The Highlander’s Christmas Bride

The Highlander’s Christmas Bride

Clan Kendrick Book Two
Kensington Books
October 2019

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In bestselling author Vanessa Kelly’s irresistible Clan Kendrick series, Christmas in the Highlands means family, celebration—and for one brother, the beginning of a passionate adventure . . .

Being thrown over by the man she expected to marry was humiliating enough. Now that Donella Haddon, grandniece of the Earl of Riddick, has also proven a failure as a nun, she has no choice but to return to her family’s estate. The brawny Highlander sent to escort her is brash, handsome, and the only thing standing between Donella and a gang of would-be kidnappers. But the scandal in her past can’t be so easily outrun . . .

Wealthy widower Logan Kendrick was expecting to meet a plain, pious spinster—not a gorgeous, sharp-tongued lass who can hold her own in any ambush. Though she’s known as the Flower of Clan Graham, Donella is no shrinking violet. In fact, she might be the perfect woman to bring happiness back to his lonely little son’s life, just in time for Christmas. But first he must protect her from ugly gossip and a mysterious threat—and convince her that their wild, unexpected desire is heaven sent.



“Kelly’s delightful, trope-filled romp summons up many emotions. It’s exciting, funny, smart, a little heartbreaking, and completely charming. Donella and Logan’s large, lovable, and sometimes exasperating families include familiar faces for fans of Kelly’s previous novels, including The Highlander Who Protected Me (2018), while newcomers won’t mind playing a little who’s-who catch-up. A wonderful Christmas romance.” ~Starred review, Booklist

“Kelly’s charming characters make every page feel like a party, and a dash of suspense adds spice to this enjoyable historical tale.” ~BookPage

“An abundance of adventure and an unusual premise quickly draw readers in to this Scotland-set Regency, making Kelly’s latest ‘Clan Kendrick’ novel a perfect Christmas read, complete with family drama that could stand as a story all its own.” ~Library Journal

“I’ve been reading Vanessa Kelly’s books since her debut. Some make me laugh, some make me cry, some make me sigh with delight. Many do all three. Then there are those that introduce me to characters who draw me into their hearts and their lives; characters who make make me want to revisit them time and again. The Highlander’s Christmas Bride is one of those books…” ~5 stars, The Romance Dish

“A wonderful holiday romance!” ~Top Pick, Harlequin Junkie

“This is well-written-page turner of a historical romance, with plenty of entanglements in societal and familial expectations, character angst and plot twists. I loved both characters…” ~Recommended, Coffee & Ink

“While the plot is familiar — seemingly-doomed-to-spinsterhood heroine meets brawny bachelor; both smother their interest in the other; random occurrence forces them to consider marriage to save reputations — Kelly twists and alters enough so that the resulting story is fresh, fun, and romantic.” ~Unabridged Chick

“Ms. Kelly is a masterful storyteller; this book was action packed, the characters were great, and the romance was equal parts sweet and steamy. It was completely perfect!” ~4.5 stars, So Many Books, So Little Time

“An engaging and entertaining read, which I just could not put down.” ~Historical Fiction With Spirit

“The Highlander’s Christmas Bride pushes the hot buttons of the heart with an imaginative blend of intrigue, romance and danger. Kelly delivers a tale of passion, a battle of hope and a leap of faith, that speaks to the romantic soul.” ~4 stars, Hopeless Romantic 

“Great romance between our main characters, Logan and Donella…this was certainly a festive way to welcome the Season!” ~A Bookish Affair

“A very cleverly written, richly detailed, entertaining and enjoyable story.” ~Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals 

“The enjoyable dialogue had me laughing in this rousing Scottish historical romance full of charm and adventures.” ~Gwendalyn’s Books

“Fun, adventurous, and delightful.” 4.5 stars, Locks, Hooks and Books

“I recommend The Highlander’s Christmas Bride for fans of historical romance, and especially for anyone who enjoys a Scottish setting. It is a fun read!” ~View from the Birdhouse

“Ms. Kelly is a master storyteller who slowly teases out the backstory for both Logan and Donella…fans of Scottish romances will definitely enjoy this one.” ~5 stars, NetGalley Member Reviews

“Vanessa Kelly has created yet another beautiful Kendrick love story. The wit, the humor, the banter is spectacular. The blossoming romance between Donella and Logan is exquisite.” ~5 stars, NetGalley Member Reviews

The Highlander Who Protected MeThe Highlander's Christmas BrideThe Highlander's English BrideThe Highlander's Irish BrideThe Highlander's Holiday WifeThe Highlander's Kilted Bride

Chapter One

November 1819
Dundee, Scotland

The edict was delivered in a tone of mild regret, completely at odds with the appalling effect it would have on her life.

“But…but you cannot just kick me out,” Donella Haddon stammered. “What the devil would I do with myself?”

A spasm crossed Reverend Mother’s dignified features. “Remember where you are, my child.”

Donella would have been able to describe the prioress’ study in the Convent of the Sacred Heart even if blindfolded. After all, she’d received a fair share of gentle but guilt inducing scolds in this very room.

“That is precisely my point,” Sister Bernard intoned. “Donella never remembers where she is.”

As Novice Mistress, Sister Bernard was Donella’s immediate superior and the bane of her existence. She stood behind Reverend Mother’s chair, her spare features obscured by her cowl and the sun shining through the window at her back. Donella could easily imagine Sister’s disapproving frown, because she’d seen that on a regular basis, too.

“My final vows are only a few months away.” Donella waved her arms, her wide sleeves flapping like a bird’s wings. “It would be an utter disaster to turn me away now. I’ve given up everything to be here.”

When Mother’s iron-gray eyebrows arched up, Donella winced. The prioress was a truly saintly woman, but no one could argue with those eyebrows. They conveyed volumes, and the message was that Donella’s goose was indeed cooked.

“My dear, such dramatics are unnecessary. I’ve discussed your progress with Sister Bernard and Sister Agnes—”

“Oh, drat,” muttered Donella.

Sister Agnes was the Mistress of Liturgical Music and even more exacting than Sister Bernard. If those two had lined up against her, Donella’s goose was scorched beyond recognition.

“And we’re all in agreement,” Mother firmly continued. “We believe that life in an enclosed order may not be the correct path for you. Some time in the outside world would be helpful in ascertaining your true vocation.”

“Or if you even have one,” Sister Bernard said. “In my opinion, that remains to be seen.”

Donella clamped her lips tight against the impulse to stick her tongue out at the old…the good woman. Sister Bernard had never trusted Donella’s vocation.

In truth, it was hard to argue with their assessment. For months, she’d had the growing sense that she’d once again made a fatal mistake. Ghastly little twinges of guilt and anxiety had kept her awake at night and distracted her during the day.

Something was very wrong. She knew it, and so did Mother and the rest of the sisters.

Her scalp prickled with perspiration under the close-fitting cowl. What in God’s name would she do if they shoved her out into the world? Over three years ago, she’d run from that world as fast as she could, carrying no doubt that she’d made the right decision.

“Sister Bernard, you’ve always worried about me because I was not raised within the Catholic Church,” Donella said, trying to sound calm. “But I can assure you that my conversion was entirely sincere.”

“Hmm,” replied the nun.

Really, the woman was such a snob. The aristocratic granddaughter of a French émigré family in the Bourbon line, it was no wonder she sniffed down her long nose at Donella.

Still, Donella’s great-uncle was the Earl of Riddick, a descendant of Scottish kings. She’d stack her relatives up against snooty Sister Bernard’s any day.

She supposed that made her a bigger snob than Sister.

Face it, old girl. You’d probably make a terrible nun.

“It’s not your faith we worry about, my dear,” Mother said. “It’s your…”

“Complete inability to follow the rules,” Sister Bernard finished.

Donella shook her head. “But I’m very good at following the rules. Everyone knows that.”

So good, in fact, that everyone also believed her to be a total bore. Certainly Alec Gilbride, her cousin and former fiancé, had thought so. He’d found her so boring he’d run away from home at the age of sixteen and refused to come back for ten years.

Sister Bernard snorted. “You fall asleep in Chapel on a regular basis, you have trouble memorizing the liturgy, you deliberately sing off key—”

“I do not.” She sometimes just lost her place because her mind wandered.

“You frequently break the Great Silence,” Sister Bernard ruthlessly continued, “and you have a fatal tendency to interrupt your elders. That is most surprising, since we were assured by your family that you were an obedient, biddable girl.”

“That’s exactly what I am,” Donella countered. “Obedient and biddable.”

“If you were, you lost the knack of it.” Sister’s tone was as dry as a communion wafer.

That was probably true. But if they kicked her out now, it would prove to her family that they’d been right about what her great-uncle had called her mad scheme to run away from life.

Reverend Mother finally intervened. “My child, why do you wish to become a nun?”

Donella blinked. For several dreadful seconds, her mind went blank.

Think, you idiot.

“Because it’s so peaceful and quiet,” she finally blurted out. “And because I love God.”

When Mother grimaced, Donella couldn’t blame her.

“And I do like the music,” she lamely added.

Never before had Mother or any of the other sisters asked that simple but fateful question. Becoming a Catholic nun in Scotland was not for the faint of heart, so it had probably never occurred to them to question her vocation. Besides, her uncle had given the convent an exceedingly generous dowry as payment for Donella’s entrance. No abbess in her right mind would have looked askance at the support of a powerful Scottish earl, even a non-Papist one.

“One does not enter a convent seeking to hide from problems,” Mother said. “It has been our experience that unresolved issues can loom even larger inside these walls, as I think you’re finding out.”

Donella pressed her hands onto Mother’s scarred oak desk and leaned forward to meet the older woman’s wise gaze. “I’ll try harder. I swear I will. Just give me another chance, please.”

Mother shook her head. “No, dear child. You have done as well as you can, but this is not the life for everyone.”

“Perhaps she could try the Franciscans,” Sister Bernard suggested. “They’re not as exacting as we are.”

In other words, that order might be inclined to overlook her many failings, especially if she brought along her substantial dowry.

Donella sank into the creaky chair in front of Mother’s desk. Since she was clearly going to get the boot, there was little point in standing on her best behavior.

“And of course we’ll be returning your dowry,” Mother said.

Since that would leave the order in something of a bind Donella would see to it that either Uncle Riddick or Alec made a generous donation to the convent to offset the financial blow.

At the thought of her cousin—the man who’d rejected her to marry another woman—Donella felt sick. More than anyone, Alec had supported her wish to enter the convent. He’d done it because he truly cared about her. He’d brought everyone else in the family around, too, and now she’d failed them all yet again. Her family loved her, but they hadn’t a clue what to do with her.

And, now, neither did she.

“I suppose I could try the Franciscans,” she said. “Are there branches of the order in Scotland?”

“There’s a convent house in Galway, Ireland,” replied Sister Bernard.

And wouldn’t that go down like a treat with her great-uncle? Scotland was one thing, but Ireland?

“Whether the Franciscans would accept you is beside the point,” Mother said. “As I said, you need to ascertain if you have a true vocation, Donella. The best way to do so is by returning to the outside world.”

Panic flared inside her body. Donella didn’t know if she’d ever be ready for the outside world, where she’d again face all the troubles she’d so gratefully left behind.

“Mother, I beg of you—”

The prioress rose to her feet. “My child, what is the fundamental principle of life within a religious order?”

Donella came to her feet as well. “Obedience, Mother. First to God, and then to you.”

“Correct, and I am requiring this final act of obedience from you. Accept my decision with good grace, and take this time to search your heart for what you truly desire. If you do this in good faith, you will find the answers you need.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Mother. The word echoed through her memory. Her real mother had also demanded obedience, until she’d made it utterly impossible for Donella to comply. They’d almost lost everything then, and only by the grace of God—and her great-uncle—had disaster been averted.

“I’ll have to go into the village and arrange for a carriage,” Donella said. “I could do that tomorrow, if you like.”

Now that the departure had been forced on her, she had no wish to linger. Knowing how thoroughly she’d failed made her hot with shame.

“That won’t be necessary,” the prioress said. “I wrote to Lord Riddick this morning and informed him of my decision. I’m sure he will want to make his own arrangements for your return to Blairgal Castle.”

Donella had to struggle to hold back a most irreverent curse. She’d hoped to at least be able to explain this wretched state of affairs to her family in person. Now, even that small measure of control and dignity had been taken away from her.

“We likely won’t hear back from my uncle for several days if he has to make all the arrangements. He’s very busy, you know.”

“I’m sure he can spare a carriage and escort,” Mother said dryly. “We’ll wait to hear back from him. For as long as it takes.”

Hanging about would simply prolong the agony. “I’m sure I could easily hire a post-chaise down at the inn. I could pack in a trice and be on my way.”

Sister Bernard looked scandalized. “Your uncle would not wish you to travel alone, Donella. It would appear exceedingly slipshod and indecorous.”

“It’s only a two day journey. I’m sure I’d be perfectly fine.” At this point, she scarcely cared if she ended up murdered by bandits.

“You will stay in the convent’s guesthouse until we hear from your uncle,” Mother said firmly. “You can spend that time getting used to the world again and thinking about your future.”

What future? As far as Donella could tell, she had none.

“Of course, Mother,” she replied, trying to sound like she meant it.

The prioress rewarded her acquiescence with a smile. “You might even enjoy it after your years of enclosure. You can walk about the village, do a little shopping, and have a good chat with Father Thomas at the church. I have every confidence he can help you make peace with this decision.”

“If only it had been my decision to make, Mother.”

The elderly nun let out a gentle sigh. “My dear child, I know this is a blow to your spirit—and to your pride. But you do have a choice as to how you will respond to this challenge. You can either see it as a failure or as an opportunity. I hope you will choose the latter.”

Since there was no response to that eminently practical if irritating advice, Donella simply crossed herself when Mother blessed her.

Sister Bernard went to open the door to the main hallway. “Go to your cell and begin packing. I’ll join you shortly.”

“Yes, Sister.”

Donella walked out with as much dignity as she could muster, resisting the urge to slam the door. She never slammed doors or stormed off. In fact, she rarely made a fuss about anything.

The reward for all that good behavior had usually been a big, fat, kick in the backside. And now it had happened again.

Maybe it was time to start kicking up a fuss.

Chapter Two

Logan Kendrick eyed the tiny but implacable force blocking him like Cerberus at the gates of the underworld. Carmelite nuns weren’t exactly his forte, but he’d give it a try.

“Sister Margaret,” he said, smiling, “you understand that Miss Haddon should depart as soon as possible. We must reach Perth by nightfall.”

The nun tucked her hands into the wide sleeves of her brown habit. She seemed to be returning his smile, but it was hard to tell given how wrinkly she was. The old gal, at least eighty, carried herself with ramrod dignity and looked capable of hauling him out back and paddling him for bad behavior.

“As I explained, Miss Haddon is at chapel with our sisters, who are praying for her safe travels. When the service is concluded, she will join you.”

Logan gazed pointedly at the plain bracket clock above the small and decidedly empty fireplace. It was bloody freezing in the old-fashioned parlor, although the old nun seemed immune to the cold.

“And do ye ken when that might be, Sister?”

He could practically see her scoring another black mark on his soul. Cheeky behavior was clearly not welcome in the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

“When Reverend Mother deems it over.”

He gave her an apologetic smile, which he thought showed remarkable forbearance on his part. The last thing he wished to do was play nursemaid to Donella Haddon, an almost-nun who’d failed to make the grade.

Logan was currently negotiating a series of critical financial arrangements with Lord Riddick, the girl’s uncle. If he were successful, it would greatly benefit his company, Kendrick Shipping and Trade, by substantially increasing its size. So, when he had happened to mention to Riddick that he was travelling to Perth on business, the old fellow had asked for help in dealing with a wee family matter.

His lordship had been as closemouthed as a bear trap when it came to details, however. He’d simply said that his great-niece would be returning home, hopefully for good, and that he’d consider it a great, grand favor if Logan would make a slight detour to Dundee and escort the lass to Blairgal Castle.

“Well, Sister, I will simply have to possess my soul of a little patience,” Logan said.

“A challenge for you, no doubt,” she tartly responded.

“Perhaps I can ask the good Lord for help.” Unable to resist the temptation, Logan gave her a wink. “Will you pray with me, Sister, and ask God to take pity on a poor sinner like me?”

She snorted. “I think our Lord has enough on his hands. But perhaps I can offer you a cup of tea while you wait.”

It was clear that the nuns were richer in spiritual than temporal possessions, so he’d not have them wasting their precious tea and sugar on him. What he truly wanted was a dram.

“Thank you, but I’ll just step out to speak with my groom and make a few arrangements for our journey. Miss Haddon can signal when she’s ready, and we’ll be on our way.”

Sister Margaret nodded her approval, leaving him to duck out the low front door and into the courtyard.

Gazing up at the ironwork cross atop the old building, Logan wondered at the courage it must have taken Miss Haddon to defy her family. She’d chosen to become not only a Papist but had entered a bloody convent to boot. Catholics were a rarity in Scotland, mostly tucked away in remote corners of the Highlands. It was no wonder, given the level of bigotry and suspicion they often encountered. Now Miss Haddon would be reentering a world hostile to the likes of her and would have little to look forward to but a quiet spinsterhood on her uncle’s country estate.

The woman would never be accepted back into polite society, especially not in hidebound, staunchly Protestant Glasgow.

And neither would Joseph.

Logan scowled at his boots, shoving his hands deep into his coat pockets. His son would have no chance of a good life in Scotland. As much as he missed his boy, best that Joseph stay in Canada, where he was safe, cared for, and loved.

With an effort, he forced away the pain that gripped him whenever he thought of his son. Instead, he focused on the opportunities before him, now that he was back in Scotland. Whatever their faults, Glaswegians were good at business and so was he. His success in the Colonies had opened a fair number of doors since his return, ones that would have otherwise remained closed to a reprobate like him.

It didn’t hurt that he now had the backing of his brother, Nick, Earl of Arnprior. Soon, he hoped, he’d have Lord Riddick’s, too. With Nick’s influence and Riddick’s investments, Logan had little doubt his company would soon dominate the timber and fur trades in Scotland and a good chunk of England as well.

That was the plan anyway, if he could ever get out of this bloody village in the middle of nowhere and back to Glasgow where he belonged.

He turned at the sound of a quick footfall from the road. Davey hurried through the convent’s iron gates to join him.

“Sorry to bother ye, Mr. Logan,” the young man said. “Foster sent me up to see how much longer ye might be.”

Foster was Riddick’s coachman and Davey was one of Blairgal’s grooms. Logan had offered to hire a post-chaise, but Riddick had insisted that his niece would be more comfortable with Blairgal servants she’d known her entire life.

Having already waited over an hour, Logan sighed. “God is apparently working in mysterious ways today, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Davey looked dubious. “Whatever ye say, sir.”

“Has Foster been able to secure a suitable team at that laughable excuse for a local inn?”

“Just job horses, sir. He ain’t well pleased, ye ken, but he said the inn don’t see much in the way of traffic.”

“I’m shocked to hear that.”

Davey smiled. “Aye. It’s that hard to imagine our Miss Donella holed up in a dreary place like this, although I suppose I shouldna be sayin’ such a thing.”

Logan propped a shoulder against one of the stone porch columns. “I’ve been wondering the same thing. You were working for Lord Riddick when Miss Haddon joined the convent, weren’t you?”

“That I was, sir.”

“That decision must have put the cat amongst the pigeons.”

“Aye, the family was fashed, I can tell ye. And then puir Miss Donella up and got—”

Davey suddenly caught himself, wincing a bit.

Logan had found everyone to be tight-lipped about the lass. There was obviously a bit of a mystery when it came to Miss Donella.

“You were saying?” he prompted.

“Nothin’, sir.”

They both turned at the sound of thumps from inside the guesthouse. It would appear the lady of the hour was finally about to make an appearance.

“Ah, at last. Have Foster bring the carriage around, Davey.”

“Aye, sir.”

The young man hightailed it out of the courtyard, as if relieved to escape further questioning.

Not that it had been much of an interrogation. Mostly it was just idle curiosity on Logan’s part. He’d every expectation that the next two days in the company of a spinsterish, pious lady would be utterly flat.

When the door to the guesthouse opened, Logan adopted a smile, ready to be as sympathetic as the situation demanded. The poor girl would be sadly pulled, no doubt. He could only hope she wouldn’t spend the entire trip weeping into her handkerchief and bemoaning her fate. If she did, he’d have to retrieve the flask of very fine whisky he’d stowed in his travel kit for a necessary fortification.

A tall young woman wearing a stunningly ugly bonnet stalked out to the porch and stopped short when she saw him. Her gaze scanned him from head to toe, and then her tight-lipped expression transformed into one of outright disapproval.

For his part, he could do nothing but stare back at her like a chucklehead.

Good God.

Miss Donella Haddon looked neither pale nor morose, and not particularly nunlike. In fact, she was the most beautiful girl Logan had seen in a long time.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Are you going to stand there gaping at me all afternoon? Will I have to go down to the inn and fetch the carriage myself?”

She had a bonny voice, as clear and musical as a rippling Highland stream. At the moment, it was as chilly as one, too.

Sister Margaret appeared from inside. “Gracious, Donella. Remember what Mother told you about intemperate language.”

“As if I could ever bloody forget,” Miss Haddon muttered.

When Logan choked back a laugh, she shot him a lethal stare, as if daring him to say a word.

“I’m sorry, my child,” Sister Margaret said in a long-suffering voice. “I do not believe I heard you correctly.”

Miss Haddon closed her spectacular green eyes and sucked in a deep breath. Naturally, that pulled Logan’s attention to her bosom, which seemed a little too large for her ill-fitting, drab pelisse.

Why she was so poorly dressed? As Riddick’s niece, she needn’t go into the world looking like a charity case.

Even with the deplorable outfit and her irate glower, Donella Haddon was a true Scottish beauty, with pale, perfect features, an enchanting spray of freckles across her nose, and bright auburn hair peeking out from under her bonnet. Her tall, elegant figure also possessed enough curves to satisfy the most exacting of men.

Why the hell hadn’t anyone told him the girl was so bloody gorgeous? He’d been expecting a dreary little miss, and instead he’d been saddled with a beauty, something he surely didn’t need.

Logan had sworn off women for some time now. He was too busy for one thing. For another, he had no intention of getting married again. Taken together, they meant avoiding any eligible lasses that wandered into his orbit.

Ineligible lasses were off-limits, too. Nick would murder him if he engaged in that sort of nonsense, especially in a city as small and gossipy as Glasgow.

Unfortunately, he was not immune to the lure of a pretty girl—far from it, in fact, given his monklike state. He could only hope that her chaperone for the trip was the most dour and suspicious of nuns.

He pulled himself together. “Sister Margaret, I’d imagine the poor girl is distressed to be saying good-bye to you and the others. It’s no wonder she’s fashed.”

When Donella opened her eyes, her frustrated expression suggested she’d like to cosh him over the head.

Sister Margaret obviously read the same message and laid a gentle hand on Donella’s arm. “I’m sure you’re upset, my child. But Mother gave you excellent advice that will help you to face this particular challenge with a lighter heart. Is that not so?”

The girl visibly collected herself before giving the elderly nun a sweet smile. “Yes. Thank you for the reminder, Sister.”

“You must do more than remember, my child,” Sister chided. “You must act on it, too.”

Donella’s expression changed again, and for a long moment she looked like a sad, lost little girl. Logan had to resist the insane urge to pull her into his arms for a comforting cuddle.

“I will do my best to take Mother’s advice to heart,” she said.

Sister Margaret nodded her approval. “We all have our crosses to bear, my dear. Try to bear yours with a glad heart, and never forget that our heavenly Father will provide.”

Lord Riddick certainly would, anyway. Logan hoped the old fellow would do it without piling on the lectures. That would be adding insult to injury at this point.

“Can’t blame her for being a wee bit snippy, Sister,” he said. “I’d probably feel the same if I found myself tossed out on my—”

Logan caught himself just in time. While the nun regarded him with mild horror, Donella’s gaze was cold enough to send his balls into full retreat.

“There’s no need to linger, Mr. Kendrick,” Sister Margaret said. “We sent Miss Haddon’s trunk down to the inn this morning so it will already be in the carriage.” She glanced up at the sky. “Dusk will come soon enough.”

“I do believe I made that point an hour ago,” Logan replied with polite sarcasm.

When the ladies stared at him again, he mentally winced. Taking potshots at nuns was hardly sporting, even if one of them was now an ex-nun. What the hell was wrong with him?

“Not that I minded waiting,” he added.

Donella turned her back on him, bending gracefully to hug the old woman. “I’ll miss you, Sister. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”

Sister Margaret sketched a blessing over her. “Write and tell us how you get on, my dear. And God bless you.”

With a stern nod to Logan, the nun disappeared into the guesthouse.

“Is the carriage waiting outside the gates,” Donella asked, “or down at the inn?”

“It should be here soon. And we’re still waiting for your chaperone, are we not?”

Donella looked blank. “I don’t have a chaperone.”

Oh, hell. “Isn’t one of the sisters coming as an escort?”

“That seems rather redundant. I’ve got you to escort me and, presumably, my uncle’s coachman and grooms.”

“We’ll be on the road for two days. You need a chaperone.” He waved a hand. “You know, to prevent gossip.”

She rolled her eyes. “No one is going to gossip about me, sir. Aside from my immediate family and the servants, no one even knows I’m leaving the convent.”

Logan’s irritation broke free. “I bloody well know, and I have no intention of spending two days on the road with a gently bred spinster.”

Donella regarded him with patent disbelief. “Your virtue is quite safe with me, sir. I just spent the last three years in a convent. Until last week, I was actually a nun.”

She turned on her heel and marched out the convent gates. Logan yanked off his hat, rubbed the back of his head where a headache was gathering, then jammed it back on and started after her.

“I don’t care if yer the Blessed Mother herself,” he said when he’d caught up with her. “Ye canna travel without a proper chaperone.”

When he was annoyed, his brogue tended to surface. And right now he was very annoyed.

Donella flicked a dismissive hand, not breaking stride as they headed down the dusty road toward the inn. The wind kicked up dirt devils and tossed his hat from his head.

Repressing a curse, Logan swiped it up. The lassie, naturally, didn’t wait for him, and he got an excellent if brief view of her pretty ankles when the wind off the nearby firth whipped her dress up around her shins.

Where the hell was the carriage? Foster should have picked them up by now, but he was nowhere in sight. That fit in with every other blasted thing gone wrong today.

He quickly caught up to Donella. “Don’t you even have a maid to accompany you?”

She stopped dead in her tracks, forcing him to skid to a halt.

“What?” he asked in response to her glower.

“I repeat. Until last week I was a nun. Nuns do not have maids.”

“No servants at all?” While he knew little about convents, she was the bloody niece of a rich, influential earl.

“I realize there are many silly myths about Catholics, but nuns do not have servants. And there are no mad monks, wailing ghosts, lurid orgies, or any other of the nonsense you might have heard.”

He swallowed the temptation to joke about orgies. “Och, lass, I have nothing against Papists. In fact, my—”

“I don’t care.”

When she stomped off, Logan couldn’t blame her. He’d sounded like a complete moron. But he was still debating what to do with her. They would spend two nights on the road without a chaperone. He couldn’t believe Lord Riddick hadn’t anticipated this rather pressing need. Did the old fellow really think the girl’s former status would protect her from the way gossip flew about the Highlands? Not likely. Not when she was travelling with a Kendrick male—especially this Kendrick male.

Donella glanced over her shoulder. “Are you coming? Because as you so aptly pointed out, the less time we are together, the better.”

Once again, he easily caught up with her, despite her long stride that ate up the ground. No mincing about for her. She was all business and as tart as a lemon ice.

Logan was quite fond of lemon ice.

“You are a snippy lass, aren’t you? Is that why the nuns kicked you out?”

Her glare aimed to turn him to stone, but she kept her mouth—it was a very pretty mouth, rosebud pink—firmly shut.

“I’m Logan Kendrick, by the way. In case Sister Margaret didn’t tell you.”

“I know exactly who you are,” she said with a disapproving sniff.

“Ah, so you’ve heard of the Kendricks.”

“Of course. With the exception of Lord Arnprior, you are generally considered a bad lot.”

“You’re behind the times, lass. We’re all reformed now.”

“Huzzah for you.” She tilted her chin to peer up the road from under the brim of her oversized bonnet. “And where is the carriage, for heaven’s sake? At this rate, we’ll hardly get out of here by nightfall.”

Since they were almost at the inn and no carriage was in sight, Logan could only assume some mishap had occurred.

He couldn’t resist the impulse to tease her. “Aye, it’s late. Maybe we can have a nice, friendly chat to pass the time. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

“The only thing I intend to do on this benighted trip is pray, Mr. Kendrick.”

“Then I do hope you’ll say a few prayers for me, Miss Haddon.”

“I will pray that you keep your blasted mouth shut.” She quickened her pace, all but scurrying away from him.

The entire day had descended into a staggering farce. It was bound to be an interesting trip back to Blairgal, if Donella Haddon didn’t murder him before the day was out.

Chapter 3

Donella eyed the man sitting across from her in the carriage. With his hat tipped over his eyes, arms crossed over his chest, and long legs stretched out, he looked ridiculously comfortable. She, however, was crowded against the side of the coach as she tried to avoid jostling into him.

She couldn’t really blame him for taking up room. Logan Kendrick was a veritable giant. But she could blame him for being cavalier, high-handed, and incredibly annoying. In fact, Donella was fairly certain she already hated the man.

Thankfully, at least he’d stopped talking. She fully understood the awkwardness of their situation, but she had no intention of offering an apology for any inconvenience. It wasn’t her fault that neither Reverend Mother nor her uncle had thought to provide a chaperone. Unfortunately, it had never occurred to her to ask about such a pertinent detail, either.

In fact, she’d had no control over the travel arrangements whatsoever. She’d told Mr. High and Mighty Kendrick exactly that after yet another delay in setting out. After all, how could she be blamed for one of the horses throwing a shoe just as Foster was pulling out from the inn to come fetch them?

As for the lack of a chaperone, well, what did it truly matter? As far as Donella was concerned, her life was as good as over. She’d failed at being a nun, and after working so hard at it, too. Just like she’d worked so hard at everything else in her life before joining the convent.

It was perplexing, because she used to be good at things, whether it was managing a large household, helping the local vicar in his charitable work, or excelling at her studies and music. These days she seemed to be stumbling about in the dark without a clue what to do next.

The carriage jolted through a large rut, forcing Donella to grab for the strap. Her companion stirred not a jot.

Mr. Kendrick was big, bold, and swaggering, with a self-confidence that set her teeth on edge. He was also quite handsome, with thick black hair, strong features, and eyes the blue of a mountain loch—deep, clear, and so penetrating they stole one’s breath.

When Donella had first emerged from the guesthouse, those eyes had swept over her in frank appraisal, no doubt because she looked like a perfect dowd in her ridiculous bonnet and gown. The sisters had done their best, but her old clothes had long since been given to the poor or ripped apart and refashioned for other purposes. She hadn’t cared one whit about her appearance during the week she’d wandered about the village and surrounding countryside, worrying about her future and waiting for her escort to Blairgal.

But she had cared when Logan Kendrick fastened his sardonic gaze on her, sizing her up and obviously finding her lacking. The notion that he would think her attractive was ridiculous, which rendered the need for a chaperone entirely moot. He’d probably shoot himself before engaging in a flirtation with her, much less putting her in a situation that would necessitate he do the honorable thing by offering marriage.

She scowled at his sleeping form. “I’d boil myself in oil before I married the likes of you,” she muttered. “Just like one of the early martyrs.”

When Kendrick tipped up his hat to look at her, Donella almost slid off her seat.

“Careful, lass, or you’ll end up arse over teakettle,” he said, after thrusting out a hand to stop her slide. “Now, what were you saying? Something about marriage and martyrdom?”

Donella righted herself with as much dignity as she could. “You misheard me. I was praying to Saint Valentine.”

Oh, God. She’d pulled the first martyred saint she could think of out of her frazzled brain. The fact that Valentine was also the patron saint of romantic love was incredibly embarrassing.

“That makes perfect sense,” Kendrick said. “No lass in her right mind would ever think to equate marriage and martyrdom.” “Really? Why do you think there were so many convents in the first place?”

“Maybe those poor ladies just didn’t meet the right man.”

He was clearly twitting her. She had the urge to stick her tongue out at him.

To avoid the temptation, she made a point of lifting the shade and squinting out against the setting sun. Would they never arrive at their inn? She wanted to crawl under a pile of covers and sleep, desperate to forget for a few hours what a mess her life had become.

“It’s not much longer,” Kendrick said in a more sympathetic tone. “The Perth Bridge should be only a few minutes ahead.”

“We’re stopping in Tibbermore, correct?” A small village, Tibbermore was a more secluded and private stop than the bustling market town of Perth.

Kendrick rolled his broad shoulders, trying to stretch in the tight quarters. “Yes, and not a moment too soon. I’ve had enough of carriages for one day.”

“We’ll have a long day tomorrow, I’m afraid.”

“Aye, but then we’ll reach Blairgal fairly early the day after.” He smiled. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to get home.”


She wondered if Blairgal or Haddon House, her brother’s small estate, would even feel like home anymore. She’d never expected to see either place again.

She forced a smile. “Yes, of course.”

“And happy to see your family, no doubt.”

“Why would you assume otherwise?” She tried not to bristle, but why did he even care?

His eyebrows ticked up. “I’m simply trying to make conversation to pass the tedium of the journey.”

She winced. Clearly, her nerves were getting the best of her. “I apologize, sir. I suppose I’ve fallen out of the habit of polite conversation.”

He regarded her with a softer eye. “Carmelites observe the Great Silence, do they not?”

Donella was surprised he would know such an arcane detail. “Outside of chapel or meals, we observed silence. Only in the most pressing of circumstances did we break it.”

“Did you like it, all that quiet?”

She thought about it for a few moments. “I grew up in a noisy family, and there was a great deal of clan business taking place and visitors coming and going at the castle. The quiet was something of a relief.”

In particular, Donella’s mother had dragged chaos in her wake, making life a trial. But family history was certainly not something to share with a stranger—or anyone.

“Right,” Kendrick said. “Your uncle is a clan chieftain, I believe. The Haddons are one of the larger Sept families in Clan Graham.”

She’d almost forgotten how nice it was to talk to a true Highlander. Few people understood the complicated and sometimes-frustrating tangle of relationships and clan ties.

“Malcolm Haddon, one of my father’s brothers, is the current chief. And Lord Riddick, my great-uncle, is heavily involved in clan business. Gatherings were held at least once a year when I was growing up, and there were always celebrations around holidays and marriages. It was quite…lively.”

“That’s one way to describe the gathering of the clan,” he replied. “Barely controlled mayhem would be more accurate.”

“It sounds like you didn’t much care for them, either.”

He gave a small shrug, a shifting of those impressive shoulders. “I did when I was young. What lad wouldn’t be fond of drinking, feasting, and dancing with pretty Highland lasses?”

She didn’t think she imagined the hint of self-mockery in his tone. “What changed for you, then?”

His sudden smile was charming—and insincere. “Nothing changed. I simply grew older and wiser. So, you enjoyed your peaceful life in the convent, did you? Coming from a large and noisy family myself, I can almost envy such a thing.”

Donella recognized the polite dodge. “I didn’t always enjoy it. The silence, I mean.”

“Why not?”

“It was too quiet sometimes. You could practically hear a fly crawling across a windowpane or the stones of the building settling into the ground. At night, you might think you were entirely alone, with not another soul in the world.” The memories of her cloistered life rose before her, poignant, complicated, and as painful as one’s first love.

“Sometimes I imagined I could hear voices from the graveyard, calling to me from under the earth,” she murmured, almost to herself.

Then she actually registered those words and heat flooded her face. “And now I do sound like a character from one of those lurid tales.” She gave an embarrassed chuckle. “How silly of me.”

In fact, she sounded mentally unhinged like her—

Donella slammed the door on that thought.

Kendrick simply raised an eyebrow. “Ah, so there were mad monks and shrieking apparitions wandering about the place. You’ve been holding out on me, Miss Haddon.”

“It was a convent, Mr. Kendrick, not a monastery. No monks of any sort. Or apparitions. Reverend Mother wouldn’t allow it.”

He grinned. “I do hope the cemetery was at least appropriately gothic, with morose angels leaning sideways over crumbling gravestones.”

His smile was so likable it was hard not to return it. Logan Kendrick could exude charm as easily as whisky flowed from a bottle. Fortunately, she was immune to that sort of thing.

“Nothing of the sort, I’m afraid. The previous owner kindly donated the manor house and grounds to the church when he built a new mansion near Edinburgh. Many generations of his family are buried on the grounds, so he stipulated that the sisters must maintain the graves as long as we remained in residence. My room overlooked the oldest part of the cemetery.” She flashed a wry smile. “When the wind blew through the trees on a stormy night, it felt like the dead were whispering to each other, moaning from beyond the grave.”

“Can’t say that I blame the poor devils. Must get rather boring down there in a moldy old box.”

“You do realize that the souls of the dead are long departed. It’s only dust and bones in the ground.”

“I’m a Highlander, lass,” he said. “Ye ken we believe in ghoulies and the fae folk. It’s our birthright.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” she dryly replied.

He studied her with a slight frown, as if trying to puzzle something out.

“And what about all that praying? Nuns and people like you pray all the time, especially for blighters like me. That’s why you’re all so holy. Someone has to do it to make up for the rest of us.”

She blinked at his sudden change in demeanor. “I never said I was holy, Mr. Kendrick. And nuns are people, as good or as flawed as anyone else. There’s nothing extraordinary about us.”

He waggled a hand. “Of course nuns are different. Not like regular women at all.”

Was he deliberately trying to annoy her? If so, it was working. “That’s ridiculous. Nuns are no different from other women, not in the essentials.”

“Except for one thing. They don’t like—” He caught himself, as if suddenly rethinking the nature of their conversation.


He looked out the window. “Sorry. Forgot what I was going to say.”

Now he wanted to call a retreat? I don’t think so.

“We don’t like men, you mean? Believe me, you wouldn’t be the first to say it. Men generally think we’re dried-up old spinsters, hiding away from the world.”

Of course, in her case it just might be true. Not the dried-up part, but the hiding away part. It was probably why she found his remarks so annoying.

“That was not what I was going to say,” he said defensively.

“It doesn’t matter.”

She made a show of pulling back the shade and peering out the window. “I do believe we’re about to cross the Perth Bridge. Did you know it’s quite the landmark in this part of Scotland?”

“Miss Haddon—”

“It has eight arches, from what I understand. Quite the engineering marvel.”

“Miss Haddon,” he started again through clenched teeth.

He was cut off when they come to a jolting halt.

“Now what?” she exclaimed. “This is getting to be ridiculous.”

“I’ll find out. You just stay put.”

She glared at him. “Sir, if I wish to step out of the carriage for a breath of fresh air, I will do exactly that.”

He muttered something that sounded like bloody woman before reaching for the door handle. He was halfway out the door, ducking low under the frame, when he froze.

“Goddammit,” he cursed. “Sir, taking the Lord’s name in vain will not help the situation, whatever it is.”

He looked over his shoulder, his expression so grim that any further reprimand died on her lips.

“Unfortunately, Miss Haddon, my language wasn’t strong enough.”  

The Highlander's Christmas Bride'

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