Devil in Winter Page 11

“Thank you.” St. Vincent kept his arm around Evie as they walked out of the inn and headed to the blacksmith’s cottage next door. A quick glance down the street revealed rows of tidy cottages and shops, with lamps being lit to relieve the gathering darkness of early evening. As they approached the front of the whitewashed building, St. Vincent murmured, “Bear up just a bit longer, sweetheart. It’s almost done.”

Leaning heavily against him with her face half hidden in his coat, Evie waited as he rapped on the door. It opened soon thereafter to reveal a bulky, ruddy-faced man with a handsome mustache that connected to his profuse side whiskers. Fortunately his Scottish burr was not nearly as thick as the innkeeper’s, and Evie was able to follow what he said.

“Are you MacPhee?” St. Vincent asked curtly.


Rapidly St. Vincent made introductions and explained their purpose. The blacksmith smiled broadly. “Sae ye wish tae marry, do ye? Come inside.” He summoned his two daughters, a pair of chubby, dark-haired girls whom he introduced as Florag and Gavenia, and he led them to the shop that was attached to the residence. The MacPhees exhibited the same relentless cheer as the innkeeper Findley, which disproved much of what Evie had always heard about the reputedly dour nature of the Scots.

“Will ye have my two lasses stand as witnesses?” MacPhee suggested.

“Yes,” St. Vincent said, glancing around the shop, which was filled with horseshoes, carriage equipment, and farming implements. The lamplight struck tiny glints in the golden bristle on the lower half of his face. “As you can no doubt see, my…” He paused as if debating how to refer to Evie. “…bride…and I are quite weary. We’ve traveled from London at a bruising pace, and therefore I would like to hasten the proceedings.”

“From London?” the blacksmith inquired with obvious enjoyment, beaming at Evie. “Why have ye come tae Gretna, lass? Have yer parents nae gi’en ye leave tae wed?”

Evie smiled back at him wanly. “I’m afraid it’s not qu-quite that simple, sir.”

“‘Tis seldom simple,” MacPhee agreed, nodding sagely. “But I maun warn ye, lass…if ye wad fain to marry rashly…the Scottish marriage vow is an irrevocable bond that ne’er can be broken. Be certain that yer love is true, and then—”

Interrupting what promised to be a long spate of fatherly advice, St. Vincent said in a clipped voice, “It’s not a love match. It’s a marriage of convenience, and there’s not enough warmth between us to light a birthday candle. Get on with it, if you please. Neither of us has had a proper sleep in two days.”

Silence fell over the scene, with MacPhee and his two daughters appearing shocked by the brusque remarks. Then the blacksmith’s heavy brows lowered over his eyes in a scowl. “I don’t like ye,” he announced.

St. Vincent regarded him with exasperation. “Neither does my bride-to-be. But since that’s not going to stop her from marrying me, it shouldn’t stop you either. Go on.”

MacPhee turned a now-pitying gaze on Evie. “The lass has nae flowers,” he exclaimed, now determined to lend a romantic atmosphere to the proceedings. “Florag, run tae fetch sae white heather.”

“She doesn’t need flowers,” St. Vincent snapped, but the girl scampered away nonetheless.

“‘Tis an auld Scottish custom for a bride tae carry white heather,” MacPhee explained to Evie. “Shall I tell ye why?”

Evie nodded and fought to suppress a helpless titter of amusement. In spite of her fatigue—or perhaps because of it—she was beginning to take a perverse enjoyment in the sight of St. Vincent struggling to control his annoyance. At the moment, the unshaven, ill-tempered man who stood beside her bore no resemblance to the smug aristocrat who had attended Lord Westcliff’s house party in Hampshire.

“A lang, lang time ago…” MacPhee began, ignoring St.Vincent’s low groan, “there was a bonnie maid called Malvina. She was the betrothed of Oscar, the braw warrior who won her heart. Oscar bade his beloved tae wait for him while he went tae seek his fortune. But one black day Malvina received word that her lover had been killed in battle. He would lie forever in eternal rest in the faraway hills…lost in endless slumber…”

“God, I envy him,” St. Vincent said feelingly, rubbing his own dark-circled eyes.

“As Malvina’s tears o’ grief wet the grass like dew,” MacPhee continued, “the purple heather at her feet turned white. An’ that’s why every Scottish bride carries white heather on her weddin’ day.”

“That’s the story?” St. Vincent asked with an incredulous scowl. “The heather comes from the tears of a girl over her dead lover?”


“Then how in God’s name can it be a token of good luck?”

MacPhee opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment Florag returned to give Evie a sprig of dried white heather. Murmuring her thanks, Evie allowed the blacksmith to lead her to the anvil in the center of the shop. “Do ye have a ring for the lass?” MacPhee asked St. Vincent, who shook his head. “Sae I thought,” the blacksmith said smugly. “Gavenia, fetch the ring box.” Leaning closer to Evie, he explained, “I join precious metals as well as iron. ‘Tis fine workmanship, an’ all in Scottish gold.”

“She doesn’t need—” St. Vincent stopped with a scowl as Evie raised her gaze to his. He let out a taut sigh. “All right. Choose something quickly.”

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