I love strong characters. I enjoy writing characters who are pushed to their limit and need to decide whether to maintain the status quo or step outside their comfort level. What will Jamie do when Bryce pushes him too far.
Laura Reynolds is in love with her long-time friend, Jamie Maxwell Collins. She adores his playful sense of humor, caring nature as well as his strong sense of family and honor.
Jamie lives across the border in Scotland. Outwardly carefree, he hides a dark secret. He can’t involve Laura in this deception. He can’t give her hope for a future together.
Laura stumbles upon Jamie’s secret. In her heart of hearts she knows Jamie is innocent. Their relationship in tatters and with no hope of reconciliation, she plays a deadly game to exonerate Jamie, she agrees to a political marriage. She has no idea the entire game has been orchestrated by her future husband, Jamie’s greatest enemy.
Jamie turned to the family sitting around the hearth. Wesley slouched in his chair staring at the fire, grief still raw on his face. He had aged over the year. His gray hair thinned, his eyes rimmed red and dulled with pain.
“He’s been like this since we buried... the burial.” Laura, Richard’s sister, was next to him. “Father tires easily and stays locked up inside himself. Mother is the sole person who can reach him, although I have hope. Alex did make him laugh.”
Jamie’s focus turned to Laura, the younger of the two sisters. Laura and Lisbeth were alike from their slender, petite size bodies, long auburn hair, and large green eyes with a fan of thick lashes. The sisters may be similar in appearance, however, not in temperament. Lisbeth was the deep thinker. Laura was head strong and outspoken, the feistier defiant sister.
“How are you and Lisbeth faring?” He gazed back at Wesley.
“It’s a challenge keeping everyone’s spirits up. At times, I succeed.” She shrugged. “Other times, I fail miserably. Lisbeth stayed at the Keep for a while then left for the hunting lodge to be alone.”
Jamie turned to her. Her drawn ashen face disturbed him.
“The rain has stopped. Would you care to take some fresh air in the garden?” Jamie presented his arm. Laura answered by looping her arm through his and drew him out the door.
He went willingly. Her warmth chased away any lingering chill from his journey. She’s Richard’s little sister, a warning voice whispered in his head. He took a breath and led her to the garden door.
“I understand you’re skeptical of Lisbeth’s gift, but she told me she saw Richard’s death before Bryce carried... brought Richard home. Now, she blames herself for not taking action.” Laura sighed heavily. “Everyone blames themselves. Father shouldn’t have let him go, not that he could stop Richard. Mother should have seen this coming, not that she could. And Lisbeth...”
“I understand all too well. I berated myself for not being with him, protecting his back.” They reached the stone porch.
Formal gardens sprawled before them with raised flower beds, neat hedges, and bare trellises waiting for next year’s roses. He waited with her in silence, willing her his strength.
“Is it wise for Lisbeth to be alone?” Jamie finally asked, and gazed past the lawn to the well-worn path on the other side of the garden gate.
“She’s not unaccompanied. John escorted her to the hunting lodge at Ann’s request, over Lisbeth’s heated protest.” She turned to him. “I haven’t thanked you for coming to us. I know The Maxwell has his demands and travel is a hardship.”
He stilled her trembling hand. Her brows creased in pain over eyes that stared off without seeing. He waited.
“I find it difficult to comprehend we’ll not see Richard again.” Laura’s voice choked and she shrugged with resignation despite tears that threatened at the edges of her eye.
“Me as well,” Jamie said. He had the same thoughts.
“How long are you staying with us?” Her question was reasonable but he dreaded answering.
“I return to Caerlaverock tomorrow.” He took a deep breath and saw a momentary flash of disappointment in her eyes.
“Then we best return to the others. They’ll want to spend time with you, too.” They moved on toward the hall.
“I have no words, nothing to say to comfort you.” He could barely get the words out.
“Your presence is enough.”
He held back a nervous smile. He visited to give the family comfort. Instead, she comforted him.
“How are my Maxwell cousins?” Laura asked. Jamie guided her toward the great hall.
“They are well when I last saw them.”
“You’ll let me know your decision, Wesley.”
Jamie brought Laura to a halt. An exasperated male voice drifted out of the great hall.
“I want to make the announcement as soon as possible. With Richard gone and Glen Kirk so close to the Scottish border, you need someone strong to hold back the devils.” Lord Bryce Mitchell of Ravencroft, the manse next to Glen Kirk, stood with Wesley and Darla.
Standing at the great hall entrance, Jamie stiffened when Laura’s pulse skittered into a panic beneath his fingertips. Jamie’s free hand covered hers until the beat settled into a normal rhythm. If Bryce couldn’t feel sympathetic toward the family, couldn’t he at least curb his speech?
“You didn’t waste any time getting here.” The rude remark directed toward Jamie raised his temper even more. The man’s baiting tactics hadn’t changed since they served Wesley as squires. Surely he wasn’t foolish to pick a fight with him, at least not here.
When they trained, Bryce took aim at him whenever possible, most often urged on by Reeve. Richard and the girls rallied to his defense, but Bryce’s intolerance of Jamie’s Scottish background stayed near the surface.
Bryce gasped for air, seething after having lost a foot race to him.
“You’re nothing. A filthy Scot beggar. Go back to your tribe of mongrels. You’re not fit to be here.” Bryce pushed him hard.
Jamie didn’t go down. Not satisfied, Bryce rushed at him again, this time with fists. Jamie ducked and backed off. Bryce kept up the assault.
Jamie didn’t care for bullies or being baited by them. He wouldn’t fight.
“Here, here Bryce. That’s enough.” Richard grabbed his neighbor’s arm but Bryce shook him off. Reeve pulled Richard back.
“Enjoy the spectacle. It’s time he learned his place,” Reeve said.
“Stay out of this,” Bryce screamed at Richard, then turned to Jamie. “Fight, or are you a puny coward, too?”
Jamie said nothing. He held his fists at his side and stepped back again.
The fight started in the yard, progressed to the field, and finished near the pond. A small group of people followed and urged Jamie to defend himself.
The next punch caught the Scotsman in the chest. He didn’t flinch.
“You should be lying on the ground by now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Jamie pulled up his arms to protect his face as best he could against the onslaught of punches. He didn’t retaliate.
His face cut and bloodied, he still didn’t strike back.
“Fight, damn you,” Bryce shouted and followed with a quick barrage of solid body punches.
He held his position and didn’t fight back.
In a close clinch, Bryce muttered for Jamie’s ear only. Jamie pushed his tormentor away. Years of restraint from insults and attacks disappeared with the maliciously whispered words.
Bryce threw his punch. Jamie caught the left jab in his palm mid-strike. Alarm and panic flashed in Bryce’s eyes. The bully stared at Jamie’s hand holding his fist.
Jamie almost tore Bryce’s arm out of its socket as he pushed it aside and set his stance, one foot in front of the other.
For a moment Jamie thought to stop the madness, but the idea quickly died. Bryce had no idea what he let loose.
Before Bryce threw his next punch, Jamie exploded with a rapid cannon volley of left jabs at Bryce’s jaw. Stunned, Bryce dropped his defenses.
Jamie’s right cross burst from his shoulder as he shifted from his back leg to his front, throwing all his weight into the swing. He caught Bryce squarely in the face. Blood exploded in an arc of fine spray as Bryce’s head snapped back. Droplets flew, the warm blood spattered across Jamie’s face.
Bryce’s head came forward. Jamie followed with a left uppercut and caught him under his chin. The solid strike lifted Bryce into the air, then sent him to the ground. To everyone’s amazement, Bryce laid unconscious at Jamie’s feet. No one said a word as he stood panting over the prone figure. Every ounce of him wanted to drag Bryce on his feet for another round. Instead, he marched away.
The Highlander's English Woman is part of the Stelton Legacy
About the Author
RUTH A. CASIE is a USA Today bestselling author of historical swashbuckling action-adventures and contemporary romance with enough action to keep you turning pages. Her stories feature strong women and the men who deserve them, endearing flaws and all. She lives in New Jersey with her hero, three empty bedrooms and a growing number of incomplete counted cross-stitch projects. Before she found her voice, she was a speech therapist (pun intended), client liaison for a corrugated manufacturer, and vice president at an international bank where she was a product/ marketing manager, but her favorite job is the one she’s doing now—writing romance. She hopes her stories become your favorite adventures. For more information, please visit RuthACasie.com or visit her on Facebook, @RuthACasie, Twitter, @RuthACasie, or Pinterest RuthACasie.
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