easy, in reality, much as she wanted this over and done.
If her past with him was known, she risked genuine ruin; the repercussions could ruin her family, her island, her son's future. She knew a few acquaintances on the mainland, including distant kin, who would relish her downfall and any benefit they could take from it.
If Dougal Stewart knew the entire truth, he would have enough fuel for any enemy's fire. She could not trust him. She had learned that much.
Her stomach twisted, knowing one day she would have to tell him. Else the truth would out on its own, as truths would do.
She rose to gaze through the window. The house was set on a high rise that overlooked much of the island, with a view of white beaches, rocky hills, and the colorful machair, surrounded by endless sky and ocean. To the east lay Scotland's coast. To the west, Sgeir Caran was a dark dot on the sea.
Sighing, she leaned her head in her hands, wondering what to do. Stewart could ruin the peace of this place, her life—
She turned as the door of the drawing room burst open and Iain ran toward her, fresh and smiling. His blond hair, shaped to a bowl and in need of cutting again, fell over his eyes. Meg smiled and brushed back the thick golden locks to see his big green eyes. His father's eyes.
Her heart bounded, turned deep each time she saw him. Her love for this child nearly overtook her at times. She smiled, gave none of that almost desperate emotion away. He deserved only her best and warmest.
"Berry says we can go to the beach!" Iain said in Gaelic.
"English, dear," Meg reminded him.
He nodded. "I did my lessons and read in English to Berry, who says I did good—well."
"That's excellent, Iain," Meg answered, looking up to smile as a buxom lady entered the room after the child. "Mrs. Berry and I will be happy to take you to the beach. It is a lovely day for it. Grandmother Thora and Mother Elga will be there, too. They promised to meet us there with small Anna."
"Master Iain did verra well today," Mrs. Berry said. "He's speaking nicely and reading well. His maths need work, and his handwriting, but that will come. He made a fine drawing of a sea monster. So fantastic, it frightened me out of me shoes!" Mrs. Berry folded her hands over her ample stomach, encased in her usual black gown, her blue eyes crinkled in a smile. Iain giggled.
Elspeth Berry had been Meg's governess in the winter months, year after year, when she had stayed in her grandfather's castle as a young girl. Her impish smile, easy laugh, and practical, kind manner had endeared her to Meg from the very first. Mrs. Berry was a widow, and distantly related to Meg's deceased mother—whose father had left Meg the bulk of his staggering fortune.
Meg felt a tug of gratitude toward her friend. With wealth and friends and family, with so much fullness in her life, she yet had dark secrets that had bruised her heart. Few knew she had given birth out of wedlock, let alone guessed the boy's father. The wide belief was that Iain was Fergus's foster son.
"Good lad!" Meg told Iain. "Bring a bucket to the beach so you can collect winkles and shells. If you find some, I could draw them in my little notebook. Berry would like to splash in the water, too. The day is perfect for a bathing costume if you would like to fetch it." Meg smiled over at Mrs. Berry.
"Ma leddy, I'd like that. And you, ma dear, must remember your straw hat and your almond cream. You canna return to Edinburgh looking like the nut-brown maiden! Your soiree is only weeks away!"
"Of course. will you run and ask Mrs. Hendry to pack us some things for the beach? A luncheon basket would be nice." As she spoke, he bolted toward the door.
"Walk, Master Iain," Berry said. "We didna mean run!"
He slowed, hand on the doorknob. "I will ask for cheese sand-witches. Come, Berry. Hurry!"
" Mrs. Berry, " Meg reminded him, as the two left.
Alone again, Meg sighed. Her own son did not know that his supposed cousin, a very rich