The Highlander’s Holiday Wife

The Highlander’s Holiday Wife

Clan Kendrick Book Five
Kensington Books
September 2022

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Filled with saucy wit, surprising twists, and unforgettable lovers, the latest novel in USA Today bestselling author Vanessa Kelly’s captivating historical romance series puts the most levelheaded Kendrick at the center of a passionate and perilous adventure . . .

It’s Christmastime in Edinburgh, but Lady Samantha Penwith’s secret mission takes no holiday: the Highlands-born lass vows to find the assailants who murdered her beloved husband, founder of a charitable school for orphaned boys. On her latest undercover excursion, she closes in on a pair of armed attackers and interrupts another assault, then disappears into the darkness, leaving the lone victim mystified—and lucky to be alive . . .

Braden Kendrick may be the sensible brother, yet the dedicated doctor routinely ignores the dangers of his late-night calls to the city’s slums. But when a fleet-footed rescuer saves his life, he’s determined to uncover the stranger’s identity. And once he does, he’ll find himself facing his own past loss for the first time—and more than willing to risk his heart again, just in time to make the Clan Kendrick’s Christmas celebrations more festive than ever . . .

#1 Amazon Bestseller in Regency and Scottish Historical Romance

#1 Apple Bestseller in Historical Romance

#1 Nook Bestseller in Historical Romance

“A widow and a doctor pair up to solve a mystery in Kelly’s page-turning fifth Clan Kendrick novel…fast-paced and tension-filled, this adventurous Regency will have readers hooked.” ~Publishers Weekly

“As the holidays approach, an unexpected passion ignites a yuletide romance in this delightful read from a USA Today bestselling author.” ~BookBub

“The Highlander’s Holiday Wife hit all my happy reader buttons, giving me a fast-paced, emotionally satisfying story with plenty of humor, heart, and adventure to keep me eagerly flipping pages from beginning to end. It has my enthusiastic recommendation.” ~5 stars, The Romance Dish

“The Highlander’s Holiday Wife is an effervescent, refreshing romance…Vanessa Kelly writes adventurous, mysterious, vivacious romances that capture your imagination and heart.” ~4 stars, Reading Rebels Reviews

“I love this series and always look forward to reading books by Vanessa Kelly. A story of love, healing, redemption, and more, The Highlander’s Holiday Wife will appeal to readers of historical romance and romantic suspense.” ~4 stars, One Book More

“This beautiful book whisked me away and gave me quite a grand adventure. Murder, intrigue,  kidnapping, betrayal, and second chance romance await. And of course Clan Kendrick to the rescue. What an unputdownable tale.” ~Michelle The PA Loves to Read

“Lovers of historical romance will revel in this fast-moving tale with its exploration of the highs and lows of Scottish society under King George IV and its snappy dialogue.” ~C. P. Lesley, New Books Network

“The plotting of this book was absolutely extraordinary and definitely swept this reader away…a book I highly recommend.” ~5 stars, Tartan Book Reviews

“Samantha is a strong woman, and the mystery is completely intriguing and compelling…recommended to anyone who enjoys Regency-style murder mysteries with strong female characters.”~Historical Novel Society

“I highly recommend this one. A perfect Christmas historical romance!” ~4 stars, Temma Thomas

“The perfect winter read…Vanessa is such a wonderful writer!” ~Romantically Swept Away

“A truly enjoyable novel with engaging characters and a fun storyline. Plus the happily ever after that we all crave in a book now and again. It would make a great gift for the reader in your life.” ~4 stars, Books, Cooks, Looks

“I had a feeling that I would like this one since it has so many of my favorite elements – – holidays, historical fiction, romance, mystery and more! Plus the writing is fantastic and the characters are charming.” ~cmtloveswineandbooks

“This well-written novel includes suspense, danger, and a slow burn, (fairly) closed door romance…the dialogue was great, full of sass and dialect.” ~Infinite Readlist

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 1

November 1826

For the space of a few breaths, Braden Kendrick contemplated the idiocy of taking unnecessary risks.

Should have listened to Logan.

He shifted his leather satchel to his left shoulder and pulled a knife from his right pocket. It was a dandy little blade, but laughably inadequate for facing two hulking brutes, one armed with a club and the other with a machete.

Only yesterday, his older brother had lectured him on taking proper precautions in Edinburgh’s Old Town. “What you need is a pistol. The criminals down there will gut you without hesitation, because it’s a damn sight easier to rob a dead man. You’ve got to properly arm yourself.”

Braden had pointed out that he’d never once been robbed while attending an emergency call. Logan had tartly replied that he’d be damned if he had to explain to the family why he’d allowed their little brother to get himself murdered in some backwater alley. Braden had just rolled his eyes and not given the matter another thought.

Well, regrets wouldn’t save him now, when he had to think his way out of an ignominious death.

“Gentlemen,” he said, adopting the tone he used on fractious toddlers and nervous patients. “Violence is completely unnecessary. I am more than willing to allow you to rob me. I’ll just extract my billfold and you can—”

“Shut yer yap,” snapped the one with the machete. He carried a small lantern in his other hand. When he raised it high, it cast a dim, ghoulish light on his face. “It’s other business we have with ye tonight.”

With full cheeks and a rounded chin, the man looked somewhat cherubic—but for his nose. That mangled feature resembled a grisly chunk of beef.

“I’ve got a good memory for faces, especially ones like yours,” Braden said. “But I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

“Nae, but we know ye, Kendrick,” snarled the other man in a guttural rasp. “Bloody interfering bastard that ye are.”

Now that voice was familiar. The rasp was a result of a childhood injury, according to the man’s wife.

Braden’s odds of survival grew slimmer by the second.

“You’re Dougal Parson, Naomi’s husband. Or, former husband, should I say?”

“Thanks to ye,” the man bitterly replied. “Ye put ideas in her head, ye stupid nob. She were satisfied with her lot until ye told her to kick me out of my own bleedin’ house.”

“Actually, it was her father’s house. And I don’t regret suggesting that Naomi divorce you, since you beat her and shoved her down the bloody stairs. You almost killed her.”

Tragically, though, the evil bastard had killed Naomi’s unborn child. While Braden had been too late to save the unfortunate babe, at least he’d been able to save the mother.

And though he’d been unable to convince Naomi and her elderly father to go to the police—both were too frightened—Braden had convinced the girl to obtain a divorce made possible by Scotland’s more lenient marriage laws.

He’d also made a point of hunting down Parson, finding him hiding out in a tavern near Tanner’s Close. That time, Braden had armed himself with a pistol. He’d told Parson that if he ever bothered Naomi again, he would ensure that Clan Kendrick would mete out their own brand of justice for the lass, the kind that didn’t involve courts or tidy prison cells. The threat had done the trick, and Parson had disappeared.

Or so Braden had thought.

Now, the unrepentant thug aimed a gob of spit at Braden’s boot. Thankfully, it fell short, since Parson’s dental hygiene left much to be desired.

“Clumsy little bitch fell, is all. She was always fallin’ and hurtin’ herself. But ye wouldn’t listen, now would ye, doc?”

Braden’s fingers instinctively tightened around the handle of his blade, and he fought the impulse to charge. “I don’t make a habit of believing wife beaters and liars.”

“I can’t get no work in Old Town, cause everyone’s too scared of ye and yer bloody family. I’m flat broke.”

“How sad. Frankly, I’d rather see you dangling at the end of a rope than sneaking around Old Town like a diseased rat.”

Mangled Nose elbowed Parson. “Oy, ye gonna let him talk to you like that?”

“Of course not, ye stupid shite. I’m gonna kill him.”

“Well, get on with it. I reckon he’s got a pile of blunt stowed in them pockets, not to mention a gold watch.”

Braden chuckled. “Oh, I never wear my gold watch into Old Town. That’s just tempting fate.”

When the two thugs exchanged a perplexed glance, he took advantage of their hesitation.

“Finally,” he said, shifting to look past his moronic adversaries. “It’s about time you arrived.”

Proving they were indeed morons, both men glanced over their shoulders into the stygian gloom. As they turned back to him, Braden hurled his satchel at Parson’s face.

Hit squarely by the bag heavy with medical instruments, the man roared and staggered back. Braden bolted, dodging between the men and slashing with his knife. The blade caught Mangled Nose in the arm. He bellowed, stumbling aside and clearing a path.

Braden took off into the dark. Skidding around a nearby corner, he bashed his elbow into a brick wall. Ignoring the pain, he ran as fast as he dared over the uneven cobblestones. His attackers were already in hot pursuit, heavy footsteps pounding behind him.

Dark tenement buildings loomed over him like decrepit giants, blocking out the pale light of the moon. He couldn’t risk twisting an ankle on the uneven stones, or tripping over a doorstep. Fortunately, his assailants had to deal with the same problems. And since he was both younger and fitter, he just needed to keep on his feet until he reached safety.


Light shone at the end of the seemingly endless alley, with Cowgate just ahead. There’d be at least a watchman or constable nearby, and a few taverns would still be open. Braden had friends in those taverns, people he’d doctored over the years. They’d never—

His thoughts splintered as his boot slid through something wet and disgusting. He pin-wheeled his arms but went completely off-kilter, landing hard on his right hip and arm. The knife flew, clattering somewhere off in the dark. Though pain lanced through his body, he forced himself to scrabble up just as his pursuers appeared out of the murk, like demons loosed from the pits of hell.

Well, huffing and puffing demons, anyway. Mangled Nose was cradling his injured arm, and Parson’s mouth was bleeding.

But they were mobile and furious. Like the boy who’d kicked the hornet’s nest, Braden was now about to get thoroughly stung.

“Think yer so clever, don’t ye?” growled Parson, raising his club. “We’ll see how smart ye are now.”

Braden put his hands up, as if in apology. With a little luck, he might be able to deflect the club before it bashed in his skull.

“In all fairness, I did manage to get past you.”

“Only because ye sliced me up good,” Mangled Nose complained. “Ruined my arm, ye did. And I thought ye were a doctor.”

“I am a doctor, and I’d be happy to stitch and bandage you up, free of charge and no questions asked.”

The man frowned. “Ye would?”

“Fecking hell, but yer an idiot,” Parson snapped.

“That’s nae way to speak to yer best friend,” his companion sulkily replied.

“It certainly isn’t,” Braden said. If he could just keep them talking. “In fact, I think—”

“No one cares what ye think,” bellowed Parson, brandishing his club. “I’m gonna shut that gob of yours once and for all.”

He moved in for the kill. Braden curled up his fists, and—


Plaster exploded from the wall behind Parson, showering chips and dust down on his head. He staggered sideways, crashing into his friend.

Mangled Nose howled. “Dougal, that’s my bad arm!”

“Who gives a shite about that? Who the hell is shootin’ at us?”

Braden peered toward the end of the alley. “I believe they did.”

Two figures garbed in black advanced silently toward them. One was a tall, broad-shouldered man swathed in a greatcoat. He was carrying a pistol, so had obviously fired the shot. It had been an excellent one, too, stopping Parson dead in his tracks by barely missing him.

But the other figure? Braden shook his head, as if to clear his vision. That person was slender and not very tall.

“Dougal, that be a girl,” Mangled Nose said.

No, a young woman, Braden guessed.

Dressed in a black riding habit, her hair tucked under a brimmed cap, she carried a walking stick and matched her companion’s steps with easy, confident strides. The mystery man and woman both wore dark scarves wrapped around their lower faces, effectively disguising their features.

“What the hell?” Parson growled, facing the pair.

Braden snapped out of his astonishment. “Tough luck, old man. Good Samaritans have come to my rescue.”

Parson threw him an ugly sneer. “Some doxy and a bloke who just shot his bolt? I’m ready to piss myself with fear.”

He began to stalk toward the pair. As the silent man reached into his pocket, the woman darted forward, whipping up her walking stick.

Except the stick was actually a long, lethal-looking blade. When she deftly slashed it across Parson’s cheek, he roared with pain and reared back, clapping a hand to his face.

“Oy,” yelled Mangled Nose, charging forward, machete held high.

Another shot boomed out, fired from a second pistol the man in black had pulled from his coat. Shards flew up from the cobblestones, directly in front of Mangled Nose. With a shocked cry, he turned on his heel and staggered back up the alley. Quickly, he disappeared into the night.

Parson was made of sterner stuff. He held his ground, holding his bloody cheek and glaring at the woman, who slid over to stand beside Braden. Her companion joined them, a silent, threatening guardian.

“I should kill the whole lot of ye,” Parson snarled.

Braden cocked his head. “I just heard the night watchman blow his whistle. He probably heard the shots and is calling for a constable. You’d be wise to follow your friend, Parson.”

A string of truly vile oaths ensued as the bastard shot a final glare at Braden. Then the man took to his heels, following his partner in crime.

For a moment, Braden and the others stood frozen in a silent tableau, listening to Parson’s footsteps fade away. Then Braden reached to doff his hat to his rescuers before realizing he’d lost the bloody thing in the bloody alley.

He smiled instead. “Thank you. I’m hoping you didn’t save me just so you could rob me.”

The big man simply shook his head, while the woman huffed an impatient breath from behind her black silk scarf.

“Then you have my sincere gratitude for your excellent timing,” Braden said. “I doubt my skull would have survived the encounter with Parson’s club.”

The man shook his head again before gesturing toward the lights of Cowgate. He and the woman then strode off in that direction, leaving Braden to both mentally and physically catch up.

“Can I know your names, so I can properly thank you?” he asked, coming up behind them.

The woman didn’t even glance back.

Braden almost laughed in disbelief. This was turning into the most bizarre night of his life. And given his family’s history, that was a very high hill to climb.

As he followed close behind them, a flicker of movement caught his attention. The woman’s gloved hand moved in gestures that looked practiced and precise. Braden’s amazement grew as her companion responded with a few, sharp motions of his right hand.

They were communicating with some sort of sign language.

“So, I take it you are not going to talk to me,” he commented.

The pair continued to ignore him as they gained the entrance of the alley. The woman reached out and grabbed something. She slid her blade into the slender wooden sheath that had leaned against a wall. Instantly, her lethal weapon was transformed into a genteel walking stick.

Braden felt as if he’d fallen into a dream or some sort of upside down fairy tale, one where the mysterious princess did the rescuing.

They led him out into Cowgate, and Braden had to blink against the flare of gas lanterns lining the street.

His silent escorts stopped and turned, calmly perusing him from behind their extremely effective disguises.

Now that he could finally get a good look at her, Braden saw that the lass had a trim, neat figure, dressed in a close-fitting wool jacket over a matching skirt. Her walking stick appeared to be of polished ebony with a carved brass handle. As for the man, who towered over her by a good foot, Braden had the impression that he might be a servant. He stood a few inches behind the woman, patiently waiting, as if taking his cues from her.


If not a fairy tale, then Braden felt he might have stumbled into a corking good adventure. Unlike his brothers, he never fell into corking good adventures.

“If you won’t tell me your name,” he said, “then allow me to—”

A shrill whistle cut him off. They all glanced up Cowgate to see a sturdy watchman, lantern and long staff in hand, trundling toward them in the distance.

The woman glanced at her companion. He twirled a finger by his head and then pointed back to the alley. She nodded, and they turned in that direction.

Braden made a grab for her. “Wait, you can’t go back in there.”

As she gracefully eluded him, the man stepped in front of Braden, his stance all but yelling, back off.

He quickly put up his hands. “I just want you to be safe.”

The woman huffed out a ghost of a chuckle. Then she tapped the brim of her cap, saluting him before disappearing into the night, with the tall man at her heels.

Braden was still peering down the alley, his brain spinning with astonishment and questions, when the watchman finally arrived.

“Is that yerself, Dr. Kendrick?” the fellow asked in a worried tone. “Did I hear shots? Are ye all right?”

“You did, and I am. A pair of thugs tried to bash my head in. Fortunately, a warrior princess and her trusty companion came to my rescue.”

The watchman snorted. “Now yer pulling my leg, sir. But who were them two that were just with ye? And where did they go off to?”

Braden shook his head. “On both counts, I’m afraid I have no bloody idea.”

Chapter 2

Stifling a yawn, Braden descended the center staircase to the entrance hall of the house. Tangling with murderous thugs was bound to stimulate one’s system and prevent sleep. So did questions about his mysterious rescuers—especially a woman who seemed perfectly comfortable wielding swords.

And that sign language? Pondering that had certainly kept him awake. Braden had seen something similar before, and he’d be following that up later this morning.

Their butler emerged from the back hall to greet him. “Good morning, sir. Mr. Kendrick and Joseph are having breakfast in the dining room, if you care to join them.”

“Thank you, Will. I mean, Macklin. Now that you’re a proper butler, I’ll have to observe the appropriate protocols.”

Will flashed him a wry smile. “It seems just as odd to me as it does to you, Dr. Kendrick. I hope I don’t disappoint.”

“You won’t. You’ve been helping to keep us in line for years. When I was racketing about this place on my own, I tended to let things slide. I’m sure you and Mrs. Kendrick were properly horrified at the state of affairs.”

Will Macklin had been with the family for as long as Braden could remember, originally hailing from the village attached to the Kendrick ancestral estate, Castle Kinglas. Eventually working his way up to under-butler at Kendrick House in Glasgow, he’d recently been promoted to butler at the family establishment in Edinburgh.

Braden had taken up permanent residence in Edinburgh several years ago as a student. Subsequently, he’d accepted a position at the Royal Infirmary and the medical college. He’d have been satisfied with a small set of rented rooms near work, but the rest of the family had been appalled by that notion. Nick, Braden’s oldest brother, was Laird of Arnprior, and had insisted on purchasing an elegant townhouse in New Town as a home for Braden and a port of call for various visiting Kendricks.

Major changes had recently come to the house on Heriot Row. Logan, the second oldest Kendrick and owner of a booming shipping company, had decided to move his family from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Thanks to the recent completion of the Forth and Clyde Canal system, Logan’s Glasgow offices now had steady access to the nearby port of Leith. So, along with his wife and two children, Logan had decided to settle into Heriot Row for as long as needed to establish another thriving branch of Kendrick Shipping and Trade.

Logan, who was fourteen years older, had been away for much of Braden’s youth, building up his trading company in Canada. Since his return to Scotland had coincided with Braden’s permanent move to Edinburgh, their paths had only occasionally crossed.

While Braden might sometimes regret the loss of his peace and quiet, it was a good and necessary opportunity to spend time with Logan, Donella, and the two bairns. As much as he might be inclined to forget it at times, he was still a member of Clan Kendrick. That meant family came first, even if that family could sometimes be downright nosy and interfering.

“The house was in prime condition, sir,” Will politely protested. “It needed nothing more than a good airing out.”

It had needed more than that, since Braden had closed most of the place up, making do with one maid and a cook.

“Hmm, I’m quite sure I heard my sister-in-law shriek with horror at the state of the attics.”

Will struggled to repress a smile. “Mrs. Kendrick never shrieks, no matter the provocation.”

“I’ll try to keep provocations to a minimum, regardless. Speaking of which, no one heard me come in last night?”

“I don’t believe so, sir.”

“Let’s keep it that way. And if any of the servants should ask about the battered state of my clothes, just say I slipped and had a fall in the muck.”

Thoroughly used to the wide variety of Kendrick antics, Will nodded. “Of course, sir. And I’ll see to your coffee and breakfast immediately.”

“Just coffee, please. I’ll grab a roll to take along with me.”

As he turned to head to the dining room, Braden didn’t miss the butler’s sigh. Everyone from Logan on down to the kitchen maid thought him underfed. At home, someone was always trying to shove cakes, scones, and assorted delicacies down his throat. It was nonsense, since he was perfectly fit. But he was used to being compared to his older brothers, who were exceptionally brawny men who looked more like Highland warriors than men of the city.

He quietly stepped into the elegant dining room, its formal nature softened by the view out the bay windows to the city gardens. Although it was a bit grand for Braden’s taste, Donella insisted they eat their meals together there as a family, on a regular schedule. When Braden had objected that his work defied scheduling, his sister-in-law countered that he needed a more orderly lifestyle, more rest and food, and more leisure time with family. Any attempt he had made to explain the average physician’s day had been firmly refuted, which was typical Kendrick behavior. Wayward family members were to be alternately cajoled and bullied into line. All in their best interests, of course.

But Kendricks also excelled at ignoring each other when it suited. Over the years, Braden had become a master of that family attribute.

Seated at the head of the table, Logan glanced up from his copy of the Caledonian Mercury. “Glad to see you slept in this morning, lad. I’m sure you needed it. What time did you get in last night, anyway?”

“Oh, sometime after midnight,” Braden replied as he perused the generous breakfast laid out on the mahogany sideboard.

“It was just after two o’clock, Uncle Braden,” said Joseph, seated to the right of Logan.

Braden mentally sighed. Logan’s son was thirteen. But he was exceptionally bright and incredibly observant, sometimes inconveniently so.

Logan frowned. “Son, were you reading late again? Staying up half the night isn’t good for you. Besides, you read so much during the day.”

“Yes, but that’s for my studies, Papa. And I’m reading Robinson Crusoe right now. It’s a bang-up adventure, you know.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

“And you gave it to me, remember? It was your favorite book when you were my age. You said I should read it.”

“Ouch. Hoisted on your own petard,” Braden said as he took a seat on the other side of the table.

“Lad runs rings around me,” Logan ruefully replied.

Joseph gifted his father with a beatific smile. “Mamma says it’s because I’m so smart.”

“Smartest one in the family,” Braden added.

“No, that would be you, Uncle Braden. Mamma says that, too.”

“Och, not true. You’re the smartest Kendrick of all.”

Joseph was greatly advanced in his studies, and when not studying, the lad was usually found with his nose deep in a book. Braden had recently started tutoring him in chemistry, at the boy’s request. Given how ably his nephew picked up complex formulas, Braden suspected he would grow up to be a scientist, or even a physician.

Logan adopted a comical expression. “Hang on, what about me? I do run a rather large and successful business. Can’t be a dummy and do something like that, you know.”

Joseph patted his father’s hand. “Of course not, Papa. But everyone knows that Uncle Braden is the smartest of the brothers. Uncle Nick and Grandda always say so.”

“Splendid. Well, I hope I’m good for at least something around here,” Logan said with mock complaint.

Joseph went back to slathering butter on his scone. “You’re good at bashing heads. Uncle Nick says you’re the best when it comes to that.”

Given that Logan was a veritable giant whose fighting skills had been honed in the wilds of Canada, that statement wasn’t an exaggeration.

Logan snorted. “Thank you, son. I’m also very good at sticking to the point, which is that you stay up half the night reading.”

“I wasn’t just reading last night, Papa. I was waiting for Uncle Braden to get home. He’s usually not so late, so I was worried.”

Smart as a whip and sensitive, Joseph tended to worry too much about the safety of his family. It stemmed from long separations from his father when he was just a tyke.

“You know I sometimes have to make emergency calls late at night,” Braden gently said. “There is never any need to worry.”

“I’d like to think that’s the case,” Logan said. “But where were you last night? Not Old Town again, I hope.”

Braden repressed a groan. “I was perfectly fine, in any event.”

“But you weren’t,” Joseph said with fatal candor. “I think you might have been robbed. You were very dirty, and you had a big rip in your coat. I saw it when you tried to sneak down the hall to your bedroom.”

Good God. The lad would make an excellent spy.

Logan threw his son a startled glance. Then his gaze transferred to Braden, his eyes narrowing to slits as cold as the North Sea.

“Care to explain?” he asked in a mild voice.

Braden wasn’t fooled. If he didn’t think fast, a volcanic eruption was imminent.

Fortunately, the door opened and Will came into the room, followed by a footman carrying a coffee service.

Logan transferred his ire to the butler. “Macklin, why the hell didn’t you tell me that Braden was robbed last night?”

“I wasn’t robbed,” Braden interjected.

Joseph frowned. “But you were in a . . . a fracas. I heard you say that to Macklin last night, when you came in.”

Logan slammed down his coffee cup, slopping the brew onto the starched tablecloth. “And why the hell am I only hearing about this now?” He stared daggers at Braden, then at Macklin.

“It was nothing, really,” Braden said. “Very minor.”

His brother pointed a finger at him. “Now, look here, Braden. You may be—”

“I said it was nothing,” Braden firmly interrupted.

Logan swept an irate gaze around the room. Since that gaze had been known to cause grown men to whimper like babies, it wasn’t surprising that the footman, new to the household, almost dropped the coffee service. Will deftly snatched it and placed it on the sideboard.

“Can I pour you a cup of coffee, Dr. Kendrick?” he asked, unperturbed by his employer’s glare.

Braden flashed him a grateful smile. “Yes, please.”

“Macklin, this is not the end of the conversation,” Logan said. “When someone in my household gets attacked, I want to know about it.”

“Of course, sir. Can I freshen up your coffee?”

Looking massively annoyed, Logan continued to scowl at their butler before holding out his cup. “Deranged, the lot of you.”

“Do stop blustering, dearest,” Donella said as she entered the room. “It’s much too early in the day to be terrifying your family, much less the staff.”

“I’m not terrifying anyone,” Logan grumbled. “Unfortunately.”

Braden grinned at his brother. “Losing your touch?”

Donella patted her husband’s shoulder. “Of course he’s not losing his touch. Why, poor Ryan looks like he’s seen a ghost.”

Their new footman now looked mostly bewildered. Braden couldn’t blame the poor fellow.

“I apologize, Mrs. Kendrick,” Will said. “I’m still in the process of training the new staff.”

“I’m afraid no amount of training can fully prepare anyone for our rather demented family,” Braden commented.

Donella took the empty seat on the other side of her husband. “That’s certainly true. I’m still getting used to them, even after several years.”

“Says the woman who was kicked out of a convent, and then followed that up by triggering a kidnapping and a clan feud,” Logan dryly said.

“Thankfully, you rescued me by throwing several men off a bridge into the River Tay,” Donella replied as she reached for the teapot.

“Only two men, love,” Logan corrected.

“True. You shot the rest of them.”

Ryan, who’d been clearing empty plates from the sideboard, knocked over a tray of scones.

“You may return to the kitchen,” Will told him with heavy disapproval. “Immediately.”

The poor footman almost tripped in his haste to get out of the room.

“It’ll be a miracle if the fellow doesn’t give his notice forthwith,” Braden commented.

Donella sighed. “And I was so hoping that Ryan would work out. Really, Logan, you simply must stop growling at everyone.”

“How is this my fault?” her husband protested. “Besides, I only growl at family members who get themselves into dangerous situations and then try to hide it from me.”

“Possibly because you kick up such a fuss?” Braden said before taking a gulp of coffee.

“Papa does get fashed when any of us gets attacked,” Joseph said.

“No more getting attacked,” barked Logan. “I forbid it.”

Braden smiled at Joseph. “I was perfectly fine, lad. I promise.”

Thanks to a mysterious young woman and her equally mysterious companion. That detail, however, was not something his family needed to know.

“But Papa can help protect you,” Joseph earnestly replied. “It’s his job.”

“Exactly right, my boy,” his father said with an approving nod.

“I cannot disagree,” Donella said. “I saw your coat, Braden. The rip is quite beyond repair.”

“Well, that’s a bother,” Braden replied.

At that observation, Logan looked ready to explode.

Donella glanced at her husband’s face. “Macklin, perhaps you might bring us some fresh tea,” she said to the butler.

When Will tactfully retreated, Braden looked at the clock on the mantle. “Good Lord, the time. As delightful as this discussion has been, I’m off. Already late for work.”

Logan jabbed a finger at him. “Don’t even think about it. You were attacked, Braden. And how was your coat ruined? Perhaps by a knife?”

“Och, don’t be silly,” Braden said.

Donella wrinkled her nose. “Truly, Braden, we’re not trying to be busybodies. We just worry about you.”

Braden eyed the faces studying him with obvious concern. They were all so different—his brawny older brother, who had the strength and courage of a giant, his lovely sister-in-law, whose kind heart had rescued Logan from a lonely life, and his nephew, whose gentle nature was complemented by a maturity beyond his years.

What united them was their steadfast devotion to each other and to every member of the family. Behind all the bluster and nonsense was love—and worry. Kendricks were champion worriers. Given all the tragedies they’d suffered over the years, it was hardly surprising.

Now that the cat was well out of the bag, trying to dismiss their concerns would only fash them more.

“It was a bit of a sticky wicket,” he admitted. “But it wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t slipped and fallen arse over teakettle.”

“It happens to the best of us, lad,” Logan said in a sympathetic tone. “That’s why it’s best to be prepared for every contingency.”

“What did happen, dearest?” Donella gently prompted.

After a quick glance at the clock, because he really was going to be late for his meeting, Braden gave a highly expurgated version of events.

Logan nodded his approval. “Throwing your bag in the bastard’s face was quick thinking, lad.”

Donella tapped her husband’s arm. “Language, dear.”

As if on cue, father and son rolled their eyes in identical fashion.

Braden repressed a smile. “I would have been well away from the bast . . . er, idiots, if I’d not slipped in some disgusting muck. Fortunately, my would-be attackers spent most of their time issuing empty threats instead of getting down to the business of robbing me.”

Joseph frowned. “Then how did they manage to wreck your coat?”

“Er, that happened when I slipped and fell. I hit the cobblestones quite hard.”

“Now this is starting to sound like a fish tale,” Logan said with disapproval. “Pursued by two armed villains, you go down in the muck, and yet somehow you return home basically unharmed and unrobbed. Please explain how you managed that feat.”

“We were just off Cowgate at that point, so I raised bloody hell calling for the watch. There’s a watch booth right near there, you know. As soon as the watchman heard me, he blew his whistle and came running.”

Logan crossed his arms over his chest. “I have never seen a watchman come running in my life.”

“Well, this one responded promptly. Clearly, the pair that attacked me last night were short on courage, since they took to their heels when they heard the whistle.”

His brother narrowed his eyes, obviously still suspicious.

Donella poured her husband another cup of coffee. “Thank goodness for the watch, then. But perhaps you could be a bit more careful, Braden. Try to avoid some of the more dangerous parts of Old Town.”

“I’d be happy to comply, if only my patients wouldn’t insist on living there.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound callous. We are so fortunate to be up here in New Town, while so many live in those dreadful tenements.”

Logan leaned over and gave her a kiss. “Good thing you’re doing a bang-up job of giving away half our fortune to charitable causes, love.”

“We can afford it,” she pertly replied.

“Aye, we can.” Logan returned his attention to Braden. “I’m afraid I’m going to insist that you carry a pistol from now on, old man. I know you’re not fond of them, but I’m even less fond of the idea of you getting carved up like a joint of beef.”

Braden snorted. “A distinctly unappetizing thought.”

“Then we’re agreed. You will start carrying a pistol with you at all times.”

“I will at night, but I hardly think pistols are appropriate for the Royal Infirmary or the classroom.”

His brother leaned forward. “You’ll carry one at all times, or I’ll start going with you on these night calls.”

Braden snorted. “That is certainly not happening.”

“And you work hard enough, darling, without taking on bodyguard duty,” Donella said. “If Braden is properly armed and takes precautions, he’ll be fine.”

“This isn’t new for me, you know,” Braden added. “I’ve been dealing with patients in Old Town for several years.”

Logan tapped a finger against his chin. “That’s actually an excellent idea, Donella. The best solution might be to hire Braden a bodyguard.”

“Good God, Logan,” Braden said, exasperated. “This is literally the first time anyone has tried to rob me. And that’s because almost everyone knows who I am, and that I’m there to help them.”

His brother shook his head. “A bodyguard is the best solution. I’ll speak to Macklin about it. Maybe one of the new footmen.”

“Perhaps Ryan?” Braden sardonically asked.

“I can go with you,” Joseph chimed in. “As long as it’s not too late. Papa taught me how to shoot, and I am very good at noticing things. Plus, I think I want to become a doctor, so I can see how you work.”

Braden smiled at him. “Well, thank you, lad, but I think your papa might have ideas about that.”

Logan snorted.

“Perhaps next year, Joseph,” Donella tactfully said. “You’re still a bit young to be making house calls, especially at night.”

“Oh, rats,” the boy said, sighing. “You always say I’m too young to do the fun things.”

“Let’s be clear. My son is not going anywhere near the stews, not this year or next year, either,” Logan sternly added.

Joseph eyed his father with disapproval. “I’m not a little boy anymore, Papa. I’m getting very tall.”

“You are rather shooting up like a weed,” Donella said with a smile.

Braden stood. “Look, I really must—”

“Sit down,” Logan rapped out. “We have not finished this discussion.”

“Sorry, I have to go. I’m already miles late for my meeting with Blackmore.”

His brother adopted his most intimidating glower. “Braden Kendrick—”

“We’ll pick it up later, old man.” He strode for the door, and then turned to face his brother. “I promise.”

“That is an entirely empty promise, because you always make sure to evade the blasted subject.”

“How clever of him,” Donella said with a twinkle.

“I thought you were on my side,” Logan tartly said to his wife.

Donella simply widened her eyes at him.

“You do tend to yell when you’re fashed, Papa,” Joseph said. “No wonder Uncle Braden avoids you.”

“I forbid anyone avoiding me from now on.”

His son snickered.

“No one will avoid you, my love,” Donella said in a soothing tone. “Let me get you one of these orange scones. They’re so delicious, aren’t they Joseph?”

“Papa should definitely have one, and probably some plum cake, too,” Joseph said. “Plum cake always makes him feel better.”

“I feel perfectly fine,” Logan protested as his wife starting piling food on his plate.

Once again, Braden’s big, tough brother had been rolled up. He found it all rather hilarious, but it simply confirmed for him how complicated families—and especially wives—could be.

Braden had been rolled up by a woman once before, one he had truly loved. And how had that ended?

In a trip to hell.

It was an experience he had vowed never to repeat again.

Chapter 3

Braden took a hackney to the university, telling the driver to crack on. His colleague, Dr. John Blackmore, was giving a lecture on the latest developments in managing difficult pregnancies, and now he’d be lucky if he caught the tail end of it—thanks to Logan reading him the riot act.

He paid the driver and hurried upstairs to the east side of the university, a three-story building with massive columns framing the doors. Although most of his day was usually spent at the Royal Infirmary, Braden kept a small office at the college for study and meeting with his students. He also assisted John, a senior professor with specialties in midwifery and infectious diseases. John had taken Braden under his wing, and in those four years, he’d taught Braden as much as almost all his professors combined.

He’d become a damn good friend, too, and probably understood Braden better than his own family did.

He sidestepped a rush of black-gowned students coming out of the lecture hall, enthusiastically discussing the lecture they’d just heard. Then he made his way down the narrow center aisle, past rows of writing tables and chairs, to meet John.

“There you are,” his mentor said as he packed away his instruments. “I’m sorry you missed the lecture. We had quite a lively discussion afterwards.”

“My sincere regrets, but I had my own lecture and discussion at Heriot Row. And there are no short discussions in my family.”

John’s incisive gaze flickered over him. “About another late night in Old Town, I suppose, and your brother didn’t approve. You’re looking rather worn around the edges, Braden. Was it a difficult case?”

“Actually, no.  It’s what happened afterwards that was tricky.”

“Ah, a mystery, then. You can tell me all about it as we walk to my office. You look like you could use a strong cup of tea—or coffee.”

“I wouldn’t say no to either.”

They headed down the long corridor toward the professors’ rooms, Braden keeping pace with the older man’s long stride. Although well into his forties, John had as much strength and energy as a man half his age. Unlike many other successful physicians, John refused to go soft, as he dismissively called it.

John’s devotion to his patients and his work was superseded only by his devotion to his wife and daughter. As a mentor, Braden couldn’t have picked a better man. As a role model—one who easily seemed to manage both his personal and professional lives—he found John a bit daunting.

Now that he thought of it, he was rather like Braden’s older brothers, who were equally successful in work and in love. It was a formula he’d never been able to crack.

“What’s wrong?” John quietly asked.

Braden dredged up a smile. “Nothing. Just a bit tired.”

“You know, it won’t do your patients any good if you fall ill from lack of rest.”

“Nonsense. I have the constitution of a sewer rat.”

His friend snorted. “I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

“It is for a doctor who works in Old Town.”

John put out a hand to stop a passing college porter and ordered coffee. Then he unlocked his office door and waved Braden in.

As a dean and supervising physician at the Infirmary, John had one of the largest offices in the college. Sturdy bookshelves, packed with hundreds of volumes as well as glass jars containing medical specimens and botanical compounds, lined two of the walls right up to the wood-paneled ceiling. A polished oak table, piled high with books, stood in front of a tiled fireplace, and a large writing desk, cubbyholes stuffed with papers, was positioned in front of the window for maximum light.

John quickly stirred up the banked fire while Braden sank into the leather club chair in front of the desk. Foggy tendrils weaved through his brain. He straightened his spine, refusing to give into the urge to let his eyelids drift shut.

“Coffee should be up in a few minutes,” John said as he settled behind his desk. “That’ll put some life into you. I’m afraid you look rather like hell.

“You’d look like hell, too, if you were set upon by one idiot with a machete and another idiot with a club.”

His friend jerked upright. “Good Lord. Did they actually get a hand on you?” He leaned forward over his desk. “Do I need to examine you for injuries?”

“Och, you’re as bad as my family. I escaped, and I’m fine.”

“So, it was a robbery attempt?”

Braden shook his head. “Only in part. Do you remember Naomi Parson? It was a near thing with her, as I’m sure you recall.”

“Yes, a miscarriage. It was a very distressing situation. Her husband blamed you for encouraging Naomi to go to the—” Understanding dawned, and John’s gray gaze turned stormy. “Bloody hell. Don’t tell me the villain tracked you down for revenge?”

“Yes, and he brought a jolly friend with a machete along with him.”

“Were you armed?”

“Only with a knife.”

John’s frown turned disapproving. “Braden, I think it’s time you carried a pistol with you in Old Town, especially at night.”

“Yes. That oversight will be corrected forthwith, I promise.”

“See that it is. So, how did you manage to escape?”

“I whacked Parson in the face with my medical kit and then ran like hell.”

John choked out a surprised laugh. “Thank God for quick thinking.”

Braden tapped his skull. “Unlike my brothers, I prefer to use brains over brawn.”

“I find that’s usually best.”

After knocking on the door, the porter entered with a coffee service and a plate of scones.

“You may leave it on my desk,” John said. “I’ll pour.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Just coffee, thanks,” Braden said, after the porter left. “Sugar and cream will do nicely.”

“You should eat,” John said. “You’re beginning to look like one of the skeletons in the anatomy classroom.”

“Thank you for that charming comparison. And while I might not be a brick wall like my brothers, I’m lean and I’m quick. Which does come in handy when running away from armed morons.”

“That’s one advantage, I suppose.” John frowned. “You’re fortunate to have been able to get away from them.”

“Yes, but there’s more to the story,” Braden replied after a gulp of the hot brew. “That’s what I wanted to speak with you about.”

John let out a sigh. “So there is trouble. I do believe you’re as bad as your brothers, after all.”

“That is literally impossible, at least according to any normal law of nature.”

John twirled an impatient hand. “What happened?”

“I only escaped because I was rescued by a young lady.”

“One of the Old Town girls?” John shot him a quizzical look. “I know a number of them carry knives, but against two armed men?”

His friend often provided free medical services to the prostitutes who plied their trade in Old Town. He and his wife, Bathsheba, made a point of helping vulnerable women who were forced to support themselves on the streets.

“No, this woman had an armed manservant with her, and she also carried a very lethal blade concealed in a walking stick.” He shook his head at the memory of her impressive skills. “And let me say that she knew how to use it.”

“Good God.”

“That’s not even the oddest part. Neither she nor her companion uttered a single word at any time. They simply rousted the villains and quickly escorted me back to safety.”

John had been about to take a sip from his cup, but put it down. “They said nothing at all?”

“Not a word. They did, however, communicate using hand gestures.”

“You mean like sign language?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”

John’s sister-in-law, Rachel Compton, was an accomplished young woman of twenty-four. She was also profoundly deaf. Rachel was part of the reason John had accepted the position in Edinburgh in the first place. One of the first schools for those who were deaf had been founded in the city, run by excellent teachers who’d helped develop a standardized language of signing. Rachel had proved such a capable student that she’d recently taken up a position as a teacher at a new school in London.

“Describe their signs,” John tersely said.

Braden mentally frowned at his friend’s odd tone, but then he gave a quick run through of events, and as much detail as he could remember about the mystery couple’s communication.

“So,” he said when he’d finished his description, “does that sound like the system taught at the school in Edinburgh?”

John spread his hands flat on his desk and stared at them for several long moments. “Possibly. What happened after your attackers fled?”

“My rescuers escorted me out to Cowgate. When the night watchman approached, they promptly retreated.” Braden held up a finger. “Back the way we came, I might add.”

John’s eyebrows shot up. “Back into the slums?”


“Good God,” his friend muttered.

“Yes.” Braden waited for several seconds while John stared down at his hands. “So, what do you think?”

John’s gaze flickered up. “About what?”

“Was it sign language or not?”

“Obviously, since they were using it to communicate.” When Braden raised his eyebrows, John grimaced. “Sorry, but you have to admit that it’s a bizarre story.”

“That’s putting it mildly, especially since they were clearly disguised and ready for trouble.”

“Or looking for it,” John said in a thoughtful tone.

Braden snorted. “And they found it.”

Again, John seemed lost in thought—and not happy ones, from the looks of it. Then he seemed to shrug it off, and he reached for the coffeepot.

“I can’t say if it was a system of signing that they invented themselves, which is entirely possible, or if it’s a standardized form. I know that’s not very helpful, but there it is.”

As Braden studied his friend’s austere expression, he was unable to shake the feeling that his friend was . . . lying? But that didn’t track. The man was all but incapable of lying, and was sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness, if necessary.

Something was definitely off.

John calmly sipped his coffee, as if they’d just been discussing a mildly interesting medical case and not a bizarre and dangerous encounter in the slums.

“I suppose it will have to remain a mystery, then,” Braden finally said.

“Apparently. By the way, I’ve got an interesting proposal for you.”

The abrupt transition confirmed that something indeed wasn’t right. But if John didn’t wish to talk about it, applying pressure would be fruitless.

For the moment, Braden decided to let it go. “A proposal about what?”

“You know of my work with the Penwith Philanthropic Foundation.”

“I do. I’ve always wondered how you fit it in on top of all your other work.”

“About the same way you fit in your free clinic on top of your other duties,” John noted.

“I don’t run two university departments, nor do I have your schedule of duties at the Infirmary. Not to mention a wife and a daughter.”

John smiled. “Bathsheba and Mary make everything better, but your point is valid. I do need help.”

“Do you need me to squeeze some blunt out of Logan for you?”

“No, although I will keep that in mind during our next round of fundraising.”

“What, then?”

“As you know, the foundation runs an orphanage for boys and a charity school for girls.”

Braden nodded. “It was founded by the Penwith family some years ago, was it not?”

“Correct, although only one member of the family is currently involved—Lady Samantha Penwith.”

Braden rifled his mental files. “She’s a widow, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s Roger Penwith’s widow. He set up the foundation and ran it until his unfortunate demise. Have you ever met Lady Samantha?”

“You know I’m not one for socializing.”

Braden was all but allergic to the Edinburgh social scene. Parties bored the hell out of him, unless there was another doctor or scientist lurking behind the potted plants. That’s where he was generally to be found whenever he allowed a random family member to drag him to a party.

“Neither is Lady Samantha,” John said. “She devotes most of her attention to her charitable work. And to Roger’s younger sister,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

“She sounds like an admirable person.” Braden still had no idea where this was headed.

“Braden, we wish you to join the board of the Penwith Philanthropic Foundation. You would be a great asset, I feel sure.”

He tried not to grimace at the invitation. “Endless meetings, gruesome social events, hitting up dowagers for money. John, I have to say no, thank you. Again, if you need a contribution—”

“I’m perfectly capable of fundraising, as is Lady Samantha,” John bluntly interrupted. “That’s not what we want you for.”

“So, why do you want me, then?”

“There have been disagreements amongst the board members. While Lady Samantha’s vision for the foundation is outstanding, most of the others see her ideas as too progressive and rather alarming. It certainly doesn’t help that she is a young woman. With a few exceptions, the other board members tend to dismiss her, even though she’s a great deal smarter than they are.”

“How old is she?”

“Twenty-six. Why?”

Braden put down his empty coffee cup. “She’s young to be running a foundation. Most won’t even tolerate a woman on the board, much less allow her to set the guiding vision.”

“Which is exactly why she needs allies.”

“Why not just get rid of the lot of them, and start over?”

“It’s complicated, unfortunately.”

Braden snorted. “You’d be far better off with Logan on your board. He’d terrify everyone into compliance.”

John waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t need another businessman. I need a physician and scientist, someone who will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.” He hesitated for a moment. “Braden, I believe it would be good for you to expand your horizons. Meet some new people, do a bit of socializing, attend a few gruesome parties. And did I mention that Lady Samantha is a very lovely and intelligent young lady?”

Braden rolled his eyes. “I don’t have time for socializing or lovely young ladies. I’ve barely enough time to cover both my regular practice and my clinic.”

“But that’s just it. Working on this board could be an excellent way to garner support for your clinic. Possibly even fold it into the foundation at some point. Just think how many more patients you could treat with the support of the Penwith Foundation.”

“You’ve been thinking this through, haven’t you?” Braden wryly said. “Wait until I’m tired, not thinking very clearly . . . and then you pounce. Sorry, old fellow, but I’m not that out of my head.”

John chuckled. “All right, I’ll stop pestering for now. But please promise that you’ll consider it. Especially the part about helping your free clinic and your patients and how much good you could accomplish.”

Braden shook his head. “You’re bloody relentless, you are.”

“Me? Never.” John drained his coffee cup and stood. “I’m off to make my rounds. Care to join me? There’s an interesting case I’d like you to see.”

Braden rose. “I thought you’d never ask.”

That was the world he was most comfortable in, that of science and medicine. It was a world where intellect and talent held sway, not emotions. And it was definitely where he could do the most good.

As for socializing and getting involved with lovely young ladies? It would be a frosty day in Hades before he made that mistake again.

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