She was not surprised when Lachlan ordered one of the other soldiers to take her up on his horse for the ride to the castle. After all, now that he had answers to his odious questions, he had no need to touch her. She refused to be bothered by that.
The warrior named Angus put his hand out to her and she smiled at him as she took it for a lift up. He looked confused by her smiling all right and stopped in the act of puffing her onto his horse with a stupefied expression on his face.
She simply waited, wondering how simpleminded were these soldiers that her poor plan was having such success so quickly.
Lachlan's command snapped the soldier from his reverie and he swung Emily into his lap.
She sat primly forward, but turned to smile up at him once more. "Thank you kindly for allowing me to ride with you."
"He allows nothing. I have ordered it," Lachlan growled.
Emily ignored him, deciding then and there that her campaign to confuse the soldiers with her cheerful countenance would not stretch to their leader. She never wanted to speak to him again.
She faced forward without another word. The trip up the cliff was not as harrowing as the water crossing, but she did give thanks to God more than once that she had no fear of heights. The trail zigzagging up the side of the cliff was barely wide enough for the large war horses, its right side a rock face and the left a sheer drop back down.
Unless there was another path to reach the cliff-top castle, she could not imagine a force of any strength could ever surprise the Balmorals with their arrival, or even make it as far as the castle unless the Balmorals wanted them to.
Cait had been right. There was no way her brother would be able to rescue them once they were inside the castle walls.
When they reached the top of the cliff, they could see the drawbridge was down and so they rode right into the lower bailey before they stopped and dismounted. Men and women wearing the Balmoral plaid looked with open curiosity upon Emily and Cait. They didn't scowl like the Sinclairs had even though Emily knew her dress had to give away her Englishness.
One older woman with a kind face and eyes very like Angus's even came forward. "Who is that you have with you, son?"
"The Balmoral's captive. She's promised to the Sinclair."
"So, we've taken two in retaliation for Susannah, then?" The woman's face creased in a satisfied smile.
"Aye, we have."
Drustan laid a possessive hand on Cait's protruding belly. "Nay, we have taken three."
Cait's eyes filled with tears and Emily wanted to smack him.
But keeping with her intent to confuse them, she smiled instead. "I still say it is a poor man who takes his revenge through women and a child."
She'd said the words sweetly, so Drustan's scowl didn't come for two heartbeats after she'd spoken. When it did, it was fierce enough to fell the monster werewolves Emily's faraway housekeeper had told her and Abigail so many stories about.
Cait, however, no longer looked ready to cry and that was all Emily wanted. She was shaking her head, her eyes questioning Emily's sanity.
Angus laughed though.
"You find the insult to your brother amusing?" the older woman censured.
"Our laird has said she is English and will therefore have to learn our ways to understand them. I'm inclined to agree."
His mother shook her head. "An insult is an insult, Angus… even to an Englishwoman."
"Enough of this foolish talk." Lachlan's harsh voice came from directly behind Emily. "The priest waits for us up at the keep."
And that was when she learned there was to be a wedding between Cait and Drustan. Immediately.
"But the marriage sacrament is to be spoken in the morning," Emily said, scandalized as she followed the soldiers to the keep. She was still intent on ignoring Lachlan, so she was haranguing Drustan instead. "And Cait cannot go to her wedding without the opportunity to prepare her person. This is too barbaric even for you Balmorals."
"Yon would prefer I took your friend to my bed tonight without making her my wife?" he asked in a lazy drawl that made her want to scream.
"I would prefer you waited until she has had sufficient time to prepare."
"And how long would that be, English?"
"It takes time to organize a wedding… days, weeks even."
"On the contrary, the wedding is already set." Lachlan's voice came from her left, but she refused to look at him.
"Drustan… please, you must reconsider."
"My laird has ordered the wedding take place now. It shall be done."
They had reached the keep and the small group swept into the great hall where a priest did indeed wait near the fireplace. He wore the proper vestments and his expression was kind, but the image of him sent Emily's heart pounding.
Cait did not look similarly affected. Her expression was stoic, but that was a far cry from serene and Emily wished there was something she could do to save her friend.
She was even willing to renege on her promise to herself never to speak to Lachlan again, if it would help. Spinning to face him, she grabbed his arm in urgent appeal. "Please, don't do this. Not tonight. Give her time to… to…"
"To what, English? Waiting will not change her fate."
"But she never even met Drustan before today."
"How many times had you met Talorc before your father sent you here?"
"That is not the same thing. This is not by order of the king. And Talorc did not force the marriage upon my arrival."
"He would if he had wanted to bed you."
Emily reeled back from the brutal crudity of the words, but she could not allow herself to become overset. She had to keep fighting for Cait's welfare. "Nevertheless—"
"Enough," he said, cutting her off. "If you do not cease this tirade, I will have you taken to the tower before the wedding takes place."
Emily's mouth snapped closed on another argument. She was Cait's only friend present. She had to stay. With that thought in mind, she went to stand by Cait's side.
Cait did not look at her, but she squeezed Emily's hand as if to tell her she was glad she was there. Then she clasped her own hands in front of her, her mouth set in a firm line. Drustan took his place on the other side of Cait and Lachlan moved to stand beside him. Angus and the older woman who had spoken outside stood nearby. Everyone in the hall grew silent.
The priest began the marriage sacrament with the right words, but Emily could not help feeling it was sacrilegious to speak them in the evening rather than the morning. Was the marriage valid if the procedure dictated by Rome was not followed to the letter?
She prayed for the sake of her friend's soul that it was.
Drustan spoke his vows in a firm voice, but when it came time to speak her vows, Cait remained mute. The priest repeated his question, but Cait acted as if she had not heard.
Emily did not blame her. In fact, it was a clever plan. According to the laws of the Church, a marriage could be annulled if both parties did not enter into it willingly.
Frowning, Drustan took Cait by the shoulders and turned her to face him. "You will be mine regardless of what you do here."
Face averted, Cait shrugged, but Emily could see the tension in her friend's body.
The priest looked to Lachlan for instruction.
Lachlan looked at Drustan. Drustan crossed his arms, his intent clear. He would not budge on his stand.
Emily was proud of Cait's strength of purpose, but it worried her. Better to be wedded before being bedded, or so Sybil had always said. Emily didn't make it a habit to agree with her stepmother, but in this case… she did. And after the kiss she'd witnessed on the boat between Cait and Drustan, she had no doubt just where Cait was going to end up sleeping this night.
Lachlan crossed his arms over his broad chest, his expression bored. "The priest will speak the blessing over you on my say so."
The holy man winced, but nodded.
Cait did nothing… said nothing.
"I prefer her to speak her vows. I am content to keep her without the benefit of marriage until she does so."
"No," Emily gasped, but no one paid her any heed.
Lachlan considered Cait for several long minutes of silence. "Very well, until you speak your vows to my soldier and bind yourself to him willingly and forever, the English woman will warm my bed."
Blackness washed over Emily and it was all she could do to remain standing. "You lied again," she whispered.
But he heard her. So did everyone else from the reaction she received, but she didn't care. The soldiers could glare all they liked and the priest might as well stop looking like she'd spoken a blasphemy. Lachlan of the Balmoral was no god to be blasphemed, no matter what the arrogant man might think.
"My patience with your insults grows thin."
"And I have no patience at all with your lies," she said, her voice stronger now, though her knees still felt wobbly.
"Tell me when I lied."
"You said you would not allow anyone to keep me."
He had the audacity to shake his head at her.
She scowled and nodded right back. "Yes, you did."
"I said I would not let any of my soldiers keep you."
"I made no promise not to keep you myself."
"You can't," Cait said, her voice laced with shock. "If you do, Talorc will consider her mated to you and he will refuse to marry her."
"He has already refused."
"But he will come around."
Lachlan didn't even bother to shrug, but the dismissal of that paltry consideration was written into his very stance. He did not care about her future… only about getting his own way. He wanted his vengeance and he would not be denied.
"Emily, I…" Cait looked like she was ready to cry again.
Emily soothed her as best she could. "Do not worry about me. I will be all right," she lied with what was left of her courage.
But Cait shook her head. "No. You will be ruined… you'll be mated to him. They don't see it that way here… Susannah told us, but the Sinclairs will. I'm sure your English father will."
"You mean if Drustan takes you to his bed, he will not see himself committed to you?" Emily asked.
"Of course he is committed to her. What do you think the priest is for?" Lachlan asked with obvious exasperation.
Emily turned on him with fury. "He said he would take her to his bed regardless."
"He wants her promise."
"And you… all you want is your own way."
His dark brow rose.
Emily opened her mouth, but did not know what to say. She did not want to be the lever used to force Cait into marriage, but she was also worried for her friend's virtue. Regardless, she would not lend her voice to the others in putting pressure on her friend.
She snapped her mouth shut and turned away.
"I will speak my vows."
"Not on my account," Emily said fiercely, grabbing her friend's arm.
Cait shook her head. "It is an empty gesture to refuse." She sighed, her shoulders slumped. "As I said, my clan sees the physical act of joining as a lifelong commitment. My brother will consider me mated regardless of what words I speak here."
"But you do not want to promise your loyalty to Drustan, do you?"
She finally understood why Cait wanted to avoid saying her vows regardless of Drustan's threat.
"No, but even if I do not say the words… I will belong to the Balmoral clan come sunrise. According to the laws of my people, I will belong to Drustan."
It wasn't right, but it was the way of the world. It only shocked Emily that Cait claimed the Balmoral clan did not see it as such. Well, without the wedding… an Englishman could walk away from a woman he had compromised as well. Was Cait saying that a Sinclair could not?
It was all very confusing, but one thing was clear. Cait was not happy about speaking her vows.
Drustan did not look too happy either. In fact, he looked downright mean. He grasped Cait's shoulders and turned her to face him again. "Becoming my wife is not a punishment."
"I know," Cait whispered, shocking Emily and making Lachlan grunt with approval.
Drustan's green gaze softened. "I will care for you and watch over you and your bairn."
At mention of the babe, Cait shook her head.
Drustan sighed and pulled her closer. "Yes. You will learn to trust me, lass."
Then, before Cait could argue again, he kissed her. This time Emily did not watch. She turned her head away, but could not help noticing the tiny sounds of pleasure her friend made.
After what seemed like a very long time, Drustan spoke, "Repeat the vows for my mate, Father."
The priest repeated them and Cait spoke her responses in a dreamy voice that gave Emily her first true smile in a long while. Cait did not like having her decision made for her, but she was not averse to marrying Drustan. Not really. And truly, it was no worse than when Talorc had informed Cait on the day of her first wedding that she was to be given to one of his soldiers. That had been no great love match from what Emily could tell.
A woman's lot was not an easy one, but Cait could do worse than to marry a strong man who had not resorted to violence to get his way.
They celebrated the wedding with a toast before Lachlan instructed his brother to escort Emily to the east tower.
"Can she not stay with us?" Cait begged Drustan, then turned to Lachlan. "You cannot truly mean to lock her in a tower?"
"Do not question your laird," Drustan said before Lachlan got a chance to answer.
"He's not my laird."
"As of fifteen minutes ago, he is."
"There is only one bed in our quarters."
"Emily can sleep in it with me."
"I will be in it with you and we will not be sleeping," Drustan said in a voice that made Emily embarrassed to hear it.
Cait looked at Emily with an apology in her eyes.
"It is all right. Truly. I am happy to go to the tower. You must not worry about me."
The older woman who had approached them in the bailey came forward and put her hand on Cait's arm, nodding to her son. "I am Moira, mother to Drustan, Angus and Susannah. Welcome to our family, child." Moira looked at Emily then. "You are English."
"You are betrothed to the Sinclair."
"How can this be?"
"By order of both our kings."
"Ah." Moira nodded again. "That explains the mystery. Why is our laird bent on locking you in a tower? Have you been difficult?"
"Perhaps, a bit."
Ulf grunted and grabbed her arm. "Come."
Emily turned to her friend and hugged her tight with her free arm. "All will be well, Cait. Truly it will."
"Yes." Then, seeming to know what had Emily most worried, she said, "He will not hurt me. He promised."
Emily swallowed down her emotion and nodded as she stepped back. Then she looked at Drustan. "Be kind to her. If she is to be your wife, you must realize you are duty-bound to protect her from harm."
Instead of getting angry, Drustan nodded solemnly. "I would ever do my duty."
Emily turned to Ulf. "Please release my arm. You are hurting me. I will follow you without argument."
He ignored her and started dragging her toward the main entry to the great hall. Suddenly, he stopped and his grip fell away from her arm.
Lachlan was there, his face inches from Ulf's. "I gave you an order, it did not include touching her. Do not do so again."
Ulf said something vicious, but he did not take her arm again. He led her across the great hall to the entrance to a stairway in the eastern corner. They started up a set of spiral stairs in total silence. She kept several paces behind him, afraid of what his temper might make him do. The steps felt like they went on and on.
She and Ulf passed three landings on their way upward, but did not stop on any of them. When he finally did stop, it was on a small landing that had only one door. He pushed it open and she stepped inside, careful not to touch him as she squeezed into the room.
The door shut behind her with a bang and the unmistakable sound of the bar sliding in place let her know she'd been locked in good and tight.
Shivering, she hugged herself and looked around her new accommodations. The circular area was small and sparse. It had a bed covered with the Balmoral plaid, but no rags over the window to keep out light or wind, no tapestries on the cold stone walls to relieve their monotony, no fireplace for additional warmth, and not even a chair to sit on. There was a small table with a wooden pitcher, a bowl, a cup and a cloth. She looked around for a chamber pot, but saw a garderobe with no door on it instead.
The tower room looked exactly like what it was, a place designed to keep prisoners.
But it was clean and it could have been worse.
She could have been warming Lachlan's bed.
Cait stood in the middle of her new home, her insides shaking. She was married. Again. She did not want to be.
No, that was a lie.
Part of her very much wanted to be a lifelong mate to the werewolf leaning against the door, his big body pulsing with energy denied by his negligent stance. Already, she could not imagine her life without him. And that terrified her more than the fact that she had been kidnapped and forced into a marriage born of the Balmoral laird's need to redress an insult.
She should not feel so much. Indeed, she should not feel anything after such a short acquaintance.
She had not felt this way about Sean, not before or after marriage. She had wed him because her brother had commanded it, but she had never fallen in love with him. She very much feared she was halfway there already with Drustan. He'd been so careful with her, even when she'd tried to escape. And when he kissed her, she experienced cravings she had never known existed, even when she had gone into heat and mated with Sean during a full moon.
"You look worried." His voice sent shivers over her flesh though the air was not cold.
She took a deep breath and almost choked letting it out when he stepped away from the door… toward her. She quickly moved in the opposite direction. "I'm simply making myself acquainted with my new home."
Drustan's quarters were directly above the soldiers' quarters on the opposite side of the keep from where Emily had been taken. No matter how hard she tried, Cait could hear nothing of her friend. In fact, with the heavy door shut, she could hear nothing at all through it or the thick stone walls. It afforded a level of privacy unknown among the Sinclair pack members. She liked it.
The room they were in was not a bedroom, having a table and chairs in one corner near a fireplace, which was an extravagance she never would have expected in a room besides the main hall. Two benches lined the opposite wall near a large chest. There was an open door close to one of the benches which she surmised led to a bedroom because she distinctly remembered him saying he had a bed.
She scooted around the table as her new husband stalked her. "Your mother seems very nice. She welcomed me into the family."
"As she should." Drustan's eyes glowed with unmistakable hunger. Only he looked as if food were the last thing on his mind.
Her heart pounded so loudly, she was sure he could hear it. He took a step closer, coming around the table.
She backed up, toward the wall. "Where do you sleep?" she asked in a bid to distract him.
"We sleep in there." He nodded toward the doorway she had noticed earlier, confirming her guess it was the bedroom.
"I was thinking we could wait."
"To sleep?" His teeth flashed white. "Yes, that will come later."
Oh, heavens above, how could he put such strong sensual promise into a few short words?
"I meant before we mate… I would like to know you better."
He came closer, his scent growing stronger, letting her know that he was aroused. Her body reacted to it even as her mind scrabbled for logical reasons why he should not claim her.
Reaching out, he brushed his fingertips down the side of her face, making her shiver. "You have very soft skin."
"Thank you," she said primly.
He smiled as if her words amused him. "How well did you know your first husband before you mated?"
"He was a member of my clan. I had known him since childhood."
"Did you? Or did you know his face, his name… rumors of what kind of soldier he was?"
"I don't understand." But she did. He was implying she had not known her first husband the day they had wed any better than she knew Drustan. And he was right.
Silence was her best defense and she made use of it.
He touched her again, this time brushing his thumb across her lips. "Did your first husband court you?"
She almost laughed at that, but Drustan's touch drowned her humor in rapidly growing desire. Sean had never even run with her during a hunt before her brother decreed the two of them should wed.
Scurrying backward, she bumped her shoulder on the wall, changed course and increased the distance between them. "No. He did not court me."
"Did he wait to claim you as his until after the wedding?" Drustan sounded only mildly curious as he stalked closer, making her feel like prey for the first time in her life.
As a femwolf, she had hunted, but had never been the prize to be caught. Even when she'd gone into heat the first time, she'd already been mated and there had been no "hunting" involved.
She shook her head at Drustan, unable to talk because, try as she might, she couldn't seem to get the table between them again. She was panting in a combination of atavistic fear and excitement.
He got closer with each passing second, maneuvering her with the skill of a master predator until she was up against the wall beside the open doorway to the bedroom. Another step and she would be in the room. He did not stop until his body brushed against hers. Then, he caged her in with one hand against the wall on either side of her.
His head lowered until their lips almost touched. "I make you this promise, Cait. You will know me very well come morning."
Then his mouth covered hers in a kiss that burned her remaining resistance to cinders. She was clinging to his shoulders with both hands when he lifted his mouth from hers.
Drustan's wolf looked at her through his eyes, turning them dark green like emeralds. "You belong to me, Caitriona. You are my mate."
"Not yet," she said, shocking herself as her own wolf came out to defy him in a mating rite as old as her people.
Nevertheless, she had experienced no desire to indulge in this sort of behavior with Sean. They had mated like humans. It had been pleasant, but she had never craved physical joining with him as she did now with Drustan. She wanted to have his body connected intimately with hers, but she could not simply submit and let it happen. She needed him to prove himself a strong and worthy mate in the most primitive way. That need frightened her, but it excited her even more.
The scent of her arousal mingled with his now, letting him know what she felt without a word being spoken or even a slight movement on her part.
He growled, the sound blatant affirmation of her body's response to his. "I want you," he said gutturally. "I will have you."
"Do you?" She licked her lips, sliding her hands away from his shoulders. "Will you?"
His eyes narrowed. "You want me, too."
Her head cocked to one side. "Perhaps." But first he had to prove he was powerful enough to mate her wolf.
He rubbed against her, marking her with his scent, but with their clothes on, it was not a full claiming. She smiled, dropping down and ducking under his arm before moving quickly out of his reach again.
She stopped by the door, ready to flee, to force him to chase her as a wolf chases its mate. "But then perhaps not."