The Highlander’s Kilted Bride

The Highlander’s Kilted Bride

Clan Kendrick Book Six
Kensington Books
August 2023

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The youngest brother in Clan Kendrick has become a charismatic force in his own right—especially when the perfect woman gallops into his life—in the latest novel in USA Today bestselling author Vanessa Kelly’s sparkling Scottish Regency series.

Charlotte “Charlie” Stewart would rather don a kilt and ride her horse than simper in a ballroom. But with her younger sister about to be wed, she can’t escape the pressure to be next. A husband has been chosen, and Charlie’s fate seems set. Until an afternoon gallop sends her horse colliding with Kade Kendrick, the broad-shouldered Highlander who was once her childhood pal . . .

As a youth, Kade felt overshadowed by his older siblings. Now he’s a renowned musician whose fame provides cover for his other work—as a spy. Home from his latest mission, he’s annoyed to be roped into attending the wedding of a family friend—until it reunites him with the fearless tomboy who has become a breathtaking beauty. And though his thoughts should be on a new concerto, Kade is soon distracted by rival suitors, a dangerous quest—and the unconventional woman who fills his soul with music and his body with desire . . .

Barnes & Noble Top 50 in Mass Market

“With the latest engaging Kendrick love story, Kelly offers readers an artfully composed plot generously spiced with intriguing notes of danger as well as an abundance of simmering sexual chemistry that slowly crescendos into full-blown passion between the novel’s refreshingly unconventional pair of protagonists.” ~Booklist”

“Kelly adores her garrulous characters, and scenes roll on with pages of merry banter as characters one-up each other in wit. A plot engages when an heirloom brooch turns up missing, but Kade handily proves his worth and wins his lady. If modest in tension, the book is big in heart. Fans of Kelly’s Highland Regencies will enjoy spending more time with the boisterous Kendricks, especially crafty Angus.” ~Historical Novel Society

“This witty, adventure-filled romp is perfect for fans of Scottish romances!” ~BookBub (New Historical Romances to Make You Swoon)

“This was a fun read with a mystery woven into the romance. Kade and Charlie are very well-matched and have a wonderful chemistry…this was a very good read and I would happily recommend it.” ~4 stars, Flippin’ Pages Book Reviews

“This is a fun and entertaining addition to the Clan Kendrick series…Kade and Charlie have a lovely romance.” ~One Book More

“Kade & Charlie…were easy to love and root for. I enjoyed this book so much!” ~4.5 stars, Carey’s Reviews

“Wit, humor, mystery, and romance: all this makes for a cheerful and uplifting romance set in the Scottish Highlands.” ~Subakka.bookstuff

“With family drama, intrigue, and a peppering of smoldering kisses, this beautiful book has epically captured me. I loved every single moment of this unputdownable series conclusion, which had me smiling from its very first page.” ~5 stars, Michelle_the_pa_loves_to_read

“The Highlander’s Kilted Bride not only offers another fun, swoony, heartfelt highlander romance but also a fond farewell to a much loved family. It has my enthusiastic recommendation.” ~5 stars, The Romance Dish

“This book and series is absolutely magnificent…I absolutely recommend this book to everyone!” ~5 stars, Tartan Book Reviews.

“I give The Highlander’s Kilted Bride a five out of five. This is the first book that I’ve read from this author and even though this is the latest book in this series, it can easily be read as a stand alone and not lose anything in understanding. The author’s writing isn’t bogged down in historical speech or overly descriptive sections, which made this flow very smoothly. The storylines were woven together nicely with entertaining and comedic events and romantic moments spread throughout.” ~Bewitched Bookworms

“This is a lively read with delightful characters in a gorgeous setting. What more could one ask for a book to while away a few hours to take you away from all the ugh that is today’s news? Beautiful people, a little conflict, someone to hate and lots to love. Head on out to get your copy!” ~4.5 stars, Book, Cooks, Looks

“I enjoyed the character dynamics and was delighted to see a strong FMC prevail..this was my first of the series, but I definitely see myself picking up the lot.” ~booksimperfectcondition

“Just like the other two books I’ve read in the series, this one was just as swoon worthy and filled with laugh out loud moments…this unconventional couple simply works in this romance.” ~shopcoffeekids

“It’s a grand adventure through the Highlands with a duo that make a bold statement about life, happiness, and love by pursuing it their way. A wonderful addition to your reading list, and the perfect way to usher in the autumn season.” ~Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

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


Inveraray Castle
Summer, 1814

When an eagle cried overhead, Kade Kendrick glanced up from his book. The magnificent bird drifted, held aloft by the invisible eddies of the summer breeze off Loch Fyne. The scent of roses and lilacs filled the air, along with the crispness of recently mown grass. The gardens behind the castle shimmered with color in the bright summer sunlight. The lovely afternoon had beckoned Kade to slip away to read and he’d found the perfect place in a secluded nook under a stand of oak trees.

After the incessant fog and drizzle of the last three days that had confined most of the guests to the castle, the sunshine was a welcoming gift. In Kade’s experience, clan gatherings were loud and rambunctious affairs, best held outdoors. At this one, Campbells had been cooped up with MacDonalds, Kendricks, and other bits and bobs of clan families invited to the Duke of Argyll’s gathering.

Not everyone got along, as last night’s argument between Kade’s grandfather and Lord Kinloch had demonstrated. Grandda was a MacDonald, as was the wife of Lord Kinloch. But that kinship tie hadn’t stopped them from brangling at earsplitting volumes. The argument had been about some fusty old battle and the role of Clan MacDonald. Grandda had taken offense over some minor detail and had ended up challenging Lord Kinloch to a duel. The Duke of Argyll, along with Kade’s oldest brother, Nick, had been forced to intervene. The combatants had been separated and had then received a stern lecture from the duke, resulting in an uneasy peace.

The peace hadn’t lasted. Two hours later, the twins—Kade’s older brothers—had accidentally set a small outbuilding on fire when they’d tried to produce homemade fireworks. Poor Nick had rather blown his top over that one, especially after Grandda had defended the twins. Even the duke’s patience had run out, and the twins and Grandda had been banished to their bedrooms for the rest of the evening.

Kade loved his family, and they usually made him laugh with their antics. But this time it was all rather embarrassing.

He returned his attention to his book. At least he wouldn’t cause Nick any trouble. Still, his brother worried about him all the time. Everybody worried about him, mainly because he was sick so much, which sent everyone into a tizzy. Fortunately, he was so much better these last few months, which was the only reason Nick had let him come to the clan gathering.

Now Kade wished he’d stayed home at Castle Kinglas, where he could have studied in quiet and practiced his music. But Grandda had thought it would be a grand treat for him to spend time with the clans instead of holing himself up in the castle’s quiet schoolroom with a bunch of moldy old books, as his grandfather called them.

“Ye might learn somethin’ aboot being a proper Highlander, laddie,” Grandda had said. “Instead of pokin’ about on that piano and playing ditties by all those bloody Sassenachs and foreigners.”

When Kade had pointed out that he was studying the great Mozart, Grandda had scoffed that Germans were as bad as Sassenachs. He’d also waved off Kade’s attempt to explain that Mozart had been born in Salzburg, not Germany.

“Clan gatherings are stupid,” Kade muttered as he refocused on his book.

He started to slip once more into the history of music as the peace of the garden settled around him. But then quick footsteps scrunched on the gravel path. Someone was coming his way—probably a maid sent to tell him to come inside and get ready for dinner. Or maybe it was just another guest out for a stroll in the gardens.

He hoped if he kept his head stuck firmly in his book, the guest would leave him alone.

“There you are,” said a girlish voice. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Resigned, he looked up to see little Charlotte Stewart standing a few feet away, fists propped on her kilted hips. The daughter of Lord and Lady Kinloch actually wasn’t that little, since at eleven she was only two years younger than Kade.

Charlotte, something of a scrapper, was not like any girl he’d ever met. She wore kilts, for one thing, and never seemed to care about her appearance. Today, she had on a short jacket over her kilt and a pair of scuffed riding boots on her feet. Her shiny gold hair was pulled back in a messy knot, and there was a smudge of dirt on her jacket. She’d probably been out riding—or maybe mucking about in the stables. Charlotte loved horses and had even gone riding with the twins. Kade’s brothers had said she was a regular corker, taking every hedge without a smidge of doubt or fear.

She also drove her mother mad with her boyish ways, and Lady Kinloch seemed to deliver scolds to Charlotte on a regular basis.

“Why were you looking for me?” he asked.

Charlotte plopped down beside him on the wrought iron bench. “Because I wanted to talk to you. Why are you hiding out here? What if you fell down and hurt yourself? No one would be able to find you. Except for me, of course. I always find what I’m looking for.”

That was another thing about Charlotte. She liked to talk. He didn’t really mind. Sometimes he thought she was a bit lonely, even though she was always tumbling from one adventure to the next.

“I’m hardly likely to fall while just sitting on a bench,” he replied. “I’m not that clumsy.”

“Of course you’re not clumsy. It’s just that . . .” She trailed off.

Kade stifled a sigh. “It’s just that I’m rather sickly? I know everyone worries about me, but I’m quite well. Really.”

“Of course you are,” she stoutly said. “It’s just, well, you know. People worry over the stupidest things.”

In his case, worrying wasn’t so stupid. He’d almost died from fever when he was younger and had been sickly ever since. He did think he was getting better, though. At least he hoped so.

“I know my family worries about me,” he admitted. “I hate it.”

She scrunched up her nose in sympathy. “It’s because they love you, of course. So that’s not such a bad thing, is it? I think it’s rather nice, to tell you the truth. No one ever worries about me.”

“That’s because you’re indomitable.”

Charlotte looked puzzled. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means you’re fearless.”

She seemed to ponder that as she absently plucked a piece of straw off her sleeve. “That’s nice, too, I suppose.”

They both fell silent as a pair of songbirds flitted in the branches of the oak tree above, warbling a cheerful song.

“Why aren’t you out playing or riding with the others?” he finally asked.

“The Campbell boys, you mean? Because they’re boring.”

“You’ve been knocking about with them since you got here, though.”

“It’s better than being cooped up inside that gloomy castle. I’d rather be out in the rain than have to listen to Mamma scold all day.”

Kade grinned. “She does scold a lot, doesn’t she?”

She comically crossed her eyes. “Rather. Which is also boring.”

“I’m quite boring, too, Charlotte. All I do is sit and read books, and you like to . . .” He waved a vague hand. “Do things.”

“Please call me Charlie. Everyone else does. Except for Mamma and Melissa, my little sister.”

He tilted his head to study her. “I heard some of the boys call you Charlie. I thought it was a joke.”

“My father started calling me that long ago, and it just stuck. He wanted a boy but got me instead.”

Kade frowned. “That’s odd. You do have a brother, don’t you?”

“Johnny didn’t come along for several years after me and Melissa. Anyway, the name doesn’t bother me, since I don’t much like girl things. It’s more fun to be with Papa. He even lets me go with him when he visits his tenant farmers and such. And I like spending time in the stables, learning everything I can about horses. They’re fun.”

“The Campbell boys seem like more fun than me,” he carefully said.

She emphatically shook her head. “No, they’re very dull compared to you. You’re smart and you’re nice. I’m not sure that Richard and Andrew are really very nice.”

Kade felt a warm glow in the center of his chest. Not that her praise really mattered, of course. Once the gathering was over, he had no idea when he might see her again. But if only for a few days it was nice to have a friend, someone other than one of his brothers or the Kinglas servants, who watched over him with an eagle eye.

Charlotte wasn’t the sort to make a fuss, and he found that refreshing.

Kade smiled at her. “Thank you. And I agree that Andrew Campbell doesn’t seem very nice.” Andrew was the oldest brother. “Richard seems all right, though.”

She shrugged. “I suppose. But he’s . . .”


Charlie flashed a smirk and then leaned over and tapped the open pages of his book. “What are you reading?”

“It’s a history about opera. I found it in the duke’s library, and he was kind enough to let me borrow it. It’s a bit dry, I’m afraid. I’m not sure you’d find it very interesting.”

He had found it so interesting that he’d stayed up half the night reading it. But he doubted Charlie would be able to sit quietly to discuss the differences between Handel and Gluck. She was so restless and full of energy that Kade could almost imagine lightning shooting from her fingertips.

She twisted sideways to face him, and her chestnut brown eyes fastened earnestly on his face. The first time he’d met Charlie, he’d been struck by the color of her eyes because they were such an unexpected contrast with her golden hair.

“I think I would, though,” she replied. “I love music, but I really only know the old Highland reels and jigs. Mamma never plays anymore—she says married ladies never do—and Melissa wants to learn the harp.” She rolled her eyes. “I think the harp is stupid. Only girls want to play the harp, because then boys will think they’re like angels or something dumb like that. But it’s not nearly as nice as the piano or the fiddle, if you ask me.”

He smiled at her artless chatter. “I have to agree with you, because I play both the piano and the violin.”

“I know. I heard you playing the fiddle in the east drawing room the other day. You’re so good. I wish I could be play something that well.” She screwed up her mouth for a moment, as if pondering. “Yes, the fiddle. I’d quite like to play that.”

“If you want to play the violin, er, fiddle, why don’t you?” he asked.

“Girls don’t usually play the fiddle, do they?” she replied in a dubious tone.

He smiled. “You don’t seem like someone who would be put off by such a thing. Is there anyone in your village who could teach you?”

She sat up straight, her gaze brightening with eagerness. “Yes, actually. Our vicar plays the fiddle, and he’s very good, too.”

“So ask him to give you lessons.”

Charlie seemed to deflate a bit. “Mamma wouldn’t like it. She doesn’t want me doing anything girls aren’t supposed to do.”

Kade grimaced in sympathy. Despite her rough-and-tumble exterior, Charlie was terribly sweet. And he’d bet a bob that she actually was lonely, stuck between two worlds.

“Then why don’t you ask your father? I bet he’d say yes.”

She waggled a hand. “It depends on how much he wants to avoid annoying Mamma.”

“Nick didn’t want me to play the piano, at least not at first. He thought it would wear me out. But I knew it would make me better, so I just kept asking until he finally gave in. So maybe you should keep asking your father until he finally says yes.”

She studied him, her head cocking in that funny little tilt he was beginning to recognize. For some reason, it made him want to smile.

“And did it make you better?”

He nodded. “When I play, I forget about being sick, and I always feel better afterward.”

Charlie flashed him a cheeky grin. “Then I will ask Papa, although I won’t tell him it was you who suggested it. He’s still mad at your grandfather, so—”

Loud, scuffling footsteps interrupted her. They both looked up to see the Campbell brothers pelting toward them, kicking up gravel from the path in their wake.

Kade mentally groaned. While he didn’t mind Richard, Andrew was a different story. Although only a year older than Kade, he was half a head taller and very athletic. He excelled at sports and seemed to dominate most of the games the boys played.

And he was a bully.

“Oh, thunderbolts,” Charlie muttered.

“There you are,” breathlessly exclaimed Richard as the brothers skidded to a halt in front of them. “We’ve been looking for you. Don’t you want to go riding with us? It’s a sunny day, so for once we won’t get all muddy.”

His big brother shoved him. “Charlie doesn’t mind mud. She’s a regular goer.” He fixed his gaze on her. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” she replied. “Although I don’t know why you had to shove Richard to make that point.”

Andrew shrugged. “Because he was whining.”

“I was not,” Richard said as he rubbed his arm. “And you didn’t have to shove me so hard. That hurt.”

“Baby,” Andrew sneered.

“I’ll go riding with you, Richard,” Charlie said, pointedly ignoring Andrew. “I’ll meet you in the stables in a half hour. I want to finish talking to Kade first.”

Andrew snorted. “What’s there to talk about with him, besides books or that stupid piano he’s always playing? That’s so boring.”

Charlie’s narrow shoulders lifted in a casual shrug. “He’s not what’s boring me at the moment.”

Kade bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

Andrew glared at her for a moment and then shifted his gaze to Kade. A nasty smirk spread over his features.

“Or we could go listen to Kade’s grandfather while he bangs on about some stupid battle. It would be boring, but he’s such a fusty old quiz that a fellow can’t help but laugh. Everyone does, you know. Laugh at him, I mean. Really, how do you all put up with him?”

Anger flared in Kade’s chest. Andrew was trying to bait him, but he refused to fall into that trap.

“My brothers and I love and respect our grandfather,” he calmly replied. “After my mother died, he helped raise us, especially me. Besides, he knows a lot about Scottish and clan history, and that’s important.”

Andrew snorted. “Clan history is only good for old coots stuck in the past. Nobody cares about that anymore.”

“I wouldn’t let the duke hear you say something so stupid,” Charlie put in. “After all, he is the chief of Clan Campbell, and you’re a Campbell.”

“She’s right, Andy,” Richard said. “Papa said we have to show the proper respect to the duke, remember?”

Andrew gave his brother another shove. “Who asked you, anyway?”

Richard glared at him but was clearly unwilling to stand up to his bully of a brother. Not for the first time, Kade sent up a prayer of thanks for his brothers. Some of them might be rambunctious, but they all had the kindest of hearts.

Andrew switched his attention back to Charlie. “Well, are you coming riding, or not? If you don’t come right now it’ll be too late. We have to be back in time to change for dinner.”

“I don’t,” Charlie replied. “I’m still too young to have dinner with the adults, remember?”

“I wish I was,” Kade wryly said. “They’re awfully long affairs. I’d much rather have dinner with you and the other children.”

“That’s because you’re an idiot,” Andrew contemptuously said.

Charlie jabbed a finger at him. “That’s an incredibly mean thing to say.”

“Who cares?” Andrew replied. “It’s just stupid Kade. All he does is sit around and read books.” Then he grabbed Charlie’s arm and hauled her to her feet. “Now come along before it gets too late.”

“Let go,” Charlie snapped as she tried to yank her arm from his grip.

“No,” Andrew replied as he began to try to drag her away.

But Charlie dug in her heels. She was a slip of a thing, but she was stronger than she looked. Still, seeing that bully trying to force her made Kade’s insides twist with fury.

If there was one thing a Kendrick hated more than anything, it was a bully.

He put aside his book and jumped to his feet. “Let her go, Andrew. Charlie will come if she wants to, not when you demand it.”

“And I suppose you’re going to make me, are you?” Andrew sneered.

Kade took Charlie’s free hand, and she threaded her fingers through his, holding tight.

“If I have to, yes, I will,” Kade replied.

The big bully snorted—much like a pig—but then let Charlie go.

Kade nodded. “Thank you—”

Instantly, Andrew came at him and shoved him hard in the chest. Kade went flying onto the wrought iron bench, banging his hip on the edge. Though pain shot through his body, he refused to cry out.

Even worse than the pain was the stunned look on Charlie’s face.

“I say, Andy,” exclaimed Richard. “No need to hurt the poor fellow. He’s not very well, you know.”

“I’m fine,” Kade gritted out as he struggled to right himself.

“Here, let me help you,” Charlie said, offering him a supporting arm.

Kade felt a humiliating heat flare into his face. Being shoved was bad enough, but did she think he was so weak that he needed her help to get to his feet?

He shook his head and stood. Nobody pushed a Kendrick around and got away with it. Kade knew that one should never back down from a bully, no matter the consequences.

He stepped into Andrew’s path and narrowed his gaze on his stupid, smirking face. He tried to put ice into his expression, like he’d seen Nick do a thousand times to bounders and fools. Nick was famous for intimidating people with his cold, calm stare, and Kade hoped he’d inherited that talent.

Amazingly, Andrew blinked, as if genuinely taken aback. He peered at Kade, seeming unsure what to do. For a delirious moment, Kade thought he might actually apologize.

Then the big bully let out an ugly laugh. “Bugger you, Kendrick. And get out of my way before I knock your stupid block off.”

“No, bugger you,” Charlie retorted.

Quick as a flash, she threw a sharp punch that caught Andrew right on the nose. The boy let out a muffled shriek and staggered back as he clapped a hand over his face.

“You hit me,” he exclaimed.

Charlie grimaced a bit and shook out her hand. “And I’ll do it again if you don’t leave us alone.”

Then she turned to Richard, who was gaping at her.

“Richard, please take your brother back to the house. His nose is bleeding.”

Blood leaked out from between Andrew’s fingers as he cradled his nose. The rest of his face was almost as red, mottled with fury, as he glared at Charlie.

“How d . . . dare you hit me!” he blustered.

She shrugged. “You deserved it.”

The boy took a step forward, but Richard finally intervened.

“Stop it,” he snapped, grabbing Andrew’s arm. “You’ve caused enough trouble for one day. Let’s just get back to the house before you bleed all over yourself.”

As Richard dragged him away, Andrew threw an angry glance over his shoulder.

“I’ll get you for this,” he yelled at Charlie.

“I doubt it,” she called back. Then she turned to Kade, a concerned expression on her elfin features. “Are you all right?”

He stared at her for a moment. “I’m fine. Are you?”

“My hand’s a little sore. I’ll ice it when we get to the house.”

Kade let out a disbelieving laugh. “Really?”

Charlie rolled her eyes. “He’s not the first boy I’ve hit, and he probably won’t be the last.” Then she looked vaguely alarmed. “You don’t mind, do you? Did you want to hit him first?”

“I did, rather, but I suspect you’re better at it than I am.”

“I’ve probably had more practice.”

Then she plunked back down on the bench and picked up the book. “Now, where were we? You were going to tell me about your book.” She glanced at the page. “Gluck. He wrote some famous operas, didn’t he? I’ve never heard an opera. I’d quite like to, one day.”

Kade sank down next to her, letting her sweet, girlish voice flow over him. He should be embarrassed that he hadn’t acted quickly enough to defend himself, forcing her to step in. But he wasn’t. Charlie obviously didn’t see him as either or weak or an invalid, unable to stand up to a bully. She simply saw him as . . . a friend.

And that was splendid.

Chapter One

Castle Kinglas, Scotland
July 1828

Kade sighed as he met the Earl of Arnprior’s flinty gaze. A verbal trouncing from big brother was in the offing, and he had only himself to blame since he was the idiot who’d got himself stabbed in the first place.

Nick stood behind his imposing desk in the equally imposing library of Kinglas. He continued to glower at Kade, seated opposite him in one of the leather club chairs.

“Was it really necessary for you to sleep with a Russian spy in order to complete your mission?” his brother demanded. “Good God, lad. What were you thinking to put yourself in harm’s way like that?”


Though Kade was twenty-seven and had been touring the Continent by himself for years, to Nick and the rest of the Kendricks he would always be the baby of the family who needed more protection than the rest.

He pretended to ponder the question. “Hmm, let me see. Oh, right. I was thinking that I needed to get close to Marina to complete the mission mandated by the British Crown.”

Royal, lounging in the chair next to him, smirked. “Very close, apparently.”

Kade flashed his other brother a dirty look. Royal had been holding in laughter as Kade patiently explained to Nick the reasons for his sudden return home this morning. He had been hoping for at least one day of rest, but Nick had immediately marched him off to the library for the requisite interrogation and resulting lecture.

The Kendrick brothers were used to lectures from Nick, having all required course corrections over the years. All but Kade. He’d never been called onto the proverbial carpet in front of Nick’s desk or had to escape out a window to avoid a thundering scold. He’d always been the perfect Kendrick, the one who never raised a ruckus.

“I thought you were on my side,” Kade said to Royal.

“I’m always on your side, even when you do something stupid, which is admittedly very rare in your case.” Royal placed a hand on his chest and looked soulful. “Oh, how times have changed. Now our wee lad is seducing opera singers and Russian spies.”

“The opera singer was also the Russian spy,” Kade retorted. “Besides, this was for king and country, and it was a necessary part of my job.”

“And look how well it turned out,” Nick sardonically said. “As for this spy business, which none of us even knew about until a few days ago, we will discuss that in a minute. What I want to know is how you could decide to take on such a dangerous mission without help from us? What if you’d been seriously injured, or even—”


Nick clamped his lips shut, clearly distressed. That had Kade squirming with guilt. Life had been good for the Kendrick men for many years. Grand marriages to lovely lasses, lots of bairns, and thriving businesses to keep them all busy. True, there was the occasional kidnapping or smuggling ring to deal with, but for the most part they’d all been blessed.

But farther back in the past, their lives had often been tragic and hard, leaving emotional wounds on all of them but especially on Nick. Yet Kade hadn’t been thinking of any of that when he’d agreed to take on the occasional intelligence mission for the Crown. He’d seen it only as an exciting diversion from the intensity of his life as musician and concert pianist.

A wave of weariness suddenly swamped him. The last few weeks had been taxing. His mission had ended with a narrow escape from Paris, a grim dash to the coast, a rough crossing to Edinburgh, and then a long carriage ride to Kinglas.

He grimaced in apology to Nick. “I’m sorry I worried you. It’s nothing more than a scratch, I promise.”

Kade wasn’t about to admit that it was only by the greatest of luck that he’d been able to roll out of the way quickly enough to avoid a shiv penetrating between the ribs. As it was, the blade had skittered down his back, saving him from a devastating injury.

While seducing Marina was not the soundest of plans, he’d been convinced that her notebook was hidden in the bedroom of her lavish hotel suite. That notebook contained the names of some very important men she was blackmailing on Russia’s behalf, including two high-ranking British officials. Acquiring it had been a high priority.

Meeting Marina hadn’t been a problem, since both she and Kade were performing at the Paris Opera. The enchanting soprano had seemed eager to spend time with him, but somewhere along the way she’d deduced his plan. So while he was busy convincing himself that his seduction was progressing well—not to mention pleasurably—Marina had been planning his demise.

“It was more than a scratch, according to Aden,” Nick replied. “And his letter clearly stated that you were lucky to escape without additional injury.”

Aden St. George was Chief of Intelligence at the Home Office. He was also half-brother to Nick’s wife, which made him family and thus less likely to withhold details when writing to Nick.

Kade shifted in his chair to ease the pressure on his still-healing wound. “It really wasn’t that bad. Fortunately, Marina was unable to pursue me, because she was…”

“Naked?” Royal sardonically finished for him.

Kade sighed. “I had only taken off my shirt, so good for me. I easily made my escape.”

He had no intention of revealing that Marina had also pulled a pistol from her nightstand and got off a shot as he pelted out of the room, boots and shirt in hand. He could only hope Aden had left that detail out of his letter.

Nick finally sank down into his chair. “Good God, what a cock-up.”

“At least until she pulled out the knife,” Kade joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Nick scowled at him, while Royal simply shook his head with disapproval.

“Look,” Kade protested, “the mission was vital. Besides, Marina is a talented and well-regarded soprano. I thought she was simply passing along useful information to her government. How was I to know she would leap on me like a deranged assassin?”

“Aye, and let that be a lesson to ye,” Angus suddenly piped in. “No good can come of larkin’ about with Frenchies, and an opera singer to boot. What were ye thinkin’, lad, to be tricked by such a one as that?”

Their grandfather had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the entire discussion—so much so that Kade had forgotten he was in the room.

Angus was settled near the fireplace in his favorite wingback chair, looking predictably disreputable in his scuffed boots and tatty old kilt. With his wrinkled features and puffball white hair, he was beginning to resemble a Highland version of Methuselah, benignly smoking his pipe.

But Grandda’s blue gaze still held a sharpness that belied his age. He’d insisted on coming along for the interrogation. Ever since Kade was a wee lad, Grandda had watched over him like a she-wolf with a lone pup, and he obviously had no intention of relinquishing the post now.

“Marina is Russian not French,” Kade said. “And she tricked me because she was a very good spy.”

“Fah.” Angus stood and started to drag his chair over to the desk, scattering ashes from his pipe in his wake.

Kade jumped up, wincing at the pull to his healing wound. “Grandda, let me get that for you.”

“I dinna need ye treatin’ me like I’m an invalid. That would be ye, and I’ll nae have ye hurtin’ yerself more than ye already are.” Angus thumped his chair down beside him. “Anyway, Russian, French, they’re all the same, and not for ye to be larkin’ aboot with.”

“I was not larking.”

“Still, one does not expect an acclaimed pianist to engage in nefarious doings. And that’s especially when that pianist is a Kendrick,” Nick said.

“I’m hardly the first spy in this family,” Kade pointed out. “And may I remind you that I’m the victim. Marina stabbed me, not the other way around.”

Angus puffed vigorously on his pipe, sending smoke billowing over Kade. “Like I said, that’s what ye get for larkin’ aboot with French opera singers.”


Kade waved a hand in front of his face. “I’m supposed to be recuperating, not getting asphyxiated.”

Angus ignored his protest. “I canna think that Vicky will be best pleased to hear of this. Yer her favorite, ye ken, and still her wee innocent laddie.”

Victoria, Countess of Arnprior, was Kade’s former governess, and had arrived in his life when both his physical and emotional state had been precarious. She’d quickly become more than a teacher, loving and protecting him with a fierce loyalty. The day she’d gone from governess to Nick’s wife had been joyful for all of them, but she and Kade had always held a special bond.

Now, Kade did not relish the prospect of facing his sister-in-law. Vicky had been down in the village this morning and so had missed his arrival.

“I’m actually her favorite, ye ken,” Nick dryly said. “But your point is well taken, Grandda. Victoria does not need to know the specific details of this unfortunate affair.”

Royal waggled his eyebrows. “Emphasis on affair.”

“You’re a tremendous help,” Kade sarcastically replied.

“And she will hear nothing salacious,” Nick sternly ordered. “Victoria is distressed enough by the fact that you received a near-fatal wound under somewhat murky circumstances.”

Kade waved a dismissive hand. “The wound was only mildly infected. Braden took care of it as soon as I returned to Edinburgh.”

Unfortunately, his minor infection had grown worse during his travels to Scotland. His brother—a ruthlessly efficient physician—had cleaned the wound and poured noxious potions down Kade’s throat, all while delivering stern lectures on the idiocy of musicians pretending to be spies. Kade was closer to Braden than anyone in the world, but he’d been more than a little relieved when he’d finally been released from his brother’s care.

“Braden wrote that you suffered from several days of fever,” Nick said.

Kade shrugged. “I’m perfectly fine now, so no harm done.”

Nick shook his head. “You cannot blame us for feeling anxious, Kade. You and fevers have never had a good history.”

“Aye, that,” Royal quietly added. “We’d never recover if we lost you, lad.”

And there it was, the Kendrick specialty. Anxiety and love combined to tremendous effect, producing the maximum of guilt in the intended recipient.

“I haven’t been sick in years,” Kade replied. “And, again, can we please keep explanations as brief as possible for Vicky?”

Nick gave a brisk nod of approval. “Victoria doesn’t need to know the sordid details, especially in her delicate condition.”

Kade perked up. “Vicky’s with child again? That’s splendid news, Nick. Congratulations to you both.”

His brother finally cracked a smile. “Thank you. But she needs calm and rest, Kade, not hair raising tales of your adventures.”

Angus waved his pipe, spilling ash onto the carpet. “Och, Vicky is as strong as an ox. There’s nae need to fuss, lad.”

“Still,” Nick replied, “I will not have Victoria upset by this ridiculous—”

“Victoria already knows everything, including Kade’s adventures with opera singers,” said a stern voice from behind them.

Oh, hell.

Kade rose and turned around. His sister-in-law stood in the doorway, still garbed in her pelisse and bonnet, looking moments away from marching up and boxing his ears. But despite her thunderous scowl, he couldn’t help smiling.

“Hullo, you,” he said. “I hear congratulations are in order. The other bairns must be delighted to know another brother or sister is on the way.”

Her mouth twitched. “I suspect that a degree of bribery might be necessary to soothe little Kyle’s feelings. He’s grown quite used to being the baby of the family.”

“You’ll wrap him around your finger, just like every other male in the family,” Kade joked.

She pointed at him. “Do not think you can distract me, Kade Kendrick. I am most annoyed with you.”

Nick went to meet her. “You can give Kade a splendid scold later, sweetheart. But first get out of this drafty doorway. I don’t want you catching a chill.”

She allowed Nick to steer her to one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Nicholas, it’s the middle of July.”

“Then we don’t need you getting overheated,” replied her overprotective husband.

“Give us a hug, lass,” Kade said, holding out his arms.

She gingerly put her arms around him. “Are you sure you’re all right? From what Braden said, your wound was terribly infected.”

“My fault. It was raining that night, and I slipped on some cobblestones, landing arse over teakettle in a nice, dirty puddle.”

Flat on his back and still without his shirt on, he could have added. It had hurt like the devil, but that had been the least of his concerns at the time. Not getting shot had been top of the list.

“By the way,” he said as he and Vicky sat down. “How did you find out about the opera singer? Aden promised me he wouldn’t tell you about that part of the, er…situation.”

“Vivien wrote to me.”

“Of course she did,” Kade said with a sigh.

Vivien was married to Aden St. George. When it came to Kade’s family, there were no secrets, at least not for long.

Nick looked apologetic. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, sweetheart, but I didn’t wish to worry you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find out? I always know when something is wrong with one of you.”

“That’s true,” Angus said. “Our Sassenach lassie has a nose for trouble.”

“It comes from my years of dealing with Kendricks,” she replied. “That, however, is not my primary concern at the moment. Kade is. I cannot be happy about any of this.”

Kade took his sister-in-law’s hand and met her worried gaze. “I truly didn’t mean to worry you.” He glanced at Nick. “Any of you.”

His brother nodded. “I know, lad, but worry we do.”

Kade widened his eyes in mock surprise. “Really? I hadn’t noticed. But from now on, my focus will be entirely on my music career. My spying days are over.”

“Splendid,” Nick said. “You have a concerto to complete, and a special commission from the king is nothing to be sneezed at.”

Of that he was well aware, as the blasted thing was giving him fits. For some reason, the music wasn’t coming as easily as it usually did.

“And Braden is certain your injury won’t affect your ability to play in the future?” Vicky asked.

Kade nodded. “It’s just a matter of time and proper rest. I should be able to return to a full concert schedule by mid-autumn.”

“Then no long hours of practice, Kade. I know you, and I will lock up the music room if I have to.”

“Yes, Mother,” he dryly replied.

“Dreadful boy. But as Nicholas said, you can use this period of rest to work on your concerto. Kinglas is the perfect quiet environment. No one will bother you in the least.”

Actually, they would all bother him. His family would fuss and twitter over him like a bunch of nervous hens and drive him batty within the week.

“Although I hope you won’t be bored,” Vicky added. “Your life is so glamorous that we must seem like a fusty lot in comparison.”

“Touring isn’t all that exciting. Mostly it’s just work and spending too much time in carriages, jostling over bad roads.”

Vicky flashed him a teasing smile. “Vivien said you’re very popular, and that half the ladies in Europe are in love with you.”

Kade waggled a hand. “Probably no more than a third.”

“Kade Kendrick, I was joking!”

He laughed. “As was I. And I obviously need to have a little chat with Vivien. She’s telling too many tales out of school.”

Vicky patted his hand. “You’ve always been the sweetest and best-behaved Kendrick, so I’m sure those reports are exaggerated.”

“Kade would nae do anything to embarrass the family,” Angus stoutly defended. “But he is getting on in years. I think it’s time for the lad to settle down. Meet a nice lassie and get married.”

“Excellent idea, Grandda,” Nick said with approval.

“I am not getting on in years,” said Kade. “And I’m too busy to settle down.”

“You only think that because you’ve not yet met the right girl,” Nick replied. “And speaking of that…” He directed a meaningful look at his wife.

Vicky smiled at Kade. “Now that you’re back home, dear, we thought it might be fun to throw a ball in your honor. There are some delightful young ladies in the neighborhood. The Davenport sisters for instance.”

Alarm crawled up Kade’s spine. “Thank you, but I’m really not interested in socializing. Concerto to write, you know.”

“Aye, the Davenport lassies,” Angus chimed in. “Those two would give ye a run for yer money. Their da’s rich as Midas too.”

Nick flashed Kade an encouraging smile. “The Davenport girls are both quite lovely. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to spend time with you.”

Kade began to envision a horrifying round of social occasions, all designed to push him into the arms of a Kendrick-approved young woman.

Trying not to look completely appalled, he cast Royal an imploring look. His brother wiped a hand over his mouth, as if smother a laugh, but responded with his usual loyalty.

“Rather than dragging the poor lad to a dreary round of social events,” Royal said, “what about a stay at Cairndow? Fresh air, the mountains, the peace of the countryside, that’s what Kade needs. Not a pack of silly girls twittering after him.”

“In case you failed to notice,” Nick said, “Kinglas is the country. Besides, I would never drag Kade anywhere. I would simply suggest a few outings he might enjoy.”

“You would absolutely drag me,” Kade replied, shaking his head.

“Cairndow is the back of beyond compared to Kinglas,” Royal said. “It’s so remote that sometimes even I get lost.”

Victoria scoffed. “Now you’re being silly. Cairndow is only a day’s ride north of Kinglas, if that. Although it is very quiet.”

Cairndow was the small but tidy estate that Royal’s wife, Ainsley, had inherited from her great-aunt. It was a rather old-fashioned place but still comfortable and welcoming. And unlike the rest of his relatives, Ainsley didn’t give a damn about matchmaking. At Cairndow, Kade knew he would be left alone to work on his concerto.

“It sounds perfect,” he said gratefully to Royal.

Nick frowned. “But you just got here, Kade. Wouldn’t you like to spend more time with us?”

“Yes, of course, but—”

“Ainsley’s not expecting me back until the end of the week,” Royal cut in. “You can have a few days to visit with Kade, and then I’ll take him back to Cairndow for a proper rest.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” Victoria dubiously said to Kade.

“I’m absolutely sure,” he replied. “I’ve got to get working on that concerto, Vicky. Don’t want to disappoint the old man, you know.”

The old man was the king of England, Vicky’s natural father.

She blinked a few times. “You’re perfectly right. It would indeed be dreadful to disappoint him.”

“Appalling, really.”

“Then it’s all settled,” Royal said. “Cairndow it is.”

Nick eyed Kade for a few moments, as if trying to decide whether to argue, but then shrugged. “I suppose it’s for the best. We can throw a ball for you on your return, before you head to Glasgow. You can meet the Davenport girls, then.”

Or never.

“Absolutely,” Kade said.

Angus stowed his pipe inside his vest and shoved himself to his feet. “Then I’d best be lookin’ over my medicinals and whatnot. We dinna want to be caught with our trews down in the back of beyond.”

Kade frowned. “Grandda, what are you talking about?”

“I’m going to Cairndow too, of course. Someone has to look after ye.”

“Thank you, but I am perfectly capable of looking after myself. There’s no need for you to fuss over me.”

“And we do have doctors in Cairndow,” Royal said.

Angus scoffed. “Fah. I’ll be takin’ over our Kade’s doctorin’ from now on. I know all of ye better than I know myself, and I’ll nae have our lad goin’ off without me, as delicate as he is.”

Kade stared down at his wizened grandfather, who barely reached his shoulder. “Grandda, I did not escape Paris just to have you kill me with your disgusting concoctions.”

“None of yer fussin’, son,” Angus said in an indulgent tone. “Yer family kens what’s best, especially me.”

Vicky nodded. “That’s true. You do need your rest, Kade. I think you should let Angus look at that shoulder, and then you can have a nice little nap. Doesn’t that sound perfect?”

Angus rubbed his hands. “Aye, that’s the ticket. I’ll get my doctorin’ things and meet you and Kade upstairs in the lad’s bedroom. Our Braden did his best nae doubt, but the old ways are still the best ways.” He patted Kade on the shoulder. “Not to worry, lad. We’ll get ye back on yer feet in no time.”

“I’m already on my feet,” Kade protested.

Royal grimaced. “And no one needs your medicinal concoctions, Grandda. Seriously.”

Angus jabbed a gnarled finger at Royal’s nose. “Ho, no sass from ye, laddie boy. There’s nae point in takin’ chances, what with Kade’s delicate constitution. He’ll nae be relapsin’ on my watch.”

“Or mine,” Vicky firmly stated.

Kade mentally sighed. Suddenly, Paris didn’t look that bad anymore.

Chapter Two

As their carriage passed by the last straggle of cottages, a spectacular vista opened before them. Loch Leven, with its bright, sparkling waters, provided a stark contrast to the craggy peaks rising up from the opposite shore.

“That’s the last of Glencoe,” Kade said. “Just a few more miles to Ballachulish and then we’re almost there.”

Ainsley looked up from her periodical. “Thank goodness, because I’ve had quite enough of climbing up one blasted hill after another. Not to mention teetering along ridgelines or waiting for the carriage to tip over into some dreadful bog.”

“Agreed,” Kade replied with a smile. “I thought that switchback on the Black Mount was going to be the end of us.”

She shuddered. “God, don’t remind me.”

Royal, seated next to Ainsley, patted her knee. “You must admit that the views were spectacular.”

Their daughter, Tira, expelled a dramatic sigh. “Rannoch Moor looked really spooky. Too bad nobody but me wanted to stop there and look for ghosts.”

“I would have stopped,” Kade said to the twelve-year-old snuggled between him and Angus. “But your mamma put her foot down.”

“I beg your pardon for not wishing my daughter—or you, for that matter—to go falling into a possibly haunted bog, never to be seen again,” Ainsley sarcastically replied.

Tira rolled her eyes with all the drama of her youth. “Mamma, I would never be so silly as to fall into a bog. And even if I did, Papa would rescue me.”

Royal leaned across and tapped his daughter’s nose. “You may be certain of that. I’m not sure I could save Uncle Kade, though. He’s so big he’d sink straight to the bottom, never to be seen again.”

“You’d rescue me,” said Kade. “Otherwise I’d come back and haunt you.”

“Tormenting me with your renditions of gloomy sonatas by gloomy composers, no doubt.”

“Or maybe I’d take up the bagpipes and drive you completely insane.”

“We already have Grandda for that,” Royal joked.

Angus jabbed his grandson in the knee. “Don’t be daft. I play the bagpipes almost as well as Kade plays that piano of his. Have ye forgotten the recital we gave at Kinglas last Christmas?”

“I don’t think anyone has forgotten that particular performance,” Kade wryly replied.

Although Angus was possibly the worst player of the pipes in Scotland, the old fellow remained convinced he was a virtuoso.

Royal heaved a sigh. “My hearing will never be the same.”

“Philistines, the lot of ye,” Angus grumped.

“I still think it’s sad that we didn’t get to look for ghosts on the moor,” Tira said with a child’s dogged determination. “We don’t have any ghosts in Cairndow, or even at Kinglas. Which is so boring.”

“Maybe Laroch Manor has a ghost or two,” Kade said. “We can have a little hunt for ghosties and ghoulies, if you like.”

Tira twisted on the seat, regarding him with hopeful expectation in her big blue eyes. “Do you think so, Uncle Kade? That would be so much fun.”

“From what your mother tells me, the original house is ancient. Bound to be a ghoulie or two about the place.”

“If it’s ghosts ye want,” said Angus, “we should go to Glencoe and pay our respects. I’m sure the puir souls of yer murdered kin would be that comforted by a visit.”

“Grandda, this is a festive occasion we’re attending, remember?” Royal said. “Tramping about the site of a massacre would hardly put us in the proper mood for a family wedding.”

“It’s not as if Kade and I had any say about goin’ to this bloody weddin’,” Angus indignantly replied. “Ainsley wouldn’t leave us alone aboot it. And with our Kade in such a fragile state, ye ken.”

Ainsley looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, Grandda, but Lady Kinloch was very insistent that you both come. She is your cousin, after all. Besides, I think it’ll be fun.”

Kade had been as reluctant as his grandfather to attend the wedding of Melissa Stewart, daughter of Lord and Lady Kinloch. But with typical insouciance, Ainsley had simply informed Kade that Lady Kinloch and Melissa had begged for him to perform at the grand reception following the ceremony. Ainsley, unfortunately, had also promised the ladies that he would be happy to do so.

“You did what?” Kade had exclaimed, flabbergasted that she hadn’t discussed it with him first. “But Grandda and I only arrived in Cairndow a few days ago. I need to work.”

“You’ve been here for a week, and working the entire time. Besides, everyone at Laroch Manor is very excited at the prospect of your performance,” she’d replied. “You certainly will not wish to disappoint them.”

She’d then sailed out of the room, leaving his objections hanging in midair.

Now Angus snorted. “Lord Kinloch is about as much fun as a barrel of manky oysters. How Elspeth—a true MacDonald—could have agreed to marry him is beyond my ken.”

“What’s wrong with Lord Kinloch?” Tira asked.

“He’s nae proper respect for the past, lassie. Besides, he consorts with unsavory folk.”

“That’s a bit much, Grandda,” Kade said. “He’s a lord of Parliament, as well as holding an old and distinguished title.”

“He’s very wealthy, too,” Ainsley added. “The Stewarts made a substantial fortune from the slate quarries around Glencoe.”

“I ken what I ken about the man,” Angus said. “Besides, all this draggin’ Kade aboot the countryside canna be good for him. Look at the poor lad. He’s positively whey-faced.”

“Grandda, I’m fine,” Kade said. “You needn’t worry about me.”

“I promised Nick—that would be our laird,” Angus said with unnecessary emphasis, “that I would look after ye. And I always do as my laird commands.”

“We all know who the laird is,” Royal dryly commented. “And actually you hardly ever do what Nick wants you to do, so why start now?”

Angus pointed a bony finger at Royal. “None of your sass, laddie boy.”

“Giving you sass is my job,” Ainsley said, winking at the old fellow. “Everybody knows that.”

“Aye, but yer a Sassenach, so ye canna help yerself. But ye’ll nae distract me from the subject at hand, which is our Kade’s health. I’ll nae be lettin’ Elspeth or anyone else run the lad ragged. He should be recuperatin’, not prancing around like a trained monkey for a bunch of Stewarts.”

“No one would dare make me prance, Grandda,” Kade said. “Not with you to protect me.”

“Aye, that,” Angus stoutly replied.

“I’m sure we’ll all have a wonderful time and Kade will get plenty of rest,” Ainsley said.

Tira made a face. “I wish my brothers could have come with us, though. I miss them.”

“I know, darling,” Ainsley said. “But Royal Junior would hate all the fuss, and Georgie’s much too young. Besides, we’re terribly squeezed as it is. Kendrick men tend to take up a lot of room.”

“I would have happily ceded my place to my nephews,” Kade wryly said.

“Don’t you like spending time with us, Uncle Kade?” Tira asked, sounding a trifle anxious. “It’s been ever so long since you’ve come to visit.”

Angus heaved a dramatic sigh. “Sad state of affairs when a Highlander has nae time for his kith and kin.”

Kade ignored his grandfather, but he couldn’t ignore the twinge of guilt over his niece’s innocent question.

When he wrapped an arm around her narrow shoulders, Tira snuggled against him with a happy little sigh. Grandda was right. He had been neglecting his family, and that was a capital sin in Clan Kendrick.

“Of course I want to be with you, Tira. But back at Cairndow, with your brothers. Not at some godforsaken manor in the middle of nowhere, performing for strangers.”

“Kade, you’re a concert pianist,” Royal said. “You’re always performing for strangers.”

“Yes, and that’s part of the problem.”

As much as he loved his career, he was less enamored with the growing lack of privacy that his life entailed, as well as the absurd enthusiasm his presence sometimes provoked. Kade had never sought fame. What he sought was the music. Of course, he’d had many wonderful opportunities to play in some of the greatest concert halls in Europe, accompanied by splendid musicians. Sometimes, though, it felt a bit much, as if his life and the music were being lost under the demands of his increasing renown.

Ainsley tilted her head, looking quizzical. “Kade?”

He smiled. “It’s perfectly fine, really.” He gave his niece a little squeeze. “And I’ll have Tira to protect me from overenthusiastic fans.”

“I’ll not let anyone bother you, Uncle Kade, even silly young ladies.”

Royal winked at his daughter. “That will be very helpful. Your uncle is swearing off young ladies for the present.”

“I hope there’s a decent piano at Laroch Manor,” Kade said, shifting the subject to safer ground. “Wedding or not, I will need to work on my concerto.”

“I’m sure there is,” Ainsley replied. “By all accounts, it’s a splendid house, and Lady Kinloch has very high standards.”

Kade waggled a hand. “Glencoe isn’t exactly on the beaten path, but I’ll take your word for it.”

Angus visibly bristled. “Glencoe may not be yer high and mighty Paris or London, but there are few places more important to a Highlander, especially to a MacDonald. As ye well ken, it was the site of the worst act of—”

“You’ve been to Laroch Manor, haven’t you, Grandda?” Royal interrupted, trying to forestall another foray into grisly tales of massacres.

“Er, well, it’s been years, ye ken,” he replied.

“Lady Kinloch mentioned in one of her letters that you attended a clan gathering only a few years after her wedding,” Ainsley said. “That must have been quite a festive affair.”

Angus scratched his chin, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “I dinna remember much about that, to tell ye the truth.”

Kade exchanged glances with Royal and Ainsley, while Tira twisted around to stare at the old fellow.

“You’re telling a fib, Grandda,” Tira said.

“I never tell fibs, especially to bairns,” Angus protested.

Royal snorted. “You tell them on a daily basis. What are you hiding from us?”

Angus clamped his mouth shut.

“Whatever it is,” Ainsley said, “we’ll find out soon enough. I do believe we’re going through Ballachulish, and Laroch Manor is only about fifteen minutes outside the village, along the river. In fact, I believe we’re already making the turn onto the road that leads to the manor. Lady Kinloch said it was just past the village church.”

Kade peered out the window. “There’s the church on the left. Not much to the place, is there?”

“Apparently, there are more shops and a public house if one travels farther along the main road.”

“I do hope we can visit the shops in the village, Mamma,” Tira said.

As the others chatted about plans for their stay, Kade let his attention drift to the surrounding countryside. The carriage was now bowling along beside a bucolic glen filled with heather and wildflowers. Hedges partly lined the road, interspersed with holly bushes and the occasional stand of trees.

In the distance, he could see the sparkle of swift water cutting through the glen— River Laroch, for which their host’s manor was named. It was a peaceful scene, a quiet tableau of country charm set against the granite ridges and craggy summits that brooded over Loch Leven.

Suddenly, a horse and rider burst out from a stand of birches. The rider, a boyish figure crouched over the neck of an impressively big animal, galloped through the glen parallel to their carriage. The rider was wearing a kilt, which whipped around—

Kade practically pressed his nose against the window glass, trying to get a better look. Aye, the rider was a young woman, her long blonde hair streaming back from beneath her cap.

“Good God,” he said.

“What’s up, lad?” Royal asked.

“Look there, by the river. There’s a rider.”

Royal glanced out the window and did a double take. “Is that a girl?”


“Girls have been known to ride horses from time to time,” Ainsley said with a hint of sarcasm.

Kade tracked horse and rider. She’d drawn slightly past them and was now cutting across the field at an angle, toward the road.

“True,” he replied. “But this one is astride, in a kilt.”

“Now, that I must see,” Angus exclaimed, wobbling to his feet and practically falling into Kade’s lap.

Royal clamped a hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “Don’t fall, Angus.”

“Fah.” He tried to elbow Kade aside. “Where’s the lassie?”

“Sorry, Grandda. She just disappeared behind that stand of trees up ahead.”

“Drat,” said Tira, who’d also been trying to get a glimpse over Kade’s shoulder. “I wish I’d seen her. Are you sure it was a girl? What fun to be able to ride a horse that way.”

“But you’re a splendid sidesaddle rider, pet,” her mother said. “You’ve never once fallen off a horse in all the years you’ve been riding.”

“That’s because I’m careful. And just think how much faster I could go if I was riding astride.”

“Well, perhaps you can try it sometime when we’re back at Cairndow,” Ainsley replied. “But only with your father and certainly not in a kilt.”

“I think a kilt would be dashing,” Tira said. “Don’t you, Papa?”

Royal smiled. “Very dashing, if a trifle scandalous.”

“Who cares about that?” The girl heaved a sigh. “I wish I’d seen her, though.”

After helping his grandfather get seated, Kade smiled at his niece. “Sorry, lass. She was out of sight in less than a minute.”

Angus patted Tira’s hand. “We might see her again. We’re deep in the Highlands now, lassie. Things can get a wee bit strange up here.”

“Very true,” said Royal. “I remember when—”

A sudden jolt knocked them all off-balance. Royal grabbed Ainsley, while Kade clamped onto Tira. When the carriage jerked to a halt, Angus slid to the floor with a muffled yelp.

Kade plopped Tira down on the seat and reached for his grandfather, bracing himself against the rocking carriage. “Are you all right, Grandda?”

“Aye,” the old fellow said as Kade hauled him up. “Dinna worry yerself, son.”

“You hit the floor rather hard,” Ainsley said in a worried tone.

“Just a wee thump on my arse.” Then he shoved his hat out of his eyes. “But why in blazes is yer coachman sendin’ us all akilter like that?”

“Perhaps we broke a wheel,” Ainsley suggested.

Raised voices could be heard from outside, mostly from the coachman. Royal frowned and began to reach for the door handle, but the door opened to reveal Billy, their groom.

“Are ye all well, sir?” he asked. “We gave ye quite the jolt, but it couldna be helped, I’m afraid.”

“We’re fine. What happened?”

“Ye’d best come see for yerself, sir. Mr. Brown’s about ready to pop his cork.”

“So we can hear,” Kade dryly said.

While Royal climbed down to the road, Angus peered out the window on the other side of the carriage. “Well, now, that’s somethin’ to see,” their grandfather said with a chuckle.

“What?” Kade asked.

“Ye best come down, sir,” Billy said to Kade, a bit urgently.

Kade stepped out of the carriage. Brown, their coachman, out of sight on the other side, was clearly directing his ire at another person. Royal had already gone around to join him, but Kade stopped to take a quick glance at the horses. They were annoyed, snorting and stomping a bit, but they seemed unharmed.

“You’ll thoroughly check the horses?” he said to Billy.

“Aye, sir.”

Ainsley poked her head out. “Kade, please help us down.”

He turned back and helped her down, then took Tira in his arms and gently plopped her onto the road.


Angus waved him away. “I’m fine. Go help yer brother. He’s trying to keep Brown from killing yon lassie.”

Kade strode to the other side of the carriage and then pulled up short. The young rider stood a bit off to the side, the reins of a magnificent white stallion in one hand, her other hand up in a gesture of apology. Her golden hair flowed from under her tweed cap, then down her back in a wind-whipped tangle.

He glanced down at Tira, now standing by his side. “It looks like you’ll get to meet our mystery woman after all.”

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