Authors: Amanda Anderson
Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Anderson
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This book is a work of fiction and any similarities to persons living or dead, places, incidents are completely coincidental and not intended by the author. The characters and events are productions of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.
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Printed in the United States of America
Cover pictures by
©Andrei Vishnyakov / Dreamstime.com
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Other Works by this Author
Full length Novels
A Beautifully Normal Life
In Love With The Wrong Cowboy
Too Much Trouble
Life, Love, and Second Chances
An Alaska Thing
Something About Alaska
The Tiger Series
The Tiger Within (Book 1)
Highland Tigress (Book 2)
Captive Tigress (Book 3)
Freeing the Tiger’s Soul (Book 4)
Defenders MC Series
Redemption of a Soiled Dove
Taming a Montana Maverick
One Good Cowboy
Anne could barely get her breath.
“How is this happening? I can’t do this Margret. Please, just slow down. I cannot leave London. This makes no sense. Stop it, just stop. I can’t just leave. This is my home!”
“Miss Anne. I know you don’t understand this right now, but I can’t explain. There is no time for this. You need to trust me lovey. You know you can trust me. You need to hurry now sweetheart.”
Anne watched the woman who had practically raised her throw things around her room and she couldn’t even move. She just stood there and watched as everything in her life changed.
“It is too late to be thinking about this.” Anne pulled her dressing gown around her tighter. “We can talk about it in the morning. I want to go to sleep! This doesn’t make any sense! Just let me go back to bed.”
Margret took her by the arms and shook her once hard.
“Child there is more to all this than I am able to say right now. You must listen to me. This is not something we can just go to bed and forget. We have to go tonight and we have to pack light and you have to snap out of this.”
“No.” Anne was tired of this. She wanted to sleep and she wanted to know what was happening. “No. I am tired of this. I want to see mother. I want to sleep. Everything will make more sense in the morning.”
“No. No dear, it will not.”
Anne rushed from the room in search of her mother, but the house was in disarray. Servants rushed about as if it were midday instead of the middle of the night. Two of the house maids stopped to gawk at her before they rushed away hiding whispers behind their hands.
Anne rushed to her mother’s rooms, but they were empty except for a few servants who were wide eyed with fear. The furniture had been covered and the servants were working to pack everything up and close down the rooms.
In confusion Anne rushed to the rooms of her sisters only to find them in the same state as that of her mother.
She turned in the hall as if lost in the forest in the darkness. Margret stood with tears in her eyes and opened her arms.
“You must go as well Love. It is no longer safe here. I thought there would be more time, but we must go. Your safety is all that matters to me, it’s all that has ever mattered.”
Anne felt tears fall down her face. “Father?”
“Has gone as well. Please Anne. This is for your safety and theirs. They have gone to safety and entrusted your safety to me. They have done all they can, they must see to their own safety now as we must see to yours. They risked everything to keep you safe for all these years.”
Anne was rushed back to her rooms where she was dressed by one of the servants, she couldn’t even recall the girl’s name. The dress that was pulled over her head didn’t fit her as well as her own things and the fabric was scratchy.
“Why must I wear this? Isn’t everything bad enough? Why must I look like and urchin as well?”
Margret sighed and walked to her. “Anne, I love you. I know you have grown accustomed to a certain way of life. I fear I did you a disservice by allowing it, but you must adapt. Your life may be difficult for a while, but you will be what you were raised to be as soon as I can arrange everything. Please trust me my dear girl.”
Anne couldn’t think. She couldn’t think of her family that she may never see again. She couldn’t think about the uncertainty of her life now or why things had changed so dramatically in such a short time.
Everything had been fine at dinner. How had everything changed?
Anne didn’t protest when a pair of ill-fitting boots were tied on her feet. She felt nothing. How could she feel nothing when everything that mattered to her was being ripped away? She was being sent to a friend of Margret’s in the godforsaken highlands. Her brain was outraged, screaming arguments against the walls of her skull, but no sound would come out of her mouth. There were no tears, she just felt cold and empty. Her whole life was nothing.
“I still don’t understand why I cannot go to my own family. Why can I not be with my family? They are all together are they not? This doesn’t make any sense and why can’t I wear my own clothes?”
Margret stopped in her fussing. With a sigh that seemed to weigh on her like a great stone she spoke the words that finished killing Anne.
“Go one now Marie. I will take care of this from here on.”
Margret waited for the girl to scurry out of the room before she spoke.
“They are not your family dear. They were only hiding you to keep you safe and now it has brought them danger. My child I am so very sorry. I promise it will all be explained to you in time, but now we must look to your safety. I am sorry I never told you anything of it, but you needed to grow up and be happy. I couldn’t risk it you see. No one could know.”
“And you seek to find my safety with those burly Scotsmen? How could I be in any more danger than with them? How? Why can’t we go somewhere else? I can’t live the way they do.”
“I am sending you to my dear friend. Moira. Moira MacGregor. She is a good woman. I am a good woman and you have trusted me your whole life, Moira is the same sort as me. She will be good to you and keep you from harm. She will love you as her own and she will teach you all you need know of life in the highlands.”
Anne felt her heart breaking anew. Her family was not her family. Her life had only been a dream.
“I do not wish to learn how to live there. I don’t want to stay there any longer than I have to. Please tell me it won’t be for long.”
Margaret took her hands. “Look at me child. You have grown into a strong young woman. I am so proud of you. You will be fine my dear. Be strong and listen. You will figure it all out and you will shine just as you always have shined.” She looked uncomfortable and Anne’s heart finished crumbling.
“I’m never coming home am I?” She whispered in a tortured voice.
“Perhaps this never was home. Perhaps it is time to find where you really belong.”
Anne followed as Margret led her down the grand staircase for the last time. She stepped out of her front door and watched as her bags were loaded into a carriage she did not recognize, one of lower quality than she was accustomed to. It was a clear reminder of how far she had fallen.
“I am sorry Miss Anne, but no one would think to look for you in a carriage such as this. I will see you very soon. I must go and see to your future. Everything will be for naught if you are discovered before I have made everything ready for you.” Margret kissed her cheek. “You are taking my very heart with you dear child. Stay safe and have faith.”
The carriage pulled away and Anne watched her life grow smaller in the distance. How had this happened? She didn’t even know who she was. She was a tiny ship tossed into the sea and expected to make it to the destination with no way of knowing where she was to go.
She let a single tear track down her face before she wiped it away. Nothing could be gained from crying. She would trust in Margaret and in God and she would get through this one way or another. Somehow she would get through it and somehow she would find a way to be happy again.
She slowly let go of her dreams of grand ballrooms and gentleman callers. There were no gentlemen where she was going.
She would never be married and have a grand home the way some her friends were.
She would be the mistress of a hovel in the wilderness if she was lucky.
She had wondered why her father hadn’t spoken of making a match for her. Her sisters were already discussing possible matches and they were younger than she. It all made sense now though. She wasn’t his child. She wasn’t even a lady. She had no idea who she was.
“Nay. Nay, this lass cannot stay here.” Malcom MacGregor shook his head and looked down at his mother as if she had lost her mind.
“She must and she will. You may be the Laird, but I’m still your mother and I’ll be daft if I let ye tell me what to do about this. She stays and enjoys the comfort and safety of your protection. I insist upon it.”
His mother would not be swayed. He could tell by the look on his mother’s face that he would not change her mind, but he was unwilling to give up so easily.
“You’ll do what is best for the clan and yer family. She is English! Nay, not just English, but a real lady. What did you say her father was?”
“The father she has known all her life is a count and that makes little difference in this.”
“She is in more danger here than she would be there. What possessed you to bring her here woman? Ye think I do not have enough to worry over that you give me this too? She has got to leave. Send her anywhere but here!”
“She isn’t what you think Malcom you daft man. They will kill the lass there. Here she will at least be under my protection which is better than naught. Would you have her living on the street? She has nowhere else to go. We are her only hope of surviving.”
“If our own people learn of her they will call for her head. What will you have me do?”
“I’d have ye trust me.” She said in a voice that mirrored the hurt he saw in her eyes.
Malcom threw his hands up in surrender and walked away from his mother. She was crazy. How could she expect to keep an English woman safe in the highlands when every man, woman, and child would seek to kill her? Every person here would likely cut the woman’s throat with little cause other than the blood that ran through her veins. English blood. She would be hated just for sharing air with them. This good, clean, Highland air was not meant for the filthy English.
He turned back.
“Reconsider. Send her anywhere else. Now is not the time to take in strays. We have too much to do with our own clan. I’ll not take food from the mouths of our people to feed this English trollip.”
“Nay. She stays Malcom. I will not be swayed on this matter. I suggest you get to know the lass. She is far more than and English trollip. Mind what you say or you’ll be regrettin’ it. She is a lady and I’ll not have you mistreating her just because you don’t agree with me.”
“Send her to another clan. Clan MacDonald. They would not be so harsh, their dealings with the English have not been so brutal.”
“And they would be less vigilant in watching after her. Nay, she stays with me and only me until she is sent for. You need to listen to me and get to know the lass. There is much you might learn.”
“What do I want to know about a stuffy English rose? All I know is that she will sit on her arse and expect to be treated like she is better than all of us. I’ll not be havin’ it. You are no Englishman’s servant or English lass’s. I’ll not have it. You are my mother and respected by all in the highlands. I’ll not have you turned to a maid to this English brat.”
Moira let out a long sigh. “Much my son. There is much you might learn if you allow yourself. I have never known you to be close minded. Now is not the time to start. She will learn her place as we all must do. Give her the chance to prove herself before you deem her worthless. Have some compassion for what she has suffered.”
“What does it matter what I think? I’m promised remember?” It was an old argument and he knew that his mother knew it was his way of wiggling out of this conversation. “Besides, she has suffered nothing compared to what has been done to our people.”
“Aye. Yer promised to the MacTaggarts, but there’s no harm in meeting the lass. She doesn’t bite. And there is no harm in showing her that all highland men are not the barbarians she believes them to be. Yer new wife might like a bit of refinement to her husband. This lass could teach you a bit of that.”
“Fine woman. It will change nothing. I will not coddle the lass either if that is what you’re thinking. It is just as well she thinks me a barbarian, mayhap then she will work harder and expect to be coddled less. And don’t you be thinking I’ll turn into some English dandy just to suit the MacTaggarts. My wife will have me as I am, just as I will have to accept her.”
He walked to the modest house he’d had built for his family while they were forced away from their home. War had ravaged their lands and forced many into hiding in the lush green of the highlands, much further north than they were accustomed to. The mountains and forests protected them as a mother protected her children. Protected them from the English that raped their homeland. Protected them from the savageness of war.
War against the English.
War against rival clans.
Never love, never warmth or comfort. Malcom had come to believe that there was nothing in life but blood anymore. There was nothing meant for men like him save the endless battles and screams of those he cut down in the name of protecting his clan.
He enjoyed the pleasures of the women that followed his men, but there was no warmth in their touch. He enjoyed the touch of a lass, Fiona, who lived here with his family. She was a sweet girl, far too young for him, but she knew what he liked and he lacked the will to turn her away. She understood the circumstances of his future and seemed to accept them. He would find her a suitable husband in time, but for now she softened the sorrow of seeing his family reduced to living in this primitive style instead of MacGreggor castle.
Soon he vowed.
Soon he would finalize the alliance that would save his clan and bring his family home.
He opened the door to the house. It was little more than a cottage, although better than any other that would be found this far north. It was meant to house no more than three, but there were now seven to share it. His brother was building a cottage of his own nearby, but it was going slowly and Malcom doubted it would be very fine when it was finished. His brother had never been one for building things. Malcom hoped the cottage would be good enough to house John and his family and soon.
This might only be a temporary home, but it was severely overcrowded and making things harder on everyone. He had seen the strain around his mother’s eyes and he longed to take her back to the comforts of home.
He regretted his decision not to bring at least a few servants along, but it had been impossible. Even his small party had almost been discovered during their exodus, more would have been impossible to hide. At the time their safety had been all that had mattered.
Malcom sighed. Things were improving.
The door opened easily and he stepped inside the warmth of the home. Greeted by the smell of wood smoke and hearty stew and the sight of a delicate woman sitting rod straight in a chair by the fire wearing a light blue day dress. Her blonde tresses were in an intricate knot with only a few curls hanging around her heart shaped face. She looked like a rose growing on a frozen mountain. She was so out of place it was laughable, but Malcom didn’t laugh. There was nothing funny about this situation. Many of his countrymen might see it as treacherous to house a lady such as this.
Yes, this one English rose could mean ruin for the MacGregors and his mother refused to even consider it.
She looked up when he stepped inside and her blue eyes held him captive and made him feel like less of a man than he knew himself to be. They were red rimmed and her skin was as pale as the snow. Her pert little nose was red on the tip and even Malcom could tell the girl had been crying. She looked as if her world had crumbled and perhaps that is how she felt, but there were far worse things in this world than what this pampered little miss had suffered.
“You must me Anne.” He said gruffly in greeting.
Anne had never seen a man the likes of this one. He was wrapped in a colorful garb in true Scotsman style. His hair was a mass of dark, as untamed as the man himself seemed to be. His feet were covered in mud to his ankles and his face was smudged with something she couldn’t identify. His appearance was nothing less than fierce and even more frightening than the thought of having to live in this untamed wilderness.
So why was her heart fluttering in her chest? Why did her cheeks feel flushed at just the sight of him?
She reached up to cover her hot face when he spoke. She felt her legs quiver in the most delicious way. How could this ruffian affect her so?
She was innocent, completely so and had never even shared a kiss with a man, but just being in the same room with this untamed barbarian felt too intimate.
She looked to Moira, how could this woman be his mother? The curve of Moira’s lips and the slight twinkle in her eyes told Anne that Moira could read her reaction as if it were written on her face in ink.
She took a deep breath and tried to settle her thoughts.
“I am. And who might you be sir?”
He actually looked baffled for a moment. Then he shuffled his feet in a way that would have made her believe he was uncomfortable if he were a regular gentleman. He certainly was not.
“Malcom MacGregor. Your benefactor as it would seem.” He cut his eyes toward Moira s his voice grew severe at the end as if he were not happy about the situation.
Anne was speechless. This man was to be her savior, but he clearly didn’t relish the thought. Well, they had that in common at least.
“I thank you my lord.” She stood to her feet and offered a curtsey suited to the meeting of one’s benefactor.
“Awe hell. There’s no need for that lass. I know you want to be here about as much as I want you here. We will have to make the best of it, although it seems I am getting the short end of the bargain.” He ran his hand over his hair that hung in dark waves around his shoulders save for a few strands that had been braided and pulled to the back.
“You’ll learn soon enough that this is not a life suited to your sort.”
How insufferably rude. “I’ve never. This was not my choice, but I intend to be as little trouble as possible.”
“Oh aye, I can see that. You intend to sit there on your pretty arse and sip your tea while everyone else works their hands raw?”
“No. I hadn’t… I only just arrived… I don’t know how to…You see what I mean to say is…. I’ve never...”
“Aye I figure that is the truth of it. You don’t know how to do a damned thing. Just sit and look pretty for your handsome English peacocks. Well there will be no one here preening for a smile from you and if ye don’ work, ye don’ eat around here so I expect you’ll be learning fairly quickly. You don’t look like ye can miss many meals.”
“Why I have never been so insulted in all of my life. How dare you sir. I may be living on your mercy, but I do not expect to be treated with such contempt. This is not my fault. I didn’t ask for any of it.” She wanted to curse herself for her lack of control as her voice quivered. “I would go anywhere else if I had the choice.”
“Nor did I! Where will you sleep? There is no room. No fine furnishings here, no servants. No one to empty your chamber pot and bring your meals. How is it my fault or my duty to supply ye with any of it? How does it fall to me?”
She could take no more. Tears flooded her eyes and ran in rivers down her face. She dared a look up at the brute that had attacked her so fiercely and was stunned by his look of fear.
“You cruel brute. How dare you. You know nothing of my situation and yet you attack me like a coward. I am not hiding behind my ignorance as you seem determined to do by your discrimination of my person. I will learn to do anything I can and I will earn my keep or I assure you I will not take a single bite of your precious food.”
Malcom stepped back. He had done just as she said. He felt like and arse. He ran his hands over his hair.
“Aye lass, I am a brute. You’d do well to remember that and get off your arse and help tend the house you find yourself living in.”
“I intend to.” Anne demanded.
“Ye can’t do much dressed like the queen now can you?”
“Malcom, you were not raised to treat a lady with such harshness. Miss Anne is a guest, not a servant. She is not suited to this life. It is not her fault that her upbringing was not suited to a life she was never expected to lead. You will regret this day.” Moira swatted her son. He stood head and shoulders taller than her, but she didn’t back down.
“I insisted that she change out of that ill-fitting garb she arrived in and don one of her own gowns. It’s a comfort to have something of your own when you have lost everythin’ and I do mean everythin’.”
“I am sorry Anne dear. There is a great weight on my son and that has apparently made him forget his manner and how to treat a lady. I would hope he treats the lowest of his men better than he just treated you now.”
“He is right Moira. There just isn’t room for me here. Let me go home. Send me away, anywhere, but please send me away from here. I beg you.”
Anne watched Moira. Her hair coming out of her long braid. Her dress was simple and drab similar to the one she had worn on her journey, but it was clean aside from the hem that was spattered with mud due to her chores outdoors. Moira had been out for hours. Anne had no idea what the woman could have been doing, but the weariness that pinched her face spoke of something tiresome.