Authors: Cathy Maxwell
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Romance, #England, #London, #Scotland
|The Groom Says Yes|
|Number III of|
The Brides Of Wishmore
|Tags:||Historical Romance, Love Story, Regency Romance, Romance, England, London, Scotland|
He had a noose around his neck and a price on his head...
Sabrina Davidson, dutiful daughter, avowed spinster, thought she'd secured a place for herself in Aberfeldy society -
until her hard-earned acceptance of her fate is challenged by the arrival of Cormac Enright, Earl of Ballin, trained physician, soldier of fortune, and convicted felon.
A prim and proper miss was the last thing he needed...
Mac is determined to clear his name, but first he has to find the man whose testimony sentenced him to a hangman's noose.
Of course, Robert Davidson is missing and protecting Mac is Davidson's daughter, the most entrancing, frustrating, beguiling, stubborn woman Mac has ever met.
And it doesn't help that he has already tasted her kisses.
Or that he has found in her a passion for life and adventure to rival his own.
Mac has turned Sabrina's world inside out -
but what will happen when he leaves?
Or will the Groom Say Yes?
For my wonderful, loving friend Anne Elizabeth
he minister was a slight man with thinning brown hair and was obviously uneasy at being in the presence of the “Irish Murderer.” The hands holding his prayer book shook.
Frankly, Cormac Enright hated the epithet. It had been coined by the writers of the broadsheets printed almost daily during his trial. On the morrow, those filthy scribblers would line their pockets selling hundreds of papers and pamphlets detailing his execution, and Mac wished them happily to hell for their greed.
He lifted his broad shoulders from the rickety cot where he’d lain for the past several hours . . . thinking of nothing . . . thinking of everything.
The cleric, in spite of his fear, gave the air a sniff and wrinkled his nose in disgust.
Mac almost laughed. He was a trained physician. He had fought in battle and lived as rough men do, and even he had found the stench of the Tolbooth hard to take, and he was certain he reeked of it as well. The building was ancient and highly unsanitary. It was so bad, it was scheduled to be torn down in a few months. Mac’s hanging was to be the last held here, and the guards had assured him he should feel honored. This was a moment in history. The crowd already gathering to watch him put to death might number in the thousands because Edinburgh did like a good hanging.
And because the woman Mac was accused of murdering, Gordana Raney, had been beautiful, young, and a popular singer around the taverns.
Mac’s sole consolation was that he’d managed to keep knowledge of his title, earl of Ballin, from the leeches and the corrupt lawyers who had convicted him although, he realized, it was of little matter. He was the last of his line. There was no one left to witness the shame his foolishness had brought upon his family. Then again, of what value was a penniless title?
Aye, he’d deemed it wiser to keep quiet.
But that didn’t mean the pride of five hundred years of Irish nobility didn’t pound through his veins.
He raked a hand through his unruly hair. He had not been allowed to shave, to make himself presentable. His dark blue jacket was torn at the sleeves and in need of a good wash.
was in need of a good washing.
“If you’ve come to hear my confession, cleric, you will be disappointed,” Mac said. He’d not spoken in days. His voice sounded rough, hoarse. “I may hang for a crime I did not commit, but I’ll not confess to it. Not that anyone cares what I say.”
The reverend nodded, his brow furrowed as if he had concerns of his own, then, to Mac’s surprise, he said to the guard standing at the door, “Leave us.”
To Mac’s further amazement, the man did.
The guard’s name was Harris, and he’d taken particular delight in making Mac’s life hell over the past months. Now, he acted as docile as any lackey. Mac felt his guard go up.
The reverend gave his spectacles a push up his nose. “You are a big, brawny man. No one told me you were so tall.”
“Will that be a problem for my execution?”
The man actually took a nervous step back, but then he stopped. “I am Reverend Kinnion. Reverend Kinnion of Kenmore,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I am here because there are those who wish to repent for their mistakes.”
“I don’t repent.”
“I’m not speaking of
.” The Reverend Kinnion shifted his weight. His manner had changed. He seemed focused, intent. “They say you don’t know what really happened. That you were drunk when you killed the girl.”
Aye, he’d been blind drunk that night. Sick with drink. “I wouldn’t have harmed her.”
“You were covered with her blood.”
“I had no blood on my person—” Mac denied heatedly, then stopped and gathered himself. No good would come from alienating the last person willing to hear his side of the story, especially one watching him so intently.
Modulating his tone, Mac said, “They found a man’s blood-soaked cloak on the floor of my room. They claimed it was mine. It wasn’t and I don’t know how it came to be there.” The smell of Gordana’s blood seemed to be always present with him, choking him. “I am a fool of a man, Mr. Kinnion. I’ve done many things, most of them wrong. But I vow I did not harm her.”
“I know you are telling the truth,” the Reverend Kinnion said. He moved closer to Mac but not too close. “However, I needed to hear your denial from your own lips. A friend, a man I hold in high esteem, has asked me to do a favor. One I did not know I could carry out until this moment. My friend is not like you. He wishes no darkness on his soul.”
“Who is your friend?”
The reverend hesitated. His voice grew even more hushed as he answered, “Davidson. Richard Davidson.”
“He asks your forgiveness.”
Mac almost choked on the audacity of the man. “His
testimony put the noose around my neck. He
when he claimed he saw me murder Gordana Raney. I’ll forgive him in hell.”
“Fair enough,” the reverend countered. “Meanwhile, I shall pray that you will one day find it in your heart to grant his wish. As for right now, you and I need to leave this place.”
“Leave?” Mac wasn’t certain he’d heard the man correctly.
“Aye, but we haven’t much time. I bribed the guard with me, Harris is his name, to look the other way as we made our escape.”
“You are here to help me escape?” Mac said dumbly.
“Aye, if you will move your feet. Are you coming or not?”
Mac was across the cell in a blink. “What of the other guards?” he whispered.
“Harris said he will try to manage them, but we take our chances. He told me how to find the back entrance. The crowd that has been gathering for your hanging is by the gallows. This exit should take us away from them.” He opened his prayer book. The pages had been hollowed out and a coin purse hidden there. He gave the purse to Mac. “This will pay for your passage away from Scotland. Do you understand? You are to leave and never return.”
Mac nodded. He would agree to anything to leave his hellhole. He tucked the purse inside the coat he wore. “You don’t happen to have a pistol in that book as well?”
The Reverend Kinnion’s eyes widened at the suggestion. “I would not. And I must go first. I was the one told the way and, if something happens, and you are captured, well, I hope you understand, but I’m going to run. I hope to see my wife again.”
“I pray you do,” Mac answered. Moments ago, he had been in despair. Now hope surged through him, filling his being with anxious energy.
The cleric drew a shaky breath. “Very well. We shall go now.”
But before he could leave, Mac grabbed his arm. He looked into the man’s eyes. “I thank you for this. I’m beholden to you.”
“You are not. I could not rest easy knowing you were innocent.”
“Why not declare what you know? Why protect Davidson?”
“Because letting it be known he lied when he testified against you would ruin him. He is a good man, Mr. Enright. He was caught up in a situation he could not control.”
“All he has to do is speak the truth.”
“And that is never easy.” The Reverend Kinnion changed the subject. “Down this main hall is a connecting corridor. Harris will see that it is dark. Wait for a count of ten, then follow me.”
The reverend slipped out the door.
Mac listened, counting, barely hearing the other man’s footsteps, then he eased out past the door and into the hall.
Everything around Mac took on importance. The pitch burning in the torches stung his nostrils. The worn soles of his boots were careful of the uneven floor, and his ears were attuned to those sounds coming from the guard post. He could hear the scrape of a chair being set on its feet, of a man’s groan as he rose . . . of Harris’s accented voice saying, “That reverend has been with Enright long enough. I’d best go check on them.”
Damn the man. Mac didn’t trust him. He would take Kinnion’s bribe and turn on him.
Mac hastened his step toward the darkness of the connecting hallway—and then he heard the shout of “
” and knew he’d been caught.
Harris had betrayed them. He’d taken the cleric’s bribe but was probably planning to foil the escape and see himself a hero.
was the guard Mac knew.
Harris shouted again for him to halt, but he spoke to air. Mac had charged around the corner into the darkness. He heard a door open ahead and knew it was Kinnion. Heart pounding, Mac picked up his pace, his muscles screaming after months of forced inactivity. Still, he was in better shape than the guards, or so he bloody prayed.
The Tolbooth was a bit of a labyrinth. There were doorways and half floors. But Kinnion seemed to have found his way. He was well ahead of Mac, who now had to listen for the reverend’s footsteps as well as the clamoring noise of his gaolers in hot pursuit.
He was upon the stairs before he realized they were there and practically tumbled to the bottom. There was another door. Mac opened it. He could no longer hear the Reverend Kinnion. He now trusted instinct.
When he’d first come to the prison, he’d tried to memorize where he was in the building and its peculiarities. He sensed there was a door to the outside close at hand. The air smelled of freedom. Sweet and fresh and tinged with a hint of salt from the sea. All he had to do was keep going forward.
The guards had reached the top of the stairs. They now started down just as a musket shot cracked the air.
The gunfire was not in the building. The sound would have reverberated.
Above him, the guards went still. “What was that?” one of them asked.
“Was it Enright?” another questioned.
Mac moved forward, his hand trailing the wall. He found the door, twisted the handle, and pushed it—
the door did not open.
Something blocked it from the other side.
With every second counting, Mac threw his body at the door, shoving on it until he moved whatever was in the way to the side enough for him to squeeze through.
He fell out into the night, stumbling over a man’s body, collapsed in front of the door.
In the dim moonlight, he appeared dead, blood staining his shirt. The gunshot had attracted attention. People began running out of the darkness.
The first to come forward was a hulking brute who gave a cry when he saw Kinnion’s body. Mac had been leaning down to see if Kinnion was alive and if there was anything he could do for him. The brute grabbed Mac by the collar and threw him toward the street. “Run, man.
The order brought Mac to awareness of how dangerous his position was. He began backing away as the large man picked up Kinnion. A crowd quickly surrounded them, apparently believing the reverend was Mac.
Mac took a step back, then another. No one had recognized him yet. He had to be bold. He had to stay calm. He moved into the shadows, forcing himself to walk, to act as if he were one of those gathered for the hanging.
Rumors were starting. It was quickly put out that the good reverend was the Irish Murderer. Someone dropped his hat on the ground, and Mac picked it up, pulling the wide brim down over his eyes to hide his face.
Guards came out of a door close to Mac, but their attention was not focused on him. They ran right past him. His hopes began to build.
The bullet that had struck Kinnion had probably been meant for Mac. Even the escape might have been a trap. But this was not the time to pause and reflect.
Mac did know one thing—he would not be leaving Scotland. Not until he’d had a conversation with Richard Davidson.
The decision was
wise—but then, when had the Irish ever let wisdom and prudence interfere with bull-nosed stubbornness?
Of course, he didn’t know where to find Davidson. He knew the man was from the country, but he knew little else. However, Davidson had a friend, the good Reverend Kinnion of Kenmore.
The name had the sound of a village to it, and Mac would find Kenmore if he had to travel to the end of Hades.
And so he did. He began walking west, walking into Scotland.
He found a stream to bathe in. The water was so cold, his skin turned blue, but a good washing made him feel human again.
A bit before dawn, he was offered a ride on a passing driver’s wagon. Mac didn’t ask the driver if he’d heard of the Irish Murderer, and the man didn’t speak of the Old Tolbooth escape. This gave Mac hope that his story was not known very far outside the city and that his Scot’s accent was passable.
He concocted a story about his being a sailor recently returned. This explained his scruffy appearance.
The Scots were hospitable. Not as open as the Irish, but they were not as dour as he’d been led to believe. A yeoman lent Mac his shaving kit. The dull razor served well enough, and Mac began to feel a bit like his old self.
Each day, each hour, Mac traveled closer to Kenmore. He was a man on a mission, and he’d not rest until he tracked down Davidson and asked why he had lied.
He was riding in a tinker’s wagon when the man stopped at a crossroads, and said, “Kenmore is about two miles across that moor. Just follow the road. You’ll see Loch Tay through a line of trees and know you are close.”
“Thank you,” Mac said, jumping down from the cart. An ache had started to form behind his eyes. He welcomed a stretch of the leg and fresh air.
However, he hadn’t walked long until he realized he was experiencing the first stirrings of real illness. His step faltered. Dizziness was making it hard for him to walk. His stomach cramped. He practically fell onto the dirt road and crawled to the side, where he lost what little food he had in him.
He knew the grippe very well. Influenza was a killer amongst battlefield camps.
The world whirled around him, his insides threatened to erupt again, and for all of his great size, he had the strength of a newborn.
He managed to scramble to his feet. He tried to walk on, but it was no use. He was in danger of collapsing again—and that is when he noticed the bothy, one of the stone huts built for shepherds and wayfarers that dotted the moors across Scotland.