About the book
Her lips were drawn to his like a moth to a flame...
The only reminders Amelie has of her parents are a pendant, a kilt, and a song. All seemingly unimportant, until a notorious rake she’d rather stay away from shatters her reality with a single sentence: she is the daughter of a Laird.
After years of being a rake and a thief, Damien Glogow is getting tired. And he has the perfect solution: find the missing daughter of the Laird and take the reward. Yet, there is one major hole in his plan: after meeting the woman, he is not sure if the reward is the money or Amelie herself.
Making the Laird believe that Amelie is his daughter might be harder than it seems, for there are many contestants who would kill for her position. Damien realizes that the fleeting moments with the woman of his heart are ending, for he is but a rogue. A rogue with a list of enemies that would love to see him on his knees. Through any means necessary.
Another agonized scream from the outside had Lady Evelina McDulah cuddling her baby girl to her heart and crouching down in a nook inside her and her husband’s chambers. She swallowed tightly and tried to stem the tears running down her face as she knew—she knew all the carnage that was happing outside was because of her.
If only she had done what her parents had needed from her, marry Laird Selvach of Ascogg. The evil lowland Laird who had been raiding her parents’ lands in Northumberland, stealing everything and anything until her father had grown desperate enough to offer him anything that he wanted to stop the constant pillage: her hand in marriage had been the solution.
The week before her wedding had ripped her apart and when they had loaded her trunks into the back of the carriage, tears had flown down her face like a river. It had not stopped during the journey to the lowlands, a trip that made Evelina feel as if she were walking to her death. If the dreadful rumors about Liard Selvach were right, she probably was.
A brief respite had come when, in the woodland just below the castle, a wheel on her carriage had splintered forcing her to sit outside while her coachman scrambled to fix it. Perched on a rock she cried silently, knowing that her life was never going to be the same.
Yet salvation had come. A party of three men had broken into the clearing, but her attention had been drawn to one seated atop a grey stallion. A striking man with broad shoulders, a wide chest, and a fiercely handsome face, topped by thick brown hair, he had met her eyes with surprising tenderness.
From the surprised look on his face, he, nor his men, had expected to see them there, but that had not stopped him from coming down from his mount. He had knelt his powerful form at her feet, asking her what was wrong.
Through hiccups, she had told him her story; how she had no choice but to marry the Laird to stop him from destroying her family’s legacy, only to have Laird Dolberry, or Colin, as the stranger had asked her to call him, step in.
Yer nay goin’ to that man, lass, he had told her kindly. Ye will never last a day with him…ye’re comin’ with me.
Now, almost three year later, Selvach was attacking her highland home in revenge, cutting down Colin’s men as if they were chattel and bombarding Colin’s castle. Her poor baby was none the wiser about what was happening, but sat, solemn on her lap while Evelina held her tight.
She pressed her child harder into her chest and tried to sing the soothing lullaby that her baby loved, but the words would not come. The door to her rooms was pushed open and panic seized her heart in a vice-grip, fearing the marauders had found her.
“Mo chridhe,” Colin’s booming voice sent relief running through her. “Where are ye?”
“Here,” Evelina called out, her voice trembling and faint.
Her husband came in, his body fitted in leather armor as he was as much a warrior as his men were. He knelt before her, the hardness in his blue eyes softening. In his left hand, he held a broadsword but spun the blade away from her.
“Daenae ye worry, love, we’ll get through this,” he said, “ye’ll be safe.”
Colin’s thumb smoothed over her cheek, wiping the tears away, but guilt rested squarely on Evelina’s heart, “I brought this trouble to you,” she mourned, “I am sorry.”
Her kissed her fiercely, “Ye have nothin’ to be sorry about, love. Me men and I will deal with this, just stay here.” He then switched his attention to his child, cupping her softy rounded face, “Ye too, Poppet, ye’ll be safe.”
Standing, Colin gave Evelina a last assuring look before he slipped out of the nook and left the room.
“Hear that, Poppet?” she used Colin’s endearment for their child Amelie. “Your father says all will be well.”
“Mama…” Amelie said sweetly.
Feeling emboldened, Evelina rocked her child and started to sing, “I saw a fair maiden, sitting and sing, she lulled a little child a sweet lording. That very lord is He that made all things, of all lords He is Lord and King of all kings.”
Amelie’s eyes began to droop and just as she was about to drop to sleep, a splintering sound had her jerking up.
It sounded as if someone was hacking through the door with a hatchet. Evelina did not dare move and only hunkered down, twisting enough that her body would shield Amelie from any attacker.
Please don’t come in here, please don’t come and take my child.
A deafening crash had her jumping, and she knew, just knew that she was going to be found. A wicked cackle had her bending, trying to make herself even smaller, but that did not stop a hand from grabbing onto her hair and yanking her up.
Shrieking, Evelina held Amelie tight while the ruffian dragged into the open. “Let go of me!”
“Ye should have thought about that before ye ran off with Dolberry,” the man sneered, “me Laird has nay mercy on wicked traitors like yerself. Do ye ken how long it took him to find ye? It cost ye yer parents’ lives.”
“What?” Evelina gasped, both from the pain in her head and the horror of knowing that her parents had been killed.
The man shoved her into the hold of another man. “What? Ye thought ye could just disappear and nay one would pay the price? I was there when me Laird dragged yer parents out of their house and saw as he gave yer mother to his men. He forced yer father to watch them have their fun with her, before he ran his blade through both o’ em.”
Evelina tucked Amelie’s head into the crook of her chin, while she was being carted into the inner courtyard. Colin was down on one knee, his left hand clutching at his bloody right arm, while his sword lay shattered on the ground.
“Nay!” Colin made to get up but one of the raiders kicked his leg from under him.
“Colin!” Evelina shrieked in distress.
Then, a broad, rough hand circled her neck and held tight. Wicked, and ruthless black eyes bored into hers and a heartless grin stretched the black-bearded face of Laird Selvach. “Ye little wench. Did ye think ye would get away from me? That I wouldnae find ye?”
Swallowing tightly, Evelina shielded Amelie’s face with her hand, “It’s three years, why not leave me be?”
“Because,” he leaned, pure evil glinted in the depths of his gaze, “I daenae let anythin’ I consider mine get away. And ye were mine....” His eyes dipped to the almost three-year-old child in her arms. “But then ye ruined yerself with that bag o’ filth over there. And now, ye will pay for it.”
Before he could rip Amelie from her, Evelina stuck out, raking her nails over his eyes with one hand and when he stumbled, she took off, sprinting back into the castle, frantic for help.
“Me Lady!” Beatris, Evelina’s nursemaid ran to her, with terror plastered over her face.
Shoving Amelie into her arms, Evelina ordered, “Take her and run, run as fast as ye can.”
“Go!” Evelina ordered, “take the tunnels and run!”
The maid ran out of the room just as Laird Selvach came into the room and grabbed her arms, sinking his fingers into her skin and scratching her with his ragged nails. A trickle of blood was on his brow and had dripped into his beard, while utter rage was on his face.
“Ye will pay for that, harlot,” his tone was cold and barbaric. “I promise ye.”
At least Amelie was safe.
“Do your worst.” Evelina tucked her chin up with defiance.
“I plan to,” Selvach yanked her back out to the courtyard where Colin was now being held up by two men, both of his arms trapped behind his body.
Evelina met her husband’s gaze and read fear, sorrow and atonement; she knew he hated himself now, hated that he could not deliver on his promise to keep her and their daughter safe.
“She’s safe, Colin,” Evelina called out while Selvach wrapped an arm around her shoulder and placed a knife at her throat. “She’s safe.”
In his dark clothes and crouched on a battlement, Damian Glogow’s sharp blue eyes traced the shadowed grounds below, waiting for the guards to finish their patrols and disappear round the corner so he could shimmy down the wall, and get away.
The skilled thief had not planned to stay so long in Cawdor Castle, but the lure of more jewels and gold had been too difficult to ignore. His pockets were filled with coins, and in the sack thrown over his shoulder were a pair of silver candlestick that would bring him a tidy sum when melted.
He had made it to the battlement of the eastside of the ancient house and had a clear sight of where he would run to through the forest beyond. His gloved hands clenched the wall as he prayed for the bloody guards to move along before someone discovered the missing items and an alarm was raised.
The smell of rain was in the air and he wanted to get away before the storm came and doused him like a drowned rat. When the guards finally stopped chatting and went in, he swung his body over the railing and expertly dropped to a windowsill, from there he dropped to another and then, finally, landed on the ground.
Hugging the shadows, Damian made it through the courtyard and darted over to the wide lands to dash under the cover of the forest. He ran nearly a mile through the dark bush until he came across the horse that he had left tied in a part of the dense woodland that was sparsely travelled.
“Morag, be a good boy and ride us out here, swiftly now,” Damian said while untying and coaxing his horse out into a wide space. He mounted the stallion and directed him out of the wood.
It was past midnight, but the time did not matter to Damian. He worked solely under the cover of darkness and only went out in day to pawn his goods.
I’m sure Benjamin will appreciate this.
Instead of going back to his mentor in Inverness, Damien diverted to a village outside of Culloden. It was still a few hours before dawn, and he found an inn where the proprietress’ daughter sold him a warm bowl of soup and a hunk of bread.
The lass, Sara, twirled a lock of her hair between her fingers and leaned over the table, giving him direct line with her heavy breasts. “If ye want to stay, there are only two beds available. One in the barn and one with me.”
“Are you offerin’ yer bed, lass?” Damian asked slowly, while breaking his bread.
“A bed,” she had whispered, dark eyes glittering with almost-triumph, “and a body to go with it.”
It had been a while since Damien had bedded a lass, almost six-months and going, but he felt no desire for the woman. The clamor of boots dragged his attention away from the innkeeper’s daughter to the five men who came in. Instantly, Damien shifted his bag of loot tighter against the wall the table was pushed up against.
“—Old man is a fool,” one of them huffed as he grabbed a chair and sat. “What bloody sense does it have to be searchin’ two decades later for a lass who perished long ago?”
“That two thousand sterlin’ will go to waste,” another man laughed. “Unless a lass with red hair an’ green eyes comes along to fool him into believin’ her. ‘Tis Scotland, where ye can drag a dozen women from every village in this country to fit her colorin’. I’m sure, when word gets out of this, all of ‘em are goin’ to show up at the Laird’s house!”
Quietly, Damien listened to their conversation about a recluse Laird whose ordeal had slowly fell away from people’s minds. He listened in to how Colin McDulah, the Laird of Dolberry’s castle, had been ambushed nearly two decades ago, how he had been injured in the fight, and how his Sassenach wife had been killed and his daughter taken.
He took small bites of his food, hoping the men would spill more clues about this lost girl.
“They say the lass had the most peculiar green eyes,” one said, “heard her eyes shift from green to gold like a selkie. To this point, I think they will have a better chance findin’ the damned selkie.”
The men guffawed loudly while the innkeeper’s daughter served them drinks. She must have gotten her wish to be bedded as one of the men whispered something in her ear and she led him away and up the stairs. Damien was glad he had not gone with her as this two thousand silver reward was much more appealing to him.
What if Ben and I find the lass? That reward sound too good to pass up.
After paying for his meal, Damien hoisted his pack over his back and slipped out into the chilly night. He mounted his tethered horse and rode off into the darkness.
The wattle and daub hut that his mentor, Benjamin McLowe, lived in had a flicker of light under the door. Damien was not too concerned about disturbing the older man as Ben had grown to expect Damien at all times of the night.
Knocking on the door, he waited until he heard the shuffling of feet and stepped away from the door. When it opened, Ben looked up and smiled, “Sonny boy, glad to see ye. Come in, come in.”
Stepping in, Damien closed the door and latched it behind him, then gave the older man a warm embrace.
“How are ye, Ben?”
“Ah, fairly well, I suppose,” the older man shuffled to his cot that was placed on a stack of bricks. He rested his hand on his left knee and rubbed it with a wince, “me knee’s acting up, but that only tells me this winter’s goin’ to be a fierce one. I have some stew in the pot if ye want any.”
“Nay,” Damien shook his head while stocking the dwindling fire, “I already ate.” Sitting, he opened the sack and pulled out the silver candlesticks. “Here’s what I got from the castle. Ye’ll have to get that ironworker of yers to melt it down and sell it. I think we’ll get a good sack of coins for this. Ye willnae be goin’ hungry this winter.”
“That’s very good news, Damien. Thank ye,” a sigh of relief left Ben.
“Nay,” Damien’s grin turned wolflike, “I have even better news. I overheard some men talkin’ about Laird Dolberry and his missin’ daughter. The old man seems to think his lass is still alive and he offered a sack of two thousand sterlin’ for anyone who can bring her to him.”
Ben cocked his head. “His daughter ye say? When was the bairn taken from him?”
“Nearly twenty years ago,” Damien said, getting to his knees. “I think it’s a long time and the lass might be dead, but me gut tells me it isnae so. And ye ken how it always goes when I trust me instinct.”
Rubbing his chin, Ben nodded. “That is a mighty handsome prize for a lass who went missin’ so long ago, but how would ye even track her down?”
Feeling that his mentor was starting to agree with him, Damien added, “I’d start at the same place she went missin’. Find out what she looks like and such then, try to piece the puzzle together. What do ye say?”
“When word gets out, a legion of women will be flockin’ to the Laird,” Ben said sagely, “and all of them will be imposters. If ye are confident that ye can find the real lass, then I support ye all the way.”
“Glad to hear it,” Damien nodded, “now, about these candlesticks…”
He vowed to find this woman and get that reward before anyone else did—because so help him, that silver was going to be his and may god have mercy on anyone who got in his way.
Four Months Later
Winter was in full force and Amelie was grateful for the warmth of the bar that she served in. A fire was roaring in the large hearth and patrons were drinking more whisky, ale and wine as the night went on. Amelie was winding her way through the packed tables and the drunken men who were passed-out in the corners.
She made it back to the bar table, while squealing at a pinch to her behind. Fanning the drunk man off, Amelie filled another carafe of whisky and went to a table of fishermen who drunk without limits. After filling their cups, she shot a look at a man who had come in a few hours ago.
Sequestered into a corner, half his face covered with a cowl, the man had taken one drink and had not moved since. She did not fear him, but she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck lift while she passed by him, as if he were staring at her—yet not once had he said a word.
Dragging her eyes from the man’s position, she went to serve her faithful patrons while the feeling of the man’s eyes lingered. She poured out the alcohol and pocketed the coins before going back to the bar.
“Leelee!” Declan called, “whisky!”
Amelie reached for her jug of whisky. “Here ye go,” she said, “Try to make this one last for a while, eh?”
The older man lifted his goblet, “Aye.”
“Wench!” a burly man, dressed in the soldier’s leathers, yelled from the corner. “More ale!”
Gritting her teeth, Amelie filled a jug with the pricier liquor and crossed over the tavern’s wooden floor, toward them. The soldier who had called to her was a large, broad-shouldered man and the sleeves of his shirt were nearly bursting at the seams over his muscles. There were two more soldiers seated with him and Amelie started to fill their goblets to the brim.
“Can ye believe it?” One of the men shook his head. “After nearly twenty years, the Laird Dolberry is searchin’ for his wee lass. One who must have died long ago.”
“Why do ye think she died?” another asked with a cocked brow.
The first snorted, “Me Da used to work as a milliner there. He told me half the castle had been demolished to the ground. The woman, Laird Dolberry’s wife, an English lass mind ye, ran with the bairn but the soldiers caught her and killed her. The bairn was only three, how could she have survived?”
“By a miracle,” the soldier who had called her over, snorted and stretched out his long legs. “If that lass is alive, she’s worth a fortune, two thousand silver coins. And since the Laird has nay son, she’s the only chance he has for an heir.”
Moving to fill his goblet last, Amelie leaned over his shoulder, but he grabbed her arm instead. Soon, she found herself on his lap, while miraculously holding the jug intact.
“About time, wench. What do ye say we find me bed later?”
Resting the jug on the table first, Amelie brought her boot up, swiftly slid the small dirk out from it and pressed the blade across his neck. She leaned into his ear.
“Release me. I daenae want to injure one of His Highness’ finest, but I will, if ye press me.”
His dark brows darted up, and a sly grin took his face. “Have some fire in ye, lass? I like that.” Amelie only narrowed her eyes, but the man did not release her; instead, he gripped her hips and asked, “Are yer eyes green or gold, lassie?”
“Both,” Amelie replied. “Now, will ye let me go? I willnae grace yer bed, so daenae bother askin’ me about it.”
With a humored chuckle, the soldier released his grip and Amelie stood before sliding the dagger back in her boot. Grasping her jug, she filled the man’s goblet.
“If yer lookin’ for a whore, go over to the Blue Gill, they’re a plenty over there.”
Going back to the bar, Amelie did her best to wash out some pewter cups while not reacting to the gaze from the stranger she could feel heavy on her skin.
While washing and drying a goblet, she saw something strangely stimulating. The light from the fire flickered over the silent observer’s form and she saw his fingertips slowly, sensually, tracing the rim of his goblet.
A warm flush raced under her skin while she turned away from the sight and kept on serving buyers.
Hours later, while the tavern emptied, the man still had not moved—until she went back to the bar to sit, and he stood and took a seat there.
Amelie could not explain why her breath hitched when his hands lifted, and he removed the cowl from his head. The first thing that arrested her were his sharp, icy, blue eyes.
Mesmerized by the intensity of his gaze, she had whispered, “Who are ye, and why have ye been watching me?”
“Because I believe ye are the one I’ve been lookin’ for,” he answered.
“And what do ye mean by that?” she asked warily.
His gaze, moving over her face, had her already stilled breath frozen in her chest.
“I think ye are Laird Dolberry’s daughter.”
Shock jolted through her at his blatant—and preposterous—declaration. Recoiling from him as if he had lobbied a raw fish on her face, her expression soured.
“Oh, ye’re one of those many fortune hunters. Move along. I am nae her.”
“Isnae yer name Amelie?” he asked.
“What interest is that of yers? And what is yer name?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Damien Glogow,” he said.
“Well, Damien, ye can move along now,” Amelie dismissed him while reaching for a goblet.
He leaned forward, his arresting eyes pinning her where she sat.
“I take it yer name is Amelie,” he said. “Will ye nae even consider it? If ye had the chance of bein’ a Laird’s daughter, wouldnae ye take it?”
Annoyed, Amelie stood and slammed the goblet on the bar with a little more force than warranted.
“I would, if I dinnae think about crooks like ye who prey on gullible girls to get what they want. I’m nae one, so I tell ye again, move along.”
Surprisingly, his look only grew sly, “I’m a fair man, so let me make a deal with ye. I’m going to ask ye three questions about ye, and if I’m wrong to any of them, I’ll leave ye be, but if I’m right, I want ye to truly consider that ye could be the missin’ lass. Agreed?”
Assured that he knew nothing about her life, Amelie nodded, just to get him to leave, “Ye have only three.”
“Ye daenae have a last name, do ye?” he asked.
Feeling hurt over a subject that had pained her for years, Amelie replied. “Nay, I daenae. I cannae recall any orphans havin’ a last name.” Belatedly, Amelie realized that she might have given Damien more than he needed to know, but she kept her expression neutral. “What is yer second?”
“Did ye have a yellow, green and red tartan kilt?” Damien asked.
A memory of an old garment, one that she had worn till it frayed out to rags, flashed behind her eyes, “I did, but it’s gone now.”
His chin lifted in triumph. “And do ye have a gold pendant with yer name on it?”
Alarmed that he knew something no one else did, Amelie’s lips dropped in shock.
“H-How did ye—” she broke off abruptly and grabbed a cloth just to feel something familiar, “—where did ye ken that from? Who told ye?”
“Nay one,” Damien said. “Well, nae directly. I picked up tidbits about the McDulah lass for months since I heard about it. I spent time in the Dolberry village and surroundin’ villages askin’ about the lass.”
“So, what led ye to me?” Discomfited, Amelie asked.
His knuckles fisted under her chin and he lifted her head up. His touch was searing to her senses and made her heart beat out of rhythm for the breathless moments his icy-blue eyes held hers.
“Yer eyes, lassie, the tales in the villages is that the McDulah’s girl eyes were nae green but green and gold. Yer the only lass with these colors.”
Pulling away, Amelie barely stopped herself from biting her lip at the tingling sensation his touch left on her skin. She paused to look around the mostly empty room just to give her some time to breathe, and piece together what Damien was saying.
“Ye ken nothin’ about me.”
“I would like to,” Damien said. “And if ye give me the chance, ye can ken me too.”
“And why would I do that?” she asked. “So ye can feed me more lies?”
He shook his head. “What I am sayin’ isnae lies lass, it all truth. I ken ye dinnae ken me—”
“Exactly!” Amelie said sharply, “I daenae ken ye, so why should I trust ye? And why do ye care about this so much?”
Something flashed over his face and he clearly made to answer at first then snapped his lips shut. Amelie went back to wiping the table.
“I willnae be another swindler, so again, ye can move off and find another who will be willin’ to play poor orphan girl to the Laird, who I’m sure must be sick and tired of thieves like ye.”
To her disbelief, Damien did not look fazed. “I suspected ye would pull away from the idea. I ken, lass, it is a lot to consider, that ye might be the daughter of a Laird. What do ye want to prove it?”
Now, Amelie felt stuck, and she scrambled for ideas and words. He had given her three logical reasons to believe him, and he knew things no one knew about her, things she had kept secret. What more did he know about her?
A strange glint of triumph, crossed his face. “Do ye need more time to think about it, lass?”
Did she need to think about it? What was there to think about? There wasn’t the slightest chance that what he said was real, but he looked so decisive. There was not even a hint of wavering in his gaze and she decided to hear what he had to say. Not that she would believe it, but at least she would be able to persuade him away from her.
“Aye,” Amelie said, in relief. “Come back on the morrow. I’ll have a reply for ye then.”
Instead of him getting up and moving away, Damien stood and reached over the counter, placing his knuckles under her chin once again. A soft gasp left her parted lips and his eyes dipped to her plump lips. He notched her head up and his thumb swiped under her bottom lip.
“I’ll see ye then, lass.”
When he left, her body numbly dropped to her seat and she lifted her hand to her chin but did not dare touch her skin. What was this heated reaction he was pulling out from her? Why was her skin pebbled and her heart beating out of rhythm?
She stood in a rush, grasped her coat and waved goodbye to the other barmaid who had just come in, then hurried out into the night with one thought in her head: going home. Only there could she be settled enough to try and figure out what Damien was doing to her.
Slipping out into the darkened street, Damien wrapped his cloak tighter around himself and tugged the cowl hood down over his head. Finally, after months of searching, prodding and prying details and tidbits about this McDulah lass, his search had led to him Inverness and to the only lass who fitted the description, but he had not expected her to be so utterly stunning.
Amelie had the face of an angel and the from what he had seen, an inner steel of a fighter. He had not expected to feel the rush of heated attraction to her and worse, feel it grow the more she looked at him with defiance.
When she had spat out the word ‘thief’ it had taken everything inside him not to react. If only she knew how close she had come. Only this time he was sure about one thing, he would not need to steal anything. When the Laird saw her and realized that she was his daughter, that sack of silver would be his free and clear.
Yet what about the urge to cup Amelie’s cheek and feel if her skin was as smooth as it looked?
Forget it. Of all the women I am drawn toward, she is one I cannae dare touch!
He walked down to the waterway and lingered at the edge of the pier. The crescent moon was hardly visible behind the thick clouds and the water was a dark surging mass all the way to the misty horizon. He turned away and headed off to the city’s slums where Ben lived and where he was going to stay until Amelie came around and believed him.
The lass was fiery, he liked that about her, but behind her brass demeanor he saw fear. She was not going to allow herself to believe something that sounded fantastical, and he understood why. After living in poverty for so long, the thought of having more than she could ever use was not only daunting, but utterly terrifying.
Amelie had relented and allowed him more time to convince her that she was indeed the Laird’s daughter, and Damien was going to do all he could to convince her to travel with him and Ben to Dolberry, so that she could see for herself.
Rarely had he felt such sudden attraction to a woman, and it bothered him a little. What was so striking about her was that all his being had felt tuned to her, as if he were a spit or iron and she were a loadstone.
The flash of her eyes, the fix of her jaw, the incensed heave of her breast…it’s all arrestin’.
He headed into the slums while planning what to say to Amelie the next day. He knew he had to tamp down on the attraction he felt for her as showing any of it would probably scare her away. She was already cautious and as nervous as a hare was to a fox. If his attraction were shown, she would see him wanting more from her: to carry her to Dolberry and get the two thousand sterlings of silver.
Stopping in his tracks, he turned toward the vague direction of the tavern Amelie worked in.
The lass might yet put up more of a fight—how can I truly convince her and get her to come with us to Dolberry? What will I have to do?
Hours before dawn found Amelie curled into a ball on her pallet. Last night had brought a long stint of sleeplessness and now, in the weak morning light, she felt more worn out than ever before.
Damien, his piercing eyes, and his farfetched story about her being a Laird’s daughter lingered at the forefront of her mind, and she had worried herself to exhaustion on what she was going to do about it.
Instead of getting up, Amelie clutched the blanket a little tighter while trying to chase the fleeting images of her dream. She always saw a garden, filled with vivid summer flowers and a tiny pond, but she did not know where it was. It felt familiar, but when it came to putting a name to it, the word flittered away like smoke.
An almost visceral feel of her piercing her hand with a rosebush thorn came moments before she called out in pain. Then arms were sweeping her up, just before a man said, “Hush, lassie, it’ll heal.”
Now, she breathed through the emotions as the dream dragged up, bereft, heart-aching, lustful feelings that had no right to be there, but were there, nevertheless.
Distress sat heavy on her chest and she began humming a soothing tune without thinking. She did not know the words to it, but she had a faint memory of it being sung to her. The women at the orphanage in the hills of Inverness told her that she had come to them humming it.
It was soothing to her and soon had her drifting to sleep, as she was not needed at the fishing house and she only went to the tavern in the evening. Amelie lingered in her bed until hunger drew her out of it. Sighing, she stood and readied herself for the day, by warming some milk and washing quickly.
What can I ask him to let him prove this outrageous suspicion of his is false?
Her supplies were dwindling and after she ate her meal, she grasped her basket, and left to the market in the pale dawn. The skies were solemn, and the streets were quiet, but as she wound down the lanes, windows were opening, and homes were coming alive.
The market was a wide-open space with stalls made of thatch-roof and wide tables. Quickly she bought meat, cheeses, bread grains and milk before heading back home; but instead of going to her hut, found herself on the seaside.
Seated on a rock, Amelie held her basket on her lap. This Damien person, did he honestly believe that she was the Lairds daughter, or was he tricking her?
Truthfully, I ken nothin’ about me past, but for me to be the daughter of a Laird—even that is farfetched. When he sees me again, what should I tell him?
Gazing out at the soft ebb-and flow of the water was calming, but not enough to quieten the tumult inside her. The moment Damien had touched her, a fire had raced through her body. Never had she felt that before; what was it?
“How lucky to see ye here,” Damien’s voice startled her, and she had to grab onto her basket to prevent it tipping over.
Amelie’s head snapped over her shoulder to him. He was dressed similarly to last night, in dark trews and a shirt, shod in thick boots and with a hooded cloak tied around his shoulders. His wild black hair looked tousled as if he had stood in the middle of a windstorm or if he had repeatedly raked his hand through it.
Shooting a glare over her shoulder to the man, she huffed. “Are ye followin’ me?”
“Nay,” his eyes dropped to her and Amelie had to stifle a shiver. “Water has a strange way of soothin’ me worries. I always come to the riverbanks to piece me thoughts together. Why are ye here?”
“None of yer business.” Pushing herself up, Amelie shook her head.
“Och,” he snorted. “Ye’re like a cat, arenae ye?”
“A cat?” she demanded. “Do I look like cat to ye?”
“When ye are annoyed, aye,” Damien said. “Just like a cat that’s been dunked in water. Somewhere between flustered and adorable.”
She stood, with her cheeks puffed out and made to move off. “I daenae want to be near ye. Please leave me alone.”
Stopping her, Damien dropped his teasing tone and apologized, “I am sorry, lass. I dinnae mean to anger ye.”
“Well, ye have.” Again, she made to leave but he stepped in her way.
“Please, Amelie, I’m nae here to harm ye, so please daenae run away from me…Why are ye runnin’ from me?”
“Because I daenae ken what to tell ye,” Amelie blurted, while clutching her basket to her chest. “I want to trust ye, but it’s so impossible to do so. To think that I am the daughter of a Laird is…frankly unheard of.”
A mixture of anxiety, despair and hope had her trembling in her place and Damien’s hand came to rest on her shoulders as his head bowed to catch her gaze. As she was nearly half-a-foot shorter than him, she had to tilt her chin up to meet it.
“Listen to me, lass. I think it somethin’ nay one would ever have expected to hear in their life,” Damien said soothingly. “It is unbelievable, far-fetched and a thing of fantasy, but here and there, fantasies do become true. I just need ye to trust me. Dare to hope, Amelie.”
She sucked in a breath, “I—”
“Just once,” he pleaded. “Trust me on this.”
With her eyes clenching tightly, Amelie nearly said yes, but stopped. “Ye said something about a yellow tartan…did anyone tell ye the style of it?”
“I’ve been told Lady Dolberry was quite a seamstress and made her bairn’s clothes herself. That dress was made with a tiny cloak at the back that the child used as a blanket. Why?”
Faint memories of her wrapping herself with a piece of fabric attached to that dress flickered before Amelie’s eyes.
“Because I used to wrap myself in somethin’ like it…” she took a breath, “…and only I ken it. Sometimes I think it’s more of a dream than a memory.”
“Ye’ll come with me then? To see the Laird?” he asked. “What is the harm? Are ye content stayin’ here and tenddin’ to taverns all yer life?”
In truth, what is keepin’ me here? Is a tavern girl all I am goin’ to be all me life? And when I’m old and gray, what then? That is if I live that long.
“I…” she paused to look away, “I am tired of living this way, and though I wanted more for meself, there was nay way I could have had more. If what yer sayin’ is true…” Amelie took in a shuddery breath. “I’ll go with ye.”
I’ll go, though I ken it’s madness.
“I already ken what ye are gettin' from takin’ me there. There has been talk about the rewards in the tavern, so I ken that is what ye’ll get.”
“Aye,” he nodded, “it is. I willnae lie to ye.”
“Where are ye from Damien?” she asked.
“The farmland in Inverness,” he said, “but I daenae stay in one place too long. I travel to find whatever work I can.”
“I see,” Amelie added. “And where were ye when ye heard about Laird Dolberry?”
“I was at Cawdor Castle,” Damien replied. “Some tavern people were discussin’ it.”
“And ye chose to take it upon yerself to find the Laird’s daughter.” Amelie said. “I suppose the silver will set ye on a good way.”
“And ye will have a life that many wouldnae dare dream off,” Damien replied, “so we both win.”
Thinking about her job at the tavern, Amelie wondered if it were worth it to leave that job and chase after something that could be a lie, but she had already given her agreement to Damien.
She had always wondered what had happened to her family, why she had no recollection of her last name and why the only clue she had to her family had been her locket. Amelie challenged herself to believe it.
The chance that she had a possible father out there was incredibly tempting, and not to try and find him because of doubt was something Amelie felt would haunt her for the rest of her life. Was it not better to try, and possibly fail, rather than live with the uncertainty forever?’
“Would ye be ready by the morrow?” Damien asked her.
“I should be,” Amelie replied, while hefting the basket higher. “I have to sort it out with the tavern’s owner first.”
“Good,” he grinned.
“How do we go about this?” she asked.
A wide grin slanted across Damien’s face. “The only way we can, lass. We will have to go to Dolberry.”
And so, chasin’ after the wind begins.
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