About the book
In order to love her, he must first die...
The daughter of an infamous crime ring family, Lydia Russell has little control over her life, least of all her own fate. When they present her to the Laird as a potential bride, she does her duty and keeps her head low. Until the Laird’s dark past comes to light.
After his wife’s early death, Frederick McDonald, Laird of McFarlane, hates the world and everyone in it. With one exception: a tempting, unruly woman who entered his life unexpectedly and set his being on fire.
With her parents held hostage as leverage, Lydia must make a terrifying choice: shatter the heart of the man she loves, or lose her only chance to finally meet her parents. Desperate, her only chance at salvation rests deep in the ground. A terrible lie sleeping in the grave along with Frederick’s dead wife.
Lydia paced around the perimeter of her cramped chamber, tossing her long red hair over her shoulder, casting fleeting glimpses at the parchment that lay on the table in the corner. The fire burned in the small hearth, making her green eyes sparkle, casting flickering shadows and light off the parchment, making it somehow seem to be alive and writhing atop the table.
Her heart thundered in her breast and her mind bristled with a thousand thoughts, her emotions so thick, she could not think. She felt as if she could barely breathe and that the walls of her already small chamber were closing in around her.
Sitting down at the table, Lydia picked up the parchment with a trembling hand and read the words she had already read a thousand times already.
‘Tis been long since we last looked upon ye, daughter. And yer maither and I miss ye so. We long for the day when we can be reunited and can begin to put the pieces of our shattered family back together.
But that cannae happen unless ye play your part. We ask that ye do as yer Uncle Olson asks. If ye do that, he will have us released and we can be together again. As a family. Do it not and he will have us killed.
I would not see this burden set upon ye if there was another choice to be made. But there is nae. There is only this one path to follow and for our sake, I hope ye choose to do so.
Do as yer uncle commands and all will be well. We love ye, Liddy. With all our hearts. Our life —our family—is in yer hands, dear daughter. Do the right thing.
A tear splashed upon the parchment, causing the ink to run. Lydia sniffed loudly and wiped away the tears that spilled down her cheeks. She fought the urge to break down and start to sob. Lydia knew that she needed to be strong now. Her parents needed her to be strong.
There was a soft knock on the door and then it opened. Lydia’s body tensed, fearing the worst. She breathed out a sigh of relief when Jane, one of her uncle’s maids, stepped through. Jane was the only constant in her life and Lydia always took great comfort in the older woman.
Tall and slender, Jane had blonde hair that was just beginning to show streaks of gray. Her eyes were the color of jade and she had skin as smooth as women half her age. She had been Lydia’s rock and the one person she could count on for years.
“Are ye all right, Miss Lydia?” she asked.
Lydia sniffed again and shook her head. “Aye. I’m fine.”
Jane closed the door behind her. “Yer uncle wants to see ye.”
“I dinnae want to talk to him right now.”
“He wisnae askin’, Miss Lydia.”
“I do nae care, Jane,” Lydia cried. “He’s a monster.”
Lydia held the parchment out to Jane, who took it up and sat down on the chair across from her and began to read. Lydia angrily wiped away the tears that continued to roll down her cheeks; angry, but embarrassed by her emotion.
Until she received the letter, it had been two years since she’d last heard from her parents, but many years longer since she’d last seen them in person. When Lydia was a young girl, her parents left her in the care of her Uncle Orson, while they set out to find work. She was too young to remember much of her parents, but every now and then, her uncle - her father’s brother - would mention that he had heard from them.
Lydia had seen twenty-two summers now, and all but three of those years had been under her Uncle Orson’s roof.
“This is a tough spot to be in, lass,” Jane said.
“’Tis a horrible spot to be in.”
“I suppose ye’ll be doin’ what yer uncle asks then, eh?”
Lydia looked over at her, a mixture of shock and fear on her face. She did not answer though, not knowing what to say or what she was going to do.
“’Tis yer parents, lass,” Jane said.
“I havenae heard from them in two years, Jane,” she replied. “I dinnae even ken they were alive until I got this letter.”
“But the point is they are alive, Miss Lydia,” she pressed. “They’re alive and ye’ve a chance to help them.”
Lydia stood and paced her small chamber, folding her arms over her chest, frowning.
“They left me with Orson when I was but a wee child,” she said. “I dinnae even ken them.”
“They’re still yer ma and da, though,” Jane said. “And there isnae a man or god who can change that.”
The truth of the matter was that Lydia hated being under her uncle’s roof. He was a bad man, who associated with bad people, and together, they did terrible things. In the town of Braekirk, the seat of power in the lands that belonged to Clan MacFarlane, Lydia’s Uncle Orson was the dark underbelly, and usually, the principal source of violence.
“Orson is waitin’, lass,” Jane said.
“What kind of man holds his own kin to ransom?” Lydia wondered aloud, ignoring her statement. “Under threat of death if I dinnae do as he wants.”
Jane sighed. “Yer uncle is… complicated. But he’s never been anythin’ but decent to me since I kent him. He took ye in and gave ye a home, too,” she said. “I’m sure whatever he wants ye to do willnae be anythin’ too bad. Ye’re his niece, after all.”
Lydia rolled her eyes but said nothing in return, not bothering to point out the obvious, which was that it was his own brother he was holding for ransom. Lydia knew Jane was loyal to her uncle. Loyal for reasons she did not understand, and Jane did not talk about.
Lydia supposed her uncle had done some great kindness for Jane at one point or another. What that was, she could not even guess at, since she did not think Orson capable of doing a kindness for another.
“Come, lass,” Jane said. “We shouldnae keep yer uncle waitin’ any longer than we already have.”
“I dinnae want to go.”
“I’m afraid ye dinnae have much choice, Miss Lydia.”
Jane favored her with a soft smile and Lydia cringed, seeing the pity in the older woman’s eyes. She hated being pitied. But more than all of that, she feared her uncle, for he was a cold, pitiless man.
She sighed heavily. “Fine. Let’s get it over with then.”
* * *
Orson Russell was a formidable man. He was tall and wide through the shoulders and chest. Lydia had always thought he looked like a tree trunk with legs. His hair was the color of pitch and hung down to the middle of his back, his eyes were dark as coal, and he had a thick, bushy beard. His visage was terrifying and Lydia had a difficult time looking him in the eye.
He sat upon a dais in the great hall of his manor house. His chair was large and ornately carved of a dark wood to look like it had been made of human skulls and bones, only adding to his nightmare image.
“So ye’ve read the letter then?”
Orson’s voice wasn’t deep, nor was it high, and it carried an edge and a sneer to it that never failed to set Lydia’s teeth on edge. She thought it seemed at odds with such a large, intimidating looking man.
“Aye,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I’ve read it.”
“So, I assume we’ve an accord then, eh?” Orson asks. “I assume ye’ll do what I need.”
A spark of anger flared in her belly as thoughts of her parents leaving her with Orson, and never contacting her until they needed her help filled her mind. It was not often she defied her uncle—she was far too scared of him. But, every now and then, her temper got the better of her and the words came tumbling out of Lydia’s mouth before she could stop them.
“Ye may assume too much, Uncle.”
Orson’s face darkened and his eyes narrowed. He sat atop his chair and stared through her for a long moment, his cheeks an angry shade of red, his nostrils flaring.
“As stubborn as ever, eh?” Orson grunted. “Havenae I always done right by ye, Lydia? I took ye into me home. I fed ye, clothed ye. I’ve provided for ye.”
“Ye tried to make me to work in yer brothel,” she added.
“Aye, but when ye threw a fit about that, I found ye someplace else to work,” he pointed out. “Dinnae I?”
It was true that Orson had found other employment for her, but she did not know it was much better than working as one of his fancy girls. The treatment she received at the hands of Charles Kinsey, a wealthy merchant in Braekirk, was little better than what she could have expected at the brothels.
Added to that, was the fact that Orson expected her to spy on her employers. He trafficked in all sorts of things, but her uncle had always told her information and knowledge were the most valuable commodity of all, so he ordered her to keep her eyes and ears open and dig up anything of use to him as she worked in the homes of Braekirk’s wealthy and elite.
Kinsey was all hands and constantly made passes at her, despite his wife being in the next room. He had tried to force her to lay with him more times than she could count.
“I’ve never asked ye for much, lass,” Orson pressed. “But now I am.”
“Telling me ye’ll kill me parents if I dinnae do what ye want is hardly askin’.”
“I’ve found I sometimes need to provide a little bit of pressure,” Orson says. “It helps me get what I want.”
Lydia took a deep breath and cast a glance over at Jane who gave her an encouraging smile. She was still conflicted about her parents. It wasn’t that she wanted to see any harm come to them. It was just that she did not know them and the pain of having been abandoned when she was a child was still fresh and raw.
“And what is it ye want, Uncle?”
“’Tis nae much,” he replied. “I just want ye to meet somebody. A man.”
Lydia felt her eyebrows rise. “Ye want me to meet a man?”
Orson nodded. “Aye. I want ye to meet a man for me.”
“For what purpose?” Lydia asked. “Why do ye want me to meet with this person?”
Her uncle exchanged a look with Jane then focused on her again. He looked like he was about to deliver bad news he knew would upset her. But then his eyes hardened and a frown pulled the corners of his mouth down.
“Because if ye dinnae, I’ll have yer parents killed,’ he said simply. “I’ll have their heads on spikes just outside the door so ye’ve a reminder of what happens when ye dinnae do as yer told.”
She glanced over at Jane again whose face betrayed no emotion, but looked back at her meaningfully. Jane had always told her to exercise caution and do as her uncle wanted her to. Jane always counseled her to avoid arousing his anger.
But this was her life. She had no idea who this man was or what he was about, but Lydia was sure that it would not be good for her. On the other hand, it was not just her life, but that of her parents hanging in the balance. One look at her Uncle’s dark, hardened face told her he was not bluffing about killing them if she did not do as he asked.
She was not sure how she felt about her parents. But she was quite sure she did not want them to be murdered before she could figure that out.
She let out a heavy sigh. “So if I do what ye ask, ye’ll let me parents go?”
“Of course,” he boomed. “Have I ever nae kept me word to ye, Lydia?”
She had to admit, if only to herself, that he had surprisingly never broken his word to her, the few times he’d given it. He said that his word was everything, whether he was agreeing to some deal, or telling somebody he was going to kill them. He’d told her it was his code.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll meet this man.”
“That’s a good lass,” he replied with a broad smile. “A very good lass.”
The voice echoed softly down the corridor and Frederick frowned as he looked down at the flagstones beneath his feet. The hall he sat in was hushed and torches flickered in their sconces on the walls. He sat on a bench in the crypt beneath MacFarlane Castle, the final resting place of his family going back generations.
Frederick raised his eyes to the ghostly white statue before him. Nora’s likeness looked back at him, the small smile on her face, and the small child in her arms frozen in time for all eternity. His eyes stung as the tears welled within them. He quickly blinked them away and cleared his throat.
“I told ye I was nae to be disturbed,” Frederick growled.
Mason, the steward of his household stepped into the corridor that housed the crypt of Nora and his child—and would one day house his own remains.
“Apologies, Me Laird,” Mason replied. “But ye have a visitor who’s demandin’ to see ye.”
Frederick ran a hand over his face, feeling his frustration growing. There was always an urgent message to pass along. Always somebody pulling on his sleeves, first one way, and then from another. Frederick never seemed to have a moment’s peace and it wore on him.
“And who is it, Mason?” Frederick grumbled.
“It is Lewis Abernathy,” Mason replied.
Frederick sighed heavily. “Of course it is.”
Lewis Abernathy was one of the most prosperous merchants in the town of Braekirk. He believed his wealth afforded him a power he did not actually possess. That did not stop him from acting as if he was actually the Laird of Clan MacFarlane though. Frederick had heard tale after tale of Lewis speaking ill of him in Braekirk’s taverns, and making plans for the clan as if he were the Laird and Frederick was nothing.
“Tell him I am busy,” Frederick said.
Mason shifted on his feet uncomfortably. “He was quite earnest, Me Laird,” he said. “Said he wouldnae leave until ye came out to speak with him.”
“Then let him wait all night,” Frederick grumbled. “I dinnae care.”
“He’s got most of Braekirk’s merchants with him, Me Laird,” Mason said.
Frederick’s feeling was to let them stand in the great hall and rot. But he knew he could not. As much as he was loath to admit it, Frederick knew Clan MacFarlane relied on the revenue brought in by the merchants of Braekirk as they were on Frederick for the protection his men provided for the town and the clan lands. It was a symbiotic relationship, but also a relationship that he often felt was balanced on a razor’s edge.
Frederick knew that while he might be able to put Lewis off, he could not ignore them all. Or if he did, he would only succeed in turning Braekirk’s merchants against him. He knew if he did that, he risked turning the clan against him. While most of Braekirk’s merchants had no designs on power like Lewis did and were generally satisfied, ignoring or marginalizing them might push them into Lewis’s arms.
And Lewis was a man who sought to exploit every advantage he could find. Or manufacture. And the last thing Frederick wanted was an inter-clan war. Clans warring with themselves was as common as clans warring with each other. It was why so many clans were unstable or died out altogether. Clan MacFarlane, was one of the oldest, strongest clans in Scotland, precisely because they had avoided that sort of instability.
And Frederick would be damned if he allowed the clan to fall into a civil war. His family had ruled for generations—and would continue to rule for generations to come. Frederick sighed. All he wanted was to spend a little time with the woman he loved on the one-year anniversary of her death, and that of the child she’d giving birth to. His child. His wife.
But those jackals out there would not even give him that.
“Tell them I’ll be there shortly,” Fredrick groaned.
“Aye, Me Laird.”
He listened to the retreating echo of Mason’s footsteps and returned his gaze to Nora’s statue once more. There wasn’t a day that went by that he did not miss her, or keenly feel the hole that had been torn in his heart when she died. Frederick did not know if that hole would ever truly heal.
Getting to his feet, he moved over to the statue placed a gentle kiss on the velvety soft petals of the rose in his hand. He set it down almost reverently on the small strip between her body and that of the child in her arms.
“I love ye,” Frederick whispered. “Ye still have me heart and ye always will.”
* * *
Frederick entered the great hall through a door that led to a small antechamber behind the dais that held the Laird’s chair. He pushed aside the dark green curtain that separated the antechamber from the great hall and stepped out onto the dais, immediately feeling his body tense.
Lewis Abernathy was a tall, gangly man with a prominent Adam’s apple, hair that was more gray than dark, and a nose that was long and pointed. He stood in a small cluster near the foot of the dais with some of the other notable Braekirk merchants. He was speaking in low tones, but was gesturing wildly, as if trying to convince them all of something. To their credit, the other merchants looked to be on the more skeptical end of the spectrum.
“Me Laird,” Lewis called when he noticed him standing there, and gave him a respectful bow. “Thank ye for seein’ us.”
Frederick knew he should be a good host and offer his guests refreshment. But at the moment, he did not care whether he was perceived to be a good host or not. He knew it would not matter anyway. Lewis saw him how he wanted to see him and a cup of ale or sweet cakes would not change that.
“Dinnae seem that I had much of a choice, now did it?”
A small, vicious smile curled a corner of Lewis’s mouth upward. “I apologize for making it seem that way,” he replied. “I thought it best we speak quickly to set the people’s minds at ease.”
“I dinnae ken their minds were troubled,” Frederick fired back.
A half dozen of his guards stood lined against the pillars on either side of the hall, closely watching the group merchants. Frederick knew they were not dangerous, though. They were no threat to him. Not in a direct way. They were schemers and would strike from the shadows when his back was turned. They would never risk taking him straight on. That just wasn’t their way.
“The people are worried about the succession,” Lewis added, casting a glance at the other merchants. “About the instability nae havin’ an heir causes, and the instability affects our livelihoods.”
“I dinnae ken what one has to do with the other,” Frederick said.
He dropped down into the Laird’s seat and crossed one leg over the other, staring down at the merchants. They had all lined up behind Lewis and remained silent. A couple of them shifted on their feet, uneasy. And when his eyes fell on them, they lowered their gaze. They did not look comfortable with what was happening, but none of them had the courage to put a stop to it or call Lewis out for whatever he was playing at.
Frederick decided that it was because they simply did not care who was in charge, so long as somebody was making the decisions. All that mattered to them was that whoever was in charge allowed them to run their businesses as they saw fit.
“We have very legitimate concerns, Me Laird,” Lewis said, though the last two words seemed said with a sneer.
“And what’re yer concerns today, Lewis?” Frederick sighed. “I’ll add them to the list.”
Lewis’s face darkened and his frown drew deep creases in his face.
“We’re concerned about the fact that ye’re nae married,” he said. “That ye’ve nay marriage prospects.”
Frederick felt his own temper rising, threatening to explode. Mixed in with the anger coursing through him of course, was the deep thread of grief that had become a part of him over the last year. He glared hard at Lewis.
“Ye are aware that me wife died-—”
“A year ago,” Lewis cut him off. “And while we’re all sorry for yer loss, ‘tis time for ye to move on and find a new bride.”
Frederick glowered at him, finding it harder and harder to control the anger that filled his entire soul.
“Oh so ye’ve determined ’tis time for me to move on, have ye,” he growled. “’Tis time for me to put me grief away, is it?”
“Dinnae ye think a year’s long enough-”
Euan Bass stepped up and puts himself between Frederick and Lewis, an expression of annoyance on his face.
“’Tis nae what I - we’re sayin’, Me Laird. What we’re worried about is the succession. Ye need an heir,” he said. “And while we’re sorry about the Lady Nora, we need to secure the future of the clan.”
“And why does that matter to ye?” Frederick growls. “What does me havin’ a wife or nae havin’ a wife matter to ye?”
“Because if ye dinnae have an heir, that bleedin’ arse Orson Russell will steal the Lairdship,” Euan said. “And if he’s allowed to do that, I dinnae need to tell ye what that means for the people of Braekirk.”
Frederick cut a glance over at Lewis, and the older man looked away. While he was fine trying to undermine Frederick and steal the Lairdship from him, apparently going up against Orson Russell was a bridge too far.
The Russells were notorious in Braekirk, and Orson owned a string of brothels, gaming houses, and taverns. He had a reputation as one of the most violent, villainous, and ruthless men, not just in Braekirk, but possibly in all of Scotland as well. He ruled Pennyside, his section of town, with an iron fist and showed no mercy to anyone.
As much as Frederick would have loved to rid Braekirk of somebody as morally bankrupt as Orson Russell, the truth of the matter was that he was beloved by many. He offered employment to some, and pleasure to others. While he was a criminal, he also did charitable works, often feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and housing the homeless.
It was how he ensured the loyalty of so many, despite his bloody and violent reputation. It was as Frederick’s father had counseled him in what felt like a lifetime ago; it was easier to live with a tumor like Orson Russell than it would be to cut him out.
“Do ye want to be responsible for a criminal like Orson takin’ over the clan?” Lewis asked, stepping around Euan. “Do ye want take be responsible for what he’d do?”
“At least Orson would come at me head on, rather than skulk about, schemin’ and conspirin’, waitin’ for the right time to stab me in the back,” Frederick said pointedly.
Lewis glared at him, clearly not missing the meaning of Frederick’s words. He opened his mouth to reply, but Euan stepped forward again.
“’Tis nae what we want to do, Me Laird,” he said. “We only want what’s best for the clan.”
“I’m sure that’s true of ye, Euan,” Frederick said. “I cannae say ‘tis true of everybody.”
Lewis glowered at him but took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Frederick watched him closely, some small piece of him wanting the older man to challenge him.
“The point is…the reason we’re here…is to convince ye the time is right to find yerself a wife,” Lewis said through gritted teeth. “’Tis time to look to the future and secure our clan’s place. We need some stability which means ye need to produce an heir. Or ye can step aside and-”
“Ye’d like that, wouldnae ye?” Frederick snapped. “But let me tell ye, ‘tis never goin’ to happen.”
“Me Laird,” Lewis began to protest, his voice hard and cold. “I have to insist—”
Frederick shot to his feet, his face hot with rage. Though he still stood on the dais, Lewis and the rest of the merchants flinched back, as if he were standing in front of them, armed and ready to strike.
“Ye’re in nay bleedin’ position to insist on anythin’,” Frederick shouted. “I am the Laird. Nae ye. Ye dinnae tell me what to do. Do ye understand me?”
The men stood quietly, their eyes on the stones beneath their feet. All except for Lewis, who continued to stare at him defiantly. Frederick descended the stairs from the dais until he stood in front of the older man, their noses scant inches apart.
“I’ll take a bride when I feel the time is right and nae a moment before. And ‘tis nae for ye to tell me any different,” he hissed.
He let his gaze linger on Lewis for another long moment before he turned and walked back up the steps and out through the door in the antechamber behind it, slamming it as hard as he could.
Frederick stood upon the ramparts of the castle, his blue eyes taking in the town of Braekirk in the valley below. The town was lit by torches and bonfires in the squares, and the sound of merriment and revelry echoed up to him.
The night was dark and cool, with a thick blanket of clouds the color of slate covering the sky and blotting out the moonlight. A chill breeze swept past, stirring golden hair that fell to his shoulders and the edges of the cloak he’d thrown over himself before coming out. Frederick felt unsettled, the corded muscles of his tall, thick frame taut with tension.
“It feels like rain.”
Frederick turned to see Mason take a spot on the ramparts alongside him. They stood quietly for a couple of moments, gazing out at the night and the town spread out below them. Frederick turned his gaze up to the sky and stared at the thick, unrelenting clouds for a moment.
Mason was not as tall as Frederick, and was physically the opposite. Where as Frederick had wide, sloping shoulders, a stomach that was flat and tight, and every inch of him rippled with muscle, Mason was narrower framed, thick around the middle, and yet, still incredibly light on his feet. He had served Frederick’s family as a Steward for years. He was an older man with dark hair that was shot through with gray and hung to his shoulders. His eyes were blue and sharp; the man was intelligent and never missed a thing.
Despite the difference in age, Frederick thought of Mason more as a friend than somebody who served him. He relied on the older man’s counsel and his wisdom; especially over the last year. He had helped Frederick through the grief and the mourning. Or at least, he had tried to. As with everything else, Mason did his best. But the grief clung to Frederick thicker than cobwebs.
“Aye,” he said. “Probably in the small hours.”
Mason nodded. “Sounds about right.”
Frederick turned his attention back to Braekirk and frowned. The thought of either Lewis Abernathy or Orson Russell taking over the Lairdship of the clan was about as appealing as covering his body in pitch then setting himself on fire.
“What are ye doin’ up here?” Mason asked.
Frederick shrugged. “Just thinkin’, I suppose.”
“About anythin’ in particular?”
“About what was said in the great hall today.”
Mason nodded, as if he had expected nothing less. Though the older man said nothing, Frederick could feel the thoughts rolling off him like heat from a hearth. If there was one thing about Mason that Frederick knew, it was that the man always had thoughts, and he was never shy about sharing it. Though he was always proper about it and only gave it when asked.
“Tell me what’s on yer mind then, Mason.”
The older man shrugged his thick shoulders. “As detestable as I find that man, Lewis wisnae entirely wrong,” he said. “Ye do need an heir. If ye dinnae have one, control of the clan will break down into who has enough coin to buy it, or enough men to kill for it.”
Frederick pursed his lips. “Aye. I ken that,” he replied. “But me mind is nae on findin’ a bride yet. I feel like I only just buried Nora.”
Mason nodded. “’Tis nae an easy feelin’ to have to bear,” he said. “Grief is a monstrous burden upon yer shoulders.”
Frederick nodded. “It is. There are some days I dinnae think I can bear it.”
Mason put his hand on Frederick’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. The older man looked him in the eye, a grim but determined expression on his face.
“Ye can endure for more than ye think ye can,” he said softly. “Ye’re the strongest man I ken. More so than even yer faither.”
Frederick shook his head. “I dinnae ken about that.”
“I do, lad. I ken yer faither well. Loved him. And he was a great man, make nay mistake,” he said. “But I see that greatness in ye. I see it even more so. If ye let yerself be that great, that is.”
“And takin’ a new bride would make me great?” Frederick asked. “Is that it?”
“Nay. That’s nae it,” he said. “But producin’ an heir would secure the future of the clan. It’d ensure the succession wouldnae be a bleedin’ mess.”
Frederick ran a hand through his hair. He knew what Mason said was true. And he had no desire to see the succession fall into chaos and violence. He knew his son should take up the Laird’s chair as a MacFarlane had for generations. Neither a Russell or an Abernathy should get within a league of that chair.
But at the same time, he could not force himself out of his grief. The pain was as fresh today as it was the day Nora died trying to give birth to their child. And there was a part of him that thought since he’d been blessed enough to find a love so true and pure, he would not be fortunate enough to find it again.
Nor did he believe he could ever love somebody as intensely as he had loved Nora. She had been one of a kind and had opened him up in ways he never believed he could be. He had felt things for her that were entirely foreign to him and he did not believe he’d be fortunate enough to again feel the love he had felt for her.
“I cannae forget her, Mason.”
“Nor should ye,” he replied. “Nobody’s askin’ ye to. But ye can still remember her and move on with yer life, lad.”
Frederick shook his head. “I dinnae think that I can.”
“Movin’ on doesnae mean forgettin’. I just see ye stuck in this dark place inside yerself. ‘Tis like yer walkin’ around dead already, lad,” he said. “More than anythin’, I want ye to find yer way out of it. I want ye to find yer way back to life.”
“Back to life, eh?”
He nodded. “Aye. Ye never leave the keep. Ye’ve nae been down to Braekirk in months,” Mason said softly. “And I dinnae ken how long it’s been since I seen ye smile.”
They both fell silent again and turned their gazes out to the town. In the distance, thunder rumbled and a section of clouds lit up as lightning flared behind it.
“I wouldnae even ken how to find a marriage prospect anymore,” Frederick said.
“Actually, I have some thoughts about that.”
A wry smile touched his lips. “I thought ye would.”
“We will host a feast,” he said. “We’ll invite the families who’ve eligible daughters and see how things go. ’Tis a good startin’ place, at least.”
“And if there are nay suitable matches?”
Mason shrugged. “Then we’ll look outside. Mebbe we can find ye a match among the other clans, maybe we look at other countries.”
“Perhaps,” Mason replied. “But we start here, I think. We’ll host the feast and see what happens.”
Frederick leaned against the battlement and frowned. Even considering the possibility of opening himself up to a new bride felt like a betrayal of the love he’d shared with Nora.
Somewhere in his mind, he knew that was ridiculous and knew that Nora would want him to go on. She would want him to live his life and find happiness again one day.
But even knowing that did not ease the burden of guilt that pressed down on him. It did not make him feel like any less of a heartless monster for even considering the possibility.
But Frederick thought about the clan and about what would happen if there was not a clean, clear succession. The need to produce an heir was vital to keeping people like Orson Russell and Lewis Abernathy away from the Lairdship. It was his duty to do right by his family, and by his clan, and keep the string of MacFarlane’s serving as the Laird unbroken.
He sighed. “Fine,” he said quietly. “Let’s have the feast and see what happens.”
“I ken it isnae easy, lad. But if ye keep an open mind, ye might be surprised by what happens,” Mason said. “And also, choosin’ to climb out of the misery and live yer life ain’t dishonorin’ Lady Nora any. I think ye ken she’d want ye to find happiness again.”
Frederick frowned. “I’m nae sure I even ken what happiness looks like anymore.”
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