Of Lands High and Low
Of Lands High and Low
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- Scottish Romance
- Fish out of Water
Isla Findlay belongs nowhere. The daughter of a disgraced woman and the Highlander who abandoned them both, she tries to be a dutiful niece to the uncle who has taken her in, blending into the village as best she can. But when a young Highlander's arrival in the area coincides with an outbreak of dreaded smallpox, it stirs up questions about Isla's past and forces a confrontation between the beliefs she holds and the community she wants to belong to.
Dr. Graeme MacNeill killed the only patient he ever had: his own father. The only way he can think to atone is to cut all ties from the Lowland world his father hated—including his education as a physician—and embrace the Highland heritage he used to be ashamed of. He travels to Craigmuir to sell the unwanted estate he has inherited from an uncle and return home, but fate—and the red-headed young woman he encounters in the village—have no intention of letting him leave things so easily behind.
Intro to Chapter 1
Intro to Chapter 1
The glacial February wind of the western Lowlands might try to keep travelers at bay, but it was no match for a man accustomed to Highland winters. Graeme MacNeill didn’t seem to regard the winter chill whipping around his great kilt and bonnet. His horse plodded down the dirt lane dusted with snow, the large sack of belongings set on its back swaying slightly behind Graeme in the saddle.
Graeme turned his head away from the coast, gazing with mild curiosity at the village of Craigmuir rising up before him. He pulled up on the reins, stopping for a moment and letting his eyes rove over the prospect. In the lane which cut between the row of short, slate-roofed houses, a few people hurriedly went about their business. The village looked much the same as he remembered it from a few years ago on his brief visit.
Footsteps sounded behind him, and he turned. A woman approached, wearing a kertch on her head and balancing a basket on her hip. Her guarded gaze was trained on him, and her eyes went to the plaid that hung about his knees.
“Good day to ye,” he said with a smile, hoping to show her that he meant her no harm.
She drew away and moved to the other side of the road, giving him a wide berth and increasing her pace.
He frowned and turned his horse away from the road, into the field of long, snow-coated grass that would take him around rather than through the village.
Giving the nearest estate—a timeworn, stone edifice set back from the cliffs—a large berth, he directed his horse toward the coast. “Whoa,” he said, pausing to look out over the rocky cliffs to the turbulent waters below. A lone sea stack stood there, a column of rock battered by waves and topped with a few white birds. The cliffs themselves were rugged but only a matter of thirty feet high, low enough for him to feel the spray from the waves that crashed below.
It was a beautiful prospect, if somewhat bleak at this time of year. He was accustomed to lochs, where the waters were placid except in bad weather. As a particularly large swell battered the sea stack, he wondered if the sea was ever calm.
Only when his horse pawed impatiently at the ground did he turn from the sight of the waves, simultaneously calming and threatening as they were. “Och,” Graeme said softly, running a hand along the beast’s neck. “I ken, Bowen. Yer belly is as empty as mine.” It had been a long journey, and they had a mere week-long respite before making the return trip north to Lochmara.
Pitcairlie House stood only slightly away from the cliffs, looking too clean and too new—and too English, with its bright Palladian columns and façade—for the rugged Scottish land it sat upon. Uncle David had always been quick to accept and imitate English fashions and opinions. But Graeme didn’t share his uncle’s willingness. Not any more, at least.
He didn’t want Pitcairlie House, and the truth was, many of his countrymen didn’t want him to have it either. It wasn’t so long since that Graeme wouldn’t have been able to inherit the home at all as a Catholic. The law might have changed, but the animus that had prompted the riots and protests following the act’s passage was still alive and well in the hearts of many Scots. Catholics—the dwindling few that remained—were not welcome here in the Lowlands.
Uncle David had teased and cajoled Graeme many times during his childhood, urging him to be baptized into the Kirk and become “a proper Scot” so that he could leave him Pitcairlie. He’d had no children or wife of his own, and he had a special liking for Graeme—his oldest nephew.
For most of his life, Graeme had secretly dreamed of being the master of Pitcairlie, and the Papist Act—passed when Graeme was just twelve—had provided a way for him to inherit. His dream had finally been within reach.
Too much had changed for Graeme since then, though. And in such a short time.