Quest of the Highlander (Crowns & Kilts #5) - Cynthia Wright

Chapter 1

Spirit Tower

The Isle of Skye, Scotland

March 1541

“Oh, Lennox. How splendid!”

At the sound of Violette’s soft, French-accented voice, Lennox MacLeod straightened, his blue-tipped paintbrush stilled in mid-air. He glanced back at his sister-in-law then followed her gaze to the mural he was painting in the tower house entry. After a moment’s reflection, he gave a tentative nod.

“It’s nearly finished,” he said. “Do ye approve?”

“Approve? It is utterly magical.” Lifting her skirts, Violette descended the tier of shallow stone steps until she was beside him. Together they studied the mural of a birlinn sailing on the wave-tossed Minch, bound for Duntulm Castle, the clifftop stronghold that had once been their family home. “It reminds me of the day two years ago, when Ciaran and I sailed back to the Isle of Skye after our unexpected marriage in Edinburgh.” She turned her delicate face up to him, smiling wistfully. “You were waiting for us outside Duntulm Castle’s sea gate, looking just like an ancient Viking warrior.”

“It seems much longer, so much has happened.” He raked a hand through his tawny-gold hair and sighed. “I know Ciaran requested this mural, but I can’t help wondering if it will serve as a painful reminder of the night the MacDonalds attacked and stole the castle away from us.”

“I think he has come to understand that pain is part of life, especially for you Highlanders.” She paused to rest a hand on the curve of her belly, as if reminding herself of the babe who would join their family in the summer. “Loss can give way to new beginnings, if we allow it.”

Lennox sent her a sidelong glance. “It is difficult to imagine my brother indulging in such tender emotions.”

“Perhaps, but Ciaran has learned to soften his heart, at least with me.” Violette gently touched his arm. “And what of you, Lennox? Your grandfather is chief of Clan MacLeod, yet you do not seem very concerned about fitting into the mold of a Highland warrior.”

“Because I enjoy artistic pursuits more than dreams of battle?” He shrugged. “’Tis who I am. When Grandfather begins to lecture me, I simply nod and go on about my life. It helps to wander, away from the Isle of Skye.”

“But do you think you’ll ever find true happiness here, among your clan?”

“I cannot say.” Lennox had learned, long ago, to deflect such penetrating questions with a light-hearted smile. “I sometimes suspect the faeries must have left me at Dunvegan’s sea gate, in a basket, when I was newly born.”

Just then, the heavy door to the tower house swung open, and Ciaran MacLeod appeared, bringing with him a damp gust of wind. The two brothers had always been opposites, not only in physical appearance but also in their natures. Since they were young, Ciaran had been dark and cynical, while Lennox had been born with the coloring and heart of a lion.

“Put your paints and brushes away, brother,” Ciaran said. “Have ye forgotten that we must go to help our sister today?”

“Oh, aye. I did forget Fiona will journey to Stirling on the morrow.”

“But first, you both must pause for a bowl of mutton stew,” Violette said. “It is nearly ready. Can you not smell it?”

“And who prepared this stew?” Ciaran sniffed the air suspiciously. “You—or Old David?”

It was, Lennox knew, a familiar jest in their family. Old David had long been employed as a MacLeod cook, but when Violette first came to Skye, they realized his food paled in comparison to the French-flavored dishes she prepared.

Violette laughed and went into her husband’s arms. “What if I tell you that I dispensed advice as he cooked?”

Leaving them to their banter, Lennox packed up his supplies and went outside to clean his brushes. It would be good to get away for a few hours, he told himself. To sail with Ciaran to the island’s Waternish peninsula and spend some time with their sister and her tiny bairn, Lucien. Tomorrow, mother and child would leave Skye, traveling several days to reach Stirling Castle. There they would join Fiona’s husband, Christophe, a master mason who was now overseeing the great building project undertaken by King James V.

Lennox paused outside on the grassy slope overlooking Loch Dunvegan. Through a veil of misty clouds, he could see the imposing shape of the clan MacLeod stronghold, Dunvegan Castle. It was the home of Alasdair Crotach, his grandfather and the clan chief, and most of his relatives.

In his heart, Lennox asked the questions he had just evaded with Violette. Why