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Authors: Amanda Scott

The Border Trilogy

BOOK: The Border Trilogy
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Border Bride
The Border Trilogy
Amanda Scott

To Cindy Kaye

for her faith and her long memory

Thank you!























A Biography of Amanda Scott

Preview: Border Fire


whipped and roared through the late-October night, wreaking a chilling vengeance upon the southern Scottish landscape and piling huge drifts against the great gray stone manor house at Critchfield. The upper floors of the house were dark, for behind each decorative stone balcony the unglazed window opening was shuttered tightly against the cold. On the ground floor, however, the warm glow of welcome shone brightly through tall, leaded-glass windows, laying golden paths upon new fallen snow and setting snowflakes aglitter where they whirled and danced through the beams of light.

Inside the house, the great hall was warm and cheerful, the bagpipes loud, and the dancing merry. Mary Kate MacPherson laughed aloud when her partner, fair-haired young Kenneth Gillespie, nearly overset himself by attempting a double back kick directly in front of her immediately after completing a high, twisting leap in the air.

“Do you mock my skills, mistress?” Gillespie demanded, grinning down at her as they changed places.

“Nay, sir, truly,” she replied without missing her own cross step. “Such graceful jumps and slidings must surely be the envy of all the other gentlemen.”

“Are they, indeed?” The pattern of the dance separated them again before he could say more, but he was still smiling.

Mary Kate was enjoying herself hugely. She wore her favorite gown, a delicious confection of Florentine silk, its saffron color accentuating her smooth, red-gold curls and wide-set hazel eyes. Black Naples lace edged the gown’s tight bodice and undersleeves as well as the simple ruff encircling her slender white throat, its color enhancing the perfection of her roses-and-cream complexion; and her skirts, instead of billowing stiffly over a farthingale, draped in fluid folds that swirled gracefully about her tiny satin-slippered feet when she danced.

Mary Kate always enjoyed a party, but Critchfield provided novelty as well as pleasure. Highland-bred, she had not been allowed to enjoy social life away from her home near the river Spey until recently when her father had at last given in to the persistent badgering of his sister Sarah, Lady Aberfoyle of Edinburgh, and had begun to allow visits to other relatives when social gatherings were in the offing.

Throughout the first few of these affairs Mary Kate had felt shy and unsure of herself among relatives who kept a close watch over her, allowing her to associate only with those young gentlemen, often stiffly uncertain themselves, who could be trusted to hold their behavior within acceptable bounds. However, here at Critchfield, not only was she farther from home than she had been before—for the manor was well south of Edinburgh, nearly in border country—but her aunt and uncle, though certainly as affectionate toward her as any of her other relatives, had exhibited not the least desire during her week’s visit to play the strict chaperon. Consequently, with her confidence increasing steadily, even before this evening, Mary Kate had begun to feel the heady power of her own beauty and to realize that she was attracting a veritable court of fascinated cavaliers, not least among whom was her current partner.

Not only was Kenneth Gillespie tall, handsomely fair, and debonair, but his father was an advisor to King James, which fact provided the young man with an impressive veneer of arcane wisdom whenever he chose to affect familiarity with the goings-on at court. Moreover, he possessed a sufficient amount of practiced charm to turn the head of any young woman.

Mary Kate had met him several times before coming to Critchfield, at functions such as this one, but although he had always displayed polite interest in her, his previous attentions had not been particularly marked, and the possibility that he might have been deterred by her more watchful relations had not occurred to her. Although she had already danced with him twice that evening before he had asked her to join him in the galliard, the fact that she found his attitude delightfully flattering had seemed sufficient reason to accept a third invitation without so much as a moment’s hesitation.

The galliard, as Mary Kate’s short social experience had quickly taught her, was more of an acrobatic display than a dance, especially on the part of the gentlemen, and Gillespie, like the other young men in their set, took every opportunity to show off his skill. When he swung her high in the air, setting her skirts awhirl and causing her breath to catch in her throat, she thought fleetingly of stories she had heard of people who had broken their legs as a result of the wild skipping, leaping, and turning required by the dance, but then her feet touched the floor again, forcing her to concentrate upon her steps. The next part of the pattern included a difficult back-to-back turn while her partner retained both her hands in his, but no sooner had they reached that point in the dance than a thunderous clamor at the massive front door interrupted the festivities, bringing the music to a discordant halt.

The great oaken portals were swung wide at once to admit four men who stamped their booted, spurred feet and brushed snow from their heavy fur cloaks amid shouts of welcome and laughing shrieks at the sudden icy blast of air from outside. Servants were sent scurrying to tend the newcomers’ horses and to provide food and drink, while pipers and dancers alike continued to gaze curiously at the snow-dusted men.

“Do you know them, sir?”

“Aye, mistress,” Gillespie responded without taking his eyes off the four men, now being surrounded by an increasing crowd of the merrymakers. His casual tone was belied by an alertness in his wintry gray eyes as he added, “That is to say, I know two of them. The tall man with the dark hair and heavy eyebrows is the borderer, Sir Adam Douglas of Tornary, a close friend of the king. The stout gentleman who rushed to greet him, and who is even now clasping his hand so fervently, is Sir William MacGaurie. I did not realize he was here at Critchfield. Indeed, I had thought him to be still in England.”


“Aye. He supports the cause of the Queen o’ Scots and has been actively seeking that unfortunate lady’s release from the English clutches these many years past.”

“Godamercy, then mayhap his presence here tonight means Elizabeth intends to set her free at last.” The thought was an awesome one, for Mary of Scotland’s captivity at the English queen’s hands had taken place nearly a full year before Mary Kate’s own birth, and it seemed to her therefore that for their queen to be a prisoner was simply a fact of Scottish life. She regarded Gillespie with wide, questioning eyes. “Do you imagine such a thing to be likely, sir?”

His only reply was a doubtful smile and a shrug of his shoulders before he suggested that since the pipers seemed to have regained their wits they might finish their dance.

Mary Kate consented willingly, though not before noting that Sir Adam Douglas, with a quick, curiously frowning glance around the great hall, had spoken briefly to Sir William MacGaurie, then signed to his own men to retire with him from the company. She soon forgot the incident in the gaiety of the party, however, so it was with no little astonishment half an hour later that, hearing her name, she turned to find her uncle standing just behind her with the tall borderer at his side.

Lord Critchfield made the introductions with a twinkle of delight and then, clearly believing that he had served his purpose, swung on his heel and departed before Mary Kate had risen from her curtsy.

She glanced up from beneath her lashes to encounter an impudent grin and dancing dark brown eyes. Douglas had changed to evening dress of emerald velvet, his hose puffed and slashed with white satin. Despite the prevailing fashion for tiny pointed beards, he was clean-shaven, and she thought him rather more civilized-looking than one might have expected a borderer to be, and handsome into the bargain.

“Shall we dance, mistress?” His voice was deep and resonant, and he had the poise and confidence of a man who knew his own power, an attitude that set him well apart from any of her previous partners.

Though she accepted his invitation warily, the dance was a simple, much more stately one than the galliard, giving him the opportunity to draw her into light conversation, which he did with the ease of long practice. She soon discovered that, although he was indeed border-bred, a branch of his mother’s family had land on the river Spey just above her father’s estates. When she looked surprised to hear it, he grinned at her, his eyes twinkling more than ever.

“Did you mistake me for just another border ruffian, mistress, albeit better dressed than most?”

“Not a ruffian, no,” she replied carefully, feeling the betraying warmth creep into her cheeks at the thought of how nearly he had echoed her first opinion of him. Rallying quickly, she added with more spirit, “But I’d not have mistaken you for a high-lander either.”

He chuckled. “I’d be well enough satisfied, I think, if you could but believe I possess some good qualities of both.”

She smiled up at him, then found it hard to look away, for the warmth in his gaze caught and held hers, and she suddenly felt as though she had known him for years rather than minutes. The feeling passed quickly, but added to the fact of his having relatives on the Spey, it was enough to allay her natural high-lander’s mistrust of anyone from the borders. Mary Kate soon fell victim, to an intoxicating degree, to Douglas’s engaging manner and easy confidence, responding to his gallantry in a way that would ordinarily have been completely alien to her nature.

When their dance ended, he relinquished her hand to another admirer with a nattering air of reluctance, and as he moved away through the crowd of guests, bowing to one and shaking hands or laughing with another, her gaze followed his progress. She even experienced a twinge of jealousy later when he led first one then another damsel into the dance, and if she conversed with her own partners, she was unaware of the fact. When Kenneth Gillespie daringly sought to engage her hand for a fourth dance, she snubbed him so unconsciously that she failed to note the bewildered, ego-bitten air with which he turned away. Beside the fascinating borderer, Gillespie cast but a pale shadow.

Douglas caught her eye upon him several times, and she made no attempt to avoid his glances, even going so far as to return his impudent smile. Though she knew she was flirting outrageously, she found it impossible to stop.

When he came to claim her hand for a second time, she accepted with alacrity, too inexperienced to notice that his attitude toward her had altered, that his voice was a whisper warmer, his touch now a flickering caress. And if, when he swung her through a complicated step, he did so with a hint more energy than was entirely proper, Mary Kate was unaware, mesmerized by his extraordinary charm. Just the flash of his even, white teeth when he smiled was exhilarating. Indeed, the warmth of his hands when he touched her waist, her shoulder, or merely her fingertips was enough to send tremors of excitement racing through her body.

The music stopped at last, and he guided her toward the huge open fireplace where gillies were ladling out mugs of steaming mulled claret. Douglas procured one for each of them.

“Will you be too warm here by the fire?” he asked.

“Oh, no, sir. The hall is chilly if one is not dancing.” She sipped cautiously. “Ah, it warms me all the way down!”

He laughed. “But you ought not to be chilled, mistress. You have danced often.”

“I have,” she agreed with pleasure. “Is it not remarkable? I have scarce missed a single turn.”

“Not so remarkable as that,” he said. “Not when you are by far the bonniest lass in the hall.”

Her eyes twinkled as she regarded him from beneath her thick lashes. “There are others more beautiful than I, Sir Adam.”

“Are there? I have not seen them.”

“Blinded by their beauty, in fact, whilst you danced with them,” she replied, chuckling. “I saw you.”

“Art jealous, lassie?” He tweaked a curl that had escaped her coif. “’Twas not their beauty but the spell cast by a red-headed witch that blinded me.”

“My hair is not red! ’Tis copper-gold.”

“If you prefer to call it so, though I am partial to red hair.” He grinned at her over his mug as he took a long sip of the potent brew, but Mary Kate only wrinkled her nose in reply. Douglas used his sleeve to good purpose, then spoke again. “How is it that you speak English so well, lass? And with a most delightful accent, I might add. When your uncle said you were a hielan’ wench, I confess I thought I’d have an opportunity to practice my Gaelic.”

BOOK: The Border Trilogy
4.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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