Heart of a Highlander
How can she love the man responsible for her husband’s death?
When Frenchwoman Giselle McTavish married a Scotsman, she never expected to be widowed two years later and left to bring up their son alone. Nonetheless, she’s determined the next laird will be raised in Scotland. Even though Highlander Hugh Ferguson—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s drowning—also lives at Craiglocky Keep. Two years pass, and her struggles to overcome loneliness and homesickness are compounded as it becomes more difficult for her to fight the warm feelings Hugh now stirs.
Hugh has loved Giselle almost from the moment he laid eyes on her. But as the wife—then widow—of his dearest friend, she’s forbidden fruit. He refuses to act on his feelings for her, especially since she’s never shown any romantic interest in him. But that changes one providential Valentine’s Day when he risks everything by using Scottish folklore and legend to at last proclaim his love. . .
A short romantic Highland holiday romp, easily read in one sitting.
See what readers are saying!
“A short prequel novella to the Castle Bride series and it truly sets the mood and grabs hold of you right away.” ★★★★★ ~Uncaged Book Reviews.
“I loved this story. A lot of feels packed…pages.” ★★★★★ ~O.D Book Reviews
“Very well written with a touch of tenderness!” ★★★★★ ~N .Laverdure
“…a full, thoughtful, touching, sweet story.” ★★★★★ ~K. Westrope
“She writes so fluidly that I find myself so immersed in the plot that I am ‘what? Uh?! Nooo!!.. I want more!! when I do finish.” ★★★★★ ~N. Patywich
“A beautiful story of second loves & a wonderful short prelude to Collette Cameron’s Highlander’s Hope in the Castle Bride Series.” ★★★★★ ~D. Foster
“Combine a lovely Highland romance & Ms. Cameron’s writing style, what you get is a clever,amazing story.” ★★★★★ ~E. Evans
“Really liked reading this book. It was well written and the characters worked great together. There was drama, love and suspense.” ★★★★★ ~Rhonda P
Craiglocky Keep, Highlands Scotland
“There, the last scraggly one.”
Sitting on her heels, Giselle McTavish dropped a weed atop the small pile beside her. A blast of icy wind whipped off her hood. Shivering, she tugged the covering over her head once more.
After wrapping the woolen cloak tighter around her, she inspected the grave she’d just tidied. There hadn’t been much to remove in the dead of winter and the ground marble hard. Still, she couldn’t ignore the routine she’d established three years ago.
The newest in the graveyard, this frigid resting place belonged to Liam, her late husband. Somehow, keeping his grave immaculate helped preserve her memories of their time together; memories, that despite her best efforts, faded more each passing day like fragile fog caressed by the sun’s relentless rays.
Her soul rebelled at the unfairness. Time ticked onward, robbing her of those precious and irreplaceable recollections, one by one.
Honesty compelled Giselle to admit she’d adored Liam and would always treasure their love, but someone else had burrowed his way into her heart….Though Hugh Ferguson remained ignorant of her feelings.
Another powerful gust sent the nearby towering pines’ branches waving. The biting air stung her face and lungs.
Would she ever get used to these harsh Highland winters?
She blew a little puff of air upward to warm her face and flexed her stiff fingers. She’d lost one glove on the walk here, and the hand encased in leather fared little better. Her thick plaid cloak offered meager protection from the raw day. No doubt, her nose glowed as crimson as the tartan shrouding her.
Despite the intrepid late-morning sun peeking between the grayish-pink clouds, a thick layer of frost lingered amongst the shadows and beneath the trees and shrubs. In the distance, white blanketed the craggy mountaintops.
Giselle shivered again, clenching her teeth to stop their chattering. A cup of steaming tea and a bowl of cock-a-leekie soup would be most welcome upon returning to the keep. Eyeing the pewter clouds overhead, she sighed.
Snow tonight, again, she’d wager, or she wasn’t French.
Would Craiglocky’s Valentine celebration be cancelled? She almost hoped so, even if the wish seemed selfish. The only man to ever love her or call her sweetheart lay deep beneath the soil she kneeled upon.
Collecting the sunny bouquet of winter-blooming jasmine she’d gathered earlier from within the keep’s walled garden, she pressed her nose into their velvetiness and inhaled. The yellow blossoms reminded her of her homeland.
Tears misted her eyes, but she blinked them away. One escaped, its warmth trailing over her cold cheek. She swiftly wiped her face with the edge of her cloak lest her four-year-old son see her weep.
With deliberate intent, she shook off her nostalgia. Craiglocky was home now, and would be until the day she died. As the next laird of Craiglocky, Ewan must be raised in Scotland, surrounded by his clan and kin.
Five years ago, as a bride of seventeen, she’d left France bringing a jasmine start as a memento. The flowers’ mild essence and fragile beauty contrasted dramatically with the rugged, and often hostile, terrain of Scotland. Yet, the delicate plant proved hearty and resilient and had flourished in its new home.
Rather like her.
Her eyes closed and lips touching the soft petals, she whispered a short prayer. She sniffed the blossoms again before laying them atop the frozen ground covering Liam.
A small sigh escaped her as she rose. She brushed her fingertips across his name carved in the cold, stone slab.
Liam Jamie Kendrick McTavish, Ninth Laird of Craiglocky.
Giselle pressed her fingers to her lips, and after kissing the freezing tips, caressed the stone’s face as she did each time she visited.
A lover’s kiss across eternity.
I miss you, Liam.
A crossbill called from a pine shadowing the graveyard. Another answered and swooped to perch on an adjacent branch. The bird cocked its scarlet head, watching her, its tiny ebony eyes alert.
They should seek their warm, snug homes on such a hostile, wintry day. As should she and Ewan.
She raised her gaze to the indigo loch edging one side of the meadow behind Craiglocky. Thousands of sun-made diamonds sparkled across its surface. Almost three years since they’d fished Liam’s frozen body from Loch Arkaig’s pristine waters.
Wanting to die, too, she had somehow survived those first months. Her fierce love for her toddler son and the gentle support and encouragement of Liam’s family made it possible to endure life without him.
She allowed a nascent smile to tilt her lips.
At the time, she’d been too angry and wounded to admit the truth, but Hugh’s kindheartedness and devotion to Ewan had done much to ease her heartbreak. Without much effort, she could construe his attentiveness to something more, perhaps even affection.
Nonetheless, months passed before she stopped hating Hugh and blaming him for Liam’s death.
Yearning constricted her stomach.
Non, hatred wasn’t what she felt toward Hugh anymore.
Raven haired with coffee-brown eyes, regal features, and a charmer’s smile, he possessed a warrior’s sculpted build and caused many a Scotswomen to sigh in appreciation.
And a French one, as well.
A flush swept her, and the accompanying heat couldn’t be blamed on guilt for admiring a man other than her husband or the sun’s feeble rays.
Zut! You’re a respectable widow, the mother of the next laird of Craiglocky. Stop behaving like an inexperienced schoolgirl.
With a final glance at the glistening loch, Giselle faced the cemetery and tucked her hands within the cloak’s heavy folds.
“Ewan?” Shoving her hood back, she searched amongst the weather-worn grave markings for her son. Many of the ancient, ornate stones stood taller than him.
“Where are you, petit?”
He couldn’t have wandered far. Except where a rusty, scrolled, iron gate stood closed to wildlife and livestock, a chest high dry stone wall hemmed the family’s knoll-top cemetery.
“Over here, Maman.”
Wrapped in a plaid, a matching Tam O’Shanter atop his head, he stood before an elaborate cross-topped, stone pedestal engraved with a badger. His eyes, a vibrant turquoise inherited from her, gazed at her solemnly.
Such a serious lad. So unlike his jovial, light-hearted father….Or Hugh.
Cessez à l’instant, Giselle McTavish. Stop mooning about Hugh Ferguson.
What kind of woman entertained thoughts of another man while visiting her husband’s grave?
A wicked, wanton one.
Besides, Hugh had never indicated an awareness of her beyond innocent friendship.
Giselle pointedly turned her ruminations to Ewan and gave him a smile.
“Whose grave is that, mon chéri?”
The wind tugged rudely at her cloak and skirts as she joined him before the marking. Encircling his thin frame from behind, she buffered him from the brutal weather.
“Eh bien, that’s Hamish McTavish, The Badger, your three times great-grandfather. It’s his portrait hanging above the armor in the keep’s entry. Rather a somber Scotsman, non?”
Ewan tilted his head upward, his nose and cheeks rosy from the cold. “Aye. I dinna think he ever smiled. Do ye suppose he feared his face might crack if he did?”
He clapped a gloved hand over his mouth and giggled.
There was Liam’s humor.
Giselle chuckled and hugged him. “Well, chéri, a laird’s life is often difficult.”
As he would learn soon enough. Oh, to be able to protect him from that responsibility for many more years.
Ewan scratched his nose, the course woolen mittens leaving the tip even redder. “Are ye done weeding Father’s grave? Sir Hugh promised to take me trout fishing.”
“Today?” Giselle scrutinized the loch once more.
A frisson of fear seized her.
Hugh had taught Ewan to swim. Nonetheless, in winter, the water’s frigid temperature proved just as dangerous as drowning.
The loch had already claimed one of her loved ones, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t completely dispel her dread.
She squared her shoulders and squelched her disquiet. Her son needed a man’s guidance, and she could ask for none better than Hugh, except perhaps, Duncan McTavish, Liam’s brother. Both men treated Ewan like their own son.
Ewan grinned, excitement lighting his slender features. “And he taught me how to skip stones on the water’s surface the other day. Ye ought to come, Maman. Sorcha could pack us food. Maybe some shortbread?”
A picnic in February? Mon Dieu, what a little adventurer. They’d die from exposure. Even as she spoke, snowflakes, wet and large, sifted from the sky. Fishing and an outdoor picnic would have to wait for another day.
She forced a smile, hating to disappoint him. “I’d like a picnic, except it’s snowing. Perhaps we can eat on a blanket before the library’s fire instead?”
He stuck his tongue out and caught a fluffy flake. “Ye’ll ask Sorcha for shortbread and maybe Scotch pies?”
Ewan peered at her, innocent eagerness in his sea-colored eyes.
“Oui, chéri.” She kissed his cold nose and clasped his small hand. “All the shortbread and Scotch pies you can eat. Perhaps hot cocoa topped with Devonshire cream, too.”
“Aye, please, Maman!” Grinning, Ewan clutched her thighs and jumped up and down. His cap flopped forward, covering his eyes.
“Careful, petit. You’ll tumble us both.” She pushed his tam into place. “Let’s go see Cook, shall we?”
She cast a worried glance skyward. The clouds had deepened to slate, and snow fell heavily. They needed to make haste. Even in good weather, the castle lay a good fifteen-minute walk along a tapered track.
“Be ye sharing yer pasties, young laddie?”
Giselle started and spun around, her cloak swirling about her ankles. Her pulse raced on tense little feet.
A roguish grin on his handsome face, Hugh rested a broad shoulder against one of the rock pillars supporting the gate.
Her missing glove dangled from his fingertips.
“You startled me, Hugh.”
Hand at her throat, Giselle drank him in. Her irregular heartbeat couldn’t be blamed solely on surprise. Mon Dieu, no man should be so disturbingly attractive. Mortal females simply didn’t have the ability to resist such chiseled, male perfection.