Thursday, May 25, 2023

Her Scottish Legacy an Excerpt by Barbara Baldwin


I am pleased to offer you an excerpt of my historical – Her Scottish Legacy.




 Gilchrist Manor, Scotland – 1828

          For days, Hunter sneaked around the back of the manor and peeked through the window. At eight years of age, he was tall enough to see over the casement into the elegant room. But it wasn’t the room that fascinated him. It was the lady of the manor. As he had seen on previous days, she sat very still, like a carving of shimmering white marble. Her beauty reminded him of the statues he had seen in the museum in Edinburgh the one time his mother had taken him to the city.

The painter moved toward her, adjusting the sleeve of her dress so it slid slightly off her shoulder. Hunter’s fists clinched. The man had no right to touch her. His paint-stained fingers lingered and Hunter had the urge to break the window glass and scream for him to leave her alone.

She didn’t move; didn’t appear to even notice as he caressed her cheek and tilted her chin just so before moving back to the easel and picking up a brush. Hunter’s gaze returned to the woman. Her gaze shifted and for a moment she stared directly at him, and yet he felt she was not looking at him at all but seeing something beyond his understanding. Her eyes, a shimmering blue in the light, were incredibly sad, but as he watched, the corners of her mouth tilted ever so slightly as her hand flattened for an instant across her stomach.

“Youch!” he squealed as calloused fingers pinched his ear and dragged him away from the lighted window.

“Ye know better than to be peeking through the winders, Hunter boy!” His da continued dragging him by the ear through the manor gardens. Hunter grabbed his thick wrist with both small hands to relieve the pain on his ear.

“But she’s so beautiful, and so sad. ‘Tis not right she’s hurting.”

His da stopped at the far edge of the garden and finally released his ear. Hunter rubbed the abused lobe.

“She’s a lady, son, and married to the master of Gilchrist. Don’t be forgetting it.” With a sigh, he rubbed his big hands over his face. “I’m her man’s gardener and you, the gardener’s boy so you need to stay away from her, y’hear?”

Hunter stood as tall as his eight-year-old frame would allow. “She’s not happy, da, but I can change that. I’m going to marry her when I grow up.”

For the first time since catching him, his da’s face broke into a smile, then a laugh bellowed forth. Affectionately tousling his shaggy hair, he pushed him toward home. “Aye, and I’m the King of Scotland.”

Deflated, Hunter realized the foolishness of his remark as they had no king in Scotland.


* * *


Regardless of his da’s orders, Hunter felt it his duty to watch over the beautiful lady. One day as he scurried through the garden toward the manor, he came upon her by the rose bushes. He stopped short, not sure how to approach her. She knelt, trying to dig a hole with a small spade like his da would use when potting flowers.

He heard a sound and realized she wept. As he watched, she dropped the spade and cradled her arm against her chest. He could see where a bruise marred the fair skin of her arm and a button hung by a thread at the edge of her capped sleeve.

“Who hurt you?” he demanded as he stepped forward. He didn’t understand why his chest hurt so badly. “I will find the monster who has made you cry and slay him!”

She lifted her head and gave him a sad smile but shook her head.

“Perhaps instead you can do me a great favor and help dig.” Her soft and lyrical voice would remain a favorite memory of Hunter’s for years to come.

“Da can plant for you. ‘Tis his job.”

She quickly shook her head. “No, I cannot bother your father.” She looked over at the chest sitting next to her skirts as she knelt. “’Tis…’tis only my poor precious cat. I am being sentimental, and a man would not understand.”

Hunter took the spade she offered and started to dig. He glanced at her sideways and saw her watching him.

“Might I ask you a question?” he almost stuttered.

That brought a small smile. “Of course you may.”

“That word…senti…senti? What does it mean?”

“Sentimental?” She thought for a moment. “It is feelings of tenderness or sadness.”

Hunter thought about the way it had hurt when his mother had died. “Is it wrong for a man to be sentimental?” He could feel his cheeks warm and dropped his gaze back to the hole to continue digging.

“Being sentimental is one of the best possible traits for a man to have, although it is a hard one to admit.” He felt her ruffle his hair. “Or for little boys,” she added softly.

“I’m not such a little boy,” he grumbled. To prove his worth, he stood and grabbed the handles of the chest to lift it into the hole. He almost stumbled under the weight of it.

“If you will beg pardon, your cat feels more like a Scottish wild cat, though the chest is small to contain such an animal.” He scooped soil over it then sat back on his heels.

“Thank you, Hunter MacGregor. You have been my Prince Charming this day, but I would ask one more thing of you.”

He blushed at her praise and swore silently he would slay dragons if she asked it of him.

At his nod, she reached up and plucked the silver button from her sleeve and pressed it into his grubby hand, curling his fingers around it.

“You must promise not to tell anyone that you saw me today and say naught of what we have done. Can you do that?”

He nodded vigorously, clutching his treasure tightly as she gracefully came to her feet and silently turned and walked away.

The next day, Lady Alisha disappeared.




Chapter 1

Gilchrist, Scotland, 1853


Hunter stood on the small porch of the cottage gazing out upon wet fields. He scraped back his hair with both hands as he stared up at yet another leaden sky. It had been raining for days, unusual for Scotland in mid-March. Spring appeared to plan an early arrival to the lowlands. Who could say why Mother Nature had turned so fickle.

“It appears to have let up for a bit,” Finley said as he squinted off to the west. Hunter followed his gaze, trying to ascertain whether they would get drowned if they ventured out.

“There’s no help for it. If the river’s swollen, as I fear, we can’t afford to have the sheep stranded on the far side, or worse yet on that small island always jutting up in the middle.”

“Aye, that’s the right of it for sure.” Finley turned to the door. “Might as well get to it.”

Hunter followed the sheep herder back inside where they donned their Macintosh and wide brimmed hats. He wound a warm scarf around his neck for added protection. Finley’s wife, Maggie, met them in the small sitting room, wiping her hands on her long apron.

“Might you not wait a bit?” She looked worried and Hunter understood. Andrew Finley wasn’t young anymore, regardless of the man’s protestations, yet he refused to give up his livelihood. Though two decades younger than his friend, Hunter felt the same. He had seen too many men waste away if they no longer had a reason to get up of a morning.

“The rain’s let up for now, wife. Instead of worrying, put on the kettle so there’ll be hot tea on our return.” Though he sounded gruff, Hunter saw the look of affection that passed between the two.  He wondered if there would ever be a woman to look at him that way. Shaking his head, he knew such thoughts were a waste of time.

They saddled the horses in the small barn behind the cottage. Rain began again as they rode out, this time a light mist that didn’t prevent them from moving into a canter over the fields toward the river. The meadows were already greening and the trees on the west edge of the property were leafing, most likely due to the abundant rain. A far sight better than snow, but still, he’d had enough.

Though they came across a small cluster of sheep in the open meadow, it was by no means the majority of the flock. Hunter pulled his horse to a walk, scanning the edge of the forest. Normally sheep stayed in the open, but he could see specks of white at the edge of the trees. At least they weren’t across the river, or in it.

“MacGregor!” Finley hollered and when Hunter turned his gaze, the man frantically pointed toward the river. He kicked his horse into a run.

“There!” Finley pointed just as Hunter heard a shout in the distance. Up-river, by no more than fifty meters, he could see a carriage, the back wheels sloping dangerously down the embankment. The horse dug vigorously at the muddy bank trying to find purchase then reared, hooves slashing the air, its whinnies near a screech of terror. The driver stood precariously close, trying to grab the harness each time the horse’s hooves hit the mud.

“Get back, man!” Hunter hollered as he jumped from his horse. Even as he assessed the situation, the carriage slid further down the embankment, dragging the horse backward with it. The driver stumbled, landing in a muddy heap on the very edge of the bank. Hunter grabbed his collar to keep him from tumbling down to the water.

Finley, who had an affinity for animals, approached the horse, talking softly in Gaelic. Withers quivering, the horse shied sideways, straining at the harness, but did not rear again. “I’ve got this ferocious beast,” he said in a soothing voice, “if the driver can help with the harness now.”

The driver had managed to regain his feet but was turning away as though he meant to get as far away as possible. Hunter grabbed him by the collar again. “Ye mean to leave yer poor horse to be pulled into the burn?” he growled, his brogue becoming more pronounced in his anger.

“The lady.” Arms flailing, the man twisted against Hunter’s hold, his words lost beneath the roll of thunder as the rain began in earnest.

“What?” He couldn’t have heard right.

The driver pointed behind him and Hunter turned, seeing nothing but mud and water. The river rushed past, eating away at the bank and rising even as they stood there. The water, sparkling blue and placid on a sunny day, was a rapidly churning mass of brown mud, bits of leaves and tree limbs. The driver scrambled past him, slipping again and again on the bank. Hunter stayed a bit higher on the grass as he hurried after the man, but then quickly jumped down when the man crouched beside a brown lump, half in the water and near to washing away.

“For the love of Saint Andrew.” He would never have noticed a body, as she was wearing a dark brown coat, brown bonnet, gloves and boots. He started to lift her, but the embankment was steep enough he knew he couldn’t carry her up in his arms. The water washed over his knee boots by now and he knew there might only be minutes before they were swept downstream.

“Up the bank, quickly man,” he hollered to the coachman. “I’ll lift her to you.” As soon as the man reached the top and turned, Hunter lifted the woman. She wasn’t in the least light for her clothes and coat were soaked through and she remained unconscious to boot. Yet he held her high enough for the driver to reach down and catch her under the arms, pulling her up and onto the grass. Hunter scrambled up behind her, but not quickly enough to avoid a blow to his leg by a tree limb being swept downstream.

He grimaced as he dropped to the ground beside the woman. A twisted piece of wood stuck out the side of his boot and when he bent to remove it, searing pain shot up his leg.

He looked around to find that Finley had managed to get the horse out of its harness and tied it by his own mount. He shouted but the rain washed away his words.

Turning, he struggled to untie the woman’s bonnet, tossing it aside. Her face was marred with mud, her eyes closed, but his heart constricted at what he could see of her features. Pale smooth skin, a small straight nose and a full mouth led him to think her quite young. Her chest rose and fell on a cough and he quickly turned her to the side to pat her back.

“Will she be a right?” asked the coachman.

“I have no idea,” Hunter muttered, tapping her lightly on a cold, wet cheek. She breathed but did not open her eyes.

Finley joined them. “You’re bleeding, lad.”

Hunter glanced down at his leg. The pain had subsided, so he didn’t think it deep. Regardless it was the least of his concerns at the moment. He hobbled to his feet. “We need to get her back to the cottage.”

Unbuttoning her coat, he pulled her arms out as gently as he could manage. At Finley’s cough, he looked up long enough to say, “She’s dead weight with all this wet on her. Help me get on my horse then you and the coachman can lift her to me.”

Between the three of them, they hoisted the unconscious woman onto his horse in front of him. He opened his Macintosh and pulled it around her, tucking her back against his chest in an effort to keep her out of the rain. The coachman hitched himself onto the carriage horse and they took off for home. Hunter kept his horse at a walk, yet they still bounced along. The woman moaned, which he took as a good sign, but otherwise she didn’t stir.

Once they reached the cottage, Finley held the horse and Hunter managed to get down, the woman tilting sideways and then sliding into his arms. His leg threatened to buckle, pain throbbing in his calf, but he stalwartly limped up the steps and through the door. He heard Finley speak to the coachman and knew they would care for the horses.

“Maggie,” he called, glancing around, not at all sure what to do with the messy bundle in his arms. His housekeeper would not be happy to see him tracking mud and river water all over her clean floors.

“You’re back, you crazy loons. I told you not…” She stopped in the middle of the doorway; one hand flying to her mouth. In the next instant, she bustled across the sitting room, shooing him with her hands toward the front bedroom. “My stars, what in heaven have you done now?”

Despite the dire situation, Hunter grinned. Margaret Finley had known him all his life and had taken care of him on plenty of occasions after his mother had died. He had run wild more often than not and his father, the Gilchrist gardener, hadn’t known what to do with him.

He followed her into the bedroom where she hurriedly shook out an old quilt to cover the bed linens and he deposited his bundle there with a groan. He started to unbutton her half boots but Maggie shooed him out of the way. “Go put the kettle water in a basin and bring me some fresh linen.” It never occurred to her that he was her employer, not the other way around. He turned to hobble away.

“On top of everything, you managed to get yourself hurt, too?” She stopped what she was doing and started toward him.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “See to the woman.”

After bringing Maggie what she needed, he limped back into the kitchen and set the kettle to boil once again, but he needed more than tea to take the chill from his bones. Gathering some mugs from the cupboard, he dug through the pantry for the bottle of whisky he knew Maggie hid somewhere behind the flour and sugar bags. He poured portions into three mugs as Finley and the coachman came in the back door, stomping their boots and hanging up their rain gear on the hooks by the door.

He passed each a mug, drank his down in a single gulp and finally sagged into a chair at the old, scarred worktable. He had no luck trying to toe off his wet boots. Seeing him struggle, Finley came around the table and with a yank or two, pulled them off and dropped them to the floor. Hunter couldn’t stop the groan from escaping his cold lips and Finley raised a brow as his gaze went to his leg.

A hole had been torn in his trousers and when he dragged them up, he could see where the tree branch had left a small, jagged cut in his calf. Without having to ask, Finley collected materials so Hunter could clean and bind the wound. As he did, he questioned the carriage driver.

“What on earth were you doing on the river road on a day such as this?” Though not uncommon for the mail coach and other travelers with private coaches to continue their journeys regardless of the weather, he had recognized the carriage as a public conveyance from Aberdeen.

“It weren’t raining when we started out.” The driver shrugged. “Been a slow day so I went to the rail station, hoping for a fare or two to the local establishments. When her ladyship asked me to drive her and agreed to the fine, fat fee I said it would cost, why would I say nay?” He grinned, lifting his glass in salute and downing the amber liquid in two gulps.

“What is her name? Her destination?” Hunter asked.

“Heading to Gilchrist, though she never said why. And I hadn’t collected my fare,” the driver grumbled.

“I’ll see you are paid,” Hunter assured him. “Did she give her name or where in Gilchrist she meant to be taken?”

The driver shook his head. “And her trunk’s at the bottom of the demon river, I’d swear.”

At that moment, Maggie entered the kitchen, dumping the basin of water into the sink and wiping her hands on her apron.

“Did she wake?” Hunter asked.

“Nay. She’s got a lump on her forehead the size of an egg. I’m thinking we might want to get the physician.” With a sigh, she poured herself a cup of tea. Her husband quickly stood to give her his seat and he went to lean against the counter. “There’s something about her,” the housekeeper murmured, shaking her head.

“What do you mean?” Hunter asked, certainly curious about a lady traveling alone to the northeastern realms of Scotland.

“I can’t put a finger to it,” she said, “but she looks familiar.”

Hunter glanced out the window to see that the rain had let up. “Finley will see you bedded down in the stables,” he said to the carriage driver. “It’s the best I have to offer and at least it’s dry.”

To Finley he added, “If the rain’s stopped, can you ride into the village and fetch Carmichael?”

“That I can do, lad, but it does bring up a point,” Finley said. “The missus and me should probably both head into town. Seeing as how the lady is sleeping in your bed, you’ll be wanting to find your rest in the other bed.”

“Nonsense,” Hunter replied. “The back bedroom is yours and Maggie’s, for all the times you stay out here. I’ll be perfectly comfortable on the couch in the front room.”

The Finleys were technically employed at the Gilchrist mansion, but the master of the estate, Donald Gilchrist, had died almost a year ago. Gilchrist had owned the large textile manufactory that supported the town and had employed Hunter in various capacities. Now, he kept the employees working as they waited for some distant relative to come and claim the house and business. To feel useful, Maggie had become his self-appointed housekeeper and cook while Finley continued on as a sheepherder. They split their time between the manor house and the outpost cottage, even with no one in residence at the house in town.

Maggie snorted at his comment about sleeping arrangements. “You can’t fit that frame of yours onto that dainty couch.”

“Well, the floor in front of the fire will do just as well,” Hunter replied and when she started to protest yet again, he added, “I’ll brook no disagreement.”

Hunter got little sleep that night. The physician, Carmichael, had come and examined the woman but proclaimed he could do little as anything dealing with the head was complicated. He said he would check back with them the next day and they should keep an eye on her in case a fever developed.

Before he bunked down on the pile of furs and quilts Maggie had made up for him, he looked in on the lady occupying his bed. With the mud cleaned from her face and engulfed in one of his shirts, she looked like a sleeping angel. Her dark blonde hair had dried and lay spread out around her like a halo and her pale, porcelain skin glowed in the soft light from the bedside lamp. She appeared quite young as she lay there unmoving. He couldn’t tell much of her shape as Maggie had piled several blankets atop her, but he recalled the slim feel of her in his arms.

Now, as he tossed and turned on his bed, his thoughts remained on the woman. As Maggie had noted, there was something familiar about her, but he couldn’t put a finger on it either. Perhaps in the morning, she would awaken and he could question her as to why she had landed in Gilchrist.


* * *


Carmichael came back the next day and seemed encouraged as the woman grew restless under his examination and grimaced when he probed her forehead. Yet she didn’t wake up as he would have liked. Maggie stayed at the cottage to watch over her as Hunter and Finley took off once again to round up his wayward sheep. At least the sun decided to make an appearance, though the sky remained watery blue and the wind blew briskly.

The pens they had for shearing weren’t quite large enough to hold the entire flock, and Hunter knew he would have to expand them, but for now they managed to contain the majority. Because of their mentality, the remainder wouldn’t wander far and Hunter set the dogs on patrol of an evening. Shearing wouldn’t begin for another month or two, depending on the weather. It had been a rather mild winter and given their location near the northeast coast, they got less snow than the highlands. Still, with the unseasonal amount of rain and the cold temperatures, spring had yet to officially arrive.

The entire process of raising sheep had grown into more than a full-time job and Hunter couldn’t do it without Finley’s help. As Hunter rode out that morning, he noticed some of the tin covering the paddocks clanked in the wind. Another job to manage before shearing, but one he would have to handle. He didn’t want the older man climbing onto a slippery slope of a roof.

The textile manufactory remained yet another task to get to in town. Hunter rubbed a hand over his face. He had promised he would keep the factory open after Gilchrist’s unexpected death. The village depended on the wages the factory provided as did the sheep raisers who needed a market for their wool.

He looked over the wooly backs of the last group as they herded them homeward, aided as always by Finn and Molly, his faithful dogs. He inhaled deeply, smelling only fresh, rain washed air and his frown turned slowly into a smile. He loved this land; loved being outdoors; loved the smells of every season. As a youngster, he had often helped his father with the yard and gardens at Gilchrist Manor. He had hated school and being forced to be inside all day, yet his education had eventually paid off.

“You done day dreaming?” Finley asked as he rode up next to him.

Hunter realized he had been doing just that. “It’s a great day, don’t you think?” He grinned.

Finley shook his head. “Aye, ‘tis that.”

They stabled the horses, fed the dogs and headed for the cottage. A small fire burned bright in the fireplace and fragrant aromas made his stomach rumble the minute he opened the door. Nothing smelled better than bannock; and nothing he liked better than smearing a chunk of the hot bread with butter and jam. He kicked off his boots, tossed his Macintosh and hat at the hook beside the door, and made a beeline to the kitchen. He stopped short as he pushed the door wide.

Maggie bustled around the room as always, clanging pots and talking non-stop. But the vision at the table captured Hunter’s attention. The woman was beautiful; in fact, more than beautiful, even wrapped in his plaid robe which engulfed her frame. She had rolled up the sleeves and now lifted graceful hands to pull the open collar closer across her chest. She had pulled her hair back from her face into a long braid that fell over one shoulder. She raised her gaze to meet his, color blooming on her pale cheeks. Black lashes fringed blue eyes as dark as indigo dye, and they bewitched him. His gut twisted and his heart pounded as though she were looking into his very soul.

He knew her. Even without her name; even though he had never seen her before; his heart knew her. How could that be? He had never been a religious man and though Scottish through and through, he didn’t hold to the superstitions many of the old timers did; things like faeries and magic and past lives. Yet perhaps he would have to revisit his views on such subjects.

“Hello,” she said softly, her voice as beautiful as the rest of her.

He tilted his head. “You’re not Scottish.” She had a strange accent; something he had heard before but couldn’t place. Just like the woman herself.

Her eyes widened. “I’m not?”

Her question caught him off guard and he narrowed his gaze.

“Sit down for a mug of tea, Hunter.” Maggie set the ironstone mug in front of him. “It seems we have a wee bit of mystery here.”

“What do you know, Margaret Finley, that you’re not telling me?” Though he spoke to his housekeeper, his gaze remained on the woman. The sound of his agitated voice caused the woman’s gaze to widen in fright.

He was immediately contrite. “I apologize, miss. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

If possible, she sat up even straighter. “I am not frightened, sir, but do you always speak so harshly to your servants?”

A bit of sass, he thought. He liked that.

“Don’t worry, miss,” Maggie reached across and patted her arm. “All men grumble and gripe if they think we’re leaving them out. It’s just their way. But now that Hunter’s here, we’ll get to the bottom of this in no time.”

“The bottom of what?” Hunter asked, barely managing not to shout. He did not care for mystery or intrigue. He was always truthful and plainspoken and expected the same from others. Maggie was right, though and he wasted no time.

“What is the mystery, Miss…?” he paused. “I apologize. We have not been introduced. My name is Hunter MacGregor. And you are?”

Her brow creased and her lovely mouth pouted. “That, I fear, is part of the mystery. I do not know.”

Hunter’s mug of tea clunked onto the table; the piece of bannock Maggie had served him forgotten beside it.

“How can you not know your name, lass?” Finley had scooted onto the bench beside Hunter and they both stared across the table.

“Mrs. Finley has suggested it may be the result of the bump on my head.” She raised a hand and gingerly fingered her forehead where Hunter could see the purple bruise.

“You must call me Maggie,” she said. “We don’t stand on formality around here.”

Hunter scowled at Maggie for they had more important things to consider. “What do you know? Where are you from and where were you headed? What do you last remember before waking up here?” The questions poured forth. At her wide eyed stare, Hunter clamped his mouth shut, willing himself to patience.

Maggie tsked him and waved her hand aimlessly. “Listen to yourself. Don’t you think we have been asking just such since she awoke this morning?” She rested her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Don’t mind him, miss. Just tell him what you told me.”

The woman took a sip of tea, then gave a sigh as she set her cup back on its saucer. “I have a brief memory of a large conveyance barreling past us in the opposite direction, then our horse reared, the carriage slipped sideways and…” she paused, touching her forehead again. “I must have fallen against the carriage door and hit my head. Maggie said you found me on the riverbank, but I don’t recall if I fell out of the carriage or managed to climb out.”

“Before that? Why were you traveling to Gilchrist?”


“You don’t know who you are or where you were heading? Do you even know what country you are in?”

She gave him a smile that lit up the room. “Scotland,” she replied.

“Well, that’s something, at least.”

“But I only know that,” she continued, “because Maggie told me so. Although,” again she paused.

He raised a brow.

“Did I have any luggage with me; a trunk or purse perchance?”

Finley snorted beside him and she turned her head in question.

“We barely managed to save the carriage horse,” Finley said. “The conveyance itself and any contents slid down the bank. By now, it may have washed all the way to the North Sea.”

She gasped, her face crumbling.

“It may not be so bad.” Hunter tossed a look at his friend. “If the river didn’t rise any more, it may have remained stuck on the embankment. It is something we can certainly find out.”

The young woman stood, scooting back her chair. “We should go looking for it immediately.”

“You’re American,” Hunter said in surprise. He finally recognized her accent, partly because of her take charge attitude. He had met a number of Americans while at University in Edinburgh and as a whole they were known for their outspokenness.

“What if I am?” she questioned, confirming Hunter’s notions.

“I only say that as it is one thing we know about you, though not of as much importance as other things.”

“Oh.” She sat down again, deflated.

The robe she wore had opened at the throat and the shirt underneath, as it was his and entirely too large, gapped, exposing her shoulders and the swell of her breasts. Hunter couldn’t help himself; he devoured her with his gaze. Her blonde braid caressed that bare skin with every breath she took. He knew absolutely nothing about her, yet she drew him in. He not only wanted to help her in any way possible, but he wanted to find out everything about her, which in this case would be the same thing.

“Well, now. Regardless of it all, a body’s got to eat. You men need to get yourselves cleaned up while the young lass and I put supper on the table.”

During supper, the Finleys and Hunter tried to make their guest comfortable, but he caught her constantly looking around the small kitchen with a frown, as though everything was quite unknown to her. She had perfect manners, though, so Hunter added the fact that she was a well born lady to the few things they knew about her.

“Where exactly in Scotland have I landed?” she asked.

“We’re part of the village of Gilchrist, which is about two hours north of Aberdeen inland from the coast.”

She frowned.

“Have you thought of something?” he asked.

“No. I’m trying to understand. I know little of Scotland and truly have no idea why I would have traveled here. Nothing you have told me about the area rings a bell in my brain.” Her voice wobbled and when he looked, her eyes were glazed as though she were about to cry.

“No, no, lassie.” Hunter reached across the table and clasped her hands. Nothing could be worse than a lady’s tears, because like most men, he had no idea what to do.

He gently squeezed her hands. “Tell me what you are thinking.”

“I have no memory. I have no money; no clothes.” She sniffed as she plucked at the robe she wore. “I have no idea if I have family worried because I have disappeared.” Her voice broke on this last.

“You have us, lass, and we’ll not desert you ‘til we find all there is to know.”

She sniffed, refusing to look at him. He clutched her hands tightly. “Lass, do you understand?”

“You cannot keep calling her lass,” Finley said, and it somewhat broke the tension surrounding the table.

“Aye, ‘tis true,” Maggie concurred, tilting her head as she studied the young lady. “Is there a name you think you might have been called? Mayhap Elizabeth, or Ann? Rebecca?”

She shook her head. “Those don’t sound like me.”

“Heather,” Hunter said decisively.

“No, that doesn’t sound right, either.”

“It wasn’t a question,” he replied. “Legend has it that heather grows over the final resting place of faeries. Perhaps it was faeries who brought you to our land.”

“That’s quite poetic,” she said, giving him a dazzling smile.

“It is at that.” Maggie gave him a sidelong look which Hunter decided not to try and interpret.




Chapter 2


Heather woke the next morning with a curious sense of wellbeing regardless of not remembering a thing about herself. It might be caused by the soft bed in which she had been sleeping, but she felt it had more to do with the man who had rescued her. Hunter McGregor drew her in with his deep voice and dark brown eyes. She had no idea why she had come to Scotland, yet he made her feel safe.

As she rose and washed at the basin, she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t recognize herself; didn’t have any reaction in her head or heart to the name he had given her.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“Not to fret, Miss,” Maggie answered as she bustled into the room carrying a pile of clothes. “I’ve washed and pressed your dress and petticoats. Though a little the worse for wear, they’ll do you right for now.”

She laid the garments on the bed. “Shall I help you dress?”

“No, I can manage as I always do,” she said, only to hear the woman gasp. She turned toward her.


“It may not be of import, but what you said may mean you are not used to having servants or a maid.”

“I don’t see how that helps to discover who I am.”

“I don’t know either, but Hunter said we should take note of every little thing as it might mean more than we know.”

Heather thought that made sense. There had to be something that could trigger her memory.

She felt more herself once she dressed. The indigo blue dress with the button up bodice and long puffed sleeves felt comfortable and she had a feeling it was one of her favorites. She turned again to the mirror, smoothing the snug bodice and fluffing the full skirt.

“Thank you for seeing to my clothes,” she told the housekeeper.

“Aye, we can’t have you going into the village in a robe and a man’s shirt, now can we?” Maggie answered, handing over Heather’s half boots which had been cleaned and shined like new.

“My, they look better than they did at the beginning of my travels, even after a dip in the river.”

“That would be my Andy’s doing,” Maggie replied. “He’s good for many a thing, but don’t tell him I said so,” she said in a half whisper. “His head will puff right up.” She gave a short laugh.

They exited the room but Heather stopped in the doorway. Hunter knelt at the fire, adding bricks of peat. The shirt he wore stretched tight over his back, the tails tucked into dark breeches, his suspenders crossing broad shoulders. When he stood, she couldn’t help but admire his height, but it was his face that made her stifle a gasp when he turned and smiled openly.

He was by far the handsomest man she had ever seen. She knew this without a doubt even if she couldn’t remember anything else. His dark brown hair hung a bit long, but the slight curl it contained caused it to frame his face and gave him a boyish appearance. His eyes held her captive. With a single glance, he caused her breath to catch and her heart to quicken.  She couldn’t remember her name, much less why she had traveled to Scotland but innately felt she could rely on this man’s good graces to help her find her lost life.

“Ah, I see you have awakened and appear ready to start this adventure,” he said to her now.

“Adventure? I’m not at all sure I would call it that. Dilemma might be a better choice, and I would much rather end it than start it.”

“We can’t very well end it before it has even begun,” he replied.

“Come, lassie,” Maggie said. “We’ll have some food before venturing into the village.”

She served up steaming bowls of porridge and set a plate of thick slices of bread on the table. A rather large hunk of butter was on another plate, along with a side bowl of wild honey. Heather enjoyed the intimacy of eating in the kitchen and wondered if it was normal for her to do so. Did she belong to a household somewhere in a serving capacity? She had told Maggie she never used a maid, yet her clothes were of fine quality. Another jumble of unrelated bits of information, she thought with a sigh.

She had only just rested her spoon in her bowl when Maggie brought over clean plates and her husband lifted a platter of eggs and sausage to the table.

“Eat up, lassie,” he said with a smile.

“I already have,” she protested. “I doubt I can eat another bite.”

Hunter was helping himself to a huge pile of eggs and sausage before grabbing another piece of bread and smearing it with butter and honey.

“Scots eat a hearty breakfast to see them through the day. There’s usually no time to be stopping for luncheon when you’re shearing sheep by the dozens.”

“I assure you, I will not be shearing sheep any time soon.”

“Well, there is always the milking to be done and cheese to be made,” Finley jumped in, nudging Hunter in the side as he grinned at her.

Her eyes widened in dismay. She may not know her name or her origins, but she felt sure she had not been raised on a farm.

Maggie poured more tea, even as she punched her husband lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be listening to these two,” she said. “They’re just funning you.”

The two men laughed uproariously and she blushed at her naivety. Then Hunter apologized, the words tumbling forth in a gentle brogue, and her heart went all soft.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a smile. “I forget not all have our Scottish sense of humor.”

She tilted her chin and tried to look haughtily down her nose at him but from his look of amusement, she failed. She kept her gaze on Hunter as she spoke. “Maggie, is there a Scottish word for retribution?”

Her taunt only made him laugh harder.


* * *


Heather insisted on helping clean the kitchen while the two men went out to see to chores before leaving for the village. When Heather expressed hesitation about venturing out, the housekeeper quickly put her fears to rest.

“Hunter is hoping someone from the village will recognize you,” she said. “There must be a reason you traveled this far, and as you cannot recall, mayhap a villager is awaiting your arrival.”

Heather didn’t relish the thought of being put on display; having unknown people gawking at her, but she allowed it seemed the best way at the moment.

“Ah, I hear the wagon,” the housekeeper said, removing her apron and donning a bonnet from the peg on the wall by the door. She looked back at Heather.

“I can’t help with a bonnet, but let me get you a shawl,” she said, scurrying around the table and into the parlor. She returned almost immediately with a beautifully woven plaid of green and red. The weave was tight; the wool thick and soft.

“This is beautiful.” Heather slid a hand over the soft nap to the fringe that edged the long wrap.

“’Tis the MacGregor plaid,” Maggie said. “Dates back centuries, it does; though forbidden to be worn during the Royal Dress Act.”

“Someone forbid people to wear things?” That seemed too incredible to believe.

“To be sure. The plaids are symbols of the Scottish clans, though most clans live in the highlands. Long ago, they were known to fight not only each other for land, but against the king to become a sovereign state. At one time, the tartans were forbidden to be worn; the king thinking without that show of unity, the Scots would become obedient. Of course that did not work.”

“They are not at war now, are they?” Heather had no desire to be in the middle of armed conflict.

“Not for many a year now, lass, so not to worry.”

“But Hunter doesn’t wear a kilt.”

“Of course not. They’re not at all practical for the kind of work he has to do, but I’m sure he has a tartan or two tucked away for special occasions. Most Scots do, even if lowlanders do not consider themselves clansmen as do the highlanders.”

Heather’s imagination formed a mental picture of Hunter as a warrior, wrapped in his plaid, his chest and legs bare. With a sigh, she sank onto a chair.

“Are you a right, miss?”

Heather took a deep breath, banishing the image from her mind. It did no good to even think such thoughts. “Yes. Shall we go?”

They stood on the porch as Finley brought a small wagon around to the front. Hunter accompanied them on a horse. He had donned a plain black waistcoat and a jacket of blue wool which made his shoulders appear even broader than she recalled. A wide brimmed hat shaded his face so she couldn’t read his expression except for his lips, which were turned up in a smile as he acknowledged her with a touch to the brim of his hat.

As they rode into the village, Maggie chatted on. “Andy will take you to the manufactory to meet up with Hunter, then take me home to Gilchrist Manor. Whilst you two look about, we shall do our duties there.”

“My, how can you keep up with two residences?”

“There is nary to do at Gilchrist, seeing as the master has died, but we keep it clean for the new owner.” She snorted softly. “If he has a mind to ever make his face known to those here and take over the business as a good owner should by this time.”

“I don’t understand,” Heather stated in confusion. Had she been traveling to see the master of Gilchrist, now deceased, or to see someone else in the town which bore his name? Finley pulled the horse to a stop in front of a large building and she had no more time to ask questions.

“Here you are, lass,” he stated.

She gathered her skirts about her and started to descend when Hunter suddenly appeared, holding out a hand to help her down. She had no gloves, and the bare contact with his palm sent a surge of heat up her arm. She looked at him in alarm only to find him smiling at her. She had the feeling he knew exactly how he affected her and enjoyed her discomfort. Hunter’s gentle squeeze of her hand confirmed it.

She stumbled but he easily kept her from falling. When she regained her balance, he tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow and led her toward the double doors, framed by large, brick building frontage.

“My, this is quite large,” she said as they stepped over the threshold into what appeared to be an office. A counter stretched across the front of the room, with only two benches against the walls to either side of the front entrance. Beyond the counter Heather could see several desks, each manned by a busily scribbling person. Though she saw several glance up at their entrance, they quickly returned to their tasks. Only one man stood to approach them.

“’Tis the largest textile manufactory of any on the eastern half of Scotland,” Hunter said as he extended his hand to the man who had come around the counter to greet them.

“Campbell.” The two men shook hands. Not as tall as Hunter, the other man appeared to wear a perpetual frown, given the deep furrows in his brow and the downward slope of his mouth. He glanced only briefly at Heather, his frown deepening, before turning his attention to the man at her side.

“MacGregor. I hoped you would come in today. There’s much that needs to be done, as always.”

“And I am sure you have it well in hand,” Hunter replied smoothly, seemingly not affected by the man’s abruptness. Without missing a beat, he turned slightly to Heather. “May I introduce Miss Heather. Miss Heather, this is Ian Campbell, the office manager of Gilchrist Textiles.” He watched her closely, but could see the man held no recognition for her.

Still, she extended her hand in greeting. He appeared surprised at the use of only her first name, but he didn’t comment on it and only reluctantly clasped her hand in greeting.

“Shall we get right to payroll, sir?”

Hunter shook his head. “I have only come to give Miss Heather a look at our facility.”

Heather thought his purpose more the opposite – to give the people of Gilchrist a look at her.

“But sir, there are issues to be resolved,” the man continued.

Hunter frowned. “What issues?”

“Anderson has not come to work for the past three days. Sent a note saying as he has family issues to be cared for, but it has put a pinch in things on the third floor.”

“Have you sent anyone to check on him?”

“Of course not. It’s not my place to care for—”

“It is our place to care about the welfare of not only our employees, but their families as well.” Hunter frowned again, then gave a sigh. “I will see to it. Give me the payroll list.”

The man produced said list, Hunter read over it quickly, making a few notes, and handed it back to the manager.

“But sir,” his manager started. “Anderson hasn’t worked for three days yet you have him the same wage as always for a week’s work of labor?”

“Aye, and see you don’t short him even a penny.”

Heather heard the conviction in Hunter’s voice and though the man showed every indication of arguing, he finally gave a grudging “aye” and walked away. She knew practically nothing about this man who had found her, but realized he was compassionate and caring. She thanked her lucky stars that she had ended up on his land.

They passed through a door at the end of the counter and walked down a long hall. Sets of doors ran along the left wall and Heather could hear gears grinding and what sounded like steam hissing through pipes. At her questioning glance, Hunter smiled and stopped by one set of doors.

“We recently installed lifts, to make it easier to move equipment and bolts of fabric from the weaving floors to the warehouses and to bring raw materials up to the weavers.”

“I’ve heard of those, though they are called elevators in New York.” Her eyes widened. “I’m from New York,” she said softly.

“Well, well. It seems our trip into the village has not been in vain. Let’s see what else we can discover.” He turned back down the hall.

“We can’t take the elevator?”

“I don’t entirely trust those contraptions.” He gave a grimace. “Bracing yourself inside a small box without a window and relying on a few ropes to pull you and the box up into the air?” He shook his head again. “Nay.”

At the end of the hallway, they took a set of steps up two floors, where the noise level reached the level of a locomotive barreling down the tracks. Heather covered her ears. Hunter led her across a small space and up another short set of steps and into a room which overlooked the floor. Sheets of glass gave a view of the activity below without the noise.

At this time of day, the room they entered was deserted, although the remains of someone’s luncheon still lay on a piece of brown parchment on a small table set against one wall. He turned her to the window.

Heather gasped at the site before her. Row after row of looms filled the warehouse floor, each moving at incredible speed. Large pipes ran along the high ceiling and bent at vertical angles periodically to large brass machines set strategically among the looms.

“We weave only wool products at this site,” Hunter said. “Our wool producers transport their fleece to a warehouse on the other side of this where it is cleaned, dyed and spun before being sent here for weaving. Since we converted to steam power, we’re able to run our looms at a higher speed without losing quality of the material produced.”

“It’s fascinating. How is the pattern formed? I have always wondered how my dress lengths came in such a wide variety of colors and patterns.”

“Weavers at one time were trained on only one or two patterns. In the case of Scottish woolens, the patterns were usually tartans, and each clan had its own weavers. Individual cottage looms produced most linen cloth for the immediate family. It was a slow process, with a single weaver only able to produce perhaps twenty-four yards of fabric per week. This factory, with two hundred power looms driven by steam, can produce over seven hundred pieces per week with two people simultaneously operating four looms. The end result is that both plain and patterned textiles can be produced quickly and cheaply, making mass-produced fabrics for dress and trousers available to a large portion of society.”

“You certainly know a lot about weaving.”

“That’s because at the age of five or six, I became a drawboy here.”

She gasped. “Your parents put you to work when you were only five?”

He smiled at her outrage. “It’s not uncommon for children to work in the factories at some menial jobs. In my case, my mother had died when I was five. My da, the gardener at Gilchrist Manor, didn’t know what to do with a young boy; especially one who kept getting into trouble. So when Gilchrist offered to put me to work, Da agreed.”

“Still, that couldn’t have been good for you.”

“It was far better than working the mines or one of the tin factories.”

“What is a…drawboy, you said? What did you do?”

“It’s the weaver’s assistant who pulled the pattern cords in a conventional draw loom. It was a simple job, however once Gilchrist started using the Jacquard mechanism, drawboys were no longer needed. I only worked for a year or so, if that makes you feel any better.”

“A child shouldn’t have to work at all,” she said, although she knew it was not always the case. “And this Jacquard mechanism? What does it have to do with the weaving process,” she asked, fascinated by the story of weaving, as well as by the man telling the story.

“It is an attachment for powered fabric looms. It uses a series of connected punch cards to instruct the loom on how to make intricate textiles.” He stepped closer and raised his arm, pointing to draw her attention. “See that mechanism set on top of the loom? The Jacquard loom can have hundreds of cards with holes in them that correspond to hooks that can be raised or lowered to make textile brocade. Others may have cards that correspond to a plaid or other pattern. The Jacquard mechanism replaced the draw loom system of pattern control, which involved a very lengthy set-up every time a new pattern was woven. It increases the speed with which woven designs can be set up on a loom and allows the creation of complex weave structures previously impractical with the draw loom.”

She could hear the pride in his voice as he described the workings, again impressed with his knowledge.

“I do apologize,” he said as though reading her mind. “I tend to get carried away.”

“You keep calling it the Gilchrist manufactory, so it is not your company?”

This brought a laugh. “Nay, and I would not want the responsibility. Give me a thousand stubborn sheep over this mechanical anarchy any day.”

“But you came in and discussed payroll with that man.”

“Aye, that I did. Donald Gilchrist owned this textile factory as well as one in Inverness and yet another in Elgin, each specializing in a particular type of fabric such as wool, linen or cotton. In addition, he has the spinning and dying sheds, basically giving him a monopoly in the Scottish textile industry. However, that does not answer your question. For whatever reason, he took an interest in me and once my job as a drawboy no longer existed, he offered to send me to parish school until I went off to university at fifteen.”

“That seems very generous of him.”

He gave a gruff laugh. “Old man Gilchrist was a true bast…” he paused. “Pardon. He was not a nice man and there were always selfish reasons behind everything he did. He abused his workforce, demanding long hours at barely a wage to provide food for the table. He undercut the price of wool and he held a monopoly on the import of cotton from the Americas.”

“Then why on earth did you work for him?”

“He paid for my education and he allowed my father to remain in his small cottage long after he became unable to work. For that, once I returned from…” he paused and Heather wondered what secrets he left out. “For that alone, I came to work for him. Perhaps not so much to repay a debt as in hopes of helping correct some of the atrocities he continued to perpetrate. I didn’t have to like the man to tend to the needs of his workers.”

“And now that he has died, you’re trying even harder to make up for what he neglected.” Every word he spoke gave her more insight into his character, and she found herself intrigued.

He seemed embarrassed by her praise and quickly changed the subject.

“Come, there’s more to do.” He held out his hand and when she placed hers on his warm palm, he tucked it in the crook of his elbow and led her out of the room and down the stairs.

“All four floors of this factory weave woolens,” he said as they exited to the hallway they had first entered.

“The factory must make a decent income,” she said.

“It does all right,” he replied, “although at one time, perhaps twenty-five years or more ago, Gilchrist had Queen Victoria’s own custom for her tartan; a very complex weave that only this factory had ever managed to produce. That and the custom of some of the queen’s favorites created great wealth for Gilchrist. Then suddenly, a cut direct from the Queen and no more weaving and so no more very lucrative income. At that time, Gilchrist became even more of a tyrant.”

“Oh, my. I suppose that would make anyone unhappy.”

“It was more than that, but it is irrelevant at this point.” He led her outside, but she paused, giving a last look at the tall building.

“Does this factory weave this plaid?” She lifted her shawl closer as a brisk breeze tugged at the fringe. “It’s very pretty.”

He turned in front of her, tapping her nose with a finger. “You have much to learn about Scotland, lass. A plaid is not pretty. It stands for the blood of all Scots who ever battled to keep their land; for integrity and honor and the love of their clan.”

“Do you have a clan?”

“Nay, not in the sense you mean. The MacGregor name goes back generations, but we’re scattered across the highlands, lowlands and far away into Ireland and England. Most lowlanders are Saxon in origin whereas clans still band fiercely together in the highlands. Regardless, if a man is a Scot, he has a strong pride in his heritage.” He started to say more, but instead stared at her.

She brushed a hand self-consciously across her cheek. “Have I dirt on my face?”

“Nay,” he said softly. “Your eyes are a most unusual shade of blue. They remind me of another, yet I can’t fathom who.” His gaze shifted to her mouth, then back to her eyes and she felt her cheeks warm with a blush.

For long minutes they stood there, neither moving nor speaking and yet she felt something being communicated between them. He finally gave a shake of his head and turned to take her down the walk.

“These buildings contain the dying and spinning workers,” he said as he pointed to other equally large buildings as the manufactory. “But we shall leave those for another day.”

At the corner he turned right, and they walked along a small park, deserted in the crisp day. At the other end of the park lay a square with a fountain in the middle. All around the four sides were small, two story structures.

“Welcome to the village of Gilchrist.” Hunter spread his arms wide. “You will find just about everything you would find in Aberdeen, though perhaps in smaller quantities.”

Along one side Heather could see signage for a butcher shop, a textile store, apothecary and a book and paper shop. As they walked along, they passed a pub, a feed supply store and other shops, the windows of which held treasures Heather longed to explore. Hunter nodded to people as they passed and acknowledged many by name. They all gave her a passing glance before hurrying on their way, but none stopped to converse. Hunter didn’t stop until they arrived at a dress shop.

“I shall leave you here to find some clothing to replace what you had in the trunk which we have yet to recover.”

“Oh, I can’t. I have no money to purchase anything.”

“Lass, you cannot live in a single dress and petticoat,” he began.

She blushed at his mention of her undergarment. He grinned.

“I shall return for you in an hour. If you do not choose a wardrobe, I will be forced to invade this lady’s sanctum and do it myself.”

He opened the door, greeted the woman within, and left her.

Misty images immediately assaulted Heather as the smell of cloth tweaked her nose and a multitude of colors swirled before her clouded vision. She reached out a hand for balance and her fingers caressed a bolt of the softest wool. The unique smell of the dress shop brought forth a hazy image of shopping with a woman; one wearing an elegant, feathered hat over her blonde hair and smelling faintly of flowers. Could that have been her mother?

“Good day, lass.” The accent of the voice greeting her effectively washed away her recollections of the past.

Heather blinked and turned to greet the woman.

“I’m Mrs. Murphy, the owner of this shop. How may I help you this fine day?”

 Heather introduced herself and they had a lively conversation while she showed Heather several day dresses. Though she knew the lady was curious as to how she came to be with Hunter, she held her tongue and for that Heather was grateful.

For such a small village shop, she had many bolts of fabric for anything from sleepwear to ball gowns and winter coats. There were shelves filled with spools of lace and baskets containing cards of buttons.

“’Tis not often I have ready-made dresses,” she said as she wrapped Heather’s purchases. “Most of my customers are seamstresses in the finer homes so simply purchase fabric and whatnots from me. Even when I have time with the needle, I am trying to catch up rather than being ahead of it. These few dresses, however, were made for a miss who never returned to claim them, so I am happy to sell them to you. It is a marvel that you are of similar size.”

“I am happy to have them,” Heather replied. “My trunk ended up in the river, along with the carriage, upon my arrival here.”

Mrs. Murphy slapped a hand to her chest with a gasp. “By the grace of Aos Síth,” she whispered.

“My goodness, what does that mean?” Heather asked of the lyrical words the woman spoke.

“Aos Síth are the faery folk,” she said with a laugh. “They must have been looking out for you. You were not hurt?”

“A bump on the head,” Heather replied, then added, “and a slight loss of memory.” More than slight but she couldn’t see belaboring the point. “You don’t by any chance recognize me, do you?” Why had Hunter not thought to ask about her from people at the factory?

Mrs. Murphy stared at her more intently but then sadly shook her head. “You’re a very pretty miss, but not at all familiar. But if Hunter MacGregor has taken you under his wing, you can be sure he’ll put it to rights.” A sparkle came to her eyes. “Are you staying with him?”

Heather might have forgotten her history, but somehow societal rules stuck firmly in her mind and she knew exactly what the woman asked. “Mrs. Finley and her husband are looking after me,” she replied. Not a lie, exactly.

To her surprise, the woman’s face fell. “Too bad, that. Hunter MacGregor is as fine a lad as any in the land and ‘tis a shame he has no wife and bairns.” Then she grinned again. “Perhaps you will visit me again and I can design a gown for you to make a man notice.”

The bell over the door tinkled and Heather turned to see Hunter stride in. He looked quite large and masculine among the bolts of silk and muslin and spools of lace. She heard Mrs. Murphy give a soft sigh behind her. She could admit a fluttering of her own heart and a tingle of awareness as his gaze caught hers. How could she become enamored with a man when she didn’t even know her own name?


* * *


Heather wore the same dress now as she had donned this morning, but Hunter noticed she held a wrapped parcel so breathed a sigh of relief that she had picked out some clothes. Although he had threatened to choose for her, he was most happy not to do so. As pretty as the fabrics she stood beside, and it would be far too easy to imagine her undressing and sliding into a soft silk undergarment. Her beauty and gentle demeanor called to the male in him. Her uncertainty about her identity made him want to become her hero.

“’Tis good to see you again, Hunter,” Mrs. Murphy broke the silence. “Miss Heather has told me of her situation. I sincerely hope you plan to do something about it.”

There were so many ways he could read her words but decided not to imagine them as a challenge. The good people of Gilchrist could be quite opinionated.

“We are doing everything in our power,” he replied, not elaborating on who we might be. “In the meantime, this should suffice.” He handed her several coins. “Are you ready, Miss Heather?” He adjusted the basket he held and reached out and took her parcel to tuck it under his arm, offering her the other.

Heather remained quiet as they resumed walking down the street. When he glanced her way, he caught her worrying her lower lip.

“What is on your mind?”

She looked up, startled. “You paid for my purchases. Mrs. Murphy is going to think—”

“She will think nothing unkind.”

“Yet she expects you to ‘do something about’ my situation. It’s certainly not your responsibility.”

She was right…and yet she was wrong.

With a sigh, Hunter tried to explain. “As much as I would like otherwise, I am responsible for the people and problems in Gilchrist. As Gilchrist’s manager, when he died he left me in charge of the factories. That, in essence, means I must look after the people who work at the factories and those who work in the village that the factories support. It is a never-ending spiral. I would have refused if I had been told before the fact, but it became known to me only after his passing. By then, the factories were in chaos; assistant managers stealing from the coffers and workers neglecting their jobs. Someone had to take charge.”

“But Maggie said there is an heir.”

“Aye, that is thought to be true.”

“Gilchrist was married?”

“Aye. The story is his wife disappeared some five and twenty years ago and there were no children.”

“Disappeared? How does one simply disappear?”

“Just a lad at the time, I don’t remember the details,” Hunter said. “I only recall being told to keep a very low profile at the factory as Gilchrist was on a rampage for months. His verbal and physical abuse of his workers became legendary.”

“I am beginning to understand what you mean about him. He doesn’t seem a very likable man.”

“True. I think that is why the workers rebelled at his death. They dared not do it before.”

“So his wife disappeared and he died with no children, leaving the factories disheveled. Then who could be the heir?”

 “There has been talk of a disinherited brother who had a child. The solicitors are searching for said heir but are having no luck. You would think if someone were to inherit all that is Gilchrist, they would show their face and take charge.”

He stopped outside a small cottage and opened the gate for Heather to walk through. The people of Gilchrist were not the richest in Scotland. They had small plots and even smaller homes. Yet they took pride in keeping them neat. Here, there were a few flowers planted in window boxes beside the door and the roof looked newly thatched. Two small children played under a tree and looked up with wide eyes as they passed.

Just as he lifted a hand to knock, the door opened and a whirlwind nearly knocked him over, followed quickly by a young lad, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Give over!” he called, chasing after the laughing sprite as she dodged behind the tree. As quick as faeries, the two little ones jumped up and gave chase.

“Toby, keep an eye on the little ones.” A man’s voice yelled through the open doorway. The door swung forward to shut but Hunter put out a hand to stop it.

“Damn it, lad.” A wiry, bald headed man appeared in the door frame, unshaven, shirt untucked and without even his boots. “I told you…” He choked on any other words he may have intended to utter when he saw Hunter standing there. His mouth dropped open and his cheeks grew ruddy.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. MacGregor.” He quickly began stuffing his shirt into his breeches.

“It appears you have your hands full, Anderson,” he said not unkindly. “Do you not have a wife to tend to your bairns so you can do your work at the factory?” Campbell had only told him that Anderson had family affairs to look after.

“Aye, but she is…indisposed,” he stammered. Muttering something Hunter couldn’t understand, the man ducked behind the doorframe and reemerged stomping into his boots.

“I apologize for calling on you without notice,” Hunter said. “But it’s not like you to miss work.”

“’Tis I who should be apologizing,” Anderson muttered. “Please, do come in, though ‘tis a wee bit of a shambles, I fear.”

Hunter took a step forward but felt Heather’s hand on his arm.

“We shall not intrude, Mr. Anderson,” she said, staring pointedly at Hunter when she added, “Especially if your wife is ill. Is there something we might do to help?”

Anderson stared at Heather as though an angel had descended and Hunter had to admit he was also in awe. Heather’s soft voice soothed and even though she didn’t know this man, she offered help. She also realized the embarrassment the family might feel if Hunter, as Anderson’s employer, were to see them not at their finest. Something he should also have realized.

“Ma’am?” the weaver croaked.

“My name is Heather,” she offered. Taking the basket from Hunter, she turned. “I know you and Mr. MacGregor have things to discuss so I will take this basket of treats he has brought, and your children and I shall have a picnic.”

She gave them a smile and turned to walk over to where all the small bairns were peeking out from behind the tree. Hunter hadn’t known how Anderson would react to him bringing the family food for such was a Scot’s pride, but Heather had simply offered in the way surest to be accepted – for his children.

Anderson excused himself to grab them cups of ale and Hunter remained on the porch watching Heather. She had gathered the bairns around and uncovered the basket of food he had procured. He could hear the children laugh and giggle when she mispronounced bannock as she broke off pieces for each of them. He turned back when Anderson reappeared.

“Thanks.” He accepted the tankard of ale as he studied the man. A master weaver, Hunter didn’t want to lose Anderson, but he couldn’t let a worker take off whenever he wanted. He expressed his discontent as diplomatically as he could.

“Aye,” Anderson nodded every time Hunter paused, then apologized again for not being at work.

“My wife was in the family way and lost the bairn three days past. The midwife said if she’d not stay in bed, we could lose her as well.” He gulped down more ale. “My Toby’s too young to take care of the lassies for as long as I’m gone of a day.”

Hunter looked over at the bairns. The smallest couldn’t be more than one summer old. While large families were the norm, it would seem it was not always for the best of all concerned.

“Is there no one to help?” he asked.

“Aye. My wife’s sister has a daughter she’s bringing from the next village over. They should be here by nightfall.” He glanced at his children then back at Hunter, his face earnest. “I will be back to work on the morning shift, I swear.”

“See that you are, Anderson,” Hunter said. “I am sorry about the bairn,” he added as Heather joined them.

“Mr. Anderson, the children told me what has happened,” she said. “You have four children and the smallest is but a year old. Perhaps it would be best if you—”

“We must be going,” Hunter interrupted abruptly, not liking the suggestion he felt almost certain Heather had for the man.

“Well, I thought to…” Heather stopped in mid-sentence as he took the basket from her, shoved it into Anderson’s hands and bid the man farewell.

Taking her by the elbow, he guided her out of the small yard and down the road, walking fast until she finally balked and dug in her heels.

“Why on earth must we run?” she asked, placing a hand to her chest as she breathed rapidly.

“Because I feared you were about to say something most inappropriate to poor Anderson.”

“If by that you mean a suggestion that he limit his amorous attentions toward his wife, you would certainly be correct,” she replied with indignation. “The poor woman was hardly out of the birthing bed and he had—”

This is also a most inappropriate conversation,” Hunter growled, feeling his face heat.

“Hunter MacGregor, I certainly know how children are beget, and that man…” she paused, looking at him intently. She then burst into a delightful laugh. “Have I embarrassed you with my plain speech?”

Begetting bairns is not something I speak about with ladies,” he grumbled.

She appeared to ponder that for a moment. He realized instantly when the actuality of what they were discussing hit her. Her cheeks flamed and her lips pressed into a tight line.

“I was not referring to the actual…that is…dash it,” she stammered to a halt.

When he started to laugh, she punched him lightly in the arm and took off walking down the road ahead of him. Hunter admired the sway of her backside, his groin growing heavy with desire. There was definitely something to be said for one lovely, outspoken American woman.


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 Her Scottsh Legacy



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