A Highlander For Christmas

By: Vanessa Kelly

“Joseph shouldn’t be subjected to any more nasty gossip.” She managed a wobbly smile. “Nor should you. You’ve been incredibly kind, Mr. Kendrick, but I do not hold you to any obligations you feel you may have—”

He moved so quickly she barely had time to gasp. A moment later, she was sprawled inelegantly on his lap, staring up into his glittering gaze.

“What are you doing, sir?” Her voice came out more like a squeak than a demand.

“You are daft if you think I give a damn about any of that,” he said. “And Joseph loves you, silly girl. He’d kill me if I let you leave.”

She tried to steady herself by bracing her hands on his massive shoulders. “That’s . . . that’s very kind of you. And I know you believe you made a commitment to me, but you didn’t. And . . . and it’s silly to think you or any man should wish to marry me. Or want to. I’m not the marrying kind, you see. I’m . . .”

She trailed off when his gaze narrowed to ice-blue slits.

“Are you quite finished?” he asked with heavy sarcasm.

She felt the first stirrings of irritation. “I’m not sure.”

“I am.”

“I don’t see how.”

“Because of this.”

He swooped down and captured her mouth in a soul-searing kiss that blasted every thought and every reservation straight to oblivion . . .






ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Publishing is a crazy business, so I’m particularly grateful to my agent and editor for their skill, kindness, and sanity. I’m also thankful for the wonderful staff at Kensington, and for their help in bringing my books to the world. And the art department—good Lord, you folks are terrific!

Finally, to my dear husband—I WOULD lose my marbles without you!





Chapter One


November 1819

Dundee, Scotland





The edict was delivered in a tone of mild regret, completely at odds with the appalling effect it would have on her life.

“But . . . but you cannot just kick me out,” Donella Haddon stammered. “What the devil would I do with myself?”

A spasm crossed Reverend Mother’s dignified features. “Remember where you are, my child.”

Donella would have been able to describe the prioress’s study in the Convent of the Sacred Heart even if blindfolded. After all, she’d received a fair share of gentle but guilt-inducing scolds in this very room.

“That is precisely my point,” Sister Bernard intoned. “Our dear sister never remembers where she is.”

As Novice Mistress, Sister Bernard was Donella’s immediate superior and the bane of her existence. She stood behind Reverend Mother’s chair, her spare features obscured by her cowl and the sun shining through the window at her back. Donella could easily imagine Sister’s disapproving frown, because she’d seen that on a regular basis, too.

“My final vows are only a few months away.” Donella waved her arms, her wide sleeves flapping like a sparrow’s wings. “It would be an utter disaster to turn me away now. I’ve given up everything to be here.”

When Mother’s iron-gray eyebrows arched up, Donella winced. The prioress was a truly saintly woman, but no one could argue with those eyebrows. They conveyed volumes, and the message was that Donella’s goose was indeed cooked.

“My dear, such dramatics are unnecessary. I’ve discussed your progress with Sister Bernard and Sister Agnes—”

“Oh, drat,” muttered Donella.

Sister Agnes was the Mistress of Liturgical Music and even more exacting than Sister Bernard. If those two had lined up against her, Donella’s goose was scorched beyond recognition.

“And we’re all in agreement,” Mother firmly continued. “We believe that life in an enclosed order may not be the correct path for you. Some time in the outside world would be helpful in ascertaining your true vocation.”

“Or if you even have one,” Sister Bernard said. “In my opinion, that remains to be seen.”

Donella clamped her lips tight against the impulse to stick her tongue out at the old . . . the good woman. Sister Bernard had never trusted Donella’s vocation.

In truth, it was hard to argue with their assessment. For months, she’d had the growing sense that she’d once again made a fatal mistake. Ghastly little twinges of guilt and anxiety had kept her awake at night and distracted her during the day.

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