The Legend of a Rogue by Darcy Burke

“I asked for tea,” Aunt Leah continued. “And for dinner to be delivered to our rooms. I’m rather tired. I hope you don’t mind.” She flashed Elspeth an apologetic smile.

“Not at all.” Elspeth hid her disappointment. She would just have to soak up the atmosphere before they went upstairs. She listened intently to the conversations humming around her. One rose above the others. She wasn’t sure it was due to the volume or the content. The words “flaming sword” drew her instant and rapt attention.

The man who’d uttered the phrase sat to her left. He shared his small table with a second man, who appeared as captivated by his words as Elspeth. She leaned in their direction as she strained to hear more. Thankfully, they did not speak quietly.

“Was it a torch?” the other man, a younger fellow but still older than Elspeth, asked.

“I said it was a sword, did I not?” the first man said crossly. With a shock of bright blond hair, he was perhaps five years older than the other.

The younger man, who had a hooked nose, waved his hand. “Bah, ye weren’t there. How could ye know?”

The blond man, who was about thirty, narrowed his eyes at the other. “I heard it from Russell.”

“He heard it too.” A man at the next table over—between the two men and the solitary man in the corner—gestured to his tablemate. “His brother fought at Culloden.” He looked to the man whose face had turned gray. “Didna ye say he saw a sword that burst inta bright orange flame?”

Elspeth didn’t bother trying to hide her interest any longer. In fact, half the common room now seemed riveted to the discussion.

“What’s this about a flaming sword?” Aunt Leah asked only to Elspeth as she leaned across the table.

Elspeth set her jaw with determination. “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to find out.”

“Oh, here’s the tea.” Aunt Leah thanked the serving maid who set the pot and cups on the table.

“We don’t get many requests for tea,” the young woman said, her bright red curls bouncing against her temples.

“I can’t imagine you do, dear,” Aunt Leah murmured.

Elspeth ignored the rest of their conversation as she focused on the far more interesting one going on to her left.

One of the English soldiers stood and glowered at the men who were discussing the sword. “Eh now, enough talk of Culloden!”

The blond man at the table next to Elspeth curled his lip. “Ye can’t keep us from talking.”

“I most certainly can. On your feet, Highlander!”

The common room fell silent as fear raced across the blond man’s features. Elspeth’s gut clenched.

The hooded man in the corner leapt to his feet and weaved through the tables to where the soldier stood. “Now then, Captain, I don’t think these men mean any harm. They’re drinking ale and sharing fantastical stories. Surely there’s no trouble in that?”

“Sedition is a crime,” the captain said, glaring at the men who remained seated.

“It is indeed,” the hooded man agreed in a smooth, placating tone. “But they aren’t doing that. Are you?” He turned his head to look at the men, and the movement caused the hood to fall.

Elspeth’s eyes nearly popped out. Though the man’s loose sable hair was shorter, probably just long enough to be tied back, there was no mistaking his blue gaze. It was him. Roy Bloody Williams.

The men shook their heads.

“We didn’t fight,” the blond man said, his eyes wide and fixed on the soldiers.

“See?” Williams said. “Let us all return to our ale.”

Ale? Elspeth wanted to hear about the flaming sword. No, she wanted to interrogate Mr. Williams as to why he’d never returned to Dunkeld. She’d thought the kisses they’d shared meant something.

She covertly watched him as he sat back down in the corner. He didn’t pull the hood back up over his head. His gaze swept the room and didn’t even pause on Elspeth. There was no look of recognition, no hesitation, nothing.

Elspeth sucked in a breath and stirred sugar into her tea before taking a sip. She glowered at the liquid before setting the cup back onto the saucer.

“Is something amiss, Elspeth?” Aunt Leah asked.

“The man in the corner is Mr. Williams,” she said quietly with barely contained anger—and hurt.

Aunt Leah’s gaze strayed toward him before snapping back to Elspeth. “That Mr. Williams?”