Under carna days and nights of Brighid tenderly nursing Jamie and Jamie gaining his strength to leave, both Brighid and Jamie discover, and try to fight, the growing feelings they have for each other. There was a hardness to Sheff now, a sharp edge. I only guessed at how the names were pronounced. Carnal Gift is even better than Sweet Release overall but of coare the mention of previous characters are a welcome surprise always.

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Its sleeves were too short by several inches. He was almost ten now, she reminded herself. A young man would hardly find it fitting to be called "potato" in front of the other boys. But the child had slipped into the world blue and lifeless, the cord tight around its neck.

His mother had died birthing him. Now it was time to bury the babe and consign its soul to God. It was remote enough that their chances of being caught and punished were slim. More than once she wondered what it would be like to speak to God within those high walls. It was a long walk to the Old Oak, but it was the safest place for so many people to gather, and it was holy ground, consecrated by priests and those who came before.

The ancient remains of a holy well stood near the base of the tree, where some women still left offerings. They needed her milk, and the butter, curds and cheeses that came from it, to make it through the winter. Finn would spare no effort to see the cow cured. He would pay his respects later. He never complained, never said an angry word. She fed him the best pieces of meat from the stewpot to help him keep up his strength, but often he was so weary he could scarce finish his supper before falling asleep.

Hot-tempered and restless, he hurried through his chores, his mind always somewhere else. She could not bear to think of her father in such horrid conditions, his back bent in the fields, his skin marred by the lash. That his life could come to such an end bespoke sasanach cruelty.

She missed her father, missed him so fiercely she felt as if her heart were being torn from her breast. She missed his sense of humor and gentle teasing. She missed the deep, warm sound of his voice. His dream. His vision. He had been her world. But that was long ago. How different their lives were without him.

Without his teaching to bring in calves, chickens, honey, hay and woolen cloth, they were poorer than ever. Finn worked until he was exhausted. Aidan had lost another father. Had her life changed? Aye, it had. By now her father would have found a husband for her, someone to love her, give her children, be a man for her. She was, after all, almost Her heart ached for the loss of that dream.

She swallowed her sorrow, felt ashamed. So much depended on him. If Finn could put aside his own dreams, then so could she. Her brothers and little Aidan needed her. Who else would cook their meals, darn their socks, heal their sicknesses? She put her grief aside, turned to Aidan. Jamie Blakewell reined his stallion to a halt and surveyed the surrounding countryside — or what he could see of it.

Beneath him, a cold, white mist spread like a blanket across the rolling landscape. Only hilltops and the bare treetops of the forest were clearly visible, though Jamie thought he could make out the dark shapes of hedgerows and tenant cabins in the distance below. Strangely, something about this country, so foreign to him, reminded him of his home in Virginia. Perhaps it was the open and untamed feel of the land. Despite the patchwork of fields and low stone walls that criss-crossed the countryside — proof that people had worked this soil for centuries — it seemed wild, somehow unspoiled.

Jamie was grateful for the thick warmth of his woolen greatcoat, which kept out both wet and cold. Winter was coming, and fast from the feel of it. It felt good to be outdoors again. The sound of hooves approached from behind, slowed, stopped beside him. Hand me that, will you? The liquor scorched a path to his stomach, warmed him. I suppose you think it more manly to crawl through the muck on your belly clad in animal hides with a knife between your teeth.

Whatever shall I do with you? A ruddy-faced man with broad shoulders rode up to them. Get on with it, Percy. England had seemed a different world from his tobacco plantation on the banks of the Rappahannock River. Sheff had introduced Jamie to that world, and the two had become fast friends despite the fact Sheff was the heir to an earldom and Jamie merely the well-to-do heir to a tobacco plantation.

Jamie had spent those years in Virginia, and Sheff had joined his father in London. Now Jamie had come back to Britain to handle some delicate business on behalf of his brother-in-law, Alec Kenleigh. Cassie was again with child and nearing her time. Despite the pressing nature of this business, Alec had refused to leave her.

Jamie had taken advantage of the trip to arrange a visit with his old friend. War was brewing in the colonies. In fact, most colonists considered themselves to be at war already. While many people still felt the war could be fought and won on land, some prominent colonists — Benjamin Franklin among them —felt sea power would be the key.

Control the great rivers and lakes of the north, and Britain could cut off French supply lines. Waging war on the water would also draw French troops away from the frontier, where unprotected British families farmed the land. Alec was ready to provide specially built ships for the endeavor, but so far Parliament seemed more concerned with affairs on the Continent and had little consideration to spare for the Colonies. The French had proved their complete lack of respect for British claims in the Ohio wilderness, and something needed to be done to protect the English families living there.

Jamie had arrived in Ireland all but unannounced, and Sheff had welcomed him openly. Yet Jamie sensed something was different. There was a hardness to Sheff now, a sharp edge. At first Jamie had attributed it to the new burdens Sheff carried. Sheff was now a husband, a father, and a peer of the realm, with vast estates and political affairs to manage.

But there was more to it than that. Or perhaps less. Sheff drank more than was good for him. He hardly seemed interested in politics beyond the petty power struggles among peers in the House of Lords. He had refused to discuss the problem of the French in any detail. Though class had seemed to matter little before, Sheff now seemed to take every opportunity to point out their differences.

Jamie turned his thoughts back to the landscape. Then again, who would pay my rents if he had? They seem as civilized as Englishmen of their class. Amidst a din of yaps and howls, the animals dashed downhill toward the forest. Their path had led them to this hilly region with hedgerows and patches of dark forest.

Somewhere out there, the stag waited. Did he sense danger? Would he be able to elude the dogs or find refuge? Or would he collapse from exhaustion and, too weak to defend himself with his grand antlers, be torn to bits by the hounds?

Jamie hoped it was the former. Not that he disapproved of hunting, of course. He rather enjoyed the sport. Even more, he enjoyed what it brought to his dinner table.

To chase an animal down with dogs and dispatch it from horseback hardly seemed worthy of a grown man. He loved nothing more than to run. Jamie felt cool air rush over his face as Hermes raced downhill in pursuit of the dogs. The fog was not as dense as it had seemed from above, and he found he could see some distance through the trees.

Still, Jamie gave Hermes his head, knowing the horse would better sense unseen obstacles than he.


Carnal Gift






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