Heather and Velvet, p.1Teresa Medeiros
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HEATHER AND VELVET
A Bantam Book
Doubleday edition published December 1991
Bantam edition/June 1992
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Copyright © 1991 by Teresa Medeiros.
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To the Romance Writers of America and all my sisters and brothers-in-arms who have spilled their hearts, ink and tears to keep me sane: Emily Alward, Elizabeth Bevarly, Melissa Bregenzer, Norma Brown, Gwen Duzenberry, Elizabeth Lynn Gray, Kristin Hannah, Karen Harper, Mary Hooper, Lori and Tony Karayianni, Rebecca Lee, Stephanie Spearman, Shirley Turner and Jean Marie Willett.
For Andrea, who reminded me that some things were worth fighting for.
And for Michael, always.
About the Author
Preview of A Kiss to Remember
Scotland, The Highlands 1773
The bastard looked dead. Sebastian nudged him with his foot, waiting for the callused paw to reach out and jerk his thin leg out from under him, bracing himself for a roar of laughter. Ale trickled from the corner of his mouth. Sebastian dared to poke him harder, digging his bare toe into the fleshy abdomen. Nothing. Not even a drunken snore. The bastard was dead.
Sebastian squatted beside him. How had he gone so quietly? Sebastian had always imagined him going out in a bellowing, raging frenzy, the livid veins in his temple pulsing to a final snap. It hadn’t been like that at all. Just a slump and a thump and he was gone.
Sebastian brushed a dirty hank of hair from his brow, and his gaze flicked upward to the carved rafters of the hall. He held his breath in the silence. It was as if all the bells in the world had stopped ringing at once, leaving only their echoes hanging in the air. Other sounds came to him then, untarnished by the smashing of pottery or the thud of a fist against his ear: the whisper of the swallows in the rafters, the rustle of a pine, the blurred hum of the wind across the moor. He bowed his head. It was the silence of a cathedral and it made him want to weep.
There was no time for weeping, though. MacKay would come for him now. His father’s enemy would come to take Dunkirk as his father had always warned he would. Sebastian’s lips tightened. MacKay might take the castle, but he would never take him.
He hooked his hands under his father’s boots. Brendan Kerr didn’t smell any worse dead than alive, but that would soon change if he was left long in the summer heat. Sebastian tugged. His gangly arms hadn’t caught up with the growing breadth of his shoulders, but through sheer determination he soon had his father’s body scooting through the pheasant bones that littered the stone floor.
When he reached the grass, Sebastian stopped, shaking with exertion, his stomach a hard knot of hunger. Sweat sifted through his long, dark eyelashes. He wiped it away.
Ye’ve the eyes of a lass, boy, and the puny spirit of one as well.
Sebastian stumbled backward, flinching from long habit. His thin legs sprawled beneath him, and he bit back a cry. But his father did not rise. Brendan Kerr lay humped on the grass; a fly buzzed around his temple.
The boy’s teeth clenched against a savage urge to shove his father’s body over the cliff, to send it tumbling and spinning to the moor below. But no. His mama would not have wanted that. He would give his father a proper Christian burial. He would bury him so deep and pile so many stones on him that his voice would never rise to haunt him again.
The afternoon sun was sinking when Sebastian cast the last rock on his father’s grave. The clack echoed in the silence. A cooling breeze ruffled his hair and stiffened his sweat-drenched tunic against his skin. The moment seemed to call for something more. Awkwardly, his dirt-encrusted fingers signed the cross against his breast. It was his mother’s symbol, his mother’s religion, only half remembered and fuzzy from disuse.
A golden eagle soared over the moor, buffeting Sebastian with a giddy sense of freedom. He bounded up the stairs of Dunkirk to its tower. It took him only minutes to stuff his meager belongings into a knapsack—a ragged tunic, two shriveled potatoes, a silver filigree brooch that had belonged to his mother. He turned to go, then paused, standing motionless for a moment in a slant of sunlight.
Slipping to his knees beside the bed, he threw a guilty glance over his shoulder. The last time he had dared touch his father’s coffer, he had received a cuffing that left his ears ringing for days.
Sebastian’s hands trembled as he lifted the lid. The rich tartan lay as he remembered it, folded by his father’s hands with a tenderness that had made Sebastian’s heart ache with jealousy. The plaid was the last memory of a past when the Kerrs and the MacKays had fought side by side, united under one chieftain, one clan. He ran a grubby finger over the green and black squares, dreaming of a time when claymores had clashed and the skirl of bagpipes had haunted the misty hills.
Sebastian stood, draping the plaid around him. The luxuriant wool enveloped his thin body and tried to slide away. He pawed through his knapsack, digging out his mother’s brooch to pin the garment at his shoulder.
The setting sun flushed the sky to orange as Sebastian scaled the low, crumbling wall and clambered down the cliff.
As the wind rippled the grasses of the moor into a patchwork of fading gold, Sebastian ran, exulting in the clean bend and stretch of his young muscles, the richness of the earth beneath his toughened soles. The plaid whipped around his thighs.
Midway across the moor he stumbled to a halt and turned to see Dunkirk silhouetted against the darkening sky.
He would return someday, he vowed. Not to skulk away like a thief in the nig
He would stand on that hill, arrayed in finery, and spit on his father’s grave.
Sebastian tightened his knapsack with a jerk and loped into the deepening night without another backward glance.
A gaudy dress and gentle air
May slightly touch the heart;
But it’s innocence and modesty
That polishes the dart.
Northumberland, England 1791
Prudence plunged through the slick underbrush. The coil of hair at the nape of her neck unrolled and fell around her shoulders in sodden ropes. She paused in her mad flight to pluck out pearl-tipped hairpins with methodical fingers. She tucked them in her deep pocket with a tidy pat so none would be lost, though she suspected the caution was unwarranted. Although her aunt would never admit it, she would not waste genuine pearls on her homely niece.
Prudence wrung out her velvet skirts before pushing on. Wet leaves slapped at her face. Lightning flooded the night sky, and stark boughs whipped against that canvas of white. Prudence opened her mouth to yell again, but the sound was snatched by a gust of wind, then drowned by a jarring crack of thunder. Torrents of rain drenched the forest, rendering even the cone-laden pine trees an ineffectual umbrella against the wind-lashed deluge. Prudence wrapped her arm around a tree and cocked her head, straining to hear any hint of a desperate cry over the steady roar of the storm.
Turning her face up to the rain, she longed to give herself over to the exhilaration of the night—the pounding of thunder, the flash of lightning, the pelting of the summer rain against her skin. How different it was from being curled in the cozy cushions of her window seat, book in hand, watching raindrops stream down the leaded glass window. A primitive thirst opened her mouth wide to catch the rain on her tongue. This was no time for musing, though. Her hesitation could mean the death of one who was dear to her.
Her heavy skirts clung to her legs as she burst out of the thicket on the edge of a steep hill. Wind howled around her, whipping her gown away from her body. A heavy clap boomed through the forest. Prudence thought it was thunder, but a flash of lightning illuminated the road below, proving her wrong. The sky went dark again. She braced herself against the muddy hillside and squinted, her poor vision worsened by the gray curtain of rain.
A coach and four had come to a rocking halt in the road. Gilt outlined the elaborate crest on the door, a crest Prudence did not recognize. She sucked in a breath as she realized why the coach had halted so abruptly.
It was surrounded by the murky shapes of six men on horseback. Their shaggy mounts pawed the ground as one man, who was evidently their leader, barked a command at the coachman. Even in the feeble light, the coachman’s face was ghastly pale. Thunder rumbled once more, farther away this time.
Prudence’s nails dug into the exposed roots of a hickory tree as one of the bandits wrenched the door of the coach from its hinges. A woman’s rhythmic shrieking split the night. The leader slowly raised his arm. Lightning glinted off the sleek barrel of his pistol. But it was not the pistol that caught Prudence’s attention. It was the tiny ball of gray and white fluff that catapulted from an overhanging branch to cling to the roof of the coach.
“Sebastian!” she screamed.
All caution forgotten, Prudence flung herself down the hill, half careening, half sliding through the mud-slicked leaves.
The scream was Sebastian Kerr’s undoing. He twisted on his mount, searching the hillside for the source of that unearthly cry—his Christian name in a place where he had no name. In a moment of madness, he half believed it was his mother’s voice, hoarse with fear and longing.
The night exploded in a blur of sound and movement. Sebastian’s horse pivoted with him, fighting against the sting of the bit. With hardly a blink to betray the motion, the coachman swung his heavy stave, catching Sebastian full in the abdomen. A weapon discharged with a flash of light, fouling the air with the acrid stench of fire and gunpowder, as Sebastian sailed off his horse. He landed hard on the road, his ankle folding beneath him with an ominous crack. The inane screaming of the woman within the coach went on and on. For a savage moment, Sebastian wished he had shot her.
The other horses reeled, churning the road into a sea of mud as they scattered into the night, their caped and masked riders bent low over sinewy necks. The coachman’s gloved hand lifted. Sebastian froze, awaiting the killing blow from the knobby stave. Instead, the coachman brought his shiny whip down on his team, jolting the vehicle into motion. The coach thundered away, rocking wildly with the speed of its flight.
The night was still again, surrendered to the patter of the rain and the distant rumble of thunder as the storm tapered to a steady downfall.
Sebastian lay in a haze of mud and pain. Rain washed into his mouth. Had his mother called his name? He closed his eyes, hearing her melodic French, feeling the brush of her soothing hand against his brow. As the breath robbed by the stave returned, he became conscious of the pulsing throb of his ankle. What a fool he was! It must have been his father calling him. He squeezed-his eyes shut as a wave of pain rolled up his leg. His father’s thick Highland burr rode on its crest. Sebastian! ’Tis a silly name for a silly lad. He flinched, awaiting the thud of a mud-caked boot against his ankle.
All that pelted him, though, was rain. He opened his eyes. Reality returned, as cold and substantial as the muddy goop cradling his elbows. He quenched a flare of resentment at his companions for deserting him. He could hardly curse them when he had taught them everything they knew. Never risk waiting on the wounded, he’d instructed. A fallen man is a noose for the next man. They had learned their lessons well. Sebastian winced at the thought of D’Artan’s lifted eyebrow when his men returned to Edinburgh empty-handed.
A wave of weariness battered him. The night had started badly. There had been the unexpected storm, then the first coach they’d accosted had refused to stop. The next coach had to be cursed with a stubborn coachman and a plump, squealing matron. And finally, the mysterious creature charging down the hill …
Sebastian braced himself on one elbow and peered through the rain. A girl sat in the mud a few feet away, seemingly oblivious to the steady wash of rain, the stained velvet of her skirts, the heavy ropes of hair tangled around her face. And oblivious to him. Her head was bent and she was crooning his name to a sickly ball of fur nestled beneath her chin. He felt an odd catch in his throat to hear his name spoken in such adoring tones. Even his handsome English mistress did not cry out his name with such feeling during their liaisons. For a brief moment, he felt ridiculously and insanely jealous of the kitten cradled to the girl’s bosom.
“What a naughty beast you are, Sebastian,” she chided tenderly, smoothing the bedraggled fur of the trembling creature. “I’ve been searching for you everywhere. I thought Boris had gone and dragged you off again.”
The kitten gave an insulted mew at the mere thought of such an indignity. His yawning pink mouth made him look large enough to swallow himself. Sebastian rather wished he would.
He cleared his throat meaningfully, shifting his glare from the irritating feline to the girl. Their gazes met. Her eyes immediately narrowed to a puzzled squint.
Clutching the kitten in one hand, she scrambled over to him, crawling heavily across his ankle. “You’re hurt, aren’t you?”
Sebastian gripped his leg, his knuckles white. “I am now.”
She sank back on her knees. “Shall I fetch the sheriff? He is an acquaintance of mine.”
Sebastian groaned, wondering if this night would ever end. “Naturally. He would be.”
The kitten squirmed free of her grasp and trotted up Sebastian’s leg, pausing to sheath needle-sharp claws into his kil
The girl snatched at the beast, jerking Sebastian’s kilt up to an alarming height. “There you go again, you wicked cat. How naughty you are. You must forgive him, sir. I fear he possesses an irrepressible spirit of mischief.”
“I’ve been accused of the same failing myself,” Sebastian murmured, distracted by a tantalizing glimpse of creamy skin as she leaned over him.
She finally succeeded in untangling kilt and cat. Her fingers smoothed the mud-splattered tartan, then she grew very still.
“I know who you are,” she whispered. “You’re the Dreadful Scot Bandit Kirkpatrick.”
Her gaze shifted to the silk mask that covered the upper half of his face. She reached for it.
Sebastian caught her slender wrist. “Feel free to call me Dreadful.”
She took the hint well. Her arm relaxed, and he released it. His reticence didn’t stop her from leaning forward on hands and knees to peer into his face. To Sebastian’s dismay, excitement, not fear, brightened her expression. He ought to send the silly lass away, he thought, but if he wasn’t to perish in this cold, muddy road, he needed her help.
“I’ve read all about you.” Her voice was touched with awe. “You are the scourge of the Northumberland border. The faceless terror of both Scotland and England. A blight on the justice system of all nations. A grim reminder of the savagery and greed that lurk in the heart of civilized man. No traveler is safe from you. No noble crest a protection against your wiles. You rob and kidnap and ravish—”
“—and cheat at whist,” he interrupted, fearful her impassioned recital of his dastardly crimes would send her into a swoon of ecstasy. “While I cannot suppress a thrill of pride at your detailed and much exaggerated account of my debauchery, at this moment I am only an injured man lying in the rain with a throbbing head and a broken ankle. There is a crofter’s hut nearby. Will you help me to it?”
Heather and Velvet by Teresa Medeiros / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes