Monday, June 16, 2014

Blog Tour ~ Once Upon a Highland Autumn ~ Lecia Cornwall


Megan McNabb would do anything to get out of marrying a man she does not love—even handfasting for a year and a day with an English stranger.

A mysterious letter draws Lord Kit Rossington to Scotland in search of a lost treasure. But the marriage-minded females he avoided in England follow him to the Highlands, and he'll do anything—even a temporary marriage with a Highland lass—to keep his freedom while he solves a mystery that's haunted Glen Dorian for almost a century.

Legends say a curse lurks among the shattered stones of Glen Dorian Castle. Will the love that is beginning to grow between Megan and Kit be able to withstand fate? For only the living, those with bold hearts and true love, can restore peace to Glen Dorian at last.

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Glen Dorian, 1817

“Is that a true story?”
Duncan MacIntosh let his gaze bore into the child from across the fire.
“It’s as true as any tale ever was, lad. ’Tisn’t a story—it’s the history of your own clan. Do you doubt my word?”
“But how can a dragon eat a whole village?” the boy asked, not half as frightened of the aged clansman’s scowl as Duncan would have liked. So he raised his hands over his head, spreading his plaid above himself like wings. He leaned away from the fire, letting the shadows transform him until his eyes gleamed, and the crags and valleys of his wrinkled skin deepened in the firelight. “He is a dragon!” the boy cried out in terror, and clutched his mother’s skirt.
The seannachaidh of Clan MacIntosh sat down, coming back into the light, his face benign now. He set a gnarled hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Och, don’t be afraid, lad. ’Tis all for fun, that tale. It’s a seannachaidh’s job to keep the tales of the clan, and tell them—even the almost-true ones about dragons. Shall I tell you a truly true one?”
The boy stuck his lip out mutinously. “Are there dragons in it?”
“No. There’s a pretty lass called Mairi MacIntosh, her brave laird, and a soldier in this tale, but no dragons—well, unless you count the fearsome Duke of Cumberland.”
“Who’s he?” the boy asked.
“He was the wicked son of a king. He came to vanquish the MacIntosh clan, and all the rest of the Highlanders.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “Is there blood and swords and killing in this tale?”
Duncan’s brow crumpled. “Too much of that, I fear. Are you afraid?”
The lad shook his head. “Is there kissing?”
The old man’s brow smoothed as he laughed. “Aye, some—though not nearly enough.”
“How does the story end?”
“I don’t know. It hasn’t got an ending yet.”
“Haven’t you made one up?” the child demanded.
Duncan pursed his lips. “As I said, this is a true tale, not a made-up one. True tales are long in the unfolding, lad. You can’t just conjure the ending out of the air. Something happens to begin the story—a dreadful thing sometimes—and then we must wait for the outcome. D’you understand that lad?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Then you must listen closely, and learn this story, so one day you can tell it. There have been a great many MacIntoshes in this glen before you and me, and I intend to see to it that you know all about every one of them before I leave this earth. Someday it will be you sitting here by the fire, lad, telling the tales to your sons or your grandsons, and they will do the same in their turn.”
The boy glanced over his shoulder at the loch of Glen Dorian, named for the otters that had always lived there. The water shimmered in the moonlight, black and deep. “Will I find the ending of this story?” the boy asked, stepping away from his mother to set his hand on Duncan’s knee.
“I hope you will. But for now you should know how it started.” The old seannachaidh took the boy onto his lap, kissed the top of his dark head, and looked out at the rest of his audience, a half-dozen MacIntosh clansmen, women, and children who sat around the blazing fire on this summer evening, listening to stories under the stars, just as other MacIntoshes had done before them.
Duncan stared into the fire as if he could see faces and events written there, and the others leaned nearer too, as he began to speak.
“This is the story of love, and hatred, and war—and of kindness, too. It all began many years ago, during the forty-five, when the clans rose to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie Stuart, and in the choosing of sides, many things happened—terrible, sorrowful things that still hover over this glen—including a powerful curse.”
“Mairi’s curse,” someone whispered fearfully, and a murmur rose with the smoke of the fire.
“Aye,” Duncan said. “Mairi’s curse. Listen now. I will tell you all I know, but that curse remains upon our glen, waiting for the day when someone will come at last and break it, and bring love and happiness back to Glen Dorian.”
“And kissing?” the boy asked.
“And kissing, too,” Duncan said, and began to tell the tale.

Chapter One

Glenlorne, summer 1817

Lady Megan McNabb stood beside the old tower of Glenlorne and looked out across the valley. Summer was at its height, hovering on the pinnacle between lush green perfection and the graceful slide into the golden glory of autumn. Megan drank in every detail—the old tower behind her, the new castle in the valley below, the loch, and the way the clouds rested on the peaks of the highest hills that sheltered the glen, and sighed. She would miss autumn here, but she’d be back again by spring, and then she would never, ever leave home again, no matter what anyone else expected of her.
She looked down at Glenlorne Castle, and her defiance was nudged aside by guilt. She should be packing. She and her sisters were leaving in a few short hours. They would board the coach and travel to Dundrummie Castle to stay with their mother. The Dowager Countess of Glenlorne had retired to live with her widowed sister-in-law now that her stepson Alec had taken his place as Earl of Glenlorne. Alec was newly married, and it had been decided that his sisters would spend a few months with their mother, to give the newlyweds time to enjoy a honeymoon.
Megan understood why they must go—really she did, being in love herself. But she could not help but envy her brother’s happiness. Megan’s love was far away, and they could not marry. Not yet at least, and that made it seem most unfair indeed.
Oh, Eachann, lovely Eachann! She had kissed him good-bye on this very spot, in the shadow of the old tower, pledged to wait for him, to keep their love a secret until he returned and could honorably offer for her. She put a finger to her lips, lips he’d kissed scarcely a month before, and felt her heart twist with yearning.
Surely the time would pass faster if she went away, didn’t face reminders of Eachann everywhere she looked. It was hard to hide her sighs of longing, but she must. Her mother would forbid the match as unworthy of an earl’s daughter. Alec would tell her she was too young to know her own mind. Alec’s new wife, Caroline, would tell her gently that she should see more of the world, spend a Season in London, before she made her choice and settled into wedded bliss. Her sisters would tease her for falling in love with the penniless son of Glenlorne’s gamekeeper. No, better it remain a secret that only she and her true love knew. She took the tiny promise ring out of her pocket and slid it onto her finger and stared at it with a smile. Soon, very soon, Eachann would come home, rich, a man of the world, and no one would tell them no then.
But now, Megan was to go to Dundrummie, then on to London in the spring for the Season. Her mother expected her to charm a rich English lord, wed him before summer came again, and live forever in England. Lady Devorguilla McNabb had spent all the nineteen years of Megan’s life, and the seventeen years of her sister Alanna’s life, and every moment of Sorcha’s twelve years planning to marry her daughters to Englishmen, whom she considered superior in every way to Scottish men, plain or noble, poor or rich.
Megan frowned. Her mother was going to be very disappointed with her eldest daughter, but a lady could not help falling in love, and Megan’s heart had been given. She loved Eachann Rennie, gamekeeper’s son, and she was certainly old enough to know her own mind. The very idea of marrying an English lord of her mother’s choosing—a complete stranger—and never seeing her homeland again made her shudder.
Megan scanned the glen again without seeing it. Her heart was sailing the high seas with Eachann as he strove to make his fortune. Not even her mother could object to him then, surely, with gold and a fine wedding ring in his pocket. They would be married in Glenlorne’s chapel, build a grand house here in the glen, and live happily ever after.
“Megan!” she turned as Sorcha, her youngest sister, struggled up the hill, her braids coming undone, russet curls askew around her flushed and freckled face. Her gown was stained with grass and tucked into her belt, her bare feet muddy. She wondered just how her mother was ever going to make an Englishman’s bride out of Sorcha. But then, her little sister was only twelve, and by the time Devorguilla frog-marched Sorcha to London for her debut, she would be the perfect lady, fit to wed a duke. Perhaps. She wished her mother—and the unknown lord—the best of luck with Sorcha.
Her sister panted like a hound as she tried to catch her breath. “I’ve been looking for you for nearly an hour. Muira says it’s nearly time to go, and you’re not even half-packed. You won’t have a thing to wear when we get to Dundrummie.”
Megan scanned the valley once more and ignored her sister. “I’m just saying good-bye to Glenlorne. At least for now.”
“Better to say farewell to people than places,” Sorcha said. “I’ve already been to the village, telling folk I’ll be back come spring.” She grinned mischievously at her sister. “You won’t though—you’ll be in London, bothered by the attentions of all those daft English lairds at your first Season.”
Megan felt a rush of irritation. “Lords, Sorcha, not lairds—and stop teasing,” she commanded, and flounced down the steep path that led back to the castle.
Sorcha picked a flower and skipped beside her sister like a mountain goat. One by one, she plucked at the petals. “How many English lords will Megan McNabb kiss?” she asked, dancing around her sister. “One . . . two . . . three . . .”
“Stop it,” Megan said, and snatched the flower away. She wouldn’t kiss anyone but Eachann. But her sister picked another flower.
“How many English lords will come and ask Alec for Meggy’s hand in marriage?” she sang, but Megan snatched that blossom too, before Sorcha could begin counting again.
“I shan’t go to London, and I will never marry an English lord,” she said fiercely.
“We’ll see what Mama says to that,” Sorcha said. “And Muira would say never is a very long time indeed.”
Megan stopped. “What exactly did Muira say?” Old Muira had the sight, or so it was said.
Sorcha grinned like a pirate, and rubbed a dusty hand over her face, leaving a dark smudge. “I thought you didn’t believe in the old ways.”
Megan rolled her eyes, let her gaze travel up the smooth green slopes of the hills to their rocky crests and thought of the legends and tales, the old stories, the belief that magic made its home in the glen.
Of course she believed.
She believed so much that she had decided to become the keeper of the clan’s tales when Glenlorne’s ancient seannachaidh had died last winter without leaving a successor. She loved to hear the old stories, and she planned to write them down so they’d never be lost. But for now, in Sorcha’s annoying company, she raised her chin. Now was hardly the time to be fanciful. “Of course I don’t believe in magic. I think being sensible is far more useful to get you what you want, not counting flower petals or relying on the seeings of an old woman.”
“Muira foresaw an Englishman, and a treasure,” Sorcha said, not deterred one whit by talk of sense. “Right there in the smoke of the fire, clear as day.”
Megan felt her mouth dry. “For me?” she asked through stiff lips.
“She didn’t know that. For one of us, surely.”
Megan let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps she was safe. If only Muira had seen Eachann, riding home, his heart light, his purse heavy, with that fine gold ring in his pocket. “That’s the trouble with Muira’s premonitions. She sees things, but can’t say what they mean.”
“Still, a treasure would be nice,” Sorcha chirped. “A chest of gold, or a cache of pearls and rubies—”
“Not if it comes with an Englishman attached,” Megan muttered.
“Och, I’m not worried. I’m only twelve. He won’t be coming for me, that’s certain. But you’re nearly twenty. According to Muira, it’s far past time you were wed. Muira says you should have a dozen bairns by now.”
Megan felt her cheeks heat. “Muira says,” she grumbled. She and Eachann had spoken of the babes they would have—four or five strong lads to take after their father, and two or three pretty little lasses. She felt her heart quicken with longing. Perhaps she could ask Muira to look again, be sure—They’d reached the path beside the loch, a cool and shady haven out of the sun. Megan stopped and stared out at the dark water, and wondered if Eachann was staring out across a very different body of water, and likewise longing for her.
“D’you suppose we have time for a swim?” Sorcha asked, dabbling her toes in the water. “’Tis uncommonly hot today.”
Megan looked at her sister’s flushed face, took note of the smudges of dirt. Tomorrow they’d be at Dundrummie, and Mama would expect—insist—that they behave like ladies. There’d be no swimming, no running free in the hills. Sorcha would be kept indoors learning English, and Megan and Alanna would be given long hours of instruction in dancing and deportment, and be fitted for a grand wardrobe of stiff, horrid English gowns for their upcoming London Season—and corsets, tied tight enough to cut a lass in two.
The loch beckoned, and Megan grinned at her sister as she kicked off her shoes and pulled her gown over her head. “Aye, why not?” she said. “I’ll race you to the black rock.” She dove into the chill of the water, came up gasping, the hills wavering through the drops on her lashes. Pleasure, pure sweet pleasure.
She grinned and dove again. Whatever the future might hold, there was still joy to be had today.

About Lecia Cornwall:

Lecia Cornwall lives and writes in Calgary, Canada, amid the beautiful foothills of the Canadian Rockies, with four cats, two teenagers, a crazy chocolate Lab, and one very patient husband. She is hard at work on her next book.

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