The Bride Says Maybe
Author:Cathy Maxwell

The Bride Says Maybe By Cathy Maxwell

 

 

 

The Brides of Wishmore

 

 

Dedication

 

 

For my friend, Kim Adams Lowe

 

I am wealthy in my friends.

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

Annefield

 

The Tay Valley

 

Scotland

 

February 8, 1807

 

When one is twelve, the whole sum of the world is captured in what can be seen and touched—and a word like “love” means nothing.

 

Lady Tara Davidson had not realized that someday her half sister Lady Aileen would wish to leave Annefield. It was their home—and a good one to Tara’s way of thinking.

 

But Aileen had left. She was off to London with their father to be presented in Court and to make her way into society.

 

She was off to find love because it is what Aileen said she wanted . . . and Tara was left behind.

 

Her sister was the only family that cared for her. She had the servants. Mrs. Watson and Ingold always kept an eye on her, and there were her tutors, but Aileen had been blood.

 

And now, what was Tara to do?

 

There would be no more evenings spent reading Shakespeare’s plays aloud. No more sharing of secrets or receiving advice from the older sister she so adored.

 

“It may seem overwhelming now, but one day, you will want to do what I’m doing,” Aileen had promised her. “Even if it means leaving people you care about.”

 

Tara didn’t believe that could be true. She’d never leave someone who idolized her as much as she did Aileen.

 

Aileen had hugged Tara close. “Please look after Folly for me.”

 

“I’ll ride that silly mare every day.”

 

“Thank you. And, Tara, we shall see each other soon.” With those words, Aileen gave Tara’s shoulders one last squeeze and rushed from the room.

 

Tara had watched the coach pull away. She was accustomed to seeing her father drive off. He could barely stand staying four days in a row at Annefield.

 

He preferred his London friends to his daughters. His neglect had never hurt until the moment when he’d taken the only person Tara had trusted with him.

 

Loneliness filled her. She moped for days, praying Aileen would have a change of mind and return. She didn’t.

 

Finally, she decided to go out to the stables and comfort the one other creature at Annefield who must miss Aileen as much as she did—Folly the mare. She had promised to ride the horse every day, and so she would.

 

Old Dickie, the head groom, greeted her. He’d been speaking to a young boy of about her age. He must be a new stable lad.

 

“Going for a ride, my lady?” Old Dickie asked.

 

“My sister wishes for me to keep Folly in good shape for when she returns.”

 

“That’s a good plan. Here now is a new stable lad. Ruary, meet your youngest mistress, Lady Tara Davidson.”

 

The boy was shy. He pulled his hat off his head. His mop of hair was the color of a crow’s wind. Keeping his attention on the ground, he gave a quick bow.

 

“Where do you plan on riding, my lady?” Old Dickie asked.

 

“Over by the river,” she answered.

 

“Aye, then Ruary, saddle that mare Folly in the first stall for my lady, then saddle Jester for yourself. You ride out with Lady Tara. Keep an eye on her and keep your distance.”

 

“Yes, sir.” The boy did his bidding, and soon Tara was in Folly’s saddle and riding out of the yard. The boy on Jester kept a respectful length away from her.

 

Tara usually had someone accompanying her when she rode. Often it had been Aileen, but now it would probably be this lad. She didn’t know what to make of him. He didn’t look at her. She kicked Folly into a trot heading down Annefield’s front drive. The lad followed.

 

Once they were out of sight of the house, Tara turned to him. “Do you want to race?”

 

Now she had his attention.

 

He looked up in surprise, and she was taken aback by his features. He had strong brows over sharp blue eyes. He would be tall. His arms and legs were too long right now, but she understood someday, he would fill out—just as people promised her that she would take on curves and the attributes to be desired. But right now she was thin and happiest on a horse than any place else in the world.

 

“I don’t know that we should, my lady,” he said. “That might not be wise.”

 

“Oh, poo,” Tara retorted, and set her heels to horse.

 

Folly bounded forward. She must have been in the need of the exercise because she did not hold back.

 

Tara heard a sound beside her and looked over to see Jester racing beside her. Ruary was laughing. He enjoyed this as much as she did.

 

Together, they bounded over several stone dykes and galloped across fields until, tired, they slowed to a walk—and Tara realized she had forgotten her troubles.

 

Furthermore, Ruary was not like the other stable lads. He was intelligent and quick-witted. That afternoon, the first of many, Tara found a friend.

 

And as so often happens, friendship grows into love.

 

In spite of their class differences, Ruary became very important to her. He filled the void Aileen’s departure and subsequent marriage to some man in faraway London created. Tara could not imagine herself with any other man.

 

And then one day Tara’s father sent for her to be presented in London.

 

She made a choice that day. Like her sister before her, she chose to leave the Highlands of her home for the unknown, sophisticated world of London. It was curiosity that made the decision, that and the hunger of youth to see what lies beyond.

 

She never forgot Ruary. She couldn’t, but by the time she realized she should never have turned her back on love—it was too late.

 

And the cost was her very soul.