October 31, 2017
Here’s the blurb:
As the ward to the late Duke of Lothian, Elsbeth Carew resides at the ancestral estate of Bealadair. Fiercely attached to the manor, she loves it more than anyone else. When Connor McCraight—the new Duke of Lothian—arrives, Elsbeth does not quite know what to make of the American who has inherited the title but has never even set foot on Scottish soil. The tall, ruggedly handsome Texan sweeps through Bealadair with an air of authority Elsbeth has never encountered.
Connor has no intention of making Scotland his home and hopes to sell the estate as soon as possible. But his plan is jeopardized when he meets Elsbeth. A sweet, gray-eyed beauty, she tempts him in ways no other woman has. As word spreads of Connor’s intention to sell Bealadair, his life is threatened—and the only woman who can save him may be the one he has hopelessly lost his heart to.
Now for the story behind the story:
I was absolutely fascinated to find information about a monster ranch here in Texas that was over three million acres. Yep, you read that right. That immediately fueled my imagination. What would happen if a young man went off to fight in the Civil War, but when he came home he was the heir to the entire ranch. Wait, let’s make life a little more difficult for him. What would happen if a Scottish solicitor came to the ranch and told the man that there was something special about his deceased father? What if he was the heir to a dukedom? What would happen, then, if the man was suddenly a Scottish duke?
Well, let me tell you, that it’s not all rainbows and puppy dogs. Our intrepid hero does not want to go Scotland or take up his position as duke. Or have anything to do with the haughty family that was a mystery to him only months earlier. To make matters worse, Connor meets someone he hadn’t expected – Elsbeth Carew – one of the most surprising things about Scotland.
Connor McCraight was half tempted to stop the carriage, release one of the horses, and ride bareback to Bealadair.
He’d rather be on horseback for twelve hours than just sitting here doing nothing. He refused to allow himself to consult his father’s watch tucked into the inner pocket of his vest. He didn’t want to know how many hours he’d wasted so far today.
At home, the setting sun—an explosion of orange and red in the direction of the Western Division— was accompanied by a feeling that he’d accomplished something. Either he’d ridden the fences, met with some of his foremen, inspected the newest outbuildings, or even sat himself down at his desk and forced himself to handle the never-ending paperwork.
Here? The end of the day didn’t mean a damn thing other than that he couldn’t see any more snow. It snowed in Texas. It snowed a lot in certain parts of Texas, but there was something about a winter day in Scotland that buffaloed him. It was a colder kind of cold, seeping past his coat and into his bones. If he hadn’t been trapped in this carriage, he could have moved around and pushed past the discomfort.
He was used to being out in near-blizzard conditions, the ice freezing his eyebrows and lashes, his cheeks feeling so stiff they’d never thaw. But this Scottish wind came out of the north like a newly stropped razor. The Scottish snow was glaringly white and almost angry looking as it clung to vertical shapes and scraggly trees.
Why did one place have to have so damn many hills? They weren’t called hills, either. They called them Ben something or other, each name more un- pronounceable. They weren’t like the mountains in West Texas. They didn’t soar majestically into the sky, making a man think of the Creator and other weighty subjects. No, they stuck out of the ground like fat black thorns with jagged edges now covered in ice and snow.
“It’s flat,” his father had often said, staring out over their land. “You can almost see from one side to another.”
That wouldn’t have been possible, but he now understood why there’d been a sense of wonder in Graham McCraight’s voice. Here you couldn’t see past the next snowflake for some damn hill or deep gorge.
He hoped this Bealadair place had enough fire- places to heat him through. By the time they reached their destination—he’d been promised it would be soon, that word bandied about a little too often lately—he would probably be frozen from his boots to his hat.
When he’d said something about the weather to Augustine Glassey, the solicitor had only given Connor that thin-lipped smile of his. He didn’t know if the man was just naturally bilious or so damn cautious that each word was weighed and measured and weighed again before he uttered it.
Most of the time Glassey sat in the corner of a room like a crow, watching the proceedings with beady eyes.
At least he wasn’t in the carriage now.
Sam, wedged into the corner on the opposite side of the vehicle, opened one eye, closed it, and finally spoke in a tired voice.
“We’re almost there. Might as well hold on for a little longer.”
“I’ve been holding on for a damn sight too long,” Connor said. “I feel like I’m in a coffin.” A cold coffin. The heater down by his feet might keep the side of one booted foot warm, but that was about it.
“It’s better than the train,” Sam said, keeping his eyes shut.
He didn’t have any argument with that. The journey from London had been an orchestrated disaster. They’d had to change trains twice, move all their possessions from one railroad company to another. What genius had decided to make different gauge tracks in the same country?
Glassey had made a point of telling him that they’d be traveling first class from London. He hadn’t been impressed then and he wasn’t now. The windows in the back of the car hadn’t closed all the way. But at least the cold of the snow had been offset by the warm soot from the engine.
They’d finally made it to the north of Scotland which didn’t mean that things got easier. They’d had to stop more than once, connect with another line, lose cars, pick up cars, and generally make the distance in a pace slower than he could have on a good horse.
But he probably would have frozen to death.
At least, at the last station, Glassey had done something right. The solicitor had prepared ahead and they’d had two carriages and drivers waiting for them. To his relief, the solicitor had chosen to ride in the vehicle behind them. It was the first time in weeks that Connor had been spared the Scotsman’s company. He wouldn’t have to listen to Glassey’s opinions, of which the man had many, uttered in an accent that was beginning to grate on him.
The man didn’t talk right.
Every word sounded like it had an edge and was sharp like glass. He didn’t just state his opinion— something Sam did often enough—Glassey pontificated. The man reminded Connor of their cook back home. Cookie had a point to make about a dozen things every day. It wasn’t enough that he had to salt you with his thoughts. He wanted to convince you that he was right and have you come out and say it.
The solicitor wouldn’t like being compared to a cook. He’d probably get that pursed-up look, the one that made Connor think the man smelled a dead cow.
Glassey had a long face, one that looked as if someone had grabbed his chin at birth and pulled it toward his feet. Age had given him lines that traveled the length of his cheeks, from the corners of his eyes to the corners of his mouth. He dressed in somber black like the undertaker in Austin. The worst thing about his appearance was that Glassey favored a bowler hat. It rounded off the top of his head and looked wrong with the rest of his angular appearance.
The only thing the man did that was a relief was melt into the background when Connor gave him a look. It was the McCraight glance, the one that said he’d just about had enough of this nonsense and wanted it to stop immediately.
His mother told him that he’d had it since birth. As the youngest of six children, the previous five having been girls, he’d been the spitting image of his father, down to imitating his mannerisms before he could walk.
“You just don’t sound like your papa,” his mother said. “Not that anyone could.”
Nope. He was a Texan. His father had sounded like a Scot. There were times when Connor couldn’t understand him, especially when he started talking Gaelic.
Connor countered by talking Mexican, which made Graham give him the McCraight glance.
He missed his father. He’d missed his father in one way or another since he’d come home that day two years ago, tired of war. At the tearful reunion with his family he’d been given the news that his father had unexpectedly died in a line shack after a day of inspecting the fence line. The cause? He’d been cleaning his gun.
That hadn’t made sense then and it didn’t now.
Until Glassey showed up on his doorstep a few weeks ago, Connor had no idea that there was a family in Scotland. He hadn’t known about his aunt and three cousins—all girls—or that he had an uncle who’d died. He sure as hell hadn’t known about any estate or that he was the heir.
He had no business freezing in a strange country. He should be home where he was needed.
“Your father would have wanted you to go.”
Those words, uttered in a soft voice by his mother, had been the reason he’d agreed to accompany Glassey back to Scotland.
Now he wished he could have refused his mother. However, in the history of the XIV Ranch he doubted anyone had been able to say no to Linda McCraight.
She stared at you with those big brown eyes of hers—eyes that were replicated in all her children— standing there tall and proud, her hands folded in front of her. She was a statue of stillness, her bright red hair tucked into a braid coiled into a pattern his sisters called by a French name.
“It’s your obligation as a McCraight,” she continued. “The last male McCraight.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he’d said, despite the fact he was no longer in his boyhood and had been running XIV for the past two years on his own. All he could do was nod his head, bite back every objection that came instantly to mind, and make arrangements to have Joe Pike, his soon-to-be brother-in-law and one of his division managers, take over in his absence.
He couldn’t disrespect his mother, but damn, he wished he’d been able to say something, anything, to keep from being here in Scotland, of all places. Sam unfolded himself from his scrunched position in the corner, grabbed his hat from his chest and planted it on his head, shivered, made a face, then shook his booted feet one by one. Sam didn’t say much, but his expression left you with no doubt about what he was thinking. Right now it looked like he was wondering why the hell he’d agreed to accompany Connor to Scotland.
Sam Kirby had been his father’s friend. Tall, rangy, with a bald head and face that bearded up de- spite how often he shaved, he reminded Connor of a picture of a Jesuit priest he’d once seen. The man wasn’t a monk, however. Tales of Sam’s conquests had been legendary throughout the XIV Ranch.
Sam and Graham had been friends ever since Graham McCraight had come to Texas. Connor didn’t know how it had been done, but somehow his father and Sam had not only funded the syndicate that had built the state capitol, but they’d overseen the architecture and the construction. In return, the legislature had awarded them the land to begin the ranch.
Sam wasn’t an entrepreneur. He wasn’t even much of a rancher. Graham had called him a mental tumbleweed. If something interested Sam, he got involved in it, whether it was gold mining or some business venture with a man from back east who wanted to build a series of stores. But he always came back to the XIV Ranch as if it were home. Because of that, Connor considered Sam almost like an uncle. Not like the stranger whose death was the reason he was here now.
Before they left Texas, he’d asked Sam about the man.
“Did my father ever talk to you about his brother?”
“Once in a while,” Sam said. “When we were drinking.”
“I can’t remember him ever mentioning him to me.”
He should have asked his mother before he left Texas, but he tried not to mention his father any more than necessary. Every time he did, or when one of his sisters said something, his mother would get that look in her eyes. The one that made it seem like she held all the world’s sorrow in her heart.
She still cried every night.
He’d even broken down and asked Glassey, just before they boarded their ship. The solicitor had no idea why Graham had spent the past forty years in Texas.
Except for that, there wasn’t much about his father that had been secret. Graham was an open, boisterous, giant of a man who had a sense of wonder about everything, from the birth of a calf to the expanse of stars over their heads. He was given to philosophical discussions at strange times, often over a campfire or after bathing in the river.
When Connor came home from college, his father had tested his knowledge about a great many things. He’d found himself defending his beliefs, being forced to think long and deep about a subject before responding. Up until then he’d never considered his father an educated man, not like his professors. He soon realized that it was his own knowledge that was lacking and that Graham McCraight was the equal of any learned man he knew. What would his father think about this journey, done so reluctantly? Graham was all for a man doing what he thought was right in his own mind. He’d instilled that thought in Connor along with another one: he had to accept the consequences of his ac- tions. He couldn’t blame anyone else for the choices he made if he’d done so freely.
The problem was he hadn’t in this case.
Nor was he prepared to be the 14th Duke of Lothian and Laird of Clan McCraight.