My Brave Highlander Excerpt

 
Chapter One

 

Scotland, November 1618

 

Dirk MacKay urged his horse into a gallop along the narrow, muddy road that led from Draughon Castle toward Perth. Praying he wouldn't be too late to see his father alive one last time, he squinted against the cool, misty rain stinging his eyes.

The meager light of dawn hidden behind thick, leaden clouds provided little illumination. Greenish-brown hills dotted with grazing sheep and rolling beige grain fields sped by on either side of the road. Tulloch carried him closer to the thatched-roof stone crofters' cottages situated before a small wood of bare-limbed trees. A faint white mist hung over the massive River Tay, hidden amongst the bushes in the distance.

Dirk hoped he'd slipped away before his two friends knew what he was about. They would insist on going with him and he couldn't allow them to make such a sacrifice.

Lachlan was recently married and a newly titled earl and chief. He would be daft to accompany Dirk on a dangerous trek through the snowy Highlands to the edge of the earth, leaving his wife and clan to fend for themselves.

Although Robert "Rebbie" MacInnis, Earl of Rebbinglen, was a Highlander with naught to tie him down, Dirk wouldn't put his life in danger, either.

It wasn't simply the severe cold weather of the north that made Dirk worry over his friends' safety. A murderer lurked amongst his clansmen… a murderer who wanted Dirk dead, and wouldn't bat an eye at killing one of his friends, as well. He shook his head. Nay, he'd done the right thing by not asking Lachlan or Rebbie to risk their lives by traveling with him to Durness.

The three of them had been near inseparable for the past few years, but Dirk needed to handle this on his own. He'd been living in limbo for twelve years, and now it was time to return to his real life… to follow his destiny.

Behind him, quick, rhythmic hoof-beats pounded the road and spattered through puddles. A sharp whistle pierced the chill, wet air. Dirk glanced back to find a dark-haired, black-cloaked man following him.

Rebbie.

"Damnation." How had he known? Dirk slowed his horse, then halted and turned to face his approaching friend. Tulloch, snorting at the interruption to his gleeful run, danced about beneath him. "Whoa, lad," Dirk said, trying to calm the horse.

When Rebbie drew up and stopped beside him, Dirk asked, "Where are you going?"

"A better question is where are you going? You left without a word. Luckily, I heard the floorboards creaking as you slipped past my chamber this morn. Does it have aught to do with that missive you received last evening?"

"I'm in no need of help," Dirk said, skirting the disconcerting question.

Rebbie's black brows lowered. "Even if you did need help, you're likely too proud to ask for it. What's happened to cause you to slip away like this?"

"I must return home without delay." And, nay, it was not pride that kept him from asking for help. There were some things a man must face on his own.

Rebbie tugged on the reins of his fidgeting, temperamental bay. "Why?"

Gazing north, Dirk observed the mist-cloaked, brownish mountains in the distance. He would have to travel far beyond them to reach home. "An urgent family matter."

"Of what sort?"

"Damnation, Rebbie. Must you always ask a thousand questions?" Dirk hated the way his chest tightened every time he thought about the loss he might face once he returned to the castle where he grew up. The regret. The fear. If he hurried, he might still have time to see his father alive. "'Twould take too long to explain it now. I must be on my way."

Rebbie's frown deepened and his steady gaze grew darker. "How far are you traveling?"

Dirk hesitated, unsure whether he wanted to blurt out the truth. His friends thought he was someone he was not, but 'twas time to face facts. 'Twould no doubt spawn numerous other questions from his inquisitive friend. But there was no point in lying anymore. He was coming out of hiding and taking the bull by the horns—for a certainty, his life would be in danger once he reached Castle Dunnakeil.

"I'm going home to Durness," Dirk said, feeling more like his true self than he had in years.

"Saints, man!" Rebbie exclaimed. His horse flicked his ears and turned in an agitated circle. "That's where you're from? I thought the MacLeries were from Strathspey."

"Aye." His mother's clan lived in that area and he had spent much time there. But his true name wasn't MacLerie. It was MacKay. He couldn't tell Rebbie that now or he'd ask a thousand more prying questions.

Rebbie waited for Dirk to explain, and when he didn't, Rebbie raised a brow. "Durness, aye?"

Dirk nodded, a sudden gust of wind whipping his damp hair into his eyes.

"Well, at least come back to the keep for a few minutes. Lachlan can provide supplies, food and wool blankets. In this weather, 'twill take a long while to travel to Durness."

"I'm well aware. My plan is to ride west, through Stirling, then head up the west coast by galley or ship. If the weather is decent, I can travel most of the way by sea." But the wind and rain, which had been near unnoticeable when he'd left Draughon Castle a quarter hour ago, was now turning into a gale.

"I'm coming with you," Rebbie said, his determined jaw hardening.

Rebbie was a proficient and skilled former soldier, up to any battle that might come their way, but the harsh Highland winter was a different matter, and so was the murderer. "Nay, I think it best if you stay here and help Lachlan."

"Och! 'Tis not safe for anyone, even someone so fearsome and trained as you, to travel that far alone. There are highwaymen, savage pirates and outlaws. Sometimes large bands of them." Rebbie's brown eyes narrowed, giving him the look of the pirates he talked about. "Come. Let's discuss it back at Draughon, out of this rain. Rushing off unprepared will be of little help. You need supplies. Extra wool clothing."

Dirk's stomach clenched with dread. 'Haps his friend was right. He'd planned to buy supplies in Perth or Stirling. But taking them from here might be more practical; he wouldn't have to waste time looking for the items he would need.

"Very well." It was still early morn. If they didn't tarry too long, they could make much progress today.

They quickly rode back to massive Draughon Castle with its four, round, gray stone towers and large rectangular keep. The guards at the black iron gates allowed them entrance to the high-walled, stone-paved barmkin. They circled around the side of one tower to the stables.

Rebbie swung down, his feet landing with a clunk on the cobblestones. "Prepare our horses, along with two more, for a long journey," he told the stable lad.

"Two more?" Dirk asked, dismounting. "Lachlan can't leave Lady Angelique and his clan."

"I ken it, but the two of us will need servants to care for the horses, run errands and such."

Dirk rolled his eyes at the coddled nobleman. "I have no servants. And the fewer in our party the better."

Rebbie waved him off. "We'll discuss it later."

The two of them proceeded around the side and up the front steps of the keep.

Once inside the expansive, two-story great hall, Dirk approached the massive burning fireplace near the high table to warm his back, while Rebbie sent his manservant, George, to wake Lachlan. Dirk ran his gaze over the large tapestries depicting Drummagan family history that decorated the walls. They reminded him of the ones at Dunnakeil.

Female servants lit candles and carried food up from the ground level kitchens, preparing for breakfast at the long wooden tables.

Rebbie and Dirk pilfered a couple of buttered bannocks while they waited.

A few moments later, Lachlan MacGrath-Drummagan, wearing a belted plaid, emerged from the narrow turnpike stairway. "Angelique is sick," he murmured for their ears only.

"What's wrong?" Dirk asked.

"Nausea, vomiting."

Dirk and Rebbie exchanged a concerned but curious glance.

"'Haps she is with child," Rebbie suggested.

"Aye." Lachlan gave a wee joyful grin. "I'm hoping that's what it is." His sandy-blond hair glinting in the candlelight, he glanced back at the stairs briefly, making it clear he wanted to be up in the bedchamber with her. Facing forward again, he asked, "What are you two doing? Looks like you've been out riding in the rain."

"Aye, Dirk is headed to Durness and I'm accompanying him," Rebbie said. "We need provisions and supplies, if you can spare them. Wool blankets, mantles and enough food for a sennight."

"God's teeth!" Lachlan's light brown eyes widened. "Why in blazes would you need to go to the far north?"

"I'm not entirely certain." Rebbie looked to Dirk.

He merely grunted, heavy dread hanging over him like the dark gray clouds outside. He didn't mind his friends knowing, but it was the act of telling them he wasn't looking forward to. Talking about his past stirred up all sorts of painful emotions. He hated emotions because he felt them too sharply and too deeply.

Lachlan sent two kitchen maids in search of food Dirk and Rebbie might take with them—bread, hard cheese, oatcakes, dried fruit, wine and apples.

"We'll go into the library." Lachlan led the way down a short corridor, then closed the door behind them.

Though no fire burned in the small hearth, Dirk had always found this smaller, low-ceilinged room cozy and comforting, maybe because it reminded him of his father's library at Dunnakeil, a place he'd felt safe as a lad.

"Out with it, man," Rebbie said, dropping into one of the cushioned leather chairs. "We want to know what the missive said."

"You are demanding of a sudden," Dirk muttered, pacing before the cold hearth. He could hardly bring himself to voice the words he needed to say, but stalling was doing naught but wasting precious time. He cleared his throat, trying to relieve the slight ache. "My father is ill. My uncle does not expect him to live long." Speaking the facts aloud was almost like an arrow piercing his chest for he had always been close to his beloved father.

"Nay." Rebbie frowned, his eyes troubled.

An unexpected illness of some sort had taken hold of his father. Dirk should've returned to Durness months ago, but he hadn't known his father would become sick.

"I'm saddened to hear of it," Lachlan said in a comforting tone. "When did you last see him?"

Dirk was ashamed to admit how many years it had been. "When I was fifteen summers."

A weighty silence filled the room. Dirk stared into the black coals of the hearth rather than his friends' curious eyes. He knew what they must be thinking. Why so long?

"Was there some sort of rift?" Rebbie asked.

"You could say that." His friends needed to know the whole truth. A truth Dirk hadn't spoken of for twelve years. It seemed like forever. He was closer to these two men than he was to anyone, even his own family. If he couldn't trust them, who could he trust?

He inhaled a deep breath and released it. "When I was a wee lad, my mother died giving birth to my sister. My father remarried a year or two later and had two more sons. My stepmother, Maighread Gordon, wanted her oldest son to inherit. So… she tried to kill me—or have me killed—more than once."

"'Slud!" Lachlan rasped, his amber-brown eyes darkening and his face turning into a warrior's mask. "When you were but a bairn?"

"Aye. The last time, when I was fifteen, a man attempted to push me off a cliff onto the rocks far below in the sea. My cousin, a good friend, was with me. He died but I, by some miracle, managed to land on a wee ledge about fifteen feet down. The next morn, my uncle came to my rescue. My father thinks I'm dead, as does the rest of the clan. The only people who know I still live are my uncle, aunt, and two cousins."

"Saints," Rebbie hissed. "What a witch. Is she still alive?"

"Last I heard. Anyway, my uncle told everyone I died and took me to live with my mother's clan in Strathspey. I went to university a couple of years later." That was where he'd met Lachlan and Rebbie. "I've kept my identity secret for the past twelve years."

"What is your true name?" Rebbie asked.

"Dirk MacKay."

"You're not a MacLerie? Why did you not tell us?" Lachlan asked.

"My mother was a MacLerie. And… well, it was simply easier and safer that everyone think my name MacLerie. My uncle ordered me to tell no one, for my stepmother comes from a powerful clan with a far reach."

"I see. Your father holds a title and property, then?" Rebbie asked.

"Aye, but nothing so remarkable as yours. He's a baron and a chief. MacKay lands are vast but contain little arable land. The holdings include a keep called Castle Dunnakeil, a manor house about twenty miles away and several hundred clansmen scattered over MacKay Country along the north coast."

"'Tis impressive," Lachlan said. "You will one day inherit, then?"

Dirk shrugged. "'Tis my duty and responsibility to lead and guide the clan when my father is no longer able. He trained me for this from as far back as I remember."

One of his first memories was riding a large horse with his father. Dirk must have been three or four at the time. One day this will be yours, Da had said. When I'm gone, I want you to take care of the clan as if they are your children. Do you understand? Dirk recalled looking up into his father's proud and noble face, with his russet beard and blue eyes. Dirk had nodded, even though he truly didn't understand. But his father had known that someday Dirk would remember and know what he'd meant.

Now, he didn't even know whether he'd see his father again. His throat ached.

"Did you get on well?" Rebbie asked.

Dirk nodded. "As well as could be expected. But Da was smitten with Maighread. Back then, he thought her the most beautiful creature on earth. He didn't believe me when I told him she was trying to kill me. He accused me of having too vivid an imagination."

"How did you ken 'twas her?" Lachlan asked.

"She threatened me from the first time she laid eyes on me, and took great joy in slapping me every chance she got, when no one was looking. She was not careful in what she said to me because she thought no one would believe me. She was wrong. My uncle believed me even if Da did not."

"Bitch," Rebbie muttered.

Dirk nodded, a sense of urgency coming over him. "I'm thinking 'tis time for me to take my leave. But first, I want to thank you both for your friendship these last ten years. You've become like brothers to me."

"Och," Rebbie muttered. "You ken we feel the same way."

"Indeed, brother." Lachlan stepped forward for a handshake. "Have a care on your journey north. And I must thank you also for your help in clearing up the mess we had here at Draughon last month. I wouldn't have survived without you both."

Dirk nodded. "That's what friends do. Help each other."

"Which is why I'm going with you," Rebbie said, standing.

"I must warn you that the weather, especially in winter, in MacKay Country is harsher than anywhere we've been thus far."

"I'm well aware. I've traveled to Thurso before."

"And my murderous stepmother might be just as inclined to kill my friends as she is to kill me."

"Och. Let her try," Rebbie grumbled.

"Well then, you've been warned. We'll need some warmer clothing and some wool plaids."

"I have some excess ones," Lachlan offered. "And we have the thick, shaggy wool mantles we wore back from Kintalon. They'll work well in the snow and wind."

Dirk nodded. "I appreciate it."

"I wish I could go too, but Angelique is not feeling well."

"You must stay here and care for her and the clan." Dirk clapped him on the shoulder. He'd never seen Lachlan smitten before, but his wee wifey had tamed the wild Scot.

"Send me a missive to let me know how things go there. If you need me, let me know and I'll be on the first galley north."

Dirk nodded. "I thank you."

"I hope your father is alive and well when you arrive," Lachlan added as they proceeded into the corridor.

Dirk prayed his da had a miraculous turn of health. At just over two-score and ten, his father was not an elderly man and 'haps that would work in his favor. Dirk had always imagined returning to Durness one day and seeing the surprised look on Da's face. He hoped he still would.

***

With no candle to light her way, Isobel MacKenzie swiftly climbed the stone turnpike staircase within Munrick Castle. Soft footsteps pursued her, spurring her to quicken her pace. Likely, 'twas Nolan MacLeod, her future husband's younger brother. This would not be the first time he'd approached her. He was ever leering at her or murmuring lewd comments when no one was paying attention. She'd done naught to encourage him. In fact, she'd tried her best to ignore him as she awaited the return of her betrothed. No doubt the chief, Torrin, would tell his brother to go attend to his own wife.

When Isobel emerged at the top of the steps, the dimness of the cold corridor gave her a sudden chill. She had been here less than a fortnight and the unfriendly place felt less like home every day.

"Where are you fleeing to, my wee witch?"

Glancing back, she couldn't see him in the stairwell, but the voice belonged to that knave, Nolan.

"Leave me be." She rushed toward the only light, a sconce at the end of the corridor, near her own chamber.

Footsteps thumped behind her on the wooden floorboards, but the boisterous music from the céilidh in the great hall ensured no one would hear. Her heart beating loudly in her ears, she glanced over her shoulder and found him looming no more than two paces away. Stopping, she faced the bastard. In the dimness, one side of his thin lips quirked up within his scraggly brown beard, and the lusty gleam in his light brown eyes disgusted her.

"I'm feeling nauseous and thought I would retire for the evening," she said, glaring up at him. In truth, she wished she could vomit on him. Then, maybe he'd lose some of his unhealthy interest in her.

His smirk broadened and he took a step toward her. "I ken how to make you feel better, lass."

Her stomach truly did turn then. "Where is your wife?"

"Busy. Taking care of the babe."

She cringed. He was the sleaziest of men, seeking out attentions from other women when his wife had only given birth a fortnight ago. 'Twas indeed a pity her intended, Torrin MacLeod, was meeting with another clan and he'd left Nolan to oversee the castle.

"I'm sure she will be looking for you," Isobel said. "And in case you've forgotten, I'm to marry the MacLeod."

Nolan snorted. "Are you thinking Torrin cares about you? He's only seen you one time. Nay, he has Ruthann in the village. He has been smitten with her for years, and they have children."

Could this be true? Her nausea increased tenfold.

"With you, he but wants an heir," Nolan went on. "If you're capable of providing one." He snickered. "The rumor is you're barren, since you failed to produce an heir for your last husband before his death."

Revulsion and anger swelled inside her. She'd heard the rumors about her, but they were all lies. "That is none of your concern."

"I'm making it my concern. You see, if you're a widow who is barren, it will matter little if we have some fun betwixt the sheets."

She wanted to scratch his eyes out. "I am not barren." At least she didn't think so. It was difficult to tell since she was still a virgin. "Do you think your brother wants your bastard as his heir?" she asked. "Leave me be." She turned toward her room, her skin crawling.

Close on her heels, he grabbed her arm, jerked her around and forced her up against the stone wall. Her heart catapulted into her throat.

She tried to yank herself free, but couldn't budge his grip. "Unhand me!"

"Nay. And be quiet." His breath reeked of strong whisky, and his belted plaid smelled like a wet sheep that had wallowed in a bog.

"Knave! What do you think your brother will say about this?" she asked. "Laird Torrin will be furious." At least she hoped he would. It was her only ammunition.

"He will never know, because if you tell him, you'll regret it." He breathed his odorous breath against her face, then pressed his lips to her neck, his beard scratching her skin.

She cringed. "Ugh." She twisted, trying to wrest herself out of his grip, but his arm only tightened around her.

"And even if he does find out, what of it?" he asked. "He's only marrying you for the three hundred acres in your dowry. You are a seductress and I must have you! Or 'haps you are a witch who has cast a spell upon me."

"You are mad!" She jerked her knee upward, slamming it toward his groin but his sporran and her own skirts hampered her efforts.

He tightened his grip and shoved his legs between hers. "You whore. Don't you dare attempt to fight me. 'Twill only make it worse for you."

He snagged his fingers in the back of her hair and pulled. Her head thumped hard against the stone wall. Pain shot through her skull but she dared not let him know he'd hurt her. Besides, none of his clan would come to her rescue. Nolan could do no wrong in their eyes. She was the outsider.

He covered her mouth with one hand and wrapped the other around her throat. "Do not utter a sound or I'll kill you now," he growled in her ear. "I'll squeeze the breath from your soft, slender neck."

Icy fear freezing her muscles, she remained still, her mind scrambling for an escape. Someone to help her? A weapon? His dagger! It was always in a sheath on his belt. She prayed it was now. If so, she would snatch it and stab him. She went limp as if acquiescing to his demands.

"Aye, that's a good lass. Now, we'll go into your chamber for some privacy." Grinning, he pressed against her so tightly, his hardened member jabbed against her stomach.

Rutting bastard. She would make him regret touching her. Her brothers had taught her well how to fight.

He loosened his hold, propelling her toward the door to her small room. One of his hands bit into her arm, while the other covered her mouth. When he pushed her through the doorway and kicked it shut behind him, her fingers landed on the bone hilt of his dagger. She yanked it from its sheath, the metal hissing against the leather.

"What are you about?" He grabbed her hand and pried at her fingers on the hilt. She jerked her hand, trying to free herself from his tight grasp. A crack sounded and pain shot through her middle finger. Mo chreach! Was the bone broken?

Gritting her teeth and fighting past the pain, she twisted her hand free, retaining her grip on the knife. He swung and his fist bashed into her face. Pain radiating from her cheekbone, she staggered back but stayed on her feet. Damn him!

Lunging forward, she sliced and stabbed at him in the darkness, connecting once.

"Ow! You whore!" he growled. "I vow you'll pay a steep price for this." He grabbed for her.

Ducking aside, she stabbed again, kicked at him and ran across the small room, dodging her trunks of clothing and the bed. Nolan stumbled and fell with a thump.

"I'll kill you," he seethed in a quiet but deadly tone. And she knew he would if he got the chance. Chills of dread and fear covered her.

Although he was fonder of drinking and whoring than practicing his battle skills, he was still far stronger and larger than she. From the bedside table, she picked up the stoneware jug, still containing a bit of watered down wine. She waited for him to move, her heart thumping in her ears.

Truly, she didn't wish to kill him—she didn't wish to kill anyone. But she wouldn't let him use and abuse her.

In the dim glow from the coals in the tiny hearth, she could only discern the outlines of objects. Growling, Nolan lumbered to his feet and charged for her once again. Using her good hand, she bashed the heavy jug against his head with all her strength. A thwack sounded, stoneware connecting with bone. With a groan, he crashed to the floor. Silence filled the room.

Holding her breath, she waited for him to move, to make a sound.

"I've killed him," she whispered, frozen in shock. "Bashed in his skull."

She set the stoneware jug on the floor and, with trembling fingers, lit a candle from the coals in the hearth to see if he truly was dead. And if so, what would she do? Flee? The clan would sentence her to death and drown her in the icy loch outside when they learned of it. Likely, they wouldn't even wait for her future husband to arrive. Or they might throw her in the dungeon until his return, and starve her.

Saints preserve me.

Her arms jittery and weak, she set the candle on the trunk at the foot of her bed and stared at Nolan's unmoving body for several long moments. His chest rose and fell with each breath.

"Not dead," she whispered. That was good, she supposed, but he could wake at any moment and try to kill her. Again. She observed him, seeing no movement except for his breathing. He appeared well and truly knocked out, thank the heavens.

Pains shot from her finger. Examining it, she found it was crooked at an odd angle. He had indeed broken it. Damn him! She pressed it between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Pain lanced through it. She sucked in a hissing breath. "Mo chreach!" She'd never before had a broken bone. What could she do about it? She'd seen her brother have his broken arm set when he was a lad. He'd screamed in utter agony.

The door behind her opened and she jumped. Her maid, Beitris, stood frozen upon the threshold, her round eyes locked on Nolan MacLeod illuminated by the candlelight. Isobel pulled her into the room, closed the door and barred it. Her maid had been with her since she was small and she trusted her above all others.

"Can you set a broken finger?" Isobel asked.

Beitris observed her as if she were mad. "What… M'lady, what is it you've done?" She whispered in a shocked tone and motioned toward the man on the floor.

"He is yet alive. You see how his chest rises and falls."

"But… the blood." She pointed at the floor.

For the first time, Isobel noticed candlelight gleaming off a small pool of dark blood spreading from his head. Fear shot through her. Sweet Mother Mary, even if he wasn't dead now, he might be in a short time.

"He tried to force himself on me. The bastard. I will not abide it."

"Doubtless, he will not abide this injury and insult to his pride, either… if he lives."

"I ken it. We'll have to leave, slip away during the night."

Her wide dark eyes troubled, Beitris nodded. "But where will we go? 'Tis late fall and the weather is turning."

"I know not, but I'll be found guilty for attacking him, even if he lives. And if he dies…" She shook her head, fear chilling her bones. "They'll drown me in the loch. You know that."

Indeed, women were not hanged in Scotland for crimes such as murder. Instead, they were drowned. And trials were only a farce in most cases. Many an innocent woman had been drowned. Who knew what Torrin MacLeod would say about it? Rarely did brothers go against each other. Even if he would defend her, he wasn't here at Munrick now and might not return for a week or more.

"We'll make our way back home to Dornie," Isobel said. "My brother would not suffer me to marry into this clan… with a would-be rapist for a brother-in-law."

"But Dornie is many miles south of here."

"Indeed." Her stomach knotted at exactly how far that was, perhaps a hundred miles.

"'Twas not your fault, m'lady."

"That will matter little in their eyes. Hurry. Put on all your clothes." Rushing and trying to ignore the pain in her finger, Isobel sloppily layered most of the clothing she possessed onto her body, choosing her most worn arisaid to go over the top of it all. She pulled the upper portion of the tan and green plaid over her head. The thick woolen garment contained a few small holes, but it had been her grandmother's. Isobel always kept it with her. All her small possessions, including silver and gold coins, her jewelry and her small flute went into the pouch at her waist, hidden beneath the layers.

Next, she picked up the dagger she'd dropped—Nolan's dirk—and wiped the blade clean on his plaid. She shouldn't take it, but she needed a weapon if she was setting out over the Highlands with no one but her maid. Thieves and outlaws were plentiful.

Through the narrow window, she saw that it was pitch black outside. With winter approaching, gloaming came early, and dawn would arrive late in the morn. No moon shined through the clouds this night. They'd need light. Bending, she took the candle and lit her small metal and horn lantern, which sat on the trunk. It had been her mother's and Isobel had used it since she was a child.

What else might they need? She had no food or drink here in her chamber. She glanced around the room and spotted bricks of peat lying by the hearth. They were lightweight and could be exchanged for a night's lodging or burned for heat if necessary. She crammed five into the large pouch that the bulky material of her arisaid made when it bunched out over her belt and took the two extra candles lying on the mantel.

"We must slip out during the céilidh. Come," Isobel whispered, picking up the lantern and heading toward the door.

In the corridor, Nolan's bearded, wiry manservant approached in his worn, belted plaid. Isobel's heart rate spiked. Once Beitris had exited the room, Isobel closed the door and stood before it. She prayed Nolan made no sound inside.

"M'lady, have you seen Master MacLeod?" the servant asked. "His wife is wondering where he got off to."

 

 

My Brave Highlander © 2012 Vonda Sinclair

 

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