Once A Laird

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Once A Laird

Rogues Redeemed Book #6

Bridgerton fans and readers of Mary Balogh, Grace Burrowes, and Stephanie Laurens won’t want to miss this thrilling and clever new love story from the historical romance legend.

After the death of his fiancée, Kai Ramsay left Scotland to roam distant lands. He has searched ancient ruins, collected priceless antiquities, and escaped certain death after being imprisoned as a spy during the Napoleonic War. Ramsay has lived on the edge of danger for years—but everything changes the day a letter arrives for him from Scotland. . .

Signy Matheson has dedicated her life to the people of Scotland’s remote Thorsay Islands. With a fiery spirit and agile mind, she is a faithful ally to the aging laird. But now their leader is near death, and Signy must summon his successor at once. It’s time for Kai Ramsay to come home. . .

When Ramsay returns to Thorsay, he’s shocked to find that Signy has blossomed into an alluring beauty, and a force to be reckoned with. Their complicated past interferes with their unspoken desire as they work together for their people. Until a wild storm sparks first passion, then unexpected danger when a treasure trove left by their ancestors comes to light . . .

Splendidly crafted…Putney brilliantly utilizes all of the key elements her readers crave—engaging characters, an expertly evoked setting, an intriguingly different story line, even a quintessential cat—and the result is another exemplary-in-every-way romance.

~Booklist

Books in The Rogues Redeemed Series

Once A SoldierOnce a RebelOnce a ScoundrelOnce a SpyOnce DishonoredOnce A Laird

Chapter 1

British Embassy

Constantinople

The letter was dirty and folded, not surprising considering how far it had come. Ramsay was reluctant to break the seal because he had a strong suspicion what it would say. He was right.

The letter was addressed to Kai Douglas Ramsay and said tersely:

Kai,

Time to stop playing around and come home, laddie boy. Your grandfather is dying. He may be swilling ale in Valhalla by the time you get this. You know the price you promised to pay for your footloose wandering. Now the bill has come due.

Signy Matheson

Skellig House

Mainland, Thorsay

Scotland

Of course it would be Signy who was writing him. Only islanders he’d known as a boy would call him Kai. Signy had become his grandfather’s deputy as well as being the head schoolmistress in the islands. Ramsay smiled a little, remembering her as a knobby-kneed girl with a tongue that could flay a whale when she was in a critical mood. She was the younger sister of Gisela, his first and only love.

His smile faded. After laying the letter on his desk, he moved to the window and gazed out at the domes and minarets of Constantinople, which were visible above the walls that surrounded the British Embassy compound. He’d spent five years here, the longest time he’d lingered anywhere in his wandering years.

His official position was Under Secretary for Special Projects, a vague enough title to cover his various nefarious activities. With all the layers of history in Constantinople, he could spend a lifetime here and barely scratch the wonders of this city and this land.

It was hard to imagine a place more different from the far northern islands of his homeland. But Ramsay had always known his time here was limited. He might have stayed in Thorsay if Gisela hadn’t died suddenly of a fever when he was finishing his studies at the University of Edinburgh. The pain was so numbing that he’d been unable to bear the thought of returning to the islands.

His grandfather, the wily old devil, had known how Ramsay would feel. After giving the news of Gisela’s death, the laird had said that Ramsay could feed his wanderlust until his grandfather died or was near death. Then he must come home to assume his responsibilities as Laird of Thorsay.

Ramsay has seized on the proffered bargain, both because he couldn’t imagine returning to Thorsay with Gisela gone and because he’d yearned to visit distant lands and study ancient ruins. He’d had a dozen years of that freedom and had managed not to get himself killed, though it had been a near-run thing more than once.

That led him to thoughts of a certain cellar in Portugal where he’d been held captive with four other men as they drank bad brandy and waited to be executed at dawn. But the five of them had worked together to escape and made a pact to meet up again after the war if they survived. Now Napoleon was gone for good, exiled to a bleak rock in the South Atlantic to rule over the seabirds, and perhaps that reunion would be possible.

How many of the men who had been in that cellar were still among the living? They’d all been leading risky lives. When Ramsay traveled through London on his way home, he could check for letters at Hatchard’s Bookshop, which had been their chosen venue to exchange information.

Ramsay forced his wandering mind back to practical matters. Though he’d wished this day would never come, he’d been mentally preparing. It was time to make the long journey through the Mediterranean, west around the Iberian Peninsula, then north through the English Channel and North Sea to Thorsay.

The three island groups north of Scotland were due west of Norway, closer to Oslo than London. Orkney was visible, barely, from the northernmost coast of mainland Scotland. Thorsay lay beyond, and far-flung Shetland was most northerly. All three archipelagos were inhabited by tough, stubborn islanders whose first language was Norn, a Scandinavian dialect. Over the centuries, Gaelic-speaking Celts had also settled on the islands, and even a few English. No wonder the Thorseach, the people of his islands, were good with languages.

* * *

Ramsay’s voyage home benefited from fair winds and was swifter than expected. The light became bluer and the winds more chill as he traveled north. By the time he reached London, Constantinople was only a distant sunburned memory.

He spent several days in London attending to business and staying at Thorsay House, which was owned by the Laird of Thorsay. The Browns, the couple who maintained the house, hadn’t heard that the old Laird was dead, so perhaps Ramsay’s grandfather was still holding on.

Thorsay House served as a way station for traveling Thorsayians. Ramsay found that he’d just missed a favorite cousin, Kendra Douglas, who had taken refuge in the house after a disastrous scandal. As a girl, she’d been a lively little thing. He’d taught her and Signy Matheson and several other younger children the basics of fencing.

He stopped at Hatchard’s and found a trove of letters from the Rogues Redeemed of the Portuguese cellar. Impressively, they all had survived the wars, and while he was in London, he managed to dine with one of the men, named Hawkins, and his intrepid wife, Lady Rory. Then he set sail again, first to Edinburgh and finally, on a small coastal trading vessel, the last stretch to Thorsay.

Ramsay spent much of this last leg of his long journey in the bow of the boat, feeling an unnerving sense of homecoming. The silvery seas and austere scattered islands seemed to be bred into his bones despite his reluctance to return.

When the vessel finally moored at the pier below Skellig House, Ramsay left the deckhands to unload his luggage. Personal possessions were few, but there were a fair number of the best ancient artifacts he'd found.

Impatiently he climbed the hill to the Ramsay family home. Skellig House was a low sprawling stone structure designed to stand against the fiercest winds off the North Sea. In the distance beyond, he could just see one of the circle of towering stone monoliths erected by the ancient inhabitants of these islands.

Nothing seemed to have changed in the dozen years since he’d left. His pace quickened as he wondered whether his grandfather still lived.

As he approached the entrance to the house, the door swung open and someone stepped out, his gaze turned toward Ramsay. No, not a man but a tall woman—that was clear from the way the wind shaped her gray gown around an undeniably female figure. The same wind rippled her blazing red-gold hair like a banner of war.

She brushed her wind-whipped hair from her face and said in a voice colder than an Arctic gale, “What took you so long, Kai?”

He stopped dead in his tracks and stared. In the years he’d been gone, bony little Signy Matheson had become a damned Nordic goddess!