On a windswept British coastline the tide deposits an unexpected gift…
It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart. She meant only to temporarily foster the young orphan but when news reaches Effie that her husband has been lost at sea, and months pass without anyone claiming the infant, she embraces her new family – her son Jack and her adopted daughter Morna.
Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be Morna’s father. There’s no denying Lachlan is the girl’s kin and so Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. She agrees, but when he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…
Effie Cropton found a baby girl floating in a basket out to sea on midwinter’s day. When no one comes forward to claim the child, recently widowed with a young son, Effie decides to keep and foster the girl.
A year to the day since she had found the basket, a knock on the door disturbed Effie’s evening. Walter had called that afternoon to bring cut greenery to decorate the mantelpiece and news that seals had been sighted off the Brigg. He had stayed until dusk, singing Christmas carols to the children while Effie baked mince pies for Christmas Eve. When the knock sounded, Effie assumed it was Walter again and was a little ashamed that her heart did not speed up at the thought that he might have returned.
She was fond of him so why couldn’t that feeling tip over into love?. He was kind and intelligent and had grand ambitions to improve the lives of the alum workers. If this led him to be a little too serious, that was only natural and couldn’t be avoided. That afternoon she had seen that he had the ability to loosen his collar and enjoy himself. The cottage had been full of laughter and spicy, Christmassy scents. Effie had felt happier than she could remember and had even indulged in a brief daydream that it could last for longer. Walter would undoubtedly marry her if she gave him enough hope to pluck up the courage. Maybe she had to take a leap of faith and her feelings would grow as the marriage progressed, much like they had for John Cropton when she had been given no choice. Next time Walter mentioned marriage she might not reply with such a forceful no. It would be the sensible thing to do and they would be content, especially if she could encourage the lightheartedness she had seen.
She had been preparing for bed when the knock came and her hair hung loose over her shoulders. She removed the linen cloth from around her shoulders that she used to protect her dress from the oils and dust that were removed from her locks with the vigorous brushing. She gathered her hair and twisted it into a knot, securing it with one comb at the nape of her neck. She opened the door a crack and peered through.
It wasn’t Walter. The man who filled the doorframe couldn’t have been less like Walter unless he had two heads. He was dressed in a heavy black wool coat with the collar turned up and a fisherman’s cap shading his face. His appearance would have been unremarkable but for the fact that over the top of his coat he had wrapped a dark-brown fur.
“It’s late,” Effie said cautiously. “Do you need some help?”
He raised his head and stared at her with dark-brown eyes flecked with the glass-green hue of a winter sea. Effie’s heart stopped beating then sped up to double time.
“I come to speak of a child.”
The stranger’s accent bore a touch of Scottish with a hint of something from further away at the edge. His voice was low and slow and made Effie think of cowrie shells and surging tides. The tone sent ripples undulating up and down her spine and spreading out along her limbs, but his words made her belly clench.
“Are you from the Parish Overseers Committee?” she asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
The man gave a swift bow and stared at Effie. “I am not from any committee, Effie Cropton.”
“Then of which child would you be speaking?” Effie asked. She wondered how he knew her name if he had not come in any official capacity.
“I speak of the child who possesses a sealskin.”
He gestured to the fur draped across his shoulder. Effie saw, now she looked closer, that it had the same texture as the one the baby girl had been wrapped in.
His pupils grew darker and larger and when he spoke next it was with a commanding tone. “That child is mine.”
Effie’s hands tightened on the frame. No one had come forward to claim the girl in a year and now someone appeared in such outlandish garb under cover of night. She wished she were not alone. She wished that Alice – or better still, Walter – was at her side.
“And who are you?” Effie asked.
“My name is Lachlan.”
He removed his hat and shook out thick, dark hair, the same colour as the fur, before bowing gracefully once again. If he thought such pretty manners would appease Effie, he was about to find otherwise.
“I’ll need to see some papers,” Effie said. She folded her arms. “Who sent you? How did you know she was here?”
“No one sent me. I came myself. You ask a lot of questions, Effie Cropton, so here is one for you. Where is my daughter?”
“How do I know she is yours?” Effie said. She locked her knees to prevent her legs from shaking, and stood tall. “And it’s Mrs Cropton, if you please. I have no proof you have any claim over her. Come back tomorrow.”
She bit off her words, swallowing her breath and waiting for his response. The man held her gaze. A shiver ran down Effie’s spine at the intensity of his expression. She had stood up to him and yet he didn’t appear angry.
“Look at me, Mrs Cropton, and then look at my daughter and say we are not kin.”
She couldn’t deny it. His features were the same shape as the girl’s with narrow lips that were deeply clefted, a straight nose and the same intense expression in the dark eyes. He was perhaps thirty, or a little over, with small lines at the corners of his eyes and around his lips. His eyes suited his age more, looking less uncannily ancient than they did in a child’s face, but they still made Effie shiver.
“You’ve waited a pretty amount of time to claim her, Mr Lachlan.”. Effie folded her arms, blocking the doorway. Her heart thundered, though whether from fear or because of his captivating eyes, she could not tell.
“Just Lachlan will do, if you please,” he said.
He scowled. Even with his face crumpled in frustration he was exceedingly handsome. More so than John had been. More than any man Effie knew.
“I would have come sooner had it been in my power. I had no choice but to wait.”
Something in his tone caught Effie’s heart. There was sorrow beneath the frustration. She felt herself growing sympathetic, which was dangerous.
“I must take her tonight. The Midwinter tide turns and I cannot stay longer.”
Effie looked him up and down. As well as the heavy coat, he wore trousers of black moleskin and boots like the ones worn by the fishermen in the village.
“Do you have a ship waiting?” Effie asked.
He laughed unexpectedly, but his eyes remained serious. “Something like that. Please give me my child.”
Thank you, Elisabeth J Hobbes and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip. She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter. She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.