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Her Broken Highland Vow (Preview)

Prologue

Prologue
Scotland evening, 1699

The night was quiet, but that did nothing to ease Teigue Stewart’s nerves as he stooped to gather some pebbles from the nearby ground. His every sense was alert, and some instinct prompted him to keep looking over his shoulder. For all that the night around him was deserted, he felt as if he was being watched.

Teigue shook away the thoughts and focused on edging his way toward the modest, two-story house in front of him. He had other, better things to be thinking about.

With careful precision, he hefted a pebble and tossed it against a specific window, grinning in pleased appreciation of his own skills as it clacked against the wooden shutter. He waited fifteen seconds, measuring the time by his breaths, then tossed another stone.

No sooner had the fourth stone clattered down, than the shutters were tugged open and a candle appeared, illuminating a familiar face surrounded by a wealth of sleek midnight-hued hair. A soft, hissed admonition reached his ears. “Cease making that racket, Teigue! Ye’ll give my aunt a fright, thinking it’s an attack o’ some sort.”

Teigue smirked up at her, his heart light as he drank in her features. Caitlín MacNeacail. His beloved, and the woman he hoped to make his wife. The woman he intended to ask to pledge to him. Tonight, if the gods were kind and she was willing.

“And what’s that silly look on yer face?” Caitlín’s laughter belied her stern question, and Teigue laughed.

“If ye dinnae want me tae make noise, then best ye come down tae me.” There was a strong, well-built tree near the window, and he moved closer to stand under one of the lower branches. “Come on down, love.”

“Keep yer voice quieter, ye great lout! Ye’ll wake me aunt’s household with the noise yer making.” But she was already swinging herself carefully out of the window. Teigue grinned as he watched her swirl her hair up into a messy knot before she blew out the candle and leaned out to grasp the branch closest to her window.

Teigue watched her move through the branches and leaves with the ease of a wood spirit. She was beautiful, graceful, with a personality as lovely as her fair skin and silken hair. He watched as she arrived at the lowest branch, just above his head. He reached up. “Come on down tae me, love.”

She laughed, the sound low and sweet, and launched herself from the bough without hesitation. A second later she was in his arms, her warmth a pliant weight in his grasp and her arms around his neck as she bent to give him a searing kiss.

Teigue returned the kiss with all his passion, claiming her lips and drinking deep the intoxicating taste and scent that was solely hers.

They broke apart when they were both breathless and flushed in the moonlight. Caitlín laughed as he set her on her feet. “Ye really must be quieter, Teigue. If ye rouse me aunt, she’ll be less likely tae be as supportive o’ us as she is.”

Teigue frowned at her, then at the house. There was no sign of any lights or watching figures. “What does yer aunt have tae dae with the matter?”

“Och, ye…” Caitlín swatted playfully at him. “Ye dinnae think she’s fair ignorant o’ ye coming around? ‘Tis nae coincidence that I have a room I can leave fair easy, nor that ‘tis a fair distance from her own quarters.” Caitlín shook her head. “I’ve guessed for some time that she kens the truth o’ the matter between ye and I, but she’s content tae say naething, and I’m content tae nae press her.”

“Did she catch ye leaving or coming home?”

Caitlín shook her head as she led him further away from the house, back toward the woods he had recently emerged from. “Nae, she didnae. But it was while I was visiting her and learning her woodcraft that we first met, and she kens we got along well.”

“Getting along well and sneaking off for a moonlight tryst are nae the same thing, so who’s tae say she’s aware o’ the second simply because she kens the first?” The thought that someone from Caitlín’s clan knew about their meeting and clandestine courtship did nothing for his nerves, which still whispered with the fear of being watched from some unseen shadow, too deep to penetrate.

“True enough, but she saw ye when ye were coming around in the daytime, afore things became so tense between our clans. And she’s aged, but her mind’s still dagger sharp, nae matter how soft and inattentive she likes tae pretend tae be.” Caitlín grasped his hand, then shivered as a breath of the night breeze slipped under her shawl. Teigue slung his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into his warmth with a soft sigh.

“I wish things werenae so tense between yer father and mine. I dinnae like having tae sneak around like this, nor lie about being summoned tae me aunt’s home just tae see ye, even if she’s willing tae pretend she doesnae ken what’s between us.”

“I ken full well what ye mean, me love. And ‘tis a pity fer everyone that me father’s a greedy brute and a beast o’ a man, tae say naething o’ being Laird Stewart. Truth, and I often think we’d all be fair better off if he didnae have such power.” He shook his head, and stroked her hair. “But that’s a matter fer another time. Taenight is fer us.”

Caitlín laughed and stroked her hand over his wild blond locks, and the warrior’s braid that fell to the right side of his face. “Aye, that ‘tis, my braw lion. So, let’s say nae more about yer family or mine fer the time, fer there’s far more pleasant things tae be thinking o’ than them.”

“Aye. There is.” He stopped and bent to brush his hand across her soft porcelain cheek. “And I’ve something special tae show ye, if ye’re willing tae come walking in the woods with me.”

“Always.” She tipped her head to kiss his palm. “Lead the way love, and I’ll come gladly tae wherever ye wish tae go.”

Teigue pulled her closer, into the circle of his arms as he led her through the woods, along the trek he had navigated cautiously earlier in the evening. His heart was hammering in anticipation as he led her nearby, toward the river that bordered the Stewart and MacNeacail lands.

They emerged into a clearing by the riverside, where a rill of water chattered over the rocks to form a small cascade. Caitlín gave a soft cry of delight and appreciation as they cleared the trees.

The place was lit by moonlight, as well as some strategically placed torches. The ground was covered by a thick blanket, on which was a hamper and a flagon of sweet wine. In addition, there were several sheets of thick paper, under a bundle of charcoal sticks, and even some colored inks in sealed pots. Caitlín freed herself from his grip and dropped to the ground with another sound of pleasure. “Ye brought me sketching materials. And what’s the rest o’ it?”

“A picnic fer the two o’ us tae share under the moonlight. Thought we might even take a dip in the river, if we were o’ a mind.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively.

Caitlín’s laugh was like silver bells in the night air, and as enchanting as the harps of the Fair Folk could ever be. “I dinnae ken about that, but I’m fair willing tae enjoy the picnic and the moonlight.” Her fingers caressed the paper and the tools. “Ye can swim, if ye want, and I can sketch ye whilst ye do.”

Teigue settled to the ground beside her with a gruff laugh and began to remove the food from the hamper. “If that’s yer thought, then I’ll nae be swimming after all. Ye’ve far tae many pictures o’ me in yer possession, and sketched by yer hand. I dinnae want yer father getting any ideas he should nae be getting.”

He poured them both a measure of the wine, and handed her a plate of the treats he had assembled. Caitlín smiled and accepted the food. “I suppose he would be rather angered if he happened tae see a portrait I sketched o’ ye swimming without a stitch on.”

“That he would.” Teigue grimaced. “I’d nae protest, fer he’d certainly get the right idea o’ me feelings toward ye. But me father…” He shook his head, his mood souring at the mention of him.

Caitlín’s expression turned solemn, and she placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Teigue… ye ken I ken nae yer father, and I ken ye didnae court me for the reasons he’d be demanding.”

Teigue grimaced. “Could I convince yer father o’ that? He’ll nae hear a word from any Stewart so long as me father is laird. Nae after the way he tried tae force him tae part with lands belonging tae yer clan.” His free hand clenched into a fist, and he forced himself to relax. “That man’s greed will be the ruin o’ our entire clan, one way or another. But there’s naething I can dae, unless I wish tae be guilty o’ treason tae me laird, or guilty o’ kin-killing. And nae one o’ the Elders would take me as the next laird if I was tae dae either.”

“He cannae live forever, and when he passes, ye’ll be laird, and ye can restore yer clan’s character and honor.”

“Respect fer me kin, but it cannae happen soon enough. My father’s nae a good laird, and with him leading the clan…” He broke off as Caitlín grimaced and placed a hand over her abdomen.

“Are ye well?”

Her expression eased a moment later, and she flushed and gave him a weak smile. “Och, ‘tis naething. Just the beginning o’ me monthlies, I’m thinking.”

Teigue winced in sympathy. “I’m sorry ye’re unwell.”

“’Twas only a momentary discomfort, naething serious.” She smiled and lifted the wine to her mouth for another swallow.

She was so beautiful, he couldn’t wait any more. He set his plate to the side and moved so that he was kneeling before her. “Caitlín MacNeacail, there’s a question I must ask ye.”

She set her cup aside. “Aye?”

He took her hands in his and held her gaze. “Ye’re the most beautiful woman I ever met, and the only woman I’ve ever loved. I dinnae want tae keep sneaking around tae see ye, and hiding what we share. I want ye tae become me wife.”

“Teigue…”

“Will ye marry me, Caitlín? Will ye take me name, and share me life for the rest o’ our days?”

“What o’ our clans? Ye ken yer father and mine willnae ever consent tae the union. Even suggesting it might be the last straw tae igniting a feud between our clans. Ye ken me father will think that a marriage proposal is nae more than yer father’s newest scheme tae take our lands.”

“Will ye have me or nae? Answer me that, first, and then we’ll discuss the matter o’ the troubles between our clans.” He released her hands and lifted his to frame her face. “Will ye marry me, Caitlín MacNeacail?”

She stared at him for a long moment, then launched herself into his arms. “Aye!”

Her lips met his in a kiss that seemed to sear his senses, blinding and sweet. He could scarcely breathe, and it seemed like a dream as she leaned back and gave him a radiant, kiss-flushed smile. “I’ll marry ye with a glad heart, Teigue Stewart, whatever may come and whatever yer father or mine might say.”

He smiled and pulled her into his embrace, the food forgotten in the wake of his rising joy. “Even if what I suggest might be frowned upon by the clan elders?”

“Aye. But what are ye thinking?” She leaned into his shoulder.

“I’m thinking that we shouldnae ask for yer father’s approval, or me own. ‘Twill only cause problems, and I dinnae want tae wait.” There was every chance if they waited, that her father, or his own might take steps to make sure they could never marry.

“Then what dae ye intend?”

“Taemorrow. I’ll come tae ye again. Be ready with whatever ye wish tae bring with ye, and we’ll escape. We’ll find a place where neither yer father or mine have influence, in the lowlands or across the border, mayhap. Then we’ll find a priest and be married. Once we’re wed and the official witnessing done, there’s nae anything anyone can say or dae tae part us.”

“Run away?”

“Aye. Until we’re wed, the rites are heard and witnessed, and the records signed. Then we can return, and face whatever yer clan and mine have tae say in response.”

“What if yer father disowns ye?”

“’Tis nae likely tae happen. I’m his only son, and his only heir, fer he’s tae greedy by far tae wed a daughter tae a laird or a younger son who might want tae take the lairdship from his grasp.” He offered her a smirk. “But if he did, then yer father would have nae reason tae disapprove o’ me, aside from stealing ye away tae marry ye.”

“But what if he did, and me father didnae accept ye? What would ye dae?” Her soft query sobered his mood a little.

“I’d seek employ with another clan. I’m a warrior strong enough tae make me way, and a comfortable living fer the both o’ us.” He tugged her closer. “But ye ken as well as I that me father needs an heir, so all will be well.”

She shivered and nestled closer to him for a moment. Teigue kept his silence, knowing he’d said all he could say. Finally, she murmured “Dae ye truly think this is the best way tae go about things?”

“I think I cannae bear tae be another day more than I have tae be without ye. And I think if we dae things as they’re supposed tae be done, we’ll be waiting years afore we have a chance tae pledge troth tae each other, if ever we dae. And I dinnae trust me father nae tae try and prevent me from being with ye out o’ sheer spite.” He took a deep breath. “Aye. I think leaving tae be wed and then returning tae face the consequences is the best way tae go about it, if we truly love each other and want tae be taegether.”

“Then ‘tis what we’ll dae.” She leaned up and kissed him gently. “Taenight, we’ll enjoy our picnic under the stars, and taemorrow I’ll run away with ye.” A sparkle of laughter sounded in her voice. “And then, at least, I’ll be free tae draw as many pictures and sketches o’ ye as I wish.”

He smiled against her hair, then leaned across to get their plates. “Aye. Ye can decorate the entire home with yer drawings, if ye wish.”

They lingered over the meal for an hour or two, laughing and talking softly. Caitlín sketched several pictures of the moonlit glen, while Teigue watched her indulgently.

It was with great reluctance that he finally packed up the remains of the picnic basket and the sketches, before guiding her back to her aunt’s house and helping her up into the tree to climb back into her room.

He would have ridden away with her that very night, but he understood that she needed time to gather her things and prepare for the trip and for their marriage. And for all the consequences that were likely to come from their actions.

For that matter, he had some preparations of his own to make, including figuring out what he would say to his sister Isobel, or his half-sister Effie. He couldn’t imagine not telling them anything, but they’d want to come with him, and that couldn’t happen. Perhaps he could write them notes.

There were many difficulties to surmount. Even so, as he turned his steps toward his own home, his heart was lighter than it had ever been, full of love and dreams of the future, and the life he could have with Caitlín by his side.

 

Chapter One

The following day…

“Ye’re sure? That is what has been unsettling me stomach and giving me cramping pains?” Caitlín adjusted her dress and shawl one final time before she turned to the midwife. The woman was an old friend of her aunt’s named Brigid, who often took the herbs they collected and the tisanes they brewed to sell in return for offering her aid and advice to the laird MacNeacail’s family when needed.

Brigid smiled and patted her hand kindly. “Aye. I’m as certain as I can be, and I’ve been a healer since ye were a swelling in yer mother’s belly, dear lass. The signs are fair unmistakable. Ye’re with child, and about a month along, if I’m tae be any judge, and I’ve seen me fair share o’ new mothers and new babes.”

“I ken and I wasnae doubting ye. ‘Tis just… I hadnae thought…” Caitlín trailed off, placing her hand over her belly protectively.

A babe was in her belly. Her and Teigue’s child. He was the only man she’d ever been with, the only one she ever wished to be with. She’d wondered a week ago, when the regular time for her monthly courses came and went with no signs, but she hadn’t been sure.

That was why she’d hidden the truth to Teigue the previous night. She hadn’t wanted to raise his hopes or give him ideas if she was wrong. But now she knew she’d been right. She was with child.

Brigid had walked away while she was lost in her thoughts, and now she had returned and pressed a packet of herbs into her hands. “’Tis nae uncommon thing fer new mothers tae have an ill-settled stomach in their first season o’ pregnancy. It should settle within the next two months. Until then, steep two pinches o’ this herb in a cup o’ tea with yer meals, and it will ease the distress and let ye eat in peace.”

Caitlín took the herbs and nodded, listening as the midwife guided her to the door, still speaking. “Ye’ll want tae eat proper meals, and whenever ye get hungry and take plenty o’ fresh air.”

“I will.”

Brigid patted her hand again, this time with a hint of solemnity in her gaze. “I ken ye’ll dae right by yerself and yer babe. But what o’ the father?”

At the thought of Teigue, Caitlín couldn’t help the smile that bloomed across her face. “Och, he’ll be fair over the moon tae hear the news. I wasnae sure o’ me condition… but now that I ken…” She squeezed the midwife’s hand. “I ken he’ll be as pleased as I am.”

“’Tis good tae see ye happy, and I’m pleased tae see yer excitement tae tell the father. Ye can never ken in these cases…” She hesitated, obviously seeking a delicate way to voice her concerns.

Caitlín shook her head, still smiling. “Och, nae, that is nae our case.”

“That’s good tae hear.” The midwife smiled once more.

Caitlín said her farewells, then turned and made her way back down the small path to where it joined the larger track that led back to her aunt’s house. Her hand clutched the herbs the midwife had given her, but her mind was dancing around everything that had happened in the past day.

Her heart had nearly stopped in sheer joy when Teigue had proposed marriage to her. She knew she’d been falling in love with him, but she’d feared it was a summer love, doomed to fade away in time. The tensions between their two clans were strong, and she knew that her father bore a grudge against the Laird Stewart, who had tried to buy their lands, then resorted to coercion and threats when her father had refused his offers. Teigue was right, Laird Alistair Stewart was a greedy man.

She could only hope that he was right, that his father’s lack of male heirs would prevent him from being disowned. And that if the worst happened, he’d be able to find work as a warrior with another clan. It would be difficult, but she was sure that between his skills and her own, they could make a living.

She knew that, whatever the outcome, Teigue would be delighted to hear there was a bairn in their future. She also knew that he would do his best to be a good father to the child, whether it was a lass or a lad.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts it took her several moments to realize that she heard the faint sound of footsteps somewhere behind her. She paused and turned, but there was no one on the path behind her. Her heart began to beat faster and she swallowed hard. It was terrifying to think someone might be following her. Even more so that they were obviously making an effort to remain unseen. She took a breath to calm her nerves and her stomach, then turned and began hastening up the path as quickly as she could manage without running and risking a fall that might harm the fragile life inside her.

Heavy footsteps sounded behind her. Too heavy to be her aunt or the midwife. Fear blossomed in her chest, and she broke into a run.

She’d just crossed into the moorlands around her aunt’s house when a rough hand snatched her cloak and pulled her off balance. She scarcely had time to catch herself before thick, muscular arms wrapped around her shoulders and yanked her back against someone’s chest.

Caitlín reacted, twisting in the grip, fighting to break free. The near stumble and the way she’d been caught meant she couldn’t get her arm free to grab the dirk hidden in her skirt.

“Cease yer wriggling girl, or I’ll have tae knock ye senseless and tie ye up so we can talk.”

Caitlín swallowed a fresh moment of terror. She twisted her head around to try and see her assailant, then saw a flash of familiar tartan. The figure wasn’t immediately familiar, nor was the voice, but the tartan was Stewart colors. Perhaps it was a messenger from Teigue.

After a moment, the arms let her go. For a moment, she was tempted to try and run again, but she stayed where she was. The man had already proved he could catch her. Besides, if he was a messenger from Teigue, then she needed to hear whatever he had to say. She turned.

The man before her was older, gray-haired and stern looking, with a cruel twist to his mouth and a vicious glitter of malice in his eyes. The line of his jaw and the laird’s torc near his throat gave her an idea as to his identity. “Laird Stewart.”

A brief gleam of amusement lit his expression for a moment. “I kent ye were a smart one. That’s good. ‘Twill make this easier.”

“Make what easier?”

He snorted, a vicious sound that was too full of cruelty to properly be called a laugh.

“A few fortnights ago, I happened tae see that me son was disappearing o’ an evening. And then, I realized he was leaving the keep, so I had him followed. When I heard he was meeting a woman, I decided tae check fer meself, tae ken whether me son and heir was seeing a proper one.” His lip curled. “And then I saw that he was meeting ye.”

“And what does it matter?” She swallowed hard and clenched her hands in front of her. “I love yer son, and he loves me.”

“Yer father refused me the lands and the alliance that I was seeking… an alliance that might have profited us both. I’ll nae forgive the slight simply because me son has gone moon-calved and lost his wits over ye.” He sneered the words. “Nor will I let a bairn change me mind.”

Her stomach clenched. “I dinnae ken…”

“Oh, dinnae give me a lie, or treat me as if I’m a fool. I was following him last night, and I saw ye meeting. It was clear enough that he’s besotted with ye. And I followed ye tae the midwife just now, and heard ye talking o’ a child. Ye’d nae be so pleased in yer plans with me son if it werenae his bairn in yer belly.”

He moved forward, close enough that she could smell mead on his breath, and hear the ugliness of his voice as he snarled the next words. “Understand this, lass. I’ll nae let a child o’ MacNeacail blood be welcome in me halls. I’ll nae bless a marriage between ye and me son, nor aye will I let ye bring a babe intae me clan’s holdings.”

He stepped closer still. “Nae child o’ yer clan will be welcome, and if the babe is a boy, I’ll see he never has any claim tae the lands or lairdship o’ Clan Stewart.”

“Ye think that matters tae me and Teigue?” She felt her stomach churning. “Teigue’s yer only heir…”

“And what does that matter tae me, if he’s determined tae taint our line with the blood o’ our foes?”

“Me father is nae foe o’ yers…”

“He rejected me offers fer money and alliance. If he willnae be me ally sharing me border, then he’s declared himself an enemy, or at least nae friend tae Clan Stewart. And that being the case, I’ll nae have one o’ his blood with any claim tae Stewart lands in turn.” His lip curled sharply. “Even if it means I must disown me only son and seek an heir elsewhere.”

Caitlín felt her fingers biting into her palms. She took a breath and tried to avoid showing her emotions, though she feared it was a lost cause. “And what o’ it? Me father…”

“I’ll be sure yer father kens how me son has dishonored him by taking ye tae bed without a betrothal pledge, or any blessing and plans fer one. Even if me son marries ye, I’ll make sure yer father believes ‘tis because he had nae choice, and is hoping tae succeed in taking the MacNaecail lands where I failed. Yer father will slam the gates in his face, and mayhap yer babe as well.”

“We can make our way…”

His expression twisted sharply. “And ye think I’ll let me own son defy me without any cost? Teigue may nae care if he’s disowned, he’s a disrespectful brat, and I ken that well enough.”

His hand shot out, and he grabbed her shoulder and dragged her close, so his words fell directly on her ear, soft but full of venom. “I will see me son finds nae succor among my allies, lass. And if he finds a home among me enemies, I’ll make every effort tae see he falls under suspicion. Any laird who isnae either will hear from me o’ me son’s faults, and the worst o’ his character. I’ll see him hounded from any gainful employ, until ye and yer brat are living in poverty, and his honor is dust and ruin. And that’s if there isnae a… nasty accident afore then.”

She had no doubt he was being sincere, and every word filled her with horror. She wrenched herself from his grip, and her hand plunged into her skirt and emerged with her dirk. “Dinnae touch me, ye blackguard!”

Laird Stewart made no move to snatch her again. There was even a gleam of something that might have been approval, twisted as it was, in his eyes. “Ye’ve spirit, lass. And I ken yer intelligent tae.” He took an exaggerated step backward and raised his hands. “I’ll say this again, and swear it on me blood and me name… nae child o’ MacNeacail blood will be welcome in Stewart lands, or will stand in line for the lairdship, for so long as I live, nae one – even my kin – will be permitted tae flout me law, lest they face me wrath.”

She believed him. There was too much hate, too much spite in his eyes for her to think he could be debated or argued with. If she and Teigue went through with their plans, which he evidently knew about, he would see them hounded the length and breadth of the Highlands and beyond.

Teigue would never be safe. Her child, boy or girl, would never be safe. Teigue would be disowned and disgraced, his honor stained by his father until he had nothing left. And her father would never support her union to a destitute and hunted son of a rival clan, no matter what the circumstances were. The fact that there was a child involved, a child born out of wedlock, would only make things worse.

Her heart was breaking, but she could see only one way out of their current predicament. She swallowed hard, forcing back the sobs that wanted to break free, the grief that waited to swallow her whole. “As ye will.” It was an effort to speak the words in a level voice, but she managed.

“Ye’ll cease this nonsense o’ letting me son court ye?”

“I will.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll write ye a letter tae take tae him, penned in me own hand so he’ll have nae reason tae think ‘tis nae real. I’ll tell him I’ve thought better o’ the plans we made, and decided I cannae live the life he’s thinking we’ll have if we dae such things. I’ll tell him I’ve decided tae return tae me father’s home early tae make a clean break and that I dinnae want tae see or hear from him again.”

“Well enough. I’ll trust ye tae write it well enough tae convince him.” Alistair Stewart nodded.

Caitlín took a deep breath. “I’ll only ask fer two favors from ye in return.”

There was a glitter of coldness in his eyes. “And what would those be?”

“The first is that I’ll be having this babe, and I want yer word that ye’ll make nae attempt tae harm the child, and nae claim on it, nae matter what happens. I want ye tae leave us both in peace.”

“Easy enough. If me son isnae courting ye, then the babe’s life has nae influence on me clan, and I couldnae care less for the bastard.” His dismissive words hurt, but she used the sharpness of the wound as a goad to keep her from rethinking her course of action. “And the second?”

This was the request she least wanted to make. And yet, if she was going to sever ties with Teigue, she needed to do so in a manner that would enable both of them to move on. She, of course, could look forward to being married off by her father at some point, or else living cloistered as an unwed maid, but Teigue… Teigue was full of wild passions that ran deep. Unless his love was turned to something else, he would never let her go, and never permit himself to seek care in the embrace of another.

She shut the thoughts, and the pain they caused, away. “I’ll write the letter, and be as sharp as I can, but I ken yer son. He’ll nae want tae believe it. In light o’ that, me second request is this: make him believe it. I care nae what ye tell him, but I want ye tae make sure, if we cannae be taegether, that he despises me.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks but she didn’t let herself crumble in front of the devil of a man. “That he doesnae want tae hear any whisper o’ me name, or any hint o’ me existence. I think that ye’ve the means and the words in yer power tae see that he thinks the very worst o’ me. Use them.”

Alistair Stewart stared at her for a moment, then a laugh harsh as a crow’s cawing, broke from his throat. “Och, yer a brave and strong-willed lass, true enough. If yer father werenae me enemy, I might even like ye as a daughter by marriage.”

“That’s nae an endorsement.” She bit the words out. “Will ye agree tae me second condition?”

“Aye.” He moved closer, then drew a dirk and laid it across his palms, presenting it in the manner of a man taking an oath. “My word, as Laird Stewart o’ the Clan Stewart, that yer babe will be safe from me and mine, and that I’ll see me son has nae desire tae ever see ye again, and thinks of yer name as curse and with a desire tae forget it.”

That was good enough for her, for all it felt as if she’d ripped out her own heart and stomped on it, then set fire to the remains. She held onto her composure with all her strength. “As ye will. If ye’ll follow me tae my aunt’s house, then I’ll write the letter and give it tae ye.”

The world seemed gray and distant, and everything seemed unreal as she turned and finished the trek to her aunt’s house. It continued to feel distant and unreal as she pulled free a sheet of paper and some ink, and penned the necessary missive. She held onto that feeling, knowing that what waited on the other side was devastation.

The feeling lasted through the writing of the letter, allowing her to remain dry-eyed and cold as she wrote the words, dried the ink, and folded the letter, before printing Teigue’s name on the outside. It lasted as she returned to the door and handed the letter to Alistair Stewart.

It even lasted long enough for him to disappear into the woods, and for her to turn back and exchange a few words with her aunt. The cold, distant feeling held her in its grip until she returned to her room and glanced out the window.

There, outside the window, stood the tree she had made use of so many times as she snuck out to meet with Teigue. The tree she would never use of again.

The distant, cold feeling shattered, and devastating pain swept over her. Caitlín fell onto her bed and wept, her hands folded over her body and tears streaming down her cheeks as the truth crashed through her.

She would never be with Teigue again. Never feel his embrace, nor hear his rough voice whispering endearments. She would raise their babe alone, without him, the last reminder of the man she loved and the bond they’d shared.

A bond that, by day’s end, only she would care to remember. Her own actions had seen to that.

Caitlín collapsed into her pillows, clutching them close to muffle her sobs as all the dreams she’d nurtured an hour prior burned to ashes. Her tears washed even those away, beyond any restoration.

 

Not at all Likely Extremely Likely

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  • Caitlin is such a brave and selfless girl! I can’t imagine that Teigue will give up, without a fight. I’m already on pins and needles, waiting for their tale! You definitely got my attention, Fiona 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, my dear Young at Heart! Can’t wait for your feedback for the whole novel! ❤️

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