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My life in the highlands is simple – and that’s how I like it.
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“I’m comin’,” I grumble, tossing on a shirt and a pair of breeks when the knocking on my cabin door continues.
I open the front door, sure it’s Gregor here to ask which field I want the sheep to graze this morn’. But it’s not the lad I’m expecting. An older woman, carrying a bundle in her arms that I’m supposin’ is a bairn, peers at me over wired rimmed glasses.
“Can I help you?” I ask, running a hand over my beard.
We don’t get many visitors in these parts. Other than the men who work for me, the small town just east of here, and few smaller crofts that dot the hills surrounding my own, it’s just grass, sheep, and hills for miles around.
“Are you Kier MacKinnon?” the woman asks, peering around me, trying to look into the cabin.
“Who’s askin’?” A sense of foreboding sits heavy on my chest, and I get the impression the woman is scrutinizing me. I rake my fingers back through my hair trying to look more presentable, but it’s not much use.
“I’m Martha O’Connelly, from the Social Services Coalition.”
“Is this a charity thing? Are you raising money?”
Martha shakes her head, resting the babe on her shoulder, and patting it’s back. “No, quite the opposite. Can I come in?”
Frowning, I consider the question. An old biddy asking to come into my cottage with a wee one is the last thing I was expecting. But I’m not going to deny this woman what she wants.
“Did you have some car trouble, or get lost?” I ask, prying her for information as I lead her into the small living area. “It’s easy to lose your way in the highlands—”
“No. There’s a purpose to my visit.”
I frown at her and nod, glancing back down at the bairn. If I weren’t a hundred percent certain that the wee one wasn’t mine, I’d probably be pacing the floor right now wondering about the news she’s here to deliver.
“Tea?” I ask, attempting manners. It’s been a long arse while since I’ve needed to use them.
“No, that’s fine,” she says, her gaze scrutinizing every detail of the house. “This is your home, then?”
“After my parents passed, I never moved into the main house, just kept back here. Fine for a bloke like me.”
“Right, well, the thing is Kier, I have some rather untimely news.” She frowns, her lips forming a thin line. “You may want to sit for it.”
“Just tell me, what’s this all about?”
“I gather you never received my messages?”
“Gregor is my errand boy, but he rarely remembers to fetch the mail. Was it important?”
“Quite. It’s about your sister, Mollie.”
There’s that unsettling feeling again, but now it’s in the pit of my stomach. “Haven’t seen her for two years. She left home the day she turned eighteen and never came back. Have you seen her then?”
Martha sighs, taking a seat on the worn couch, bairn still in her arms. “That’s why I’m here, Kier. She’s gone.”
“What do you mean, gone? She hasn’t been around in ages.” I try to keep the bitterness from my voice, but it just about broke my parents’ hearts when she left without a backward glance. Didn’t even have the decency to come home for her own parents’ funeral.
Martha pats the seat cushion beside her. “Why don’t you have a seat.”
I do as she asks. “What is it then?”
“Your sister has died, Kier, and this wee one is her son.”
Four weeks later…
I’d do it all over again, in a heartbeat. Aye, of course I would. The bairn is my family, and so of course I’ll do what I must to keep him close.
But I never expected to be twenty-four-years-old with a wee one to look after. Before this, I never looked after a soul besides myself. I keep a low profile, my head down. I do the work of ten men on my farm and I go to bed exhausted every night. I don’t have time to worry about women, about lassies looking for a fun time.
It’s never been my style. But now I am going to have a woman living in my house.
“You want the bed here, in this corner?” Gregor asks from the spare bedroom across the hall from the nursery.
The social worker had insisted I couldn’t keep a baby in a cottage without running water, so I’d moved back into the main house where Mollie and I grew up. It’s so much bigger than the cottage, but the place feels…wrong. Sheets still cover furniture, rooms are bare after I’d had to sell most anything of value last fall to pay off my father’s incurred debt. A debt he’d managed to keep hidden until I’d taken over the books after he passed.
I’ve managed to get the accounts in order, even hired a couple more men to tend to the sheep, but I should be out on the moor, not here consoling a crying bairn.