Thursday, January 29, 2015
Kilts and Kisses First Chapter Teaser
1607, Scottish Highlands
“She’s a witch.”
“Anna, contrary to whatever ye are thinking in that wee brain of yours, our aunt is nay witch. She believes heavily in superstition. There’s a difference.”
Ceana Gunn stood on the parapet of her home as a cool breeze combed through her loose tendrils. She closed her eyes and prayed for patience. There were days when her fifteen-year-old sister drove her completely mad. And this was one of those times. Ceana gazed out at her father’s lands, deep in thought.
The mossy fields were a lovely shade of green, and dappled purple heather reached up from the grass as if asking the sun to carry it away in a warm embrace. A hawk glided fluidly through the air and then swooped down to capture its latest prey. In the distance, the forest line encircling the loch was lush with pine trees and foliage.
How Ceana wished she could escape there now. She missed the much simpler pleasures of her youth and longed for peace and solitude, away from everything and everyone. When her brief moment of solace was interrupted again by her sister’s endless prattle, Ceana mentally suppressed a sigh.
“But Aunt Marta said birds bring about death. How would she know that if she wasnae a witch?”
Ceana didn’t want to tell Anna that if she didn’t stop talking, she’d bring about her own demise, but the last thing Ceana wanted was for her sister to be as superstitious as their aunt. “Ye cannae take everything Aunt Marta says as the truth. Besides, she doesnae feel that way about all birds—only crows, ye know.”
Anna put her hands on the stone wall. Leaning forward over the edge, her long, blond locks caught in the gentle wind. “Do ye think ʼtis safe to go down now?”
“I think we should wait until we’re certain the company have taken their leave. Mayhap then our dear cousin Sorcha will nae be vying for so much attention and making such a fool of herself. ʼTis hard to believe she is a Gunn and shares our blood.”
“Aye, we should wait.” Anna brushed down the blue day dress that complemented her ivory skin. The color of the fabric matched her azure eyes, and the hues of the sky made her look as though she was painted onto an artist’s canvas. She was the picture of their mother.
“I donna understand why Sorcha acts the way she does.” Anna continued with her commentary to Ceana’s dismay. “I think she forgets that we all used to play together as children. I donna know what has happened to her. She isnae the same person. She’s changed, and nae for the better I tell ye.” Anna took a short breath.
“Why do ye think Aunt Marta and Uncle John treat her differently than us? They let her have anything she wants. All Sorcha has to do is ask. And ye’ve seen her trunks. How many gowns can one woman have before ʼtis enough? When was the last time Aunt Marta had dresses made for us, eh?”
Ceana gave her sister a wry grin. “Of course Aunt Marta and Uncle John treat Sorcha differently. She’s their daughter.”
Anna let out a primal growl. “Mayhap, but times like these make me realize how much I miss our mother and father. What I wouldnae give to have them here with us now.”
“I know, Sister. I miss them too.”
Ceana straightened her spine and willed the tears not to fall. Although two years should’ve been ample time to erase memories of the past, the circumstances of her parents’ deaths still haunted her. Most of the time she had a hard time acknowledging that her mother and father were no longer of this world.
A thoughtful smile curved Ceana’s mouth as she remembered the gleam in her mother’s eyes every time the woman laid eyes on her husband. And how could she forget the loving gesture of her father’s hand placed at her mother’s back every time her parents walked side by side? The two of them had been inseparable, but knowing she’d never be able to see them again was like having her beating heart impaled by a sharp dagger.
“I see the look on your face, Ceana. Donna try to hide it. Ye recognize the truth for what it is. If Father and Mother werenae killed by those vagrants who robbed them on the road, Father would still be laird. And ye know verra well that ye would now be the one foolishly vying for attention, not Sorcha.” When Ceana pursed her lips, Anna added, “I know. Ye would ne’er behave the way that Sorcha does. But does it nae trouble ye?”
Ceana became uneasy under her sister’s scrutiny and shifted her weight. “There is naught we can do to change the past. We need to look toward the future and nae look behind. That’s what Mother and Father would’ve wanted for us.” Turning her head away from her prying sister, Ceana stared blankly into the courtyard below, refusing to admit that Anna was right.
A loud commotion came from the bailey, causing Anna to glance over the wall. “I think ʼtis safe to return. The latest suitor has taken his leave.”
“Let us give thanks to God for small favors. I donna know how many more of these visits I can bear.”
When Ceana and Anna entered the great hall, servants were working to clear the long wooden table on the dais of meats, breads, and cheeses—but not before Anna managed to grab a handful of food. She didn’t even wait to sit down before she broke off a piece of bread and gobbled it down.
“I’m famished,” she said. “At least there’s something remaining for us to eat this time. Ye better grab a bite before ’tis too late. How many more suitors do ye think will come before these men clean us out of our stores for the winter?”
“I see the two of ye managed to find your way back. More’s the pity, if ye ask me.”
Anna’s eyes blazed with anger. “We didnae ask ye.”
“Sorcha, ye look lovely.” Ceana made every effort to mask the look of contempt that crossed her face. Too bad her cousin’s comeliness didn’t outweigh her dreadful demeanor. Ceana had to fight an internal battle every day to make certain that Sorcha’s abhorrent behavior wasn’t contagious.
Her cousin’s newest gown was gold and trimmed with blackwork embroidery. The neck opening was filled in with a linen partlet, and a ribbon sash was secured at Sorcha’s slender waist. Her ash-brown hair clustered in short curls around her oval face, the same face that currently studied Ceana from head to toe.
“Mother had this gown made for me. I think ʼtis rather fitting for the occasion. Wouldnae ye say?”
Anna huffed. “I’d say ye—”
“Aye.ʼTis quite lovely.”
Sorcha glared at Anna. “Ye two will nae ruin this for me. Do ye hear me?”
“Ruin this for ye?” Anna’s voice went up a notch. “If nae for my father, there would be naught—”
“Na can an còrr! Tha sin gu leòr!” Say no more! That is enough! “Good heavens, child. I can hear all of ye from across the hall. There is nay need for these constant squabbles.” Aunt Marta placed silvery locks of hair behind her ear and then smoothed her red skirts. She was a petite woman with a square chin and a wide mouth that looked large for such a small frame.
“Our guest has departed. Take your leave and wash your sleeve,” she said, wrapping her fingers around the gold fabric of Sorcha’s dress.
“I donna see any dirt on Sorcha’s dress.”
Aunt Marta raised her hands to Anna’s cheeks. “Och, lassie. I know her dress isnae soiled. Sorcha is going to find out which suitor will take her to wife.”
“My apologies, but I donna understand.”
“ʼTisnae your fault that your mother didnae teach ye such things.” Aunt Marta lowered her arms and gave Anna a patient smile. “ʼTis said that if a maiden travels to a south-running stream, to a ford where the dead and the living cross, she’s to wash her sleeve in the water. When she returns home, she’s to hang the garment in front of the fire and keep a careful eye. If Sorcha watches closely, she’ll see the apparition of her future husband when he comes to turn the wet cloth.”
Anna’s jaw dropped. “Ye’re jesting with me.”
“Oh, on the contrary, I’m quite serious, my dear. That’s exactly how I knew I was destined to wed your Uncle John. Now that’s enough of this quarreling, all of ye. I’ve heard enough to last the rest of my days.” Aunt Marta turned on her heel as Sorcha rested her gaze on Ceana.
“Let me make something clear to the both of ye,” their cousin said. “I will wed the most powerful laird in the Highlands to benefit our clan because I am the laird’s daughter. My marriage will bring with it alliances and prosperity for many generations to come. So the two of ye better nae do anything foolish. And if ye continue to put obstacles in my path, I’ll nae only remove them, I’ll remove the both of ye.”
As Sorcha waved her hand in a dismissive gesture and bristled off, Anna poked her elbow into Ceana’s arm. “What are we going to do about her?”
“I donna know, but if she doesnae mind her words, I’m going to throttle her.”
“I’m glad to hear it because frankly, I’ve been fretting over ye lately, Sister. Ye’ve put up with Sorcha’s vile behavior long enough. I’m relieved to see ye still have some of Father’s tenacity within ye.”
Ceana lifted a brow. “Father? I assure ye that I am my mother’s daughter. Ye donna remember all the times Mother put Uncle John in his place when he disagreed with the decisions Father had made for the clan?”
“Uncle John? Nay. When?”
“ʼTisnae important. What is important is that ye continue with your studies. There is nay greater gift than the gift of knowledge.”
Ceana lit the candles in her bedchamber, donned her nightrail, and drew back the heavy curtains to see moonlight shining through the slit in the stone wall. Leaning closer, she looked through the hole. The moon was full and high in the night sky.
She sat on the bed and pulled out her journal from under the feather mattress. As she opened the page to the entry she’d made from the evening before, she sighed. Sorcha was two years younger than Ceana and only a year older than Anna. So why were Uncle John and Aunt Marta arranging a marriage for Sorcha now? Her cousin had said the words herself. She was the laird’s daughter. It didn’t matter how old Ceana was because her father was dead. She was no longer the laird’s daughter. That right now belonged to Sorcha, a fact she wouldn’t let Ceana forget any time soon.
Glancing down at her journal, Ceana didn’t see any words on the page. That revelation came as no surprise. She knew she’d never be able to pen a single word this eve. She closed the book and placed it on the bed. Bringing her knees to her chest, she rested her chin on top and closed her eyes.
“Fuirich mionaid.” Wait a moment. “I refuse to let Sorcha plague me. ʼTis madness.” Ceana flew to her feet, donned her slippers, grabbed her cloak from the corner chair, and bolted out the door. She needed air and would not permit herself to be suffocated by her own dire thoughts.
Making her way through the halls of the castle, she saw that the main torches were extinguished, but a few remained lit to guide her. She knew the servants had retired to their chambers long ago. As she was passing the wall where her father’s portrait used to hang, she scoffed at her Uncle John’s likeness that now hung in its place. Becoming even more incensed, she walked with long, purposeful strides. She couldn’t reach her destination soon enough.
She climbed the narrow, winding steps to the parapet. It was engulfed in blackness, which suited her darkened mood fine. The only reason she didn’t fall and break her neck was because she placed her hands on the stone walls at each side to guide her. When she reached the top of the stairs, she opened the door.
Ceana stood in the same spot she always did, and the moon was so bright that it illuminated her father’s lands. She could even see the shadows of the tree line in the distance. The moon cast an eerie glow across the moors, as if the veil was thin between this world and the next. That was the moment she realized that she’d heard enough of Aunt Marta’s constant ramblings about specters and the fae. She whipped her head to the right as the sound of a sword scraped against the wall.