Authors: Cathy Maxwell
She would become the English Chattan’s witch. She would become
, the name of the last woman to sign the inside page of that book. Fenella. It sounded witchy.
And she would claim—no, earn—the Englishman’s three hundred pounds.
Did her conscience bother her at pretending to be what she was not? She thought of the man who had almost run her over, the angry scowl, the rough voice.
She’d find a way to be at peace with herself. Having enough fuel to keep the fires in Camber Hall burning and plenty of food in the larder would be a good start.
is brother was dying and there was nothing Harry could do about it—not until he found someone or something that could break the curse.
For the first time in his life, Harry knew fear, a fear he attempted to escape by giving his horse Ajax, a mighty bay that had carried him into many a battle, his lead. It felt good to gallop, to release his frustration to the wind. Harry had never failed at an assignment before, he’d promised himself he wouldn’t fail, and yet time was passing far too quickly.
The letter from his sister, Margaret, had not been hopeful. She’d urged him to act with all haste. His brother, Neal, was growing weaker, even as his wife grew larger with child. Margaret wrote her greatest frustration was how happy his brother, Neal, and Neal’s wife, Thea, were:
They accept the inevitability of the curse and Neal behaves as if he does not even want to fight it.
Well, Harry did. Neal was the finest man he knew. There had to be a way to break the curse. There
He and Ajax raced over the moors, Harry’s mind working furiously on all he had done, all he had learned. He’d come to Glenfinnan because it had been the home of Charles, the first Chattan cursed. There must be a clue here, something that would give him a direction. He sensed it was true, and Harry always trusted his gut.
But in a week’s time, he’d not learned anything except that Highlanders have long memories—when they wish to do so.
He’d met many who knew something of the curse and many more who still thought of his family line as traitors since they’d turned their backs on Scotland to marry into the English.
At first, Harry had tried reasoning. After all, over the past two hundred years and more, many a Scotsman had married an Englishwoman. But local lore was such that he discovered his ancestors unforgiven.
“They talk as if they could have won the rebellion in ’45 with my family’s help,” he muttered at Ajax after they had run their fill.
Ajax was tired. He wanted his oats and his hay and didn’t care much what the Highlanders thought of him.
Surprisingly, Harry did. He felt comfortable here, and if his brother’s life wasn’t at stake, he would have enjoyed himself.
As it was, he needed to move on, to continue his search. He just didn’t know which way he should go.
It was dark by the time he returned to Montheath’s house. A groom offered to help Harry with his horse but he saw to his own mount.
Monty had held dinner.
“You shouldn’t have waited,” Harry said, sinking down into a chair at the overladen table and finding himself quite hungry. He’d taken a moment to wash, while informing his man Rowan that they would leave at first light; however, he still wore his riding clothes and boots. Monty was equally casually dressed. This was a simple supper between two bachelors. A good fire burned in the hearth, the bread was fresh, and the leg of venison was still sizzling from the spit.
“You are my guest,” Monty said. “Of course I would wait.” He and Harry had fought in many campaigns together, although Monty was an artilleryman through and though. He liked the powers of guns.
Now, Monty was retired. He was some twenty years older than Harry and had seen far more fighting on numerous continents. He had a whippet-lean body and a full head of white hair. He was also a bit cross-eyed and he had a very strong nose, making him rather unhandsome. Harry didn’t care about looks. Monty was both fearless and cool-headed under fire.
Monty also had an abnormal fondness for dogs. He must own at least ten of them of various and sundry lineages. Outside, inside, everywhere, the house was surrounded by dogs. One or two were at his heels wherever he went.
Monty could have chosen anywhere to live, but he’d chosen this quiet spot of Scotland where he didn’t have family or close friends. Indeed, Harry and Monty had come upon each other by chance. Harry had just arrived in Glenfinnan and been riding down the road, and there had been Monty, riding in the opposite direction. He hadn’t hesitated in inviting Harry to stay with him. Harry had asked him why he was in Glenfinnan but Monty had been unusually closed-lipped.
In truth, Harry’s problems were so large, he did not have the luxury of worrying over his friend’s concerns. So he’d let the subject drop.
“I shall be leaving on the morrow,” he said to Monty as he speared a healthy-sized piece of venison for his plate. He shook his head at the servant offering peas. Harry was fond of any food as long as it wasn’t green. “I have appreciated your hospitality.”
go,” Monty said.
Harry looked up in surprise. “I must. You know I am here on a mission.”
“Are you certain you have met all the witches in the area? There are quite a few.”
“There aren’t any,” Harry said flatly. He chewed his food a moment without tasting it. He had no appetite. Food was something he needed for the strength to continue his search. “Well, save for that lonely old woman who lives in a hovel and chatters to herself all day. Crazy Lizzy is her name.” Harry had given her ten pounds. He’d felt sorry for her. “They may look, and smell, like witches, but they are not. The woman I’m looking for is the one who placed the curse on my family. I’m searching for Fenella, or someone connected to her.”
“You carry on about this Fenella as if you believe her still alive, even after hundreds of years.”
“I know she is,” Harry answered. “Some part of her must be alive or the curse would not be as strong as it is.”
“Then you must stay right here in Glenfinnan. This is a very mystical part of Scotland. I think you should stay.” A servant poured ale in Monty’s tankard, and the general reached for it immediately.
Picking up his own glass of sweet cider, Harry shook his head. “I can’t, Monty. My brother is growing weaker. I had a letter from my sister today. We don’t know how much time he has. I must find a way to save him or he will die.”
“Your brother. Yes,” Monty said, his expression stricken. “I forgot him. Sorry, sorry.” He reached for a piece of venison off his plate and absently began feeding his dogs from the table.
A cold dog nose nudged Harry’s arm. He gave the dog a pet and shooed it away, a bit concerned by Monty’s behavior. His old friend would not forget such a detail as Harry’s purpose for being in Glenfinnan. “Monty, is there something the matter?”
The general drained his tankard, held it for a servant to be refilled, and then motioned him away, saying, “Leave us.” He waited until the door had closed behind the servant before leaning across the table. “I need your help, Chattan. I’ve put off asking since you have concerns of your own, but I’m desperate. I thought when I met you that here was exactly what I needed—a man who can claim any woman he wishes.”
Harry didn’t challenge the description. It was true. Women flocked to him. They always had.
It wasn’t vanity for him to admit that he had looks they liked. It was a statement of fact. God had blessed him with a face and form that was pleasing to the ladies. And he had used them to his own advantage—until he’d set out upon this quest.
Now, he was beginning to wonder how he could have been so shallow. Of course, he was free of the chains of opium and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken a drink. No, that was a lie. He remembered all too well and he hated himself for it.
But he was curious why Monty thought this an asset. Monty was an avowed bachelor, or that was the impression Harry had gained.
“What’s amiss, Monty?”
His friend sat back in his chair. A terrier jumped into his lap. Monty absently petted its head as he said, “I need you to help me attend the Christmas Assembly.”
Monty nodded vigorously.
Harry shook his head slowly. “I can’t wait around for the dance, Monty. My brother’s life is at stake.”
“The dance is in four days, Chattan. You can wait four days.”
“I don’t remember you eager to attend any dances back when I served under your command,” Harry said. “You usually avoided them.”
“I did,” Monty said. He pushed the dog off his lap and threw the animals another piece of meat. They yapped and snarled over it. “Not my thing.”
“Then why must you attend this dance?” Harry asked, leaning forward and resting his arms on the table.
will be there.”
“Who is she?” Harry had to ask, intrigued.
“Lady Ariana Maclean.”
“Maclean?” The name sounded familiar.
“Do you not remember Black Jack Maclean?” Monty said to prod Harry’s memory.
Harry pushed away from the table. “That sorry rascal! He was married? I pity the woman he took for a wife.”
“I do as well,” Monty said. “Her life has not been easy.”
“Does she know he had at least two families on the Peninsula?” Harry asked. “The man was a scoundrel. He wasn’t even a good officer. He spent most of his time as far behind the lines as possible.”
“He was a coward,” Monty agreed. “But he was an even worse husband.”
his wives,” Harry had to quip. Everyone in the regiment knew Maclean lived with different women as man and wife. He wasn’t the only one to do so. Many soldiers did—but the practice had never set well with Harry.
“Aye, he was bad . . . and I hate what he did to Ariana.” Now it was Monty leaning across the table. “Harry, you should meet her. She’s the loveliest female that has ever graced this earth. Since first we met, there hasn’t been a day of my life when I haven’t thought of her. Not a day that has passed when I haven’t wanted her.”
“Why, Monty, you are in love.”
. Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. I love Ariana Williams.”
“That was her maiden name?”
“Her family lived not far from mine. I was first introduced to her when I was fourteen and she twelve.”
“And you have loved her all this time?”
Monty sadly nodded yes.
Harry studied his friend in a new light. He was no fan of love. One couldn’t be given his family history. His parents had both been cold people, until his mother died and his father had gone mad over an opera dancer whom he had made his second countess. And then the curse had claimed him. His father had died soon after the marriage.
Now Love was claiming the life of his brother.
But Monty’s declaration was a complete puzzlement. “If you were so enamored, why didn’t you speak up before she married Black Jack?” Harry asked.
“I tried, or I wished to do so. I’m not good with words.”
“You are speaking clearly right now.”
“But I can’t speak to
. And then she chose Maclean over me. I tried to warn her but ended discussing the weather instead, and I had a hard time doing that.”
“She made a poor choice. Being shot in a duel by an angry husband is not an honorable death.”
“Yes, the Portuguese are not as reserved about adultery as we British are,” Monty agreed. “The worst is that he had resigned his commission.” One of the dogs put his paws on the table to catch his master’s attention. “Down, Jasper,” Monty said, pushing him away and then offering a crust of bread.
“So the family has nothing?” Harry shifted in his chair. “Well, it is the rare man who can afford three families.”
“I don’t know if Ariana is aware of what a scoundrel her husband was. They say the reason Ariana moved her family to Scotland was because it is less expensive to live here. I love her, Chattan. I love her completely and honestly and secretively. I want to change that. I want her to know. I could do so much to help her family, if she would let me.”
“Then speak to her,” Harry advised.
Monty raised tortured eyes to Harry’s and said, “No. I’m afraid to even call on her.”
“Why? What are you waiting for?” Harry demanded. “She needs a man to support her and you are one of the best. You have position, you have fortune, and she has your heart. What woman could resist such a man? None that I know. Call on her tomorrow. Make a declaration. Neither of you is growing any younger.”
Monty gripped the edge of the table. “I can’t face her alone. When I think about it, I’m petrified. I can’t talk, I can’t think, I can’t move.” He raised a pleading gaze to Harry. “But I
face her at the dance if you would speak for me.”
“Oh no,” Harry said. He held up a hand warding the suggestion away.
,” Harry replied. “I have done this before, Monty. I’ve had friends ask me to speak to their ladyloves for them and it has never ended well.”
“But I’m not just
“That you aren’t,” Harry agreed, “which is all the more reason I should decline. I like you, Monty. Maclean’s widow will like you as well, in fact more so. Be yourself, be kind, be attentive, and she will be yours.”
“I’m tongue-tied around her,” Monty lamented. “You don’t have to do much. Just go to the dance with me. Be there for support.”
“Monty, I can’t stay here that long—”
“My brother is
. I can’t stay. My quest is for an end to this curse. Once I’ve found what I’m looking for, I’ll return to Glenfinnan and go to however many dances you wish and talk to any number of women. But right now, I can’t, sir, and I beg of you to understand.”
The general’s back stiffened. He would not meet Harry’s eye as he said, “Have it your way then. I shall wait. I’ve waited decades already.”
The pronouncement ended dinner. Harry’s appetite had left him. He did not like disappointing an old friend. Then again, he didn’t understand all this nonsense over a woman. He rose from the table. “I value our friendship,” he said. “I have always respected you when under your command. I apologize, Monty, but my brother’s life is a higher priority.” ’