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Chapter 4

"What's the matter?" Emily demanded of Cait.

All of a sudden, her friend looked ready to cry.

"I don't want him to kill my brother."

"Who?"

"Lachlan the laird of the Balmorals."

"Why would he kill him?"

"To have you."

"Don't be ridiculous."

But Cait wasn't listening. She was like she had been earlier intent on something Emily could get no glimmer of.

"What is it, Cait?"

But Cait just shook her head.

"Don't you think it is odd they did not send a guard with us?"

"We could never outdistance them and they know it."

"But if we hid perhaps we could delay their departure until your brother caught up with us."

Cait's face leached of color. "I do not want that to happen."

"What? Why?"

"The Balmoral laird could kill Talorc. I'm not even sure that Drustan couldn't. It wouldn't be a given, but it is possible. I don't want to lose my brother."

"But won't there be a battle when we meet up with them with the horses?"

"I am hoping they won't follow once we get away. They will know their attempt at taking us has failed."

"I don't see Lachlan avoiding a fight."

Cait's eyes filled with tears. "I don't either."

Emily put her arm around her. "What do you want to do?"

"If we don't escape, my brother will come for us on the island. And there is an even greater chance he would be killed then."

Although the cranky laird's death would solve her own problems, Emily wasn't tempted in the least to wish for it. First, because it would be a terrible sin, but second because it would hurt her dear friend. "Then we must escape."

"Yes."

"But you do not wish to run and hide now?"

"Hiding would never work." Cait bit her lip. "They could find us no matter how good our concealment."

"You speak as if they are gods. They are merely men, Cait."

"No. They are not. They are more" She made a sound of distress. "I wonder if they heard our plans, perhaps they can hear us even now" Cait shook her head. "No, I think we are far enough away to be out of earshot. I don't hear them anymore. We did walk a good long distance."

"If we don't return soon, they are bound to come looking for us."

A pained expression came over Cait's features. "They already have. We must return now."

Emily nodded, unwilling to argue with her distraught friend. If she said the men were coming, she must have heard something. She'd certainly heard them before Emily had at the lake.

However, her pretense had not been all deception. "I still need a few moments of privacy."

Cait looked startled and then laughed jerkily. "Me, too. I've found pregnancy makes this aspect of life quite challenging at times."

Emily smiled, remembering other women having made the same complaint in her father's keep. Cait had returned to the clearing when Emily finished dealing with the pressing need of her bladder. Drustan was there with her.

He wasn't saying anything and Cait's eyes were filled with hopeless desperation.

Emily glared at the warrior.

He jerked slightly as if surprised by her hostility, which made her want to scream like a fishwife. Were all men in the Highlands so dense?

"What you are doing is wrong."

"Nay, lass. Retaliation is law among the clans. Right is on our side."

Cait spoke then, her eyes burning with anger. "Was it right to allow your clanswoman to hunt during a full moon away from Balmoral territory? She was not protected. She was in he" Cait snapped her mouth shut and looked at Emily, then back at Drustan. "You know what I mean. You neglected to protect her and now you would punish me for your own weakness."

Drustan swelled with affront. "I did not neglect my sister's protection. Whatever lie your clansman told to justify his actions, she was not hunting off the island. Your clansman came to our territory and took her, just as I am taking you now. And it is not you who pays the price, but your brother in losing you and the babe in you from his pack."

Emily had never heard a clan referred to as a pack before, but now was not the time to ask about it. "Susannah is happily wed to a Sinclair. Surely that is all that matters," she said.

"The Sinclair should have asked permission on behalf of his clansman. He did not, which is a breach of clan law that my laird and I, as Susannah's brother, cannot tolerate."

Cait crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the Balmoral warrior. "Deny it all you like, but she was a lone wolwoman! She was fair game when Magnus came across her and she is happily wed. She loves Magnus and our clan has accepted her with open arms."

Emily tried not to wince at the reminder that she had not received such acceptance.

"Clan law must be satisfied," Drustan stubbornly maintained.

"Even if it means going to war?" Emily asked.

"Of course." The daft man looked like he couldn't understand her need to ask the question.

They headed back, Cait taking pains to keep distance between herself and the Balmoral soldier. Emily felt for her friend. Her own situation was precarious, but the truth was she was no worse off than she'd been before. Living amongst the Balmorals couldn't be any worse than living with the Sinclairs. And as long as she was captive to the other clan, she didn't have to worry about Talorc sending her back to England and Abigail being sent in her place to fulfill the king's edict.

But Cait was obviously and justifiably upset by their predicament. She didn't want war with the Balmoral clan and she didn't want to live with them either, from what Emily could see.

They reached the water and both she and Cait stopped a few feet from where the soldiers readied the horses. The contraption they were using looked odd, but she remembered seeing something like it in a painting of a Viking raid once. It looked like a floating raft that the horses would be attached to in harness as they swam. The raft would make the crossing easier on them. It would keep their heads above water, with slots in it for each horse's body to fit into, so that they would be together and afloat and share the burden of the crossing, conserving their equine strength. The horses didn't seem to mind it.

Regardless, Emily was glad she and Cait planned to escape before getting on the boat. The sea was not exactly calm. Waves crashed against rocks a good distance from the shore and she had no desire to be in a boat amidst such awesome movement of the deep, dark water. She had no desire to be in a boat at all.

She had grown adept at hiding her terror of the water, but it was there inside her, a dark force that would consume her as surely as the murky depths.

"Eat this." Drustan held an oat cake and apple toward Cait.

She shook her head.

"The babe needs nourishment."

As much as she hated to, Emily agreed with the warrior. "Eat, Cait. He's right."

Cait took the food and bit into the apple.

Drustan handed a similar offering to Emily in silence. She accepted it without a word. If they were going to run, they had to keep their strength up.

She took one bite of the oat cake and realized why Cait had chosen to eat her apple first. The bread tasted like wood, but she choked it down. She immediately took a bite from her apple to clear the awful taste from her mouth.

She looked at Cait and grimaced. The other woman laughed.

"What is so amusing?" Drustan asked.

Cait lost her smile. "Emily doesn't seem to like the oatcake."

"It is merely that the flavor took me by surprise," Emily hedged, not wanting to be rude even amidst her enemies and then got angry with herself for caring whether or not she offended them.

They bloody well deserved to be offended.

"I don't like them either," Cait assured her. "Only warriors lack taste enough to find them palatable."

"That doesn't surprise me," Emily said with asperity.

They finished the repast quickly despite its unappetizing nature.

"Come here, English." It was Lachlan. He was twenty feet away, standing by the boat that looked much too small to transport five giant warriors and two women anywhere across the water. He was so close to the edge, he was practically standing in the water.

She had no desire to get that close to the sea. "My name is Emily, not English."

The big warrior just shrugged. And waited.

She crossed her arms and gave him a look that told him he could wait until her father came calling from England. She wasn't getting that near to the water. She measured the distance to the horses out of the corner of her eye. If Drustan wasn't so close, they would have better luck escaping, but they had to try.

She turned to signal Cait, but she was too late. Without so much as a muscle twitch of warning, Drustan swung Cait up in his arms and headed toward the boat. She yelled and shoved against his chest, but he kept hold of her.

"Ulf," the laird said.

A second later, Emily found herself swung high in another warrior's arms and then thrown over his shoulder. It was the man who had said Talorc would thank Lachlan for stealing her because she was English. She immediately tried bucking out of his hold, but his grip tightened painfully across her thighs and she yelped.

His shoulder rammed her stomach with every step he took and she found it difficult to breathe. She was not happy about hanging upside down either. His backside was right there and she averted her face so she was at least looking at the ground. He felt different from Lachlan and she didn't want him holding her. Even briefly.

His glare had been filled with a malevolence she had not seen in Lachlan's eyes either.

"Put me down," she demanded when she could get enough breath, only to lose it again as she realized the warrior had walked right into the water.

He put her down all right straight into the boat on a tiny seat beside Cait. The craft rocked dangerously and she gasped in fright. Drustan was in front of them and Ulf climbed into the boat behind them. He sat down right behind her, his hostile presence too close for comfort. She felt trapped and her body twitched with the need to get away from him.

The water was shallow here. She noticed his legs were only wet up to his knees. No matter how dark it looked, it was not deep. She must remember that. Emily pinched Cait lightly. It was now or never. Her friend dove out one side of the boat while Emily forced nausea-producing fear down so she could dive out the other. Ulf caught her by the skirt of her overtunic and held her hanging above the water.

The sound of splashing and Drustan's bellow told her Cait had been more successful.

"Save yourself, Cait," Emily screamed as she scrabbled to get back in the boat and do what she could to hamper efforts at catching her friend.

She was just in time to grab Drustan's ankle. She clung for all she was worth with both hands, but he gave a mighty yank, straining her shoulder joints. He dove after Cait, but it was the other redheaded soldier who caught her as she tried to mount the single horse remaining on dry land.

Cait fought like a wildcat, biting and clawing, screaming for the man to let her go.

But it was Drustan's lethally quiet command that accomplished that. The other soldier released her and Drustan grabbed her in the same motion. He subdued her almost instantly and tied her hands behind her back with a leather strap, his face set in a black scowl. He then did the same to her feet.

Cait was sobbing by the time he was done. "Don't do this," she begged through her tears. "Please, don't do this. I'll talk to Talorc there will be an apology. Please"

But Drustan just picked her up, cradled her to his chest like a small child and carried her back to the boat.

She looked up at him. "I h-hate you. I'll never be yours. N-never!"

He looked down at her and his anger was terrifying. "You'll be mine, lass. Hate me if you will, but I am keeping you just as Magnus kept my Susannah."

"I'll kill you first, or die trying," Cait said, her tears giving way to fury.

After that, she said nothing, sitting ramrod straight on the small bench beside Emily. With a sideways look, Emily noted that Cait was glaring a hole in Drustan's back. And the horrible man deserved it.

Emily did not know how to help her friend, but her mind was reeling in horror from what the angry warrior's words had implied. Less than five minutes later, they cast off. The warriors rowed with practiced movements that showed they'd made this crossing together many times before.

She was trying not to imagine how deep the water was or how flimsy the boat felt. She valiantly ignored the spray from waves that crashed against its bow. Her eyes were fixed firmly on the back of Drustan's wet plaid, but the image of the furious soldier was no mote comforting than the terrifying water.

She turned to Cait. "Are you all right?" she asked in Latin.

Cait met her gaze with troubled brown eyes. "The babe and I are not physically harmed," her friend replied in the same language. "But I am not all right."

Emily nodded, understanding better than another woman might what it meant to feel her life had been taken out of her control and the best she could do for those she loved still left them vulnerable. "I am sorry."

"Thank you, but you know it is not your fault."

"I insisted on bathing outside the walls because I was weak."

"We were on Sinclair land. We should have been safe."

"You should not have been with me. If your brother had known you were going, he would have sent more soldiers to guard you probably older ones, too."

"The boy he sent with you is known to be fierce. Unless he had sent a contingent of his personal guard, like he did to fetch you from the border, we could not have been better protected. Even then, it would have been an uncertain outcome with the Balmoral soldiers."

"They are that fearsome?" Emily asked.

"These ones are."

"It is still my fault we were outside the walls."

"Emily, I would have taken you to see the loch sometime. They would have been waiting then."

"You think they were watching for their opportunity?"

"I am sure of it."

The wind gusted and despite the summer sun, Emily shivered. Cait was wet and she wasn't. She patted her friend's shoulder in commiseration. "You must be awfully cold."

Cait looked surprised by the comment. "Nay."

Her friend certainly wasn't shivering like Emily was and she did not understand it. She'd noticed at the Sinclair keep that they often didn't light a fire in the hall until evening although it was certainly chilly enough for one much earlier in her estimation. There was no doubt about it, the Highlanders were a hardy people.

But even a strong woman like Cait could be broken by the kind of plans Emily suspected Drustan had for her friend.

"Cait"

"Yes, Emily?"

"What does it mean to keep someone in clan law?"

Cait grimaced. "You mean like Drustan has threatened to keep me?"

It had sounded more like a promise to Emily's ears, but she nodded.

"Between a man and a woman, it means he intends to take her for his mate."

"Drustan is going to marry you?" It was as she feared, but something still did not make sense to her. "But is not Church law the same in Scotland as it is in England? Your king accepted Rome's authority, did he not?"

"The clans are not much bothered by the dictates of Scotland's king."

Talorc certainly had not been. "So you do not have to agree to the marriage for it to be valid?"

"Well, yes, but when a man keeps a woman, he will settle for a clandestine marriage."

"You mean he will take you to his bed without the benefit of the Church's blessing?" Emily demanded, appalled. It was even worse than she had thought.

"Yes."

"That is barbaric."

Cait shrugged, but her eyes belied the relaxed pose.

"Lachlan told me that the Balmorals did not harm women or children." And she had believed him. "But he lied."

"Yes, he lied."

"I did not lie," Lachlan said in Latin, his voice hard.

He'd understood the entire exchange.

Cait flinched and then net shoulders sagged. "I should have guessed. My brother told me the Balmoral laird was more learned than other Highlanders. He considered it a weakness."

"You have learned differently, have you not?" Cait refused to answer Lachlan's taunt and Emily was too furious to say anything at all.

The man was a monster!

Drustan asked for a translation of the conversation and Lachlan gave it to him. Word for word. Despite her anger, Emily blushed to be caught discussing such private things in mixed company. The embarrassment did not last long as fury that Cait could be treated so horribly overtook every consideration, even her fear of the water.

It was not right.

She surged to her feet and spun to face Lachlan. He stood at the front of the boat, his stance arrogant and commanding, while the other soldiers manned the oars. His rugged masculine appeal mocked her, for it masked a black heart she would never have guessed at.

The pain of having believed him to be something he wasn't mixed with her fear for her friend and exploded in a deluge of angry words. "You are nothing but a lying savage. Do you hear me?"

"I believe they hear you in England, lass," one of the soldiers said. He was the only blond one among them and up to now he hadn't spoken.

She glared at him before turning her frown on Lachlan once again. He looked unaffected by her outburst. She didn't care if her words impacted him, or not. She was going to have her say and that was that.

"And Drustan is a thief. No he is worse than a thief," she said with relish. "For he intends not only to steal that which does not belong to him, but to hurt an innocent woman in the process. And most likely her unborn child. You're all a bunch of cowards, too, taking your revenge on a woman rather than facing your opponents in honest combat."

Several grunts of annoyance met that statement, but she ignored them. She had one last thing to say to the man watching her so impassively.

"You may be more learned than the other Highland lairds, Lachlan, but to my way of thinking, you are the most ignorant, not to mention heartless man I have ever met here or in England."

Then she sat back down with a flounce that rocked the boat, reminding her just where she was and making her stomach chum.

Cait was staring at her like she'd lost her mind. "Are you wanting them to throw you out of the boat then?"

Still too angry to heed her words, she said, "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they did, considering the wicked plans they have for you."

Ulf grabbed her shoulders as if prepared to do just that and she bit back a scream. She would not let them see her fear, but inside her heart raced with terror at what he would do.

"Let her go!" The whiplash of Lachlan's voice had immediate impact.

Ulf released her instantly, but snarled, "It is no more than she deserves for casting such slurs on the Balmoral clan."

"Not the whole clan, just the warriors here." Unlike some of the Highlanders she had met, she did not judge an entire group of people by the actions of a few degenerates.

She didn't guess they liked that opinion either when fury-filled silence greeted the airing of it. A large wave crashed against the bow, sending sea spray over all of them. Now, on top of her anger, she had to deal with the fear that the ocean was going to swallow their boat.

Her nails dug into her palms and she prayed drowning wasn't as horrible a death as she had always feared.

The strangest expression crossed Cait's face. "I've enjoyed knowing you, Emily."

Coming on the heels of her anxious thoughts, the words were not in the least welcome. Emily sucked in a breath and tried to calm herself. It didn't work. The boat road a high swell and the bow came out of the water before hitting it again with a jar. She gasped and then bit her lower lip to keep from making another noise.

Movement behind her rocked the boat from side to side and she wondered who could be so daft that they were moving about at a time like this, but she refused to turn to see. She would rather be surprised by her fate if Lachlan had changed his mind and decided to have her tossed overboard.

A big hand landed on her shoulder. Lachlan had come for her himself.

"I don't know how to swim," she blurted out and then practically bit her tongue through, chagrined to have shown such weakness.

"That would hardly matter if I were the man you believed me to be, would it?"

He was right and she knew deep inside he would never throw her overboard, or was she only deceiving herself? She refused to face him. "You have aided in the abduction of a woman with the intent to harm her."

"I have exercised my right as laird to exact justice between the clans."

"I don't care how you justify it to yourself. What you are doing determines what kind of man you are."

His sigh was loud and long. "Your opinion of me and my clan does not matter, English."

"I never thought it would." But his words had hurt her and it was all she could do to keep that out of her voice. Her opinion should matter. His would matter to her.

Horror filled her at the recognition of that appalling truth. She should not care.

"Yet you expressed it."

She shrugged, or tried to with his heavy hand still on her shoulder. "It matters to me."

"I see."

"I doubt it."

"If you are about to insult me again, I warn you dinna do it." His quiet tone was more lethal than if he had shouted the warning.

Her mouth snapped shut.

He growled. "I do not like talking to your back. Turn around."

"No."

But he was already picking her up to do it himself.

She cried out as she was lifted off her seat completely. "Do not drop me. You shouldn't be moving so much. Don't you notice how rough the sea is? We could capsize." She nodded, wishing she could appeal to a sense of reason she feared he did not have.

The man thought he was indestructible.

"The water is near smooth as glass."

"You jest. I know you do, but this is no laughing matter."

"I am not jesting." He held her close against his chest, his eyes filled with a dark intensity she could not interpret. "No harm will come to you at my hand, English."

She wanted to scoff, but she couldn't. Because Heaven help her, she did believe him. What did that say for his plans for Cait then?

She did not realize she'd asked the question aloud until he answered it.

"It is Drustan's responsibility to convince Cait she wants to be kept."

"And if he can't?" Emily asked, trying to read the level of Lachlan's sincerity in his gaze.

A small smile played at one corner of his mouth. "He can. He is a Balmoral."

"That doesn't make him a magician," she whispered, once again falling under the spell this man seemed to cast every time he turned his whole attention on her.

He set her down on the bench beside Cait, but this time so Emily faced where he had taken Ulf's seat at the oars. The other soldier now stood in the bow of the boat, turned away from them all, his body stiff with rage.

Lachlan took up the oars and began to row in perfect unison with the others. "He is man enough to make his mate want him to bed her without hurting her or the bairn she carries."

Emily couldn't believe Lachlan had said such a thing to her and Cait's loud gasp said she didn't appreciate his candidness either. "If he's thinking I'll submit, he's wrong," she said, her tone as mean as any of the warriors had been.

Drustan gave a low chuckle that sounded diabolical to Emily's ears. "Aye, you'll submit, lass, and like it."

Cait made a strangled sound and lurched forward. Emily turned her head just in time to see Cait's mouth closing on the back shoulder of the man taunting her. Drustan didn't react any more than Lachlan had when Emily had bit him.

"I see you've taught your heathen English ways to the Sinclair lass," Lachlan drawled, inexplicable amusement in his voice.

"I am not a heathen," Emily spluttered.

Drustan made quick work of breaking Cait's hold on his skin. Then he pulled her into his lap, whispered something about teaching her better things to do with her mouth and kissed her.

It wasn't a brutal kiss even though Cait tried to bite him again. He simply laughed and kissed the corner of her mouth, her eyes and her temple before returning to her lips. Emily looked away, unwilling to witness such a scene, but couldn't help peeking again and saw that her friend's struggles had ceased.

She was afraid Drustan had hurt her after all, but Cait was kissing him back, her body turned toward his, not writhing to get away. Emily could not look away. She had never seen anything like it. Surely it was the sort of intimacy that should be saved for the bedchamber, but none of the other soldiers seemed in the least embarrassed by it.

Cait wasn't embarrassed either. She was too busy to notice anyone else, Emily was thinking.

What would it be like to be kissed in such a manner?

Would she like it? Surely that sort of thing happened in the marriage bed, but it was not Talorc's face that came to her mind when she tried to imagine it. No, the face in her disturbing fantasy was of another Highland laird, a man who went looking for revenge with his face painted blue and riding a horse that could be mistaken for a dragon.


Chapter 3 | Moon Awakening | Chapter 5