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July 14, 2020

A Highlander's Hope

A Clan MacKendimen Novella

An Unlikely Heroine –
Robena has a place among the inhabitants of Dunnedin, the stronghold of the powerful MacKendimen Clan, and that is as a harlot in their village. Her life is her own and she finds meaning in the pleasure she gives and her work with the midwife and healer. The great wound she’d suffered in her past and the emptiness it caused within her will never be filled, but Robena does not allow that to control her. As the year’s end and its festivities and holidays approach, the news that a certain man will spend time here, and time with her, brightens her spirits in ways she cannot explain. And in ways she dares not examine too closely.

An Unexpected Hero –
Iain MacKillop has led a full life—as the commander of his clan’s warriors and uncle to the chieftain, his opinions matter and he protects everyone under his care. As busy as his life is, it is empty, too. Urged to remarry, Iain decides to take a wife, but it’s not the one his kith or kin expects but she is the one he wants. For Iain has fallen in love with the one woman who will not have him—Robena MacKendimen.

A Time for Miracles?
When Iain visits Dunnedin for the holidays, he begins his fight to prove to Robena that she is the perfect woman to marry him. He expected to face an angry family and shocked friends, but he never expected that Robena would be the biggest obstacle in his quest for their happiness. Can the magic of Christmas and Highland tradition of First Footing help them find the love they both deserve and need?

CHAPTER ONE

Dunbarton Keep, Scotland
Late November, in the Year of Our Lord, 1357

Iain MacKillop stared across the hall and watched as his nieces and nephews, brothers and other kith and kin went about their usual tasks and routines. And with every passing second, he knew he was not needed.

The MacKillops had been at peace for years, their allies strong enough to deter any real trouble. As the uncle to the chieftain and as commander of all the MacKillop fighting men, he thought things had been quiet. Too quiet. With the worst of the winter coming soon, Iain could not imagine being here with all the squabbling and. . . children.

Never blessed with ones of his own before his wife passed, he now grew impatient around the young ones. ‘Twas not that he disliked them, nay, it was rather that he’d wanted to have children too much.

Marry again, his nephew Jamie had said. Jamie had even offered to make arrangements for a suitable bride for the uncle of the chieftain. Suitable bride, his arse! Jamie simply wanted to use him to cement some far-flung relationship as his own father had with Iain’s first marriage. Now, though, Iain refused to be pawn again.

As though thinking on Jamie’s marriage plans made him appear, Iain noticed his nephew approaching the table where Iain sat. Lifting the mug and pouring the last bit into his mouth, Iain stood and pushed the stool away, determined to avoid this again.

“Iain, stay a moment,” Jamie said as he arrived next to Iain. “I have a matter to discuss with ye.”

“Jamie, leave it be,” he said. “I want no woman to wife now.”

His nephew studied him in silence and nodded, before sitting down and drawing Iain down next to him. Holding up Iain’s mug, he signaled to a passing maid his desire for ale. When a clean cup appeared filled with ale, his nephew drank deeply of it before speaking.

“I mean no disrespect to Elisabeth, uncle, when I urge you to remarry. I doubt she would want you to remain unhappy for the rest of your life.”

“I am not unhappy,” Iain replied. “And you do not know how Elisabeth would feel about it.”

But Iain did. Elisabeth had begged him on her deathbed not to mourn her. To marry again. To have the children she could never give him with another. Iain’s stomach soured at the memory.

“Fine,” his nephew said. “Then I will put it plainly to you—I need you to strengthen our alliance with the MacLarens. They have a daughter of marriageable age and. . . .”

Iain’s expression must have changed without him realizing it for his nephew stopped in the middle of his words. Of marriageable age meant a girl barely into womanhood. No matter that it was customary, as a man of more than two-score years, he had no wish to take a near-child as his bride.

“Have I not served ye and our clan all my life, Jamie?” he asked, while already knowing the answer. “Have I not done everything asked of me by first yer father and then by ye?” Iain stood then and his nephew raised his gaze to follow him. A curt nod was the only acknowledgement. “Then, if, if I decide to remarry, it will be my choice this time.”

Iain strode the length of the hall and out of the keep. Standing there in the cold November rain, he considered the issue that he’d thought was over and done. His stomach tightened as he remembered both Elisabeth’s last wishes and his nephew’s words and request. The truth in his heart was harder to accept than Jamie’s suggested proposal.

He wanted to marry again. He craved the joy and simple pleasures that had existed between him and his wife. And, aye, he wanted children more than anything in his heart or soul.

He kicked at the stone there on the step next to his foot and sent it flying at the wall. Damn, but he wished they’d been blessed with children. Nay, his real wish was that Elisabeth yet lived and bore their bairns. Another stone flew against the wall.

It had been five years and the deepest pain had passed, but Iain would never forget her smile and her tender touch. And her soft ways and words.

Ye are no’ a mon to be alone, my love. Find someone who will make ye happy this time.

He’d argued with her then for, though theirs had been an arranged marriage between strangers, their unexpected love had made him extremely happy. As was the usual way of things between them, even on her deathbed, she was right and spoke advice that was true. He did not like being alone. He would like to find someone. Mayhap he should allow Jamie his way in this? Let him make the arrangements?

The cold winds picked up then, whipping through the yard and around the stone keep. Buffeted by them, he wondered if Lisabeth was putting in her opinion about the matter? Nay, twas just the winds reminding him that winter would soon be on them and the weather would make travel across the Highlands more difficult, if possible at all.

It had become his custom over these last years to visit Robbie Mathieson in Dunnedin over the darkest part of the winter. Celebrating Christ’s mass and the year’s end there was easier than here where the memories of Elisabeth were so strong.

Make new memories, Iain. Love again. Live again.

Her words seemed to echo around him and they tormented him as they always did. But she did not mean to do that to him, for Elizabeth had given him permission to continue on without her. And he had.

Kicking the final stone there on the landing of the steps and watching it bounce off the wall, Iain took a deep breath and decided to leave this matter be for now. If he met a woman who stirred his desire for marriage, and not some child being thrust at him for the purpose of clan alliances, he would think on it once more

Iain had to laugh aloud then, at the way that life and the fates sometimes conspired to show the folly of decisions and well-meaning plans. For in that moment, he realizes that he had met someone who turned his thoughts in unusual directions. There was a woman whom he visited each time he made his way to Dunnedin. One who filled his thoughts every time he made arrangements to visit the stronghold of the MacKendimen Clan. The woman who was the most inappropriate one in his life.

Robena MacKendimen.

He enjoyed spending time with her and she seemed to welcome him there. But, he was certain that she thought of him in a completely different way than he did about her.

To her, he was a valued customer. To him, she was a splendid companion even if she was the village harlot. He’d spent many hours, days even, in her company since Elisabeth’s passing. She was intelligent, passionate, quick-witted and. . . comfortable. She demanded nothing of him while offering so much to him.

As he sent off word to Robert that he would indeed visit Dunnedin as was his custom for the coming holidays and end of year festivities, Iain laughed at the preposterous idea that came to him then. Worse, the thought occurred to him several times over the next days before he left to journey there.

Robena MacKendimen as his wife.

His nephew and his other kin would die of apoplexy if he mentioned it. Mayhap he should just to get Jamie to cease his badgering over it? Iain kept laughing aloud everytime the thought struck him.

But, by the time he rode from Dunbarton, the thought of it, of her, did not seem so nonsensical as before.

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