There’s no denying that sometimes you’re just in the mood for something that’ll count as a real throwback. And no, we’re not talking about your #tbt, but one of our up and coming fav new genres—historical YA 😍
We’re so excited that we have a brand new book full of romance, intrigue, and all kinds of 18th century Scottish drama coming soon! In THE FREEMASON’S DAUGHTER, Jenna, the daughter of a Scottish clansman, has spent her life dodging English capture and concealing just how smart she is—a dangerous thing for a girl of her time. Alex, meanwhile, is a lord, the son of the duke who hires Jenna’s clan to work on his estate. He’s dreading his future in Parliament, but his inquisitive nature draws him to Jenna, who can’t seem to hide her true self from the boy who won’t stop looking.
THE FREEMASON’S DAUGHTER hits shelves on April 11th, but why wait? You can start reading the first four chapters now! And don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads shelf!
Scottish Lowlands, September 1714
Jenna woke to the sound of toppling chairs and a dish clattering to the jagged flagstones. It was late. She pushed aside the frayed linen hanging over the rime-laden window. The fiery crimson star she used to mark time hung on the edge of the western horizon. And there was no smell of choking peat in the air, which meant dawn was still a fair way off. She was about to roll over, close her eyes, and succumb to sleep again, but a fist hammering the table in the next room jerked her from a leaden stupor.
She padded to the door with the crack in the knothole and knelt to peer through the fissure. Six men stood at the table. Six cups rose high above their heads, their features fixed with purpose and pride.
“Scientia, Sapientia, Sanctitas.”
Jenna knew the words. Knowledge, wisdom, holiness.
She sunk back against the door. This toast, this salute between the men, meant they’d been assigned a new post. It was time to leave again.
A crack of gunfire exploded outside, accompanied by the sound of thudding hooves. She bolted from the floor and scrambled for the woolen cloak that was tossed last night onto the end of her flea-ridden cot. And her book, The Principia by Isaac Newton. She would never leave it behind.
Her door burst open. She saw the frantic labor of five men snatching leather satchels and weapons before leaping through the cottage’s back window and making for the shed where the horses were kept.
Her father’s voice hissed rough Gaelic through the darkness. “Jenna, greas ort! Make haste!”
She reached for his hand and was pulled toward the window. One last glance over her shoulder revealed the things she would never see again.
Solid hands around her waist raised and tossed her expertly through the open casement. Her feet caught the pitted ground beneath her, but she still skinned her knee. Sixteen years of scars. She was certain she was the only girl who had to wear boots to bed.
Withinghall House, Cumbria, England
“He will never see my side of the story. He will blame me entirely, as he always does.” The words tumbled out of Alex’s mouth, the curt observations of his father breaking through his tightly practiced air of respect.
He looked at his mother, a duchess married twenty-three years to a tyrannical man, and still she held her tongue. Would she not say anything about his being dismissed from school?
“Would you mind fetching my brush? I left it on the windowsill.”
Alex sighed, crossed the chamber, and reached for the ivory handle. A flash of movement outside caught his eye. Two men in the distance walked with measured footsteps along the outline for a building foundation. Another cleared branches from trees newly felled.
“Alex, my brush, please.” His mother peered at him through her dressing table mirror.
He turned and caught his reflection in the looking glass, the image of the University of Cambridge’s latest “troublemaker.” He turned away. He knew what he looked like and didn’t need reminding, but what did his mother see? A tall young man, long legs in calfskin breeches and leather riding boots? Someone who had the same narrow, straight nose as hers?
Or did she see a disappointment the way his father did?
Dust from the road had settled on his white linen shirt, and his fair hair was disheveled and windblown. He’d wanted to get home quickly. Get it over with. So he’d chosen to ride on horseback rather than in a carriage. Delaying the wrath of his father was something he’d made a practice of for the last twenty years. He had made a vow to himself to break the habit.
The duchess cleared her throat and drummed her fingers on the wooden table.
“Forgive me.” He returned with the hairbrush and pointed. “What is happening outside?”
The duchess stopped midstroke. “What do you mean? Is there a disturbance?” She rose from her velvet stool, almost upsetting it, and hurried across the room, the fabric of her skirts slapping against the furniture.
“No,” Alex raised a reassuring hand. “I see men working, and I’m only wondering on what.”
She pushed aside the heavy brocade and peered out the window. “Ah yes. The garrison.”
“Garrison? Are we to have soldiers living here?”
“Not to worry. Your father is merely taking precautions.”
“Precautions against what?”
She pressed her pale lips together and patted his arm. “That is an excellent question for your father. All he has told me is that there has been talk. I would assume it’s related to the rebellions.”
“Rebellions? Do you mean the Jacobites?” Alex felt a shiver run through his mother’s arm where her hand rested on him.
“Yes. There have been riots—and hangings because of them. I’m not sure the deaths have been . . . an effective deterrent.” Her eyes locked on Alex’s. “Some people are determined to bring home James Stuart.”
It was slipping through her fingers. The permanence of things. This time Jenna studied everything twice, made a point to memorize details. There was the usual bitterness, the sharp tang of vitriol in her mouth, but now dread sprouted as well, an unwanted blossom.
She hated leaving, but her father promised they’d return. He swore on it, and the clan stood behind him.
Except they had never left Scotland before.
She batted the muddle of long russet-red hair from her eyes, but singled out two strands. It was always only two. She pulled until they gave. That tiny tug, the prick on her scalp—it felt . . . good. What she really wanted to do was grab two fistfuls and yank them out, to transfer the ache to a place she could rub away.
But it wasn’t her father’s fault or the other men’s. They were only doing what they must. If it was time to leave then she would go. She ground her teeth and felt her jaw ache. The pain from withholding her words.
But the words of others, the whispering, the snippets of huddled discussion wormed into her head. They sat in the pit of her stomach: approaching, flee, hide. They festered, foretold this attempt at escape.
She looked ahead at the men, her makeshift family. Their shoulders slumped from the weight of bedraggled plaids. Filthy and weary from weeks of travel, their clothes had not borne the journey well. Their plaids especially, for when the long pleated cloth was not wrapped and buckled around their waists and shoulders, it was used to cocoon them for sleeping. The ground could be coldhearted.
Standing beside her horse, she heard nothing apart from the rush of air moving in and out of his lungs, tidal and rhythmic. She closed her eyes, swayed, and etched the view of the hardened landscape onto the inside of her eyelids. The morning wind gusted and flapped her skirts, a determined tug forward. She looked up through a tangle of hair, but the scenery became blurry, her eyes stinging. She blinked and swallowed the solid lump in her throat.
One of the men looked back. She fought the urge to shout, to protest his prying attention. Instead, she managed a halfhearted wave and felt a nudge against her shoulder. The horse probed her pockets.
“You’ll have to wait, Henry. I have nothing.” The truth of the words fueled her frustration.
“It’s as expected, Jenna,” her father had often reminded her. “Living in the midst of rebellion and finding financial support for the Crown comes wi’ a price. Namely one’s head on a stake if ye aren’t lucky. We need to stay two steps ahead of the English dragoons.”
Those two steps between Jenna and government soldiers on the lookout for traitorous activity provided little comfort, and more often, little sleep for them all.
It had been months of running. Months of regrouping, of secret meetings informing the men where they would collect money for James—the Jacobite leader.
James Edward Francis Stuart was a name that beat a constant rhythm in her head. He was Great Britain’s rightful king, whose claim to the throne was “given by God.” Except . . . she’d heard another name whispered on those late nights when the men thought she was asleep. The Old Pretender. He was considered an impostor by some and a political liability by others.
Now that Queen Anne had died, the throne lay empty. Her likely successor was George, a Hannover, and a German. Last night, as Jenna’s clan passed through another village, they heard a group of Englishmen outside a ramshackle tavern bellyaching that Great Britain was close to passing into German hands.
“Imagine being governed by a king who not only isn’t English—but doesn’t speak a word of it!” they had said.
Still, a great many found the Dutch monarch preferable to the Catholic claimant, James.
She had listened to the same grumbles throughout their travels. But now the grousing was growing volatile. Part of her father’s responsibility, agreed upon by an intricate network of James’s secret supporters, was to keep the impassioned devotees under control.
“Why should they distress at his faith?” Jenna had asked her father.
“Well, many folks think that if their sovereign were Roman Catholic, the king would answer first and foremost to papal authority. They say it’d be like handing the country back to the Roman Empire. Folks would be afraid that James wouldna allow them to practice their own faith. But it isna so. James would fight for religious liberty. As we do now.”
Jenna closed her eyes, remembering her father’s words, and thought, Can’t we continue to do it from Scotland? Her father’s whistle pierced the air, told her to catch up. She grabbed the folds of her rough woolen skirt and swung up into the saddle. She held the horse back, his eagerness to join the others stressing the reins. The pungent scent of heather filled her lungs. She wondered if she would be capable of breathing English air, or if her Scottish body would reject it.
Beyond the men snaked the dim line of Hadrian’s Wall, the old Roman stone barrier dividing Scotland and England. She wished the wall were too high, too impenetrable. Nothing existed on the other side except the people who were making life unbearable for the Scots. Even so, it was the next stop of their miserable journey, where, thankfully, no one knew who they were.
“Ha!” she shouted at the horse, spurring him with her heels.
Henry reared a little and jolted forward. Jenna bent against his straining neck and urged him to race to a speed she knew would earn a scolding, but for a moment she would be feral, wild, uncontrolled.
The horse thundered over the field. She shut her eyes, her fingers threaded through his mane. Every rise and dip demanded she melt into the muscles as they stretched over the bones beneath her. She swept headlong past the men, ignored their garbled warnings. If she continued apace, the horse would have to jump the ancient wall.
But could he do it? It wasn’t tall, but it was thick. A deeper spread than he’d ever jumped before.
She sensed a sudden hesitation beneath her, a swift change in direction, mad momentum. Her eyes flew open. Henry’s mane slipped from her hands and her weight vanished as the horse veered from the wall. From her. A body in motion were the words that leapt to her mind from the pages of Newton she’d read yesterday. Her shoulder slammed into the ground, her body lurched awkwardly over her head like a dropped doll.
She could not breathe. Her lungs compressed, a vise constricting her chest. Black pooling ink spots bloomed before her eyes. She gripped the grass beneath her hands and wrenched a ragged breath from the air. It left her coughing . . . gulping. She rolled onto her back to still her heaving chest. When she opened her eyes she saw the pallid face of her father and those of the five other men. There were many shaking heads and a few clucking tongues, so she gathered she must still be somewhat intact. She sat up and was at once reminded of the painful jolt to her shoulder. The joint was sore to her touch, but she slowly found her feet.
“Serves ye right,” her father said, brushing the grass off her skirt with a heavy hand. “Now go get your horse and walk him a ways, aye? You’re lucky you didna break your neck, ye wee fiend.”
“Lucky?” Jenna mumbled. “Lucky would have been to die in Scotland.”
Alex surveyed his mother’s lavish sitting room, the plush, enveloping chairs, the tapestry-covered walls in jeweled hues. It was a chamber that sheltered and sheathed her. Perhaps it was designed to soften the sharp edges of living with his father. “Your maid said you’d taken to your bed last week.” He studied her. He’d never been capable of reading his mother. She hid beneath her perfected smooth countenance: a feigned smile, a shrouded gaze, and always censored words. He wanted the truth and not the polished routine of circumspect behavior.
“Alex, I do wish you’d stop worrying.” His mother picked up her brush, taking care with each lengthy stroke.
To Alex, her hair seemed different, dull and brittle brown.
She twisted to look at him. Her wide-set hazel eyes, although tired, still held their warmth. “It was nothing more than a chill.” She rose and walked back toward him, her fingers kneading her temples. “Perhaps your concern should be your explanation about school. Your father will want an account, and I’m not sure how warmly it will be received.” Her feathery brows knitted with unease. “How I wish I could alter things for you . . . make it easier.” She moved a strand of hair from his forehead and let her hand fall to his shoulder to brush the dust from it. “But you are as you are, and in many regards, I am grateful for it.”
“You’re speaking in riddles, Mother.”
“Perhaps I am, but cling to your fortitude with him. I cringe to think of that conversation. He will doubtlessly remind you that being sent down from Cambridge is a disgrace.” She shook her head and met his gaze. “Lady Lucia will be arriving from Sicily tomorrow, and I cannot think of how we will explain your early homecoming. Perhaps we’ll confess an eagerness for the engagement party and push the date forward?”
Lady Lucia and her flimsy relations to the Holy Roman Emperor. Alex felt his jaw stiffen. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
“Rumor has it your fiancée is quite a stunning young lady.”
“As if that would make a difference.” This engagement is a loathsome sham.
“It has for some.” She raised her teacup from a nearby table.
“Matrimonial matchmaking. Why encourage me to take part in the very thing that has made you so miserable?”
“Alex!” She paused and drew in a slow breath. “I have never admitted to feeling unhappy. Besides, happiness is not the intent here. People find it elsewhere.”
“Like my father has.”
The icy words made her wince. “I’m sorry if you disagree, but this is the way it’s done.” She returned to her table and sank onto the stool. “Perhaps we should speak of this later.”
His statement was cruel, and she’d suffered because of his careless tongue. “Forgive me. I didn’t intend it to come out the way it did. And you’re right—let’s discuss it another time. I truly wanted to spend a nice afternoon with you before everyone else discovered my return.”
“Are they already here?” She closed the lid of her jewelry box with a snap.
Alex prickled. “Why? Do you disapprove of them? Those three are my friends—and they’ve more than proven that now. We were expelled together. Don’t forget they’re in this predicament because of me.”
“You’re mistaken. No one forced them to act as they did. Charles and Hugh behaving as imbeciles is one thing. They’ve never shown an aptitude for demonstrating sound judgment. But Julian? . . . That I don’t understand.”
“He was acting in my defense.”
“Julian never does anything unless he benefits from it. That apple did not fall far from its tree.” She tapped her fingers on the table.
“Well, perhaps people change, Mother.”
“Yes . . . and perhaps water will begin flowing upstream.”
He smiled tensely and moved to kiss her cheek. “Indeed. I’m off to find my unruly friends. I’ll see you at supper.”
“Alex, one more thing,” she said, her voice lowered. “Stay away from the garrison. The whole idea of it makes me nervous.”
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