The Devil Wears Kilts

By: Suzanne Enoch

“Why would ye do that, Bear?” Rowena MacLawry looked at the scattering of white and red rose petals all over the morning room floor.

Her brother Munro looked up from running a cloth along the edge of his two-handed greatsword. “How else was I to show how sharp the blade is, Winnie?”

“But ye took the tops off all the roses!” Rowena shook the vase with its bare stems at her brother. “Wouldn’t one have done ye?”

“Nae. Not nearly as impressive. And they came off with one cut.”

“They were my birthday flowers, Bear, ye stupid lunk. From Uncle Myles.” She glared from him to her oldest brother, who was reading a newspaper and pretending not to notice any of the chaos going on in front of him. “Ranulf, do something.”

“The flowers are gone, lass,” Ranulf MacLawry, the Marquis of Glengask, commented, glancing up from the paper. “Should I have Munro glue the petals back on?”

“You can stop him from swinging a sword in the morning room. All the way from London, they were,” she said, sighing.

“Who wants posies for a birthday, anyway?” the third male in the room, Lachlan MacTier, Viscount Gray, asked, taking the claymore from Munro and experimentally slashing it through the air. “Now this is a gift. Did Roderick forge it for ye, Bear?”

“Aye,” Munro answered. “Cost me a keg and four bottles.”

“I’d pay twice that.”

“If ye’re tryin’ to say ye bought me a claymore for my birthday, Lach,” Rowena broke in, clearly displeased at being ignored in favor of a broadsword, “ye can turn around and take it right back home.”

Lachlan eyed her, light green eyes narrowing. “A lass has no business with a sword, Winnie.”

“Hence me not wanting one. So what did ye get for me?”

With a half grin, Lachlan produced a paper-wrapped lump from behind a chair. “I reckon ye’ll get more use from this than ye would a broadsword. Happy birthday, Winnie.”

From his seat in the deep windowsill, Ranulf finally lowered the newspaper he was reading. The information it carried was a week old, at best, but he didn’t like what it said. In fact, he would have enjoyed giving the damned thing a few whacks with his brother’s sword.

He couldn’t actually remember when he had last liked any news from London, in fact. More rules and regulations that did him no good, but cost him in ever-rising taxes. If the Sasannach couldn’t breed the Highlanders away or kill them all, they’d surely found the way to defeat them once and for all—by bankrupting them. As he shifted, the two Scottish deerhounds at his feet uncoiled and sat up, likely already wondering why they hadn’t yet left for their morning run.

The delay was entirely due to the young lady standing beside her morning room chair. Any time Rowena’s birthday came around the clan turned itself inside out to celebrate, but this one was special. So his ride, and the dogs’ run, could wait until his sister opened her gifts.

An excited grin on her face, Rowena tore the paper from the misshapen gift Lachlan handed over. With the same swiftness, though, her expression dropped again. “Boots,” she said aloud, looking up at their nearest neighbor. “Ye bought me boots.”

Lachlan nodded, a strand of brown hair falling across one eye. “Ridin’ boots. Because ye ruined yers in the mud last month.” His own smile faded at her glare. “What? I know they fit; I had Mitchell give me yer shoe size.”

“I’m a lady now, Lachlan. Ye might have brought me flowers, or a fine bonnet. Or at least shoes fit for dancing.”

He snorted. “I’ve known ye since ye were born, Winnie. The boots’ll do ye better.”

Ranulf set the newspaper aside entirely, motioning the two pipers standing in the hallway, out of sight of the occupants of the morning room, to withdraw. His sister and youngest sibling was a fine, good-humored lass, but he’d seen this storm lurking on the horizon for days. And bagpipes weren’t likely to improve anyone’s mood.

“But I’m nae a girl who rides hell-bent across the countryside any longer, Lachlan,” Rowena said, her expression a mix of annoyance and sorrow. “Dunnae ye see that?”

Lord Gray laughed. “That was yesterday, then? Today ye cannae ride any longer? Dunnae be daft, Winnie.”

Wordlessly Rowena turned to face Ranulf. “Ye’re my last hope then, big brother,” she said, her voice faltering a little. “What’s my gift?”

For a moment her eldest brother eyed her, the unsettled feeling of approaching thunderstorms flitting again along his skin. “Ye said ye wanted a new gown,” he finally returned. “A green one. Mitchell has it laid out for ye upstairs, so ye can wear it for dinner. Unlike the boots, it’s fit for dancing.”

As he watched, a large tear formed and ran down one of Rowena’s fair cheeks. Bloody Saint Andrew. He’d erred, then. How, he wasn’t entirely certain, but clearly something had gone awry.

“Winnie, why are ye weeping?” another male voice asked from the sitting room doorway, as Arran MacLawry, the fourth sibling and the one closest in age to Ranulf, strolled into the room. “Do Lach’s boots pinch ye, then?”

“She didnae start weeping till Ran told her aboot the dress,” Munro returned. “I reckon she wanted a blue one, after all.”

“Well, this should cheer ye up.” Arran walked up and handed their sister a small, cloth-wrapped parcel.

“Let me guess,” Rowena commented, wiping at her cheek. “It’s a compass, so I willnae get lost when I go riding on the new saddle from Bear, in the new boots from Lachlan.”

Arran frowned. “No. It’s a wee clock, on a pin. Very clever, it is. I had it shipped all the way from Geneva after I saw an advertisement in Ackermann’s Repository.”

“That’s very nice, then. Thank ye, Arran.”

Munro took back his claymore from Lachlan and jabbed it none too gently into the scarred wooden floor. It wasn’t the first weapon to rest there, and likely wouldn’t be the last. The pipers and half a dozen of his servants were crowded back into the hallway again, and Ranulf gave them a sterner look and a dismissing wave. Clearly his sister wasn’t in the mood for a damned parade—even one of well-wishers.

“So Arran gets thanks, and all the rest of us have is tears and being called idiots?” Munro retorted.

Instead of answering, Rowena set down her pin clock and slowly walked up to Ranulf. The dogs shoved their heads against her palms as she approached, but she ignored the obvious request for scratches. That didn’t bode well. She hadn’t called him an idiot, but it did seem to be implied. And Ranulf didn’t much care for that. His sister had asked for an emerald-green gown, after all, and he’d seen to it that she had one. A very pretty, and very expensive one. From Paris, damn it all.

When she pulled him to his feet, he didn’t resist. But when Rowena kept both of his hands in her small, delicate fingers, he frowned. “Ye wanted something else, then,” he rumbled, wishing, and not for the first time, that he’d brought another female into the house. Then someone, at least, would have a chance of understanding the youngest MacLawry. It had been a simple matter when she was a bairn, but lately she more and more often seemed an entirely foreign creature. “What is it? Ye know if it’s in my power, I’ll get it for ye, Rowena.”

“Ye—you—know what I want, Ranulf. I’m eighteen years old today. I want my Season. In London. That’s w—”

“Nae,” he cut in, scowling as much at the way she altered her speech as at the notion itself. “We’ve set on Friday to celebrate yer birthday. The whole clan is coming. All the bonny lads’ll be here, fighting to dance with ye. That’s finer than any London soiree.”

With a poorly hidden sigh she glanced over her shoulder toward the other three men in the room. “Would ye fight for a waltz with me, Lachlan MacTier?”