About the book
A King can be loyal to no one…
Being ignored her whole life, Maisie Hendry wants to be set free. Yet, she is stuck in the middle of the crossfire of another war between her father and the Laird of Barclay. But when Laird Barclay kidnaps her, she never thought an enemy’s arms would feel so good…
Kidnapping the daughter of his enemy isn’t the smartest move, but the anonymous letter Lucas McCormack received was clear enough: both he and Maisie are in great danger. And he is the only one who knows how to protect her.
Stuck for days with only Lucas for company, Maisie realizes that this Highland brute might be a better man than anyone she has ever met. As their passion warms them at night, their enemies gather closer and closer…And they soon realize that ‘divide and conquer’ worked a little too well…
Spring, Scottish Highlands
“Laird Barclay! Damned be thy son!”
The shatter of Laird Gunn’s pewter goblet on the stone wall of their great hall had Maisie Hendry flinching. Even worse, the tirade of curses her father let out, damning Laird Barclay from his ancestors down to his fifth grandson, made her want to curl into herself in shame.
They had lost another skirmish with their neighboring clan, and the wounded warriors, nursing fresh injuries seated along the long trestle tables in the hall, showed it.
“Fergus!” her father hollered. “Get ye up here, McCrie, and tell me why we lost, again!”
Her father’s war chief stood and went to the table, his auburn hair still thick despite his sixty years. With one hand on his sword, Fergus knelt at the foot of the dais. “Me laird.”
“Why have we lost to those braggarts, thrice in a row!” her father, Angus, demanded. “Answer me!”
“We were taken by ambush, me laird,” Fergus said calmly, utterly unfazed by her father’s blustering. “We’d expected a frontal assault, but they came from the west. Our men were taken by surprise and were trapped by the barricade we’d erected to stop them instead.”
Angus’s face went mottled red with fury. “Utterly ridiculous! Ye ken better than that, McCrie! Are ye getting too old to lead me men? Tell me now so I can have ye replaced!”
As much as Maisie wanted to tell her father to temper his rage, she knew it would be fruitless; her father never listened to her. Hanging her head, she kept her eyes down on her stew and forced herself to eat.
“Nay, me laird,” Fergus said calmly. “I assure ye, we’ll nae lose again.”
Angrily sloshing more elderberry wine into another goblet, her father huffed. “Ye said that before and we still lost to those peasants!”
“We will nae lose anymore,” Fergus vowed.
“By the King, ye’d better not,” the laird snapped. “If Barclay gets to gloat again and gains more favor with King Balliol, I will not be happy.”
“‘Tis about time this foolish feud ended,” Maisie muttered under her breath. “Years an’ years of war and we’re not getting any closer to a result.”
“Did ye say something, girl?” her father snapped.
“Nay, Faither, nay,” she rushed.
“Hmph,” he snorted before turning back to his men. “Get out of here, all of ye lot. I’m ashamed of ye.”
The three dozen men filed out, some limping, and others having to loop their arm over another to hop away. When the room emptied, Maisie swallowed her nervousness, “Faither, do ye nae think it’s time to stop this war? What has it brought us other than injury and more hate?”
“Be quiet, girl,” he snapped. “This is a matter of honor and clan pride. If anyone will stop it will be the blasted Barclays when they cower under me blade.”
He slammed the goblet down and the wine sloshed over his hand. “Ye ken nothing about war, girl. For half a century, the damned Barclays have tested me faither and his faither before him. They’re a lot of entitled fools.”
If they are fools, how is it that they have won five battles this year and we only gained one victory?
“Nay, girl,” he said with a dismissive wave. “Get ye to yer quarters and go sew something.”
Maisie clamped her lips shut and with a swallowed huff of disconcert, she stood and hurried out of the wide chamber and up the stone staircase to a higher level. Hurrying to her quarters, she slipped through the doorway and into the bedchamber.
The meager light from the curtain-covered windows revealed a spacious room with a large, heavily-draped poster bed in the corner and a thick carpet before it. Tables, laden with books and scrolls, were scattered around the room, and two chests of drawers, both filled with dresses and riding clothes, with two other standing wardmantles were at the end of the room. A large marble fireplace commanded a third wall, and stacks of wood sat in the corner near it.
“Me lady?” her maid, Heather Cowie, said while Maisie swept into the room. “Are ye all right?”
“Nay,” Maisie shrugged. “But when is it ever all right with Faither and me? Especially since we keep losing to the Barclays, he’s turned on me as if I were a part of their camp.”
“I’m sorry,” Heather said while brushing a hand over her mahogany brown hair.
“There’s nothing for ye to be sorry for,” Maisie said as she went to a table to find one of her scrolls about medicinal plants. As she rifled through the pile, she caught sight of her face on her polished brass mirror. Her thick brown hair was fixed in a braid and her light golden eyes glimmered with unhappiness.
At two-and-twenty, Maisie had more interest in becoming the healer her mother once was instead of marrying like her father wanted. There were a fair number of Lairds and noblemen in the countryside she had met who could put in an offer, but Maisie was not interested in any of them.
Nae to mention, there are few men who have interest in an educated woman like I am. If Faither willnae listen to me, why will anyone else?
“I daenae mind,” Maisie added while finding a chair. “I’m better off without his attention, anyway.”
Resounding cheers of delight met Lucas McCormack as he and his fellow fighters entered the great hall of his home. He glanced up to see his father, Cinead, the protector of the castle, with a pleased face, sitting in the middle of the high table. Though Lucas was the Laird of the clan, his father shared control over the castle and Lucas did not mind.
Barely tempering his grin, Lucas stopped and with a with a flick of his wrist, he spun the claymore sword around and tossed it hilt-first to his shield bearer, Peter. The lad caught it easily but stumbled when Lucas handed off his halberd. Made of sturdy ash wood, the haft of the great axe was more than four and a half feet long with a wicked blade.
His father stood, lifting his goblet high, “Welcome victorious warriors, led by me son, Lucas, and his man-at-arms, Oliver Jamieson. Ye have made Clan Barclay proud in routing those flea-bitten dogs of the Gunn’s clan back into the mutt pit they had crawled out of. Hear, hear!”
A resounding cheer, mixed with stomping feet and the clang of swords on shields made the sturdy hall tremble down to its ancient foundation.
“And to me son,” Cinead added. “Might and brave is he to have led five victories in a row. Let there be a sixth!”
Another cry of victory went up and minstrels began to play while women wove between the crowd bearing tankards and goblets of spiced wine.
Oliver, a man of two-and-thirty, five years Lucas’s senior, stood at his leader’s side and clapped a hand on Lucas’s arm. “Well done, me laird.”
Raking a hand through his blond hair, Lucas grinned, “Aye, thank ye.”
“This victory deserves a hearty meal, a long bath and a lusty wench in yer bed,” Oliver grinned, then cocked a brow. “But I daenae ken ye’ll be without company tonight, will ye? There are lasses forming lines to get in your bed.”
“All in good time, Oliver,” Lucas said as he mounted the steps to the high table.
Taking his seat beside his father, Lucas felt the rush of power, which had possessed his veins three hours before, in the heat of the battle, begin to fade. Seated, he reached for his goblet and sipped the heady wine.
“Did those mangy mutts give you any trouble?” his father asked.
“Nay,” Lucas shrugged. “We had them trapped against the same snare they had set for us. From there, it was easy to scatter them as they were as confused as headless fowls.”
“That is their natural state,” his father chuckled.
As Lucas gazed around the room, he felt the tiredness of seven hours of marching and fighting begin to settle in his bones. He loved the skirmish, he loved seeing the fear on the faces of his enemies and he loved the sweet taste of victory.
Lucas, like his father before him, had trained alongside the rest of the warriors and made his way up the ranks to leader, just as he had to work his way to the Lairdship. No one got a free pass in the McCormack Clan, not by wealth and certainly not by birthright. He had to earn his place, just like the rest of his brothers.
“I reckon its time ye start looking for a wife, son,” Cinead said while sipping his wine. “Eight-and-twenty is a good age to start yer family. I ken ye love the fight, the rush, the spoils of war, but more pleasures come from having a wife and a slew of bairns too. We have enough resources to provide for them all.”
“Och,” Lucas grunted. “I daenae want more than two bairns. A slew is too much.”
“Daenae discount yerself, son. Our bloodline is strong and produces great sons,” Cinead replied. “Ye are proof of that.”
“Aye,” Lucas allowed just as a maid sat a trencher of roast fowl and boiled turnips and potatoes, basted with butter. “But what ladies are here who willnae run knowing that I prize the fight more than their notions of romance?”
“A smart one,” Cinead said. “One who will understand her place as yer helpmate and give ye an heir.”
Hearing the terms explained so frankly in black and white, Lucas flattened his lips. “That doesnae sound too right either.”
“It’s one or the other, son,” Cinead said with a shrug. “Ye can marry for love or ye can marry for convenience.”
“Surely there is a line between both circumstances I can straddle,” Lucas replied. “I’m nae against marriage, but I’d like to nae go home to a cold bed at night.”
“Well, God’s grace ye find it, Lucas,” his father replied. “But if ye cannae, a wife to bear ye a son will do.”
The welcome feast carried on right into the night when the tables were shifted to side and dancing started. The fiddlers struck up a merry tune that tempted Lucas to join the reveling throng, but he amused himself with only looking on.
Before midnight, he excused himself to his rooms, where his bath was ready and waiting for him. Doing away with his dirty shirt, Lucas unhooked his leather belt and eased his kilt down to reveal a bloody cloth right under it, covering a cut to the right side of his lean waist close to his pelvic bone.
It was the lone injury he had sustained in the battle and for him, it had been enough. The cut hurt like the devil, and he had managed to bind enough for him to fight. Prodding at it, he winced but felt happy it was starting to scab over.
He had some healing ointment that he could slather over it after his bath, and so happily sunk into the water. Leaning his head on the lip of the copper tub, he sighed — marriage. He always knew that he was going to marry, but the lass was where he had to pause.
I’ve been with lasses since I was six-and-ten, but I have not found a lady among me fellows worthy of marriage.
Lucas laid in the water until sleep began to draw at him and he stood, stepped out and reached for a drying cloth. After stepping into a pair of braies, he went to a trunk, unearthed the tub of salve and dug his fingers into it. He rubbed it over his cut and then, with a sigh, slipped under the sheets of his bed.
It had been a long day and he was ready to sleep like the dead for the next day and a half. Victory had been won over the damned Dunns and he could not be any happier.
Just as he grew comfortable, a hurried knock on the door had him groaning. “What the devil is this now? Havenae I deserved me rest?”
Scowling, Lucas swung his legs out from under the fleece blankets and went to the door, not caring that he was mostly naked. Yanking the bolt back he groused, “What?”
Oliver looked grim, “I’m sorry, me laird, but this is important, nigh worrying.”
“What is it?” Lucas asked through grit teeth.
Stepping inside, Oliver handed him a slip of parchment. “Yer in danger, me laird.”
Someone from Clan Dunn is planning to kidnap and kill ye by dawn. Ye need to run.
“What in the name of the God is going on?” Lucas spat. “Kidnap me?”
“Aye,” Oliver said grimly. “I can only ken of one way around it, me laird. Ye need to beat this blackguard to it and turn the tables on Dunn instead.”
“And how do I do that?” Lucas demanded.
“By taking one of their own,” Oliver grinned. “One they cannot bear to lose—and I ken the perfect one.”
“Are ye sure we should be doing this, miss?” Heather asked Maisie as they slipped out of one of the castle’s back doors. “The battle ended only last night. Surely it is nae safe to be wandering about in the woods?”
“Tis only the loch,” Maisie defended her reasoning as she and her maid headed down the hillside to the pool of water. “There are guards all around. We need nae worry.”
The sheep and cattle dotting the lower green hills were a fraction of the Dunn livestock as the bulk of their holdings lay beyond the meager wood and beside the greater part of the loch in the distance. Mist had risen from the waters and now crept up the banks towards the castle.
That morning at an early meal, her father had been even more outraged at the loss and belligerent with any person who dared to speak with him. Maisie, foolishly, had decided to talk to him about the castle’s defenses and his furious words had cut her deep enough that she had been forced to hasten away from the room, with barely half her meal eaten.
“Faither is outraged that we’ve lost again,” Maisie muttered. “I just daenae ken why he is still engaging in battles with the Dunns when it’s clear they are superior in all manner of war. I asked him why he willnae offer peace instead of continuing this feud, but he tells me I am a woman and me feeble mind cannae ken how much pride has been stripped away from him by these losses.”
“Ah,” Heather mumbled vaguely.
“If ye lost so many times, wouldnae ye decide it’s high time to make peace instead of continuing with these fruitless scrimmages? We gain land and we lose it, they gain sheep and they lose them. What is the point?” Maisie huffed.
The path down to the river was bordered with plenty of trees and foliage that would keep her hidden; they would be safe during her morning swim. As they got to the loch’s edge, she dropped her bag and dismantled. Clad in only her chemise, she waded into the crisp, chilly water.
Maisie continued to grumble about her father stubbornness while doing away with her chemise and bathing. Dipping under the surface, she emerged with the water dripping down her wet hair and trailing droplets down the supple curve of her spine.
Crouching in the ledge, downwind from the ladies in the loch, Lucas allowed his gaze to trace the maiden. In the shade, her skin looked as soft as spun silk, the soft swells of her lily-white breasts, topped with dusky rose nipples made rosier by the chilly water. Her flat abdomen led to the slender curve of her hips, and her waist—it was even smaller than he had imagined.
The lass’s name is Maisie Hendry, daughter of Laird Gunn. If ye want to stop any attempt to kill ye, she is the way.
Oliver’s words rang in Lucas’s ears as his eyes traced the lass’s feminine curves at her waist. A spark of desire radiated throughout his body— and for a moment he forgot that she was the daughter of his enemy.
Three days ago, when Oliver had given him the idea, Lucas had thought it foolish but the more he thought about it, he realized it might be best. If he took the lass, it would stem any action from the clan because the attacker would know Lucas knew about the plan.
He had sent Oliver to investigate the source of the threat but even if it had been fruitful, he had decided to act anyhow. At the worst, if this threat came to nothing, he would make amends, but he was not going to sit around and wait to be attacked.
He had not told his father about the threat either but had told him he would be going on an extended hunting trip. Every time Lucas set foot out of the castle, the guards were pulled in to booster their defenses. He might be impulsive but not that much to put his people in danger.
Oliver too had appointed his second, Lachlan, to take care over the guards and do whatever was necessary to hold the fort defended.
“Are ye sure about this, me laird?” the third of his party, a lanky warrior named Ian Russel, whispered in Lucas’s ear.
“Aye,” Lucas said, his eyes still fixed on the lass as she emerged from the water like a lady of the mist. “We can stall any attack if we have her. She is the only heir of the clan, a fact I’m told miffs the laird off to nae end. His wife could only birth one bairn, and against all hopes, a lass came instead of a lad.”
“Unlucky man, that one,” Ian snorted.
“I wouldnae say that,” Lucas replied, as he admired the lass in front of him. “Are the horses ready?”
“They are,” Ian replied. “Oliver is minding ‘em.”
“Good,” Lucas nodded. “And now, this is our part. On my word, grab the other lass and I shall take the Lady Hendry.”
“Are ye going to take her from the river?”
“Nay,” Lucas said, more than willing to let the lass dress after her bath. “We have time.”
Patiently, he waited for the lass to leave the waters and don her chemise, her thin, wet shift clinging to her body like a second skin. As she set foot on the riverbank, he said, “Now.”
Without hesitation, Lucas dropped from the ledge, right into the shallows of the brook, his boots sending a wave of water over his trews. The lady spun just before he grabbed her wrist, and swinging her up in his arms, he hoisted her over his broad shoulder like a sack of meal.
A mirroring squeal from over his shoulder told him the other lass had been apprehended as well and when the lass on his shoulder realized what was happening, she screamed.
“Let me go, ye miserable swine!” she yelled, beating as his back with both fists. “Let me go! Me faither will have yer head on a platter for this!”
“Matters nae to me,” Lucas snorted as he took off into the woods to where the horses waited. “By the time he gets word, ye’ll be long gone.”
The horse raised his nose as Lucas came near and in a smooth motion, Lucas grabbed the reins and launched onto the stallion’s back. The lass was still hollering for help, but Lucas did not mind. He had made sure the Dunn sentries and soldiers were stationed on the other half of the property, putting out a fire he had set to distract them.
“Let me go,” Maisie began to beg as she realized no help would be coming. “Please, let me go. I willnae tell anyone, I give ye me word.”
“I daenae bargain with hostages,” Lucas taunted her just before he tightened a cloth over her lips and tied it behind her head.
“Mlmm mph gm.”
“I willnae release you,” he said.
As the warhorse leaped across the inline like a mountain goat, Lucas shifted the lass, so she was sitting crosswise on his lap. The arm around her midsection flexed just a bit to bring her even nearer and his chin rested atop her wet head.
She struck his chest, making Lucas laugh—her dainty fist must be smarting after trying to harm him. Many a warrior had tried and failed to batter his chest.
“Nice try, lassie,” he snorted. “I ken that was a tickle.”
Lady Hendry smelled of junipers and heather, and her hair, brushing his cheek and chin, was soft, but this was all he knew for sure. Was she a hellion or was she a mouse? Was she smart or was she dull as chalk?
Her slight back was pressed against his chest and stomach and her soft rump was pushed against his groin, surely not intentionally, but reflexively, he guessed. Her breasts, surely unencumbered by such nonsense as stays or lace or any other restrictive item, rested in plump invitation against his forearm.
They were far enough from her family land and heading a good way north that he felt comfortable in releasing her gag.
“I beg ye,” she said instantly, “Let me and me maid go free.”
“Nay,” Lucas said as his horse cleared the apex of the hill and headed to the seaside, half a day’s ride for him and his men.
She began to shiver. “Why are ye doing this? I havenae done anything against ye. Who are ye?”
Lucas considered telling her his name but decided to do that when they were far away from the two clans’ lands.
“I’ll tell ye if ye will be quiet for the next three hours,” Lucas promised. “Can ye do that for me?”
She swallowed and while fear rested rife in her golden eyes—rimmed with the longest lashes he had seen in a while—she nodded. “Good lass.”
Huffing, she turned her head away and flattened her lips and Lucas knew she was biting back a few choice words. So, she was a hellion. Oddly, he felt alight with glee; he was going to have fun with this one.
“Where are we going?”
“Now, what is the joy in telling ye that?” he said. “I kent all ye highland lassies love a little o’ mystery from time to time. The journey isnae long, lass, but a wee nap’ll do ye well.”
“I shall talk yer head off unless ye stop treating me like I am a whelp,” she snapped. “I am two-and-twenty with more manners than ye, ye cur.”
Lucas threw his head back and laughed, long and loud. God’s bones, he was enjoying himself enough that the threat of his impending assassination was shuttled to the back of his mind.
“A while ago ye were beggin’ me to release ye, now ye are cursing me,” Lucas chortled. “Yer a spitfire, arenae ye?”
“Daenae call me a bairn or treat me like one,” she warned.
“Agreed,” Lucas replied.
Arriving on the seaside of Moray Firth, Lucas breathed in the salty air of the open North Sea. “Och, An Cuan Moireach, ye never change, do ye?”
Looking down on the lass in his arms, he smiled at her sleeping face. The half-day journey had sent her to sleep, and he smiled, his eyes drinking in every delicate feature of her upturned face. He marveled at the dark length of her light brown lashes, fluttering ever so slightly as she slept, and the rose-tinted translucence of her creamy skin. He had never felt so drawn to any woman before, but with her, he could have met his match.
“She’s out like a candle in winter, innit?” Oliver asked as he angled his horse near Lucas’s.
“Aye,” Lucas looked down on the sleeping lass, oddly hoping to see the sharp sparkle in her eye when she woke. He angled his horse up the lane to the seaside home where an old abandoned English house lay, standing on a spit of rock over a cliff. His father had bought it years ago, in the quiet, to afford his family a secret place to stay if their enemies did get a hold over them.
Hewn from the same logs as the forest around it, the house had two two-story wings attached to the eastern end of the house and blue-gray stone walls that were as strong as they were beautiful, making it into some sort of a fortress. The facade of the building was dressed stone, mullioned windows and reddish-gold bracken and dark green ivy that climbed the walls to the gardens that spilled over in a riot of color.
“The cellar is packed with food, aye?” Lucas asked.
“Aye,” Oliver said. “His lairdship made sure it will suffice us a sennight or more. If needs be, we’ll hunt, get fruits from the trees and bread from the village.”
“Hm,” Lucas said as he looked over to where Ian came trotting in with the other maiden on the saddle.
She did not look pleased, her face fixed with smoldering anger and fear. His mind doubled back on the moment he ordered his man to take the maid and he began to doubt if he had made the right decision. Looking down on the maiden in his arms, Lucas did away with his doubts; what was done was done.
Gently, he lifted from the horse and still held the lass in his arms. With her curves, she was as light as thistledown and her subtle scent still rested in his nose. He wanted to see the spitfire wake and to see her reaction to her new residence for the time being.
Oliver held the door open for Lucas to carry his precious burden through and up to the attic where most of the sleeping rooms lay and rested her on a made cot. Before he moved away, he checked the wooden windows to make sure the lass would not wake and try to escape.
He went back to the bed and gazed on her and wondered how much trouble he would get from such an angelic-looking young woman. Indeed, Maisie’s fair features shone with an uncommon beauty. Her brows arched delicately, her nose was straight and slender, her cheekbones high and graceful.
Her lips, plump and rosy—from the tight gag, he was sure— were curved in the faintest of smiles, and her light golden eyes, closed in sleep, were thickly fringed with dark lashes that fluttered ever so slightly against her creamy skin. The only feature that gave a hint of her true spirit was the stubborn set of her chin.
“Daenae give me any trouble, lass,” he said before leaving the room. “It’s for the best.”
“Me laird!” Fergus rushed into his master’s meeting room. “She’s gone.”
Angus looked up, his thinning brows furrowing. “Who’s gone?”
“Yer daughter, sir,” the war chief said. “Our men were tending to a fire in the back fields, set by the damned Barclays we’re sure, and when we went to check on yer daughter, we only found her pack of riverbank. Her maid is gone too.”
The cup in the laird’s hands met the far wall with a shattering crack. “Those mangy, milk-livered bastards!”
As the laird made to get up, a messenger ran into the room, his face white with fear. “Me laird, this was sent for ye.”
Snatching the piece of parchment, he read. “A traitor from yer home is planning to kill ye on behalf of Laird Barclay. Get ye into hiding.”
Fergus’s eyes narrowed as his hand dropped to the pommel of his sword. “What?”
Balling up the note, Angus lobbied it at the messenger. “It’s too late. They’ve acted and since they couldnae get me, they got me daughter. Those scunnered sacks of shite have gone too far now. We are at war.”
The brine of sea salt tickled Maisie’s nose. Stirring, she felt the tickle of an unfamiliar sheet brush across her nose and then, as she made to call for Heather—the memories of being thrown on a strange Scot’s shoulder jolted through her mind.
Gasping, Maisie shot up, grabbing at her clothes and finding only her stiff, dried shift. A fearful shudder ran through her, and she gently rose up from the slender cot and went to the latched window. Looking out she saw nothing but dark blue water, which surely flowed to forever, there being no end in sight.
“Where am I?” she breathed out, confused, while looking to where the blues of sea and sky met.
Her eyes dipped to the lower level—and saw only about a few feet of land, ten or twelve before a stark drop to the sea. There was no way to escape from this point.
She took a deep breath of the salty sea air and closed her eyes, listening to the sound of the waves as they crashed onto the shore. What was she to do now? Maisie felt ill; she wanted to go home. Even though there was little comfort there, she did not know what horrors she would endure here in the clutches of her captors.
Is Faither searching for me? Surely he realizes that I am missing by now.
A great flock of white sea birds suddenly startled her as they flew over the longship, their shrill cries breaking into her thoughts. She shielded her eyes from the sun and gazed up at them, watching as they soared high into the endless expanse of blue sky, then one by one dove back down to the surface in search of fish for their morning meal.
Suddenly, her stomach grumbled angrily, reminding her that she had eaten little since the day before.
“Ah, yer awake,” a familiar—and infuriating—voice said from behind her.
Spinning, Maisie looked around the room, trying to spot anything she could use as a weapon, but found nothing. The chamber was quite bare, leaving only the cot she had slept upon and a few chests shoved up against a far wall.
Pressing herself against the shuttered window, she balled her fists to the side and notched her chin up. “Who are ye and what do ye want with me? Where am I?”
“Now, what would be the reason in telling ye that last bit?” he said while entering, his emerald eyes glimmering but staid. “I am Lucas McCormack, Laird Barclay.”
“Ye!” she spat, furious that he was one of the dastardly enemies. No, he was the dastardly enemy. “Me faither will have yer head on a pike when he comes for me.”
“He can try,” Lucas said easily while ruffling his light, flaxen, golden hair. “But I doubt he’ll win.”
She bristled, “Are ye always this…this arrogant?”
“Aye,” he shrugged.
“What do ye want?” Maisie’s fingers flexed on the wall. “Why are ye doing this?”
“Why nae?” he asked. “It’s another way to show yer faither me clan is nae to be trifled with.”
“To this length?” Maisie said in disbelief. “To take me from me home? Why do I nae believe ye?”
To her irritation, he held her gaze without any faltering. “That’s up to ye. Trust me words or nae.”
“Where—” she looked around. “Where is Heather, me maid? What have ye scurs done with her?”
“What do ye ken we’ve done with her?” Lucas asked lightly, too lightly for Maisie’s peace of mind.
Angry, horrified and a bit fearful, Maisie spat, “Because ye are nothing but ruthless dogs that have nay compassion, care or remorse. Ye kill whatever displeases ye and ye will nay stop at anything to get what ye want.”
Lucas’s jaw tightened and he came forward, his long legs eating up the small space between them with two strides. Pressed against the wall, Maisie feared the flashing fury in his eyes. He stopped a stride away from her, but while he did not touch her, something odd crackled over her skin, raising the tiniest hairs on her skin.
“Dogs ye say,” he growled quietly.
“Aye,” she braved. “Ye are nothing but mangy mongrels.”
His lips were thinned, “We might be mongrels but we are not bastards. We do nay abuse women. Yer maid, me lady, is downstairs. Being…entertained, ye could say.”
Fright for Heather leaped into Maisie’s heart. “What? Are ye—what are ye doing to her?” Lurching from her place, she darted to his side. “If she is hurt I will—” Her hand lifted with the intention to crack it across his face, only for him to swiftly grab it and stop her dead in motion.
A scorching heat ran up her arm at his touch, the warm heat of his palm and the disturbingly arousing rasp of his calluses on her wrist. His gaze was taunting, “Ye’ll do what, lassie?”
Affixed by his daring gaze, heat flared between them, and Maisie was not sure if it came from their mutual hatred of each other. They held each other for a long while, the small room quiet but for the sound of their breathing and the lapping of the water just beyond—but then, his eyes darted to her lips and his nostrils flared.
Was he…was he aroused? Nay! She angrily dismissed the thought. It could not be, he was her enemy more than anything else, a cursed Barclay! He had to be angry. That was it surely. Why else would his nostrils had flared like a bull? Yanking her hand from him she said, “I need to see Heather.”
“So ye can put yer heads together and come up with some foolish plan to escape?” His left brow arched to his hairline. “Do ye ken I am a greenling?”
“I ken ye are a brute,” she said icily.
“Even so, I am a smart one,” he countered. “And ye willnae see yer friend until I decide to let ye do so. Have a rest, lassie, and daenae try to escape through that window. There is nay way out that way; unless ye can walk on water, ye’ll die.”
Her lips twisted. “Fine,” she said. “Are ye planning on feeding me at all? I’m hungry.”
“And what would ye like?” He asked, “Rabbits in gravy, all covered with sugar, red and white wine a’ plenty? Pheasants, and partridges, and roasted plovers? Fritters with sugar mixed with rose-water? Or may it be, apples baked with honey and dried fruits?”
“Yer mocking me,” she scowled.
“I am,” he smirked.
Maisie swallowed. “Fine then, I’d rather starve.”
“Dinnea fash yerself,” he snorted, “Ye’ll eat. Until then, daenae worry yer little head too much.”
Her stomach roiled as she turned away from him, and set her gaze on the far wall, decided on ignoring him. With a laugh, the Barclay laird left the room, and she drew her legs up to her chin. Lucas McCormack, the bane of her father’s life. She had never expected to meet him, well, unless he had a sudden turn of heart and had come to apologize and make amends with her father.
And now I realize that is very far-fetched. He loves putting my family to shame.
Tucking her head into her knees, she felt dread begin to rest in her heart. If she did not know where she was, she doubted her father knew either. It was not as if the raiders had left him directions.
Even worse, she did not know what the dratted man wanted with her. Would he save her life and give her back to her father, or would she end up floating in a firth somewhere? Despondent, she tried to hold back the tears and sucked in calming breaths and pray that she would not die this way.
“Me laird,” Oliver greeted Lucas as he descended the wooden staircase. “Me wife is on her way.”
Eilidh Jamieson was the loveliest soul Lucas had ever met. Oliver had met her in his twentieth year and by one-and-twenty, the two were wed. Lucas had just turned fifteen and had been sent to train under him.
Back then, he had not seen the point of marriage and had mocked it, saying the man was throwing his freedom away, but then, Oliver had said, “Ye’ll find out one day. When that seed plants itself into yer heart, I dare ye to pluck it out.”
Lucas did not have the heart to utter one word against love the way his arrogant younger self used to, as now, the need to find a woman he could claim as his, had begun to set in his heart. Perhaps deeper, into his soul.
“Ah, aye,” Lucas nodded while ruffling his hair. “Are ye sure yer wife is fit to travel? The little lad or lassie is due any day now.”
“Eilidh is from strong stock,” Oliver grinned. “She might look frail and so, but the woman can kill a hedgehog from half a chain away.”
“Ah,” Lucas nodded. “How is the other lass?”
“Upset an’ worrying about her mistress,” Oliver said, while jerking his head to a room on the left. “Ian is minding her.”
“Daenae allow them to see each other yet,” Lucas warned him. “I havenae doubt that the lass and her will contrive some plan to escape and give us a headache to constantly watch and then stop ‘em.”
Laughing, Oliver said, “She’ll be an eejit to try and escape that room.”
“Do we ken who sent that note?” Lucas asked. “And has anyone acted on the threat yet?”
“Nay to me knowledge, sir,” Oliver said. “But it will be clear by now that ye are nowhere to be found. If anyone was foolish enough to try something, they would have been nabbed. However, I am sure when Eilidh comes, she’ll have some news. If nay, I’ll go and check in the next day or so.”
“Good man.” Lucas clapped Oliver’s back. “Now, what about dinner?”
The wind was whistling and whirling against the brick walls, brisk and cold but it paled in comparison to the frantic thoughts swirling through Maisie’s mind. Being captured and kidnapped by her father’s arch enemy had been the last thing she had expected while going for her morning bath, but now that she found herself in McCormack’s clutches, she had to find a way out of them.
The gall of him!
Seething, Maisie looked again for any way to get out of the room, without letting the men know. Glancing at the door, she stood and inched her way to it. Was there any hope that no one was minding it and she could slip away?
As she neared the door, she heard the stomps of boots and scurried back to plop her bottom back on the cot just before another man came into the room. She had never seen him before, but he looked older, and his dark red hair was a shock to her.
“Good eve, lass,” he said while settling a tray with a trencher of warm, flaky bread and a bowl of lamb stew before her. “Eat up before it goes cold.”
Warily, Maisie eyed the food. How easy would it be to have them add something to it to kill her. But then…if he wanted to kill me, wouldn’t he have done it already?
Still, she shook her head. “Ye eat some first.”
Oddly, he did not look taken-aback and genially broke a hunk of bread and dipped it into the stew. Promptly, he ate it and even went back for a second before Maisie blurted, “Ye daenae have to.”
He smiled. “I reckon ye’ve never seen me before, aye? Me name is Oliver Jamieson, and I am his lairdship’s man-at-arms. Yer a smart lass, but ye dae need to ken we wouldnae poison yer food.”
Taking the tray, Maisie began to eat. “I daenae ken what to expect from ye lot. Ye are Barclays after all. Where is his lairdship this evening?”
“Out,” the man said succinctly.
While eating, Maisie felt his eyes latch onto her and a quiet, disconcerting silence began to stretch long enough that she grew uncomfortable. An embarrassed red was creeping up her neck and warming her cheeks and ears, but she could not find any words to say.
Putting the tray down with her empty bowl, Maisie wrapped her arms around her and hunched over slightly. “What does he want with me, or from me?”
Instead of giving her a definitive answer, Oliver propped a hand on his thigh. “What do ye ken this is all about?”
She worried her lip. “I suspect it’s about the feud we have amongst us. Is he tryin’ to prove something to me faither? That ye are the strongest and smartest? Why bother because the last five skirmishes we’ve had with ye, ye won. There is nay need for all this antagonism anymore. Ye’ve proven ye are the best.”
A flickering smile curved Oliver’s top lip. “It’s a bit more than that, lass.”
“How much more?” Maisie asked, her brows crinkling.
“That,” he said while getting to his feet, “I cannae tell ye. But be assured, ye willnae die at our hands, or at all if we can manage it.”
His words were somewhat comforting, but they did not fully quell the upset still resting in her chest.
“Are ye cold, lass?” Oliver asked, “I can give ye more blankets.”
She quirked a brow, “Are ye not afraid I’ll use them to let meself out the window?”
“Ye have more sense than that,” he said. “By now, ye’ve seen that there is nay way ye can escape without mangling yer body on the sharp rocks below there.”
Maisie’s eyes shot to the window then back to him. “I have enough blankets, thank ye.”
“Good,” he nodded, “Take care then, lass, and daenae ye worry yerself too much.”
When he left with the empty tray, Maisie could only draw her knees up to her chin and rest her head in the cradle of her arms. She had no other choice but to ponder what Mister Jamieson’s cryptic words meant. What was more to this than the Barclays deciding to show how wretched and pitiful her clan was… again.
But, what did Lucas want with her? With Lucas’s words and now Oliver’s, Maisie deducted that there was more to this kidnapping than just a show of power. If they wanted her alive, was it for ransom?
Gold and jewels? Surely the Barclays had enough of that? Was it in exchange for land? That did not make sense either as the Barclays were not afraid to come in and take how many acres of land they wanted. She could not decipher any reason she had been taken and when dusk barely fell, she retired to bed angry, frustrated, and a bit fearful.
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