Authors: Lori Ann Bailey
Tags: #Scotland, #Highland, #Covenanter, #Politics, #Action Adventure, #Clan, #Romance, #Historical, #Laird, #Duke, #King Charles, #religious conflict, #Secret identity, #Amnesia, #Lord, #Revenge, #Forced Marriage, #Road romance, #Mistaken Identity, #Royalist, #Earl, #Spy, #highlander, #select historical, #Historical Romance, #entangled publishing
“Can I have some water?” she croaked as she gently fingered her neck.
“Aye, I’ll get ye some, lass. What’s yer name?” he asked as he rose.
She was so focused on what she had to do next, she answered automatically. “Maggie.”
Then her senses came to her. Och, she couldn’t tell him who she was. No one defied her father, the powerful Duke of Kirk, and no matter how she protested, this man would march her back to the keep once he learned her identity.
While he was gone, she formulated a plan—she would forget where she was from. Only her family called her Maggie, and everyone would be looking for Margaret. With her head injury, no one would ever know she wasn’t telling the truth.
These men circled the camp as if they expected another band to attack at any motherent, yet not a one made a move she could construe as threatening; the boy had even protected her during the skirmish. Mayhap she could find a convent near their home, or better yet, just blend in with their clan and start over. Her head was starting to feel better already. She was saved.
The leader handed her a cup of water, and her fingers brushed his as they made the exchange. They were long and lean to match the rest of his sculpted physique. An unexpected shiver ran through her at the touch.
She must have lingered too long, because he cleared his throat, and she pulled back abruptly and caught his gaze, a subtle hint of interest buried deep in his eyes. Whether it was for her as a woman, or he was just curious about how to get rid of her, she wasn’t sure.
She rubbed at her face and noticed something on it. Och—clumps of crusted mud from the embankment covered her hand. She must look awful.
“And what is yer name, sir?” Her voice sounded so formal and cold. She wanted to cringe at the words as soon as she said them, it was so unlike her. Mayhap it was her reaction to his touch, which had oddly made her body respond in a way that puzzled her. She shook her head, hoping to forget the warmth it had evoked.
His brow quirked, and she saw a shadow of a smile. That intriguing dimple hid just below the surface. “Lachlan” rolled off his tongue and washed over her.
It figured he would be named for the lochs that matched those blue eyes. Nae, she was wrong. Those eyes put the waters of Scotland to shame. She’d never seen anything more beautiful.
Damn, she was staring, and she was having strange stirrings again. It was probably a good thing she was caked in mud and wearing boy’s clothing, and she prayed the grime hid her blush.
“Who’s yer clan, Maggie?”
She was not ready to answer that yet.
When she opened her mouth nothing came out, and he studied her intently. Oh, God, she hadn’t thought it through—she was not good at lying. Her inability to keep an impassive face was why her brothers always let her play games with them. She was an open book, her emotions and thoughts always evident in her expressions for the whole world to see.
She bit her lip, and her eyes shifted down. He would likely know she wasn’t being completely honest, but she couldn’t look him in the face. “Everything is so fuzzy.” After a swallow she peeked up at him. “I think ’tis my head.” Mayhap he wouldn’t confront her if he thought it was his fault. It was cruel to play off his chivalry, but it was the only option she had.
His pupils flashed and eyes narrowed. His jaw hardened, and his dimple was nowhere to be seen. He knew, all right. Why had she never learned to lie? She took the only path open to her and changed the subject.
“You’re wounded. If ye have my bag, I can look at it.” The ploy didn’t seem to work, because he continued to appraise her with suspicion.
“’Tis a scratch,” he said coolly.
His gaze cut through her, and she felt cornered, about to break, until she thought of the one thing that might distract him. “I need to see to yer brother’s wound as well, and it needs to be washed. If it doesnae heal properly, he could come down with an infection.”
It was the truth, and he must have recognized it, because his appraisal of her lightened as his eyes warmed and he called out, “Finlay. Where is the satchel the lass had?”
A man almost as formidable and almost as attractive as Lachlan—Finlay, she assumed—appeared at her side holding her bag. He avoided her gaze and gently set it by her side as his face flushed. He looked at her through lowered lids then nodded before he walked away. Finlay must be shy around women.
“Malcolm.” Lachlan interrupted her thoughts. “Maggie is going to inspect yer wound.”
The man she’d tended earlier sat down so close to her, he could have almost been in her lap. He grinned and winked at her as she pulled up the edge of his shirt. Unlike Finlay, he didn’t seem to have the same qualms about a woman’s attention.
One of the men set a bucket of warm water, a cup, and some rags down beside them. Scooping some of the liquid out, she poured it over her hands until the water ran clear. She repeated it with another cupful to be certain they were sufficiently clean, and because the warm fluid was soothing.
While she inspected the sutures, she glanced up at Lachlan, who still watched her with distrustful eyes, and she had the urge to hide behind his smiling brother when she asked, “What clan are ye from?”
“We’re the Camerons,” Malcolm answered while Lachlan’s gaze openly examined her. “Lachlan is our laird.”
So she had been correct in her assessment—he had the bearing and temperament of a leader, including his ability to judge people. No wonder he knew she was lying.
“Then ye were just traveling through?” She directed the question to Malcolm this time, then reached down and dipped a cloth into the water.
“Aye, we took my cousin to Edinburgh, and we’re on the way home.” She liked this man. Before, he might have reminded her of her younger brother, but now she saw some of her eldest in him.
“And who were the men that attacked ye? They seemed to know ye.” She dabbed the wet, warm cloth over the wound.
Silence met her question. She glanced back over to the man whose gaze she’d been trying to avoid. He shook his head.
It didn’t bother her. They had their secrets, and she had hers. Pushing for answers might be a mistake, so she put the rag down and continued her work.
After seeing to Malcolm, she turned to the man who had loomed over her when he wasn’t pacing or studying her intently. He appeared tense and on edge, and she struggled with how she would reach across the impenetrable distance between them. If she didn’t put him at ease, and soon, his scrutiny might cause her to stumble and confess more than she wanted.
“Come, Lachlan, sit. Let me look at yer wound,” she said as she motioned for him to take the place Malcolm had vacated.
He silently did as she commanded. She reached to pull his sleeve up. When her hand gently touched his arm as she grabbed the cuff, he flinched. Oh, he really didn’t trust her. She reached to grasp the cloth and dipped it in the water, then wrung it out again—anything to keep at bay the urge she had to confess all.
Once she had steeled her resolve, she returned her gaze to see his breathing had become heavy and his pupils were dilated. It was an odd reaction. She didn’t feel mistrusted—she felt like prey, like he wanted to devour her. Mayhap her mind was still foggy from the knock to her head, and she misinterpreted his response. Water dripped down her wrist as she held her hands palm up and said, “Yer wound is too high up on yer arm. I cannae look at it with yer shirt in the way.”
In one swift move, he pulled the garment off and raked her with burning eyes. The wet rag fell into her lap. A wave of dizziness rushed at her, but she wasn’t sure if it was from his proximity or her pounding head. The air turned warm, and she swiped at her brow with the sleeve of her shirt. Some of the dirt flaked off, and she was reminded how pitiful she must look. She swallowed hard.
Muscles rippled as he held his arm out for her inspection. Her hands trembled, but she mustered up what nerve she could and inspected his cut. It appeared clean enough to not need washing; either his shirt had protected it or he’d cleaned it himself before she woke.
“’Tis no’ so bad. I dinnae think it would have even needed sutures,” she said as her fingers rubbed against his taut skin.
“I’ve had worse.” Tension left his shoulders as he watched her hands glide across his arm while she rubbed ointment on the wound.
She continued, “Ye were lucky ’twas only a small cut.”
“Nae,” he grunted, but it sounded more like a growl. “’Twas no’ luck. ’Twas skill.”
Och, she’d wounded his pride. “Ye handled yerself well against so many.” Confidence radiated in the slow smile he turned her way, and she saw why these men would follow him, because the pride and knowledge that flowed through his words indicated he indeed knew how to engage in combat and win.
He must have seen the appreciation in her eyes, because his gaze moved from her head to her feet in a slow perusal. Her pulse quickened, and her skin heated.
She had to get herself together. This man who had scrutinized her with wariness just motherents earlier now stared at her with a lazy, hooded look, as if he wanted to lay her down and take her right here. The bump to her head must be worse than she had first imagined.
“What of yer head?” The fingers of his free hand forked into the loose weave of her braid and gently brushed the tender spot as if she were a flower whose petals were on the verge of falling off. Fire ignited in her breast, and she found it hard to breathe as his gaze returned to hers with what she believed might be genuine concern.
“’Twill be fine.” Somehow, she managed to get the words out, but the breathless, raspy reply shocked her. “I have some herbs I can use as a tea. It should help.”
He pulled back and broke the spell. “Dougal, can ye fetch the lass more hot water for her tea?”
She busied herself putting away the salve and retrieving a bandage, but a strange hum continued to vibrate through her limbs, making her movements clumsy. She cursed silently; she was never awkward.
Bandaging him up was pure torture. She tried to avoid looking at the broad expanse of his chest, the muscles that rippled and the tautness of his belly, but she couldn’t dodge the trace of his sensual, earthy male smell, which hung in the space between them.
While she worked, he spoke to the man who had been riding beside him in the field. Then his gaze strayed over to Malcolm and to watch the boy who had taken the protective stance over her during the battle. The lad had the same regal bearing she’d noticed in Lachlan. “’Tis yer son?”
Lachlan looked too young to be the father of someone on the verge of becoming a man, but the protective way he watched the boy made her question her judgment. She nodded as she covered the wound with a clean cloth.
“Nae. He’s just a boy in need of a home.” His dimple appeared as he observed his friend show Robbie how to light a fire in the middle of the makeshift camp they had made.
“Yer friend is good with him.” She remembered overhearing talk in the kitchen about Conall beating a lost boy he’d found in the woods merely for asking directions. A shiver ran down her spine. Lachlan didn’t seem to notice as he continued to smile at the pair. These men were nothing like that monster.
“Aye, Alan lost his parents young, too. My parents took him in.”
“Do ye make a habit of taking in strangers?” she teased and smiled. It was the first time since waking she’d felt at ease.
“Aye, it does appear as if I have developed a distasteful habit.” His eyes returned to hers. He smirked, then looked down to her hand, which still rested on his arm. She hadn’t even realized she had lingered too long, but touching him gave her an odd sense of safety. It took some effort, but she slowly pulled her hand back into her lap to discover the wet cloth dampening her trews.
“See? ’Twas just a scratch.” He pulled his arm away quickly, almost as if he was purposely putting as much distance between them as he could, but mayhap she had read him wrong. It was just her head, nothing more.
The thrumming in her ears continued when she settled back to pull the herbs needed for tea from her bag. While Lachlan asked her about the mixture, she tossed the rag back into the bucket.
Motherents later, she sipped a tea made of a mix of herbs she had thought might help with the relentless throbbing in her head. As she drank the pain lessened, and she did her best to answer his probing questions, but a sleepy, contented fog washed over her.
Maggie tried to stay alert, to make sure she didn’t slip and tell him who she was, but she could barely hold her eyes open. Before she knew it, she’d set the cup down and rested her head on her hands. Surprisingly, although she was surrounded by men she barely knew, she allowed a deep sleep to claim her.
As he sat on the ground near her, Lachlan analyzed his conversations with Maggie for any clues to whom she might be. After she’d bandaged his scratch, her small hand had lingered on his arm, and he had been tempted to invent other injuries so she would touch him in other places. He had fought the urge.
He’d had worse wounds and had done nothing for them, but if she could relax and become comfortable with him, she might open up about who she was. It had worked until his reaction to her touch startled her. She then sat back and swirled some dried leaves into her drink.
He wrinkled his nose at the concoction she drank. “Och, it smells like wet grass.”
“’Tis no’ so bad,” she said.
“What is it?”
“The herb is called meadowsweet. It should help my head.” She blew at the steam.
“How did ye learn healing?” he asked.
“My mother and grandmother taught me.” She smiled and sat up straighter.
“How did they ken it?”
“My grandma is from Ireland. I dinnae know when it started. She learned from her ma. ’Twas just always that way.”
He found it refreshing she had been honest with him. He liked how easy she was to read, despite half her face being obscured with grime. She was probably bonny under all of it.
Her eyes lit, and she smiled. “Freedom,” she whispered.