perhaps sensing his wife’s resolve waver, her father answered, “I’m sorry, Mairead, but that is not an option. Ye are well past the age when most lasses marry.” Mairead started to argue, but her father put up his hand to stop her. “Nay, lass. No more. We will arrange a betrothal for ye when we attend the Michaelmas Festival at the end of this month.”
“Nay, Da, please...” Terrified, her voice broke, and she couldn’t say more.
Her father’s countenance softened. “Come with us, sweetling. Ye haven’t been for years, and ye used to love it so. We will find ye a new instrument to conquer and ye can meet the young men we are considering. We’ll take your wishes into account if we can, love.”
“I don’t want to go, Da, and I don’t want to get married yet!” Again, she blinked rapidly to keep the tears from slipping freely down her cheeks.
“What are ye afraid of?” demanded her father.
“I’m not—afraid,” she snapped, her voice catching with a sob.
Now her father’s eyes mirrored the pity she had seen in her mother’s. “The choice to go to the festival or not is yours, Mairead, but we will arrange a betrothal for ye and ye will be married. Soon.”
“Aye, Da,” she whispered and left her parents’ solar. Mairead wanted to retreat unseen to her chamber, but escaping unnoticed was nearly impossible at Carraigile. All of her siblings and their families lived in the MacKenzie stronghold except her sister Annag, who was married to the laird of Clan MacBain and her little brother Flan, who had just begun his training as squire for Laird Matheson. After leaving the solar, in order to reach the stairs leading to her chamber, she had to cross the great hall, and her siblings managed to corner her there.
Both Cathal and Brigid had lost their first spouses, and each had brought children to their marriage. Mairead was their first child together. She had been the baby of the family for years, until Flan was born, and in a way was the person who had firmly united both sets of children. They could all claim her as a sister. She grew up loved and adored by her siblings, but they could also overwhelm her.
“Mairead, go with us,” Rowan said. “We are all going. It’ll be fun.”
“Ye aren’t all going,” countered Mairead. “Cullen and Marjean aren’t going.”
“That’s because of our new baby,” answered Cullen, “but everyone else is.”
Mairead crossed her arms and did her best to look defiant. “Lily and Rose aren’t going.” She looked pointedly at their twin sisters, Lilias and Rhoswen.
“I want to,” said Rhoswen, “but it is awfully hard to travel that far with a baby.” Her youngest was only a year-old and quite a handful.
“I’m only staying to keep Rose company, both of our husbands are going,” said Lilias. Cullen rolled his eyes. Lily had given her an opening and Mairead seized it. “Then I will stay and keep ye both company.”
Peadar’s wife, Rhona, jumped to the rescue, “But then who will keep me company? I’ll be the only woman going if ye stay here.”
“That’s not true. Naveen is going.”
Gannon’s wife, Naveen, shook her head, “I am only going as far as my parents’ holding.”
“Well, Mother is going, and your mother will be joining ye as well, Rhona,” countered Mairead.
Rhona pouted prettily. “That’s not the same as a sister.”
Mairead simply arched an eyebrow at her. Rhona had to know how weak that argument was; at least a score of other Chisholm clanswomen were going.
Mairead loved her family, but now they smothered her. She slowly edged away from them saying, “Really. I'm sure it will be fun, but I want to stay here.”
Gannon tried. “Laird Matheson is going, so Flan will be there, too. Ye were just saying how much ye miss him.”
“Nay, Gannon. I can’t go.” She edged past him and rushed from the hall.
Peadar said, “Well that went well,” just before she left.
By the time she reached her chamber, her emotions were a jumble, and once again, she had to fight back the tears. This was awful. Clearly, her family didn’t understand why this scared her so much. They couldn’t possibly understand it. She had never given them the opportunity to understand because she had never been able to tell them why. Perhaps she should have, but she hadn’t found the courage to tell them before and she wasn’t about to tell them tonight. She had to take hold of herself and find the strength to face this.
She sat by the hearth in her chamber with her head in her hands when a knock sounded at the door. Completely exasperated with her siblings, she yelled through the door, “Go away.”
Her brother Quinn ignored her and entered her bedchamber. “I can’t, Mairead. We need to talk about this.”
“Quinn, I know ye all mean well, but please leave me alone. I don’t want to go to the fair.”
“I know ye don’t want to go.” He leaned his back against the door, but his casual stance belied the serious expression on his face. “I want to know why.”
“I just don’t. Why can’t ye all accept that?”
He ignored her question. “Mairead, I’ve never talked with ye about it and maybe I should have, but I know something happened the last time ye went.”