Seal of Excellence Nominee – RT Book Reviews
BOOKS IN THE SERIES
After I finished the first two books in the Clan Sinclair trilogy, I wanted to know more about Ellice. Poor thing, everyone ignored her. What happened to her? How did she cope with all the changes in her life? The Virgin of Clan Sinclair is her story.
Once outspoken, she was forced to retreat to an internal world. Her imagination became her companion, and Lady Pamela, a character of her creation, her alter ego.
Ellice, unlike the other inhabitants of Drumvagen, had a dramatic side. For example, when she’s was waiting for the result of Macrath’s meeting with the Earl of Gladsden, she was thinking this:
She was going to be sold to white slavers.
Macrath was going to stand on the shore and wave as the ship carried her away to a life of debauchery and degradation.
Her mother would march away from the sand, muttering words like, “She should have been more like Eudora.”
“She’s no better than I thought her,” Brianag would say.
The Earl of Gadsden would stand behind Macrath nodding in approval of his actions.
Or if she wasn’t sold to white slavers, she’d be sent to America, to work in one of Macrath’s factories. Or Australia where the seasons were upside down. She might like that, having winter when Scotland was in the middle of summer.
Perhaps her mother would simply disown her and she’d never again be known as the Earl of Barrett’s daughter. Oh, her? She has no identity, no name. No one claims her. What a pity. She shunned all that anyone would be overjoyed to have – a family and a good name.
Worse than all her imaginings was the very real chance that Macrath would listen to her mother and insist on marriage. After all, he’d caught her and the earl twice now.
Why should she be considered a scandal when Virginia and Macrath had done far worse?
Excerpt of The Virgin of Clan Sinclair
His lips skimmed down her throat and hovered at her shoulder.
“I knew you would taste like a sweetmeat.”
Lady Pamela shivered.
A teasing smile curved his lips.
Pressing one hand against his chest, she moved back.
He countered by grabbing her hand, turning it, and pressing a tender kiss to her palm.
“You have to leave,” she said.
“I am not leaving you until dawn comes, my dearest. Even then, I will have to be pulled from your arms by a host of your servants.”
“I’ve my reputation to consider,” she murmured.
He laughed, easing her closer until her cheek was pressed against his shoulder. She held back her sigh with some difficulty, closing her eyes and reveling in the feel of him.
“Banish me, then, lovely. Send me away with a gesture. Give me the word and I’ll leave your chamber, your house, and even your life if you wish it.”
How could she possibly send him away? If he left, he’d take her heart with him, not to mention the glorious pleasure she felt in his arms.
“That woman is the most annoying creature it’s ever been my misfortune to know!”
Ellice turned and stared at her mother.
Enid was advancing on her, determination in every line of her face.
Quickly, she flipped over a page in her manuscript so that none of the writing showed. Putting her pen down, she addressed her mother.
“What has Brianag done now, Mother?”
Enid stopped, narrowed her eyes, and pointed at the door.
“That creature!” she said, singling out Brianag with that one imperial finger. “That abomination! That, that, that housekeeper!”
Her mother’s face was becoming a mottled red, her mouth pursed up until it resembled a furled rose.
Her mother dropped her arm, resuming her march toward Ellice.
Any moment now, she was going to notice the stack of pages on the surface of the desk and demand to know what they were.
That would be a disaster of the highest magnitude, worse than when they were living in London and pretending not to be poor.
She stood, turned, and faced her mother, blocking the view of her manuscript.
“She’s done something to upset you. What is it?”
Her mother stopped, frowned at her, and took a deep breath.
“That vile and despicable creature has insulted you!”
“Me?” That was a surprise.
Her mother nodded. “She bragged about her granddaughter getting married.”
“How is that insulting me?” Ellice asked, genuinely curious.
“She intimated that you would never marry. That you would remain on the shelf. That no man would ever want you. That I could not arrange a marriage for you as swiftly as she had acted the matchmaker for her granddaughter.”
The first three points weren’t troubling, especially since they were probably true. The last comment, however, had her staring wide-eyed at her mother.
Her mother was looking at her with such intensity that Ellice wished she would blink. Finally, Enid nodded just once, a sign she’d made up her mind about something.
Once determined on an action, her mother never changed course.
Calm. She needed to remain calm, that was all. She wouldn’t fidget, which was – as her mother had often told her – a nervous habit, one her sister, Eudora, never had. Nor would it do any good to let her mother know she was terrified. Eudora had always been poised and in command of a situation.
“You’re of an age to be married,” her mother said, moving through the sitting room, touching objects Ellice had brought from London to give her a bit of comfort in the Scottish countryside. A book Eudora had given to her on her fifteenth birthday. A sketch of her brother, Lawrence, framed in silver. A small porcelain statue, called a Foo Dog, that resembled a wrinkly lion more than any dog she’d ever seen.
“You’re not a child anymore, Ellice. You need to give some thoughts of a home and family of your own.”
She was aware of her own age and circumstances, perhaps a bit more than her mother who occupied herself with quarreling for most of the day.
Because of Macrath’s generosity, she and her mother had been given a home at Drumvagen, almost as if they were family in truth, instead of claiming only a tenuous relationship.
Virginia, Macrath’s wife, had once been married to Ellice’s brother. After Lawrence’s death, Virginia had fallen in love with Macrath Sinclair, a Scot who made even Ellice’s heart pound occasionally, especially when he looked at Virginia across the room with that certain look in his eyes.
Perhaps it was that look that had sparked her imagination. What would she feel if a man looked at her in that way, or treated her as if there was nothing more important in the world than her?
The problem was – she didn’t want any man for a husband. Where did she go to find another Macrath?
Her mother was still walking through the sitting room, her substantial skirt and train grazing the tables and brushing against the wall.
“Why should I marry?” Ellice asked. “I’m perfectly happy.” A bit of a lie but was it necessary to be honest all the time, especially about something so personal?
Her mother drew herself up, shoulders level, hands clasped tightly in front of her. Enid was a short woman, one whose bulk made her appear squared. A small yet disquieting enemy if she wished to be.
“Marriage is a woman’s natural state, Ellice.”
“You’re not married.”
“I have mourned your father all these years, child. I do not wish to replace him in my affections.”
Not once had she ever heard her mother fondly talk about the late earl. Whenever Enid referred to her long dead husband it was in an irritated tone, as if his demise had been solely to annoy her. Now she was claiming to feel affection for him? Ellice didn’t believe it. She was not, however, unwise enough to make that comment.
Enid, Dowager Countess of Barrett, never forgot a slight, even one from her own daughter.
“Is it truly necessary that I marry?” she asked. “Could we not find a small cottage somewhere? Not every woman marries.”
“Only if they are desperately poor and without family. Or,” she said, eyeing Ellice, “they are of a temperament unsuited to be a wife.” She abruptly sank into a chair. “Tell me you haven’t done anything to shame the family.”
She eyed her mother. Was she supposed to be a child, ignorant of how, exactly, they came to be living at Drumvagen?
If Virginia hadn’t bent the rules of society, with her mother’s encouragement and collusion, they wouldn’t be living in this grand house, each given a lovely suite, and treated like family members.
Perhaps it was best not to pursue that topic of conversation at the moment.
“No,” she said. “I haven’t done anything to shame the family.”
She wanted to – did that count?
“Thank the good Lord and all the saints for that, at least.” Enid fanned the air in front of her flushed face.
Should she tell her mother she was still a virgin? Not because she was all that virtuous and proper. The groom she’d met last year had been remarkably handsome, with soft green eyes, a quirk to his lips, and a Scottish accent that made her toes curl.
He’d been new to Drumvagen and hadn’t known who she was. He’d kissed her soundly, leaving her to wonder at what she hadn’t experienced. He’d gone on to work in Edinburgh but she remembered him sometimes, and wondered at what he might have done if he hadn’t heard someone coming.
Society, however, would have skewered her had she done anything shameful. So she was left to view the smoldering looks between all the couples in her life, catch the sight of swollen lips and flushed cheeks and pretend she had no interest in such things.
What a silly notion.
Mairi had been the one to educate her, if only by accident. Macrath’s sister was knowledgeable about a whole world of things, one of which was passion. Ellice could tell that from the way she looked at her husband, at the laughter they shared, not to mention Mairi’s love of lurid novels.
On one of her visits to Edinburgh, she’d discovered two of Mairi’s favorite books, devouring them on quiet afternoons when she’d been alone in the house, accompanied only by the servants. She’d learned a great deal from Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and Tom Jones. Coupled with her observations of life in Scotland, she’d gotten a very good education, enough to realize that Drumvagen was teeming with passion.
“Is there any reason I should rush to be married?” Other than her mother’s wish to best Brianag?
“You are not getting any younger. Do you wish to be dependent on Macrath’s charity for the rest of your life? A poor sad female reading in the corner of the room, hoping no one notices her?
Well, she did that now. She’d learned to keep silent, retreating into herself. At least she could write her feelings. Every word she’d never spoken, every thought she wasn’t supposed to have went into her manuscript.
Lately, she’d had a great many adventures in her imagination, all of them centered around Lady Pamela.
Lady Pamela wouldn’t meekly sit back and let someone else plan out her life. She wouldn’t acquiesce to a marriage simply to have a place to live. She’d create her own world, with a smile and a promise in her eyes.
Men would drop at her feet.
Her mother stood, brushing down her skirts.
“Eudora would have been married at your age, child. No doubt I would have been a grandmother by now.”
“Do you want to be a grandmother?”
To her surprise, her mother seemed to consider the question.
“Once I was in my own establishment, surely. What would truly be preferable is if your husband could defray my expenses so I wouldn’t have to use my own money.”
Now she was not only supposed to be married, but to be married well? What else did her mother want, a title? She didn’t bother to ask. As the Dowager Countess of Barrett, of course she wanted a title for her last remaining child.
Where was she supposed to find a titled bachelor in Scotland? No, if she were going to get married, let him be handsome, gifted with a sense of humor, and that indescribably deliciousness that some men had. She wanted to feel the air charged around him. She needed him to look at her with eyes that smoldered with passion.
“We can afford to stay in Edinburgh for a few months. Long enough to find a husband for you, even if he is a Scot.”
The glint of determination in her eyes warned Ellice.
For the next months she would be paraded in front of every available man, given endless lectures on decorum, especially peppered with comments about how her dear, departed sister had been so much better at everything.
Nor would she have a moment to herself. She’d be in her mother’s company every hour of every day until she was married.
Why had the housekeeper challenged Enid?
Ellice didn’t say a word as her mother sailed out of the room with the same disregard she’d shown entering it.
Suddenly, the suite was too close and confining.
She threw open the window to breathe in the spring air, heavy with the sweet perfume of roses and heather. To her right was the rolling glen beckoning her to come and walk. Sit here awhile and dream your thoughts on this flat rock. How often had she done that?
The day was enchanted, like most days at Drumvagen, promising its inhabitants tranquility and joy. Wagons would rumble down the road from the village bringing provisions. People would walk from the house to Macrath’s laboratory. The staff would be intent on their tasks as they were even now. Someone was whistling and before the day was out, she would probably hear someone singing.
If she belonged here, she’d feel blessed. Because she didn’t, all this happiness was simply too much.
She felt like she had in London after Eudora’s death. Her mother had retreated to her rooms, leaving Ellice to find her way through grief. She couldn’t chastise the servants for the occasional laugh or jest. Their joy never touched her, however, and that’s what she felt at Drumvagen, as if she were in a bubble that prevented her from experiencing the happiness of others.
She wasn’t unhappy. She just couldn’t borrow someone else’s emotions. She couldn’t live off Virginia’s joy. Even her mother’s constant harping at Brianag was to be envied because it was heartfelt and real.
What did she feel?
Anxious and impatient for her life to begin. Not what her mother wanted for her, but what she wanted for herself.
Perhaps that’s why her book meant so much to her. She felt every page of it, every paragraph, every word. The love Lady Pamela experienced for Donald was the love stored away in Ellice’s heart, just waiting for the right person. The passion Donald and Lady Pamela knew was hers. The yearning each felt was what sat, impatient and heavy, in her own heart.
She wanted to be away, leaving her suite, Drumvagen, and all of its inhabitants behind.
Mostly, she wanted to be away from who she was. She wanted to be someone more courageous, like Mairi. Mairi didn’t chafe under the role circumstance had given her. Instead, she molded life to fit her, like Lady Pamela.
Nor was Mairi the only courageous person she knew. Everyone at Drumvagen was strong-willed and memorable: from Virginia who had challenged society’s rules to Macrath who created an empire from an idea, to her mother and Brianag.
She was the only one people ignored. Oh, yes, Ellice, people probably said, wrinkling their brows to summon an image of her.
Poor dear girl, she’s Enid’s daughter, correct? Pity the other one didn’t survive. Heard she was a beauty, but this girl?
Brown hair and brown eyes and a completely malleable nature, they would say, describing her. Once, she’d been endlessly chastised for speaking out of turn, for saying what she thought. Years of being castigated had taught her to keep silent.
Taking the manuscript, she tied a string around it to keep all the pages together. It wouldn’t do to lose one here or there, not when she’d worked so hard on the book.
Holding it against her chest, she opened the sitting room door, looking both ways. Once she was certain no one was there, she made her way down the corridor to the servants’ stair. She would go and work in the cottage. Virginia had made the place available to her and ever since it had been a sanctuary.
Through her words she’d become someone else, someone memorable and unforgettable, a woman of courage and daring, someone who captivated others, especially a man her equal. She’d have auburn hair and startling green eyes. She’d laugh with abandon and keep every man who looked at her in thrall.
She’d be Lady Pamela.
In the pages of her manuscript, she released every thought that trembled unspoken on her lips, every secret wish, and every torrid desire.
Lady Pamela wouldn’t accept marriage to anyone simply because her mother wished it. No, she would be fiercely opposed to such a bloodless union. She would demand a say in her own life.
Virginia had altered her future herself. So had Mairi. Her mother had done the same, which was why they were living in Scotland.
Was she the only weak woman at Drumvagen? She was very much afraid she was.
The distant rumble of thunder warned her. She didn’t care. She’d go to the cottage even in the pouring rain and remain there while the windowsills wept and the floor grew muddy.
She skittered to a halt at Macrath’s voice, ducking around the corner just as Macrath and a stranger appeared.
“I’m grateful you decided to call,” he said. “I’ve had questions about your father and the original architect for years.”
“I’ve often thought of Drumvagen,” the stranger said. “It’s featured prominently in my childhood memories, especially the grotto.”
She peered around the corner.
A man stood there, his back to her. As tall as Macrath, with black hair to match, he was attired in a dark blue suit. She wished he’d turn so she could see his face. His voice alone was intriguing.
Scottish English varied even within Drumvagen. Brianag’s manner of speaking was vastly different from the maids. Nor did the maids sound like Jack, Hannah’s husband.
This stranger’s accent was Scottish in certain words and very English in others.
“Had your father planned to incorporate the entrance into the house?”
“I was hoping he would,” the man said. “It’s a wondrous place for a boy with an imagination.”
“My own son considers the grotto his.”
The man laughed. Ellice’s toes curled, the first time they’d ever done that at a simple sound. Oh, if he would only turn.
Perhaps he had a misshapen nose. She’d consider a scar to be dashing, but crooked, black teeth would be very off putting.
“I’m surprised we haven’t met before now,” Macrath said. “With you being Logan’s friend and the distance not that far from Edinburgh.”
The stranger lived in Edinburgh?
An hour earlier, she wouldn’t have given the thought an iota of life. An hour earlier, before her mother announced her new plans, Ellice would have pushed aside the notion and laughed at herself.
She might write of a daring, shocking woman but it was quite another thing to be that person. But was she simply to wait until circumstances happened to her? Was she never to act on her own?
Ellice looked down at herself. This morning, she’d worn a blue dress with bone buttons, white cuffs and collar. She and her mother had instituted so many economies over the years that it was difficult to relinquish the habit now. The dress was like most of those in her wardrobe, constructed for long wear and serviceability, able to withstand the laundry and fade only a little over time.
Because of the bustle her mother insisted on – after all, just because they lived in Scotland was no reason to be fashion heathens – the dress was a little shorter than it should have been, revealing a glimpse of her ankles. At any other time, she would have been embarrassed to be seen in such old clothing. Right now, however, it was perfect for the plan that was bubbling up in her mind.
The stranger might be persuaded to think her a maid at Drumvagen.
If she waylaid him, would he take her to Edinburgh? She wasn’t above begging. Would she need to tell a story? Would he believe she needed to visit a sick mother in the city? Or that she was pining for an errant lover?
If she must, she’d tell a tale, something that wouldn’t cast Drumvagen or Macrath into disfavor but would appeal to the stranger’s better impulses.
If he had any better impulses.
Perhaps he was a slaver, or a smuggler wishing to purchase Drumvagen for his evil uses. Had he come to scope out the land before leading his flotilla of ships to fire on the great house?
No, Macrath seemed to like him and Macrath was a good judge of character. Besides, the stranger knew Logan. Any friend of Mairi’s husband had to be a decent man.
Clutching the manuscript to her chest, she crept to the front of the house – the better to avoid Brianag – and slipped out the massive double doors.
The minute Ellice saw the carriage, she changed her plans.
The visitor to Drumvagen didn’t travel in a normal equipage. Instead, his team of four horses pulled a brougham, a massive carriage similar to a mail coach.
She would not have to flag down his driver after all. She wouldn’t have to throw herself on the visitor’s mercy. She would not have to grovel.
Instead, she was simply going to hide in the carriage.
To her relief, the driver was nowhere in sight. She neared the carriage with a nonchalant walk, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching her from Drumvagen.
Virginia was in the Rose Parlor. Brianag was no doubt giving orders to the maids. Sinclair was escorting his visitor around the house, which only left her mother and the children, both of whom she adored. Whenever Alistair saw her, he ran toward her, arms spread wide as he screamed, “Leese!”. His sister, Fiona, was a only a year old, but she was already beginning to emulate her brother in not only her affection, but her shouts of glee.
But she didn’t see any childish face pressed against a window pane. Nor was her mother standing there admonishing her with a look.
She couldn’t hide in the rear of the carriage. Two trunks were stored behind the brougham and secured with a leather flap from the top of the vehicle to the fender.
She could only wonder about Macrath’s visitor. Was he a world traveler? Where had the visitor gone before coming here? Was he truly returning to Edinburgh? What if he wasn’t? What if he was going to Kinloch Village and from there to America or an even more exotic location? What if he was traveling on to Inverness, instead?
She didn’t want to get trapped in a city with no funds or friends but if she returned to her room to get some money from her strongbox, there was every possibility the stranger would leave before she got back.
Worse, she might be seen by Brianag or her mother before she could return to the carriage.
No, she was simply going to assume that what she’d heard was correct. The visitor was returning to Edinburgh. Once in the city she’d find a conveyance to take her to Mairi’s house where the driver would be paid.
She glanced back at Drumvagen.
The darkness on the horizon, as well as the swelling wind gave evidence of a fierce storm to come. Drumvagen stood up to the elements well, a house buttressed against all types of weather. The snows of winter melted from the edifice as if in apology for marring the perfect beauty of the twin staircases or four towers. The winds that came off the ocean pressed against the brick and the rows of windows without effect.
Every time Macrath returned to the house, he had the driver stop just before the curved approach and simply stared at his home. Anyone could tell how much he loved Drumvagen and how proud he was of the house he’d finished building.
By leaving, Virginia and Macrath would probably think she’d rejected their kindness. They’d both effortlessly enfolded her into their family. She didn’t want to hurt either of them but her mother wouldn’t be stopped.
Either she took this opportunity or she ended up being married to someone her mother chose.
In one of Macrath’s carriages, the seat lifted up, revealing a storage area. This carriage was easily the size of Macrath’s. Would it also boast a secret compartment?
Entering the carriage, she ducked down beneath the window. The carriage smelled of leather, which was understandable because of the leather seats. But why should it smell of lemons?
To her wholehearted relief, there was a compartment beneath the seat. Only she was very sure she wasn’t going to fit, not with the bustle her mother insisted she wear. Every morning Ellice tied on the garment that looked like a fish tail hanging over her backside.
No one at Drumvagen, except her mother, cared if her dresses hung correctly, plumped from the rear.
In order to fit into the compartment she was going to have to remove the hated thing.
She put the manuscript into the compartment, then hurriedly reached beneath her skirts, finding the ties to the bustle and slipping it off. Folding it into as compact a size as she could, she pushed it, too, into the compartment.
In a normal carriage, the journey to Edinburgh would take four hours. It was altogether possible that they might reach the city in less time in such a vehicle as this.
She entered the compartment, kneeling before wedging herself in sideways. The space smelled of wet boots and horse.
She was more than willing to be a little uncomfortable in the short run. After all, her freedom was at stake.
Telling herself to be as brave as Lady Pamela, she closed the seat on top of her.
In minutes she’d be on her way to Edinburgh. She’d take her own life in her hands and determine her own future.
Along the way, perhaps she’d get to see the stranger’s face.