Davidson Estate, Northern Highlands, Scotland—January 1892
(From the beginning of Chapter One)
“You’re too slow.” Rhona’s laughter grew as her brother dismounted. “What were you thinking taking an untrained horse against my Mador?”
“That creature you call your pet is a beast. I don’t know how you manage him.”
Rhona smoothed a gloved hand over Mador’s muzzle and placed a kiss between his eyes when he lowered his head to nudge her. “Oh, all right.” She slipped half an oatcake from her cloak pocket and fed it to the horse.
“Spoiled, that’s what he is.” Wallace slapped the dust from his trousers and handed his horse to the groom.
Rhona pressed her head against Mador’s neck and grinned at her brother. “Your horses live like kings, brother.”
“Yes, but they bring in hefty purses from the races.” Wallace stepped up to the tall black Friesian. “He is a beauty. What a marvel he would be at the tracks.”
Rhona hugged the horse and stepped away, giving the animal one more kiss before handing him to the groom. “Mador will not run a course so long as I’m around.” She slipped her arm through her brother’s. “Come. Let us go in for tea and discuss your plans for the new racer.”
Warmth from the fires welcomed the pair when they walked into the stately home. They’d both been born within the stone walls of Davidson Castle. It had once been a peaceful and enjoyable place to live, but over the years, the younger Davidsons had learned to create their own joy. The eldest, Alistair, had spent the past five years at university and traveling the continent. All that Rhona knew of him was from the letters he sent once a month. She longed for him to return, for he was the only one who managed to please their father.
Wallace’s deep laughter mingled with her own as the butler removed their coats.
“Is tea ready, Graham?”
“It is, my lady.”
Rhona turned and looked up at the butler. “Whatever is wrong?”
“Your father has been looking for you.”
Rhona’s smile faded, as did her brother’s. With a light touch, she set her hand on Wallace’s arm. “It’s all right.”
“He’s been in a mood for weeks. Let me come in with you.”
“No, it’s my turn.” Rhona removed her long gloves and handed them to Graham. “Wish me luck.” She turned with a glance and grim smile cast over her shoulder and walked to the study. It was the one room in the house where she was prohibited to go unless her father summoned her, even though it remained empty most of the year. Rhona waited immediately outside the study door to listen curiously to her father and another man. The door pushed open and Rhona stepped aside to let her father’s guest pass. Her gaze followed him as he walked down the hallway.
“Ye kept me waiting.”
Barely inside the door, Rhona turned to her father, searching for any resemblance between them, but she felt no kinship. His disdain always reminded her that a third son would have been preferable to a daughter who served him no purpose. She detested the man, even as her heart ached for the father she’d always hoped he would be.
“I didn’t realize you’d returned or that you had company.”
“He’s a business associate, and of no concern to ye.”
Rhona pressed the door closed. “We weren’t expecting you to return from Edinburgh until Christmas. Wallace and I were testing his new racer. He’s no match for Mador, but he’ll be a fine addition to the stables.”
Her father studied her as though he had heard nothing she had said. “Sit down.”
Curious, Rhona did as her father bid, though she remained silent, unwilling to cower or beg for a speedy departure from his presence. The silence continued as tea was brought into the room, a consideration she would not have attributed to her father. It did not bode well, for the tea service meant she could be here longer than she would like.
When the footman departed, Rhona prepared a cup for her father and set it down on his desk knowing he wouldn’t touch it. She helped herself to a cup and a small sandwich to help appease her hunger, but she soon grew weary of the quiet.
“I am grateful for this chance to speak with you alone. I’ve finished making arrangements for my holiday to the continent, but I did want to ask about taking Wallace. He’ll be off to university in a year, and I do think he would—”
“Ye’ll not be going. I have made other arrangements for ye.”
Rhona stood now, the tea forgotten. “What arrangements?”
She shook her head with such force she felt a pain in her neck. “You have no right.” She reached for the bell pull, but her father grabbed her arm before she could. “Let go of me.”
“Ye’ll marry, Rhona, and ye’ll do as I say.”
She pulled against the force of his grip, but her strength did not match his. “I have means enough to make my own plans and to live comfortably. I neither need nor desire a husband.”
The heat of his breath touched her skin when he pulled her closer, but it was anger, not fear, which slowly consumed her.
“Ye’ll do as I say.” Her father spoke the words with enough force to make her believe she might comply. “I’ll ruin ye from here to the far reaches of the continent. Ye’ll not find peace so long as I live. Ye will do this, Rhona.”
Rhona looked into the hardened face of Calum Davidson and pushed him away, almost falling over from her effort. He returned the favor with a slap across her face, and the weight of his strength sent her toppling to the carpet. She lifted a hand to the cheek that burned and looked in disbelief at her father. He had treated her with indifference throughout the years, but he had never struck her. He lowered himself until he could speak in a whisper.
“Ye’ll marry Laird Crawford.”
“No.” She raised herself to her knees. Rhona knew she should call out for someone, but doing so would only force Graham or Wallace into a confrontation. “Crawford killed my mother. I’ll never go to him. I will leave by week’s end.”
“Ye dinna hear me.”
“I did, and I don’t care if you ruin me. I’ll leave this place. I’ll leave Scotland forever if I must.” Rhona spoke the words, even though it bruised her spirit to say them. She rose to her feet, her determination now fierce. “I love my brothers, and I love this land. I’ve stayed for them, but I will leave this soil for all my days if I must. I will not marry a man who you, yourself, told me was responsible for my mother’s death.”
He reached for her once more, though this time she skirted away and managed to ring the bell pull before he caught her. “You will never see me again, I swear to you.”
“I dinna care, but ye will marry Crawford. I’ve promised ye to him, and if I have to force yer cooperation, I will.”
“You’re my father, and I’ve always honored you, but did you truly believe I’d do this?” Her one last desperate hope for him to understand the cruel enormity of what he was doing had failed.
“I never wanted ye. A daughter is of no use to me.”
Rhona choked back the tears threatening to fall and jumped at the sound of a gentle knock at the parlor door. “Come in.”
“Miss Davidson, I . . .” Graham watched her, and she wondered if her damp eyes or red face had caught his attention first.
Her father glanced at the butler then back at her. “This land, and everything on it, including ye, belongs to me.”
“And when the week is over, you will never again see my shadow cast upon your home.” Rhona remained behind her chair, grasping at any barrier to keep between her and her father. She found the strength to walk toward the door.
“Ye’ll have the week to pack, and then ye’ll go to Crawford.” Calum closed the distance between them and leaned over the chair. Rhona held up a hand to prevent Graham from interfering, and then looked directly into her father’s eyes while he spoke. “The world is dangerous for a woman alone. Ye dinna want to live in fear.”
“Why do you insist on this marriage? I’m of no consequence to you, and I am no burden. I live in this house, but we both know that you have never supported me.”
“Yer mother was a fool to leave ye with such a fortune.”
“A fortune you could not touch. Is that what angers you?”
“There’s more at stake than money. Will ye defy me and risk yer brother’s life?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ye love yer brother.”
Rhona endeavored to remain calm. “You would threaten Wallace? I matter nothing to you, but he’s your son!”
“I will do what I must.”
The weight of her father’s veiled message became painfully clear. Do his bidding and marry Crawford, or live in fear every day. Rhona did not fear for herself, but she would not risk her brother.
End of Excerpt
Blackwood Crossing ©MKMcClintock
A British Agent Novel
If you had to make a choice, would it be loyalty or love?
Scottish Highlands - January 1892 Torn between loyalty to her family and refusal to marry a laird she despises, Rhona Davidson accepts a dangerous proposal from a man she knows only as Blackwood. Leaving behind a life of leisure, Charles Blackwood bravely serves his country with honor and the skill of a trained British agent. When his newest case returns him to the wild Highlands of Scotland, he is faced with a choice between killing a man and saving the only woman he has ever loved. Charles and Rhona join their lives, only to discover that their choices will result in bloodshed, unless they can uncover a truth long buried, deep in the Highland soil. Author MK McClintock returns with swashbuckling heroes and courageous heroines in Blackwood Crossing, a story about buried secrets and second chances. If you enjoy clean historical romance with a touch of intrigue and adventure, then you'll love this "absolute thrill ride of a mystery."
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