Betrayed, p.1

Betrayed, page 1

 

Betrayed
 


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Betrayed


  LOOK FOR ARNETTE LAMB’S CELEBRATED TALE OF LOVE AND ADVENTURE

  “Hark! The Herald”

  From A HOLIDAY OF LOVE

  PRAISE FOR NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR ARNETTE LAMB

  MAIDEN OF INVERNESS

  “With the depth of emotion, unforgettable characters and love of the Highlands that have made Arnette Lamb’s romances ‘keepers’ comes this utterly enthralling tale. . . . Here is a real treasure!”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Arnette Lamb has scored another dazzler.”

  —Rendezvous

  “Maiden of Inverness is an action-packed medieval romance that readers will enjoy immensely. Ms. Lamb comes across as a lion when it comes to bringing alive Scottish romances.”

  —Heather Carr, The Paperback Forum

  “This, readers, is the stuff of which romances are made!”

  —Julie Meisinger, Heartland Critiques

  “No one describes the Scottish Highlands better than Ms. Lamb. With Maiden of Inverness she succeeds in enhancing her reputation as the mistress of Scottish historical romance.”

  —Harriet Klausner, Affaire de Coeur

  CHIEFTAIN

  “Powerful, emotionally intense, sexually charged, Chieftain typifies Arnette Lamb’s storytelling talents.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Chieftain is an excellently written and powerfully moving Medieval romance novel. . . . All-in-all, another superb read from the pen of a master storyteller.”

  —Harriet Klausner, Affaire de Coeur

  BORDER BRIDE

  “Vintage Arnette Lamb. This irresistible tale warms your heart, tickles your funny bone, and delights your senses.”

  —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

  “Deep and sensuous . . . sexually stimulating and very fast paced. Its theme is love heals the human heart. You will bask in its afterglow.”

  —Rendezvous

  BORDER LORD

  “All that a historical romance should be: fast-paced, funny and hot-blooded. . . . One of the best of the year.”

  —Detroit Free Press

  “An excellent tale of high adventure. . . . Ms. Lamb has written a choice story filled with humor and a special understanding of human motivation and love.”

  —Sherrilyn Kenyon, Affaire de Coeur

  Thank you for downloading this Pocket Star Books eBook.

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  This book is dedicated to the readers who embraced the Highland rogue and encouraged me to write about his daughters. You know who you are, and my gratitude and appreciation defy words.

  My very special thanks to Alice Shields, Pat Stech, and Vivian Jane Vaughan for their help and support during the writing of this book.

  Prologue

  Rosshaven Castle

  Scottish Highlands

  February 1785

  Sarah traced the wooden bindings on a collection of children’s stories and waited for her father to share his troubling thoughts. To her surprise, Lachlan MacKenzie, the duke of Ross and the once-notorious Highland rogue, fumbled as he filled his pipe. His hands were shaking so badly his signet ring winked in the lamplight. His beloved face, more ruggedly handsome with the passage of time, now mirrored the strife contained within his good heart.

  Sadness had begun this winter day, and Sarah wanted desperately to help ease the burden of his loss. She touched his arm. “Agnes and I used to fight for the privilege of doing that. Let me fill your pipe.”

  His broad shoulders fell, and he blew out his breath. “I’m not your—” Halting, he gazed deeply at her. Affection, constant and warm, filled his eyes. With obvious effort, he forced the words. “I’m not your father.”

  Although she knew she’d misunderstood, Sarah went still inside. He’d acted oddly five years ago when her half sister, Lottie, had married David Smithson. When another of Sarah’s half sisters, Agnes, had left home on an unconventional quest, he’d tormented himself for months. The day Mary demanded her dowry, so she could move to London to perfect her artistic skill with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Papa had ranted and raved until their stepmother, Juliet, had come to the rescue. His fatherly vulnerability was born of his love for all of his children, especially the elders, his four illegitimate daughters: Sarah, Lottie, Agnes, and Mary.

  This time Sarah was sure he was bothered by her upcoming marriage to Henry Elliot, the earl of Glenforth, a man whose husbandly abilities he questioned. But Sarah had made her decision and for months had countered Papa’s objections.

  She must reassure him again. “Just because I’m to wed Henry in the spring and move to Edinburgh doesn’t mean I’ll stop being your daughter.”

  His blue eyes brimmed with regret. “Name me the grandest coward o’ the Highlands, but I’d sooner turn English than admit the truth of it. Oh, Sarah lass.”

  Sarah lass. It was his special name for her. His voice and those words were the first sounds she remembered—even from the cradle.

  “Tell me what, Papa? That I cannot at once be daughter and wife, sister and mother? I’m not like Agnes. I will not forsake you, but I want my own family.”

  Always a commanding man, both in stature and in influence, today Papa seemed hesitant. He touched her cheek. “You were never truly my daughter—not in blood.”

  She stepped back. “That’s a lie.”

  Unreality hung like a pall in the air between them. Of course he was her father. After her mother’s death in childbirth, he’d taken Sarah from the hospice in Edinburgh and raised her with her half sisters. It was a tale as romantic as any bard could conjure. Those of noble blood were expected to leave the care of even their legitimate offspring to servants. Not Lachlan MacKenzie. He’d taken his four bastard daughters under his wing and raised them himself.

  A stronger denial perched on her lips.

  He took her hand. His palm was damp. His endearing smile wavered. “ ’Tis God’s own truth. I swear it on my soul.”

  Words of protest fled. Sarah believed him.

  Moved by a pain so fierce it robbed her of breath, she jerked free and fled to the shelter of the bookstand near the windows.

  On the edge of her vision, she saw him touch a taper to the hearth fire and light his pipe. She felt frozen in place, a part of the room, as natural in this space as the books, the toys on the floor, the tapestry frame near the hearth. This was her place, her home. Her handprints had smudged these walls. Her shoes had worn the carpet. Reprimands had been conducted here, followed by joyous forgiveness.

  “You cannot think I do not love you as my own.”

  His own, and yet not. Bracing her fists on the open pages of the family Bible, she struggled to draw air into her lungs. The familiar aroma of his tobacco gave her courage. “How can you not be my father?”

  “I said it poorly.” He slammed the pipe onto the mantle and came toward her, his hands extended. “I am your father in all that counts. You are my own, but—” His gaze slid to the Bible. “I did not sire you.”

  “Who did?” She heard herself ask the question, but felt apart from the conversation.

  New sadness dulled his eyes. “Neville Smithson.”

  Neville Smithson. The sheriff of Tain, a man Sarah had known most of her life. He had lived at the end of the street. She had taught his children to read. Absently, she touched the string of golden beads around her neck. Neville had given her the necklace for her twenty-first birthday. Lottie was married to Neville’s son, David. Less than an hour ago, both families had stood in the cemete
ry and laid Neville Smithson to rest.

  His heart, the doctors said. He’d been conducting assizes. He had died in Papa’s arms. His unexpected death, which had come as a blow to every household in Ross and Cromarty, now took on a greater meaning to Sarah.

  She was neither the love child of Lachlan MacKenzie nor one of his bastard daughters. Their illegitimacy was common knowledge, always had been. But in his special way, Lachlan had presented his lassies, as he called them, to the world as cherished daughters—and pity anyone who made sport of it.

  Sarah thought of her half sisters. To obscure the details of their births and allay speculation, they all shared a common birthday, even though they had different mothers—a result, he boasted, of his first visit to court as the duke of Ross. “Did you sire Mary, Lottie, and Agnes?”

  “Aye, but it changes nothing. In my heart you are their sister and my daughter.”

  At 10, Sarah had shot up in height. She was of an age with Lottie, Agnes, and Mary, but stood taller than them. Other differences came to mind. Sarah had always been bookish and quiet. Lottie often swore that Sarah needn’t come with them to court, for she’d sooner find merriment in the nearest library. Sarah had been a shy child; as a young woman, she held back, not for lack of gumption, but because her sisters were better leaders than she. They were gone now, each pursuing their own lives. Soon she would do the same.

  The timing of her father’s admission was curious. “Why did you wait until now to tell me?”

  He folded his arms over his chest. “Twas Neville’s last wish. You were still in swaddling when I took you for my own. He didn’t even know about you until you were six, after we came here to live. When I told him, we agreed ’twas best you did not know.”

  “Why?”

  “We feared your life might seem like a lie.”

  They could have been standing in the dungeon rather than this toasty-warm sanctuary, so cold did Sarah feel. “ ’Tis one lie for another, Papa.” The endearment burned on her lips. He had often praised her maturity, her sensible nature. But in his heart he must not believe his own opinion of her, for he hadn’t trusted her with the truth. Not until now.

  Sensible Sarah. She didn’t feel sensible in the least.

  Betrayal fueled her anger. “Henceforth, how shall I address you? Your Grace?”

  Misery wreathed his face, but his will was as strong as ever. “You canna be angry. Your best interests were at the heart of it.”

  “If a lie has a heart, it beats the devil’s rhythm.”

  “Sarah lass . . .”

  As if she could shove his words away, she held up her hand. “I’m not your Sarah. My father is—is dead.” Anguish stole her breath. Neville Smithson had entrusted his children to her teaching, yet he’d denied her the greatest bond of all—her own blood kin. And now it was too late to look him in the eye and ask why he had not claimed her.

  Other ramifications were endless and baffling. “I stand as godmother to two of my own sisters.”

  “And a fine influence you are on Neville’s younger children.”

  Neville’s children—her siblings . . . but Lachlan MacKenzie thought of her as his daughter. Sarah didn’t know what to think. “But they don’t know I’m their sister.”

  “We’ll tell them.”

  How, she wondered, her pride reeling. But there was no hurt in it for them, was there? Neville’s son and heir, David, would surely rejoice and expect Sarah to take his side in his marital disputes with Lottie. What would the younger ones, her godchildren, say? Would they see her differently?

  “Did Neville want you to tell them?” she asked.

  “There wasn’t time. God took him quickly. He spoke of his wife, then of you.”

  The information neither cheered nor saddened Sarah. She felt numb.

  “You were always so different from my other lassies.”

  That was true, but Lachlan had given each of his children an equal share of his love. To Agnes and Mary, he exhibited great patience. To Lottie, he gave understanding.

  To Sarah, he lied. Worse, he had been quick to swear that she was the image of his own mother, a MacKenzie—an impossibility.

  Sarah marshalled her courage. “It was all lies. Did you also lie about my mother?”

  “Nay. Your mother was Lilian White, sister to my beloved Juliet.”

  Sarah’s stepmother was also her aunt, a situation that had been the cause of great jealousy among her siblings. But all along, Sarah had had an unknown reason to envy them their blood ties to Lachlan MacKenzie. She had been almost six years old when Juliet White came to Scotland to search for her sister’s child. After winning the position of governess to four illegitimate girls, she had inspired the passion and won the love of Lachlan MacKenzie. Soon after, she gave him the first of four more daughters and an heir. Three of the girls survived. The children were Sarah’s younger siblings.

  And yet they were not. Her real siblings lived in the Smithson house at the end of Clan Row.

  She glanced at the family portrait on the far wall. Not Mary’s finest work, but certainly the most endearing to date, the painting captured the MacKenzies lounging on the bank of Loch Shin. Life had been simple on that day years before.

  One sister, Virginia, taken by misfortune, was depicted as an angel peering from behind a rowan tree. The day the family had given up hope of finding Virginia had been the blackest in Sarah’s life. Until now.

  That sorrow had passed. So, then, would this misery, Sarah pledged. But she must know more about her father. “Did he have any other words for me?”

  “Neville loved you. He left you ten thousand pounds.”

  As a final blow, Lachlan MacKenzie, the only father she had ever known, thought her shallow enough to be bought. Something inside Sarah began to shrivel. She wanted to flee, to cower in the dark and cry until the pain ebbed.

  But cowardice was not her way. She was almost three and twenty and would soon embark on a new life as the countess of Glenforth. Therein lay her salvation from the hurtful world that this room, this moment, and this life had become.

  You bear the mark of the MacKenzies, Sarah lass.

  A lie. No MacKenzie blood flowed in her veins.

  In reality she’d been sired by a man who had toasted her every birthday and visited her when she was ill. A sheriff named Smithson, not a duke named MacKenzie. A man buried this morning, a man who sought to buy her forgiveness from the grave.

  The cruelty cut her to the bone. “Neville Smithson left me guilt money.”

  “Nay. You are the same Sarah MacKenzie you have ever been. I would not have given you up, even—” He slapped the Bible. “I wouldn’t have given you up.”

  Even if Neville had asked, she finished the thought. Neville Smithson hadn’t wanted her. As a tutor for his children, she’d been acceptable, but not as a treasured daughter.

  His fair face rose in her mind, an image as constant as any in her memory. Her father: a fair-minded and honest sheriff with archangel good looks, Neville Smithson, a commoner.

  She grasped the necklace he’d given her and ripped it off. A shower of golden beads rained over the rug and scattered beneath the furniture.

  “Sarah! ’Tis your favorite.”

  Scattered. Same as she felt.

  “What are you thinking?”

  The sound of Lachlan’s voice drew her from the stupor her mind had become. “I’m thinking that I must go to Edinburgh and tell Henry.” Yes, Henry and a new life.

  “I’ll go with you.”

  Denial came swiftly. “Nay. I’ll take Rose.” Her maid was company enough.

  He sighed in resignation. “If Glenforth is unkind to you, or judgmental, I’ll make him wish he’d been born Cornish.”

  The remark was so typical, Sarah smiled. But her happiness fled. It hadn’t occurred to her before now that Henry would do anything other than accept the news with good grace. His mother, the Lady Emily, would not be so generous, but Henry usually prevailed in their family disputes.
>
  Sarah would take only her MacKenzie dowry to Edinburgh. Lachlan had pledged the twenty thousand pounds months ago and had put his seal to the formal betrothal. The Smithson money could rot for all she cared; a king’s ransom could not make her forgive him.

  With Henry’s help, she would heal the wounds Lachlan MacKenzie and Neville Smithson had dealt her.

  “Take your necklace, Sarah.”

  “Nay. I never want to see it again.”

  1

  Edinburgh, Scotland

  June 1785

  Lady Sarah!”

  Two of Sarah’s pupils, William Picardy and the lad everyone called Notch, dashed into the schoolroom.

  Notch yanked off his woolen cap. The crisp air made his thick brown hair crackle and stand on end. “The king is dead!”

  She’d been staring at a blank slate and thinking of the odd turn her life had taken since her arrival in Edinburgh. Notch’s shocking statement offered a diversion from her own troubles. “Who says the king is dead?”

  Shoving the smaller William out of the way, Notch stepped forward. “The Complement’s just come off a warship. Everybody knows the Complement wouldn’t come to Scotland for any less of a reason—” His adolescent voice broke, and he cleared his throat. “I say the old Hanoverian’s carved his last button, and Pitt the Younger has sent the Complement to give us the jolly news.”

  The king’s Complement was an elite troop of horse soldiers, noblemen all. With great ceremony, the Complement had served English monarchs since the time of Henry VIII. At the ascension of George I, the Hanoverian kings had relegated the crown’s cavalry to ceremony and foreign service, preferring a Hessian guard. The arrival of the Complement in Edinburgh certainly meant change, but did not necessarily harken the death of a king.

  Notch’s fanciful imagination, coupled with his need to impress and rule the younger orphans, was likely at the heart of the rumor.

 
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