“You should go.” He sounded hoarse, as if the kiss had affected him physically.
“I hope I’ll see you soon.”
“I hope so too.”
Reluctantly, Elspeth turned and walked slowly toward the square. She pivoted before going to the street she would follow home. He stared after her, his gaze smoldering.
Elspeth felt the connection between them deep in her bones. She would count the days until his return.
December 15, 1746
The snow began to fall more heavily as the coach rumbled into the yard of Balthazar’s Inn, and the ground was already turning white. Some would say it was foolish to travel at this time of year, but Elspeth had no qualms about doing so. Her aunt, whom Elspeth had accompanied to Inverness to visit her daughter, Elspeth’s cousin, was less intrepid. Still, she’d been desperate to visit her new grandchild—a cherub-faced boy with bright blue eyes and a particularly loud wail.
The color of his eyes had reminded Elspeth of Roy Williams. Though it had been over two years since she’d met him at the Lammas Fair, she would never forget his eyes. Or his smile. Or his kiss.
Or the fact that he’d never returned to Dunkeld. Not on his return trip from Inverness and not since.
“Even if we hadn’t planned to stop here for the night, we would have to,” Aunt Leah said, looking out the window of the coach. In her late forties, Aunt Leah often seemed a decade younger, both in her appearance and vigor. “I do hope it stops snowing so we can continue tomorrow.”
Aunt Leah lived in Perth. After her husband had died a year and a half ago, she’d taken to visiting her closest relatives—Elspeth and her father—quite often. She’d also invited Elspeth to accompany her when she traveled, an opportunity for which Elspeth was most grateful as it had allowed her to collect new stories to write down. In Inverness, she’d gathered stories about the Battle of Culloden that had been fought—and lost—in April.
The coach drew to a halt, and a moment later, the footman opened the door and helped Aunt Leah to the ground. Next, he offered Elspeth assistance.
The inn, which Elspeth had traveled past several times as she’d journeyed between Dunkeld and Inverness, was three stories and constructed of thick stone. The structure was a few hundred years old and looked it, though some of the windows seemed new.
Aunt Leah preceded her into the common room as the footman followed with their bags and the coachman took care of their vehicle and horses. “Oh my.” Aunt Leah stopped short just inside. “This is rather…rustic.”
Straw covered the floors in patches and a group of dogs was sprawled near the massive hearth on the left side of the room. Many of the tables in the common room were occupied, including by a pair of English soldiers, their bright red coats making them impossible to miss. Even so, the atmosphere was boisterous and welcoming, but then Elspeth loved to hear people talk.
“I’ll go speak to the innkeeper,” Aunt Leah said as she perused the common room with her assessing blue gaze. “Do you want to sit down? I can tell you’re desperate to hear anything of interest.”
Elspeth smiled and ducked her chin. “You know me too well, Aunt. Thank you.” She went to find a table surrounded by people so that she could listen to all the conversations around her.
As she sat and removed her hat and gloves, she perused the common room. She faced the wall where the fireplace was located.
In the corner to the right of the hearth, his back to the wall, sat a solitary man with a hood drawn up over his head. Perhaps he was cold. Elspeth felt bad that he was alone. She was certain he had a story. Everyone had a story.
Continuing her survey along the back wall where there was a small counter, she saw Aunt Leah speaking with a man who must be the innkeeper. He sported a knit cap stretched atop his head and an impressively bushy beard. As he directed their footman upstairs, Aunt Leah came to join her at the table.
“Because we stopped and paid to reserve our lodging on our way north, Mr. Pitagowan—rather, Balthazar, as he prefers to be called—made sure to give us a suite of adjoined rooms.” Aunt Leah removed her hat, revealing her glossy dark hair. Her gloves followed, and she deposited her items on the vacant chair where Elspeth had placed hers.
“How pleasant,” Elspeth said. Aunt Leah preferred to sleep in her own bed and her own chamber whenever possible. A restless sleeper, she snored so loudly that Elspeth could often hear her even from the next room. Her aunt hated disturbing people.
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