Thorn in My Heart
In the autumn of 1788, amid the moors and glens of the Scottish Lowlands, two brothers and two sisters each embark on a painful journey of discovery. Brimming with passion and drama, this book reveals spiritual truths that transcend time....
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In the autumn of 1788, amid the moors and glens of the Scottish Lowlands, two brothers and two sisters each embark on a painful journey of discovery. Brimming with passion and drama, this book reveals spiritual truths that transcend time.
1. Rowena McKie appears through only the first seven chapters of the book, but her influence is felt throughout the story. In what ways does she shape Jamie's past, present, and future? What, if anything, makes her a sympathetic character? How is she like her brother, Lachlan, and how is she different? 2. Rowena clearly considers her deceptive plan to be necessary. How does she justify her actions? What does her behavior reveal about her relationship with her husband, Alec? And what of her other son, Evan? How has she convinced herself that he deserves such ill treatment? 3. To what extent is a man like Jamie McKieheroic one minute, cowardly the nexta believable character? When does Jamie behave heroically, and when do his weaknesses surface? How would you describe his overall character? What changes take place in Jamie's character from the first chapter to the last, and who or what brought about those changes? 4. Rowena favors Jamie; Alec favors Evan. Can you recall specific examples of parental favoritism evident in Lachlan's treatment of Leana and Rose? And how do the sisters respond to their father in distinctive ways? 5. Leana McBride has many positive qualities, but she is by no means perfect. What are her strengths, and what are her weaknesses? To what extent is she a heroine? a victim? a fallen woman? Regarding her relationship with Jamie, is she naive? foolish? obsessed? What outcome were you hoping for in Leana's life? 6. Rose and Leana are vastly differentas opposite as Evan and Jamieyet the sisters have a much healthier relationship. What words would you use to describe young Rose, and how did you feel about her as you got to know her? Did your opinion of her alter as the story unfolded? Which scene struck you as most true to life for two sisters living under the same roof? 7. Despite Lachlan McBride insisting, "There are to be no saicrets in this household," Auchengray overflows with secrets. What secrets does Leana keep? What are Jamie's secrets? And Rose's? As for Lachlan, secrets, lies, and deception are his currency, used to manipulate and coerce. How might you explain Lachlan's need to control the lives of those around him? 8. The epigraphs that introduce each chapter were carefully chosen. My personal favorite is the Scottish proverb, "A winter's night, a woman's mind, and a laird's purpose aften change." For you, which quote best captures the essence of the novel, and why? 9. On her wedding night, Leana convinces herself she must climb into Jamie's bed. Were you surprised by her decision? appalled? Which, if any, of the reasons she offers in chapter 48 are valid? Did you find yourself scolding her...or rooting for her? What motivation, above all others, sent Leana tiptoeing into Jamie's room to "seek his blessing"? 10. When he was a lad of seventeen, Robert Burns wrote: Such was my life's deceitful morning, Such the pleasures I enjoy'd! But lang or noon loud tempests, storming, A' my flowery bliss destroy'd. Jamie McKie might have penned those very sentiments himself on the first day of 1789. Why is Leana the target of his anger? How would you describe Lachlan's conduct toward Jamie that morning? Who is most to blame for this tragic turn of eventsLachlan, Jamie, or Leana? Even though she is not on the scene until later, how might Rose have contributed to this debacle? 11. Neda and Duncan Hastings both serve as a moral compass for the story. Especially in chapters 59 and 67, how do they provide a sense of true north for Leana and Jamie? In what other scenes do Neda's willing ear and Duncan's ready wisdom offer much needed direction and stability? 12. At what point in the story did the significance of the title, Thorn in My Heart, come alive for you? Leana eventually defines that thorn as her love for Jamie"the love that would not stop"but each character could claim to have a "thorn" in his or her heart as well. What might Rose's thorn be? And Jamie's? What thorns press upon Lachlan? Rowena? 13. Three hundred years ago Matthew Henry wrote, "Whom God loves he never leaves." That same truth, inspired by Genesis 28:15, echoes throughout the novel: I will never leave you. Even when Jamie's behavior is less than honorable, those words from his heavenly dream keep coming back to him. How does Jamie react each time he remembers that assurance? How might those words encourage you in your own spiritual journey? 14. Leana came to a point of desperation before she came to a place of peace. What is the "dark moment," the lowest point of Leana's trials? When does she begin to climb out of that darkness and move toward the light of hope? How does Rose aid her sister in that painful process of maturing? And how does Rose hinder Leana's efforts? 15. In desperation, Jamie prays, "Please, God, help me love her in return." What evidence do you see of such love for Leana in the final chapter of the novel? What does he say to her that suggests his heart is changing? What is his relationship with Rose at story's end? Which issues and conflicts are resolved by the last page, and which are merely on hold? What might the future hold for this thorny triangle? 16. The one constant that permeates the story from beginning to end is bonny Scotland itself. Which passage in particular brought the Scottish Lowlands of the eighteenth century to life for you? In what ways are time and place critical to the telling of this story? In what ways does Thorn in My Heart transcend time and place?
Two brothers fight to claim one father’s blessing.
Two sisters long to claim one man’s heart.
In the autumn of 1788, amid the moors and glens of the Scottish Lowlands, two brothers and two sisters each embark on a painful journey of discovery.
Jamie and Evan McKie both want their father Alec’s flocks and lands, yet only one brother will inherit Glentrool. Leana and Rose McBride both yearn to catch the eye of the same handsome lad, yet only one sister will be his bride.
A thorny love triangle emerges, plagued by lies and deception, jealousy and desire, hidden secrets and broken promises. Brimming with passion and drama, Thorn in My Heart brings the past to vibrant life, revealing spiritual truths that transcend time and penetrate the deepest places of the heart.
Liz Curtis Higgs has been telling tales since she wrote her first novel at the tender age of ten. Careers in broadcasting, public speaking, nonfiction writing, and children s books brought her back to her first love – fiction – at the turn of the 21st century.
My mother groan’d! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt.
Glen of Loch Trool
"Breathe not a word of my visit, Jean. Not to a soul.”
The midwife merely nodded, opening the bothy door wider to receive her unexpected guest. Rowena McKie brushed past her into the cottage, then eased her ungainly body onto a rough bench. Her skirt caught on the splintery wood, and she snatched it free with an impatient yank. Another ragged seam for Ivy’s busy needle and thread to mend. “Tell me the babe’s coming soon, Jean. Mr. McKie can’t sleep at night for worrying.”
Carrying her husband’s heir through the long days of a Lowland summer had ground Rowena down like corn at McCracken’s mill. Her feet were swollen, her knees ached, and even fresh meadowsweet could not ease the burning in her stomach. Rowena pressed her damp palms against the unfinished oak and took the deepest breath she could. She’d come to the midwife for answers and had no intention of leaving without them.
“Now, now.” The older woman leaned over and squeezed Rowena’s shoulder, her touch as gentle as her words. “Nothin’ mair than nerves. Yer first time and all.” Jean’s eyes were wreathed in wrinkles and blue as forget-me-nots. Her dress was made of striped drugget, the too-snug bodice made for a younger woman. Beneath the ragged hem poked her bare feet, browned by the sun, the nails grass stained but neatly trimmed. “Ye were right to come knockin’ on my door. What would folks in the glen be sayin’ if I didn’t tend to Mr. McKie’s firstborn? Yer time is still a month off, but when it comes—”
“A month?” Rowena’s eyes widened. “Are you daft, woman? I’ll not last a week like this! Can’t you see how the child moves within me?” To prove her claim she arched her back, inviting the midwife’s inspection. “Look for yourself. Like a wild goat kicking his heels to one side, then the other.”
“Mair than one wee goat.” Jean smoothed her hands across the fabric of Rowena’s dress, measuring the shape of her distended figure with a practiced eye. “Twa, I’d say.”
Rowena’s mouth dropped open. “Twins?”
The midwife nodded thoughtfully. “Boys, I’ll wager.”
Speechless, Rowena stared down at her belly. Her husband, Alec, had pleaded with the Almighty to bless her barren womb with a son. But two at once? Another kettle of fish, that. She rubbed her aching sides, feeling the child—children, if the midwife was right—moving beneath the gentle pressure of her hands. The walls of Glentrool were built with a large family in mind. Would her aging body be so accommodating?
A swift kick in her abdomen seemed an uncanny answer. “Speak the truth, Jean. This constant commotion, the sharp pains in my ribs. Surely this can’t be the usual way of things, even with twins?”
The midwife chewed on her lip, continuing to press and prod Rowena’s middle. “Twa bairns are always harder on the mither. But I fear somethin’ is amiss.” A note of compassion crept into the older woman’s voice. “How auld are ye, Mistress McKie?”
“Too old to be having my first, if that’s what you mean.” The worst of her many worries had come home to roost. “I’ll be thirty-eight come November.”
Jean made a st-st sound against her teeth. “If I weren’t so certain this was the Lord’s doin’, I’d be gatherin’ stanes for yer burial cairn. But seein’ how the Almighty has placed his hand upon yer womb, I’ll be usin’ these instead.” She reached into the money pouch tied at her waist and unfolded her fingers to reveal two silver coins in her palm. “All ready to tuck into their fists. Ye know the custom?”
Rowena nodded, relieved to hear the woman’s confident tone. Jean was a woman who feared the Almighty, not a common wutch. The silver pieces cast no spell; they were meant for good luck and the blessing of wealth. It seemed Jean expected the children to live. And so, please God, would she.
Rowena rose unsteadily to her feet, hoping the change in position might offer some relief. Instead it yielded another vicious kick from her hidden offspring and a jolt of pain at the base of her spine. Jean’s passing comment crept into her bones like a damp mist, chilling her. “You said something is amiss?”
The midwife nodded slowly. “They’re twins…but not the same. Verra different lads. One stronger than the other. By and by, the older will serve the younger.”
Rowena’s mouth went dry. Twins but not twins. A bad omen after all. She would see them baptized by the parish minister at the earliest possible hour. But the older serving the younger? That was not the Scottish way of things. Staring hard at the woman’s unblinking blue gaze, Rowena searched her lined face for assurance. “Is this a word from the Almighty?”
“ ’Tis that, aye.” Jean’s gray head bobbed slowly up and down. “Time will prove me truthful.”
“I’ve little doubt of that.” For the moment she would let the subject rest. Jean Wilson was the finest howdie in Galloway. Rowena knew she would be in good hands when the time came. “I’d best be home before Mr. McKie discovers I’m gone and frets himself sick. I slipped out the door without telling him where I was going.” She shrugged slightly, knowing Jean would understand. “He’s fash enough these days, watching my belly grow.” Rowena moved toward the door, gathering her light plaid about her shoulders. Summer or not, the evening winds blew a stout breeze across Loch Trool. “Don’t stray far, Jean. I’ll be sending my maidservant Ivy Findlay round soon enough. You’ll be here when she calls?”
“I’ve not missed a birthin’ in the glen all these years, Mistress McKie.”
“Aye. By God’s mercy, mine will not be the first.”
Bidding her farewell, Rowena left the thatch-roofed cottage behind and picked her way along the winding path toward home. Awkward as she was of late, riding on horseback was impossible and a carriage out of the question, with no proper road and bogs at every turn.
Rowena slowed her steps, more exhausted than she could ever remember. And no wonder. Twins! All well and good for Alec, nearing sixty, to pray for an heir. He didn’t have the burden of carrying the babes. “Nor the challenge of bearing them,” she announced to a wheatear that flew over her shoulder, its black-and-white tail flirting like a lass’s fan.
She tilted her head back, taking in the steep slopes rising all around, so different from the rolling hills of east Galloway where she’d spent her girlhood. Mulldonach loomed on the right, where Robert the Bruce had claimed his first victory against the English troops by rolling great boulders down the steep slopes and crushing the army. Ahead rose Buchan Hill, once the hunting ground of Comyn, Earl of Buchan, now covered with McKie flocks. Rough and craggy at the top, the mountains gave way to slender stretches of grass and sparse, piney woods along the meandering loch.
At the heart of the glen stood the granite walls of Glentrool, the only laird’s house for miles and her home for the last twenty years. Guests marveled at the imposing tower house with its round turrets and soaring chimneys that stood in the shadow of the Fell of Eschoncan. When asked how it had been constructed in so remote a setting, Alec borrowed a tale from the Bruce and insisted, “The stanes rolled doon the mountain, and the hoose built itself!”
When Archibald McKie, Alec’s father, bartered a bride for his son from the distant parish of Newabbey, Glentrool had welcomed her with pine-scented arms. Bartered was not quite the way of it, Rowena reminded herself with a chuckle, but it was not far from the truth. Her brother, Lachlan, had urged her to marry Alec, and she’d agreed sight unseen. It was not merely the vast McKie lands that had appealed to Lachlan’s greedy nature. The fine gold bracelets McKie’s manservant had slipped around her wrists were enticement as well. “A bonny bride is soon decorated,” young Lachlan had whispered in her ear, pocketing the silver McKie’s man had pressed into his own hands. “Haste to his side, lass, and let him see what his coin has purchased.”
Rowena and Alec were married a fortnight later with their parents’ ardent blessings.
How young she’d been! Eighteen, green as Galloway grass in May. What had she known of marriage, of life in the lonely glen, far from village and friend? She’d learned to care for her older, steady-tempered husband, even to love him as the years passed. Respect had not come so easily. Alec gave in too readily to her wishes. He was more wind-bent willow than stalwart oak, good man though he was. Rowena shook her head, thinking of all the times her headstrong nature had overwhelmed his passive one. “Such a heidie lass I’ve brought under my roof!” he would say, then pinch her cheek a bit harder than necessary. Willful she might be, but before summer’s end she would present him with not one heir, but two. It was a secret too good to keep, yet too dangerous to tell until the babes were safely tucked in her arms and away from the fairies’ grasp.
“Och!” Rowena yanked her skirts clear of a prickly blackthorn bush, imagining the seasons to come with two strong-willed young sons. Who would help her raise them when their father grew too old and weak to be of any use? Her parents were gone. And her brother lived in distant Newabbey, separated from her by mountains and moors.
“I’ll be needing your help, Lord,” she whispered, stepping gingerly along the mossy banks. “If I’m to raise my sons worthy of their father’s blessing, I canna do it alone."
Rowena was anything but alone when her time came.
Half a dozen women gathered about her birthing room to witness the birth of the McKie heir. Rowena vaguely recognized their faces through the pain that hung over her like a shroud, yet she could not think of a single one of their names. Was that McTaggart’s widow in the stiff gray bonnet? Or one of the McMillans from Glenhead? Every one of her neighbors would later insist that she was present at the birth. Rowena heard the women murmuring, felt their eyes on her. For the moment they offered more gossip than comfort.