Anna Campbell

The Highlander’s Christmas Quest

She’s found the man for her, but he has no plans to stay on her island. Perhaps it’s time to try a little sabotage! 

Scotland. 1725. The moment she sees handsome Dougal Drummond, Kirsty Macbain tumbles headlong into love. A chance storm a few days before Christmas has blown the gallant Highlander off-course to her father’s isle of Askaval, but once he’s repaired his boat, Dougal is determined to continue on his way. His bright blue eyes are firmly fixed on valiant deeds and a distant horizon. What does he care for a smart-mouthed, independent lassie who forms no part of his plans for his future?

Kirsty is convinced that if only she can keep Dougal on Askaval, he’ll see how perfect they are together. With his boat out of action, he’s trapped in her company. Some surreptitious midnight destruction with a drill and a hammer might help true love to win out. On the other hand, if Dougal discovers what she’s been up to, there will be the devil to pay.

Will this madcap Christmas deliver Kirsty’s heart’s desire – or will her scheming see Dougal sail away to a life without her?

An international e-book release 26th November 2019(Amazon), 2nd December 2019 (all other platforms)

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Isle of Askaval, The Hebrides, December 1728

Kirsty Macbain reined her mount Nevis to a stop on the high headland sheltering the small harbor that served her father’s island Askaval. Below her, the late winter dawn revealed an unexpected sight. The sky and water were rosy with sunrise, but unlike on most other days when she took this ride, the wild sea wasn’t empty.

Limping into view was a small sailing boat that had caught the worst of last night’s violent storm. Half the mast was missing, and the lone mariner had lost his sails. Shreds of dirty white hung from what remained of the rigging. He only made progress through a mixture of rowing and a tiny sail improvised from a tattered shirt that he’d pinned to the stump of the mast. Even across the distance, she could see the sailor was a powerful laddie, and his rich red hair shone like a banner in the brightening light.

She spurred her gray horse down the brae and along the narrow track leading to the harbor. Visitors to Askaval were rare enough to make her curious, even if she didn’t need to check that the stranger was uninjured. The damage from last night’s storm surrounded her. Fishing creels scattered everywhere, and the roof had come off Bruce’s sheepfold. Branches down from bare fruit trees, and a couple of broken fences.

It could have been worse. The high ridge behind her had kept the worst of the weather off the village. But she dreaded to think how bad the squall had been out on the open sea. Whoever the man in the boat was, he must be a braw sailor indeed to survive the gales and currents of a midwinter storm in the Hebrides.

A braw sailor, if not the wisest one.

Who on earth set out in the dark months of the year, in a small boat on such dangerous seas? Why, it was less than a week until Christmas. Any sensible man would be hunkered down beside his fireside with a wee dram to keep the cold from his bones. Whatever lured the stranger to undertake this voyage must be important indeed.

By the time Nevis clattered to a halt on the stone quay, the little boat was tied securely to a heavy iron ring set into the wall near the steps leading down to the water. The style of the craft was unfamiliar, built long and low with pointed prow and stern. Again, she wondered that the stranger had come through the storm alive in such a seemingly frail vessel.

From where she sat on her horse, Kirsty studied the new arrival. He had his back to her and was facing toward the stern as he stowed the oars. His red hair lay loose and wind-ruffled across his broad shoulders. A stained and ragged white shirt, twin to the one nailed to the mast, clung to his powerful back. Brown leather breeches hugged slim hips and long legs. The black boots he wore were scarred and marked, but of good quality.

She slid down from the saddle and stood on the edge of the quay above him. “Are ye hurt?”

The man straightened and turned to face her, lifting his head so he could meet her concerned gaze. He seemed to have no trouble keeping his balance on the moving boat. The seas were still so rough that even in this usually tranquil harbor, choppy waves moved the craft up and down.

She found herself transfixed by a pair of dark blue eyes, heavy with weariness but still containing a hint of a smile in their depths. And just like that, swift as a lightning strike, Kirsty fell in love.

“Och, a few scrapes and bruises only. It was a raw night, mistress. My wee boat is in a much sadder state than I am.”

She hardly heard a word he said. Instead, she was too busy drinking in every detail of the newcomer’s appearance. In all her nineteen years, she’d never seen anything to match this young man. His features were carved with a masterful hand. Noble forehead. Straight, aristocratic nose. A long, flexible mouth that, like his eyes, hinted at smiles. A square-cut jaw.

Dear Lord above, who was he? Whoever he was, he’d make Michelangelo weep. While visitors to Askaval might be few, she’d seen enough laddies to recognize that this one was a rare example indeed.

The deep blue eyes leveled on her as he tugged on a coat. They were the vivid burning color of the bluebells that turned the springtime woods around her father’s house into heaven. Marked, expressive brows, a darker red than his spectacular hair, lowered in concern. “Mistress?”

Heat flooded Kirsty’s cheeks. What the devil was wrong with her? She must be staring at him as if she was half-witted. The embarrassing truth was that she felt half-witted. Her heart pounded like an orchestra of drums, and she felt so sensitive to everything around her, it was as if she’d lost a layer of skin.

“I beg your pardon, sir.” She cursed her betraying stutter. “We’re unused to strangers here on Askaval.”

“Askaval?” With a smooth grace that set her susceptible heart somersaulting, he jumped from the crippled boat to the steps leading up to where she stood. “Is that where I am?”

“Aye,” she said, then all capacity for speech deserted her as he climbed up to stand in front of her.

She tilted her head. Then tilted it some more. By all the saints, he was a giant.

Kirsty was on the short side. Her father called her his wee squirrel. But compared to this young Hercules, she felt positively minuscule. Papa was a big man, over six feet, but this fiery-haired laddie would top the laird by another few inches.

Now they were on the same level, the man’s shoulders appeared even more impressive. And those blue eyes were more extraordinary close up, bright with intelligence and vitality and warmth.

He looked like a hero from an old story. Jason or Theseus or Hector. He even spoke like a hero, in a voice as deep as distant thunder and as rich as new cream. No wonder a mere storm hadn’t vanquished him.

“That’s braw to ken, mistress.” A wry smile curved that miracle of a mouth, setting attractive creases around his eyes. “And just where on God’s green earth is Askaval?”

She smiled back. Impossible to do anything else, really. By now, her giddy heart had stopped somersaulting. Instead it was performing an energetic jig, bouncing around like her father at the Christmas ceilidh after he’d had a dram or six. “We’re south-west of Islay.”

“I’m a good hundred miles off course, then.” The muscle jerking in that lean cheek emphasized a cheekbone as hard and sharp as a clear note on a flute. “The wind has blown me south and west when I wanted to go north. I suppose I’m lucky that gale didnae carry me all the way to America.”
Another rueful smile made that impossibly beautiful male face even more beautiful. Kirsty’s stomach tightened with a pleasure in his presence so powerful, it almost hurt.

A mere puff of wind had decided her fate. The thought made her painfully alert to the fragility of her current happiness. If last night’s gale had blown a few degrees further north or east, this masterpiece of creation could have ended up on some other fortunate maiden’s shore. “Where were ye headed?”

A faraway look softened that brilliant blue gaze. While he might be standing only a few feet away, she had the strangest and most unwelcome feeling that his mind had moved to distant shores. He wasn’t focused on Kirsty Macbain at all.

While he was quick to come back to their conversation, it had been a telling moment. He blinked and glanced down at her. “I’m heading for the Innishes.”

She frowned. “The Innishes?”

“Aye, north-west of Lewis. Innish Mor and Innish Beag.” He paused as if waiting for a response, but Kirsty had never heard of either place. “I beg your pardon, mistress. Let me introduce myself. I’m Dougal Drummond of Bruard.”

He bowed with more of that breathtaking elegance. For such a big, brawny man, he moved with astonishing lightness, like a dancer.

Automatically Kirsty dropped into a curtsy and only then recalled what she was wearing. Her stomach clenched with dismay and embarrassment, and she bit back a groan. Plague take her, she must look the veriest hoyden.

She was dressed for a day of hard work, in a loose white shirt and short black woolen jacket. Breeches and boots completed the unmaidenly ensemble. On Askaval, she was her father’s right hand, and it was easier riding around the island in practical male clothing. This morning, she’d tied her thick dark hair back in an untidy plait that the breeze had already played havoc with. The islanders were used to her and her ways, but to a stranger’s eyes, she must appear outlandishly unfeminine, perhaps even unnatural.

Not that so far, Mr. Drummond had betrayed a trace of disapproval. Clearly this paragon of male beauty was a paragon of manners, too.

Never before had Kirsty wanted to be pretty for a man. But standing here, she wished that she was wearing silks and pearls and that she knew how to flirt. She wished so hard, the wishing was agony. While she might be a dab hand with a troublesome ewe or a tangled fishing net, she hadn’t the slightest idea of how to attract a male’s attention. And for the first time ever, she desperately wanted a man to look at her with desire.

One red brow tilted in her direction. “And who may I say I have the pleasure of addressing, mistress?”

He might be a paragon of manners. Clearly she wasn’t. She should have told him her name straightaway. But the first sight of him had left her floundering and chased anything like common sense all the way to Edinburgh.

“I’m Kirsty Macbain.” She felt her rare color rise once more as she responded, flustered, to the question. “My father Augustus Macbain is laird of this island.”

Mr. Drummond bowed again. “I’m delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Macbain.”

If only that was true and not just polite folderol. She bit back a sigh. “Let me take ye up to the house.” It was almost a relief to start thinking about practicalities. “After the night you’ve had, I’m sure you’d like a wash and a good meal and a bed.”

“Aye, thank ye.” That charming smile reappeared. “I’ll accept with pleasure, and perhaps your father can supply me with the materials to fix my boat. I’d like to be away as soon as I can, especially as the weather looks set fair now the storm has passed.”

Away as soon as he could? Those words sent Kirsty’s frail pavilion of dreams crumbling to dust.

Because if Mr. Drummond had been as struck with her as she was struck with him, he wouldn’t be talking about a quick departure. He’d be talking about staying long enough to make his mark with her. She wasn’t versed in flirtation, but even she knew that if a lad fancied a lassie, he’d be in no hurry to take to the seas to escape her.

Kirsty, ye wee fool, why the devil would such a man notice you? Except to see that you’re rag-mannered and turned out like a navvy, and your hair looks like eagles have been nesting in it.

She told the spiteful voice to shut up. I don’t care. He hasn’t noticed me that way today, but that doesn’t mean he never will. Da says I look like Mamma, and everyone tells me she was beautiful. Perhaps if I put on a dress and wash my face and ask Lucy to do my hair and…

But by then Dougal Drummond would be gone.