Excerpt © 2006 Lucy Monroe
. . .
They reached the lake after a
half an hour of brisk walking. Cait
ordered the young soldier to wait for them with his back turned on the
other side of some bushes. After
realizing the two women intended to bathe, the boy turned bright red and
hurried to obey his laird's sister.
always, Emily was careful to stay in the shallowest water, refusing Cait's
invitation to swim with hidden revulsion.
The thought of going into deeper water made her sick to her stomach
as it always did and she had to hide that as well.
She was proud of her ability to do so.
and Cait were finished bathing and redonning their clothes when Cait went
utterly still. She turned
toward where the Sinclair soldier had gone as if trying to see through the
thick plant growth.
the matter?" Emily asked. "He's
not peeking, is he?"
shook her head and put her finger against her lips in a sign to be quiet.
Emily couldn't imagine what had her so agitated, but she did as
Cait said and finished dressing as silently as possible.
Cait did the same, her expression stark with worry.
went rigid with tension, grabbing the small knife she used at mealtimes
from her belt. Her eyes were
fixed on the foliage several feet from the water's edge.
Emily's gaze followed Cait's, though she had no idea what they were
both watching for. A wild
animal perhaps? But she hadn't
heard anything and she had very good hearing.
answer came a second later as four gigantic warriors, their faces painted
with macabre blue designs and wearing a plaid of dark blue, green and pale
yellow came out of the forest. They
were riding the biggest horses she'd ever seen...bareback.
. . .
thought she had been prepared for anything in this
She was too busy praying.
giant men rode toward her and Cait, their fierce scowls made even more
menacing by the blue war paint. It
was not so much that they were bigger than the Sinclair warriors as that
they carried themselves as if they owned the world and all that was in it.
Considering they were on
another clan's territory, that said something. She'd
never seen such arrogance and she'd been raised by one of
sound of Cait's frightened intake of breath reminded Emily she was not
alone in facing the menace. Relief
turned to chagrin in the space of a second.
Emily didn't want her friend hurt...or frightened.
She turned to Cait, whose face had drained of color.
She was looking with terror at the warriors on horseback.
tried to smile reassuringly. "Don't
be frightened, Cait. It's only
some friends of your brother, I'm thinking."
looked mean enough to be friends to the Sinclair laird.
shook her head slowly, her eyes never leaving the approaching warriors.
Emily. These are Balmoral
soldiers and they have already killed
turned eyes filled with fury to the warrior closest to her.
"Surely, not. You
did not kill that boy. For it
would be a sin for a grown man to kill a child...even here in the
warrior she addressed, a redheaded demon with eyes the color of grass,
raised his brows but did not answer. He
watched her silently, causing her to nervously twist and untwist the folds
of her dress. She felt goaded
into speaking again.
you not know it is impolite to ignore a lady when she is speaking to
you?" She'd been using
Gaelic the whole time, so she knew the heathen monsters had to understand
warrior from her left spoke. He
could have been the first one's twin but for his brown eyes.
"We did not kill the boy."
turned back to her friend. "There
now. Do you see?
These are merciful men. I'm
sure we have nothing to fear."
prayed God would forgive her for the lie, but she hated the look of dread
in Cait's eyes.
snort of disbelief turned into a scream as the green eyed warrior swiftly
rode forward and swung her onto his horse.
He disarmed her in a move too quick for Emily to see, but she saw
the small knife fall to the ground. Forgetting
anything resembling ladylike decorum, she dove for it.
it in her hand, she scrambled to her feet and went for the warrior's
horse backed up and the knife swished uselessly through air.
She lurched forward to try again, but was caught from behind by an
arm as big as a pine tree. At
least that was how it felt ramming into her stomach and knocking out her
breath as she was lifted off her feet and dropped into a totally indecent
position in front of one of the Balmorals.
couldn't even scream, but she could bite and that's what she did, turning
and sinking her teeth into the shoulder not covered by the warrior's
bit down harder and tried to stab him in the thigh with the knife.
Suddenly, instead of the arm being around her waist, it was wrapped
around both her arms, holding them tight to her sides.
The thumb form his free hand pressed against her wrist and her hand
released the knife of its own volition.
horse beneath them started moving and the warrior growled in her ear.
"Stop trying to eat me, woman.
I didna think even the English infidels practiced
tasted blood and yanked her mouth away from the huge warrior's shoulder.
She spit to get the taste from her mouth and then turned to glare
at her captor but her attention was caught by Cait's wildly flailing body.
other woman fought desperately, trying to free herself.
The warrior holding her wasn't working too hard to subdue her, but
was concentrating on protecting her from the tree branches as they rode
swiftly through the forest.
about her own plight for the moment, Emily yelled, "Stop fighting,
Cait. You'll hurt the
can't let them take us!" Cait cried back.
"If we do, it will mean war between the Sinclairs and the
didn't see why that should be so upsetting to Cait.
From what she had heard, the
your brother did not want war, he should not have allowed his warrior to
keep one of my clanswomen," the warrior holding Emily said.
turned and glared at him, still struggling to be released, but not
thrashing as wildly. "She
was outside your holding... hunting on our land.
Her loss is your own responsibility."
man holding Cait said something to her.
Emily could not understand the words, but his harsh tone was
unmistakable. Cait said a word
that Emily didn't know and the warrior's profile hardened with anger.
Emily's own captor stiffened with affront, indicating he knew just
what the word meant and it wasn't good.
there were worse things than being likened to a goat.
the horses picked up their pace. There
was no chance to speak for the next several minutes as the men rode hard.
Emily worriedly watched Cait and was glad to note her friend no
longer struggled for release. She
must have realized a fall from a galloping horse could make her lose the
came to a clearing and stopped as suddenly as they had begun.
captor swung down from his horse, taking her with him and then turned her
to face him. Standing, he was
huge and she had to tilt her head back to see his face.
brown eyes encircled by gold stared down at her, no softness in evidence.
They were wolf's eyes, but instead of making her shiver, they made
her burn in places she could give no name.
She could not believe she was noticing something so shameful,
especially in her current predicament, but the man was altogether too much
for her senses to remain unaffected.
her alone," Cait yelled.
gaze skittered to her friend. Her
redheaded captor had a more effective hold on her now and Cait's arms were
pinned to her sides much the same as Emily's had been.
own captor's hands squeezed her shoulders in a demand for her whole
attention. "Tell the
laird we are keeping his sister and the babe in her. 'Tis fitting
retribution for Susannah."
stared at him in horror. "You
can't mean that. Please, you
mustn't take her away."
didn't bother to reply and she hadn't expected him to.
After all, why should he care for her pleas?
The man's mind was obviously made up to do this heinous deed.
her mouth opened to argue further, but he squeezed her shoulders again,
this time his thumbs brushing along her collarbone.
She gasped, no words making it past her suddenly tied tongue.
She couldn't think. Not
with him touching her in that inappropriate manner.
She wanted to tell him to stop, but something about him mesmerized
had not hurt her.
was a puzzle, but even more so was the question why he stood staring down
at her, saying nothing.
was frowning, but he didn't look particularly angry.
the men in the
cannot mean to take Cait on an arduous journey on horseback.
Surely you have noticed she is with child."
said nothing, giving her a glare meant to intimidate and it worked.
was the most daunting man she'd come across in her life.
He was also the most appealing one.
The blue paint on his face could not disguise the masculine beauty
of his features. Hair like
shining obsidian hung past his massive shoulders and even the intricate
tattoo around his bicep added to his appeal.
It looked like a blue arm band and none of the other soldiers had
that she would have seen any such thing on the Sinclair warriors.
They had the decency to cover their upper torsos with saffron
shirts under their plaids. Not
so with these barbarians. His
chest and one shoulder were bare. She
could see a purplish bruise forming where she'd bit him as well as a smear
winced, pained that she'd done that to another person.
face held an impassive stare, yet she felt as if he were reading her every
thought. She did not know how
she was going to stop him from taking her friend, but stop him she must.
pulled a handkerchief from where she had it tucked in her kirtle and wiped
gently at the blood on his chest, not completely aware of what she was
doing because her mind was spinning so furiously.
She had to protect Cait.
journey could hurt the babe," she pointed out.
do not hurt women. Drustan is
keeping her, but she and the bairn will not be harmed."
pressed the cloth over the small wound she had inflicted.
"Would not taking the laird's wife give you more
revenge?" she asked, a desperate plan forming in her mind.
warrior's eyes narrowed. "He
is not married."
that was true a few days ago, but it isn't anymore."
her friend's quick intake of breath at her lie, Emily silenced her with a
is this wife then?" asked the warrior, in spite of himself.
did not know why he hesitated and was actually listening to the
Englishwoman. She was lovely,
but he had never been swayed by a beautiful woman before.
Perhaps it was her courage, or the way she tended the wound she had
inflicted. The contradictory
behavior intrigued him.
did she. Her obvious concern
for Talorc's sister confused him. He
would have expected no less from another member of the Sinclair clan, but
this woman was not a Sinclair. She
was English. Unmistakably so
from the way she was dressed and spoke their tongue with the accent of
their southern foe.
or not, he liked watching her. She
tried so hard to hide her fear from him, but her trembling gave her away.
Despite her nervousness, purple eyes shot fire at him and this amused him.
She looked ready to go to battle.
she was not even a femwolf.
had the Sinclairs found a jewel such as this?
am his wife."
words hung in the air, slicing through his pleasure in her company.
This jewel belonged to the Sinclair?
He would not believe it.
shook his head.
turned to the Sinclair woman. "Your
brother chose an English mate?"
say your friend is a liar?" he asked in a voice that had sent grown
of course not. Talorc did not
choose me. Your king did it
won't convince me that he married an Englander."
The other man's hatred of the English was too strong.
He'd lost a father and a brother to a greedy English baron and his
cohort, the English woman who betrayed the Sinclair clan.
hates the English more that he hates the MacDonalds," Drustan said,
know Talorc hates the English and it has not been a happy
relationship." There was
too much truth in her tone for
did not think Talorc would be moved by any amount of money, but he could
not guess at the workings of the other clan chief's mind.
aren't you wearing his plaid?" he asked, while his mind latched on to
the ease with which his revenge could be enhanced in this fortuitous
willingness to marry did not extend to having an Englishwoman wearing his
plaid. He is not entirely
reconciled to this marriage."
you are his wife, he would only thank the Balmorals for ridding himself of
you," Ulf said from behind them.
flared briefly in her eyes and then she shielded them with her lashes,
shrugging. "His pride
would not like it, even if his emotions found only relief."
her hurt feelings moved
eyes widened, but he said nothing, merely frowning.
focused on the woman. She had
regained her composure and was speaking again.
if I am English," Emily added under her breath, inexplicably hurt by
the Balmoral soldier's cruel words.
should not care what any of these barbarians thought.
captor heard her and smiled. Her
heart almost stopped. An
enemy's smile should not look so heavenly, particularly in a face painted
another word, he grabbed her and swung up on his horse again, dropping her
in the same embarrassing perch she'd been before.
Her legs straddled the horse and her backside sat against his hard
thighs. She gave a gasp of
surprise, but otherwise tried to hide her fear now that her plan had
turned to her friend and said, "You must not concern yourself for me,
Cait. I shall be fine.
You can see that these warriors are kind and honorable."
simply shook her head, apparently struck dumb.
tried to smile, but didn't quite make it. "Good-bye,
that moment the horses started moving, but the warrior her captor had
called Druston did not release Cait.
must let Cait go now that you have me."
captor said nothing.
pinched at his thigh, but it was like trying to pinch a stone.
"I said, you've got to let my friend go."
will not be silenced. Let her
go, or I'll start screaming so loudly, they're bound to hear me all the
way back at the keep."
sound like that and I will gag you."
hold on her tightened...a warning squeeze she wasn't about to ignore.
She had no desire to be gagged.
situation was dire enough. Her
plan hadn't worked. Instead of
releasing her friend, the warrior had kidnapped them both.
What kind of man was this
had to make one last attempt to change his mind, as futile as it might be.
"But if you don't leave one of us behind, who will tell Talorc
that it was the Balmorals that did this thing?" she asked,
boy who was guarding you had opportunity to see our plaid before we
knocked him asleep," the warrior said in a tone that discouraged
didn't see what she had to lose. "You
left that poor boy senseless? What
if wild animals get him? Then
who will tell? What if wild
animals had gotten me on my way back to the holding if I had been
your messenger? I suppose that
wouldn't have mattered to you, me being English and all."
captor did not bother to answer. The
horses gradually picked up speed until the war party was galloping away
from Sinclair land at speed that made Emily's head spin.
She prayed for the safety of the unborn baby in her friend's womb
and then prayed the man holding her would not drop her.
hours later, after riding rigidly in her captor's arms, she was praying
for the strength to withstand just one more minute of this torture before
disgracing herself and crying like a baby.
When she thought she could not take another moment of the pain in
her back from trying to sit away from the man carrying her, he raised his
hand in a silent command to halt.
swung down from his horse, bringing her with him.
But he let her go immediately as if he could not stand to touch
her. Foolishly offended by his
rejection, she groaned in pain as she straightened her back, sure the
moisture burning her eyes was from that pain alone.
Truthfully, it was all she could do not to sink to her knees in
weak relief. She walked
gingerly, making her way to her friend's side to check on Cait's
you alright?" she asked with concern.
smiled wearily. Emily was
obviously in pain and trying to hide it.
She was only human after all and the ride had been a punishing
one...even for Cait. And she
was a femwolf. "Yes.
Drustan held me very gently and took care that I was not jostled by
warrior's consideration made her feel strange.
She knew their plan was to keep her in retaliation for Susannah,
but he was not being cruel to her. In
fact, he'd been more careful with her than her husband had ever been.
if he could be so careful of her, why had the clan been so careless of
Susannah? A femwolf left to
hunt alone, especially when she was in heat was fair game for an unmated
werewolf and well they should know it.
on the other hand look as if you were forced to ride balancing on a
mace," Cait added.
grimaced, her heart shaped face pinched and pale with exhaustion.
"You are not far from the truth.
The effort to sit forward and maintain my balance has left my back
feeling like it will never straighten completely again."
did you not relax against
looked askance at her. "Relax
against him?" she asked incredulously.
shook her head. Was it Emily's
Englishness or the fact that she was a human that made her so prim?
Cait would never have spent such a grueling ride trying to maintain
propriety, but then she was a wolf and they were taught from the cradle to
be more practical about their bodies than the human members of her clan
tended to be.
did you know my captor's name?" Emily asked.
"Have you seen him before?"
but he's obviously the leader and he spoke possessively about Susannah, so
I'm guessing he is the laird of the Balmoral clan...
you want me to ask if I am right?"
I'm sure you are. It
was a clever guess, but I was too busy trying to think of ways to escape
to work it through. I should
have figured out he was the laird anyway. It's obvious now that you say
had to smile at her friend's chagrin.
"Do not be too hard on yourself."
so smart I got both of us kidnapped. If
I hadn't, I could have raised the alarm and gotten your brother's warriors
in pursuit all the faster."
felt badly that Emily had been kidnapped too, but considering the way she
and Talorc got along, Cait didn't think the other woman being left behind
would have been an improvement. Especially
if she didn't succeed at escape. And,
in her condition, she had very little hope of doing so.
the time you had walked back to the keep, we would have been too far ahead
to do me any good. Remember,
we had ridden a fair way before the laird was prepared to release you.
As it is,
hope you're right and that no wild animals got him."
is no unprotected human." Cait grimaced at her slip, but Emily didn't
seem too notice.
was too busy looking around her. "Why
did we stop here, do you think?"
get in the boat."
Emily asked, going pale. "What
Balmoral clan live in a fortress on an island.
Once we are in the boat, it will be much harder for my brother to
will be no rescue, lass," Drustan called in a hard voice from a
gasped in shock even as her whole body shook with fear at the prospect of
being dragged onto a boat. "How
did he know we were talking about that?"
could hear us."
Emily shook her head. "We're
too far away and we've been speaking in undertones.
He must have made a clever guess."
looked as though she were going to argue.
Cait shook her head. "Never
mind. Do you speak
Latin?" she asked in that language in a bare whisper.
hoping they don't."
understood immediately. In
case one of them did have particularly good hearing, it wouldn't hurt if
she and Cait spoke in a foreign tongue.
She would ask another time how her friend had learned Latin.
It wasn't an uncommon accomplishment for women of her status in
so far, that belief had been shown up as a gross exaggeration.
are we going to do?"
pretending that you are debilitated by the ride."
should be easy," Emily said with a grimace, her sore muscles making
it not much of a pretense.
have to steal some horses."
they will only follow us."
one hope is to stay ahead of them long enough to meet up with my
he is following."
is. Trust me.
Do you notice how they are letting the horses drink without a
looked to the water's edge where all five horses drank.
The men were busy readying the boat Cait had mentioned and some
kind of contraption that she thought might be for the horses.
It looked like a floating raft, but with openings for the horses to
be harnessed to it, so they could swim behind the boat, but be kept
afloat? At least that is what
it seemed to her.
need to get closer to the horses and when they have two of them harnessed
for crossing the sea and are busy with the third one, we will grab the
last two and run. We must be
nodded and then had an inspiration. "Laird?"
looked at her, his expression thoughtful.
and I need a moment of privacy."
dark brow rose, the only indication he gave that he heard her.
felt a blush climb her cheeks. "To, you know..."
he knew their plan was to try to steal horses, he wasn't concerned about
allowing her the moment of privacy she asked for, but he did wonder what
she thought it would gain her.
quick," he barked.
jumped, nodded and turned to hurry into the bushes.
Cait was right behind her.
listened to them as they left.
awfully surly, isn't he?" the Englishwoman asked.
laird," Cait replied.
that's his excuse for rudeness? I
don't know why I'm surprised. It's
your brother's as well."
of her husband, the Sinclair laird, irritated him and
spirited lasses, aren't they?" Drustan asked from beside him.
is one way to put it,"
called me a horse's backside."
laughed. "I'll have her
apology tonight, along with other things."
Balmorals don't hurt women."
don't bed other men's wives either."
warning growl rumbled low in
that bothers you?"
he bit out.
it be easier to keep your hands off her if she weren't, do you
should have left her in the forest."
could still leave her. The
Sinclair is probably only a couple of hours behind us."
you kill him, she would be a widow," Drustan said helpfully.
still not convinced she is a wife." No
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No portion of this excerpt may be copied or published anywhere other than authorís website without author and publisher written permission.