Davina had always been a good girl. All her life she had done her duty, obeyed orders and conformed to everyone’s expectations of her. Whatever she did was done to the best of her ability and the thought of doing otherwise would never have crossed her mind. She had never, in all of her sixteen years, done anything outrageous or unconventional. She was, in short, the perfect model for any young lady of her class. If Davina’s looks and character could have been summed up in one word, it would have been ‘pleasant.’
She was pretty rather than beautiful. Her hair was long, wavy, and dark blonde highlighted here and there with lighter streaks. She looked out at the world from deep grayish-green eyes and her face was round, with pinkish cheeks. She resembled a China doll, as her old Nanny Elspeth had been wont to tell her on many occasions.
Davina sighed. Elspeth was gone now. At the very old age of sixty-eight, she had simply slipped away in the sleep. Davina had gone in to wake her up one morning after she had been late for breakfast, which was unusual for her, and found her lying stiff and cold in bed.
She had been devastated since Nanny Elspeth had been part of her life for as long as she could remember. It had been six months since her death and Davina still missed her, still wanted to hug her, still wanted to laugh and share things with her.
Davina had no brothers or sisters. There had been a stillbirth before her and several miscarriages after, so her parents had become resigned to the fact that Davina would be their only child. She had always felt though, that she had somehow let them down by being born female. After all, every man wanted a son, and her father, Laird Ruaridh Anderson, was no exception. He loved her, of course; indeed, he doted on her, but he would not teach her to hunt on his estate, to enjoy his favorite sport of falconry, or how to use a crossbow and sword. Such pastimes were reserved for boys, to prepare them to be warriors if necessary.
Davina could sew beautifully, read, speak Latin, Gaelic and French fluently, and ride as well as any man. She was rarely called upon to use her Latin for any practical purpose, however, and stitching samplers and wall-hangings was not a particularly useful skill to have in the real world. She did not live in the real world, however, although she had never realized it, but in the rarefied atmosphere of the aristocracy.
She would never have to worry about how her clothes were washed and who did it for her, who cleaned her room and drew her bath, or even where her next meal was coming from. Indeed, she had never had to work a day in her life. She was aware that she had an army of servants to look after her, but she did not ever worry about their private lives; they were simply there for her convenience. She was never cruel to anyone, just totally oblivious to them, and in that she was not unusual. Most young ladies of her age and class thought and behaved the same way.
Despite all her material comforts, she was lonely. She had no Nanny Elspeth to talk to now, but she was now of the age when it was proper for her to engage a lady’s maid. However, none of the candidates had shown any sign of suitability. Most were deferential to the point of obsequiousness and had no sense of humor; neither were they particularly intelligent, a quality Davina valued. In the meantime, several housemaids were sharing the job between them, although the situation was less than satisfactory. She felt like giving up in her search.
Today, at the beginning of September, the first breath of autumn chill had arrived, but the sky was clear and blue. The sea was sparkling and striped with white horses galloping into shore, their foamy manes snow-white in the sunshine. Davina was bored and depressed. She decided to take her dappled gray horse, Daisy, to sit on the cliff top overlooking the sea and lie in the sun for a while. Sunshine in the north east of Scotland is a rare and welcome sight at any time, so she decided to make the most of it.
The scenery in Sutherland was rugged, rocky, and mountainous, the coastline battered by the constant pounding of the North Sea. It was not a place for the faint of heart. Whatever else she was, Davina was not cowardly. Walking and riding along winding, stony paths scant feet from the edges of perilously steep cliffs held few terrors for her, since she had been doing it since she was ten-years-old. She knew that one misstep could send her hurtling to the bottom of the cliff to be dashed onto the rocks, but somehow the notion had never scared her.
Usually, she was accompanied by a groom, but today she was alone, and she reveled in her solitude, tilting her face up to the sun and breathing in great lungfuls of the tangy sea air. Presently, seeing a mound of boulders that were just the right size for sitting on, she dismounted and let Daisy wander away to crop the grass for a while. She took off her cloak, folded it, and put it down to cushion the craggy surface of the boulder. She sat there for a while, enjoying the wild sea view and the fresh air. It had been a long time since she had felt so ventured out alone, and she felt free. It was a good feeling, but she still had to go back to the lonely castle.
Davina had no idea how long she sat there. She stood up to pick some wildflowers to put in her hair, then walked along the stony path for a little way before standing right at the edge of the drop. She looked down at the rocks below that promised certain death for the unwary, then stepped back and turned around to look at her family’s castle perched right on top of a small mountain half a mile away. It was such a beautiful place and she was proud to call it home, but of course, it would never truly be hers. If she had been a boy, that castle, its grounds, its estate and all its farms would belong to her, but she was not. She was a girl. Now it would all go to her cousin Grant and she would have to marry well in order to maintain her security and standard of living.
Marry well—what did that even mean? Father had lined up several potential candidates, mostly widowers who were older than she was by at least thirty years. She knew many girls in her position, and most looked happy with their lot, but she was uncertain and apprehensive.
Nanny Elspeth had told her what she needed to know to prepare herself for marriage, but the thought of making love with a strange older man was not appealing. However, she would do it for her parent’s sake because it was her duty.
She began to walk slowly back along the cliff path, leading Daisy on a long rein. Suddenly, her mood had changed from one of reasonable contentment back to lonely boredom. It seemed that even the weather agreed with her. On the distant horizon, dark clouds were beginning to boil, promising a savage storm later on in the evening. So much for the good weather! She sighed. It never lasted long in the Highlands.
Presently, she decided to mount Daisy again and ride home, picking up the horse’s pace a bit until they were moving along at a brisk trot. It was just as they rounded a huge boulder partially blocking the path that they saw the figure coming towards them. It was a tall man leading a big chestnut stallion, and he looked familiar. As they came closer she recognized him, but she could not believe the evidence of her own eyes. It was Athol Murray, whom she had not seen since she was thirteen-years-old and he was eighteen.
At that very young age, she had thought him the most handsome man she had ever seen because from a thirteen-year-old’s standpoint a boy of eighteen looked very manly indeed. He had been tall then, but he was taller now, well over six feet, with broad shoulders and a well-muscled torso. His brown hair was almost as long as hers was, and it gleamed with auburn lights in the rays of the fading sun. He must be twenty-three now, she thought.
As they approached each other his face broke into a wide grin. He looked very happy to see her. "I do not believe it!” he cried delightedly, “Davina Anderson! Or do you have another name now?”
She smiled back at him in a bemused fashion. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I don’t, Athol. How lovely to see you.” Her memory had not failed her. He was still the most handsome man she had ever seen.