About the book
Like a roaring fire, the passion that ignites between them threatens to consume them whole...
Groomed to be the perfect lady, Miss Theodora Kent grew up believing in the romantic ideals of old. Ideals, that she believes she has found in the face of a Duke’s son.
Chased away from home, Naomhan Grant, son of the Laird of Grant, flees to England, where he hides in plain sight by assuming the mantle of deacon. A meeting with his friend’s fiancé challenges not only his beliefs but also his self-control.
But you can only run for so long before fate finally catches up to you.
For Theodora and Naomhan, two letters mark the end: Theodora is getting married in a week and Naomhan is being called back to the one place he must never return to. For his father is dead and someone just tried to kill his brother…
Stephen Grant rode ahead of the three men into the castle grounds. The sun was high that day and the winds were fast. It was the perfect day for everything to go wrong. The four harbingers of doom kicked their horses faster. When the sun was low, more riders would follow their path into the estate.
The road led to a tall castle at the center of the estate. Stephen got off his horse and the doors were opened to him, as he was known there and trusted. He had grown up on the estate for he was a Grant, the nephew of Torquil Grant of Grant.
The guards bid him good tidings but he gave them no heed for the news he brought to the castle was grave.
Yet another door was pushed open to him and his company. There was an ominous silence behind the door as all eyes fell on him. Stephen went down on one knee in front of his uncle until he was told to rise.
“Ye’re late, nephew. We have gone a long way without ye. Would ye care to tell yer old dear uncle what kept ye away?” Torquil Grant said in his usual sarcastic tone.
“I beg yer forgiveness, Uncle. I wouldnae have been late if it wasnae forced upon me.” His face fell before he stepped forward and handed the Laird the letters held by his belt. “These three men accuse me cousin Naomhan, the first son of our Laird and first heir, of betrayin’ the King and Queen of Scotland,” he announced and turned to glare back at them as did everyone in the room.
The Laird’s hands trembled as he stared at the letter in his hand. The Grant family crest rested on the seal of the letter.
We shall meet in four days in the twilight of the morning by the Oak tree. The Queen and King shall be with little escort as they ride out to see the King’s birthed niece. Do be early for we will not get a second chance as this.
May God be with us.
“They lie, surely. We all know Naomhan,” one of the elders said, as the room burst into arguments and noise. Torquil just stared at the letter before he looked up at the messenger, Stephen. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that something else was wrong. They had never wronged Stephen or his late father, Huisdean, and thus Stephen had no reason to play foul.
“May we see the letter?” the others asked and Torquil handed over the letter. He looked to his wife, Isla, who stared back at him. There was a familiar fear in her eyes, just as the day she had birthed Naomhan. He had held her hands then to lend her his strength, but then as now, he was too weak and dumbfounded to say anything.
“We need to make a decision now before it is too late. The guards of the Queen will be upon us soon and they will want to know if we will surrender willingly or turn our allegiance away from them. If the Laird’s decree is for us to become as the Jacobites—” the glares were turned back to Stephen who didn’t flinch under the weight of it, “—I will follow him because I know Naomhan. I grew up with him and I know that he wouldnae dae somethin’ like this without a good reason.”
Stephen turned to the Laird again, putting pressure back on him. Isla was the first to stand.
“My son is not guilty of this crime. Naomhan is not a Jacobite and these men have lied.” She turned to her husband whose head was bowed and his face hidden from her. “I will nae be part of this, nay.” With that, she stormed past Stephen and the three men who had accused her son of treason against the crown; planning to assassin the Queen, a crime she knew could not be true.
While the men ranted and awaited the Laird to give the sentence that was obvious to all, Isla ran to her room and called to her most trusted maid. Though Torquil had spoken no words, she had known her husband well enough to know the thoughts that went through his mind.
“Which of the guards dae you trust the most?” she asked her young maid. The maid was hesitant for she feared her mistress asked the question because she had come to the knowledge of her secret affair with one of the new guards. Isla shook her maid vigorously to express her impatience. The life of her son was at stake.
“There is one, milady,” the maid answered in fright.
“I need you to pass a message,” Isla told her.
The guard known as Red, because of the color of his hair, rode out of the castle grounds as fast as he could, careful to take routes that would not be watched by the Queen’s men. His name was not known for he was never one to talk much. With him, he carried a message from the Laird himself to Naomhan. The message was short even though it took more words from the young guard to help Naomhan make any sense of it.
The Crown thinks you a Jacobite and a threat to the throne. You have to run. Run as far away from Scotland as you can. If you don’t, they’ll give you the noose.
Please save yourself.
The message had been abrupt and the messenger too frightened even to stay a while longer with Naomhan.
Suddenly, the sword by his hip became even heavier. It cried the wails of battle. There was no way he was going to run, not from his home, not from his family, and certainly not from injustice. If he ran, his honor was lost forever, whether he was guilty of treason or not, he would be seen as a Jacobite wherever he went. He thought of what his father would have done if he had been at his crossroads and he knew his father would stand and fight.
“There will be no dishonor to Clan Grant, not while I still breathe air.” Torquil Grant of Grant would have held his sword above his head, high above in the mountains, and shouted till the winds screamed back, and the sky thundered. But while he took after his father’s bravery, he was a simple man. While he held the respect and loyalty of his peers, he could not bear the loss of a life for his cause.
“What will ye dae when there is war?” His father had asked him once when they had drunk together while his mother and little brother had slept.
“I will lead me men to victory even if it means I will slay every one of the enemy meself,” Naomhan had replied with confidence, which he had thought his father would have been impressed by, but Torquil hadn’t been.
“I daenae pray for war but it makes a better Laird. Son—” he had squeezed Naomhan’s shoulder tightly “—on the battle field, yer life is the most important. If thousands of yer men fall in battle, the true defeat is when there is no one to rally yer men together for revenge. It is noble to want to lay down yer life for yer men, but it is cowardice.”
“Then I shall be a different Laird, Faither,” Naomhan had said that night to his father. Torquil had given his son a sympathetic smile.
“Ye’ll make a fine Laird when the time comes but ye’ll be a big dobber.”
Both men had laughed at Torquil’s words.
That lesson had been the heaviest that his father had ever taught him and one that he had never fully understood. Naomhan had heard tales of men who laid down their lives for causes greater than themselves. Those men had been sung in folktales as men amongst men and as heroes. But there was some truth to his father’s words, he realized. The legends never fell in a single battle, they persevered. They rode on the backs and sacrifices of the lesser-known men, to always return to the battlefield until they became legends.
Standing transfixed to the spot where Red, the guard, had delivered the message, Naomhan thought of his next course of action. As much as he wanted to return home, he knew he would be putting his family in the sights of the Queen. So, the mountains, he thought to himself, just as most renegade legends before him would have thought.
Naomhan took his trusty steed and rode for the mountains. He had played in those parts with his cousin when they had been much younger. Taking nothing but his sword and horse, Naomhan retreated while he thought of the best course of action. He wasn’t going to run. Scotland was his home, and had been for the Grant men before him. So, strengthened with his courage, Naomhan Grant rode into the mountains.
From that vantage point, he could easily spot any advance up the mountain.
When night came, Naomhan sat in an old cave and roasted a rabbit above the fire. The bad things were far from him and everything seemed quiet.
Being a rebel mightnae be so bad, he thought to himself. He removed his cloak and folded it under his head to sleep. The night was harsh but he feared nothing. They had been told stories of the spirits which roamed the woods in the mountains, the spirits who judged men of their hearts and guided them to their legends. Naomhan, son of Grant of Grant, rested easy.
The morning that came the next day started weeks of isolation. It was worse because he had to let his horse go for the mountain terrains were not suitable for a horse. Naomhan had never been an introvert. He had always craved attention and company. His best deeds were done when he had someone next to him, who was usually his partner in crime, Stephen.
Staring down the mountain, he could see people going about their business. None of them paid any attention to the lonely mountains. No one except those as reckless as he and Stephen ever ventured that high up the mountains. Lower down, the mountain had game, herbs, and mushrooms.
Naomhan realized that he might not catch sight of anyone or speak to anyone forever. Slowly, he felt it drawing away at his sanity. He tried to hunt game but he never hunted more than he needed; those were the rules of the mountains lest one brought doom upon himself. The rest of his days, he spent watching from the top of the mountain.
Some days, he tried to imagine what people spoke to one another. He would see a man speak to a woman and he would play out their conversations in his head. Speaking to the opposite sex had never been a problem for the Grant men. Before he had turned eight-and-ten, he had won the hearts of more than a dozen girls.
“Push yer chest out and raise yer head. Women like confident men,” his mother Isla had told him the first time she had caught him with a girl.
“Yer face is so handsome, so unlike yer Faither,” she would say, even though she lied. Torquil Grant of Grant was an extremely handsome man and Isla knew that. She had learnt over the years of their marriage to not boost his ego.
“Just be yerself with the wee lasses. Ye’re the son of the Laird, who wouldnae want to be with ye?” his mother would ask him and he would bow his head in timidity before shaking his head. There was no one, he soon realized. From that day on, the only female he ever bowed his head to was his mother. He had held his head up high before everyone else.
Down, I need to go down there, Naomhan told himself, even though he knew it was the worst idea he could ever think of.
When the watching became boring, he would take up his sword and hack at the trees. He could never allow himself to get so comfortable that he would lose his edge but it was never the same as having a sparring partner. It made him miss his best friend and cousin, Stephen.
Stephen had saved his life but he wondered where Stephen was. His cousin had always been the smarter one. He would know what to do, Naomhan knew. He also knew that Stephen would kick him in the groin if he left the safety of the mountains to visit him.
So, Naomhan stayed still, beating down his urge to see familiar faces, hear familiar voices, and eat his mother’s meals. In the nights, he thought out different ways to rewrite the wrong that had been done him but everything led him back to Stephen. He never considered leaving for England as his parents had advised. Only traitors did that, he told himself.
Naomhan awoke the next morning to an odd feeling he was familiar with. Something bad was about to happen. His mother claimed to have been the one to pass that gift onto him. He got up quickly and pulled his sword around his waist. He tried to make the cave as clean of his presence as he could manage and set out into the barely visible day.
Naomhan would later realize that he would have been caught by the Queen’s men in his sleep had he stayed a few minutes more. There is no way they would know to check the mountains, he thought to himself and for the first time in a long time, Naomhan knew fear. I have to see Stephen, he will know what to do.
For the coming days, there were more men scouring the area but what saved him was his knowledge of the mountains. As long as he didn’t sleep much, they would never find him. So he kept a vigilant eye on the men.
One day, he got close enough and hid up in a tree just above them as they sat down to rest.
“This is a waste of time. I should be in a tavern now, getting’ pished and lookin’ at bonnie lasses,” one of the guards said. His comrades laughed, except for the oldest of the group, who seemed to also be the most ranked as they quieted when he spoke.
“Even if he is not here as we were told, we were given the order and we have to follow it. Others are out there searchin’ for him but we owe it to our Queen to catch him. The entire monarchy is very well at stake here. Whenever dae we get to dae anythin’ important?” He asked his men and their chests were puffed out again in a sense of patriotism.
“I wish we catch him quickly. My wife needs me now with our child comin’ soon. I haven’ae thought of a name yet,” another said and his leader appeased him. Only a few more days, he promised him.
If only you knew the truth, Naomhan thought to himself up above them. They were all determined to bring him before the Queen to gain her favor even though he was innocent.
So Naomhan decided that he would give himself up to the Queen once it was safe to leave the mountains. Watching the group as they scoured around the mountain, he realized that they did not return to old spots that they had checked. So he returned back to the cave, which still had the best vantage point. They could never creep up on him or so he thought.
He waited five more days before he saw the group leave the mountain.
Tomorrow, he thought, tomorrow I will give myself up.
The next day came too quickly as Naomhan awoke to a kick in his side. A man stood above him with a sword pointed at his face.
“Daenae move lest I cut yer throat,” the man said to Naomhan, who did not listen. With a quick and hard sweep, he kicked the man’s legs and threw him down. Naomhan tore away from him quickly and grabbed his sword. The sword was unsheathed in no time and he was soon facing his assailant.
“If ye daenae put that sword down, I will beat ye to a pulp,” a familiar voice said to him and Naomhan felt his sword drop from his hands as tears welled in his eyes.
“Stephen,” he said, as he went to hug his cousin. He held his cousin for so long that Stephen had to tap him to let go.
“I was planning to come find ye down there,” Naomhan told him.
“Do ye want to kill yerself?” Stephen asked him and Naomhan laughed for the first time since he had run up the mountains.
“How is my faither? What about my mother and Logan? Are they safe?” He asked Stephen all the questions that had plagued him for the past months.
“They are safe but worried. They would be even more worried when they ken that ye were stupid enough to still be in Scotland,” Stephen spat. His usually calm face wore anger.
“I cannae leave. I have cost my family their honor. Someone lied against me and ye want me to run? That will only make me look guilty,” Naomhan argued.
“But at least ye would be alive—” Stephen pushed Naomhan hard in anger “—ye would be alive. Do you want yer mother mournin’? Leave Scotland and never look back. That is what yer faither would want.”
“How would ye ken what me Faither would want?” Naomhan asked. His usually hot temper was flaring up.
“Because I see him every day. He is but a shadow of himself, Naomhan. All he prays for every day is yer safety and ye are here playing bandit.”
Naomhan felt his temper slowly leave him. It had not dawned on him how much his family really suffered because of the rumors. He walked back sluggishly to pick up his sword. “I had decided that I would give meself up to the Queen,” he said.
“Where is the wisdom in that? Tell me, Naomhan, because I daenae see it. If ye see it, tell me please,” Stephen asked him but Naomhan had no words for his cousin.
“Ye have saved me once before, let me save everyone now,” Naomhan told him. He headed past Stephen out of the cave. He had his mind made up. People spoke of the wisdom of the Queen and her heart for justice. It was the noble thing, as much as the right thing, for him to do, he had decided. Seeing the fear in Stephen’s eyes which he tried to cover with anger, Naomhan’s resolve was only strengthened.
“I am sorry, Naomhan, but I cannae let ye go. It is better I strike ye down here than I let ye be hung for treason,” Stephen said, holding his sword back up.
“Ye need to let me go, cousin,” Naomhan begged. Stephen would not be moved as Naomhan would not be. So high up in the Scottish mountains, both Grant men drew their swords to battle one another.
Stephen was the first to charge and Naomhan parried away his sword easily. He was always the stronger and faster of the two of them, but Stephen was always smarter. As the battle went on, neither man let up and soon enough, the duel became even deadlier to both men, especially when Stephen drew first blood, a slight cut to Naomhan’s left arm.
Naomhan swung harder and harder at Stephen, pushing him further and further into defense. However, he always stayed on his guard, expecting Stephen to surprise him but Stephen wasn’t his usual crafty and calm self. He was an angry man and he fought like one, disregarding his wit and just swinging at a physically superior opponent.
After about thirty minutes of cutting one another, Naomhan suddenly grabbed Stephen by his armed wrist and slapped him so hard across the face that he fell and released his sword to Naomhan.
“I willnae slay ye but I need ye to allow me to go. It is the right thing,” Naomhan told him.
“But ye would die,” Stephen begged him still. “Ye are not me enemy. Run, Naomhan, run.”
“I have defeated ye. Ye have no choice. Would ye help me or wouldnae ye?”
Stephen held his hand out and Naomhan helped him onto his feet.
“I willnae go with ye. I willnae have that on my conscience. Ye have my sword so I cannae stop ye. All I can dae is warn ye and not let ye die as little as I can try. All I can tell ye is that the Queen’s men are everywhere. The farther from the palace they catch ye, the less likely it is that they take ye to Her Majesty. There is a path, however, that isnae so patrolled…” Stephen told Naomhan and hugged him for his final goodbye.
Naomhan gave his cousin back his sword and walked away, headed for the foot of the mountain.
“Naomhan,” Stephen called his name one last time and Naomhan looked back. “Ye never asked how the guards ken to look in the mountains.”
“It didnae matter. Only ye, me, me faither, mother and Logan knew, and none of ye would talk. It was by chance. The mountains are always the best place to hide,” Naomhan answered.
“Rose told them,” Stephen told him.
For the second time that morning, Naomhan had been caught by surprise.
Rose had been Naomhan’s love interest. Unlike most women, she had been better at hiding her attraction to him and that had driven him mad over her. He had been driven to win her heart more than anything else.
Rose had been sweet, with breasts so pale that he had been a slave to them. She had been a timid woman but not so much when they were within closed doors. He had made her that way and had taken her innocence in the first instance. She had loved him and he had also loved. Though Rose had been quite a mysterious woman, one thing he had known about her, he had her love which bore loyalty to him.
It made no sense that she would tell the guards about the mountain. The thought of it bothered him greatly as he descended the mountain but he knew Stephen would not lie to him. He tried to think out the circumstances around her confession. Perhaps she had been threatened, as well as her old mother, he told himself. But he needed to know for sure. So he decided that he was going to go by her house to look in her eyes. He had to know before he placed himself at the Queen’s mercy.
True to Stephen’s words, there had been no guard on the path he had told him about. Disguising himself as much as he could, he made it through the day without calling attention to himself. At night, he covered as much ground as he could before finding a place to rest and stare up at the stars. Over the period of time he had to himself in the mountains, he had grown more acquainted with the heavenly bodies. Through them, he felt a link with his family and those he loved because he knew the same stars that looked down on him looked down on them, also.
When morning came, he walked some more before he came to Rose’s home. She lived in a cottage with her mother in the woods. Looking around to be certain there was no one around, Naomhan walked towards her house. Sneaking in through her window as he used to when he had been a free man, he got into her house.
She wasn’t in her bedroom, so he walked out into the rest of the house. He could hear the heavy snore of her mother as he walked past her room and came to the kitchen where he found Rose sweeping. Her face held shock when she saw him, as though she had seen a ghost. She just froze there, unmoving, until he opened his arms to her and she ran into them.
Her arms squeezed him so tight that he had trouble breathing. He wanted to ask her if she had told on him but he couldn’t bring himself to as she was crying against his chest. His arms wrapped around her for he had missed her greatly.
“I have betrayed ye, Naomhan. I told them—” He held her closer to his chest when she started to speak. He had come to hear this, hoping to challenge her for her wrongdoing. But seeing her and holding her frail form in his arms had stolen his will for vengeance or anger.
“Ye daenae have to tell me,” he told her but she pulled away from him.
“Ye should’nae have come. The Queen’s men are watching me. They ken ye would come. Soon, they will make their way through my door to take ye,” she told him. He stepped back from her, finding his anger again.
“Why?” he asked her.
“I had no choice. Believe that I loved ye but—” The sounds of hooves stopped her words. The guards were riding fast to them.
“Just tell me why and I promise yer me forgiveness,” he told her, holding her arms tenderly. He wanted to make her know that he understood; that he did not doubt her love despite what she had done but he couldn’t because she held more guilt.
There was more that she wanted to tell him but she couldn’t because she wanted to save him. It took a moment to realize that she was dragging him towards the back of the house and they were running into the woods together. The sounds of ranting men inside the cottage, not far enough behind them, gave his reason. He ran.
They came to a clearing where there was another cottage and a horse was tied in front. “Take that horse and ride away. They will kill ye if they catch ye. There is a bounty on yer head. Even the people would take yer head to the Queen,” she told him.
He grabbed her hand as she tried to run back. “Come away with me, Rose. Ye will be in trouble if ye return,” he begged her.
“I cannae—” she pulled her hand from his grip “—I betrayed ye for me lover. I am sorry, Naomhan. I am safe, he will protect me, but he will kill ye, as would the guards. Go as far away as ye can. I only hope with time, ye will come to forgive me,” she said, as she began her run back to the cottage. Naomhan looked at her as she began to disappear gradually from his view.
She loves another, he repeated the words as he turned back and headed towards the horse with a dwindled spirit.
Soon, he was back on the road riding out of Scotland—for his family, for those he loved, and for his broken heart.
Naomhan had been calm enough to pick clothing that would not stand out before entering the new country, losing his kilt and sporran. It had taken him four days at the border trying to evade both the Scots and the English soldiers. It only dawned on him once he was on the soil of England that he was a man without an identity—by the feel of the ordinary clothing clinging to his skin—and country.
England was different to Scotland. The air was different, lighter, and there weren’t as many high landscapes like in his homeland. The oddest thing he noticed about the country was the populace. England seemed more populated than Scotland. Back home, he could have ridden on his horse for hours, just him and the wind, but it was not so in England. He encountered people the farther he rode, but he could not stop riding until he was as far as he could get from the borders of Scotland.
It was a strange land, so he could not simply wander into the woods to scavenge for fruits. He ventured into the towns whenever he was hungry and asked to do odd chores for food. A few times, he was lucky to find fighting bouts where he earned enough to buy himself meals, but he never stayed in a town long enough to become famous.
In his third week, he was overcome with sickness and had to stop by a little town, the Protestant town of Embleton. He had enough to afford a medicine man but he had to find one first. The fever came and broke as it willed. That morning, he was strong enough to handle the reins of his horse but he knew the fever would overcome him again in a few hours. The easiest place to find a guide was always the market square.
When he had almost arrived at the market, he saw three men gathered around a frightened old man.
“Is somethin’ the matter, sir?” Naomhan bellowed to the man atop his horse. The four pairs of eyes fell on him.
“I am not in trouble, thank you,” the old man said, trying to speak as calmly as he could. Naomhan knew he had not misread the fear in the old man’s eyes, which was a clear contrast against the menace in the eyes of the three younger men. He knew he could beat up the three men quite easily and easier even if he used his sword.
“I have heard ye, sir, but—” he started to get off his horse “—I would need directions to yer town’s medicine man.”
“The old man said there was no trouble. You should leave,” one of the three said, pulling out a knife.
“What if I decide nae to?” He held out his arms to the three, daring them to come at him.
“Please, you should go. I will handle this,” the older man pleaded. Naomhan wasn’t having any of it. He had been spoiling for a fight ever since he had left Scotland and had a lot of anger within himself to get rid of.
The one with the knife charged at Naomhan. Naomhan dodged his swing and grabbed his hand when he was fully stretched—the seconds before he could right himself—and twisted the knife out of his hand, twisting his arm behind his back. He slapped the lanky man away and engaged the other two. They were easily beaten. With two beaten to the ground, he grabbed the liveliest of the trio by the neck and held him up.
“Never beat on the helpless, ye hear me?” Naomhan asked the man who fiddled for his pockets. Naomhan just stared at the man, like a predator who had his prey against the wall. The man was already beaten and weak and would be too slow to harm him, so he wasn’t bothered.
He saw the knife too late before it was thrust into his side. He dropped the wiggling man and fell onto his knees as the sun seemed to burn him hotter. The three men fled and the old man rushed to his side.
“Do not pull out the knife,” he instructed Naomhan before screaming for help. “You will not die,” he kept assuring Naomhan. But Naomhan wanted nothing more than to pull it out. The old man frowned at him, scolding when he saw his hand on the knife.
And for some unknown reason, Naomhan stopped. There was something about the man’s face that just prompted obedience from him. It was the last time he ever saw Father Damian Odell frown. The next time he awoke, he was in the Father’s house, being tended to by the priest himself.
“You just rest, don’t move. The cut has been stitched together. You are a tough man to kill, I will give you that. The fever is another problem. But by God’s grace and help, I know we will conquer that also,” the man said, with a smile on his face. “Let me get you something to eat.”
Naomhan stopped the man as he was about to get up.
“Why didnae ye fight or run?” he asked the Father.
Father Damian sat back down with a heavy sigh. “Violence is like a chain. It will continue unless someone stops it. Be it the wrongdoer or the one being wronged, one has to save the other. You should rest for the days to come.”
But Naomhan didn’t rest. Many mornings, Father Damian would find Naomhan slumped by the gate or along the path towards the gate, helpless to make his way further because of the fever.
“What do you seek out there?” Father Damian asked him one night while they shared supper.
“I need to outrun my bloodlust, me thirst for vengeance. I cannae touch them now, so I have to run lest I turn back and do something stupid because I am a dobber,” Naomhan answered.
“You cannot run away forever. You need a new purpose and you can find one here. I will make you an offer. If you stay here, you will have so much to do that you would lose your bloodlust,” Father Damian offered and Naomhan burst into laughter.
“That makes no sense.”
Over the next two years, it made sense to Naomhan and he took the last name ‘McDonald’. His bloodlust was gone and was replaced with a sense of duty as a deacon.
During this time, Father Damian offered to help him send letters to his family in Scotland. He was a priest and thus, his letters were considerably safe. No one bothered to cast suspicious looks at a letter submitted by a priest. So his mother wrote to him at times, as did his brother, telling him of the things that went on at home. It kept him sane but it wasn’t easy.
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