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Enchanted by the Highlander

ENCHANTED BY THE HIGHLANDER

PROLOGUE


Carraig Brigh, Scotland, September 1712

Gillian MacLeod loved the sea. It was wild and dangerous, unpredictable and beautiful in all its moods, a kaleidoscope of colors and emotions. One never knew quite what to expect from the deep waters—not even her brother-in-law, a seasoned captain who'd sailed the world's oceans.

It was so different from her ordinary life.

Gillian stood on the deck of the Virgin with her older sister and let the sea wind blow through her hair. After a month-long stay in the smoky stink of Edinburgh, it was wonderful to breathe again, to feel like she was flying over the waves on her brother-in-law's sleek, fast ship. In a few weeks, she'd return to the quiet, prim, reclusive life she led at Glen Iolair.

She'd been excited when her father, the Laird of the MacLeods of Glen Iolair, had suggested that shy, awkward, bookish Gillian should accompany him to Edinburgh to gain a little town polish, for a chance to meet gentlemen and ladies, and go about in a more diverse society than could be found in an isolated Highland glen. He hoped—all her sisters hoped—that she'd find a husband while she was in Edinburgh.

She hadn't. She was much too shy for that.

While her father was seeing to business in town, her married sister Laire had taken Gillian shopping, and to tea, and to endless salons, suppers, and parties until Gillian was certain she had met everyone . . . and no one.

She was as invisible in town as she was at home.

Still, there was pleasure and adventure in this moment, a sense of arrival and anticipation. She watched a dolphin fly underwater beside the ship.

She wasn't exactly disappointed in her trip— but she had hoped for more. Her father might have, for example, allowed her to travel to London with Fia, to watch Fia's husband meet Queen Anne and kneel to be invested with the title of Earl of Carrbry to go along with his Scottish title, Chief of the Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh.

But London was too far in Papa's opinion. Anywhere across the English border was too far for Donal MacLeod. He disapproved of the English with all the fierce passion of a Scottish patriot. And like most Scots, he remembered every battle, every incursion, every insult ever paid to Scotland by long-dead kings and English armies.

So Gillian had had to settle for Edinburgh. At least she'd been allowed to wait there for Fia and Alastair Og to sail back north again, so she and her father could join them for the voyage back to Carraig Brigh. They'd visit with Fia and Dair and their children for a few weeks, then return home to Glen Iolair.

She leaned farther out over the rail to watch the dolphin and feel the spray on her face.

Fia caught her arm. "Careful, Gilly—you'll fall overboard," she said, and pulled her sister away from danger.

Gillian obediently stepped back to a safe spot by the mast without a word.

"You should go below, Gillian, and have a nap," Fia suggested, as if Gillian were old or in fragile health. She felt herself blushing at the command, though it was disguised as a suggestion, and she knew it was well meaning. Of course she'd obey, because she'd grown used to doing as she was told. It wasn't that her sisters were mean to her—they were just sure that Gillian's quiet nature must be due to some lack of wit or a need for their careful guidance.

"We'll be home soon," Fia said, scanning the shoreline. "I can't wait to see the children. I'm sure they've grown so much while we've been away." Fia cast a sweet look at her husband, Alasdair Og Sinclair, standing at the ship's wheel. He returned her smile with one that made Fia blush. It was the kind of grin that suggested bed, and forever, and undying love.

Oh, for a man to smile at me like that, Gillian thought. She felt a new blush heat her skin as she tightened her hand on the hawser and turned to watch the gulls.

"You'll never find a husband if you don't learn to speak up," her sister Meggie had said before Gillian left for Edinburgh. But Aileen had advised her, "Men like demure, quiet lasses." Laire had squeezed Gillian's hand and told her to "wait for magic, moonlight, and love," which was a fine suggestion when everyone imagined Gillian was afraid of the dark, or people, or both.

She pushed the sea wind back with her own sigh. Everyone had an idea or an opinion, and was certain Gillian needed to hear it. Meggie had chosen her gowns for the trip, and when Gillian had arrived in Edinburgh, Laire had insisted that none of those dresses would do, and a whole new wardrobe would be required. Knowing how shy Gillian was, Laire had chosen everything—every pattern, fabric, ribbon, and pair of stockings. She hadn't bothered to ask Gillian's opinion even once. Oh, Gillian knew Laire had meant it kindly enough—but the result was three trunks filled with the kind of glamorous gowns Gillian would never have the courage or occasion to wear. She'd give most of them to Meggie when she got home . . .

She glanced again at her sister, who now stood at the wheel with her handsome husband—the new Earl of Carrbry—held in the circle of Dair's strong arms as he guided the ship homeward. Fia looked blissfully happy.

"The cliffs of Carraig Brigh!" a sailor in the rigging called down. "We're home, Chief—I mean, Your Lordship."

The crew laughed, and Fia left her husband and hurried over to Gillian. "We'd best go below, make ourselves ready."

"Ready?" Gillian said.

Fia pushed an errant lock of red hair behind her younger sister's ear. "There will be a lot of folk waiting to greet us when we land. I know how shy you are, Gilly, and how hard that will be for you. We'll change our gowns, wash our faces, and comb our hair. I want to look like a countess when I step out of the launch—and you, well, you'll look as sweet and pretty as you always do."

And just as invisible, Gillian thought. No one would notice her, or if they did, they'd see the new gown Fia was sure to choose for her and not the person inside it.

She followed Fia down the steps to the elegant cabin her sister shared with her husband, and watched Fia throw open her own wardrobe.

"What about the blue silk?" Fia asked, holding up one of the beautiful new gowns she'd had made in London.

Gillian stroked the sleeve of a shimmering crimson brocade instead, grand and gleaming with delicate embroidery. "What about this one? Meggie would call it a speaking gown, the kind that tells folk you are every inch a countess before you even say a word, and Cait's favorite color is red . . . "

"And what would you say, Gilly?" Fia asked, taking the brocade gown to the mirror, and holding it against herself.

"Me?" Gillian straightened her shoulders and took a breath. "I would say that simple would be better—a plain gown, but of the best silk, worn with a Sinclair plaid and a fine brooch."

To her surprise Fia nodded. "Aye—the queen gifted me with a pearl necklace. A plainer gown would set it off perfectly."

Gillian helped her sister dress, and when Fia went up to show Dair her finery, Gillian went to her own cabin and chose a plain gown of dove gray, simply trimmed with a narrow edging of lace. It was well cut and expensive, and it fit her slim curves to perfection, but the dress blended with the color of the rocks and the sea. She brushed her hair and tied it back with a ribbon. Then she wrapped her MacLeod plaid over her head and added a modest brooch to hold it in place. She glanced in the mirror. She looked as she always did—a pale face with a tendency to blush when anyone spoke to her and luminous green eyes that seemed to give away every thought that went through her head. She bit her lip. Perhaps she could wait here in her cabin, ensure she was the last one off the ship, and remain unnoticed.

But there was a tap at the door. "Gilly?"

It was her father. "Here, Papa."

"Come up on deck, lass. The launches are waiting to row us ashore."

There was no disobeying the Fearsome MacLeod, no matter how softly he spoke a command.

She opened the door, and her father's sharp eyes roamed over her. "Ye look . . . " He paused, his mouth tightening. "What happened to the gowns ye bought in Edinburgh? The blue and yellow one, or the green one with the lace and the red ribbons?"

Gillian felt her face heat. If she wore one of those, the dress would be the talk of the whole castle. No one would remember her, however.

"I didn't wish to steal the moment from Alasdair Og and Fia, Papa," she said quietly. She wondered if he'd insist that she change her gown.

"Oh, aye. Of course," he said, already turning away, hearing the sounds of arrival from the deck above, anxious to be there instead of here. "Just come when you're ready, lass. I'd best go up now."

She watched him walk away with a sigh of relief. She waited for the first few launches to depart and then went up on deck, quiet as a mouse, plain and unnoticed. Her father had already gone ashore with Fia and Dair, and she'd been quite forgotten.

The Sinclair clansman who helped her climb down into the launch regarded her with polite and minimal interest. As they rowed to shore, she looked at the castle on the cliff, at the folk who lined the edge of the high perch, and the men milling about on the beach below.

Her breath caught in her throat, and her heart kicked. Arrivals were full of excitement and possibility. Anything could happen, couldn't it?

And one little adventure was all she wanted.

© Lecia Cornwall


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