Excerpt #2: The Highlander’s Kilted Bride

The Highlander's Kilted Bride

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.”