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Chapter 19

Knowing that to voice her suspicions would be useless, Emily did not wait around to see Lachlan's reaction to his first-in-command threatening his brother.

She ran after Cait, getting away from the men in the hall as fast as she could. She could not believe Lachlan had said the things he had to her. She might one day forgive him, though that was not a certainty. But she would never forget he'd humiliated her like that in front of his soldiers.

And he had said he wanted to claim her. Hah!

When she reached the door to Drustan's quarters, it was closed, but she was sure Cait was inside. She pushed, but the door would not open. She knocked, or rather pounded on the thick door.

"Cait, it's me," she called, trying to penetrate the wood with her calls.

The door swung open and Cait drew Emily inside, shutting it again with a slam behind her and pushing the bar back into place. Her eyes were red, but she was not crying.

She looked too mad to cry. "How dare he say that to me? He accused me of murdering that boy, did you hear him?"

"Yes, but I don't think he meant it."

"But he said it." The pained guilt in Cait's gaze tore at Emily's heart. "Maybe he was right."

"No, he wasn't! Even if Talorc did kill the soldier, and I suspect strongly he didn't, you would not be responsible just because you did not alert Drustan to the danger. Any fool would have assumed your brother would come himself or send spies to see the lay of the land. And if they were capable of going undetected on Sinclair land, they should have realized the Sinclairs had the same ability here."

Cait hugged herself around her pregnant belly. "Drustan is no fool and neither is the Balmoral."

"So I thought," Emily said with venom, remembering the idiotic things Lachlan had accused her of.

"I don't know if they guessed Talorc was on the island, but Lachlan knew as of last night. A femwolf spotted my brother and reported it. The laird told Drustan this morning."

"So, why are they so angry we didn't tell them yesterday? It would have made no difference to what happened to that boy if we had since they already knew when he was killed."

"That is a logical conclusion, Emily, but I'm not convinced men are always so clearheaded in their thinking."

"No, I think you're right." Lachlan's painful accusations definitely fell in the irrational-thinking camp. "Drustan hit Ulf, by the way, for sneering at you. He threatened to kill him if Ulf insulted you again and I'm sure he meant it, even though his own words to you were much worse."

Cait looked briefly gratified by that news, but was soon frowning again. "Yes, what you heard in the hall was even worse than what he said to me earlier in private."

"After Lachlan told him about Talorc being spotted?"

"Yes. He waited until I'd woken from my nap to ask me about it. You would think he was being courteous, wouldn't you?" she asked, making it clear with her tone what she thought of her husband's level of courtesy.

"What did he say?"

"He wanted to know if I'd seen my brother. I couldn't lie flat out, so I told him. Emily, I wanted to tell him so much, especially after we discovered we are true mates, but I was so scared and he didn't understand that at all."

"He thought you should not have cared if your brother was killed by the Balmoral?"

"I don't know. He just kept saying I should have trusted him, but how could I? He doesn't love Talorc. He doesn't even like him."

That made Emily smile.

Without any warning at all, Cait burst into tears. "Maybe I should have trusted Drustan. He seemed hurt by my lack of belief in him. He hates me now, you heard him."

Emily put her arm around Cait's shoulder. "But men see things so differently than we do. I remember one time my father had a boy flogged for stealing an apple from our orchard. He did not understand when the boy's mother, who worked in our kitchens, glared at him every time she saw him after that. To his mind stealing was wrong. It shocked him that she would risk his ire over such a trifle."

"But he'd hurt her son," Cait said, making an obvious attempt to stem the flow of her tears.

"Yes, emotions cannot be dictated by the petty rules and wars of men."

Cait laughed, the sound harsh. "Emotions can't be dictated by anything, even sound reasoning. I love Drustan, but I shouldn't. And now he hates me," she repeated.

"I don't believe that. He wouldn't have hit Ulf and threatened him if he hated you."

"His pride would be pricked by an insult to me."

"I think you were right a moment ago when you said that Drustan was hurt by your lack of belief in him. As your husband, he expects to come first with you, but if you are sacred mates, I think that it's more than an issue of pride for him."

"True-mating is not a result of love."

"No, but I'm sure it leads to it."

"I hope so because I don't want to be miserable alone."

Emily laughed at that. "I'm sure he's every bit as miserable. He looked good and upset when you ran from the hall, now that I think about it."

"Did he? Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"He was just worried for the babe."

"It's not even his child; if he worries for it, he does so because he cares for you."

"Do you think so?"

"I am certain of it."

"But earlier he said I might as well wear the Sinclair plaid and be done with it. And in the hall, he said our marriage vows didn't mean anything."

"He said he believed they did not mean anything to you. Those are the words of a hurting man, not merely an angry one." She hoped she was right, but even if men were terribly different from women, they couldn't be so nonsensical that no amount of logic could be applied to them.

"I wish I had trusted him, but even now I can't convince myself that to have told him would have been the right course to take."

"It's a matter I think you two should discuss further."

"Are you going to discuss Lachlan's accusations with him?" Cait asked.

"That's different. He is not my husband." But even though she did not think he would give her words any credence, she would have to tell him her suspicions about Ulf.

Cait sniffed the air near Emily delicately. "He marked you with his scent."

"I washed," Emily mumbled.

"But a werewolf's scent does not wash away that easily. He claimed you."

"No, he didn't he only touched me. We didn't even" She let her voice trail off, but she knew Cait would understand what she was alluding to.

"You came close."

"He wanted to, at the end. I think that was why he was so angry in the great hall. He thought I'd almost tricked him into mating with me, but I wasn't going to allow it. I know he doesn't want a human woman for a wife."

"He wants you, Emily."

"Lust it's not the same," Emily said, her throat constricting with tears she would not shed.

Cait sighed. "No, it isn't." She broke away from Emily's hug and started pacing. "But we cannot afford to be preoccupied with that right now. Both Drustan and Lachlan are so busy being angry with us for deceiving them that they are not looking at things logically."

"Which means we will have to do so for them."

"Precisely."

"Lachlan said there was no scent of an animal on the soldier. Is it possible for an animal to have killed him and not left a scent behind?"

Cait stopped pacing and frowned. "No, but then there should be the scent of a man or a werewolf on him and there isn't. Except Ulf's and that's because he found him and carried him back to the keep. There was no scent in the area where the boy was wounded."

"You said your brother could mask his scent."

"It wasn't Talorc. I'm sure of it."

"I believe you, but he's not the only werewolf with that ability."

"No, it's something you are trained to do from the time of your first change though I never got that good at it. But it doesn't matter. A werewolf can mask his own scent, but not the scent he leaves on others."

"Then how was the boy killed?"

"Without being touched perhaps with a knife that had been cleaned in sand and dirt from the bottom of the loch."

"To remove any scent from his handling of the blade?"

"Yes."

"But that would mean the killer did not touch the young soldier at all not even to subdue him, right?"

Cait looked sick. "Yes. The soldier had to know him and worse, the boy was Chrechte. He probably did not have control of his change yet, but it would take another werewolf or a very strong human warrior to kill him."

"It would have to be a Balmoral and an experienced one at that." Emily's suspicion of Ulf grew. "Lachlan is not going to suspect one of his own people of such an atrocity."

"I agree. We need to talk to Talorc. He may have seen something."

"But how? I doubt we will be allowed out of the keep, much less beyond the castle walls. Lachlan was angry we'd gone out without escort before. He said he was worried for our safety, but he probably did not trust us," she said angrily.

She would wait to tell Cait her suspicions until they heard what Talorc had to say. If she was wrong, she would prefer no one knew what she had thought. She had enough problems with Lachlan's brother without accusing him of a crime she was not absolutely sure he committed.

"Either way, he would have instructed the guards at the gate to prevent our departure."

"What do we do?"

Cait didn't answer, but rushed into the bedchamber. She came back seconds later carrying her Sinclair plaid.

"You're going to change your plaid?" Emily asked in confusion. She knew her friend was irritated with her husband, but to take his words to heart right now seemed a waste of time and effort.

"No. I plan to use this to gain our freedom." With her femwolf strength, she started ripping the plaid into long thin strips.

When she was done, she tied the strips together until she had a thin plaid that was nearly one hundred feet long.

Without waiting to be asked, Emily took one end and, bending her arms, separated her hands so Cait could wind the cloth around them like a thick skein of wool. "What are we going to do with the rope?"

"There is a room at the top of this tower. It can be used to hold prisoners, like your chamber, but it has a window large enough for us to climb through on the side that connects to the outer wall."

"Why on earth would it?"

"I believe it's intended for use in case of a siege, for escape or to get more food supplies. It is too high to be reached by anything but a siege tower, and a tall one at that. But there is only a narrow strip of land between the wall and the cliff. No siege tower could possibly approach the castle from that direction and archers can't get good aim at it either."

"I see but if we're going to escape through it, then couldn't a prisoner?"

"A warrior's plaid wouldn't make a long enough rope and women are rarely captives. Besides, it would only be used if your chamber was already occupied. Do we really need to discuss this now, Emily?"

"I'm sorry. My curiosity gets the better of me sometimes."

Cait smiled. "I like that about you."

Emily grimaced. "Just not right now. I understand. We will have to hope the guards on the wall walk do not see us."

"It's a risk we will have to take. But unless the guard on the tower hangs down to look over the side, he will not. There is no other way out of the keep or the castle walls that I can think of."

Emily bit her lip. "I can't either, but if the room is above this one, the drop to the ground is very long. That is too dangerous for a woman in your condition. I will go to the lake and search for Talorc. I can tell him the situation and ask if he has seen anything."

"No. You'd never find him before the others, but I will. Do not worry, Emily. I am a femwolf, I will not fall." Cait put the plaid rope over her shoulder. "I would do nothing to put my bairn at risk, but we cannot allow war between the clans either. And I will not have my brother killed for another man's crimes."

"Not to mention that if there is a murderer among the Balmoral, he needs to be stopped."

"Exactly."

Cait opened the door and stuck her head out, listening intently. Then she turned to Emily and motioned for her to go ahead. Emily was as silent as she could be climbing the tower steps. Cait was beside her a second later and they made their way to the top room of the tower.

Once there, they maintained their silence even after shutting the door quietly. Cait climbed onto the table, the only piece of furniture in the room. There wasn't even a bed. She tied the makeshift rope to an iron loop in the wall, testament that the window was intended for the purpose she had suggested.

Then she stripped out of her clothing, tied it into a tight bundle with her belt and waited with obvious expectation for Emily to do the same. Apparently, swimming wasn't the only thing she could not do with a dress on. Climbing down a tower wall was another. She wasn't sure that was true, but she wasn't going to waste time arguing.

She didn't know how long she and Cait had before Lachlan began the search for Talorc if he hadn't already. She didn't think their conversation had lasted very long, but she could not be sure.

After only a brief hesitation, Emily quickly stripped off her plaid and shift. Cait tied both bundles to the free end of the rope before lowering it out the window. Once that was done, she disappeared out the window herself. Emily climbed on the table and then leaned out to watch her friend's progress down the dangerous climb.

The fact that Cait was naked wasn't nearly as disconcerting as how far she would have to fall if her hand slipped on the rope. But Cait reached the ground faster than Emily would have thought possible and then it was her turn.

She climbed out the window, focused on the task at hand and not how far down the ground was. Without her dress on, she could wrap the rope around one leg, giving herself a sense of security, even if it was false. She also wasn't as heavy without her plaid and thought Cait must have considered that.

She used the knots in the rope as natural resting places and took a lot longer to reach the ground than Cait had. A cold wind buffeted her nakedness, but the exertion from the climb kept her from getting chilled. By the time she reached the ground though, her arms were shaking from the strain and she was grateful for her friend's help untangling from the rope. She dressed quickly, noting Cait had already done so.

They left the rope dangling. Although Emily knew they wouldn't use it to reenter the castle, there was no way to hide it. If Drustan or Lachlan found it, they would most likely assume the worst and believe she and Cait had left it there to help Talorc inside the keep. She doubted they would suspect the women had used it for escape instead.

The skies were gray with clouds that threatened rain, and she and Cait hurried as they avoided the path and the Balmoral cottages on the way to the loch. They stayed in the shelter of the trees as they circled to the other side of it.

Suddenly the big gray wolf from the day before was there, right in front of them. Emily gasped, but Cait ran forward to hug her brother's neck.

"We've got to talk to you," she said to the wolf.

He looked over at Emily and then back at Cait. She sighed and stood. "I think he wants us to turn our backs before he will change. It is considered a very private matter for our kind."

Emily turned away, thinking Cait had been softening the truth. No doubt Talorc did not care if he changed in front of his sister, but an Englishwoman he'd already rejected as a possible wife was another matter.

"What is she doing with you?" he demanded and both women turned to face him.

He was naked. She should have guessed he would be, but she felt herself blushing and averting her gaze. The Chrechte were a lot less concerned about nudity than the English.

"Trying to prevent war between my new clan and my old one," Cait said with some asperity.

"She has mated with the Balmoral."

"No, I haven't," Emily said, "but that's not important right now. Your sister is a Balmoral and she doesn't want war. She is my friend and for her sake I want to see it averted as well."

"I will never take you for a mate now."

She rolled her eyes and then met his gaze. "That is hardly news. We established that before your sister and I were ever kidnapped."

He grunted. "True."

"We need to know if you saw who killed the Balmoral soldier," Cait quickly slotted in.

Talorc frowned. "I did, though I was too far away to prevent it. The killer approached me afterward."

"He approached you? Why?" Cait demanded, sounding as shocked as Emily felt.

"He wants me to kill the Balmoral he wants control of the Balmoral clan."

Cait's face flamed with fury. "Drustan would never do that!"

"I did not say it was your new mate."

"But who else would believe they could take over the clan?"

"Ulf," Emily guessed.

Cait just stared at her and Talorc nodded.

"We humans don't think we are nearly as incompetent and useless as the Chrechte do."

Cait looked affronted. "I didn't say you were useless."

"No, but you never guessed a human would believe he could take over a clan with a pack in it and yet isn't that exactly what MacAlpin did when he betrayed the Chrechte? Only he took over all of Scotland."

"You are smart for an Englishwoman," Talorc said. He turned to Cait. "She's right. Our stepmother was another prime example. Look at the damage she did and she wasn't even of Chrechte descent."

"But Drustan would kill Ulf."

"Not if he blamed your brother for Lachlan's death," Emily said.

Cait's face drained of color as she met Talorc's serious gaze. "He would support the murdering pig out of loyalty and try to avenge Lachlan's death by killing you."

"Yes. Ulf is a murderer, too. The young soldier did not even have a chance." Talorc's distaste was obvious. "He suspected nothing before the first knife thrust straight to his heart."

"The rest of the cuts were to make it look like an animal had done it. You as a wolf."

"Yes, but if it worked, I'm wondering what kind of fool your new laird is."

"So does Ulf, all the time," Emily said.

"But why do you?" Cait asked.

"Why were you so sure I had not done it?" he asked her in place of an answer.

Cait stared. "You're my brother. You would not murder an untried soldier."

"If he had surprised me, I would have killed in self-defense."

"But he could not have surprised you."

"This is true," Talorc said arrogantly. "But there is another reason I believe you were so sure it was not me or one of my soldiers. Perhaps you did not realize it at the time, but if you saw the body, it played into your certainty."

"You have more Sinclairs here?" Emily asked.

Talorc shrugged. Thunder cracked ominously in the sky.

"I did see the body." Cait looked like she'd just grasped something. "If a werewolf had done it in wolf form, he would have torn out the soldier's throat and he would have left a scent."

"Yes. Now, why hasn't your new laird realized that, I'm wondering?"

"Maybe because I suspected you'd done the killing and wanted it to look like a human had done it instead," Lachlan said as he stepped from the bushes. He was glaring at Talorc with fury-filled eyes.

"How long have you been there?" Emily asked, wondering if he had heard the name of the murderer.

Lachlan ignored her, his gaze never leaving Talorc.

"How did I get close enough to use a knife?" Talorc asked. Before Lachlan could answer, he went on, "Your soldier would never have let me get that close. I could have thrown the knife, but even a young werewolf would have heard it whistling in the air and ducked. Then he would have yelled, or run but regardless, I could not have gotten close enough to kill him without leaving a scent. No, he was killed while I watched, helpless to prevent it, from the other side of the loch."

"And you would have me believe you would have stopped it?"

"The boy was Balmoral, but he was also Chrechte. Yes, I would have stopped his death if I could. For the same reason you chose to kidnap my sister and wed her to Susannah's brother rather than declare war between our clans."

"It was a more fitting form of reparation."

"And an effective one. I'll miss seeing my sister daily and watching her child grow up."

Cait made a soft sound at that. "You will not demand custody of my babe?"

He shook his head. "Do you not know me better than that? You're my sister. I would not hurt you by taking your child. He will be raised to know our ways among the Balmoral just as he would among the Sinclair pack."

"Yes, he will," Cait promised, her relief palpable.

"Your father would have gone to war over the perceived insult," Talorc said to Lachlan.

"I am not my father."

"Nor am I mine. I recognize treachery when I see it. I would have prevented the lad's death if I could."

Lachlan said nothing.

Talorc sighed. "Your brother promised me the return of my sister or delivery of her bairn after its birth, whichever I wanted, if I killed you. He said he would lead you into a trap. If you are alone, he has successfully done so."

No expression showed on Lachlan's face, but Emily knew he was hurting. How she knew she couldn't have said, but she could feel his pain as if it were her own and it was horrible.

"Ulf did suggest I hunt you alone, that I prove my right to lead by challenging you personally," Lachlan said in a flat voice. "I assume you have a guard with you and that Ulf was aware of it, though he told me he saw only one wolf across the loch."

"Dare I assume you ignored your brother's suggestion?"

"If I did?"

"Then you have a full contingent of well-trained Chrechte close enough to give aid and you've earned a measure of my respect."

"Perhaps I should kill you and earn all your respect."

"Or, I could do as your brother desires and kill you."


Chapter 18 | Moon Awakening | Chapter 20