The time for retribution had
arrived. Rage tightly controlled, Grant Drummond waved his
hand and yelled, "Now!" Following his lead, men pressed
forward toward the magnificent Norman-style doorway to take
the manor and its inhabitants by surprise.
The blood-curdling Drummond war
cry rent the stillness of the night.
Enroute to the stables, Victoria
heard a loud commotion in the courtyard. Too late, a hoarse
call of warning sounded. Men in all states of dishabille
rushed from the manor and barracks. Victoria sought refuge
behind the largest wooden barrel and crouched behind it.
Trying to listen closely, she
thought the noise sounded like something ramming the manor
door. Merciful heavens, were they under attack? No, that
couldn't be possible. No one would be foolish enough to
attack her father.
Victoria panicked when she heard
high-pitched screams fill the air. She crouched lower in an
effort to remain hidden. Dearest Lord, what should she do?
Could she do aught to help? Her breath caught in her throat,
pinioned there by fear when she realized she had no weapon.
Only thinking of necessities like food and clothing, she'd
not considered a weapon for protection.
What had she been thinking?
Victoria shuddered and thought
of the atrocities she heard had been committed in the name
of her king. Surely it couldn't be true. The English
wouldn't really have slaughtered all those people, would
Why were these men here? More
important, who were they?
The fighting abruptly stopped.
After repeated curses and screams, quiet reigned. Had the
attackers left? Were they dead? Had the guards forced them
out? Of course. They were safe.
Victoria couldn't imagine anyone
foolhardy enough to attack her father's holding. Known for
his ferocity in fighting, he wouldn't be considered a kind
man. He fought the way he lived his life-- cruelly.
Off in the darkness Victoria
heard voices. Anxious to check on her loved ones, she looked
once again to determine if she could leave the
safety the barrel afforded.
Suddenly someone grabbed her
from behind and jerked her from her hiding place. Howling
winds sent a chill down her spine not only of cold, but
fear. She tried to twist away and fight back, but the
ruffian holding her dragged her to the middle of the
courtyard and tossed her at a man's feet as though little
more than a sack of grain.
Stirrings of alarm swept through
"Found this lad hiding, Grant,"
the large man ground out. "Should I run him through?"
Realizing the blackguard
towering above her seriously considered the man's gruff
question as he nudged her with the toe of his heavy boot,
"How auld are you, lad?" the man
questioned sternly. He seemed to stare into her very being.
Victoria stiffened and lowered her lashes as a knot of fear
lodged in her stomach.
She dared not speak. If she made
that mistake, they'd instantly know her for a woman, and she
didn't want to find out what these pigs would do then. By
their clothes and the lilt in their voices, she could tell
they were Scots.
"Filthy Scots," her father
always called them. That meant they'd killed her father's
men and would soon rape the women.
Gathering her courage, her eyes
darted wildly and she looked for a means of escape.
Battle-hardened faces confronted her.
The man before her made no
motion to stop her, but his eyes bored into hers. Having had
success in standing, Victoria backed up, only to meet with
firm resistance. A very large man's body was behind her.
"I asked a question, lad." The
leader seemed to take in every detail of her sense of
unease. "How auld are you?"
Realizing the prospect of escape
looked dim, Victoria hoped the soot she rubbed on her face
earlier hadn't come off during her scuffle with the
scoundrel. With her hat covering her hair and pulled low
enough to conceal most of her face, she hoped they wouldn't
peer at her too closely. Perhaps they'd not kill someone
they thought a mere boy. She felt glad she'd had enough
foresight to pile her long hair beneath her hat before
leaving the manor.
The blackguard in front of her
narrowed his eyes and continued to stare.
Someone yelled, "Kill the bloody
pig, Grant. It doesna matter how young he is. If he is a
Blackstone vassal, he should die. He may have been with the
ones that killed your da."
Insults and obscenities filled
Victoria tensed with a sense of
foreboding and her stomach knotted as she surveyed the group
of large men surrounding her. Instinct warned her to escape
-- and to keep her disguise as a boy in place. She fumbled
frantically to adjust her shapeless hat and pulled it lower
on her face.
Her movement gave Grant pause.
The attire on the lad before him
was similar to that of a young male stable ghillie. Yet
something about the coarse trews, smock, and ill-fitting
brown jerkin didn't appear true. Narrowing his eyes in
scrutiny, he strode closer with deliberate purpose. His eyes
never left the young lad's face-- nor the long black lashes
gracefully framing brown eyes.
Grant didn't think them the the
eyes or lashes of a lad! They were the most beautiful eyes
he'd ever seen.
A fleeting thought crossed his mind and a smirk twitched his
Victoria panicked and watched
his approach. If he got too close, he'd know.
She quickly decided on a course
of action, then drove her elbow with deliberate precision
into the large man behind her before turning and running.
She got all of two steps before he grabbed her shirt and
jerked her back. He twisted a handful of her hair around his
beefy hand, jerked her back against his chest and plucked
her off her feet for a moment as rage surged in his eyes.
Victoria winced in pain and
flailed furiously, her cap falling off in the ensuing
scuffle. Her long-flowing, chestnut-colored hair draped
gracefully around her shoulders and down to her waist. Panic
welled in her chest, she bit back a scream.
"'Tis a lassie!" A gasp of
Closing her eyes, Victoria
swallowed hard and did the only thing she could. She prayed.
When Victoria stumbled into
Grant, he grabbed her by her upper arms and steadied her.
"What will ye do with her,
Grant?" someone nearby questioned.
Another lewdly suggested, "Let
us see what she has aneath that shirt."
A chill washed over her.
Looking into her soft brown
eyes, Grant noticed an attempt at bravado. Though tall for a
lass, the top of her head didn't even reach his chin. He saw
a look of defiance blaze from the depths of her eyes, and
almost laughed. Men were afraid of him, so this lassie
certainly should be. He guessed she didn't know that -- or
didn't care. She should be quaking right now in what he
assumed were borrowed boots.
Leave her. That's what he'd do.
He'd not come to take prisoners.
He'd traveled to Berwick to kill Blackstone, and that he'd
done-- with his own sword. He didn't need to kill everyone
as the bloody English had a few fortnights earlier. Those
were their filthy tactics, not his.
He'd had his revenge.
Aye, he'd leave her, and she
could fend for herself. Probably on her back, from the looks
of those lovely brown eyes.
Grant continued to look at her
as if staring into her soul. He wondered how he ever could
have mistaken her for a lad, even if only momentarily. From
what he could now see beneath the soot, he imagined her
She tried to return an insolent
glare, yet her breaths came heavy with fear.
She drew her tongue between her
parched lips and the effect on Grant proved immediate.
"Bring her," Grant shot over his
shoulder as he released his grip on her arms and turned to
His men looked after him,
"Nay!" the woman suddenly
yelled, her eyes wide with terror.
Grant heard the desperation in
her voice. With one last searching glance, he reaffirmed his
"Grant?" one of his friends
questioned in disbelief.
"Bring her," Grant answered
without looking back or sparing the woman in question a
second glance. He strode purposefully toward his horse,
struggling not to break into a wide grin. Failing, a hint of
a smile crossed his face as he walked away and found his
It was the first time he'd
smiled since hearing the terrible news about his father.
This book was a
winner in the following contests:
Award of Excellence