Within Golden Bands – Free Chapter

“Your castles and strongholds shall have bars of iron and bronze, and as your day, so shall your strength, your rest, and security be.” Deuteronomy 33:25 AMPC



Within Golden Bands – Free Chapter

Chapter One

Fort William, Inverness-shire, Scotland

The incessant beep of a heart monitor drew Bonny MacDonell out of the blackness, forcing her to look around. In the dim light of the yellow-curtained cubicle, her eyes traveled up the dark red length of tubing to where blood dripped from a plastic bag. The unpleasant odor of sickness and antiseptics only added to her panic.



Hazy images floated through her mind. Stabbing pain. Red spots on the carpet. Eleanor kneeling. What was their housekeeper doing?

“My baby!” Bonny’s left hand slid to her abdomen, cupping the imperceptible swell of her tiny, unborn baby. The fear of losing this baby was a horrific monster ready to snatch their miracle. Why was she here?

Surgery failed. Pregnancy impossible. The voice sounded familiar, and Bonny lifted her eyelids, squinting in the half-lit room. “Dr. Carson?”

The old dream had come again, leaving brokenness in its wake. Stars flickered against a background of darkness. When a wave of nausea hit, she squeezed her eyes tight.

Morning sickness. Blue eyes filled with joy. Our baby. Hope-filled dreams made her want to laugh, dance, and sing. “Kieran?”

Icy rivers of disappointment flowed through her veins. Why was she alone?

A warm hand touched her arm, and she startled.

“Mrs. MacDonell, you’re awake.” A tall, slender woman with dark brown hair knotted on top of her head and soft brown eyes stood beside her.

“Y … yes.” Her new name still sounded strange.

“I’m Sister Isla, your nurse.”

Bonny’s insides shriveled, curling into themselves. “Where am I? Where’s Kieran?”

“You’re in Belford Hospital in Fort William. You arrived by helicopter. I’ll find out about your husband.” Isla switched on the light and slid a paper from the pocket of her blue scrubs. “American. From Loch Garry. On holiday?”

The bright light hurt Bonny’s eyes for the moment they took to adjust. “American, yes. But my husband … we have a sheep farm on Loch Garry.” Helicopter? Fear fluttered, millions of moths trapped in her stomach, attempting to escape. The monitor beeped faster. “My baby?”

“Dr. Moncrieffe will want to know you’re awake. I’ll tell him.” Isla slipped through the curtain and pulled it closed.

Tears brimmed, memories of the morning forming a knot that rose from her stomach to her chest. It lodged in her throat and pricked, pinecone-sharp. Kieran went to the Laddie Wood after stray sheep. Cell phone service there was patchy at best.

Their honeymoon began in the emergency room in her hometown of Albuquerque, delayed three weeks after the wedding, while they waited for Kieran to recover from a gunshot wound. Bonny grasped the edge of the sheet in her left hand and swiped her eyes, remembering his joy when they discovered she had become pregnant in those joyous first days of their marriage. She tried to warn him the risk was high. Her failed surgeries for endometriosis, the scar tissue, all made pregnancy risky for her and the baby. Were they to lose their miracle child at two and a half months?

“I heard you were awake.” Dr. Moncrieffe’s calm, deep voice pulled her from the memory of Kieran’s sky-blue eyes dancing with sheer delight. The tall, white-haired man in green surgical scrubs who slid open the curtain was the epitome of kindness. They first met two weeks ago when her severe nausea, hyperemesis gravidarum, required a new prescription after their return to Scotland. The ultrasound was scheduled for the next day, twelve weeks after discovering her pregnancy.

She straightened the sheet, twisted into a knot in her hand. “Kieran went to the woods south of the loch searching for missing sheep. I’m certain he’ll be here soon.”

Eleanor would have sent Angus to find him. He’d challenge anyone who threatened to slow him, speeding to her side in his green Land Rover. “Is our housekeeper here, Eleanor Hume? She must have called the helicopter.”

“Isla said there’s a Janet MacIntosh. Do you want her with you?”

The thought of her best and first friend from when she arrived to teach in Scotland slowed her heart rate. “Yes, please. I’m a little confused.”
“It’s the pain medication.” Dr. Moncrieffe nodded and stepped just outside the cubicle. “Isla, send in Mrs. MacDonell’s friend, please.” He turned back and moved closer to the gurney. “Tell me what you remember.”

“I was dressing when I felt a sharp pain, down low, and saw blood. I don’t remember anything more. I’ve fainted a few times.” If the baby were all right, wouldn’t he have said so right away?

Janet, blonde hair swept into a French twist, lavender-blue eyes wide, walked in, and Dr. Moncrieffe slid the curtain closed behind her. “Are you okay, love?” She moved to the other side of the gurney and reached under the sheet to grasp Bonny’s hand.

The doctor’s hand rested on her shoulder. “We did an ultrasound while you were groggy with pain medication. Do you know what an ectopic pregnancy is? When the embryo implants outside the womb?”

A lump grew in Bonny’s throat, pricked, and exploded. Unable to speak, she nodded. You’ll do nothing but rest and care for yourself and our wee bairn. Kieran’s absolute joy at the news of a child tromped through her muddled brain like an elephant. There would be no miracle.

“You have the most dangerous kind due to the internal bleeding. You’ve lost the baby, Bonny. It can’t wait.” His voice gentled, but his words came slow and deliberate, as one would deliver a death sentence. “I suspect scar tissue from your previous surgery made it impossible for the embryo to reach the womb. Remember, I said in the office, the report from your doctor in New Mexico indicates it’s a miracle you conceived at all.”

Hope strangled, and fear bloomed, weeds on the grave of her dreams. Warm tears trickled down the sides of her face and into her ears. Their wee bairn. Why would God grant them this unexpected gift only to snatch it away in a cruel hoax?

You may have conceived on our wedding night, mo gràdh. My darling. How Bonny longed to hear one of Kieran’s Gaelic endearments. Instead, she must tell him they would never hold the answer to his prayers, the embodiment of their love. No MacDonell heir to inherit Stonehaven Farm. No red-haired child with eyes blue as the Scottish flag would fill their days with joy and laughter. Pain, sharper than any surgeon’s scalpel could inflict, knifed through Bonny’s heart.

“We have to operate. You’re losing far too much blood.” Dr. Moncrieffe’s voice returned her to stark reality. “I’m sorry your husband can’t be here, but you must sign the permission form.” The bedside table squeaked when he rolled it over, paper and pen on top, and raised the head of the bed.

“Is this related to how sick I’ve been?”

“No. It can happen to anyone, but with your history …”

With a shaky hand and blurred eyes, she scrawled an unrecognizable signature before the pen slipped through her fingers and clattered to the floor. Dear God, how can I bear to disappoint him? If only I’d told him about Dr. Carson’s warning that having a child could take my life.

A wave of nauseating pain swept over her when the doctor walked out. Bonny heaved a slow, deep breath and tried to listen for God’s voice, but he remained silent. When Adam Lawson broke their engagement. When her parents died. When Brennan Grant shot Kieran only six weeks before their wedding. In the past, her heart felt God’s comfort only after the crisis ended. Why in the midst of tragedy, must she trust through the Lord’s silence? “Why?”

Janet dabbed her cheeks with a tissue. Her cool hand smoothed a curl from Bonny’s forehead. “Some things are impossible to understand.”

Metal rings clinked. The curtain slid open and a nurse dressed in green — only a little taller than the gurney — stepped in. “I’ve come to take you to the operating room. Am I interrupting?”

“Please,” Janet said, “can I pray with her first?”

“Of course. I’ll be right outside.” She backed up and closed the curtain behind her.

With difficulty, Bonny strained to hear Janet’s words over the thump of her heart against her ribs. But it didn’t matter. All she desired were Kieran’s arms around her.

Once again, she faced a painful trial alone.

Bonny closed her eyes and took shallow breaths to avoid aggravating the deep, burning pain in her lower abdomen. An insistent voice repeated her name, and someone rubbed her shoulder. She moved hesitant hands to her abdomen and met bandages. “The surgery’s over?”

“Aye, you’re in recovery. I’m Fionna. You have company if you’re up to it.” The nurse raised the head of the bed and held out a cup with a straw. “Take a sip for me first, pet. I’ll give you more pain medication.”

Cool water soothed her parched throat but not her heart. “Thank you. Where’s my husband?”

“There’s a gentleman out there. One more sip, lass.” She set the cup within reach and walked away.

Bonny closed her eyes and took shallow breaths to avoid aggravating her incision. She dreaded Kieran’s pain more than her own but craved the comfort of his arms.

The curtain opened and their pastor, Graeme MacDholl, stepped aside, allowing Janet to precede him. A waterfall of fear gushed from her eyes, and Janet stooped to kiss her cheek, wiping her face with a tissue. “Oh, love, I’m so sorry.”

“Where’s Kieran?”

Deep brown eyes met her own. Her husband’s best friend rested his hand on her arm. “We don’t know. The farmhands are searching, Bonny. He wasn’t where Angus expected. They’ll find him soon. His parents are on their way.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? He always checks in if he’s out longer than he expects. He should have been back by now.” Her stomach turned upside-down — fear born of loss and disappointment. Janet reached for the basin and cradled Bonny’s head when her abdomen clenched and burned.

The pastor went for Fionna, who brought water to rinse Bonny’s mouth, placed a cool, damp cloth on her head, and wrapped a warm blanket around her.

Janet’s hand squeezed her icy fingers, while the chills from anesthesia chattered her teeth. “You know there’s a reasonable explanation. He probably had to go farther than he expected. Remember there’s terrible mobile service in the Laddie Wood.”

Reasonable? Didn’t anyone else realize an earthquake rocked the entire world? Bonny splinted her abdomen with her hands as sobs thrust upward. “How do I tell him?”

Fionna returned. “Your in-laws are here. I can’t allow four at once.”

“We’ll be right outside.” Janet kissed her forehead and stepped out.

A black curtain descended around her. Two statements screamed in her head.


Our baby.


Our baby.

Metal rings clinked again. Her in-laws stepped through the peach-colored curtain and Hamish MacDonell bent to kiss her cheek, grey hair tousled from running his fingers through it, the same way Kieran did. “We hurried to get here, lass. We’re a poor substitute, but we won’t leave you alone.”

Maggie, blue eyes rimmed in red, placed a cool hand on her other cheek and kissed her forehead. “I’m so sorry, love. Dr. Moncrieffe explained everything. I know how it hurts to lose a child but to hear there will never be another … I have no words. I don’t understand God’s purposes, but we love you. We’re here for you.”

White-hot anger coursed through Bonny. Why did people always say there was a divine purpose? Yes, she believed in a God of love, but at times life appeared contrary to his nature when he allowed circumstances to take their natural course without intervening. How else could one explain her father’s cancer diagnosis seven months after her mother’s death from a brain tumor, or two broken engagements? “Why would God steal our miracle baby? Why delay Kieran when I need him? Must I lose everyone? Nothing makes sense. Nothing.”

Her father-in-law’s hands rested gently on her shoulders. “There, there, mo nighean. You’re the daughter we never had, and I’d take this away if I could. We love you and will stay with you. Wheesht, cryin’ will only make you hurt worse. Kieran will show up soon. Remember when we paced the hospital halls after the poacher shot him. God never leaves you with nothing or no one. Though we may not feel him, the Lord is with us.”

“I know.” Bonny’s voice sounded so weak she barely heard herself. She was fragile and broken inside as her mother’s fine crystal vase when she shattered it at age seven. It had been so difficult to work up the nerve to tell Kieran she couldn’t have children. When she did, he became so angry. Given time, he returned, but how would he handle another disappointment after already losing both a wife and child?

“He kissed me goodbye and left to find the sheep with a promise to return in a few hours. What if his disappearance is somehow related to the poaching?”

“We won’t borrow trouble, lass. Stay calm while Angus and the others search. You concentrate on getting better.”

She turned her face to the wall and closed her eyes.

No matter what they say, I don’t see God in this. Kieran will be a pastor soon, but God has deserted us, and no one understands.

Fionna returned to wheel her into a private room with a partial view of Ben Nevis. What irony to look out at the “mountain of heaven” and feel the same as the day she arrived in Scotland.

Separated from God.

Bereft of hope.

There is loss too deep for tears. Bonny awakened when a new nurse hung another unit of blood. Sun peeked around the blinds. Morning. And still no Kieran. On his visit the previous evening, Dr. Moncrieffe said she had lost almost half her blood volume. What if she died without one last glimpse of his beloved face?

One more touch.

One more kiss.

So alone.

She had twisted the sheet into knots in her worry. Hamish and Maggie, in exhausted sleep a few feet away, only made the lack of his presence more palpable. How could he disappear on their own farm?

Angus MacTeague had been the farm manager since Kieran’s childhood, almost family. He spoke to him last and knew where the sheep should be. Even in the wildness of Stonehaven Farm, someone should be able to find him. Hamish, Angus, and Kieran wore their knowledge of the land comfortably as their kilts, a lifelong familiarity. What weren’t they telling her? Bonny grabbed the side rail and tried to roll over but fell back breathing hard, the room twirling from even that small motion. She was helpless. Dear God, please lead them to Kieran. Don’t let him die.

Only five months ago, she searched alone when Kieran failed to return from tracking a poacher. She found him bleeding in the snow from a bullet to the abdomen. His horse had spooked with highland temperatures plummeting when a fast-paced blizzard approached. He would have died if she’d waited for the police. Maybe he waited somewhere now, alone and in need of help.

The farm covered vast acres of thick woods and steep terrain alongside Loch Garry. High mountains and shaded canyons still lay robed in snow, while sunlit trails dissolved into thick, soupy mud from run-offs. Impromptu waterfalls and hillsides littered with trees felled by snow slides made for treacherous travel in the backcountry.

How far had he gone in his search for the missing sheep? Kieran was a shepherd after the heart of the Good Shepherd, who left the ninety-nine to search for one. He would not give up until he found them all.

Struggling for a deep breath against a weight of weakness on her chest, Bonny stared into the darkness and breathed a feeble prayer. “Lord, you say you’ll never leave or forsake us. I believe you offer comfort and answer prayer. Please bring him back. You’ve already taken his child. Don’t take the man I love too.”

Her pain increased each time she roused, expecting Kieran at her side like he’d been in the past when she awakened from a coma following a car accident. Once, in a dream, he carried a laughing little boy high on his shoulders as he strode across the lawn, Loch Garry sparkling in the sunshine. Now, that child who would never draw a breath would live only in her dreams. When the pain reached its worst, Bonny was transported to her father’s graveside once again, lost and alone, with no one to call her own.

How cruel to keep her on the maternity ward. Baby cries filtered through the closed door. Mothers stirred in hushed tones, their exclamations of joy and awe seeping into Bonny’s heart the way tears soak a handkerchief. Sadness born from the death of hope, newly raised and crushed too soon, clogged her throat and knotted her insides. She should never have allowed herself to share Kieran’s joy of anticipation.

Sunlit clouds cloaked Ben Nevis with the pink light of dawn, evoking memories of the sunset reflected in the calm waters of Loch Linnhe the first time she and Kieran talked, kindred hearts that budded into love. Wouldn’t she sense if he were gone?

Her father-in-law’s cell phone rang, startling him awake. He fumbled in his pocket and held the phone to his ear. “Hamish here.”

Bonny raised the head of the bed when Maggie awakened, straightened in her chair, then rose to turn on the light.

“Tell everyone thank you. Yes, I’ll call later.” Hamish hung up and took a deep breath. “Angus found Kieran near the Bolinn Wood, in a ravine. God be praised, lass, he’ll be here soon. Someone hit him over the head a good one. He escaped but passed out at the wheel. The Land Rover hit a rock and stopped on the edge of a fast-flowing burn.”

“Thank God. My prayers are answered.” Her love was coming. Sadness almost crushed the joy when a sharp pain stabbed deep. “Does he know?”

“Aye, he asked to go home to you first. Angus told him.” Hamish stood and walked to her side. “They think he suffered a concussion. You’ll heal together now.”

Sun shone from Maggie’s eyes with the certainty her only son was safe. “Hamish and I will stay at the farm until you two regain your strength. Kieran won’t rest unless we’re there.”

A forlorn waif stared at Bonny out of the mirrored tray in the bedside table. Her pallid skin contrasted against dark circles under her green eyes, making them appear even larger. A frizzle of tangled red curls framed her wan face. “Can you brush my hair and bring me a washcloth, Maggie? I don’t want to look too awful. He’ll be worried enough.”

“Aye, you’re a wee bit peely-wally, but with good reason, dear. Let’s see what we can do.” Maggie took a makeup bag from her purse, rose, and wet a cloth at the sink.

Bonny sipped some cold tea for energy. Memories of the rainbow she and Kieran once marveled at from atop Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness danced through her heart. She longed for his kiss now more than the first time. The band of pain around her heart eased a little. Her love would be with her soon.

Maggie worked a brush through the stubborn knots, then applied blush for Bonny’s cheeks and pink for her lips. It seemed pointless to darken her colorless lashes only to create mascara streaks down her cheeks when Kieran appeared.

Her heart lurched when the door creaked open and a pale, disheveled Kieran entered. Broad shoulders sagged. With mouth taut and his face framed in a fiery display of tousled red-gold hair, red, swollen eyes met hers. He limped to her bedside, bent his six-foot-five frame, and brushed her lips with his. Tears mingled as his mouth claimed hers, then pressed harder, pouring his love into the passion of his kiss. When it ended, they were alone, their pounding hearts and sighs the only sound. She would treasure this embrace for a lifetime.

The bed groaned under his weight and solid arms eased her close. Their heads rested on each other’s shoulders while he shook with grief and disappointment. Their oneness anchored her, took hold deep in her soul, and held on with a shared bond stronger than she believed possible.

Kieran reminded her of the mighty Ponderosa pines surrounding her house in New Mexico. His legs and back strong to withstand storms, arms like sturdy branches offered shelter and protection, roots sunk deep into the soil of faith. This man dwarfed her in the physical and spiritual, yet his touch caressed her skin with the gentleness of snowflakes.

“My poor love. I’m sorry I wasn’t here.” He cradled her against him and smoothed the hair that tumbled down her back. Big hands spread from shoulder to shoulder, a solid shield of comfort. His love breathed life into her weak and shattered spirit.

Bonny moved her hand to the springy curls at the back of his neck and encountered a sticky substance. Her fingertips came away tinged with blood and mud. “Kieran, what happened?”

“I never found the sheep. I sat on a rock the slopes of Beinn Tee for a drink when someone hit me on the back of the head. A big man with dark hair and a face filled with rage. I turned, and my fist connected with his jaw. When he staggered, I rushed for the Land Rover, but the eijit grabbed my foot and threw me to the ground. I kicked him in the side, pulled myself up with a tree, and ran. He caught me as I climbed in. My shirt tore, and when he stumbled, I shoved him with my foot, slammed the door, and locked it. The keys were in the ignition. I gunned the engine and headed down the mountain, but lost consciousness. If the truck hadn’t hit a rock, it would have rolled into the chasm of a burn, running deep with snowmelt.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” She cupped his rough, unshaven cheek, auburn whiskers contrasting with the lighter color of his hair. Her finger traced a purple lump along his jawline. The knuckles of the hand grasping hers were swollen and bruised.

“They said you could have bled to death. I had to see you first, mo chridhe, to hold you in my arms. Now, I’ll go downstairs and see to my own injuries.” His lips quirked into a grimace. With a sob, he buried his face in her hair. “I was so frightened.”

My heart’s desire. Her sore heart swelled at the sweet sentiment of his Gaelic. “Kieran, I’m so sorry. Dr. Moncrieffe blames it on the scar tissue from before. If only …”

He lifted his head and cupped her face with calloused hands. “It’s not your fault, love. Children would be a blessing. But I need only you.”

“God gave us hope and then took our child.”

Rough but tender fingers brushed the tears from her cheeks. Eyes, bloodshot with fatigue and sorrow, met her own. “We’ll walk this road together. Every step.”

A light rain slipped in gentle cascades down the windowpanes and crept through her heart. “You shouldn’t have gone alone.”

“Shh, I’m not the enemy. It’s your grief talking.” He stroked Bonny’s hair, but she pulled away.

“I could have lost you. Kieran, you prayed for a child. How can God allow this?”

He pressed a tender kiss on top of her head. “God is loving, but we’re too blind to understand. We’ve both grieved before and healed. Loss hurts, but we’re neither one alone this time. I’m content with only you. I made my peace before we married.”

Perhaps it was pain medication and weakness, but every struggle of her life combined into one crushing burden. His swollen jaw burned hot beneath her fingers. “I can’t help my anger. First, Brennan Grant shoots you, and now you’re attacked out of nowhere. Did this man say anything?”

“Get off my land.” Kieran lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I have no idea what he meant.”

Bonny snuggled deeper under the blankets, chilled as the transfusion trickled into her arm. The flash in her husband’s eyes didn’t promise a pleasant conversation when Hamish and Maggie returned to the room.

“How could anyone claim part of Stonehaven Farm?” Kieran raised the head of his hospital bed. The gracious staff had allowed them to share a room while they observed him for a severe concussion. The pitch of his voice rose with every word, eyes focused on Hamish. “You inherited it and your father before you.”

“Lad, I should have told you — ”

“What?” Kieran’s pale face flushed with anger, his eyes narrowed and wary. “You’re sayin’ this maniac makes sense?”

“Let your father explain.” Maggie stood and patted her husband’s hand. “I’ll try and find us some tea.”

Red spots of anger bloomed in Kieran’s pale cheeks. The combination of a blow to the back of his head and his forehead meeting the steering wheel triggered blinding headaches. With Bonny’s blood count near normal, the doctors agreed to release them into the care of his parents the next day.

Chair legs scraped across the floor as Hamish scooted between the beds. “It happened before you were born, mo mhac.

My son. Bonny was beginning to understand the Gaelic endearments used by her new family. It erased the sense of being an outsider.

“It was wrong — my not telling you. I’m sorry, lad. The years went by, and nothing happened, so I didn’t think it mattered.”

“How could you withhold important family information? What if a legal matter came up after your death and I didn’t know?” Kieran’s face reddened. His voice grew louder. One fist pounded the bed. A pillow flew to the floor.

Her father-in-law cleared his throat and turned to face her. “Lass, you know about my great grandfather, Euan MacDonell, who bought back the land we lost in the Highland Clearances of the late 1700s. A distant cousin, Cormag MacDonell, bought the Greenfield land. The families were never close, but we owned the Laddie Wood to the east, which required permission to drive our flocks across their land.”

Bonny shifted a glance toward Kieran.

His bruised hands balled into fists. “Why not tell me someone had prior claim to the land?”

“Keep your kilt on, man. I’m gettin’ to it.” Hamish leaned toward his son, one hand on the bedside rail. “Not long before I inherited Stonehaven Farm, Cormag’s great-grandson, Diarmid inherited the Greenfield land. A ne’er do well if ever I saw one, drinkin’, gamblin’, leavin’ his wife and bairns with precious little to survive on. Your mother and grandmother were always givin’ them handouts.”

Kieran ruffled his hair until it stood on end. “What year, Da?”

“After they dammed the loch about 1960. One day, Diarmid knocked at our door, disheveled and drunk, sayin’ the government was takin’ his land for taxes. He begged for a loan, and we worked out a deal where I obtained the deed to Greenfield in exchange for payment of the taxes. When he saved enough to buy it back, I would return it to him. We wrote the agreement on the back of the deed, and both signed.”

“He never paid you?” Impatience coarsened Kieran’s voice. Only God, Bonny, and his parents came before his love and devotion to the mountainous, wooded glen of loch and verdant pastures they called home.

“Will you be patient, mo mhac?” Hamish’s voice raised half an octave, eyes flashed, and he gulped from his water bottle. “The last I heard, Diarmid lived and worked on a sheep farm in Caithness. The deal was for ten years. He never returned.” A choking sound gurgled from his throat. “Bear with me. It’s difficult after all these years. I had a baby sister, Brighde, the bonniest lass in all of Lochaber. Your Bonny reminds me of her, a wee lassie with red curls and bright eyes, though Brighde’s were blue, not green — ”

“Da!” Kieran interrupted. “You’re sayin’ I had an aunt I never heard of until today? Granny and Granda never mentioned their own daughter?”

Despite the tension, Bonny stifled a smile. Their accents grew much more pronounced when emotions ran high. The endearing trait provided a helpful cue to their feelings. Kieran clenched his bristled jaw, blue eyes gone gray.

Maggie stepped through the door bearing a tray with four cups of tea, set it on Bonny’s bedside table, and handed around the cups. She sniffed the hearty aroma. Her eyes roved from her son to her husband and back again.

“There were painful circumstances. I’ll get around to it all. If Diarmid wasn’t bad enough, his older brother Taran was worse, and a more black-hearted seducer I never met, angered by his father’s decision to disinherit him. Ach, I hate the name.” Hamish’s

anguished voice roughened, like a truck on a graveled road. “My wee Brighde, at seventeen, and eight years younger than me, loved him from the day they met by the bridge over the loch. Your grandparents forbade her to see him, but there’s many a hidin’ place in those hills. Before long, they arrested Taran for killin’ a man in Tomdoun and jailed him in Fort William.”

“Drink your tea, Hamish,” Maggie said. “I put extra sugar to ease your throat.”

“Thank you, love.” He savored the warm drink, closed his eyes, and sat back. “With Taran gone, Brighde confessed she was carryin’ his child. They’d planned to elope, but with her startin’ to show, my parents had to know. I’ve never been so furious or seen my father angrier. He swore no child of Taran MacDonell would ever enter his house. Told wee Brighde to find a home for the bairn.”

“Oh, how awful.” Bonny wiped her arm across her eyes. The tubing from the blood transfusion snagged on the sheet, and she untangled it with care. A tide of sorrow threatened to drag her under a sea of grief at the idea of giving up a child. “The poor thing.”

Kieran eased himself out of bed, took the few steps to hers, sat, and hugged her close.

“Things were different then, lass. Having a child without a husband meant scandal. Brighde threatened to leave before givin’ up her bairn and packed her bags.”

“A true MacDonell, hardheaded as rocks on the Ben.” Maggie nodded toward the window, where Ben Nevis raised its snowy head.

“My mother pleaded and cried, and Brighde agreed to stay for a while. A few months later, they gave Taran the death sentence for stabbin’ the man in the heart. Ach, my poor sister — inconsolable. A terrible storm came up during the night, and in the mornin’ she was gone. The note on her pillow said she wouldn’t give up the child.”

Kieran’s strong hand caressed her barren abdomen the way he’d once cradled their child. “Go on.”

“We reported her disappearance to police all the way to Inverness, Aberdeen, and Glasgow, advertised in newspapers, checked with hospitals, without a trace. My mother decided Brighde must have drowned herself in the loch. Bein’ full of trees and razed homes after they dammed the loch, a body might never surface. Your grandfather insisted no one speak my wee sister’s name again.” A sob wrenched from his throat. “I didn’t intend to hide it, lad.” Hamish rubbed his hand over his face, and leaned back, eyes closed. His down-turned mouth and sunken eyes made him look old and tired.

“What year did she disappear?” Kieran’s voice softened, and he turned his gaze to the window.

“About four years before you were born. Shortly after, Diarmid’s entire family vanished without a word.”

“Kieran, love.” Maggie walked to his side, placing a hand on his back. “I’m sorry. We couldn’t go against your grandparents. If this man is related to Diarmid and Taran, we’d expect brutality.”

“Have you told the police?” Kieran wiped the tears from Bonny’s cheek with the back of his hand.

Hamish shook his head. “No, lad. We needed to explain first. The police can wait until tomorrow or the next day, after you’re home.”

Bonny shivered, and Kieran pulled her to him. First, the shooting and now this.





Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: