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Authors: Keeping Kate

Sarah Gabriel

BOOK: Sarah Gabriel
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Sarah Gabriel
Keeping Kate

For Mary Jo Putney and Patricia Rice,
for sharing brilliance, patience,
charm, and glass beads.

Contents

Prologue

One glance spared for the golden beauty standing in the…

Chapter 1

“Preposterous,” Alec muttered as he regarded the broadsheet in his…

Chapter 2

Kate’s heart sank as she faced the tent flaps. Dear…

Chapter 3

Looping her arms around his neck, she sighed as his…

Chapter 4

Voices droned behind her though she hardly listened to them.

Chapter 5

“Good Jamaican rum, by God, smuggled in along the Solway Coast.”…

Chapter 6

A shadow fell over both of them, and Kate saw a…

Chapter 7

Removing his cocked hat, Alec shook the moisture off, then…

Chapter 8

Emerging into the dark courtyard beside Fraser, Kate felt the…

Chapter 9

Alec reached over to adjust Kate’s head to a more…

Chapter 10

“Alec—such a normal name for a madman,” Kate grumbled…

Chapter 11

Moonlight bathed the inn as Alec led Kate toward the…

Chapter 12

Kate leaned her cheek on her free hand, her other…

Chapter 13

Her voice was like whiskey and honey, smooth and sweet,…

Chapter 14

She moaned under his mouth, her fingers clutched at his…

Chapter 15

As moonlight filtered through the window, Kate knew she must…

Chapter 16

Standing in the inn yard in the darkness, Alec swore…

Chapter 17

The bed beneath her sagged, but no more so than…

Chapter 18

Glancing toward the inn, a mile or so away through…

Chapter 19

She walked steadily, stubbornly through rain, now and then wiping…

Chapter 20

Click, clack, click-click.

Chapter 21

“Och, you’re awake and alert today. Greetings, sir." The woman…

Chapter 22

Tapping lightly on the door before entering the room, Kate…

Chapter 23

Bending over the silken pillow in her lap, frowning slightly…

Chapter 24

On the sunlit veranda, Kate picked up her skirts and…

Chapter 25

"Watch your step,” Connor said, leading the way into the…

Chapter 26

As a soft pink dawn bloomed over Edinburgh Castle on…

Chapter 27

“Married!” Euphemia stared at Alec.

Chapter 28

“This is the man, Lord Hume,” Grant said. He had a…

Chapter 29

The sedan chair rocked, its seat fastened with pinions, so that…

Epilogue

As he entered Hopefield House from the courtyard, Alec heard…

London
March 1, 1728

O
ne glance spared for the golden beauty standing in the crowd nearly cost Alexander Fraser his life, and certainly his timing. Stepping back, he lifted his sword to parry again, aware that his opponent could have taken the advantage while Alec’s attention had been briefly diverted.

Fortunately, swordsmanship was not Jack MacDonald’s strong point. But Alec was not about to prove that by being inadvertently skewered in front of the afternoon assembly of King George’s court at St. James’s Palace.

Captain Alexander Fraser, Highland regimental offi
cer, laird of Kilburnie, and heir to a fortune he did not want, sidestepped in a wary dance. With his targe shield braced on his left forearm, he waved the dirk in his left hand like a wicked thorn and gripped a basket-hilt broadsword in his right to parry Jack MacDonald’s oncoming stroke. The clash of steel rang out in the great hall, echoing against vaulted ceilings, wood-paneled walls, and a slate floor laid two centuries earlier.

Turning, Alec saw the dazzling girl again, closer to him now. Who the devil was she, he thought—and why should he care? Yet he noticed her sparkling presence even in the midst of a fight, noticed her blond beauty, her gown of cream and gold, and the silk tartan shawl tucked at her elbows.

A beautiful young Scotswoman, bold enough to wear the plaid in this nest of Whigs and Englishmen, in the presence of the king: he ought to know her, but did not. Shifting on his feet, he angled his back to her and regained his focus.

Taking catlike steps to the right, he swept his blade down. The broadswords struck together, hard enough to vibrate along his arm to his shoulder. He smacked his hilt backward into Jack’s left hand, loosening the dirk clutched there. Flexing his empty fingers, Jack glared at Alec.

With a quick upward thrust of his long dirk, Alec stabbed into the wedge of space between Jack’s torso and his sword arm. In return, Jack whipped his blade wildly, and Alec tilted back to avoid the sweep. He circled sideways, wary and watchful, while he and MacDonald gauged each other’s next move.

The audience stood several deep in the hall now, a mass of colored fabrics, powdered wigs, unfamiliar faces. The press of bodies warmed air already thick with perfumes, pomatum, wine, and sweat. King George, portly in green damask and a silvery wig, occupied a gilt chair on a decorated dais. His queen sat beside him, lush and blowsy in flowered silks.

Alec saw all of it in a blur, but for the beautiful girl who glowed like a sunbeam. She leaned sideways to listen to a woman dressed in black. Whirling away, Alec lunged, pulled back.

Quarter guard, parry, stepping together, then apart in a lethal dance. Gasps fluttered through the crowd as Alec’s next thrust deliberately missed his opponent. Leaping to one side, he met Jack’s next advance with a hanging guard, sword tipped downward, then flicking up to catch and tear cloth, all the while keeping a steady rhythm of breath and motion.

Lifting his blade, MacDonald overshot just as Alec stepped aside, and steel bit into slate. Alec brought his blade in a swift upward arc within an inch of Jack’s side, and tapped his blade against the plaid and shirt over the man’s ribs—a deadly blow had he put force into it—and he held the sword in position, while Jack froze under that lethal guard.

Breathing fast, Alec waited, shirt clinging damp to his back beneath his wrapped plaid.

She was there again, just at the corner of his vision. He sensed her wherever she was in the room, foolish as it seemed, though he did not take his gaze from Jack.

Finally, MacDonald opened his hands in defeat,
dropped his sword with a clatter to the floor, and stepped back, bowing graciously. Alec only inclined his head.

Jack smiled, quick and boyish, then turned to bow as the crowd erupted in applause. His bright grin and handsome, chiseled face, his black hair clinging in curls to his brow, his romantic Highland plaid, coaxed ripples of sighs among the ladies. Jack MacDonald had many talents, Alec thought, among them natural charm. Women loved him no matter what sort of rascal he could be.

Jack turned, clapped Alec amiably on the shoulder. Silent and somber, Alec nodded, wiped his sweaty brow with his forearm. He held no grudge against his friend, but he was no showman, only glancing at the audience before laying his weapons on the floor, but for the basket-hilt sword. Jack collected more smiles, applause, and three perfumed silken handkerchiefs tossed his way, and as the applause ended, he turned with Alec toward the dais.

King George nodded his approval, and a solemn valet in a bag wig and a green coat beckoned the Highlanders forward, indicating that they should bow.

Alec hesitated. He was loath to bow before the German elector when the rightful king of Scotland and England, James Stuart, lived in exile in Rome. But James had nearly given up hope, they said, and would prefer Providence, or Jacobites, to make the effort to restore his throne.

As an officer in a Highland Independent Company,
Alec knew he must conceal his true loyalties here. Discretion and secrecy were the wisest choices when working covertly for the Jacobite cause. He inclined his head slightly, while Jack bowed without his usual flourish.

“Your Majesty,” Alec murmured.

“Very goot demonstration,” King George said. “Dat is a clay-mer?”

“Aye,
claidheamh mór
in the Gaelic, Your Grace,” Alec said. “It means ‘big sword.’” As he spoke, he saw the golden young woman glide closer to where he stood. The older lady in black was with her like a duenna. Alec wanted to turn, feast his gaze upon her, learn who she was—a finer reward for demonstrating Highland fighting technique than an audience with this particular king.

“I thought dey were bigger, dose swords,” the king observed. Tittering laughter spread through the assembly.

“Your Majesty,” Jack replied, “early Highland clay-mores were much larger, with two-handed hilts and blades near as tall as their owners. They were suited for brutal battle, not close combat. Broadswords now have shorter blades, and the basket hilt is a Scottish improvement. Our weapons have German blades as well.” Jack bowed again. Alec stood ramrod straight and silent.

“Goot German steel, yes! But all weapons is confiscated in da Highlands now.” The king snorted a laugh.

“Sire, we are aware of that,” Alec said stiffly.

“A goot performance for da queen’s birthday,” the king went on, “better dan dat
Beggar’s Opera
in de the
ater house now.” He turned to speak to Queen Caroline, seated beside him. Plump and pretty in silks and pearls, she smiled at the Highlanders, then leaned toward her husband to murmur in confidence.

Dismissed,
Alec thought.

The valet came toward them, gloved hand extended first to Alec, then Jack, as he dropped a gold guinea into each man’s palm. “For your trouble,” he murmured haughtily.

Staring at the insulting payment, Alec felt himself flush to the roots of his golden brown hair. Neither he nor Jack were hired performers. They had been invited at the king’s request to demonstrate sword technique for the queen’s birthday.

Alec spun on his heel, turning his back to the king, and strode to the center of the room to retrieve his weapons, while Jack followed. Shoving his dirk into the sheath at his belt, Alec fumed in silence.

“Between the journey and waiting here in London for the royal summons,” Jack muttered, “we’ve spent over a fortnight on this damnable task.”

Alec glanced at his cousin without reply and snatched up his sword.

Nearly three weeks ago, Alec had been reviewing lists of confiscated weapons at Fort William, in Scotland, for General Wade when the general had asked him to travel to London to display Highland fighting skills at the king’s court. Wade had chosen Alec as the logical choice, since he was a trained swordsman under the tutelage of an uncle who had written a training manual on the subject. Alec had brought Jack MacDon
ald, his cousin and ghillie, along to act as his opponent in the mock contest.

Once in London, waiting upon a royal summons, Jack dove happily into court life while Alec—by nature keen on his solitude—strolled alone through the streets and court gardens, or tended to correspondence generated by his position as a lawyer for the Highland company in which he was also a captain. The work made it increasingly clear to him that he needed to be in Scotland, not cooling his heels in England.

Now the show was over, and he and Jack were free to go. Glancing up, he saw that the crowd had dispersed. The Highland “performers” were no longer of interest.

The beauty stood nearby, fluttering an ivory fan and murmuring with the older lady. As Alec watched her, she glanced his way again. Her gaze, charming, coy, and entrancing, struck him like a spark.

He returned his attention to attaching the scabbard to his belt. Jack picked up Alec’s short red military coat and captain’s sash, but he refused them. He felt obstinate. If the sight of his Highland gear made Whigs and Londoners uncomfortable, so be it.

While Jack bundled their things and tucked them under his arm, Alec glanced his way. “Jack, who is that lass there?”


Och
, the lovely creature? I do not know—but I heard that she and her aunt are here to petition the king on behalf of Jacobite widows who are entitled to pensions following the deaths of their husbands. The executions of their husbands,” he added. “She’s Highland, I would guess.”

“Aye, by that plaid. Did you hear her name, or clan?”

“I did not, alas. I do fancy a mystery.” Jack looked speculatively at the girl.

 

She glanced toward them again, directly at Alec over her fan. Her gaze was like a true arrow straight to his heart.

“Surprising to see Jacobite ladies here at court,” Jack said, “but the king favors their petition, I hear, because the girl is such a beauty. Championing widows is a respectable cause, and what her Highland kinsmen might do up north may not affect her here. Plaid is so rarely seen at court that she could be taken for a spy if she were not…so utterly charming.”

Nodding in silence, Alec saw the two women pick up their skirts and cross toward him. He stood with his broadsword clutched in his hands, steel point pressing into the floor. His heart pounded like a hammer. Beside him, Jack said something mundane—collecting their belongings at the inn, paying their stable bill—then he, too, fell silent.

Grace and magic turned to woman, she moved toward him. Though not tall, she was slender and elegant, her slim hands resting upon wide silk skirts the color of rich cream, embroidered in gold. The tartan shawl caught at her elbows was patterned in light colors. A choker of pearls wrapped thrice around her slim throat, and a twinkling crystal pendant on a silver chain rode above a lush bosom made demure by a translucent mantle of lace.

Alec stood like a statue and drank in the sight of her: heart-shaped face, flawless skin, rosy lips, a slightly up
turned nose, and extraordinary eyes of light gray. The deep gold of her hair, caught high, was tucked beneath a lacy cap. Without powder, paint, or overdecoration, she was a vision.

“My God,” Jack breathed. “A fairy queen.”

Alec silently agreed. She sparkled. He hardly noticed her companion, a small woman swallowed in black silk. As the two women approached, he inclined his head respectfully to the other lady. Then his gaze met the girl’s again, and held it.

She tilted her head in silent acknowledgment and moved past him, but an arm’s length away. Her skirts brushed near his feet, and he could have touched her smooth hand.

Then she glided past like stolen sunlight.

He felt different suddenly, as if her incandescence dissolved shadows that had surrounded him for years. Motionless, he watched her depart by a side door opened by a page boy.

Exhaling, he scabbarded his sword with a swift push. Never had he felt such a headlong rush of attraction, like a physical force sweeping through him—not even for the woman he loved, gone two years now.

The delicate, mysterious Scottish beauty had sent chills clear through him. He still felt the resonance.

Beside him, Jack looked dumbstruck. “I’ve just seen the wee queen of all the fairies. I think I’m in love.”

“Aye? The older lady seems just your sort,” Alec drawled. Ignoring Jack’s quick scowl, he strode toward the hall’s main doors, where two liveried porters stood.

Still clutching the shining guinea in his hand, he
handed it to the porter as he left the hall. He did not want the English king’s gold.

 

She felt taken up by a whirlwind and left trembling. Setting a hand over her thumping heart, Kate MacCarran watched the taller of the two Highlanders through the narrow gap of the doorway.

With only a few searing glances, he had captured her attention utterly. His handsome strength, agility, and the aura of quiet power that surrounded him fascinated her. Blue eyes piercing under straight brows, dark hair touched with sunlight, he seemed as rugged as the mountains of his origin, as strong as earth and rock, an honorable Highlander like her own kinsmen. His comrade was a lean, dark young man of startling beauty, but Kate noticed only the taller of the two and wondered at his identity.

Her aunt touched her arm to urge her onward, but Kate waved her ahead to where others strolled in the gallery. Left alone, she braced a hand on the doorframe and watched as the two Highlanders departed the hall and vanished in the shadows.

She felt a sudden wild longing, wishing she could go with him, back to the Highlands, into adventure. But she had business here before she could return north, and she could not allow herself to become infatuated with a stranger. The dream might be pleasant, but the risks were far too great.

On its silver chain, the crystal pendant at her throat sparkled. She touched her fingers to it, reassured by its
presence, which subtly enhanced the gift of the fairy blood within her, the legacy of her family.

Love makes its own magic,
said the motto of her clan. Kate had been born with the gift of the glamourie—the ability to cast a spell—in her case, she could captivate a man with a mere touch or a glance. But the tall Highland swordsman had not wavered under her glance, had not turned adoring and obedient, ready to do all her will. His silence, his stillness and pride intrigued her deeply.

BOOK: Sarah Gabriel
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