He was a legend of the Highlands, a masked rider no soldier could capture, her sworn enemy...her beloved.
Rachel de Lacey, the clever daughter of Lord General de Lacey, was about to embark on her own private war. She had been kidnapped in the midst of a British officer's ball and carried to the forest lair of the infamous Glen Lyon. Prepared to face the Scottish rebel who had become a legend, Rachel vowed she would defy him with her last breath. But when the blindfold was ripped from Rachel's eyes, she saw Gavin Carstares, earl of Glenlyon, for what he really was.
A strong yet gentle man, haunted by secrets, Gavin was the hero Rachel had always dreamed of. Now she became his pawn in a desperate game to save the women and children of Scotland from the slaughter waged by Sir Dunstan Wells -- Rachel's own fiancé. But in Gavin's battle he had never envisioned losing his heart -- and then breaking it when forced to give Rachel back to the man he hated most. As the heathered hills caught fire with their passion, Gavin and Rachel forged an everlasting bond that swept them toward an ecstasy worth defying a king's army....
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From the time she lisped out her first words, Lord General Marcus de Lacey's daughter had proclaimed she would wed only the bravest man in Christendom. Tonight, the incomparable Rachel swept across a ballroom littered with the defeated masses of her admirers, Sir Dunstan Wells's betrothal ring encircling her finger.
She should have been elated, triumphant -- amused, at the very least, by the sight of so many of England's finest soldiers sulking like thwarted schoolboys robbed of a coveted treat. But the sparkling music couldn't banish the restlessness that crackled along her spine.
Rachel shook out the folds of her linen robes and straightened the golden laces that had turned her into Helen of Troy for tonight's festivities. An appropriate costume, her maid had said, tittering, since winning Rachel's hand had become the contest of the century. Yet had the legendary queen felt such odd emotions when sailing off with handsome Paris? Rachel wondered. An unexpected knot of panic lodged behind her breastbone, a niggling sense of disappointment that the chase was over, and more than a little dread at the thought of what would come after. Not that she herself had caused a tidy little war -- that prospect would be too delicious. Rather, what unsettled her was the knowledge that her bed would be his to share, her body his to claim, and that instead of being a wild, headstrong queen ruling her own kingdom, she would be expected to bend to his will for the rest of her life.
Thunderation, this is madness, Rachel berated herself fiercely, dodging past a rather short Sir Lancelot locked in a minuet with a stumbling swan. Dunstan had hardly kidnapped her and forced her to become his bride. After his bold exploits against the rebels, no one could deny he was the hero of Culloden Moor. This was what she had always wanted, wasn't it? The bravest hero ever to wield a sword?
But it wasn't doubts about her upcoming marriage that were plaguing her tonight. It was Scotland that unnerved her, with its wild hills and half-savage people.
She shivered, her toes cold in their delicate sandals, and she wished for stout leather shoes or familiar satin slippers, something more substantial to separate her from the floor beneath her feet.
It was as if the Scots soil had soaked up the fires of the recent rebellion, the wind carrying echoes of screams and battle cries stilled by the blade of the conqueror's sword. And nothing, not the elegant manor house taken captive by the British forces, or the frenetic gaiety of those around her, could blot out the wildness, the untamed echoes of this place.
Rachel twisted the heavy betrothal ring around her knuckle until her fingers stung, wishing that the night was over. But there was no escaping -- a bevy of officers' wives and their male admirers swept toward her.
"Mistress de Lacey?" the insistent shrill of Sergeant Bevin's portly wife raked her frazzled nerves. "I was just telling Lieutenant Pringle here what a pity it is that your betrothed could not be here tonight to celebrate his victory in winning your hand in marriage."
"Sir Dunstan is hunting down the last of the rebels to pay for their crimes, no doubt," Lieutenant Alfred Pringle chortled. "No one is better fitted for the task, I assure you. Your betrothed takes the greatest delight in avenging all the fine English lads who had to sacrifice their lives driving Bonnie Prince Charlie out of this accursed nest of sedition. A deplorable loss, those fine, gallant soldiers."
"You needn't fear for the future of the king's army."
Rachel started at the gruff voice behind her, turned to find the Duke of Cumberland approaching, the commander of the English forces and her papa's longtime friend eyeing her with the same eager anticipation he would accord a particularly promising brood mare who was about to come into season.
"Lord General de Lacey's daughter and brave Sir Dunstan shall attend to their duty the instant they are wed. It was her father's dying wish that she provide us with an entire battalion of strapping boys to fill up the ranks, eh, Rachel?"
Rachel's cheeks burned at the knowledge of what would have to transpire between her and Dunstan to conceive those sons -- secret, mysterious, vaguely shameful acts she must endure with the stoic silence of a good soldier.
She squirmed inwardly, excruciatingly aware of the curious press of eyes upon her, the sudden lull in chatter as those surrounding her waited for her answer.
The only noise was the rhythmic stumping of a crutch upon the floor drawing nearer. The sound started a shiver of discomfort that spread to the very tips of her fingers, and she glanced up to see Lord Nathaniel Rowland.
Nate -- once her childhood friend, now a stranger. He'd been the first impetuous youth bold enough to ask her to dance, but he would never lead a partner onto a ballroom floor again. He limped toward her, pale-faced and leaning on a crutch.
Guilt stung her with the knowledge that she'd barely spoken to him in the three days since she'd arrived in Scotland. Yet she couldn't bear to face the changes in him. Bitterness was etched deep in his once-laughing features, as was a taut desperation.
"Well, girl?" Cumberland groused. "I asked you a question. Will you give us a battalion of lads to shed their blood in Britannia's name?"
Rachel turned away from the disturbing scene and tossed her sable curls. "I am certain any woman should be proud to give her sons to the greater glory of England," she said.
"Do you truly believe that?" A woman hovering near Cumberland inquired. "It would break my heart to sacrifice either of my boys even for the most noble of causes." The woman peered at her and smiled with sad indulgence. "But then, of course you are blinded by the glory of it all. A bright, beautiful young girl like you, so sheltered from the ways of the world. What can you know about a mother's love?"
Rachel winced, the woman's words slipping into a raw place in her soul, hidden, nearly forgotten. What can you know about a mother's love? Nothing...a little girl's wistful voice echoed inside her. Nothing at all...
The duke's lip curled in distaste as he regarded the other woman. "I can only be grateful that Sir Dunstan's betrothed is not given to such womanly vapors. Mistress de Lacey has been raised to know her duty."
The scraping of the crutch stopped, a familiar yet slurred voice breaking into the conversation. "Yes, you know your duty, do you not, Mistress de Lacey?"
A low throb of alarm gripped Rachel as she turned to face the drink-bleared gaze of Lord Nathaniel Rowland.
"N -- Nate...my lord..." Rachel flinched at a merry trill of laughter, and tried desperately not to notice how Lord Nathaniel's pretty young wife, garbed as Joan of Arc, tapped her toes with impatience on the other side of the room, her eyes roving in blatant invitation to a gallant Hessian captain.
"Poor Rachel," Nate commiserated. "Your papa, the general, made sure you knew it was your sworn duty to wed only to the bravest man in England. And after that? You were to give yourself up to breeding cannon fodder to spill their blood in Britannia's name."
"Rowland, that's enough," Lieutenant Pringle bit out.
"I am but offering Sir Dunstan's bride-to-be a worthy bit of advice," Nathaniel snarled. "Rachel, if you're determined to take this course, just make bloody well certain that your sons die in Britannia's name. It's dashed awkward when they come limping back, unsightly monsters minus an arm or a leg or an eye."
"You shame yourself," Pringle snapped. "A soldier sniveling over a paltry wound."
"I recall you sniveling copiously yourself when fair Rachel became betrothed to her paragon of courage and bravery. And yet, perhaps she was too hasty in her choice. If Lord General de Lacey's daughter still wants the bravest man in the realm to sire her sons, she should have chosen someone from the other side."
"Please, Nate." Rachel lay a restraining hand on Rowland's arm. "You've obviously had too much to drink tonight. You don't know what you're saying."
He blinked at her, a lock of hair tumbling boyishly across his brow, his eyes overbright and hard. "I am merely trying to aid you in your quest, Rachel. There is a Jacobite rogue called the Glen Lyon whom no man has been able to capture -- a highwayman who steals rebel scum from beneath English noses, and ships them off beyond the reach of British justice."
Lord, why not just fling wine in the officers' faces and be done with it? Rachel thought. The effect would be the same.
"I've heard of this Glen Lyon," she gave a dismissive wave of the hand. "Absurd tales -- "
"Blast it, Rowland," Cumberland blustered, his features an alarming shade of red, "I'll not have a lady subjected to tales of such a rebel cur."
"And why not, your grace? Do you fear the Glen Lyon will snatch her from beneath our very noses?" Nate taunted, then turned to Rachel. "The Glen Lyon is a will-o'-the-wisp, as impossible to capture as lightning. The Highlanders see him as savior. By God, I think they're making him a bloody legend. That's what your papa convinced you you want between your sheets, isn't it? A damn legend instead of a man who might lose his accursed leg."
"Rowland, if you weren't a cripple, by God, I would call you out!" Lieutenant Pringle roared.
"Call me out! Put a damn bullet in my brain. I've thought about doing it myself often enough." Nate's gaze swept with searing misery to where his wife was now engaged in fervid conversation with her Hessian, blushing and breathless and beautiful.
"Nate, enough," Rachel pleaded in alarm, taking his trembling hand in her own. "Come, and I'll sit down with you for a little while."
"A lady such as yourself should not have anything to do with this puling knave!" Pringle growled. "I am certain Sir Dunstan would forbid it."
"Come now, gentlemen," she chided. "A soldier too deep in his cups would be a most familiar sight to you after years of campaigning. Nate and I are friends from a long time ago."
"A long time ago," Nate said in echo, laughing bitterly. "When I was yet a man."
Aching for him, Rachel led him away from the cluster of warriors, feeling furious glares burning into her back. Yet better to brave the officers' displeasure than to allow poor Nate to humiliate himself further. She couldn't bear to leave the young man with more nightmares to torment him once the numbing haze of alcohol evaporated.
"Rachel, the garden...let's go to the garden," Nate said. "God, what I wouldn't give for a breath of fresh air away from heroes and tales of battle glory and lies."
Rachel headed toward the doorway that led to the gardens.
"This Glen Lyon is your hero, Rachel," Nate insisted, as they wove through a maze of low-growing hedges, "a masked rider no brigade of the king's soldiers can capture. He's quicksilver, liquid lightning that slips through his stalkers' hands."
"Only a coward hides behind a mask." Rachel's fingertips skimmed to the ivory-painted miniature that always dangled by a black velvet ribbon about her neck.
Nate glanced at it, the flambeau casting eerie shadows across Dunstan Wells's proud, aristocratic features.
"Ah, Rachel," he said softly, his voice strange, unnerving. "If you only knew...there are many kinds of masks."
She suppressed a prickling at the nape of her neck.
"Your betrothed would be mad as the devil if he heard me tell you of the Glen Lyon. Sir Dunstan, the hero of Culloden Moor," Nate sneered as they paced out into the night air. "But he's not cutting quite such a bold dash anymore. When you're the Great Chosen One of the Duke of Cumberland, I suppose it's damned embarrassing to be outwitted by a cowardly rebel."
"Sir Dunstan and this -- this rebel -- "
"Have become sworn foes." Nate sank down on a stone-carved bench beside a yew hedge in the farthermost reaches of the garden, hidden from view of the ballroom windows or any guests who might stray outside. Yet no guests seemed to have availed themselves of the moon-kissed loveliness, the flambeaus set about, splashing pools of light on empty marble tiers scattered with statuary.
"Nate," Rachel protested, "I cannot believe that a prominent officer like Sir Dunstan would have to concern himself with -- with -- "
"The man who has swept over three hundred Scots to safety?" Nate arranged his crutch beside him. "That is where your betrothed is, even now -- hunting the Glen Lyon like a madman -- been doing so for months. I think he was hoping to present the poor devil's head to you on a silver platter -- spoils of war, don't you know."
"I would much prefer a bouquet of roses as a love token." Rachel tried to keep her tone light, but shuddered inwardly at the image his words had painted.
"Your betrothed is most creative in his gifts," Nate said, kneading what remained of his leg with unsteady fingers. "In fact, he served up quite a diabolical one to the Glen Lyon a month past, a veritable banquet of destruction and butchery. All that remains to be seen is what retribution the rebels will take. My hand to God, if I could sit a horse, I'd ride beside them."
"Nate, you must stop this at once," Rachel cautioned, glancing warily about. "Papa always said mercy can be mistaken for weakness. War can be a brutal thing. Sometimes drastic measures are necessary to put an end to the battling."
"It's all right then, to make war on women and children? Starving innocents..." He looked at her, a horrible indulgence in his eyes, an engulfing wave of hopelessness in his laugh. "No, you wouldn't believe the truth about what's been happening here in Scotland even if I drew it out for you line by line in a sketchbook. You'd just spout more of your father's military theories."
"Perhaps so," Rachel said, stung. "But you're spouting treason. I know you're intoxicated, but -- "
"I'm not nearly drunk enough. I can still hear those poor bastards at Culloden Moor screaming for mercy as we butchered them. I can still picture my wife, setting up an assignation with that cur of a Hessian -- plotting what time she'll steal from her bed. Not that I'd be aware of it anyway. She sleeps as far away from me as she can now. She hasn't touched me since..." His voice cracked, and pity knotted in Rachel's throat. "Hellfire, I can't blame her. I sicken myself."
She caught one of Rowland's hands in her own. "Your wife is a fool, Nate. You are a hero. A woman worthy of your love wouldn't care about your leg. She'd be grateful you were alive to come home to her. You still have arms to hold her, and I know somewhere you still have that devilish smile that made half the belles of the season fall in love with you."
"Rachel, Rachel, still the ...From Publishers Weekly:
Outrage at war's savagery underlies the pages of Gather the Stars, giving a moral depth to Cates's (Stealing Heaven) splendid tale. Set in the aftermath of the 1746 battle of Culloden, the story centers around the arrogant Rachel de Lacey, daughter of a British general. She has vowed to wed the bravest man in England and, accordingly, is affianced to Sir Dunstan Wells, the "hero" who brutally decimated the Scottish troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Kidnapped by Dunstan's nemesis, the "Glen Lyon," Rachel gradually learns that true bravery lies not in killing and plunder but in gentleness and love. This finely crafted historical romance is a gem.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Descrizione libro Pocket, 1996. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria DADAX0671897462
Descrizione libro Pocket, 1996. Mass Market Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria P110671897462
Descrizione libro Pocket. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condizione libro: New. 0671897462 New Condition. Codice libro della libreria NEW6.0331580