Read The Highlander Takes a Bride Online

Authors: Lynsay Sands

Tags: #General, #Historical, #Fiction, #Romance, #Highlander, #bride, #Marriage, #Proper Lady, #Warrior, #Wanton, #Guest, #Target, #Enemy, #Safeguard, #Brothers, #Intrigued, #17th Century, #Adult, #Brawny, #Scotland, #Passion, #Match

The Highlander Takes a Bride

 

 

Prologue

S
aidh had just caught up her skirt and started to squat when she heard it: a man’s short, sharp shout that sounded like a death cry. Cold creeping down the back of her neck, she let her skirt drop and straightened, ears straining. At first there was nothing. No running feet, no sounds of battle, nothing to tell her what had happened, and then she caught a high keening that dissolved into weeping.

Cursing, Saidh pulled her sword from the scabbard at her waist and started through the woods, following the sound of those heart-wrenching sobs. She recognized them, knew their source. She’d heard the same sobbing last night from the bedchamber next to the one she’d been given during her stay at Fraser Castle, the bedchamber the bride and groom had been carried to during the bedding ceremony that had followed the wedding feast.

Saidh shook the thought away and paid more attention to where she was going when a branch slapped back and hit her across the face. The spot they’d stopped to make camp was a lovely clearing, but Saidh had wandered far away from it in search of a place to take care of her needs. The distance was a habit with her. She’d learned that she needed to take herself far from camp did she want to avoid one of her brothers finding and somehow either embarrassing or scaring her while she was in the middle of relieving herself. They’d played that trick often enough in the past for her to have learned her lesson.

Mind you, she’d returned the favor a time or two. As the only girl among seven boys in the Buchanan brood, Saidh had quickly learned to defend herself. It had been that or turn into a sniveling, whiny little girl who ran constantly to her mama to tattle on the boys and that was not Saidh. Now sixteen, Saidh gave as good as she got, and had earned the love and respect of every one of her brothers because of it.

Saidh’s thoughts died as she stepped into a small clearing. It was pretty, surrounded by a wall of tall, stately trees and with a low carpet of purple flowers making up the ground, but it wasn’t the picture-pretty setting that had Saidh sucking in a gasp of air. Instead, it was the sight of her cousin, Fenella, sitting, sobbing next to her husband’s prone body, her dark hair a tumbled mess about her round face, her gown torn and disheveled, and a bloody knife in her hand.

“Fenella?” she breathed, finally getting past her shock and moving toward her. “What happened?”

Her cousin lifted her head, peered at her briefly without recognition and then just cried harder and shook her head as she lowered it again.

Frowning, Saidh slid her sword back into its scabbard and squatted to examine Hammish. There was a large circle of blood on his chest with a hole in the middle, and he didn’t appear to be breathing. Saidh felt her mouth tighten, and turned to her cousin to gently take the knife from her unresisting hands. After a hesitation, she tossed it to the side, then caught Fenella by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. “What happened?”

She was hoping Fenella would tell her they were set upon by bandits, or some other such thing. Instead, Fenella sniffled miserably and cried, “I killed him.”

“Dear God,” Saidh breathed releasing her to straighten and peer helplessly around the clearing.

“I did no’ mean to,” Fenella sobbed. “I jest could no’ take his rapin’ me again.”

Saidh glanced back to her with a frown. “Raping ye? Ye’re married, Fenella. He was yer husband. He—”

“He was a cruel heartless bastard who hurt and humiliated me all through the night,” she countered bitterly. “By the time he’d finished with me, I was raw, torn and bleeding worse than if I had me woman’s time.” Her gaze shifted to her dead husband and she said quietly, “That was bad enough, but I could ha’e withstood it. I would ha’e withstood it.” Crossing her arms over her chest, she lowered her head and almost whispered, “But then he turned me o’er and took me in unnatural ways, ways even more painful.” She raised her head again, eyes round with a combination of horror and pleading as she added, “And he was going to do it again, right here in the woods like an animal.” Her head swiveled to the fallen man again and she said miserably. “I could no’ let him. I jest could no’ bear it, so when I felt his dagger in his belt I—I did no’ think, I . . .” Moaning miserably, she lowered her head again. “I jest grabbed it and—”

When she broke off and shook her head miserably, Saidh peered at the man on the ground. She believed Fenella. It was impossible not to after what she’d heard on her way to her bedchamber last night. Saidh had been a little the worse for wear at the time. Her brother Rory had goaded her into a drinking contest after their cousin’s wedding feast. Saidh had never much cared for ale or whiskey and her brother knew it. However, she’d also never been able to resist a challenge, especially when it included phrases like “Ye’re no afraid, are ye?” or “Ah, ye’d ha’e lost anyway, ye being a lass and all.” Both of which he’d used last night when he’d apparently decided it would be fun to drink her under the table.

He’d lost the contest. Saidh had been swaying in her seat, but still upright when Rory had slithered off the bench to land in a heap under the table. She vaguely recalled the cheers and congratulations from the others as she’d got to her feet, then she had staggered away from the table, intent on reaching her room before she too fell to the drink. Her memory became clearer though when she reached the upper landing. With the laughter, chatter and music reduced to a dull roar there, she’d paused on the landing as the sound of a woman’s screaming had reached her ears.

Frowning, she’d stumbled down the hall toward the sound, intent on helping whoever it was. Her feet had slowed and then paused altogether however as she’d reached the door. Even in her drunken haze, she’d realized it was the bridal chamber.

Swallowing the drink that tried to rush back up her throat, Saidh had hesitated, unsure what to do. She’d heard that the bedding could be painful the first time, but the screams coming from behind the door had spoken of agony. Surely it should not be this painful? It sounded as if Hammish was killing her poor cousin rather than merely consummating their marriage.

Saidh had raised her hand, intending to knock and check to see that all was well, but then the screaming abruptly ended.

“There,” Hammish had grunted with breathless satisfaction, the sound coming muffled through the door, accompanied by a rustling. “Now we’re well and truly married. Ye’re mine, lass.”

When Fenella had sniffled and mumbled something that could have been agreement, Saidh had sighed and turned away from the door to continue on to her own. She’d been grateful to do so. The landing had taken to spinning around her by then and Saidh doubted she would have been much help to Fenella if it had been necessary.

Still, she’d thought as she’d staggered into her room, if she were to judge by Fenella’s screams, the bedding must be even more painful than she’d heard it to be and they really should warn a girl. Of course, if they did that, women would be much less eager to be wedded and bedded.

Saidh had just collapsed on the bed when the distant sound of screaming reached her ears again. She’d struggled briefly, trying to sit up, but unconsciousness was already rushing up to claim her, pulling her down into the soft bed with firm, dark hands.

That second round of screaming had been the first thing she’d remembered on rising, so Saidh had been more than relieved to find her cousin alive and well in the morning when she’d gone below to break her fast. Fenella had been pale and quiet, but when Saidh had asked her with concern if she was well, the woman had nodded and ducked her head as color flushed her cheeks. Conran had distracted Saidh then, calling her down to where he and her other brothers sat at the table so Saidh had left Fenella to join them. There was little she could have done for her cousin anyway. She was his wife now and belonged to Hammish as much as his horse, his castle and his sword. Women had little in the way of rights in this world.

Mouth tightening at that thought, Saidh peered at her cousin with pity and breathed, “They will kill you for this.”

“Aye.” Fenella turned dead eyes to the prone man beside her and shrugged wearily. “Let them. I’d rather be dead than suffer again what he did to me last night.”

Saidh bit her lip and peered to Hammish, the screams she’d heard the night before echoing through her mind. This was the first wedding she’d attended, but surely the breaching did not always cause the agony those screams had suggested. And she knew there was blood during the breaching, but what Fenella described sounded extreme. As for the part about turning her over and taking her in unnatural ways, Saidh knew exactly what her cousin meant. She had been raised with seven brothers after all, and they had taken great delight in telling her things they shouldn’t in the hopes of embarrassing or distressing her. What Fenella described sounded like what Geordie called “copulation in the rear.” Geordie had also said it was a sin, punishable by a gruesome death by mutilation, hanging or burning at the stake.

In truth, Saidh supposed Fenella had given the church’s justice to her husband, and a kinder end than mutilation or burning at the stake. Perhaps even kinder than hanging, although she wasn’t sure about that one.

Sighing, she turned back to her cousin and knelt before her again. “If ye tell the priest what he did—”

“Nay!” Fenella cried with alarm. “I could ne’er tell anyone he did that to me. Ever.”

“Ye told me,” she reminded her gently. “Mayhap—”

“Nay, Saidh. Please.” She grasped her hands, squeezing them desperately. “Just kill me. I’ll no’ fight ye. Just slit me throat. Then ye can say ye found me o’er the body, we fought fer the weapon and ye killed me.”

“Oh, Fenella,” she said sadly, and pulled her into a hug. “I’ll no’ do that to ye.”

“Ye ha’e to,” she wept, clutching at the front of her gown. “Hammish’s brother is as cruel as he, he’ll no’ let this go unpunished. He shall kill me anyway. At least if you do it I ken ye’ll no’ torture me first. Please, Saidh.”

Saidh remained still for a moment, her mind racing. She understood why Fenella would ask it of her, but she simply couldn’t do it. Her gaze swept the clearing, and then she released Fenella and straightened. “I ha’e a better idea.”

“Nay. Just kill me, Saidh. Please,” Fenella cried, scrambling to her feet to follow and then pausing abruptly when Saidh stopped and bent to scoop up a large branch from the ground at the edge of the clearing. It was a good six feet long, one end as big around as a man’s arm, the other as small as her wrist. “What are ye doing? This is no time fer a fire.”

Saidh turned to face her, took a deep breath and announced, “Ye were set upon by two men when ye got to this clearing. Bandits, poorly dressed, one tall and thin, one short and fat.”

“I was?” Fenella asked with a frown, taking a step backward when Saidh stepped toward her.

“Aye. Ye and Hammish were. Other than that ye remember little,” she added, raising the log.

“Oh,” Fenella breathed, paling.

Saidh steeled herself against the sudden fear in her cousin’s eyes and swung her makeshift weapon, catching Fenella in the side of the head. She watched her spin to the side and crumple to fall across her prone husband on the ground, then dropped the log, backed to the edge of the clearing and began to scream.

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