Authors: Constance O'Banyon
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Regency, #19th Century, #Scottish Highlands, #Adult, #Adventure, #Action, #DeWinter Family, #HIGHLAND LOVE SONG, #Daughter, #English Duke, #Highland Castle, #Warrick Glencarin, #Family Feud, #Betrothed, #Bitter Anger, #Scot Warriors, #Honor, #Loving Touch
Table of Contents
All rights reserved.
When I close my eyes I can still hear the sound of sweet baby laughter that brought such joy to each day. You have been a source of pride to me since the day you blessed this family with your presence. You are as beautiful of heart as you are of face. Dearest Kimberly, you are a much loved daughter.
To Jeffrey Gee, who inspired me to create a hero with the same beautiful silver eyes. You are definitely one of my heroes, my wonderful grandson.
Because of your wonderful response to the DeWinter family in Song of the Nightingale, and because of so many requests, I decided Arrian DeWinter's story must be told. Having a dram of Scottish blood in my veins, it seemed only natural to set the story in the Highlands.
Until July 1940, marriage by declaration was legal in Scotland. The couples who wished to wed had merely to declare their intentions before witnesses.
Davinsham Castle, Scotland
A storm was gathering over the Lowlands. Thunder rumbled so loudly that the ground trembled while bursts of lightning split across the ebony sky like jagged swords.
As the first raindrops fell earthward, sixteen-year-old Lord Warrick, Viscount of Glencarin, and heir of the Clan Drummond, rushed from the stables where he had bedded down his horse for the night. It was difficult for him to realize that he was actually within the confines of Davinsham Castle, the stronghold of the Maclvors, his family's lifelong enemy. So troubled were his thoughts that he was unmindful of the rain that pelted him, soaking him to the skin.
Only this morning Lord Warrick had been forced to witness his sister, Gwendolyn's, marriage to Gavin Maclvors, a man twice her age.
It had escaped no one's notice that Lord James had not attended the wedding, sending instead his son to represent the family. Though the chief of Clan Drummond had pleaded illness, everyone presumed, and rightly so, that he had been unwilling to watch his only daughter become the wife of a Maclvors.
Warrick remembered how pitifully Gwendolyn had pleaded with their father not to force her to marry the son of a rival chieftain, but her pleas had been ignored. She was being used by both sides in hopes of uniting the two clans. Old hatreds ran deep, though, and Warrick doubted this marriage would heal the wounds from generations of conflict.
Warrick hurried into the castle and up the stairs, his lip curling in distaste. The Maclvors displayed their wealth as one would display a trophy. The walls were decorated with silken wall hangings, and plush rugs covered the floors. Yes, there was wealth here, but not warmth. He thought of his own home, Ironworth Castle, which was shabby in comparison. There had been no woman to take over the household duties since his mother's death. Gwendolyn had cared little for housekeeping, preferring to leave that task to servants. Ironworth was in desperate need of a mistress.
His mouth tightened in anger as he dressed for the wedding banquet. This morning at the chapel, Gwendolyn's beauty had been paraded before the Maclvors clan like a prize. At age nineteen Gwendolyn was lovely, with honey-colored hair and soft gray eyes: Would Gavin Maclvors, who was their father's age and a well-known womanizer, cherish her as she deserved? Poor Gwendolyn could have been married many times over to a more worthy husband than Gavin Maclvors, but their father had insisted on this match.
The tears Warrick had seen in his sister's eyes had been like a knife stab in his heart. With fury he buttoned his black velvet coat and pushed his feet into high black boots. Almost defiantly he wrapped his family plaid about his shoulder and attached it through his belt. He would be glad when the celebration was over so he could leave this place. His only sadness was that he had to leave Gwendolyn behind.
It wasn't until Lady Gwendolyn was dressed in a wine red gown that she remembered her new husband had requested that she wear the ruby ring he had given her on their betrothal. Pushing her distaste aside, she picked up the Maclvors's ring. The huge red stone reminded her of blood, and she almost dropped it from her trembling hand. At the precise moment she slipped it on her finger, lightning flashed across the sky, the casement window flew open, and the candle blew out, leaving her in total darkness. She cried out to her maid, only to remember that Cora had gone to her own room.
Stumbling around in the darkness, Gwendolyn felt overwhelming fright. Warrick would be leaving in the morning, and oh, how she wanted to go with him. After he was gone she would be alone among her enemies.
Moments later a servant knocked on the door, carrying a candle to light the room. "Your husband's waiting for ye', m'lady," the woman said churlishly. What would her life be like if even the servants showed their disdain for her? she wondered.
As Gwendolyn followed the surly maid along darkened hallways, the light from the candle caused grotesque shadows to dance across the walls. Gwendolyn tried to gather her courage as they descended the stairs, moving ever closer to the sound of music and laughter. The massive double doors of the banquet hall were thrown open at her approach, and everyone fell silent. Gwendolyn felt her muscles tighten with apprehension.
Aristocratic etiquette was strictly observed in Davinsham Castle. Lord Gavin Maclvors was seated beside his father, Lord Gille, who was chief of Clan Maclvors.
Although Gavin was twenty years older than Gwendolyn, he was a fine-looking man with red hair and a red beard. She lifted her eyes to the husband whom she had met for the first time yesterday. Her father had promised her that this marriage would bring peace between the two clans. She saw only hostility in the many eyes that stared at her.
Quickly searching the crowd of faces, Gwendolyn found the person she wanted most to see, her brother, Warrick. Their eyes locked in sad understanding. He realized, as she did, that she had been sacrificed to the devil, and that he could not help her—no one could.
Gwendolyn took a brave step toward Gavin Maclvors. She knew so little about her new husband, except that he had two sons, and the eldest, Ian, was her age. She had heard whispers that Gavin lived openly with his mistress, Lorraine Turnot. Gwendolyn stared at him now and saw something that frightened her. She'd had no mother to prepare her for the night to come, but she recognized desire in Lord Gavin's eyes, and it terrified her.
She trembled as he seated her next to him. How she hated Gavin and all he stood for. When her eyes met his, she blushed at his bold stare.
"Come, my child bride, smile for me," he cajoled.
He reached across her, deliberately brushing his arm against her breasts as he poured her a goblet of wine. Her heart filled with dread for what would happen between them when they were alone.
Miserable and forlorn, it was all Gwendolyn could do to keep from weeping. She tried to catch Warrick's attention, but he was staring transfixed at the blood-red ring on her finger.
Lord Gavin's voice was low and seductive as he offered her the best meats and most tender vegetables from his plate. Lady Gwendolyn knew she would not be able to swallow anything, so she refused him with a shake of her head. He stroked his red beard, his eyes burning into hers.
"I like modesty in a maiden. I am weary of walking plowed fields. It's many years since I've been exposed to virginal pastures."
Gwendolyn lowered her head and clasped her hands in her lap, oblivious to the merriment around her. She had never attended a wedding feast before, but apparently no one thought her behavior strange for a bride.
Lord Gille addressed her directly. "Lady Gwendolyn, it is most unfortunate that you have neither mother nor mother-in-law to advise you in the management of your newly acquired household. As it is a great responsibility for one so young, I believe I shall appoint someone to assist you."
Gavin spoke up quickly. "Father, I have arranged for Lorraine Turnot to continue managing the household until my . . . wife is ready to assume those duties."
"No!" Lady Gwendolyn cried in a sudden show of defiance. She stood and faced her husband, unmindful that clan members looked on in astonishment. "You will not openly place your mistress above me. I did not become your wife today so that I can be shamed and humiliated."
Lord Gavin was enraged. "It is you who shames me, madame. You forget yourself. Perhaps you are fatigued: You will now retire to your chamber."
"No " Lady Gwendolyn repeated. "Not and let that woman be placed at your side in my absence. I did not
want to be your wife, but now that I am, you will place no one above me.”
Lord Gavin and Lady Gwendolyn stood glaring at each other until Gavin seized her arm and roughly dragged her away from the table. This drew sneers and lewd comments from several of the Maclvors.
"Please continue with your meal. I won't be long," he assured his guests through clenched teeth.
Gwendolyn looked at her brother. "Help me, Warrick," she said.
Warrick jumped to his feet and threw his chair against the wall. "Take your filthy Maclvors hands off my sister."
"Don't interfere in this, young Warrick," Lord Gavin said. "Your sister is my wife, and I'll do with her as I will."
Warrick was beside his sister, prying her hand out of Gavin's grip. "I'm taking my sister out of here, and don't try to stop me," he said. "She didn't come here to suffer your insults and abuse."
Out of the corner of his eye, Warrick saw Ian Maclvors come up behind him. Before he could react, Lord Gavin's son struck him a heavy blow to the head, and Warrick crumpled on the floor.
Gwendolyn cried out for her brother as her husband dragged her off. She wrenched her body and struggled to get away, but his enormous strength made her attempts futile.
"Let me go to my brother, he's hurt."
"He has just learned a valuable lesson. One should never interfere between husband and wife."
She glared at him in hatred. "I'll not be a wife to you!"
By now they had reached Lady Gwendolyn's bedchamber and, kicking and flailing her arms, she had managed to land several painful blows on her husband
Lord Gavin kicked open the heavy wooden door and thrust his wife to the floor.
She was up again and facing him with the unsheathed knife she carried at her waist. She thrust forward and the blade pierced his forearm. She stared in horror as Gavin's blood fell on her hand and covered the ruby betrothal ring. She had always been told that the Maclvors were a violent, hot-tempered family, but was it not she who had drawn first blood?
Lord Gavin's expression was murderous. "I'm cursed with a she-devil," he roared. "I'll tame you or kill you."
"I curse you to hell, Gavin Maclvors." Then she fell to her knees and began to sob deep, wrenching sobs that shook her slight body. There was no help for her. She would end her days in misery and despair with a man she despised.
It was morning before Lord Warrick regained consciousness to find himself in a tower room. Mactavish, who had accompanied him from Ironworth, stood over him with concern.
"Thank God," Mactavish said. "I was fearful you wouldn't wake."
Warrick tore the bandage away from his head and sat up. Pushing Mactavish aside, he hurriedly pulled on his boots.
"How is my sister? Have you heard?"
"I've been with you all night and have heard nothing of Lady Gwendolyn."
With determination in his heart, Warrick decided to go to his sister. The halls were strangely silent, and when he met a servant she merely ducked her head and hurried past him.
He rushed into his sister's bedchamber without knocking, for he felt there was something dreadfully wrong. He found the room empty.
With his head pounding, he bent to examine a blood-splattered rug and retrieved the knife he had given Gwendolyn on her fifteenth birthday.
A shadow fell across his face, and he looked up to see Lord Gavin standing over him. Slowly Warrick rose, staring at the man.
"Where is my sister?" he demanded.
"It's my sad duty to inform you that your sister's dead. As you witnessed last night, she was overwrought. She deliberately threw herself down the stairs rather than bind our marriage." Lord Gavin lowered his eyes, unable to meet Warrick's piercing gaze. "I'm sorry to say her neck was broken in the fall."
Warrick shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing. "No. Not my Gwendolyn!"
"It was not of my doing," Gavin said, taking a quick step away from the boy with fury in his eyes. "Had I known her mind was so unstable, I'd never have agreed to marry her."
"You are a lying bastard," Warrick said. "If what you say is so, whose blood is on this rug?"
"Tis mine." Lord Gavin indicated the bandage on his arm. "Your sister objected to my handling of her. It is regretful that she met with such a cruel fate. Had she not been so—"
"Nothing you can say will make me believe my sister took her own life!" Warrick yelled, his grief almost too much to bear. "I'll see her body at once so I may judge for myself."
"Of course. She is laid out in the formal meeting room."
Warrick's eyes widened in horror. "Not in the chapel? Maclvors, if you insist on this lie, my sister will be denied burial in consecrated ground."
Lord Gavin nodded. "Because she did such an evil deed, she deserves no better. I've just spent hours listening to my father rave at me, young Warrick. I don't have to listen to you. Get you home and forget what happened here."
A strange calm settled over Warrick, and he spoke to his sister's husband in a quiet tone. "I'll never forget the wrong you have done my sister. Your life is forfeit, Gavin Maclvors. There is nowhere you can hide that I will not find you."
Gavin looked into silver eyes that were so filled with hatred that it took his breath away.
"Have no concern that I'll take your miserable life now, Lord Gavin, for this day will be spent grieving over my sister's death. I want you to live in dread of the day I'll finally come for you. Always look over your shoulder and sleep lightly, for I may come at you from the darkness."