BEHIND THE HIGHLANDER'S SCARS…
Reeling from betrayal, the once devastatingly handsome Andrew Gilvry has returned to Scottish shores to fulfill a promise made to a dying man. The widowed Rowena MacDonald has been entrusted to his care, and Drew must do all he can to protect her….
LIES A DARK PASSION!
But Drew's honor is about to be tested—because there's something in Rowena's dove-gray eyes that awakens a flame long extinguished. And on a perilous journey across the Highlands, with only this alluring woman for company, how long can he deny his desires?
2014 National Reader's Choice Awards Finalist!
An excerpt from Return of the Prodigal Gilvry:
Dundee, November 1822
How dare he? The anger inside Rowena MacDonald increased with each oar stroke of the longboat crossing the grey waves between the ship and the quay where she stood. She wrapped her threadbare cloak tighter against the November wind screaming in from the North Sea.
The dark afternoon suited her mood. After two years of absence and no word, how dare her husband demand she welcome him back to Scotland? The rage she had worked so hard at suppressing these past two years lashed her the same way the wind whipped the wave tops into foam.
The letter, forwarded on from her last address, had scarcely arrived at her place of employment in time for her to meet the ship. She'd toyed with the idea of refusing his summons. But he was her husband and had the power to further ruin her life. And now, after she had been sure she was free of him, how easily he'd found her and brought her to heel.
Or so he thought, no doubt. As to that, he was going to hear a few home truths. If nothing else, she would make sure he knew she would never ever forgive him for his lies. Or the heartbreak of realising how pathetic she'd been in thinking that he had actually married her for more than her fortune. That he had some tender feelings towards her.
Not love. She had known it wasn't love, but she had thought he cared, at least a little.
She fought the stab of pain as she recalled his betrayal. She would not show how deeply she'd been hurt. Or how greatly she dreaded their reunion. Calm reason must be the order of the day. She took a deep breath of icy-cold air and steeled herself against any sign of weakness. The moisture trickling from the corner of her eyes was caused by the sting of the salt-laden sea. Nothing else.
The boat drew closer. Close enough to make out its occupants. Six sailors at the oars. Three passengers, all men, muffled in coats and hats and scarves against the wind, arriving on the last merchant ship from America before winter made the Atlantic crossing impossible. And oddly, upright in the stern, a barrel.
An uncomfortable feeling curled in her stomach. None of the passengers looked in the slightest like her husband. Admittedly, she had only been married two months before Samuel had fled like the proverbial thief in the night, but surely she would recognise him from this distance, despite the other people crowded around her at this end of the jetty making it difficult to see, tall though she was? On her side of the barrier, there were longshoremen waiting to unload the ship's cargo. A small family consisting of a mother and two children stirred with excitement at the approach of the boat, no doubt meeting a loved one.
All those waiting were held back by the formalities of landing. The visit to the harbour master, the presenting of passports, paperwork for Customs. And still Ro-wena could not pick out Samuel amid those mounting the jetty steps to dry land.
Could he have lied to her again? Changed his mind?
Her stomach dipped all the way to the cold stones beneath her feet. Her hand tightened around the strings of her reticule containing his letter. His command to be waiting at Dundee dock.
How could she ever have trusted herself to such a feckless man? Sadly, she knew exactly why. Because she had wanted to believe in him, instead of trusting what she had always known. Handsome gentlemen did not fall in love with her type of female. They just didn't. As he'd made quite clear after the wedding, it was a marriage of convenience, colluded in by a cousin, who ought to have had her interests at heart. But didn't.
Two of the passengers left the quay, one disappearing into the arms of the little family squealing their glee and quickly led off. The second signalled to a waiting carriage and was whisked away.
Finally, the third, a tall man with the carriage of a man in his prime, all lean physique and long stride, prowled along the quay, his coat flying open. He walked as if the ground owed him homage, his by right. Images of the pirate who haunted her dreams with his strong clever fingers and wicked mouth danced across her mind.
Shocked, she squeezed her eyes shut against the flutter of desire low in her belly. Embarrassed, she ignored the salacious sensations. If anyone ever guessed the wicked thoughts that went on in her head in the long reaches of the night, they would never let her near their children.
She forced her attention back to reality. To a sailor pushing a handcart containing the barrel she had noticed on the longboat.
And the fact that there was still no sign of Samuel.
She wasn't sure if the feeling in her chest was more anger or relief. Or was it false hope? She turned her gaze back to the ship standing off from the shore. Could there be a second boat? Had he been delayed on board for some reason?
The last passenger was level with her now, a scarf, so swathed about his head it covered all but his eyes beneath a hat pulled down low. He wore a fashionable greatcoat, a thing with many capes, much like the one Samuel had worn during their whirlwind courtship. It looked too tight. Too short. Perhaps that was why he left it undone. The boots on his feet were scuffed and worn. A man who, for all his appearance of pride, wore second-hand clothes.
'Mrs MacDonald?' The man's voice had the lilt of the Highlands and a raspy disused quality. And he had spoken her name. Her heart followed her stomach to the floor. Samuel had fooled her again.
All she could see of the man's face was a pair of wary green eyes. They reminded her of dark ocean depths and fierce forest creatures. 'I am Mrs MacDonald,' she said, unable to keep the edge from her voice.
He bowed, hand to heart. 'Andrew Gilvry, at your service.'
She'd been right. Samuel had brought her here for nothing. 'And where, might I ask, is my husband?'
He recoiled slightly at her haughtily delivered question. 'I am sorry…'
She drew herself up to her full height, the way she did with her students. It was the reason they called her the dragon, out of her hearing. Not the younger ones. Or the girls. They didn't need such demonstrations of strength. The two older boys were a different matter. They, she'd learned quickly, would take advantage of any sign she did not have the upper hand.
'So he is not on the ship after all.' The anger she'd been so carefully keeping under control began to bubble hot in her breast.
The man hesitated. 'I gather you didna' get my letter, then?'
What, did he have some excuse to offer for Samuel's absence? 'The only letter I received was from my husband, requesting me to meet him at this ship. And he is not on board after all.'
'He was on board, in a manner of speaking,' the man said gently, the way people did when delivering bad news. He gestured to the sailor with the barrel. 'He charged me with seeing his remains home to his family.'
The air rushed from her lungs. Her heart seemed to stop for a second as if all the blood had drained from her body. The ground beneath her feet felt as if it was spinning. 'His remains?' she whispered.
'Aye.' He reached out and took her by the elbow, clearly fearing she would faint. His coat streamed out behind him, flapping wildly. He wasn't wearing any gloves, she noticed, and the warmth of his hand sent tingles running up beneath her flesh, all the way to her shoulder. Across her breasts. Female awareness. How could that be? Was the pirate now springing forth to plague her days?
She forced her thoughts into proper order. 'Are you saying he is dead?'
He nodded tersely. 'My condolences, ma'am. He was killed by Indians in the mountains of North Carolina. I was with him when he died.'
She stared at the barrel. 'He's in…?' She couldn't finish her question, but received another terse nod.
Staring at the barrel, she took a deep breath. And another. And then a third. 'But why? Why bring him here?'
While she couldn't see his face, she had the feeling he wished he was anywhere else but here. And that he disapproved of her question.
'He wanted to be buried in Scotland.' He released her elbow and stepped back. 'I gave him my word to see him home.' He gestured to the cart. 'And so I have. Or at least I will have, when I have handed him over to an agent of the Duke of Mere.'
'The Duke of Mere? Why on earth would you want to do that?'
The fair brows, just visible beneath his hat brim, lowered in a frown. 'He is executor to your husband's will.'
In the face of her distress, guilt squirmed in Drew's gut like a live thing. But for him, Samuel MacDonald might have been standing on this quay greeting his wife, instead of him. Mrs MacDonald looked ready to faint, but touching her again was out of the question. She was nothing like the antidote he'd been led to expect. A veritable harridan of a female.
He could see why the doughy Samuel MacDonald might have found her physically daunting. She was imposingly tall for a woman, though the top of her head barely reached Drew's eye level, and as lean as a racehorse to the point of boniness.
She was not a pretty woman. The features in her face were too strong and aesthetic for prettiness. Her jaw a little too square for womanly softness, the nose a little too Roman. Her best feature was her dove-grey eyes, clear and bright, and far too intelligent for a man to be comfortable. And yet for some odd reason he found her attractive. Perhaps even alluring.
He fought the stirring of attraction. The effect of too many weeks of male-only company on board ship when he'd been used to- Damn. Why think of that now? A shudder of disgust ran through him. Not only had the woman just discovered she was a widow, but there wasn't a woman alive who would welcome his attentions. Not unless he was paying. Not when they took a look at his face.
The old anger rose in his chest. The desire to wreak vengeance for what had been done to him was always with him, deep inside and like a carefully banked fire.
Once brought back to mind, it blazed like a beacon that would never be doused. Not until he had exacted justice from his brother.
Getting a grip on his anger, he glanced up at the sky. It was three in the afternoon, the sun was already looking to set and no sign of the lawyer who should take charge of the matter at hand. Damnation upon the head of all lawyers.
He glanced along the quay with a frown. 'Where is your carriage, Mrs MacDonald?'
'Carriage?' she asked, looking nonplussed.
No carriage, then. A hackney? Or had she walked the mile from the town to the quay carrying the large bag sitting at her feet? The worn cloak, the practical shoes, the modest undecorated bonnet, things in the old days he would have taken in with one glance, now came into focus. Aye, she would have walked. For a man who bragged of his high connections and incipient wealth, MacDonald had not taken such good care of his wife.
So Drew would have to fill the breach. At least for a day or so.
He gestured for her to walk in the direction of the road at the end of the jetty. 'Do you have a room booked for the night in town?'
She eyed him with a frown. 'Of course not, Mr Gilvry. I must return to my place of employment. I spent last night here, but must leave today.'
Her strength of will in the face of adversity surprised him. A woman who would not submit easily to anyone's command. A burst of heat low in his belly shocked him. He could not be attracted to this domineering woman, as her husband had described her in the most unflattering terms. But there was no denying the surge of lust in his blood. Had his last years among the Indians made him less of a man? His throat dried at the thought. But he knew it wasn't possible.
Unnatural bastard. He'd heard the accusation more than once from the women he'd brought to his bed. But this would not be one of them.
The sooner he delivered her to her husband's family and got on with the business of settling his score with Ian, the better. 'I promised to see you safe in the hands of your husband's family. No doubt the lawyer will be here in the morning. Or I will send him another message. Let us find a carriage to transport us and…' He glanced back at the sailor with the cart, who was shifting from foot to foot with impatience.
She followed his gaze and a small shiver passed through her body. Clearly she was not as unaffected as she made out.