Home > When a Highlander Loses His Heart (Highlander Vows Entangled Hearts #4)

When a Highlander Loses His Heart (Highlander Vows Entangled Hearts #4)
Author: Julie Johnstone

Chapter One

 

 

1359

Loch Awe, Scotland


A chapel was supposed to be a place of sanctuary for Isobel Campbell, but she had a bad feeling that something was very wrong. At first glance, Innis Chonnell Castle, her father’s home, had appeared inviting. She had never lived there before, but with the crackling fire, fresh rushes underfoot, bright tapestries hanging on the walls, and warm glow cast over the tiny room, the chapel seemed like a haven. It was contrary in nearly every way from the cold, drab nunnery she’d grown up in, except one—both places were filled with liars. She was as sure of that fact as she was that a storm was coming.

Dampness clung to the heavy air, and it pressed on her like a thick cloak. The sweet pungency of the coming rain filled her nose with every inhalation, and her skin tingled from a strange current in the air. She knew the signs of a storm brewing because her father had taught them to her during one of his yearly birthday visits. He had left her in the protection of the sisters at Iona Nunnery when she was barely a week old, but he never missed her birthday.

Deceitful people were harder to recognize than an impending storm, of course, but in her years living with the nuns, she’d learned that if you spent enough time around people who were attempting to mislead you, eventually they would forget to put their masks on. Only then could you see the ugly truth they’d been striving to hide. It could take a great deal of time, though. Sometimes years, as it had with Sister Beatrice.

Isobel rubbed her fingers over the rough scars on her knuckles. Every time Sister Beatrice had thrashed her until her hands were bleeding, the woman had claimed that she punished Isobel because she loved her. Isobel clenched her teeth with the memory of the lie. The nun had loved the power the punishment had given her, and that was all.

Isobel stole a quick glance at the corner of the chapel where Jean, her stepmother—whom she had only met mere hours earlier—stood with a priest. Jean caught Isobel’s gaze and glared at her with hostile eyes.

“What are ye gaping at?” Jean snarled.

A liar, Isobel thought, but she simply pressed her lips together and shook her head. Jean snorted in disgust, then resumed her frenzied whispering to the priest. Unease danced along Isobel’s skin, along with the certainty that there was no time to peel back the disguises of the strangers surrounding her.

Many times had she imagined the day she would reach eighteen summers. Those dreams had nothing to do with the fact that she would then be the heiress of Brigid Castle and everything to do with the fact that when she turned eighteen her father would finally take her home with him instead of leaving her at Iona as he did after every other visit. She cared naught for the power Brigid brought her as key to the Scottish Isles; she cared only to be with her father and her half brothers, Findlay and Colin.

When she had dreamed of her eighteenth birthday, her father and brothers came to the nunnery as they always did, and such happiness filled her to see those she loved so dearly. But her dream differed from reality in that when they departed at the end of the day on her eighteenth birthday, she was not left standing alone watching them ride off together, her chest aching with loneliness and longing to go with them. But her dream had not come true as she had thought it would. While she had left Iona Nunnery on her eighteenth birthday, she was not with her father and brothers.

Listening to the low murmurs around her, Isobel touched the perfectly circular black onyx stone her father had given her on her seventh birthday. It had been her mother’s necklace, and when she had died in childbirth, Father had taken it and kept it with him always until he had gifted it to Isobel. This stone had given her strength in her darkest hours at the nunnery. It had always reminded her that she was not alone, that she had a father and brothers who loved her, and that one day they would be together. When that time came, she would also finally meet her sisters.

She bit down on her trembling lips. She was now the Brigid heiress. No more was she to be kept safe from those who might try to seize her and bind her in marriage. She had never understood all the terms of her inheritance from her grandmother, but she did remember Father saying she would not inherit the castle if she was wed before she was eighteen. Father had also vowed that on the day she turned eighteen, he and her brothers would personally come for her and bring her home.

Isobel shivered, not from the draft in the chapel but from fear. Her father had not come. Her brothers had not come. Strangers had plucked her from her bed and forced her to ride through day and night, then the next day and night. They had claimed it was at her father’s request. They had claimed it was by his bidding. But they had lied. They had brought her to the home she had often dreamed of living in, but neither her father nor her brothers were there. Deception floated in the air.

Her heartbeat tripled its pace as her stepmother stopped whispering furiously to the priest and they both looked at her. Isobel pressed a damp palm to the gown her father had given her as a birthday gift the year before. Father had told her then that she must always be strong and courageous, just as he’d had to be when he brought her to the nunnery and sacrificed his own personal desire to have her live with him so that he could keep her safe. She had vowed to him that she would be, and she would not break that vow now.

She took a deep breath just as the chapel door creaked open and a tall man filled the doorway. A hard knot of dread formed in her belly as she studied the man. His hair was black as a starless night, and his lips twisted in a way that reminded Isobel of how Sister Beatrice’s lips always turned down in a grimace. But it was his gray, flat eyes that made Isobel’s stomach clench. There was no light of life in his eyes, only a coldness that made him appear devoid of emotion.

The man strode into the room with hard steps, and suspicion swirled within her. Whoever this man was, he commanded respect, or mayhap fear, given the tight faces of the others in the chapel. He came to stand directly in front of her, towering over her so that she took an involuntary step back, only to be shoved forward by Jean as she walked up to Isobel’s side.

Isobel tensed as Jean moved closer and speared her with a frosty look. “Isobel, this is Lord Jamie MacLeod. He is the man ye will marry this night.”

Isobel’s lips parted. MacLeod? She swept her gaze over the foreboding man who carried the name of the clan that was her father’s greatest foe. Once the shock of a MacLeod standing in front of her sank in, another swept over her. Marry? Had Jean truly said Isobel was to marry this man? And this night? She went rigid. Her father, laird of the Campbell clan, would never agree to marry her to a MacLeod and into the clan that had stolen from him.

Liars! She was surrounded by enemies. Jean may be her stepmother and these men may be her father’s, but something was amiss. She could feel it in her bones. She did not know Jean. She did not know her father’s men. She did not even know the woman hovering in the corner with watchful eyes, the one who Isobel had been told was her half sister.

What she did know with undeniable truth was that her father hated the MacLeods and would never bind her in marriage to them.

Tilting up her chin and choosing her words with care, she said, “I’ll nae marry anyone without speaking to my father. I must ken his desires.” It was best to leave the rest of her feelings unsaid. Her father would understand that she wished to marry an honorable man like him, one whom she loved and who loved her, just as her father had loved her mother.

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