After long minutes, the warrior finally lifted his mouth from Cait's. She was panting and had the most astonished expression on her face… but she did not look angry any longer. Or even a little bit frightened.
"You will want me when I take you," Drustan promised in a voice that made Emily feel funny and crave such words for herself. Only not from him.
It was wicked… some kind of Highland sorcery she did not understand. She was not the heathen around here… it was the Balmoral wizards who could turn a woman's thoughts to mush.
Using the corner of his plaid, Drustan gently wiped away the blue paint that had been smeared on Cait's face from the kiss. "I will not harm you. Never doubt me again."
Cait turned her face away, but Drustan gently pressed it into his chest, cradling her close as if she were a precious treasure.
For some reason, the action brought tears to Emily's eyes.
"You will apologize now," Lachlan said, drawing her attention bade to him.
"For what?" she asked, making a valiant effort to meet his wolflike gaze.
Those eyes were so uncanny, she knew she would see them in her dreams.
As usual, when the stubborn warrior did not want to answer, he didn't. He merely stared at her. Well, she could be stubborn, too. She pressed her lips together, determined not to speak. She had nothing to apologize for. Just because Cait appeared to enjoy Drustan's kisses didn't mean Lachlan had been right in the form of revenge he had chosen.
The silence between them stretched on and on, broken only by the sound of the oars slashing through the water and the waves breaking around them.
"I will win," Lachlan promised quietly, then dismissed her as surely as if he'd turned away.
Inexplicably hurt by his rejection, she focused on the view out the side of the boat. It was no more comforting than it had been the first time she'd looked. The island they were obviously headed toward didn't seem to be getting any closer and the water stretched in an expanse of dark swells around them.
Drustan untied Cait and helped her back to her seat beside Emily before taking up his oars again.
Without the anger to bolster her courage, it deserted her and horrible images of the boat tipping to one side or huge crashing waves washing over it and taking her and Cait overboard tormented Emily's brain.
"Are you going to tolerate the insult of the English wench?" Ulf demanded in a furious tone, interrupting her waking nightmare.
"She will apologize," Lachlan drawled with utter certainty.
"No, I won't." She muttered the defiance without thought and was surprised she could force the words out of her tight throat afterward.
Lachlan growled low in his chest, the sound so far from human, it made her shiver and added to the sense of doom taking over her senses. Her gaze flew to his and she wished it hadn't. His eyes were even less human than usual with the gold almost overtaking the brown of his irises. She just knew that meant he was well and truly annoyed with her.
If she wasn't past the age of believing in monsters like dragons and werewolves, she'd think he was one. An atavistic chill skittered down her spine and it was all she could do not to whimper in fright.
"Are you admitting she is right then? That you are weak and a coward to take your revenge on women instead of men?"
Lachlan stood and faced the angry soldier, his own body vibrating with deadly tension. "You dare to challenge me?"
"I am not the one challenging you. She did and you do nothing to punish the insolence."
The boat swayed and a scream locked in Emily's throat, making her jaw ache with the effort it took to hold it back. She shut her eyes tight, trying to block out the reality of her surroundings, but the sounds of wind on the water would not let her.
"Perhaps he thinks forcing her to endure your company is punishment enough," Cait taunted.
There was a scuffle above Emily and the boat swayed in alarming dips first to one side and then to the other. She sank further and further into the fear swirling through her. Her eyes flew open, her despairing gaze searching out the strongest person on the boat… Lachlan.
He stood above her, holding Ulf, as if stopping him from going for Emily's throat.
Her hand flew to protect it in a totally futile gesture.
Ulf's eyes spit angry recriminations at his leader. "I won't tolerate such insults, even if you will."
"You will tolerate whatever I tell you to tolerate." The tone of Lachlan's voice was the meanest she'd heard it yet.
"You would choose your enemy over your brother?"
Ulf was Lachlan's brother? Emily supposed there was a slight family resemblance, but they seemed so different.
"Balmoral warriors do not prey on women."
"She insulted us all!" he yelled, jerking his head toward Emily.
"She is English, and therefore ignorant of our ways. She will learn."
A tiny part of her mind was offended by the pronouncement, but she was too preoccupied with the prospect of dying at sea to work up any real anger.
The summer sun had not quite set when they reached the Balmorals' island.
Emily was breathing shallowly, her fingers curled like talons around the edge of the wooden slab she and Cait sat on. Her usually resilient nature had been eclipsed by the ongoing torture of crossing the roughened waters and doing it sitting across from Ulf, who glared at her like he hated her.
Lachlan had traded places with his brother moments after their brief scuffle and she'd spent the rest of the trip being glowered at by the angry soldier. She'd wanted to turn around, to face Drustan's back, but her fear of the water had complete hold again. Moving even an inch had been beyond her… and continued to be.
The sight of land so close was so welcome, tears sprang into her eyes, but she could not utter a word.
The brown-eyed soldier with the red hair, whom Emily had heard Lachlan refer to as Angus, jumped out to pull the boat to the shore while Ulf and the blond soldier went to tend to the horses. It took less than fifteen minutes to bring both the boat and horses ashore. Drustan lifted Cait to dry land and turned to do the same for Emily.
"Come." He put his hand out.
She stared at it. He expected her to stand, she knew he did, but for the last hour or more, her only grip on safety had been her tight hold on the bench beneath her. She willed her fingers to let go, but they did not move.
"What is the matter?" Lachlan asked Drustan.
"The English lass is being stubborn about getting out of the boat."
Lachlan turned to her, his frown fierce. "Do not try my patience."
"You don't have any," she muttered.
"If that were true, I would not be waiting for my apology."
She didn't respond to that bit of arrogance. She couldn't. She was too busy trying to make her fingers obey her.
"Come here," he barked, his gaze searing her.
Her body jerked and her fingers finally unbent from the seat. She shot to her feet, grateful for his brusqueness, but with no intention of telling him so.
Drustan's hand was still outstretched, but she ignored it, swaying toward Lachlan. He reached into the boat and grabbed her by the waist with both hands, then lifted her as if she weighed nothing. He set her on the ground, frustrated anger emanating off of him in waves that buffeted her overwrought emotions as powerfully as the water had crashed against the boat's bow.
She turned away and her attention was caught by the horses. They appeared no worse for their journey across the channel. She wished she could say the same. In order to return to the Sinclair holding, she would have to go back the same way. Sick at the thought, she barely stopped herself from praying she would remain captive until the end of her days.
"How far to your holding?" she asked Lachlan without looking at him.
She got no answer and sighed. "I am sorry for being difficult about getting out of the boat."
When she received no reply to that either, she looked back to see if Lachlan was still behind her.
He was, a strange expression in his gold-rimmed eyes. "You're wasted on Talorc, English."
She shook her head, not knowing what he meant.
"Aye, you are."
Cait made a sound of distress, but when Emily's gaze found her, she could see no reason for her friend's upset.
"My home is there," Lachlan said, drawing her attention back to him.
He was pointing and Emily followed the direction of his finger with her eyes, then gasped at what she saw. A sheer cliff rose fifty feet in the air and on top of the cliff was a huge stone castle that looked worthy of a king.
"It's massive," Cait whispered, her voice filled with awe as she came to stand beside Emily. "My brother's forces will never make it inside."
Emily had to agree. She didn't think the king of England would have much luck in a siege against the Balmorals.
"What we have we hold," Drustan said arrogantly, laying a proprietary hand on Cait's shoulder.
"Except Susannah," Cait pointed out.
"Rest assured, whatever mistake led to her mating with Magnus will not be repeated with you."
"I should hope not. I have no desire to mate with my brother's blacksmith," Cait said teasingly.
Drustan did not smile at the joke. If she hadn't thought it improbable, Emily would have said he looked severely offended by the remark. But even a too-serious Highlander had to realize Cait's words could have been nothing but a jest.
For no reason she could discern, he turned his glare from Cait to encompass Emily as well.
"How many live within the castle walls?" Emily asked, trying to turn the topic, her mind still boggling at the size of the castle atop the cliff.
"Think you we would give secrets like that away to our enemy?" Ulf asked, his contempt flaying her.
Emily's emotions teetered on the edge of an abyss as deep as her fear of the water. "I am not your clan's enemy."
She'd spoken in a whisper that was barely audible, but Ulf laughed deridingly. "You say that after the insults you leveled against our clan? You are our enemy right enough. Not only are you the wife of the Sinclair laird, but you are English. That makes you our enemy twice over."
The words poured over her like acid, burning and destroying what was left of her emotional well-being.
She'd been met with almost nothing but hatred since coming to the Highlands. Ulf's words told her that she would be despised even more amidst his clan than she had been among the Sinclairs'. She could not bear to face such a prospect.
Back in her father's keep, she was well-liked by the servants, if not valued by her family. Some, like her old nurse, even loved her. Her sister Abigail certainly did.
But here, she was surrounded by people who believed she was beneath their contempt. Even Lachlan had shown he found her more annoying than anything else and that hurt more than all the rest, though she could not have said why. She'd only just met the man and he wasn't exactly pleasant company.
On top of it all, Cait thought it was Emily's fault the laird might try to kill her brother. Emily didn't understand her friend's reasoning, but in that moment, she understood very little. Only that she could not bear one more scowl leveled her way simply for being born.
She turned and started walking. She didn't know where she was going, but it didn't matter. She could not go to that castle, an impregnable fortress where she would meet nothing but more rejection and malice. She shivered as she remembered the look of the stone wall and the towers rising up above it.
There would be no Cait there, ready to stand sister. She would be taken from Emily… by Drustan. It had been decreed.
For a moment, her thoughts left her own dire straits and her worry centered on Cait. Would the women of the clan shun her as the Sinclairs had shunned Emily, or would they accept her as the Sinclairs had accepted Susannah? She hoped for her friend's sake it was the latter, but she wasn't going to the Balmoral holding.
She had been shunned enough.
In fact, she wasn't going anywhere other people told her she had to go. Never again. If she disappeared in the forest, Talorc could not send her home. Then Abigail would be safe. Yes, that was the way of it. As hard as life within her father's keep was, it would be easier for Abigail than braving the sickening prejudice she would face in the Highlands, and that was before the Highlanders discovered her deafness.
Emily stumbled on something, but managed to stay upright. She could not see what it was through the moisture glazing her eyes. She was not crying. She would not cry; it was merely that she was cold and her eyes stung because of it.
There were voices behind her. Cait and the soldiers. She had to get away from them. She started walking faster.
A hand landed on her shoulder. "Stop, Lady Sinclair."
It was the voice of the blond soldier. She didn't know his name and she didn't want to know it. She didn't want to know another thing about this land that was so inhospitable. Its beauty hid a terrible flaw.
She tried to keep going, but the soldier's hold tightened, pulling her to a halt. "You must come with me."
"No." She jerked out of his hold and started running.
He chased her and she ran faster, swiping at her eyes so she could see. Her tunic caught on a branch and she tore it yanking free, then held her skirt as high as she could, running as fast as her legs would go. She had to get away.
She had no warning before the soldier grabbed her again.
She didn't think about what she did next, but acted on the instinct to protect herself. She bent and grabbed a piece of driftwood from the ground, then swung it in an upward arc with all her might, hitting the soldier where her father had taught all his daughters it would do the most damage.
The soldier yowled like a scalded cat and grabbed between his legs, falling to his knees, his face contorted in agony.
Emily was too distraught to feel remorse and she started running again, this time intent on making it to the forest before another soldier tried to stop her. If Ulf came after her, he would probably hurt her, no matter what Lachlan had said about Balmoral soldiers not harming women.
Ulf hated her… just as all the Highlanders hated her. Except Cait. She hoped Cait would find happiness with Drustan.
That was Lachlan's voice, but she couldn't obey. If she did, he would take her to his castle made of stone and her heart would be ground to powder by more hatred from his clan.
She pushed herself to run faster, but she was still several feet from the edge of the forest when a heavy body landed against her, knocking her to the ground. She fought, but she could not dislodge his weight. She kept trying, but no matter how hard she tried to get her legs under her, she failed. Finally, spent from her efforts, she lay still.
Lachlan rolled off of her and turned her onto her back before standing up.
"Why did you run away?" he demanded, his voice tight with fury, his expression set in stone harder than his castle.
Did he hate her, too? "Please let me go."
"Where, you daft woman? You have nowhere to go. Surely you must see that."
The smell of the sea surrounded them, reminding her that she could not go back. "The forest. I want to go to the forest."
"Have you really gone daft then? There is nothing for you there but wild animals."
"At least they won't hate me. Please, Lachlan. I can't go to the castle… I don't want to meet your people."
"You have no choice."
She scrambled to her knees and scooted away from him.
"If you run again, I will lock you in the tower. Your door will only be opened to serve your meals."
Emily jumped to her feet and ran. He caught her before she'd taken four steps. She hadn't expected any less.
He turned her to face him, his expression good and mean. "I meant what I said, lass."
"Yes." Tears were streaming down her face now and she could not stem their flow. "Lock me in the tower and I won't have to see anyone. I will not have to face their hatred."
It was a much better plan than her confused notion of hiding in the forest.
"Hatred? Whose hatred?"
"Your clan's. The women will be just like the Sinclair women… or worse. They'll believe I soil the air they breathe just because I'm English and the soldiers will all glare at me all the time. If I do something wrong… they'll hurt me. I was just waiting for it before and now I know it will happen. Ulf already wants to hurt me," she reminded Lachlan of that irrefutable fact before bursting into more sobs.
He pulled her roughly against him, his hand patting awkwardly on her back. "I won't let him."
"You will. You hate me, too. You have to. I'm your enemy." Even as she said the words, she pressed into the solid safety of his body.
Somehow, this all had to be a nightmare and therefore she was not acting forward. Nothing had to be proper or make sense in dreams.
Lachlan could not stand Emily's bereft tone and having her soft curves so close to him was driving him as daft as she sounded. But he did not believe she was crazy. Just hurt, very, very hurt. It was true that the Highlander's dislike of the English was deeply ingrained, but the Sinclairs had obviously taken it to levels far beyond anything he had seen before.
"The Sinclair soldiers hurt you?"
"Not yet, but it was bound to happen. Don't you see?"
"He hates me most of all. He called me his enemy and no one cared, but they all think I'm wicked because I said I would rather be married to a goat than to him."
"Was this before or after the marriage?" he asked, feeling his first twinge of sympathy for the Sinclair laird.
To have his bride chosen for him would have been insult enough, but to have her say in front of witnesses that she would rather be married to a goat would have been galling indeed.
"Before." She hiccupped on a small sob and burrowed closer to his rapidly growing arousal, but she did not know it.
She was too innocent to realize it. He was sure. And the knowledge tormented him.
"I do not like your tears."
He could tell she was. She sucked in one small, shuddering breath after another.
He could hear his brother making disparaging comments and Cait was upset that he was holding Emily so close. He frowned. His life as a laird made for very little privacy, but right now he wanted the prying eyes and ears of his fellow werewolves off of the vulnerable woman in his arms.
He swung her up against his chest and something strange twinged inside him when she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in the curve of his throat. Lust. 'Twas all it was. He wanted her and he could not have her. It was nothing more than that. If he could bed her a few times to rid himself of the affliction, it would leave him.
He carried her into the forest, far away from the watchful eyes and superior hearing of his soldiers. It was not a smart thing to do. He was taking time they should be spending returning home and getting the women to certain safety.
Yet he could not make himself turn around and return to his soldiers until he had calmed Emily's fears.
He stopped only when he could no longer hear the others. He forced himself to let the woman go, lowering her to her feet carefully.
She looked up at him, her eyes still drowning. "Have you decided to leave me in the forest then?"
"Tell me why you ran away," he said instead of answering her ridiculous question.
"I told you. I can't stand any more hatred." She sighed, making an obvious bid to get control of her emotions. "I looked up at your castle and suddenly all I could think of were all the people who lived there… every one of them prepared to dislike me because I am English. On top of that, I am the Sinclair laird's wife and they will hate me for that too because he is your enemy."
"You believe this because… ?"
"It's true. I wish it weren't, but I've come to accept it. The Highlanders hate the English."
"You said that you told the Sinclair laird you would rather marry a goat. Do you not think that has as much to do with his clan's hostility to you as your being English?"
"Cait said that, but no one smiled at me upon my arrival either." She took a deep breath and let it out.
"We do not smile at strangers. Is that an English custom?"
She thought about it for several seconds while she blinked the last tears from her eyes. "Perhaps not, but I was supposed to marry their laird."
"By the king's edict."
"That would sting the pride of the clan. Their laird is their chief, they are loyal to him over their king."
"But you are supposed to be loyal to your king above all."
"In England this is true and mayhap in the Lowlands, but not here, lass."
"But that is wrong. It is a sin to put a clan chief above the king of your country."
"By whose edict?"
"The Church… I am sure the Church has taken such a stand."
"Doesn't that matter to you?"
She stared at him as if she could not imagine such a thing. "Are you not worried about being sanctioned by the Church?"
It was almost worth saying it just to watch her reaction. She looked thoroughly scandalized. "But that is terrible."
"Do you think so?"
"So, Cait was right… Drustan will not be marrying her with the blessing of the Church."
"I did not say that."
"But no priest would come to your holding if you have such disrespectful views."
"Our priest does not find our views distressing."
"Your priest? Does he live amidst your clan then?"
"Do you hate me, too?" she asked in a small voice.
"Why would you ask such a thing?"
"You acted like you hated me."
"When you lifted me from the boat."
"You inconvenienced me. I was angry."
"I am sorry."
"You were obviously feeling overly emotional."
"Yes." She took another deep breath and waited. He waited for what she planned to say next. Finally, she let the breath out in a disgruntled sigh. "Well… do you hate me?"
"I don't hate you either."