The Highlander’s Irish Bride

The Highlander’s Irish Bride

Clan Kendrick Book Four
Kensington Books
July 2021

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Meet the most respectable member of the Kendrick Clan in bestselling author Vanessa Kelly’s intoxicating series—and the independent woman who has stolen his heart . . .

Miss Kathleen Calvert may be the daughter of an Irish aristocrat, but she has no intention of acting like one. All she desires is to return to her family’s estate to raise horses and manage her father’s magnificent gardens. But when a scandal threatens her reputation, her parents order her to a remote Scottish estate, hoping she will finally learn to behave like a proper lady. To make matters worse, her escort is a handsome Highlander who just happens to be the most boring man in all of Scotland . . .

After a youth of dangerous and wild escapades, Grant Kendrick surprised his family—and himself—by becoming a successful businessman and the most respectable Kendrick brother. But does that matter, when the beautiful and free-spirited Kathleen deems him a stodgy bore? Luckily, he gets the chance to prove her wrong when their carriage is ambushed by thieves. But it will take all his ingenuity to protect the beautiful lass who has stormed her way into his heart—and to convince her that a life with him will be a love-filled adventure . . .

BookScan Romance Bestseller

“Vanessa Kelly does it again! The Highlander’s Irish Bride serves up a page-turning tale that will keep you awake late into the night. Kelly’s witty, loveable characters come alive and the vibrant sense of time and place make this rollicking Highland story a keeper that you won’t soon forget!” ~Bestselling author Minerva Spencer

“There’s a lovely poignancy to the scenes where the couple bonds over the things they do share: love of family, devotion to siblings, deep-seated sadness over the loss of parents. Grant and Kathleen are surrounded by quite a bit of drama and chaos as their romance progresses (people are held at gunpoint multiple times, and there’s a love triangle that gets delightfully convoluted) but Kelly uses their growing love as an anchor, grounding all the excitement in something real and warm and lovely.” ~BookPage

“Lots of twists and turns, adventure, passion, and humor…this fast-paced page turner is a riveting adventure!”~Books and Benches Top Pick

“A captivating and immersive read…this is a great addition to the Clan Kendrick series and will appeal to readers who like historical romance with independent and slightly accident-prone heroines, swoon-worthy heroes, and an interesting story-line.” ~4 stars, One Book More

“The chemistry between Grant and Kathleen…was truly beautiful. I absolutely could not get enough of the story and highly recommend it.” ~5 stars, Tartan Book Reviews

“Ms. Kelly does a fine job of creating charming characters that engage the reader…it’s one you will find that will distract you from all the craziness that is today’s world.” ~Books, Cooks, Looks

“This charming and witty book will have you flipping through the pages long into the night.” ~Gwendalyn’s Books

“The Highlander’s Irish Bride is an excellent romance with sizzling chemistry…highly recommended for historical fiction and romance readers alike.” ~5 stars, Debjani’s Thoughts

“What a splendidly enchanting tale…Kathleen and Grant are so perfectly matched that watching them fall for each other is just pure bliss.” ~5 stars, Michelle the PA

“Mix in a bit of a mystery with the well-developed characters and romance…for a fun romp through Scotland, I wholeheartedly recommend this title.” ~4 stars, Novels Alive

“A fun story with a level of intrigue mixed in. I also really love stories with a large, quirky family and this series delivers! Definitely recommend if you enjoy Highland romance!” ~A Girl Reads Books

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

Mayfair, London
September 1823

“At least Denny and I didn’t wear real togas,” Kathleen Calvert said, as if that inane observation could forestall her impending doom.

“I think togas would have been terribly jolly,” Jeannie enthused.

“But not very practical,” Cara countered, as if they were having a perfectly normal conversation. “I’ve never understood how the Romans kept them on in the first place.”

It was sweet of Kathleen’s stepsisters to try to defend her from the storm of retribution headed her way. That storm went by the name of Helen, Lady Gorey. Kathleen’s stepmother was the bane of her existence.

Helen stared down her daughters before turning her icy glare on Kathleen. No one did icy better than Baroness Gorey. She never yelled or ranted, or disturbed one perfect hair on her perfect head. She simply buried one with cold contempt. This time, she would surely bury Kathleen as far out of sight as she could, and for as long as she could.

“Your persistent attempts to make light of your scandalous behavior are most distressing, Kathleen, especially for your poor father,” Helen said.

“Indeed, my dear child,” Papa began. “I do wish—”

“And one cannot begin to imagine the gossip,” Helen ruthlessly interrupted. “I doubt we will be able to leave the house for months.”

While that was a ridiculous assertion, it was true they were all but hiding out in the small back parlor. The inviting space was decorated with plump, chintz-covered armchairs, and a rather tatty velvet sofa piled high with cushions. Books, flowers, and needlework projects covered the tabletops. An easel with a half-completed landscape, along with a basket of sketching supplies, contributed to the cheerful atmosphere. Because the room’s cozy disorder offended Helen’s elegant soul, she rarely stepped foot inside, making it the sisters’ private domain.

This morning, though, was one of those rare occasions. The family was huddled around a mahogany tea table, as if preparing for an invasion by hostile forces, a fairly accurate description of Kathleen’s view of the ton.

Jeannie, sitting next to Kathleen on the sofa, snorted at her mother’s dramatic assessment. “It’s not as if Kath was dashing about with some loose screw, Mamma. It was just silly Denny Barlow, after all. His family practically lived next door to us in Ireland, and Denny is Kath’s best chum. Their race was just a bit of a rig.”

When Helen leveled her Medusa-like gaze on the sixteen-year-old, it was a miracle poor Jeannie didn’t turn to stone and splinter in a million pieces.

“I forbid you to use such dreadful cant, Jeannette. If you cannot behave with decorum, you will be sent to your room. Indefinitely.”

“But Mamma,” Jeannie protested. “It’s just that—”

Kathleen jumped in. “It’s just that I made a capital blunder this morning, and it doesn’t matter that I made it with Denny. It’s what I did that matters, not whom I did it with.”

“But you were just kicking up a lark,” Jeannie said. “You didn’t mean anything by it.”

Kathleen forced herself to say the words, for her sister’s sake. “It was still very wrong of me.”

Papa, sitting in an armchair near the fireplace, cast his wife a cautious but assessing glance. When he sighed, Kathleen’s heart sank. Her father rarely took Helen on, and today would run true to form.

“While I am pleased to hear you take responsibility,” he said, “it does not solve the problem, Kathleen. We must defer to your stepmother, since she has a better understanding of how this incident will be regarded by our friends and society at large.”

Cara, perched on a padded stool near her mother, grimaced. “Not well, I imagine.”

At nineteen, Cara already possessed a graceful maturity. Tall and willowy, with her mother’s blue eyes and wheat-blond hair, Cara had a gentle nature which, combined with her looks, had already won her several eligible suitors.

“That, my dear child, is an understatement,” Helen replied. “Really, to be racketing around at dawn on Hampstead Heath no less, with that ninny, Dennis Barlow. Your stepsister’s behavior is hardly to be comprehended.”

She laid her usual emphasis on that all-important qualifier, step, to emphasize the point that Kathleen was the wild Irish outsider and no true Gorey, as far as Helen was concerned.

Kathleen couldn’t help jabbing back. “Actually, Mother, it was more than racketing about. It was neck and neck, cracking the whip, just like the charioteers of ancient Rome. I’m sure we broke all sorts of speed records.”

In reality, it had been nothing more than a dash on a country road—corking good fun and a welcome escape from boredom. Thinking of it as a chariot race had simply been a silly jest between two old friends. But it might as well have been bread and circuses for the uproar it was already causing.

Jeannie flashed her an impish grin. “Did you stand up like charioteers, too?”

Kathleen was tempted to embellish but caught her father’s expression. “No, dear, we quite sensibly sat. After all, we didn’t wish to tip the carriages or injure the horses.”

She couldn’t blame poor Denny, who’d initially tried to wheedle her out of it. He’d never been able to refuse her challenges, going back when they were children in Ireland. Unlike Helen, Kathleen’s mother had never kicked up a fuss over their antics. Mamma had simply urged them not to hurt themselves before sending them back out to play in the woods and fields of Greystone Court, the Gorey family seat.

“I am fully aware of your actions,” Helen said, “since I received an unfortunately precise description from Mrs. Carling—who received an equally precise description from her son.”

Kathleen’s downfall had been the obnoxious Philip Carling and his equally obnoxious friend, Archibald Fenton. Those pair of idiots had been returning from a late night carouse somewhere out past the Heath. His mouth agape, Philip had pulled up his horse and taken a long look at Kathleen as she’d brought her phaeton to a halt. Then he’d promptly set heels to his unfortunate mare and galloped off, Archie drunkenly lurching along in his wake.

Cad that he was, Carling had immediately tattled to his mother. Mrs. Carling, one of the worst gossips in the ton, had promptly shot off a deliciously horrified note to her dear friend, Lady Gorey. Kathleen had barely managed to sneak back into the house before the hounds of hell were unleashed.

Stupid Philip and his stupid big mouth.

And stupid her, obviously.

“Philip Carling is no gentleman for carrying tales,” Papa said, surprising Kathleen. “A grown man gossiping to his silly mother. Ridiculous.”

Helen pressed a hand to the lace-trimmed bodice of her fashionable morning gown. “Olivia Carling is one of my dearest friends, my love. I share your opinion of Philip, naturally, but his deficiencies are hardly his mother’s fault. Philip’s father is far too indulgent of him. You, on the other hand, would never allow Richard to act in so disgraceful a fashion.”

Richard, Kathleen’s older brother and heir to the Gorey title, was spared this meeting by virtue of the fact that he was currently in Wiltshire, enjoying the hospitality of the Marquess of Bevington.

Lucky him.

“Well, tut-tut, my dear,” Papa said.

“And Olivia was simply warning me,” Helen plaintively added. “This sort of incident always gets out, you know—”

“Thanks to her,” Kathleen interjected.

The fire from Helen’s gaze almost singed Kathleen’s side curls. But then her stepmother quickly regrouped and adopted an attitude both wounded and stoic, as if she were the one about to be socially martyred, not Kathleen.

“If you feel Olivia has overstepped, dear sir, I will convey that message. It will be vastly uncomfortable, but far be it from me to go against your wishes.”

Alarm flashed in Papa’s eyes. “Oh, I say, I don’t know a thing about managing society scandals. I leave that entirely in your hands, my love.”

As usual, Kathleen’s father had quickly capitulated to his wife.

No point in fretting about it.

“Well then, Papa, what must I do to atone for my crime?” she asked.

He tut-tutted again. “No need for dramatics, my dear. After all, it’s not as if our friends don’t realize you’re a bit…”

“Eccentric?” Kathleen wryly finished.

“Let’s say dashing,” he kindly replied.

Helen huffed an exasperated breath. “Kathleen’s conduct has gone beyond both dashing or eccentric. The impact of her behavior, particularly on Richard, could be disastrous.”

Papa frowned. “I do not follow, my dear.”

“We all have great hopes that Richard and Lord Bevington’s daughter will make a match of it,” Helen explained. “That is the reason for his trip, as you will recall.”

“There’s not much doubt of that,” said Kathleen. “Richard and Melinda have been making sheep’s eyes at each other for weeks. Denny said there’s even a bet at White’s about the impending betrothal.”

Helen looked like she’d swallowed a peach pit. “How distressing. May I remind you all that Lord Bevington has yet to give his approval to the match? He has extremely high standards, and the marchioness even more so. It is entirely possible that his lordship would refuse Richard’s offer if any scandal involving our family should surface.”

“Surely not,” Papa protested. “Richard and Melinda are extremely well-suited.”

“Melinda is not the sort to gainsay her parents.” Helen cast an ironic glance at Kathleen. “She is a good, obedient girl, and would never consent to marry a man without her father’s approval.”

Kathleen rolled her eyes. “That sounds rather chicken-hearted of her.”

“Mamma’s right,” Cara said. “Melinda does everything her parents tell her to do.”

Kathleen’s stomach plummeted right through the floorboards to the root cellar. “Truly?”

“I went to school with her. She’s very biddable.”

“And given Melinda’s excellent character and the size of her dowry,” Helen said, “I consider us fortunate that Lord Bevington is even willing to consider Richard’s suit.”

Kathleen bristled. “Hang on, now. Richard’s splendid. Melinda’s the lucky one, if you ask me.”

“No one asked you,” her father tartly put in.

He was clearly rattled by the reminder of the importance of the impending match. The Goreys weren’t pikers by any means, but Melinda’s family was exceedingly rich and influential. For Richard, who had political aspirations, the marriage would be a genuine coup.

“Sorry, Papa,” she muttered.

“Cara and Jeanette would also be affected,” Helen added. “If one daughter can behave so outrageously…”

“But I’m not even out till next spring,” Jeannie piped in.

“That won’t matter,” Helen impatiently said. “By this evening, the scandal will be all over town. I shouldn’t be surprised if we start receiving callers at—”

The sound of the doorknocker echoed from the front of the house, interrupting her.

“Blast it,” muttered Papa.

“Please do not suggest I marry Denny,” Kathleen said, feeling desperate. “For one thing, he’d never agree.”

“At this point, I doubt any decent man would marry you,” Helen replied.

“Mamma!” Jeannie exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “That’s an awful thing to say. If I were a man, I’d marry Kathleen right now.”

Kathleen gently pulled her sister back down. “It’s all right, love. We all know I’m not a patch on you and Cara. You’re both much prettier and nicer.”

“You are not without charms, Kathleen, if only you wouldn’t dress so oddly,” Helen said, momentarily diverted. “Take your carriage dress, for instance. Who in her right mind wears a white outfit to dash about in a dusty phaeton? Although I’ll grant it’s an attractive color on you.”

Kathleen blinked. Was that actually a compliment?

“We must be thankful, certainly, that you didn’t inherit the ghastly red hair so common in the Irish,” her stepmother added, instantly ruining the moment. “And if you would only bleach your freckles with lemon water, your complexion would be much improved.”

Kathleen’s mother, a true beauty, had been blessed with bright copper hair and emerald green eyes. Kathleen had not been so favored. She had ordinary brown hair and a changeable gray eye color that simply refused to settle on a specific shade. And while Mamma had possessed a charming dash of freckles, Kathleen looked like she’d been splattered with cinnamon from a cosmic fountain.

“Kath’s freckles are fun,” Jeannie loyally said.

Kathleen gave her sister a brief hug. “Funny, more like it. And there aren’t enough lemons in England to banish my freckles.”

“Since hardly anyone will be seeing you for some months, it hardly matters,” Helen said.

Kathleen sighed. “Rustication then, is it?”

“Yes, the country. For as long as necessary.”

Kathleen froze for a moment before her brain kicked into gallop. Could it really be that simple?

“I suppose it makes sense to send me home to Ireland,” she casually said. “Then I’ll be completely out of sight. No one will think of me for a minute.”

If she could only get back to Greystone, any amount of humiliation would be worth it.

Helen all but sneered. “Without a proper chaperone? Absolutely not.”

“My former governess, Mrs. Clyde, could stay with me. That would be perfectly respectable.”

“No. She was incapable of controlling you then, and I have no faith in her ability to do so now,” Helen said.

One of the first actions Helen took after marrying Papa was to give the boot to Rebecca Foster, Kathleen’s beloved governess. Fortunately, Rebecca had soon met and wed Mr. Clyde, a well-regarded barrister from Dublin, and she and Kathleen had remained close. She was certain Rebecca would willingly chaperone her for a spell.

She prepared to dig in her heels, because this was worth fighting for. “Perhaps I could stay in Dublin for a—”

A muffled yelp sounded from the hall. The parlour door flew open and in strode a tall young woman, dressed in the first kick of fashion. Their butler fluttered in her wake, wringing his hands.

Gillian Penley, Duchess of Leverton, came to a halt in the middle of the room and cast an amused gaze over the stunned Goreys. Then she winked at Kathleen.

“And how is the Gorey family on this fine day? It’s a perfect one for managing a scandal, don’t you think?”

Chapter Two

Kathleen’s stepmother recovered first, if bristling like a hedgehog could be called a recovery. “Jensen, what is the meaning of this? We are not at home this morning.”

Their poor butler looked ready to cast up his crumpets. “My . . . my lady, I tried to explain to Her Grace, but—”

“Her Grace wouldn’t listen,” the duchess cheerfully interrupted. “And there’s no point in pretending you don’t need my help.”

“Your kindness is duly noted,” Helen frostily replied. “But the situation is a private matter, and entirely in hand.”

Gillian thoughtfully tapped her chin. “My husband does not share your assessment. The duke is dreadfully concerned about our dear Kathleen, which is why he asked me to rush over to lend a hand. And here I am, ready and willing to help.”

Given the Duke of Leverton’s well-known aversion to scandal, Kathleen strongly suspected that lending a hand had been Gillian’s idea. Still, His Grace was a powerful man, and Kathleen could only be grateful for his support.

Papa scrambled to his feet. “Your Grace, do forgive us. We’re simply surprised to see you under the, uh, present circumstances. And so promptly, too.”

Helen, recalled to her manners, rose to dip a shallow curtsy. “Indeed. We were not expecting callers so early in the day.”

“Drat,” Kathleen muttered. “The gossips are already making their rounds.”

Gillian waggled a hand. “Barely, but there’s no time to waste. We must come up with a plan.”

Five years Kathleen’s senior, Gillian was the illegitimate daughter of one of the royal dukes. She was raised on a remote estate in Sicily, and when she finally returned home to England, she’d struggled under the restrictions of London society. The distinguished tutelage of Charles Penley, Duke of Leverton, however, had allowed Gillian to adapt to the trickier elements of her new life. Even more importantly, Leverton had fallen madly in love with his erstwhile pupil. Gillian, now a wife and the mother of two adorable children, had become one of the most formidable and unconventional women in the ton.

Kathleen adored the duchess, now a fast and loyal friend.

Helen glanced at her daughters, who were staring at Gillian with dumbfounded expressions. “Girls, please stand and greet Her Grace.”

Cara rose and dipped into an elegant curtsy. “Forgive me, ma’am. It’s a pleasure to see you, as always.”

“Probably not this morning, Cara, but it’s sweet of you to say so.”

“Your Grace,” Jeannie said shyly, managing an awkward curtsy.

Gillian’s answering smile was kind. “Ah, Jeanette, you’ve certainly grown since I last saw you, and you’re as beautiful as your sisters. You must have legions of suitors already.”

“I’m not out yet. Besides, I don’t see many boys. And they can be . . .” Jeannie frowned.

“Confusing?” Gillian ventured. “They certainly can be.”

“I prefer horses, to tell you the truth,” Jeannie confessed.

“Personally, I find horses are more trainable than the average male,” Gillian replied. “And more intelligent, in some cases.”

Jeannie giggled. So did Cara, although she did her best to suppress it once she caught sight of her mother’s expression.

“My goodness,” Papa said weakly.

“Girls, you are excused,” Helen ordered.

“But—” Jeannie started to protest.

“Come along,” Cara whispered before dragging her reluctant sister from the room.

“That will be all,” Helen said to their still-paralyzed butler. “Try, if you can, to see that we are not disturbed again.”

“What, no tea?” Gillian drolly asked.

Kathleen could practically hear her stepmother grinding her teeth, while Jensen’s eyes rounded with panic.

“Um, ah . . .” stuttered the butler.

“Never mind,” Gillian said. “Away with you, Jensen, before your mistress has a fit.”

“Really, Your Grace,” Helen huffily said as their butler made a hasty exit.

“Yes, I’m completely outrageous.” Gillian gracefully sat next to Kathleen. “But I really am here to help.”

“How did you find out about this mess?” Kathleen asked.

“Charles was out for an early ride in Hyde Park, where he encountered Mr. Carling. The man was happy to rattle on about his son’s news.”

“I would truly like to murder that family,” Kathleen groused.

“Agreed, but we’ll manage with something less drastic.” Gillian’s smile was wry. “Scandals are my forte, you know.”

“Yes, everyone knows that,” Helen snapped.

Though Papa looked ready to expire from embarrassment, the duchess simply lifted a brow and studied Kathleen’s stepmother with polite disdain. The normally unflappable Helen flushed pink under that silent scrutiny.

“I do have a great deal of experience, as does my husband,” Gillian finally said, “and he wishes to help. We’re very fond of Kathleen.”

“Your assistance would be most welcome,” said Papa, flashing Helen a warning glance. “I’m sure my wife agrees.”

Helen fussed with her skirts before as she resumed her seat. “I beg your pardon if I conveyed a different impression, Your Grace.”

Gillian climbed off her high horse. “I’m sure you both wish me straight to perdition.” She shifted her gaze to Kathleen. “Not the best timing on your part, dearest. You could scupper your brother’s engagement.”

“Yes, I . . . I’m afraid I neglected to think about that,” Kathleen said. Truthfully, she’d not really thought about anything but having a jolly little lark.

Gillian patted her arm. “A tip for the future, dearest. Avoid scandals that bring others down with you. That way, if the whole thing blows up in your face, no one else gets hurt.”

“Did that work for you?” Kathleen asked.

“Not according to my husband. Fortunately, my scandalous days are over.” She tilted her head. “I believe it’s time for yours to be over, too.”

“We can all agree on that,” Helen said.

Kathleen suspected she had a few scandals left in her future but tried to look contrite.

“Your Grace, how did your husband respond to Mr. Carling’s accusations?” Papa asked.

“He told Carling to keep such rank speculations about Kathleen to himself. As Charles pointed out, his son and his dreary little friend can hardly be considered reliable witnesses, given that they were exceedingly drunk. Charles will also find a way to quietly relay that message to Lord Bevington. My husband will manage that piece of the puzzle, never fear.”

“Then I won’t have to leave town, after all?” Kathleen cautiously asked.

Not that she’d mind escaping London, but she’d probably end up with one of Helen’s dreadful relatives. They all seemed to live in damp manor houses in Yorkshire, with bad chimneys and worse plumbing.

“Oh, you’ll certainly have to leave,” Gillian said. “Can’t have the perpetrator hanging about as a reminder of the original crime.”

“No one will suspect a thing, I promise,” Kathleen replied. “I will fade into the woodwork like the biggest wallflower you’ve ever seen.”

“On the contrary, people will absolutely suspect a thing. Besides, you’re impossible not to notice.” Gillian flashed a smile. “It’s one of the reasons I like you.”

“I’m glad someone does,” Kathleen muttered.

“Chin up, old girl.” Gillian turned to Helen. “I’m assuming you have somewhere specific in mind?”

“I do. She should spend the winter in Scotland, with her cousin Sabrina.”

Kathleen practically fell out of her chair. The Scottish Highlands, in winter? That was worse than Yorkshire. Even with Sabrina there.

Gillian nodded. “Excellent.”

Kathleen gasped. “It’s not excellent, it’s horrifying. I’d rather go to Newgate than to the Highlands for the entire blasted winter. It’s the bloody back of beyond.”

“Kathleen, such language!” Papa exclaimed. “Besides, you love your cousin Sabrina.”

“Yes, but—”

“Since Sabrina had a baby only a few months ago,” Helen interjected, “she’ll be delighted to have Kathleen’s company. How she bears the isolation of Lochnagar Manor is beyond comprehension. But it is, thankfully, well suited to our needs.”

The middle of nowhere, with babies.

Babies terrified Kathleen. She was always afraid she’d do something horrible, like drop them on their soft little heads.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “I’m not going there.”

Helen ignored her. “Because Sabrina’s character is beyond reproach, she can help Kathleen recover what little reputation she’ll have left after this incident. And a long stay is certainly preferable, given the extent of the damage.”

When she was ten, Kathleen had once coaxed her brother into a pretend boxing match. It had been great fun until Richard accidentally punched her in the stomach. She’d collapsed to the ground, wheezing, and felt the very same sensation now. The fact that neither Gillian nor Papa refuted Helen’s harsh assessment of her reputation made the impact that much worse.

“I understand I must go somewhere,” she blurted out. “But Sabrina has enough to manage without me hanging about like a noxious smell.”

Sabrina’s letters clearly illustrated that she was happy but also had her hands full with the duties of wife, mother, and mistress of a busy estate.

Gillian darted a sideways glance at Kathleen before smiling at her parents. “Lord and Lady Gorey, I’d like to speak with Kathleen alone now.”

Helen went from bristly to imperious. “The decision has been made, Your Grace, so I see nothing left to say.”

“Really? Because I have several things I still wish to say,” Gillian said just as imperiously.

“Of course, Your Grace,” Papa hastily said, jumping up and all but hauling his wife to her feet. “Just ring the bell when you wish us to return.”

He ushered Helen—who objected the whole way—out of the room.

Kathleen wilted against the sofa cushions. Her head throbbing, she was in dire need of coffee.
Or brandy. But she’d have to hide the glass, or Helen would have a fit.

“How do you put up with her?” asked Gillian. “I’d stab her after a day.”

If even half the stories about Gillian were true, that was not an idle threat.

“You certainly put Helen in her place, so fortunately no stabbing necessary.”

“My husband has taught me that words, or even looks, are often a more effective weapon than, well, weapons. Not that I don’t carry a knife at all times. You’d be surprised how often a good blade is just the thing.”

Kathleen burst into laughter, largely from nerves. It felt good after her ghastly morning.

“That’s better,” said Gillian, quirking a smile. “Now, shall we get down to hard facts? Because I think we must.”

Kathleen’s spurt of amusement faded. “It’s truly bad, isn’t it?”

“Yes, thanks to bacon-brained Philip Carling and his dreadful mamma. Even Charles won’t be able to keep that nasty old tabby down for long.”

Kathleen propped her aching head in her palm. “I don’t really even know why I did it. It was so stupid.”

“You were bored, I expect. I understand perfectly.”

“You’re probably the only one.”

“So, did you win?”

“Of course. Denny was in a complete snit about it.”

Gillian laughed. “At least there’s that. But we do need to get you out of town.”

“Fine, but not Scotland. While I love Sabrina, spending the entire winter in some frigid corner of the Highlands . . .” She shuddered just thinking about it.

If only she could get back to Ireland, with its lovely soft air, misty green fields, and the quiet beauty of Greystone Court.

“But Sabrina’s a pip,” Gillian said, “and her husband is anything but boring. He’s a Kendrick, after all.”

“I’m sure I’d be in the way. They’re still practically newlyweds. I’d be a . . . a . . .”

“Spare wheel?”

Most of Kathleen’s cousins and friends were now married and settled into their lives as young society matrons. Oh, she’d had suitors, but nothing had ever stuck. Not that she had a burning desire to wed. She’d take Ireland over a husband any day.

“I have a suggestion that might make the prospect more palatable, and still please your parents,” Gillian added.

Kathleen tilted a sceptical eyebrow.

Her friend smiled. “You’re still going to Scotland, but you’re going with me.”

Now that was a surprise. “Um, why?”

“As you know, Victoria Kendrick, Countess of Arnprior, is Sabrina’s sister-in-law and my cousin. Vicky is the only one in my family of royal by-blows that I have yet to meet in person. I very much wish to remedy that.”

Kathleen hesitated. “Would the duke and your children also be going on this trip?”

Gillian wrinkled her nose. “Charles has convinced me that it would be a ridiculously complicated venture with two small children. But I’d been thinking about a trip to Glasgow for some time. It’s a happy coincidence that your gruesome stepmother came up with much the same plan as Charles and I did.”

“But the duke cannot wish you to be gone for such a spell. And what about your children?”

“Charles is an excellent father, and we’ll all survive a short separation just fine. Stop trying to come up with excuses, Kath.”

Kathleen sighed. “Glasgow sounds fine, but once you return home, it’s off to the bloody Highlands for me.”

“Your stepmother will probably have forgotten all about you by then, and I’m sure Vicky will be delighted for you to stay in Glasgow for as long as you wish.”

“I hope so.” It sounded terribly uncertain, but Kathleen supposed she didn’t have a better option. And spending time with Gillian was better than what Helen might otherwise decree by a league.

Her friend rose. “Then it’s settled. I’ll make all the arrangements. You simply need to pack and be ready to depart first thing in the morning.”

Kathleen stood, dredging up a smile. “Thank you. Truly.”

Gillian gave her a sympathetic hug. “We’ll have great fun, you’ll see.”

“As long as I stay out of trouble.”

If anything went wrong, Kathleen was fairly sure she’d spend the rest of her life in a corner of Scotland barely on the map.

“Once you’re out of town, the gossip will die down and people will soon forget what happened. With a little luck, you might even be home by Christmas.”


Kathleen had the feeling her luck had run out—permanently.

The Highlander's Irish Bride'

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