Some gifts are double-edged swords …
For Matthew Graham, being given the gift of his former Scottish manor is a dream come true. For his wife, Alex, this gift will force her to undertake a perilous sea journey, leaving most of their extensive family in the Colony of Maryland. Alex is torn apart by this, but staying behind while her husband travels to Scotland is no option.
Scotland in 1688 is a divided country, torn between the papist Stuart king and the foreign but Protestant William of Orange. In the Lowlands, popular opinion is with Dutch William, and Matthew’s reluctance to openly support him does not endear him to his former friends and neighbors.
While Matthew struggles to come to terms with the fact that Scotland of 1688 bears little resemblance to his lovingly conserved memories, Alex is forced to confront unresolved issues from her past, including her overly curious brother-in-law, Luke Graham. And then there’s the further complication of the dashing, flamboyant Viscount Dundee, a man who knocks Alex completely off her feet.
All the turmoil that accompanies their return to Scotland pales into insignificance when a letter arrives, detailing the calamities threatening their youngest daughter in Maryland – at the hand of that most obnoxious minister, Richard Campbell. Matthew and Alex have no choice but to hasten back, no matter the heartache this causes.
Will they make it back in time? And what will Richard Campbell do?
In one corner, poultry was being sold, just in front of her were the sheep, and for some minutes she exchanged belligerent stares with a heavy ram before someone bought him and led him away. She strolled across the open space, meandering around warm piles of dung, small children, huge muddy patches, and the odd gyps selling lucky charms. Voices rose and fell around her, people laughed and haggled, and it was all quite agreeable. Until the damned horse tore itself loose from the temporary smithy and set off like an enraged bear through the crowds, with a man hanging on to its reins.
“Bloody hell!” Alex wheezed, trying to get off the ground. Her cap had been knocked off, she had sat in something suspiciously soft and warm, and her back was soaked through.
“Uuuuuhhh,” the man on top of her said, and heaved himself up on his knees. He looked a sight. His right side was caked in mud, and blood flowed freely from his nose, dripping down on Alex who shoved at him.
“Help me up!” she said, and the man somehow got back on his feet and extended his hand to her. Shit, how it hurt! Her ribs ached, she seemed to have cracked the back of her head against something, and her hip...
“My sincerest apologies,” the man said in a deep, cultured voice.
“As if that will go very far in covering the costs for new clothes.” Alex twisted round to confirm that, yes, she had landed in a cowpat. She glared at him as she adjusted her bum roll: quite the gentleman, with his dark wig knocked askew to reveal long dark hair beneath it, substantially less curly than the impressive, if somewhat bedraggled, hairpiece.
He righted his wig, looked about for his hat, and swept her an elaborate bow, incongruous given the state of his fine embroidered coat and matching velvet breeches.
“You saved my life, ma’am.”
“Let’s not exaggerate,” Alex replied edgily. “All I did was cushion your landing.” He pointed, she swiveled, wincing at the accompanying twinge that flew up her back. “Oh.” She had, in fact, saved his life. If he hadn’t crashed into her, he would have ploughed head first into the water post.
The man looked her up and down with interest. “Not only my savior but a most handsome one at that,” he said gallantly, using a muddy handkerchief to staunch the blood welling from his long, narrow nose.
“Not only a moron, but blind as a bat,” Alex riposted, and the stranger laughed.
“I can assure you, mistress, that there’s nothing wrong with my eyesight.”
“So you live a life of delusions – poor you.” Alex had by now assured herself that all of her was in working order, even if she suspected she might have sprained her wrist. “What happened to the horse?” she asked, gingerly moving her hand back and forth.
“Treacherous creature!” the man spat, but it was obvious he didn't agree with his own assessment, his face shining up when a boy came leading the horse.
“And who’s the lucky one?” Alex muttered. “Not a bruise or a scratch or even a dab of mud on you!”
It was an impressive horse, seventeen hands or so, and with a hide that shifted in all shades of grey from a pearly almost white to the nearly black of graphite. The horse scraped with its hoof and jerked at the reins, making Alex back away.
The man said something in a low voice to the horse before turning back to Alex. “John Graham of Claverhouse, at your service.”
“Alex Graham, but, as far as I know, we’re not related.”
“Now we are,” he laughed. “After all, I owe you my life.” He was a few inches taller than she was, with a longish face in which the nose and two dark brows were the main features. The mouth was a bit too small and prim, but the eyes…She was flustered by his open and admiring look, even more so when Matthew grabbed her from behind.
“Alex? Are you alright?” He frowned at John Graham, his free hand dropping to the hilt of his sword.
“What? Oh, yes, yes, I’m alright. A bit dirty, but quite alright.” Alex nodded in the direction of John. “This is potentially a relative of yours. Mr John Graham, no less.”
“I know who he is, and I can assure you he’s no relative,” Matthew said, his voice dripping ice.
John seemed to find it all slightly amusing, raised his brows, swept Alex yet another bow, and, after promising to compensate her for her ruined clothes, walked away, leading his horse.
“That was rude,” Alex said.
“He was rude, to barge into you like that.” Matthew wiped at her clothes.
“It was an accident. It was the horse that took off.” She could still see the unknown Graham, now back at the smithy, and when he smiled at her she smiled back. “I quite liked him, despite that ridiculous wig.”
“That’s the man responsible for much of the despoilment of south-west Scotland. Bluidy Clavers, they call him, and for good reason.”
“Aye, he has chased Covenanters across the moors for years.” Matthew spat, tightened his hold on her arm, and led her away.
Character I will remember most: Isaac
Warning: Some frank sexual content.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Characters come with both flaws and strengths. Like a time traveler, I found myself immersed in another era.
Plus: Beautiful cover.
Giveaway: Leave a comment on this post with the tag #GrahamSaga to be entered in a giveaway of a paperback copy! Entries will be excepted until 11:59 PM CST May 8th and I will draw a winner on the 9th.
I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favorite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.
I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.