Authors: Joan Johnston
Kitt reminded her bodyguard. She felt a stab of alarm when her warning had no effect. But she refused to be the one to back away. Her flashing eyes dared him to come closer. Dared him to try and kiss her.
He gave her a wolfish smile. “You let go first.”
She realized her hands were twined in the hair at his nape and snatched them away. “Now you let go,” she said.
The feel of his breath on her flesh had already sent an expectant shiver down her spine when he finally stepped back. “You’re safe from me, my lady,” he said, though his eyes sent a different, dangerous message. “I will keep my promise. No matter how great the temptation.”
Kitt could not deny she had wondered what it might be like to kiss him. Perhaps she had even let him see it in her eyes. But she knew better. To succumb to mere physical desire was disaster, plain and simple.
You must get rid of Alex and hire someone else as your bodyguard. Someone safe
HIGH PRAISE FOR AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR JOAN JOHNSTON AND HER PREVIOUS BESTSELLING NOVELS
AFTER THE KISS
“A MESMERIZING, MOVING AND POWERFULLY EMOTIONAL LOVE STORY.”
“ABSOLUTELY CAPTIVATING. Full of wonderful, intriguing and sinfully wicked characters. Johnston has written an excellent
Beauty and the Beast
—Affaire de Coeur
“EXCEPTIONAL … Ms. Johnston does a terrific job of developing unexpected events and her marvelous characters will keep you involved in every one.”
“AN UNFORGETTABLE ROMANCE … Ms. Johnston again shows her excellent writing skills … the characters are captivating and memorable.”
—Old Book Barn Gazette
is guaranteed to hold you in its thrall … a lovely reminder of what romance is all about. The author’s talent brings everything to vivid life.”
—The Romance Reader
“LIVELY AND WELL-WRITTEN … PERFECTLY ENCHANTING.”
“JOAN JOHNSTON CONTINUALLY GIVES US EVERYTHING WE WANT.… A fast-paced Regency farce and a delightful change of pace from this multitalented author.”
“A STUNNING LOOK AT HUMAN FOIBLES AND FERVOR. This adventurous, passionate read is first-rate from first to last page. Ms. Johnston’s tale is brimming with poignant emotions and exciting action blended into a sensuous, tension-filled romance that is impossible to put down.”
—Affaire de Coeur
“Joan Johnston gives us a double dose of romance with a mature love story and one of young love. Readers will find themselves truly captivated by both romances and the excitement of the chase and the passion.”
A Dell Book
Dell mass market edition published April 1998
Dell mass market reissue / March 2008
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1998 by Joan Mertens Johnston, Inc.
Dell is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-5290-7
From childhood Katherine MacKinnon had been taught how to reive cattle, how to disappear like mist into the Highlands, and how to hate the English. Even so, she was shocked and appalled by her father’s deathbed request.
“You canna mean what you’re asking, Father,” she said, adjusting her plaid scarf with trembling fingers.
“ ’Twas the fourth Duke of Blackthorne who struck the mortal blow that killed your grandfather at Culloden,” he reminded her. “The fifth of that name enforced the ban against the plaid and the playing of the pipes. And the latest Blackthorne bastard, sixth of his line, has raised the rents to starve us out.”
“I know, Father, but—”
“They couldna kill us off,” he interrupted her. “They couldna break our spirit. But a man canna watch his bairns starve.”
“I’m dying, Kitt. ’Tis up to you to carry on the fight when I am gone. You must do what I ask.”
As Kitt looked down at her father’s nearly emaciated form, a beam of sunlight danced through the window of the stone-and-thatch cottage where she had spent the whole of her two and twenty years.
The sun should not be shining on such a sad day as this
, she thought.
Suddenly Kitt felt all of the grief and anguish and disbelief anew. Her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her. Now her father was threatening to leave her … forever. She refused to accept it.
“Dinna speak of dying, Father,” she cajoled. “I’m not ready to let you go.”
“I’m done for, lass. I willna live another day. I give you the care of our people. I trust their lives and the future of the clan to you. I name you Chief of Clan MacKinnon and hereditary Laird—Lady, I suppose it must be—of Castle MacKinnon, lately called Blackthorne Hall.”
A shudder passed through her as she acknowledged the enormous weight of responsibility her father was laying upon her shoulders. Her father’s closest advisor, Duncan Fraser, who stood nearby, gasped in dismay at her father’s pronouncement.
“You canna name a woman The MacKinnon, Rob!” Duncan said. “The men willna follow her.”
“For my own sake I ask it, Duncan,” her father replied. “For the love that Clan MacKinnon bears my father, I demand it.”
Kitt’s grandfather, Jamie MacKinnon, was revered by his clansmen because, though mortally wounded himself, he had helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape to Mallaig after the disastrous Battle of Culloden. As a final punishment for his treason against the English king, Castle MacKinnon and the surrounding land had been awarded as a prize of war to the Duke of Blackthorne—“There being no living male heir to The MacKinnon.”
Of course, the grant had been in error. But who could blame her grandmother for remaining silent about the child growing in her womb? She would likely have been put to the sword herself. Why take the risk when the child might be female? And she had bitten her tongue when Robert MacKinnon was born, fearing her tiny son would be dispatched by the bloodthirsty duke before his claim could be recognized.
Duncan Fraser had stepped into the breach caused by Jamie’s death and had watched out for Robert MacKinnon, making certain that he took his rightful place as The MacKinnon when he was a young man. But no claim had ever been made against the English for the return of the castle or the land.
Now Duncan was bent with age, and her father was dying of it. Someone must lead, and there was no firstborn son to follow as chief. Only a daughter.
“ ’Tis folly to name a woman as chief,” Duncan said. “ ’Tis never been done in my memory. But if you wish it—”
“I do,” Rob said. “Leave us, Duncan. I have words to speak to my daughter.”
Once Duncan had left the bedroom, her father said, “Step closer, lass. There’s a way to reclaim the castle and the land, if only you have the courage to follow through with it.”
“Shouldna Duncan hear this?” Kitt asked.
“My plan is for your ears alone, lass. Now lean close. I havna much strength to say what must be said.”
Kitt bent her head close to her father’s, a thick lock of her long dark hair falling over his chest. Quickly, she tucked it behind her ear and knuckled away the womanish tears on her face, masking her fear of the future with a wobbly smile. As her father whispered his plan, the blood drained from her face, leaving her ashen.
“I canna do it!” she cried, stunned at what he’d suggested. “I willna do it!”
Once upon a time, the gnarled hand that grasped her wrist could have crushed her bones, but age and illness had stolen her father’s strength. She could easily have pulled away, but respect and love for him held her in place.
“Swear to me you’ll do as I ask … for the sake of our clansmen.”
“You ask too much!” Kitt protested. “There must be some other way.” Her blood pounded in her ears like surf against the rocky Scottish coast. “Let me get Duncan—”
“Nay, lass. Duncan willna approve. Nor will the others. ’Tis likely they will hate you for it. But ’tis the
only way. Swear,” he rasped, his breath rattling in his chest.
If she had hesitated a moment longer, his spirit would have flown, and the promise would not have been made. But Kitt saw the light dying in his eyes and in an effort to keep him with her she blurted, “I swear, on my honor as The MacKinnon, to do what I must to win back the castle and the land.”
“That’s a good lass.” The air soughed from his lungs, but he did not struggle for more. He merely closed his eyes and gave in to death.
“No, Father!” she cried. “Dinna leave me!” A sob welled up like a giant wave inside her and became an ululating cry of pain. “Father! Father, dinna go!”
She felt Duncan’s firm hand on her shoulder, urging her away. “He’s gone, child. He canna hear you.”
Kitt shook off his touch and snarled, “Go away, old man, and leave me be.” She stared at him defiantly, The MacKinnon who must be obeyed.
Once Duncan was gone, she threw herself across her father’s broad chest, held tight to his neck, and wept like the woman she was. Her ragged, keening moans quieted the mockingbirds and found an echo in the whispering wind from the sea. She wept until her throat was raw and no more sound came out, until there was only an ache in her throat and in the place where her heart should be.