Unruly. Unmarried. Unapologetic. Catriona Mackenzie’s reputation precedes her everywhere she goes. Her beloved late aunt Zelda taught Cat to live out loud and speak her mind, and that’s exactly what she does when Zelda’s legacy—a refuge for women in need—comes under fire. When her quest puts her in the path of the disturbingly mysterious Hamlin Graham, Duke of Montrose, Cat is soon caught up in the provocative rumors surrounding the dark duke. Never one to retreat, Cat boldly goes where no one else has dared for answers.
Shrouded in secrets, a hostage of lies, Hamlin must endure the fear and suspicion of those who believe he is a murderer. The sudden disappearance of his wife and the truth he keeps silent are a risk to his chances at earning a coveted parliamentary seat. But he’s kept his affairs tightly held until a woman with sparkling eyes and brazen determination appears unexpectedly in his life. Deadly allegations might be his downfall, but his unleashed passion could be the duke’s ultimate undoing.
Kishorn Lodge, Scottish Highlands, 1755There’d been a spirited debate among the Mackenzies of Balhaire over where to bury the remains of the venerable Griselda Mackenzie. Arran Mackenzie, her much beloved cousin, wanted her buried at the clan’s seat at Balhaire alongside two hundred years of Mackenzies. But Catriona, his youngest daughter—who had been as close to her “Auntie” Zelda as her own mother—wanted to bury her at Kishorn Lodge, where Griselda had lived most of her remarkable life.
In the end, a compromise was struck. Auntie Zelda was buried in the family crypt at Balhaire, but a fèillein her honor was held at Kishorn a month later. This arrangement satisfied Catriona, as it was the celebration she wanted for a woman who had lived life very much on her own terms.
Unfortunately, the weather turned foul on the eve of her fèille. Kishorn was remote, far into the Highlands, reachable practically only by boat. Therefore, only the most immediate Mackenzie family was able to attend, rowing up from Balhaire, past the Mackenzie properties of Arrandale and Auchenard, and across Loch Kishorn to the point where the loch met the river for which it was named.
There was scarcely anything or anyone this far into the Highlands. A village and prime hunting grounds had once graced the banks of the river, but they were long gone. A Mackenzie ancestor had built the lodge on the ruins of the village. Zelda, who had always preferred her freedom to a confining marriage, and had been indulged by her father, had taken possession of the abandoned lodge as a young woman and had made it her home, lovingly repairing and adding to it over the years.
The only thing left of that ancient village was a crumbling abbey, built on a hilltop overlooking the river glen. It was small as abbeys went, and no one could say whose abbey it had been. Zelda had decided it was hers and had made half of the original structure habitable again. The other half—what had once been the sanctuary—was missing its walls, and only a few beams and arches remained of the roof. It served no useful purpose, other than to provide a wee bit of respite from the weather for the cows that wandered in from time to time.
If only they’d had a respite from the cold rain that continued to beat a steady rhythm against the paned windows on the day of the fèille.
Catriona was quite undone by it—she’d planned this event to rival all such celebrations for years to come. “I’m bloody well cross with God this day, that I am,” she said to the women gathered around the fire blazing in the hearth. They included her mother, the Lady of Balhaire, and Catriona’s sister, Vivienne. Also present were her sisters-in-law, Daisy, Bernadette and Lottie. “It rained the day we buried her, and here it rains again. She deserved better, she did,” Catriona said as she carelessly held up her wineglass to be refilled.
“Zelda would not care a whit about rain, Cat,” her mother assured her. “She would care only that you carried on with the fèillein spite of it. Can’t you hear her laughing? She’d say, ‘Did you expect cherubs and bluebirds to herald my arrival? No, lass, heaven weeps when I knock at the door.’”
“Mamma,” Catriona said gravely, but she couldn’t help a small smile. Zelda would have indeed said something like that.
“I miss that old crone,” her mother said fondly, and lifted her glass in solemn salute. “She was incomparable.”
That was high praise coming from Margot Mackenzie. She and Zelda had maintained a fraught relationship through the years, had never quite seen eye to eye for reasons Catriona still didn’t fully understand. She knew that Zelda couldn’t bring herself to forgive her mother for being English, which, to be fair, was a sin in the eyes of many Highlanders. But Zelda had also seemed determined to believe the absurd notion that Catriona’s mother was a spy, of all things. Once, Catriona had asked her father why Auntie Zelda said her mother was a spy, and he’d given her a strange look. “Some things are better left in the past, aye?” he’d said. “You canna believe everything Zelda says, lass.”
He had not, Catriona had noted, denied it.
Julia London is the New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author of more than thirty romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular Cabot Sisters historical romance series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch and The Perfect Homecoming. She has over 100,000+ Facebook followers, is the recipient of the RT Book Reviews for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction. You can visit her website JuliaLondon.com. She lives in Austin, Texas.