My Passionate Love

By: Melissa Limoges

Highland Loves

Book Three

Chapter One

Lady Mairi MacGregor stuck out her tongue and crossed her eyes, earning a gurgling giggle from her four-month-old nephew, Cormac William MacGregor. The sturdy, bright-eyed bairn watched her with fascination while a line of drool ran from his parted mouth. His wee, pink face lit with joy, which never ceased to ease her low spirits.

“I suspect you shall have one of your own before too long,” her brother, the little lad’s father, said with a wink.

Seated beside him, Arabella MacGregor pinched her husband’s arm.

“Oww! What the devil was that for?” Calum darted a quick scowl at his wife.

Lips puckered with a frown, Cormac lifted his chubby hands for his mother, and Mairi passed him over into Arabella’s waiting arms.

Cuddling her son in her lap, Arabella frowned at Calum. “You should not tease your sister so, Husband.”

Bewildered, he lifted his brows and looked past his wife to Mairi. “I meant no offense.”

Gritting her teeth, she waved away the words with a flick of her hand. She forced a tight smile for her brother’s sake and the rest of their kin and friends gathered around the high table to break their fast that morn. “’Tis not a bother.”

Though his statement did, in fact, vex her. More than she might ever openly admit to anyone.

Across the trestle table, their cousin, Liam, opened his mouth to no doubt spout some ridiculous nonsense. But his wife, Nora, gripped his forearm, sinking her nails into his sleeve—a clear indication for him to shut his gob.

Mairi almost grinned at Arabella and Nora’s careful consideration of her feelings. She was grateful to call the two women her closest friends. Within the last year, the three of them forged a strong kinship, confiding their hopes, secrets and even their worries with one another. ’Twas an unbreakable bond she valued more than a coffer full of gold and jewels combined. In truth, if not for the pair, she might have allowed herself to sink deeper into a mire of melancholy and despair at times. With a sigh, she sank back in her chair and viewed the familiar jovial scene before her.

At the far end of the hall, a roaring fire blazed in the hearth, staving off the frigid chill from the bitter, chilling winter outside the keep. Throughout the large chamber, many of the clan dined in the inviting warmth, filling their bellies with hot fare. To Mairi’s right, Arabella nestled Cormac in her arms while Calum grinned at his son and tapped his wee nose, pulling a peal of laughter from the little lad. The day Cormac entered the world, kicking and screaming loud enough to raise the dead, Calum had never been as proud. Her brother practically melted at the sight of his firstborn.

Seated opposite of Mairi, Liam leaned in close to place a hand over Nora’s distended belly and whisper in his wife’s ear. A brilliant smile blossomed over the heavily-carrying woman’s countenance—an increasingly common occurrence since the pair wed late last spring. A fact Liam would solely acknowledge as his doing. Mayhap, her cousin was right. He’d fallen into the roles of husband and laird with ease, while Nora stood confidently by his side, offering unyielding love and support. Any day now, the mismatched pair would welcome their first child.

Alas, each time Mairi viewed the loving exchanges between her kin, a pang of envy struck a chord deep within her, promptly followed by an unsettling twinge of guilt for her selfishness. Truth be told, she was delighted that Calum and Liam had found devoted wives, whom they adored, and started their own families. The men of her family deserved naught less than sheer happiness.

Even her Aunt Elena and Hamish Fraser had somehow managed to mend the jagged rift which separated the two for almost a score and ten years. Yet, despite how pleased Mairi was for her kin, an unbidden shock of jealousy beleaguered her at times. Unwavering love closed in around her, choking her with an unshakeable need.

She yearned for a family of her own with a man who would love her without condition, but the likelihood seemed impossible, especially as she grew older. The chance of stumbling upon the same manner of happiness as her beloved family slipped further out of grasp with each passing day. Nearing an advanced age of a score and two, her prospects of securing a love match were lacking to say the least.

Frowning at the earthen bowl in front of her, Mairi plunked her spoon in the uneaten porridge before shoving the fare aside. ’Twas not as if she’d truly had any prospects to begin with. Not with Calum for a brother and Liam as a cousin. She appreciated her kin’s efforts to protect her against unwelcome suitors, but the two had a habit of frightening away the handful of males who’d actually taken a genuine interest in her over the years.