A Highlander Ruby Blog Tour

Introducing Brenda B. Taylor’s A HIGHLAND RUBY Blog Tour

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Title:
A HIGHLAND RUBY

Author: Brenda B. Taylor

Publisher: Bethabara Press

Pages: 207

Genre: Historical Romance

She must choose
between a life of adventure with the man she loves or a settled, secure life
with her betrothed. Flora Vass forced Gavin Munro out of her heart and mind
until he returned to Scotland
after an adventurous five years in the New World. Gavin
leaves no doubt he returned to make the bonnie Flora his own and intends to
fight for her. Flora’s betrothed, Iain MacKay, and Gavin’s brother, Chief
Andrew Munro, have other plans. Andrew needs her to marry the MacKay and bring
peace between the two clans. Iain MacKay desires an heir. War with England
looms on the horizon, forcing Flora to make crucial decisions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

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Book Excerpt:

He watched her through the grey mist, walking
along the shore of Cromarty
Firth. The hood of her arisaid covered her bonnie
russet locks, but he imagined them bouncing with each step she took. She came
every morn, sometimes with the wee curly-headed laddie in tow, but now, she
walked alone. His heart beat a fast rhythm like a lad watching his first love.
How foolish to be hiding behind a rock when he could speak to her, hold her
hand, and look into her dark eyes.

Gavin gathered courage and stood to
his full height when Flora walked past the rock where he hid. “Flora,” he said
in a quiet voice. She continued to walk, not hearing him above the moaning
wind.

Quickly, he took a place beside her,
then grabbed her arm. She screamed as she turned to face him. Her eyes widened
with fear, she tried to jerk her arm free, then beat his chest with the fist of
the other hand, and kicked his shin with the toe of a pointed boot.

Gavin jumped from the boot’s path,
but kept her arm secure. “Stop. ‘Tis I, Gavin.” She stopped kicking and the
free hand went to her mouth while she studied his face. A small squeak emerged
from between full red lips. He watched her lips for a moment, then bent to
place a kiss on the inviting mouth. She became rigid with no response.

He released her arm then backed
away. She continued to stare as though he were a stranger, and he very well may
be to her now. After all, five years in the wilderness of the New
World can change a man beyond recognition.

Flora’s hand raised for an instant
then came across his face with a stinging blow. He rubbed at the burning cheek.
“How dare you,” she screamed above the wind. “You left me. You left me.” She
hit his chest with both fists now.

Gavin grabbed her wrists, bringing
her close. “Stop. I only want to see you, be near you once more. May I walk with
you? Just a short distance?”

Flora stared. Her brown eyes larger
now with surprise or mayhap shock. She stopped struggling and rested her head
on his chest. A seagull called overhead and waves lapped against the shore of
the firth. Gavin pushed the hood of her arisaid back, stroking her hair while
wrapping an arm around her slender waist. The russet locks felt soft to his
fingers. They smelled with the sweet fragrance of heather and salt air, just as
he remembered and dreamed. The mist had damped one small curl so that it clung
to her neck. He touched the softness of her skin where the curl lay. They stood
for a long time. Flora now seemed reluctant to move and Gavin did not wish to
spoil the moment.

Finally, she stepped back and looked
into his eyes. A line creased her fair brow. “Why did you come back? I made a
life without you.”

“I wanted to see you and the lad.
Andrew sent a message while I was still in Barcelona
waiting for a ship to the New World.”

Flora searched Gavin’s face. “You
look older, tanned, hardened.”

“Aye. I’ve been living in a
wilderness, defending myself from the wild natives and animals. Searching for
gold while starving for food. Takes a lot out of a mon.”

“I am betrothed to a fine mon. One
who loves and wants me and my bairns. I wanna have you back, Gavin. You left me
carrying your bairn. I wanna have you back.” She beat his chest once more.
Tears spilled over to her cheeks.

He grabbed her wrist. “I understand,
Flora. I understand. I’ll leave you alone, I will. But I do want to see my
son.” He kissed each tear-filled eyelid, then her cheeks, and not being able to
resist the temptation, her tempting lips.

Flora didn’t resist and, when the
kiss grew more passionate, responded. Her arms went around his neck, her body
melted into his so her warmth reached his very soul.

She pushed away. “Why did you go
without a word?”

“I dinna ken. I canna explain why.”
He lied, not exactly an untruth, but an exaggerated one.

“Well, I ken. You fancied yourself
to be in love with your brother’s wife. Now what are you gonna do about that?
They’re happily married with a bairn of their own and another on the way.”
Flora’s eyes flashed then she turned away, watching a crab crawl away on the
sand.

Gavin grabbed her hand so she faced
him. “I was wrong. I dinna love Maidie, ‘twas you I carried in my heart. I ken
that now.”

Flora snatched her hand away. “I
must go. My bairns are waiting. Phillip is readying for work in the fields and
Ishbel is attending Gavy. Aye, I named him for his da, but call him Gavy.”

“I’m keen to see him.” Gavin didn’t
want to beg, but he would if necessary.

“I live in Leslie Manor no’ far from
Fàrdach Castle.
Laird Andrew provides well for your son. He pays me a good wage as nanny for
his bairns.”

“What of Phillip?”

Flora smiled with the mention of her
oldest child. “Phillip is growing like a weed and favors his da so much I hurt
to look at him. He helps with the land and sheep on the estate and trains with
Laird Andrew’s slaugh.”

“A fine lad, indeed.” Gavin
hesitated. “And what of my brother, the Laird of Fàrdach Castle?” An image of
his brother popped into mind. Would Andrew welcome him back to Fàrdach
Castle after all these years? Gavin
doubted he would receive a warm welcome.

“The Laird of Fàrdach Castle grieved
for his lost brother and tanist, but he’s happily married and in good health.”
Flora gazed into his eyes. “I must go. You’re welcome to visit Gavy, but only
visit, naught more.”

Gavin returned her gaze. “Aye, I’ll
visit, naught more.”

With a nod of her head, Flora
replaced the hood of the arisaid, turned, and walked in the direction of the
house, not far from where they stood. Gavin watched until she took a path from
the shore to the manor, his heart heavy with rejection. He didn’t expect, but
hoped for more. Maybe she would turn back and accept him into her life once
again. He watched, but she didn’t look back. Now the task of facing his
brother, Sir Andrew Dubh Munro, Laird of Fàrdach Castle.

***

Flora ducked behind a grass-covered
dune to hide from Gavin’s view. She peeped over the grassy slope to gaze in the
direction of the beach. He still stood, watching her. She turned quickly toward
the house and didn’t look back. Her stomach churned and thoughts of him swirled
in her head. He still raised a passion within the depths of her being she could
not deny. Why did he come back? He should have stayed in the savage New
World and never returned to Ferindonald. Life was complicated
enough without the luring charm of Gavin Munro. He would certainly be around
often to visit his son. What will Iain think?

The large manor house sat far enough
away from the firth that high tides did not intrude upon the land, but close
enough for a good walk along the shore when one’s heart ached and needed
solitude. Flora often walked the shore
of Cromarty Firth looking for
dolphins, listening to the water lapping over rocks, and tasting the salt air
on her tongue. She bathed in the firth on warm summer days, feeling the
refreshing water on her skin.

She often took the bairns on an
outing. They enjoyed wading and chasing the sea gulls. Sometimes they found
pretty shells she took home, cleaned, and added to their collection. Other
times she walked with Iain, while they made plans for a life together. Her
life, if not the exciting one she knew with Gavin, had taken a quiet, peaceful
turn with promise of a secure future. Now, he had returned and her insides felt
like the firth during a storm with crashing, violent waves smashing against the
rocks.

Flora saw the eye of her small son
pressed against a crack in the large iron-studded oak door. When he saw his
mother, Gavy opened the door wide and ran out to meet her, grabbing her long
wool skirt then hanging on. She bent down to rub the small head full of russet
curls.

“Mam, Mam, you left without me,” he
whined.

“You slept and I dinna wish to wake
you.” Flora removed his hands from the cloth and picked him up. He was heavier
than she wanted to carry, and immediately put his feet back on the ground,
taking his hand instead.

Gavy looked around Flora’s skirt, “I
see Phillip.”

Flora turned. Her oldest son ran
toward them with something awry from the looks of him. He barely nodded in her
direction then ran into the house. She followed, dragging Gavy along by the
hand. Phillip’s footsteps clicked on the plank flooring and then ascended the
spiral staircase to his room on the second story. She released Gavy’s small
hand once inside and gave it to Ishbel, the housemaid, who dropped the bundle
of heather she carried. Flora followed Phillip to his room. The heavy door
stood ajar, so she entered without knocking.

Her son, in the process of belting
his father’s claymore over his young shoulders barely acknowledged her when she
approached him. “What are you doing, Phillip? You have nae business with your
da’s sword.”

Phillip jerked away and continued
securing the large leather scabbard over his shoulder. When he insisted, she
had let the young lad keep the claymore in his bedchamber, but he had solemnly
promised not to use it except to practice with the slaugh.

Flora grabbed for the claymore
again. “What are you doing?

“MacIntosh reivers burned a haystack. While we were trying to douse the fire,
they stole ten head of cattle. I’m going with the chief to find them and get
the cattle back.”

“Och, I give nae permission for you
to go with the slaugh.” Flora held to
the billowy sleeve of his léine.

“I dinna need your permission. I am
of age, thirteen years.” Phillip’s dark head shook. His cheeks, already ruddy
from exertion, reddened even more while bright brown eyes flashed.

Flora could only stare at her son.
Thirteen summers and he thought himself a man. The heaviness of his father’s
sword weighed down upon his shoulder. He practiced with the Munro cateran, but only with small dirks and
bows, not with large claymores or the deadly falchion.

“I forbid you to go. You’re too
young to take on such a task. The chief wanna allow it.” She grasped at
Phillip’s sleeve when he brushed past her, but to no avail. Her son rushed
through the open door. She followed calling to him, “Phillip you’re too young.
The chief will forbid you to go.”

Flora watched Phillip’s back as he
descended the spiral staircase, rushed through the great hall, and out of the
door. Gavy whimpered when his brother strode by without acknowledging him.
Phillip fancied his wee brother, and delighted in teasing the lad, rumpling his
hair, and telling him stories of ghosts and fairies. Flora rushed to the yard
as Phillip entered the stables. She could say or do naught to stop him, so she
stood, waiting until he galloped by on a garron. They owned no war horse, and
would never own one if she had her way.

She would not give her son up to
fighting. Maidie, her friend and wife of the Munro chief, Laird Andrew,
insisted her son, Sven, study the law. He would train as a barrister and live
in a burgh. Sven would never see battle and fighting. Flora wanted the same for
Phillip. Her sons were as good as Maidie’s. They should have the same
opportunities.

Flora dashed back into the house and
found Ishbel. “I’m going to the castle. Look after the bairn.” Crying, Gavy
reached for her. Flora pressed a kiss on the plump pink cheek, then turned to
leave. Mayhap if she could get to Fàrdach before Andrew left with his cateran, she could stop Phillip.

**

Gavin turned away and started toward
the castle. His heart felt heavy like a rock in Cromarty Firth. Flora spurned
him. She was promised to another, betrothed to another man. He came back to
Ferindonald to see her, but she no longer loved him. Although she would not
have him, he must see his son at all cost.

Fàrdach castle loomed before him. A
large band of Munro warriors, some mounted and others on foot, were assembled
on the grassy meadow outside of  the
castle wall. Calls and war whoops rose from the horde. Those ahorse rode away
to the west in a cloud of dust. The warriors afoot followed closely behind. Reivers must be about, with Andrew
leading his slaugh to fight.

Hopefully, he would not have to face
his brother this day. He could gauge the mood of the castle servants and
occupants then decided if he should stay or go before meeting Andrew. Gavin
fell in with some of the tenants making their way to the castle with their
quarterly rents. One woman who had a chicken under her arm gave him a
suspicious eye. The woman looked familiar. She may have been a neighbor of
Flora’s in the village of Drumainn.
The chicken squawked when Gavin walked by. The woman turned her gaze toward him
and searched his face.

“Sir Gavin, is that you?” she asked
in amazement.

“Madam.” He touched his forehead in
a salute, then walked on quickly.

The woman walked faster as if to
follow him, so he quickened his gait. He could hear her calling to others. “Sir
Gavin’s home. Sir Gavin’s home.”

Calls traveled down the line of
tenants entering and leaving the castle. Soon a small crowd gathered, following
Gavin through the castle gates and under the portcullis. The guard in the gate
house called then waved. He recognized the man and returned the greeting. Those
within the outer bailey stopped their work or activity to welcome him home.
Some gathered around. Small children tugged on his great plaide until it sagged
beneath the thick leather belt. He tugged back, trying to keep some semblance
of order about his person. The crowd followed him through the bailey, over the
drawbridge covering a deep moat, then into the quieter inner yard. Guards
called from the catwalk on the curtain wall. He saluted and returned the
greeting. The great iron-studded oak doors of the keep opened. The chief of
Clan Munro stepped out.

Gavin pushed his way through the
crowd, jerked his plaide from the hands of a small, dirty-faced boy, and
approached his brother. Andrew looked the same, but older with deeper lines on
his brow and around his grey eyes. His raven hair hung in the usual warrior
braids to the broad shoulders. He had trouble keeping the wry strands out of
his eyes if not braided. The chief’s lips pursed into a firm line, then turned
up on the edges with a broad smile. Without a word, he moved forward to embrace
Gavin who returned the embrace with relief.

Andrew pushed away and studied
Gavin’s face. “Welcome home, Brother. I thought you lost to Ferindonald
forever.”

“Andrew. Good to be home. To see
you. I figured you led your warriors and wanna be here.”

“The business of chief sometimes
keeps me at my desk and ledgers instead of chasing thieves with my men. I’d
rather be out with them any day.”

Gavin returned his brother’s broad
smile. “You seem to be unchanged except for deeper wrinkles, and do I spot a
few grey hairs among the ebony?”

“Aye. More than a few grey, I’m
afraid.” Andrew gave Gavin a pat on the shoulder. “I sent Alan with the slaugh. Only a small band of reivers
pestered us. Alan was elected tanist when you left Fàrdach. Come inside to
greet my family. The ruckus you caused has them all aroused and curious.”
Andrew motioned for Gavin to go ahead.

Gavin stepped inside to the great
hall of Fàrdach. Nothing much had changed. The same boar and stag heads looked
down from around the claymores, broadswords, axes, lances, and targes. Maybe a
few more weapons had been added. Andrew seemed ready for a mighty fight.
Reivers must be plaguing Ferindonald with their stealing and looting. Servants
spread bundles of dried heather across the flagstone floor, filling the hall
with a sweet aroma. They stopped and nodded toward Gavin with broad smiles.
Shafts of light streamed through the small keyhole windows, causing dust motes
to dance on the air. A large grey, shaggy hound lumbered up to Andrew who
reached down to scratch the dog behind the ear.

“’Tis no’ the same hound with all
the pups the bairns played with?” Gavin asked, eyeing the huge dog that stood
up to his brother’s waist. “Seems like I remember a brown and white dog.”

“Nae, the hound and all her pups
went out to tenants who needed good rabbit dogs. This large, lumbering thing is
a gift from Maidie for my birthday of thirty years.”

“How does Maidie fair? And Sven?”
Gavin brought himself to ask.

“She fairs well, and gains in beauty
within and without each day.” Andrew smiled, showing white teeth through his
salt and pepper beard.

Gavin’s heart skipped a beat with
the mention of Maidie’s beauty. Her memory still held a special place in his
heart, although he gave her up to Andrew five years before. He felt
self-conscious, covered with road dirt and unshaven. He bathed in a cold burn
three days ago and scrapped his beard with a dirk, but now stubble covered his
face. The men turned toward the stone spiral staircase to watch two women
descend. One held the hand of a small dark-haired lassie. The other, wearing a
gown of blue silk clinging to her comely form now large with child and a thick
braid of golden hair hanging down her back, held the hand of a blonde
curly-headed lassie. Andrew’s smile grew brighter. He walked toward the group,
taking the younger blonde bairn in his arms.

“Come family and greet our brother
who returned to us this verra day.” Andrew said, bringing the group to Gavin.
“This bonnie lassie is my daughter, Andrina.”

Gavin stroked the small fair hand.
The bairn smiled. Her blue eyes sparkled, and he saw Maidie’s bright eyes
smiling at him, then she buried her pretty head on Andrew’s shoulder. Her
father patted the small head with a gentle, loving touch. He reached for
Maidie’s arm, drawing her forward. Gavin swallowed a large lump forming in his
throat. She was more beautiful than he remembered. Married life and having
bairns agreed with her. He bowed.

Her blue eyes glowed. “Hello, Gavin.
Welcome home.” Then her eyes roamed over his dirty, disheveled clothing. “Seems
you’ve journeyed long and hard.” She placed her hand upon his arm. A chill ran
down his spine. “We’re so verra glad you returned home and hope your stay with
us will be a long one. I’ll have your old chamber made ready with a bath.”

Gavin could only smile and nod his
head at the lovely lady. His heart beat much too wildly to say more, so he
turned to look at the other lassie and her maid. “Hello, Nellie. You look well.
How is Briana?” He tried to take Briana’s hand, but she jerked back. Gavin
looked at Andrew. His brother shrugged his shoulders.

“Briana is leery of strangers these
days. Of a sudden she’s become shy, and clings to Nellie. I can hardly touch
her, myself.” Andrew made a sign with his hands to the lassie. She shook her
head then hid her face in Nellie’s dress. “Briana is learning to speak with her
hands. She learns quickly, but wanna speak around strangers. We are all
learning to talk to her with our hands. Sven is teaching the family and anyone
who wants to learn. He studied a book I brought from Edinburgh.”

Gavin turned to Maidie. “You must be
proud of Sven.” She smiled and nodded. He spoke to Andrew. “You have a lovely
family, M’Laird.”

Andrew placed his free arm around
Maidie’s shoulders. “Aye. These dear ones are the light of my life.” He gave
Andrina to her mother then planted a lingering kiss on Maidie’s lips. Gavin
wondered if his brother did that for his sake. Probably. Like a hound marking
his territory. “Come, let’s go to the tiltyard before Maidie gets you into the
bath. Several of the luchd-taighe
that dinna go with the slaugh are
practicing. They’ll want to bid you welcome.” Andrew took Gavin’s arm, turning
him toward the door.

He turned back. “Thank you, M’Lady
for being so kind. I shall look forward to a comfortable bed and hot bath. Both
have been few and far between these past five years.” Her lips, now rosy from
his brother’s kiss, parted in a smile.

The two men made their way out of
the keep and walked through a heavy door in the curtain wall of the inner
bailey that led to a broad meadow beyond. The large wolfhound followed at
Andrew’s heels. Several warriors dressed only in a great plaide held secure by
a broad leather belt practiced with claymores, broadswords, and bows. One rode
a horse toward a target and threw a spear at the center. The spear met its mark
with a thud. Two men wrestled within the center of a small group who cheered
for one or the other. Gavin smiled, remembering the many days he practiced with
the warriors. This sparring field felt more like home than any other place in
the castle or the whole of Ferindonald, except maybe the small box bed in
Flora’s black house in Drumainn Village.
Ah, remembering the reason he left seemed harder with each passing day.

Andrew’s voice broke through Gavin’s
revelry. “Have you seen your son?”

His brother’s unexpected words took
him aback. “Aye. That I have, Brother—from a distance is all.”

“You ken Flora is betrothed. He is
Iain MacKay, and a finer fellow you’ll be hard pressed to find.”

Gavin turned to stare at Andrew. Did
he think Flora would never love again? “So ‘tis Iain who won her heart. I
remember the first son of the MacKay being wild and rambunctious, always
looking for a way out of duty.”

“Iain’s gained in maturity these
past five years, and being the first-born will inherit his father’s title and
land. Flora could do nae better.”

“Did you arrange the marriage,
thinking I may never return to lay claim to my son?” Gavin felt a tinge of ire
rising around the idea of his brother arranging the marriage of his love to
another.

“We dinna ken whether you lived or
died at the hand of savages. When nae word came from you year after year, I
began looking for a suitable mate for Flora and a da for your son.” The light
in Andrew’s grey eyes faded. A deeper line formed between his heavy brows.
“What would you have me do, Gavin? Keep Flora unwed and your son with nae da to
see to his raising? Phillip needs a father also.”

Of course the chief was right in his
decision. He had obligations to the members of his clan—to take care of their
welfare and keep them safe. Andrew made the only choice left to him in Gavin’s
absence. He found Flora a suitable mate and a father for Phillip and Gavy.
Flora’s and Iain’s love for each other did not matter, they could make a good
life together.

Gavin started to walk away, but
Andrew put a hand on his arm. “Brother, I expect you to abide by the betrothal
contract and leave Flora be. Make nae trouble for Iain.”

“What about my son? Will I be
allowed to see him?”

“Aye, with restraint. You gave up
rights to the boy when you left his mither.” The eyes of the two men met.
Andrew didn’t blink. Gavin knew his chances with Flora were nil.

About the Author

The desire
to write historical fiction has long been a passion with Brenda B. Taylor.
Since elementary school, she has written stories in her spare time. Brenda
earned three degrees: a BSE from Henderson State University, Arkadelphia,
Arkansas; a MEd from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas; and an
EdD from Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; then worked as a
teacher and administrator in the Texas Public School system. Only after
retirement could she fulfill the dream of publication.

Brenda
and her husband make their home in beautiful East Texas
where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling, and working
in Bethabara Faith Ministry, Inc. She crafts stories about the extraordinary
lives of ordinary people in her favorite place overlooking bird feeders, bird
houses, and a variety of blooming trees and flowers. She sincerely thanks all
who purchase and read her books. Her desire is that the message in each book
will touch the heart of the reader as it did hers in the writing.

Her latest
book is the historical romance, A
Highland Ruby
.

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