Highland Wishes
 

excerpt...

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 they?

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 her.

"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, Victoria gasped.

"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 the air.

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 lips.

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 surprise sounded.

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 quite pretty.

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 stalk away.

His men looked after him, stunned.

"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 resolve.

"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 mount.

It was the first time he'd smiled since hearing the terrible news about his father.

 

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This book was a winner in the following contests:

 Published Laurie's

Readers and Booksellers Best

RIO Award of Excellence

Bestseller at Fictionwise!

 

 

 

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