Here is Part 5 of 10 in the Gatehaven series, the first 54 pages on the novel in 10 sigments. If you missed the first four parts, scroll down until you find the one titled Gatehaven: The First 54 Pages. Start reading there.
Part Five of Ten
A frosty spring followed the winter the earl arrived in Scotland, and spring melted into early summer. Shannon spent her days and many nights helping her mother with the new baby—rarely seeing the earl except at church on Sunday mornings. He must have stayed away because he knew how her parents felt about him. Yet his loyalty to Shannon made her love him all the more, and he never failed to mention their approaching marriage each time they met.
But now it was mid-June. The arrangements for her journey to England were completed. Shannon sat by a window in the sitting room owned by Ian’s parents, gazing out at the Loch. All that was left to do was say good-bye to her friends and loved ones.
On the morrow, she would be leaving for England, and though she still dreamed of going there, leaving those she loved made a part of her feel sad. Somehow, looking out at the Loch gave her the strength she needed to say good-bye to her best friend—Kate Colquhoun.
Kate leaned toward her. “Do you truly love the earl that much?”
Shannon heard a creaking sound nearby. “What was that?”
“Maybe it was the wind.” Kate shrugged. “It is often windy here—probably because we live so near the Loch.” She paused briefly. “You have yet to answer my question.”
Seated on the settee with Kate beside her, Shannon whispered her reply in case Kate’s younger sisters happened to be within earshot. She had heard something, and she didn’t think it was the wind.
The younger Colquhoun girls often listened to conversations while hidden from view, and when she first came in, Shannon had thought she heard the creak of a wooden floor plank near where they sat now.
“Do you love the earl, Shannon, or not?”
Shannon blinked and nodded. “I love him as much as you love my brother, Peter. Maybe more.”
“Well, if you are sure, that is all I really wanted to know.” Kate smiled. “I want you to be happy. You are my oldest and dearest friend. I only want the best for you.”
“Kate, I love you, too. You know that. I just hope my brother is the man you really want to spend the rest of your life with. He can be a little—”
“I know you and Peter have never gotten along,” Kate said softly. “But I love him and always will.”
“Then I am happy for you and glad that one day you will be my sister.”
“I am honored to be your future sister as well as Peter’s wife.”
Shannon released a deep breath. “I wish I could stay longer, but I must go.” She got up and glanced toward the door. “I promised to help Mama bathe my baby brother before she puts him down for his afternoon nap. Besides, I have last minute packing to do.”
Kate smiled as she got up and stood beside Shannon.
“How is the baby doing?”
“Thriving. I think he’s going to be as tall as Peter. Maybe even as tall as Ian.” Shannon reached out and embraced her friend. “I’m going to miss you, Kate Colquhoun.”
“As I will miss you and Ian. Please, Shannon, promise to write often. I know Ian will not, and I want to keep informed on the doings of my brother and my best friend.”
Their good-bye was an emotional one—at least for Shannon. Afraid she might break down and weep if she said more, Shannon reached out and hugged Kate again.
Ian was the one who had been standing in the shadows listening, but he never meant to do it. He’d come in the back way about the time Shannon entered through the front door of the cottage.
He’d read all of Pastor Petit’s letters and longed to share them with Shannon, but she was too devoted to the earl to listen to his concerns. He also had news for Kate.
He hadn’t counted on Shannon coming over to visit his sister, and he hadn’t wanted to spoil their emotional farewell. However, he was tired of standing there, waiting. If Shannon hadn’t left when she did, he would have made himself known to them.
Peter was on his way over to speak to Kate. It was important that Shannon not know what Peter had to say.
Kate shut the door and crossed to the archway leading to the dining room. Ian stepped out from behind a large china cabinet and stood in her path.
“Well, Ian. How long have you been here?”
“Long enough. I came in to tell you that Peter is on his way over.”
Kate smiled. “Peter is coming here?”
Kate pushed back a lock of her curly brown hair that had fallen across her forehead. “What is this all about, Ian?”
“That is what I planned to tell you. But when I saw that Shannon was here, I decided to wait until she left. I did not wish to interrupt your conversation, and if I had moved an inch, you would have known I was here.”
“And all this time I thought our little sisters were the eavesdroppers in the family.”
“I’m sorry, but it was necessary.” He motioned toward the settee in the sitting room where Kate and Shannon were seated earlier. “Let us sit down, and I will explain.”
Kate sat down stiffly, her arms across her chest. “Now, what is this all about?”
“Peter’s parents do not feel comfortable having Shannon go to England with a group of strangers. They were pleased that I took the mentoring position Shannon mentioned and that I will be going to England. But they want a member of their family to go along as well. Therefore, Peter is also going.”
“My Peter is going to England, and he never told me. I do not believe it.”
“It is true, Kate. Peter will be here shortly to tell you himself.”
“If Peter was going to England, Shannon would have told me.”
“Shannon doesn’t know.”
“You mean his own sister was never told?”
“Her parents thought it best that she not know, and you must promise not to tell her.”
“We share everything. Of course I will tell her.”
“Peter and I believe that the earl is not the noble soul Shannon thinks he is, but we have no proof of that. Therefore, Peter will be trailing us to England—staying at inns near the earl’s estate but out of sight. He will also be seeking temporary employment there, and together, we will continue our investigation of the earl Shannon is so fond of.”
“Shannon is in love with the earl, Ian,” Kate said softly. “You must face that truth before you are hurt more than you already are.”
“I know she thinks she is in love with him. As our pastor would say, we will see how she feels once the scales are removed from her eyes.”
Early the next morning, Ian climbed in the second carriage behind the one that Shannon, the chaperone, and the earl would be riding in. The earl’s valet and Miss Foster’s maid sat stiffly, facing each other on the opposite side of the carriage.
The three of them met briefly a week ago, so there was no need for introductions. Ian greeted them cordially, sitting down beside Dickson, the valet, but close to the window. Dickson and Polly, the maid, were about Ian’s age.
Polly looked scared to death until she and Dickson realized they came from the same village not far from Luss and that they knew each other as children. All at once the two of them were chattering between themselves like a couple of crows on a fencepost. But Ian probably wouldn’t have known them when he was a child even if they were from Luss.
He’d attended a school for rich young gentleman in England when he was a boy—except he wasn’t rich or English. Ian’s father was the second son of the Laird of the village, meaning his uncle got the title, the family home, and all monies the family had. Ian’s father got nothing. Perhaps Uncle George paid for Ian’s schooling in England to mute a guilty conscious.
Ian had several conferences with his pastor since the one he had on the day Shannon told him of her plans to marry the earl. In each meeting he learned something new about the Bible he’d never known previously. But some of the things they discussed were about the dark forces of this world and how to combat them. His chores on the farm and other family duties kept his mind and body occupied, and the long journey ahead would give him time to think on the things he’d learned and how to apply them in his daily life.
For now, he would sit here and wait. Shannon and her chaperone would be arriving soon, and he hoped to watch as she and the earl entered the head carriage in front of them.
At daybreak on that same morning—before the cock crowed—Peter Aimee had mounted his brown-colored horse and galloped to the edge of the village. He hid behind an abandoned mill and watched as his younger sister climbed into the carriage with the Earl of Northon and his maiden aunt, Miss Foster.
Their little brother, Andre, was born on the day Shannon told Mama and Papa that she wanted to go to England. Later that same day, as Shannon helped their mother with the baby, Peter sat with his father in the sitting room of their small cottage.
“Your sister is a strong-willed young woman, Peter, just like your mama was at her age, and that can be a good thing. It can also be dangerous. I know my daughter. We will not be able to talk Shannon out of going to England to meet the earl’s family—no matter how hard we might try. She will run away if we refuse to give our permission, and we will lose her forever. Therefore, your mother and I devised a plan. We want you to follow your sister to England without being noticed. And you must promise not to tell anyone of our plan—even Kate. You will eat in out-of-the-way places—sleep on the ground in mild weather. I have a little money saved which I will give you to pay for your keep until you find employment.”
“No, Papa, I cannot take your money. You planned to use it to pay for passage to the land across the sea and to buy a farm once we arrive.”
“We will worry about money for boat passages and a farm when the time comes. Now we must protect your sister from a dangerous young earl who thinks she is as beautiful as her mother.”
Peter had no intentions of spending all of his father’s hard-earned money. He would take any job he could get once he reached the village near the earl’s estate in England.
At the time he made that decision, he’d thought he would be the only one going to England other than those in the earl’s party and the only one with Shannon’s best interest at heart. But after his friend Ian accepted the position Shannon found for him, Peter realized that he would have a comrade in his quest to protect his sister from the British earl.
Still, he regretted having to say good-bye to Kate.
They had walked down to the Loch. Kate wore a blue dress that matched her eyes. A summer breeze whipped her long brown hair in all directions, and he’d kissed her before he told her he was leaving. But she already knew.
“It’s all right, Dear One,” she had said. “Go. I love your sister, too. And I will be waiting here at the Loch when you return.”
If he hadn’t already planned to make her his wife, he would have known Kate was the one when she said those words.