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
When they emerged from the tavern, it was to clear skies. She was almost disappointed, because she had made up her mind that she would ask to ride with him for the heat. Now she had no such excuse to press her body into his and must be content to watch him while she puzzled out this strange desire that coursed through her body and how she was going to get him to sate the thirst he had stirred in the primitive part of her she’d kept locked away.
Readjusting his position didn’t help. The wench was driving him mad with lust. He’d not expected her to melt into him like a familiar lover instead of the innocent she was as he kissed her ear in the stable. If she could be that responsive with such a small show of affection, how would her body react when he gave her his undivided attention? He’d tasted her but kept his attention on the door as he sent the men in to assess the occupants of the tavern before they entered.
Then, while they had eaten, he hadn’t been able to keep his hand from seeking her thigh, and once he had it, it had been a battle not to trail his hand up to touch other, more intimate parts of her as he watched her blush return from the corner of his eyes. Now she held her head up to soak in the rays of the sun, just as she’d done with the water droplets earlier, and her chest rose to inhale the fresh air left in the rain’s wake.
As they passed the deep emeralds of the pines, the browns and glowing greens of the oaks, the purples from the heather, and the misty grays of the mountains, he was struck by how each one enhanced her beauty and how naturally they went together. She had unbound her long hair to let it dry, and it trailed behind her in lush waves as they trotted through his beloved Scotland. Just like the thistles growing wild in the sun, with their unpredictability, resilience, and beauty, she was born to be in the Highlands.
Any thought he’d had of denying himself a taste of her had evaporated with her reaction to his touch; a lass had never so easily turned him into a needy mess, but she made him act as if he were an untrained youth. ’Twas getting harder each evening to lie beside her and not take what he wanted, but thankfully, his honor and duty to the clan kept him grounded. Her reluctance to tell him who she was and well-spoken mannerisms led him to believe she might belong to a family that might not look too kindly upon him deflowering her, and that was a risk he couldn’t take, so with each passing hour he kept vigilant to watch not only for Conall’s men but also the return of his own to let him know whether or not he could act on all the fantasies he couldn’t push from his mind.
As the sun started to descend and his thoughts turned to where they should camp for the night, Maggie pulled her horse to a halt and jumped down before he could stop her. His eyes immediately scanned the nearby woods for a threat, as did his men’s and even Robbie’s, he noticed.
Sliding down from his own steed, he walked over to where Maggie was bent over, studying something under the heather bushes. As he closed in, he saw her snapping branches from plants with small blue berries. He wanted to voice his frustration over her lack of judgment, but when she looked up, her eyes sparkled and her lips curved up in a smile that took his breath away.
“Blaeberries,” she said innocently, as if that were the only explanation she needed to give. All he could do was return the smile and let her finish collecting her berries. Not only did she seem to belong to the land, she had a knowledge of it that only came from love and appreciation of what it offered.
“Do ye mind handing me my satchel?” Of course he didn’t,—’twould be an excuse to get close to her again, to possibly run his fingers across her soft skin and imagine what she would feel like beneath him.
He wouldn’t allow her to say vows and become a nun. ’Twould be a life wasted if she did, because she would be confined to the grounds of the abbey. Maggie belonged out here in the wild, and she needed a man who could appreciate the sway of her lithe body as it leaned into his and he gently kissed her. She deserved a man who made her gasp and arch into him the way she had back in that stable, because her body was made not only to give a man pleasure but to experience it herself. Once he had taken her to his bed, she would see that.
He let his eyes stray from her long enough to see Malcolm had grabbed her bag. As he nodded, his brother tossed it to him, and he winced when vials clanked together inside. Returning his attention to her, he let out a breath as he saw she was back to picking the berries and hadn’t heard.
“Thank ye.” Her eyes lit when he gingerly placed the bag next to her and knelt down to inspect her loot. “’Tis sometimes hard to spot, but ye seem to have more of it farther north.”
“Do ye ken all the plants, then?”
“Aye, most, at least.”
“What will ye do when the nuns dinnae let ye out to collect them?”
Her fingers paused and her eyes shut as if he’d dealt her a blow she’d not yet considered. Squaring her shoulders, she didn’t meet his eyes but gazed longingly at the riches in her arms. “I’ll do what is asked of me.”
So she understood sacrifice for duty as well. He didn’t want her to have to give up something she cared for. Not liking the far-off desperation that had taken over, he said, “Mayhap they will have need of yer talents.” The corners of her lips turned back up, and he found himself wanting to keep the smile there. If Coira, the healer at Kentillie, needed help, he would talk her into taking the lass under her wing. It would keep her within his reach and out of the smothering solitude of a convent.
Pulling strips of cloth from her bag, Maggie lay them on the ground and spread her prize on them before rolling it into a bundle and placing it reverently back into the depths of the bag.
“Come, we need to find a place to camp tonight.”
A short time later, they had made camp and settled in for the night. He had watch the first part of the night, so when he finally nestled into her warmth, he was instantly pulled into a deep sleep. Traveling all the next day, he attempted to ride ahead of her most of the journey, because just looking at her stirred desire so intense he ached with it, and he didn’t wish to spend the rest of the journey pining for something he couldn’t yet have.
The following evening, he wasn’t so fortunate, because he lay next to her with his body on fire as he longed to bury himself inside her. He would have left her side, but he’d grown accustomed to her warmth and melding into her soft curves.
He wanted to beg her to tell him who she was so that he could alleviate the torturous longing in his cock, but even if she would tell him, the forest floor wasn’t the place to take her innocence. So he settled for whispering to her all the things he wanted to do with her and pulling her arse into him so that he could nestle his swollen member into that sweet spot between her legs.
He’d thought her asleep, but as he spoke of tasting her with his tongue, she gasped and her head turned over her shoulder toward him. In the dim glow of the moon, it wasn’t repulsion or fear he saw in her gaze—’twas desire and surrender in the depths. She would have opened to him right then had he not the honor to hold back. “Dinnae look at me like that or I’ll lose control.” She nodded and turned her face away, but the image of her heated, needy eyes remained and had him painfully engorged.
Cursing to himself, he redirected his thoughts to the tasks that awaited tomorrow when they got home—getting Robbie to safety, meeting with his council, and then tupping the lass in his arms. Och, he wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight.
Relishing the calm peace that washed over her when she woke, Maggie sighed, because her thoughts were clear and the pain had receded. Although the haze in her head had evaporated, thick air shrouded the camp in a wet mist. The eerie way the fog moved over and about them was unsettling, but she was rejuvenated and ready to start the day. She was closer to freedom, and the rest of her life would begin. They broke their fast with the remaining cheese and bread from their trip to the tavern and broke down the camp earlier this morning than usual.
“We will be there soon,” Lachlan said as he lifted her up onto a horse.
Maggie smiled at the pride in his voice. The love and longing reverberating in his thick, husky brogue slid through his lips and lulled her soul like a soothing balm when he spoke of his home. She wanted to see it.
“What does Kentillie look like? I fear the mist may block my view.”
“Kentillie itself is a bit stark and imposing with its gray stone walls and high turrets. But ’tis the landscape that pleases the eye. The mountains shield it from the north. The river empties into a loch with a beach where the children play. Heather grows on the moors and nearly glows when the sun sets.”
She loved the way he spoke of it so fondly; she had no such affection for her home.
“’Tis large and comfortable.”
She’d heard stories of raids and wondered if they happened here. Mostly, she’d known peace back home, so she thought nothing of asking, “Has it always kept yer clan safe?”
“’Tis a fortress, but also a home.”
Alan’s voice broke in. “The air is becoming thicker.”
“Aye, the horses will be easily spooked,” Lachlan said.
They continued to talk, but their voices faded as Maggie trailed behind, and her thoughts turned to her plans. As soon as they reached Kentillie, she would find maps and plot her journey to the nearest convent. Lachlan would most likely not let her set out on her own, and she would have to ask for an escort. More probably she’d be forced to sneak away, since his reaction had warned her that he was skeptical about her interest in taking vows.
Of course, she wouldn’t leave until Lachlan showed her the pleasures she was certain awaited her in his bed. He’d held her these last couple of nights but not done more than talk, and she longed to feel that burning desire he had awoken with his kisses. She’d lain awake fighting the unfamiliar ache in her treacherous body that just the thought of his touch ignited.
While he’d thought her asleep, he’d whispered words of what he’d wanted to do with her, things that had made her skin flush and heart beat faster, promises of how he would make her feel once other matters were resolved. What those were, she didn’t know. Thrumming now at the mere remembrance of his heated breath in her ear, her body yearned to experience what he spoke of as he had held her possessively.
Lachlan was suddenly at her side, grabbing her arm and whispering, “Halt.” She did as a shiver ran down her spine.
A bird chirped, but ’twas the only sound she heard. Even their horses had gone silent. Ahead of them came a roar as a horde of men appeared from the mist, their weapons raised.
The fog shrouded a number of the attackers, but from the pounding of hooves and shouts that echoed a fierce battle cry, they seemed to be everywhere. Since Lachlan had sent away three of his men, they were down to five, plus Robbie and her. Her heart stuttered—the odds weren’t in their favor.
She couldn’t help—her brothers had taught her many things, but how to wield a sword was not one of them. If their father had seen her in the lists with them, he would have tanned their hides, so they’d never risked it.
“Ten at least, maybe more.” Alan’s voice penetrated through the vapor.
“We will have to split up. We ken this land better than they do,” Lachlan returned. “Maggie, stay with me.”
“Aye,” she managed to eke out.
Alan’s voice cut through from somewhere in the fog. “Robbie, stay close.”
“Meet up at Kentillie,” Lachlan called to the others then tugged at her reins. “This way. Stay close.”
She didn’t argue, just rode, thankful Lachlan knew where he was headed. The haze added to the disorientation of being on unfamiliar land.
Several men shouted, then the voices faded in different directions, likely to follow the dispersing Cameron men. Hooves followed them, almost as loud as her heart, but she couldn’t tell how many. Her head started spinning from the jostling of the increased pace. She couldn’t keep up and stay seated. “Lachlan,” she cried out and pulled on the reins to slow.
“What the hell are ye doing, woman?” he fired at her.
“My head. I cannae go that fast. I willnae be able to stay seated.” She wanted to cry in frustration.
He cursed, then said, “This way.”
At least two men closed in on them fast. Lachlan led Maggie deeper into the woods and up a steep incline. They came to an area where they were forced to dismount—the fog was too thick, and they’d risk breaking their horses’ legs otherwise.
Lachlan jumped down and grabbed her waist to pull her from the horse and set her on her feet. He pointed to a thicket of bushes and whispered, “Behind there. Stay low to the ground. Dinnae move until I come for ye.” Then he rushed off in the direction they had come from, likely to put himself between her and their assailants.
Her heart beat so rapidly she was afraid she would faint for the second time in her life. How she wished she could do more than hide, but her head was pounding, and she’d be more hindrance than help, so she dashed into the greenery.
“Lachlan Cameron. Where’s me brother?” a harsh voice rang out. She crouched down farther, hoping to remain unseen.
“I dinnae ken who ye are. Why would I know yer brother?” he boomed back.
“Because ’tis his horse there ye had a lass riding on. The air is no’ so thick that I wouldnae recognize me own brother’s steed.” The venom in the man’s voice was thicker than the air. “Glenn, here, his brother was with that party, too.”
“What about the boy?” she heard another of the men say.
“He rode off with the other group. Dinnae worry. We’ll get him.” The sound of a sword sliding from its sheath pierced through the thick air, and she put her hand over her mouth to suppress a gasp. “Ewen, find the wench. She’s around here somewhere.”
Maggie stopped breathing. There were at least three men to Lachlan. She had seen him fight a huge ox days earlier and he’d handled himself well, but how many could he take on at one time?
No other words came, just the clang of swords and grunts. Unable to see much, she made herself as small as possible but snapped a twig in the process. She bit her lip and prayed the one coming for her had not heard.