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MAN OF THE HIGH COUNTRY

 

Mary Moore

 

"You have no proof he's my father!"

Morgan had quickly answered Katriona Carmichael's challenge. "Proof?" he echoed. "You're so like him it's ridiculous—an attractive, utterly feminine version of a proud, stubborn, bad-tempered old man."

Morgan's words still rang in her ears. All her life she'd yearned to know she had a father, and the temptation to accept Ross Carmichael's invitation to New Zealand was overpowering.

Even more overwhelming was the urge to see Morgan Grant again....

 

She knew she would never be the same

Katriona held Morgan's letter close, keeping it, holding it, treasuring it. Something of his.

She felt her cheeks burn as she realized where her thoughts were leading. What if Morgan had made love to her? Pain shot through her as Katriona forced herself to be honest and admit she would have been wild with delight. Morgan Grant had some powerful magical quality that drew people to him. Look how Jeannie and Donald had been charmed, and Elspeth, and silly, stupid, idiotic Katriona Carmichael!

Katriona caught her reflection in the mirror, and it did not look like her at all. The girl in the mirror had a soft, sweet mouth, color in her cheeks and stars in her eyes.

She looked like a girl in love!

 

CHAPTER ONE

Katriona Carmichael
was typing furiously fast, her whole concentration centred on finishing these last three very long complicated letters for her employer, Mr Drummond. She was so deeply engrossed in her work that she failed to hear the knock on her door or see the little office junior peer cautiously round the door and tiptoe up to her desk.

‘Miss Carmichael. Please, Miss Carmichael.’ Shona’s face was flushed with excitement. She had to get Katriona’s attention somehow. Determinedly she raised her voice and shouted,
‘Katriona!’

Katriona looked up, 'Yes, Shona, what is it? Sorry I didn’t see you there.’

Looking somewhat embarrassed, Shona blurted out, ‘It’s that man again, asking for you. Won’t you please see him? He’s awfully nice, really he is ... and he says he has to see you most urgently. I know you’re very busy, but it would only take a few minutes.’

Anger flashed in Katriona’s blue eyes. ‘Now, Shona, I told you yesterday, and again this morning, that I don’t want to see him. That’s
final.
This is my last day at work before I go on holiday, and I have simply masses of stuff to get through for Mr Drummond. Now, go out and tell him to get lost—politely of course, but firmly.’ Katriona returned to her typing.

Rather nervously Shona stood her ground. Miss Carmichael, the private secretary of the president of the Company, could be a bit scary when she got angry, but Shona felt the man at the public counter might also be a bit difficult if he was put off again.

Katriona ripped the finished letter from her typewriter with a flourish and clipped the original and three copies together, ready for signing, then put in fresh paper and carbons. ‘One down, two to go,’ she muttered. Then she saw Shona still standing beside her desk, and raised one eyebrow questioningly.

‘Oh, Miss Carmichael, don’t get mad. I can’t go back and tell Mr Grant you won’t see him. He won’t believe me, and it’s embarrassing. This is the fourth time he’s been here, and he must know you’re avoiding him.’

‘I should hope he does by now,’ Katriona replied briskly. It will save him wasting his time, your time, and my time.’

Shona still hovered. ‘I know you said he was one of your mother’s A.Y.M. people, whatever they are ... but he doesn’t look peculiar. He looks nice, and serious ...'

Katriona sighed impatiently. ‘They often do. Mother sends them over here to Edinburgh with strict instructions to see her “dear wee girl” and show her a good time, and in that way she eases her conscience for her neglect of her only daughter. A.Y.M. means Aimless Young Man or Awful Young Man. You could quite well use any vowel in the alphabet to describe them, for example, E.Y.M., Earnest Y.M., or Incredible Y.M., or Obnoxious Y.M., or Useless Y.M. They’re all cut to the same pattern, too much money ... oh, it’s no use trying to explain it to you again. Just go out and get rid of him. Is that clear?’

Shona nodded despondently. She watched Katriona slip the paper into place and start typing another letter. She knew it was useless to argue further, but it was always a pleasure to watch Katriona at work, and it postponed having to disappoint that nice-looking man at the public counter. Idly she daydreamed of the day she would be as competent and efficient at Katriona, friendly towards everyone yet sort of reserved, keeping herself to herself. Of course, Katriona was fabulous to look at with that glorious shoulder-length red hair and blue, blue eyes, and when she batted those fantastically long sweeping eyelashes ...

Katriona glanced up and caught Shona’s admiring gaze and jerked her head towards the door significantly. Shona left the room hurriedly.

An hour later when Shona appeared with Katriona’s afternoon tea on a tray, she found the secretary relaxed and busy tidying her desk. ‘Thank you, Shona. Sorry I bit your head off last time, but those letters were very important.’

Shona shrugged her shoulders. 'It didn’t bother me, Miss Carmichael.’

‘Nice child,’ Katriona commented as she sipped her tea with appreciation. ‘Everything is cleared up here and I’m off as soon as I finish this. I’m looking forward to two wonderful weeks’ leave before the tourist rush begins.’

‘You’re leaving early?’ Shona asked in shocked tones. Miss Carmichael never left early. She always checked the windows and doors and safe before leaving.

Katriona did not notice Shona’s dismay. 'Yes, Mr Drummond said to take an earlier train to Glasgow, and that suits me fine. I love the train trip from Glasgow to Oban in June when all the bluebells are in flower among the trees, and the red splashes of colour from the rhododendrons are everywhere. I’ll sleep on the ferry, and be on Tiree next morning.’

‘But you can’t,’ wailed Shona. ‘I told Mr Grant he should be here when the office closed, if he wanted to see you so badly.’

Katriona chuckled. ‘Oh, Shona, he’s not going to be very pleased with you, is he? Serve him right for being so persistent.’

‘Honestly, Miss Carmichael, you’d like him if you met him. Won’t you stay and see him,
please?'

‘No,’ Katriona replied firmly. ‘I’m off on holiday, and by the time I return Mr Grant will have taken himself off to Paris or Rome or wherever. Don’t feel too badly about it, dear. He’ll probably feel terribly relieved, even though he’ll make a great show of being bitterly disappointed. Just bear in mind that it is a show and you won’t feel too guilty.’

'I’m sure he’s genuine,’ Shona protested.

‘Oh, he will be genuinely sorry that he can’t do the favour my mother asked him to do. Most men find it impossible to refuse her anything. She has quite a way with her.’

Shona heard the tinge of bitterness in Katriona’s voice, and was puzzled. ‘But why does your mother keep sending these men? She must know you’re so lovely you only have to lift a finger and you could have any young man you wanted.’

Katriona laughed, ‘Shona, my dear, you’re a definite asset to the office, a real ego-builder!’ A sudden thought struck her. ‘You didn’t tell him I was going on holiday?—Mr Grant, I mean?’

Shona shook her head despondently.

‘Good,’ Katriona said forcefully. ‘And you won’t. If he appears next week you’ll be quite vague as to where I’ve gone or when I’m coming back. Do you understand?’

‘Yes,’ Shona answered unhappily. Miss Carmichael might brush her visitor aside as insignificant, but she, Shona, could not see him tamely accepting defeat. Romantically, she could see him flying off to that wee island where Miss Carmichael was staying—but now she couldn’t even give him any information to help him get there. ‘He’s really a dish,’ she offered hopefully.

‘That’s fine,’ Katriona told her with a mischievous grin. ‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy making it up to him for his crushing disappointment.’

Shona watched Katriona finish her tea, then pick up her bag and fling her tartan cloak over her slender shoulders. ‘You never do, do you?’

Katriona turned. ‘Do what, you funny little thing?’

‘You never do lift a finger to encourage any man. You just brush them off. Don’t you like men, Miss Carmichael?’

‘Oh, I like Mr Drummond, and old Mr Brown, and young William,’ Katriona replied flippantly.

For an instant Shona saw something like pain or sadness in those blue eyes, but it flickered and was gone so fast that she began to doubt it had been there. ‘But they’re really very old or very young. I meant eligible males?’

‘Oh,
those!'
Katriona laughed mockingly. ‘No. I have to admit that those sort of men are fine in their place, I’m sure, just as long as they don’t feel they have any place in my life. Now I’ll say goodbye. See you behave yourself while I’m away.’

Shona picked up the tray still thinking of Katriona Carmichael. She had sounded so hard, yet Shona knew that she was soft-hearted and kind. Perhaps she had been jilted once? No. Shona could not see any man throwing away the chance of being married to the lovely redhead. Perhaps someone she loved very much had died? Yes, that sounded more romantic and fitting. What a pity that she would not meet Mr Grant. Shona was sure that no girl in her right mind would be able to resist Mr Grant.

Katriona caught her train with time to spare, and for the next two weeks blissfully forgot there ever was an office in Edinburgh. As soon as she arrived at the croft, and followed Donald up the narrow stairs as he carried her cases, she shed all her city sophistication. When he left she stripped off her elegant city clothes and scrambled into her sweater and jeans, knowing with joy that here on the island she had no need to project the careful image of the always efficient and cool Miss Carmichael.

But the two weeks flew by on wings, and on her last day she rose early before the sun and climbed to the top of Ben Hynish, the largest of the three hills on Tiree. It gave her a wonderful feeling to be up there alone before any of the Island people stirred from their beds, a feeling of oneness with this wild, lonely, lovely island.

Katriona lay back against the heather on the hill and pushed all the problems from her mind. She watched the huge jets slice through the clear blue Hebridean sky as they arrowed their way to the Scottish International Airport at Prestwick. She thought of the passengers weary from their long journey across the Atlantic soothing their tired eyes on the green fields below, excited by their first glimpse of Scotland. They would be the vanguard of the millions of tourists who would wing their way into Britain for the summer holidays. She envied none of them.

Warmed by the early morning sun, and sheltered from the fresh wind by the heather, she watched a small rock wren warily approach its nest. Alert and watchful, it hopped nearer and nearer to Katriona, then stopped only inches away from her hand and paused long enough to decide that she was only part of the landscape before slipping into a narrow crevice in the rock. Katriona lay scarcely breathing until it re-emerged and flew away. A black-faced Highland ewe with its lamb appeared on the ledge below her and haughtily surveyed the surroundings before giving her, a contemptuous glance, then trotted out of sight.

Moving cautiously, Katriona inched forward to look into the tiny nest and with delight she counted four eggs. An amused smile touched her lips and was reflected in her eyes, which were as blue as the Hebridean sky itself. Suddenly conscious of the time, she scrambled to her feet. Yes, folk were stirring down below her. There was Duncan bringing his cows into the byre, and the children playing outside the croft by the loch—Mary Flora, Ishbel, Hector and wee Duncan. Katriona sighed. She must go down. Donald and Jeannie would be expecting her.

She shivered as the chill wind bit through her thick warm sweater, bent hastily to pick up her windbreaker and thankfully slipped her arms into its warmth, then thrust her green tam’-o-shanter on her red-gold curls. Thrusting her hand into the pockets, she felt her fingers curl round a stone and pulled it out to examine it. A pale opalescent green stone, like the Iona stone, heart-shaped, smooth and warm in her palm.

Poor Donald ... no, dear sweet Donald. He had found the stone down on the shore and given it to her, just as he would love to give her his name, his land and anything he owned. Oh, why could she not love him? She knew that she would be happy to spend all her days on this island among the warm hearted folk she knew. Yet all she felt for Donald was friendship, and it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to offer such a fine man.

Angrily she zipped up her jacket, her peace of mind shattered and all the old restlessness and yearning back again. She started down the hillside, running and jumping across its craggy slopes, startling the blackfaced sheep and Iambs and causing commotion and consternation between the cows and calves grazing on the lower slopes. Down the track she raced and out across the pastures beside the road where she climbed over the gate and breathlessly slowed to a walk as she neared the croft.

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