Return of the Scot (Scots of Honor #1) - Eliza Knight
Despite exhaustion racking his body in aching shudders, Lorne Gordon, Duke of Sutherland and Chief of the Sutherlands, forced his spine to straighten as he sat in the saddle. A bone-deep weariness left him in desperate need of a respite he was certain not to receive. But he could not miss a single familiar tree or boulder as his mind sifted through years of growth to uncover what he’d once known.
Dawn had come and gone over three thousand times since Lorne had stepped foot in his own country. Nearly a third of those days, he’d wondered if he’d ever see home again. While the road from London had been long, the journey from France felt like a lifetime.
Thick layers of dust coated his skin and clothes. No doubt anyone that saw him would mistake him for a lowly beggar, rather than the powerful man he’d once been.
To say the last two years had been a living hell would be an understatement. Every day had been torment, and if Lorne never had to think of those harrowing moments again, he’d be a happy man. Unfortunately, every time he shut his eyes, night terrors consumed him, disallowing him the freedom to forget.
And neither would the War Office, who sought to press charges against someone, anyone, for Lorne’s unlawful imprisonment abroad after the Peninsular War. The War Office had kept him for days, questioning him until he was hoarse, more concerned with their enemies than with his welfare, which he understood. This was the way of things with war, but he’d wanted to get the hell out of there.
Lorne crested another hill, drawing in a deep lungful of crisp Highland air and letting it out in a long whoosh, driving some of his angst away with it. Beneath him, his mount shuddered, as tired as him. They’d ridden hard the last few days once they’d reached the Highlands.
His journey home had been a little longer because of his refusal to trade out his mount, but he couldn’t imagine parting with the animal. The horse had been given to him by the War Office a scant week ago, but…it had been so long since he’d had any sort of connection with anyone—human or beast alike—that he couldn’t let the animal go. The steed was the first personal possession he’d had in nigh unto two years.
If they weren’t so close to home, if he weren’t so desperate for familiar walls and people, he would have set up camp and resumed again in the morning. But the turrets of his magnificent Dunrobin Castle came into view, beckoning him to make the last couple of miles home.
Lorne dismounted, coming to his knees upon the grass he’d tramped as a child. He pressed his palms flat to the ground. Softer, warmer than he remembered. The sweet scents of heather and grass. He touched the soft strands of the meadow, threading his fingers through it, and bent to kiss the earth with grasses tickling his lips, breathing in the clean scent of the Highlands. As his eyes closed against the sting, emotions welled in his chest.
No gunpowder residue or the stench of blood. No dank, stale air. No death. This was his place. His heaven.
He could have stretched out flat, sunk into this earth and thanked every deity known to man for being here again. For he’d not thought it possible. Not when he was chained to a wall…or strapped to a chair while they…Lorne shuddered. For as long as he lived, France would be synonymous with the devil.
He cleared his throat and pushed back onto his aching feet. The boots he wore were much too tight. Lorne was not a small man, and none of the extra boots at the War Office had come close to his size.
As much as he wanted to continue to enjoy this moment, it was time to finish his journey. Time to close the gap of time that had passed since he’d left nearly eight years before.
Giving his horse a break from carrying his weight, Lorne walked the rest of the way, until he came to the gate at the head of the long road leading toward the castle. He touched the cool wrought iron metal with his gilded crest in the middle, still disbelieving that he’d made it. The castle turrets rose high in the sky, and even from here, he could make out the fleur-de-lis and carved knights in the stone.
“Lo, there!” the gatekeeper called.
Lorne jerked his gaze up, forcing