Yuletide has come to the Fletcher keep. Caitlin Fletcher and Jamie Lathan have lived there since they wed three years ago in HIGHLAND TROTH after surviving Laird MacGregor’s attempts to kill them and take over the Fletcher clan. At the same time, Laird Fletcher, Caitlin’s father, helped Lady Madeleine MacGregor escape her son’s madness, and married her soon after. She has returned to MacGregor for a pre-holiday visit with her remaining family. Her absence is keenly felt.
I hope this glimpse into the early 16th Century puts you in the mood to celebrate the season with the special people in your life, whether they are family or friends. Enjoy Jamie and Caitlin’s romance in HIGHLAND TROTH (Highland Talents Book 3). And for a more modern Yuletide story, read my latest contemporary novel, WHEN YOU FIND LOVE.
Wind whistled down the chimney as Laird Fletcher struggled to pull a heavy tartan plaid over his withered leg.
“Let me get that for ye.” Caitlin set aside her needlework and stood.
“Wheesht, daughter. I’m no’ helpless.” He righted the cover and settled back into his chair set before the merrily dancing flames in the Fletcher great hall’s hearth. “’Tis only that I feel in my bones a storm’s coming. Have we any word yet?”
His wife Lady Madeleine’s absence had troubled Fletcher all the weeks she’d been gone. As the highland winter deepened into unrelenting cold and dark, he seemed to shrink in on himself. Caitlin and her husband, Jamie Lathan, did what they could to keep him active and involved in running the clan, but it was clear the Fletcher’s days in charge were numbered, and the burdens she and Jamie bore for him would soon be theirs in truth.
Caitlin frowned at her father, whose gaze had returned to the fire in the hearth, then turned to Jamie and shrugged.
Jamie nodded and got up from his seat to stir the fire. “Ye need no’ fash. Lady Madeleine will be home before ye ken it.”
“If the storms bring snow, she could be forced to turn back.”
“A little snow will no’ stop her returning to ye,” Caitlin told him.
Jamie set aside the wrought iron poker and turned to face his father-in-law. “And just think, soon the days will lengthen into spring.”
“Ach, there’s the innocence of youth,” Fletcher groused. “We’ve the darkest part of winter before us.” Then his eyes drifted closed. “Ah, but I recall the Beltane fires of my own youth,” he added with a lift to the corners of his mouth. “Such revelry after a long, bleak winter. ’Tis a shame I didna ken Madeleine in those days.”
Caitlin’s shoulders dropped and her heart lifted. He’d thought of something that pleased him. His moods shifted like those of a bairn. “Ye wouldha made quite a pair. And we’ve a celebration ye can enjoy much sooner than Beltane,” she reminded him.
“But what if she arrives too late?”
“Lady Madeleine will no’ disappoint ye, da.” Caitlin had to believe that. The Lady’s family was here now, not at MacGregor. Hoping to divert her father again, Caitlin said, “Jamie and Will and some of the other men are going to bring in the Yule log tomorrow. My ladies and I will gather greens to scent the hall with pine and fir.”
“Aye, of course.” Caitlin put a hand on his shoulder, then leaned down and kissed the top of his dear head. Would her father ever recover from the darkness they’d suffered? Even though Lady Madeleine’s evil son, the former Laird MacGregor, was dead by his own wicked hand these three years past, Fletcher still bore the guilt of making Caitlin known to him. She was grateful that despite the scars she bore from those awful days, they’d survived. And they’d gained a blessing in Lady Madeleine’s marriage to her father. “Ye have always loved Yuletide, da. Dinna rush past it in yer longing for spring.”
He snorted and slapped the arm of his chair. “I’ll enjoy it when my wife is again safely by my side.”
The next afternoon, laughter filled the great hall as Jamie, Will, and six other men struggled to carry in the massive Yule log. A phalanx of lads and the women of the clan lined their route from the keep’s heavy oaken door to the hearth, where a low fire had burned to glowing coals. Fir and holly branches woven together with bright red ribbons covered the long mantle and decorated the center of the hall’s trestle tables. Beribboned balls of mistletoe hung in every arch.
Fletcher stood by the keep’s open door, peering out into the bailey. “Did anyone see my wife out there?” Absently, he rubbed at his leg. “I can tell there’s a storm on the way.”
“She’ll be along later,” Jamie said as he passed, hoping that was true. “Dinna drop this beast!” He admonished as one of the other men shifted his grip on the log. “Yer toes will never be the same.” He made sure his grip was firm, then glanced back to the door. Fletcher still stood vigil. Grimly, Jamie nodded to one of the lads standing by. “Close that or the hall will never warm.” Then Jamie called for Fletcher to join them.
They reached the hearth and lowered their burden before dropping it. The thud seemed to shake the very walls.
Another thud followed as the keep’s heavy oaken door slammed shut. Fletcher left his post to join the men standing in front of the hearth. “Is it ready to light?”
“’Tis dry enough, “ Jamie replied. “As soon as the lasses carve the last symbols, we’ll be ready for ye to put the torch to it.”
“Get on with it, lad. My wife will be here soon and the hall must be warm and ready. Has Cook made honey cakes? They’re her favorites.”
“Aye, laird. I believe she has.” Jamie hoped so. He gestured for the lasses to do their work and went to fetch the torch made from the remains of last year’s Yule log from its place of honor under the laird’s bed. By the time he returned, all was ready. The men rolled the log onto the glowing coals. Jamie poured wine over it, then lit the torch in the embers and handed it to Fletcher. “’Tis yer hall, so yer place to bring the clan good luck in the new year.”
“Aye.” Fletcher took the burning torch and put flame to the log. Once it caught, he laid the torch onto it and turned to face the people gathered around him. “A wee dram for all, to celebrate!”
Caitlin led a small procession of serving lasses from the kitchen, each carrying a tray of cups and a jug of whisky which they set on the tables nearest the hearth. She filled a cup and offered it to Jamie. He accepted it with a smile, but her brows drew together. “She’s still not here?” She kept her voice low.
Jamie could see the concern in her eyes. “Nay, and he keeps asking for her.”
Caitlin looked toward the windows. “’Twill be fully dark soon. If they are on their way, likely her escort will make camp for the night. Should we send a rider out to meet them?”
“We dinna ken how close they might be. Lady Madeleine promised to be back for Yule. We have to believe she will. If the storm breaks tonight, a man alone will be in danger.”
Caitlin nodded, but her frown deepened, her gaze on her father. “If only she were here, he would calm.”
Fletcher, drink in hand, paced by a window that looked out into the bailey. “I heard something. Did anyone hear someone out there?” He rubbed at the glass. “I canna see through the fog on this pane.” He tossed off his whisky and resumed staring at the window.
“I wish there was something we could do,” Caitlin said.
Jamie nodded to the bottle she held. “Pour him another. Maybe that will soothe him. We dinna want him to leave the hall to wait for her outside.”
Caitlin nodded and went to her father. She spoke softly to him, then took his elbow and led him to his seat by the hearth.
Jamie joined them as she added a splash of whisky to her father’s cup. The log was burning merrily, throwing off enough heat to make the area near the hearth comfortable.
Cook’s lasses filed out of the kitchen again, this time to set the evening meal on the tables. “Shall we?” Jamie took Caitlin’s arm and escorted her to her place, but kept an eye on Fletcher’s progress.
After they finished the meal, they settled by the hearth, whisky to hand. The storm Fletcher predicted was gaining strength as it neared them and rain lashed the windows. Suddenly, the keep’s door blew open with a blast of cold, damp air. Jamie hurried to close it but stopped as Lady Madeleine appeared in the doorway out of the darkness of the bailey, shaking raindrops from her cloak.
“Thank the saints, ye have returned.” Jamie wrapped her in a hug, careless of her damp condition, then released her, closed and barred the door. “We’ve missed ye,” he told her, “more than ye ken.”
“I’ve missed all of ye. How has he been?”
A quick glance aside showed him Fletcher dozing in his chair, no doubt succumbing to the warmth, food, and the whisky. “He’ll be glad to see ye.” Jamie paused and frowned. “He’s had more of his lapses during yer absence.”
Lady Madeleine returned his frown. “I feared that. Well, now I’m home, he’ll improve. I’ll see to it. We canna have him causing Caitlin to fash. ’Tis a happy time of year.”
“Thank ye,” Jamie told her softly and bent to kiss her cheek. “Ye are good for all of us, no’ just Fletcher.”
“Ye are a charming man, Jamie Lathan,” She patted his cheek, then stepped away and moved toward her husband.
Jamie walked with her. “Is yer escort in the stable?”
“Nay,” she answered. “My MacGregor escort delivered me through the gate into the care of the stable master, and then turned for home.”
Jamie frowned. “In this storm? “They were welcome to stay…”
“Aye, they kenned it, but didna mind the rain. They have their own Yuletide celebrations to enjoy. Without me to care for, they’ll ride fast, even if the rain turns to snow.” She shivered, then smiled. “The Yule log! How wonderful! At the door, the tables hid it from view.”
Her pleasure was contagious, and her presence lifted Jamie’s spirits. “Wonderful and heavy,” he quipped, then beckoned the men who’d helped him carry it.
Lady Madeleine’s gaze lingered on each as she thanked them. “’Twould no’ be Yuletide without a great log burning in the hearth.”
The men responded with smiles and nods, then scattered away.
She glanced around and nodded toward her husband. Fletcher’s chin rested on his chest. “I hate to wake him.” He snored and she chuckled, then she headed for her husband. “Fletcher, I’m home! What sort of greeting is this, ye dozing before the fire?”
Fletcher spluttered awake, blinked and smiled up at his wife. “Am I dreaming?”
“Nay, husband. I’ve come back to ye.”
Fletcher reached out and pulled her onto his lap. “’Tis about time, woman. Where have ye been?” He kissed her, then kissed her again until she melted against him.
“Gone too long, I see,” she replied with a smile.
“Ye can make it up to me in our chamber,” he suggested with more vigor than he’d shown in weeks.
Madeleine stood and held out her hand. “Come along, then,” she said and gave him a grin.
Jamie chuckled at their antics. Despite their ages and Fletcher’s infirmity, even after three years of marriage they could still be mistaken for much younger lovers.
“Ah, praise the saints,” Caitlin said, coming up behind Jamie. She wrapped a hand around his arm and leaned into him. “She’s back. Da will enjoy the Yule much more with her by his side.”
“Now that she’s here to take some of that burden from yer shoulders, so will ye.”
“He is lucky to have her affection,” Caitlin added, her gaze still on the older couple as they climbed the stairs. “’Tis hard to credit her son was such a madman.”
“Dinna dwell on those days. As the Lady just told me, ’tis a happy time of year. Soon enough, scents will fill the hall, from yer garlands and from the treats Cook is baking in the kitchen for tomorrow. We will celebrate the year past and our hopes for the future.” He smiled as Caitlin’s free hand settled low on her belly.
“I hope all that celebrating includes some private time of our own.” Caitlin rose up on tiptoe to kiss him. “Or I’ll no’ be happy at all.”
“Ach, lass,” Jamie said, turning to wrap her in his arms, “I plan to keep ye verra, verra happy.”
Caitlin rested her head on his shoulder and tunneled her fingers into his dark hair. “I love ye, Jamie Lathan.”
“And I, ye, lass. Never ye doubt it.”
She lifted her head and leaned back to meet his dark gaze. “I never will. Ye tell me every day, with yer words, yer touch, yer kiss…”
He lowered his head and took her mouth, not caring who might remain in the hall to see them. Then he swept her up into his arms and mounted the stairs, smiling as Caitlin laughed.
As they passed a window in the upper hall near their chamber, she sighed. “Ah, look! ’Tis snowing. ’Twill be a wonderful Yule,” she told him.
“Aye, ’twill. Starting now.”
Ready to read more?
Enjoy Jamie and Caitlin’s romance in HIGHLAND TROTH
Title: HIGHLAND TROTH
Series: Highland Talents Book #3
Years ago, after tragedy struck Jamie Lathan’s family, fosterling Caitrin Fletcher was sent home, out of danger. Heartbroken, young Jamie never expected to see her again. He certainly never imagined he’d be called upon to escort her to be betrothed to another man.
But now, as their attraction reignites during the trip, Jamie’s longing for Caitrin deepens, and he despairs to lose her again. The secret he hides, however, may prevent any chance for a future with her. Can Jamie find a way to claim her for himself without starting a war involving three clans?
Caitrin is torn between her duty to make the marriage her father wants and her feelings for Jamie, the lad she’s loved for years. When she meets the man her father has chosen, her secret Highland talent tells her he cannot be trusted. Can she refuse the powerful lord without revealing how she knows he’s lying…about nearly everything?