Highlander’s Flaming Prophecy (Preview)
The MacEwan Castle
“I feel that I shall never be happy again,” Nairna sighed, feeling the weight of her sorrow threaten to take her over as she gazed at her pale reflection in the glass.
Her sister, Aileen, standing behind her, continued to brush her long red hair gently. They had sent their maid away, preferring to prepare for the day by themselves. They desired only to be alone in their grief.
“Aye,” Aileen said sadly. “I cannae believe she is gone. I thought that after the funeral, it might have sunk in a bit, and I would begin to accept it, but every day I wake up and I expect to see her at breakfast, and then I remember…” She trailed off, a sob choking her voice.
It was scarcely two weeks since their mother had died so suddenly. She had been taken ill with a fever, and the healing woman had tried all the remedies she could think of, but nothing had helped. For three long days and nights, Nairna and Aileen had sat with her, mopping her burning brow with cool water and trying to keep her comfortable. But then, just before dawn on the third night, she had slipped away from them forever.
“She was out hunting only the day before!” Nairna said, her thoughts returning again to what a shock it had been that her mother had grown so incredibly sick so very quickly. No one could fathom the cause; it was just one of those things, the healing woman had said fatalistically.
“That’s how she would want us tae remember her, though, out on her horse in the forest,” Aileen said, her voice soft. “She wouldnae want us to think of her moaning in that bed in pain and confusion, or afterward, lying there…” She stopped. She could not bring herself to say the words out loud.
As was the custom, after her death, the women of the clan had watched her body day and night until the time came for her to be buried. Their father, in the depths of his grief, had disappeared off riding for hours every day, unable to bear being inside the castle with the scent of death all around and the sound of weeping women echoing around every dark corridor.
The rituals that came next were as fine and grand as would be expected for the wife of the Laird, with a procession and pipers before the burial, followed by a lavish funeral feast attended by all the members of the clan. But for Nairna, it had all passed in a blur; she could not remember the taste of the food or any of the conversations that she had had with the numerous guests who had wished to speak with her during the feast. She had simply forced herself to get through the day before collapsing sobbing on her bed when she could finally be alone. She knew that her sister had found it equally as painful, and they had supported one another as much as they could throughout the day.
She sighed again and gazed out of the window of her chamber. The spring sunshine was streaming in. It felt almost as if nature was playing a harsh trick on them, to take their mother from them in such a cruel and sudden way when all around them was rebirth and renewal. The birds were twittering happily in the trees, and every shrub and bush seemed to be a brighter shade of green today than it had been the day before.
She turned to Aileen. “Sister, shall we go for a walk before dinner? I feel that we shall waste away if we pine indoors any longer. ‘Tis not what Mother would have wanted.”
Aileen nodded, wiping her eyes, which were red at the rims from many days of weeping. “Let’s go and see the flowers. Mother did love them so, and the bluebells may have begun to bloom in the woods.” She gave a wistful smile, remembering the many walks they had shared with their mother in the woodland near the castle.
The sisters were preparing to leave the chamber when there was a knock at the door, and their maid entered, dropping a curtsy as she did so.
“Milady,” she said to Nairna after nodding to her younger sister. “Your father is in the great hall. He wishes to speak wi’ ye both.”
Nairna blinked in surprise. It was unusual for their father to be inside the castle before dinner. Usually, he rushed back just in time, wiping the dust from the road off his clothes as he hurried in to join them for their meal. He was often absent from the castle for days at a time, on long hunting trips or attending to clan business further afield.
The maid withdrew, leaving them looking at each other in confusion.
“I wonder what on earth he could want to talk to us about?” Aileen wondered out loud.
Nairna frowned, glancing again at her reflection in the glass, as a small seed of suspicion began to plant itself in her mind. She was twenty-four now, and she knew that it would be time for her to be wed soon. Her mother had always tried to dissuade their father from arranging their marriages while they were too young, saying that she wanted them to wait until they were ready, but she knew that she really could not expect him to wait much longer. But so soon after her mother’s death? It seemed unlikely that he would put this upon her now, not while her grief was still raw.
She looked at her sister, so pretty and fair and just two years younger than her. Perhaps he had found a match for Aileen instead? Nay, he would not arrange for the younger daughter to be wed first unless it was a love match that she desired herself and that he also considered being suitable for the clan
“Aileen, ye dinnae ken what this is about, really, do ye? ‘Tis not some secret o’ yours?”
“Nay!” Aileen said, a look of bafflement on her face. “What do ye mean, sister?”
Nairna shook her head. “Oh, nothing,” she said quickly, dismissing the idea from her mind as quickly as it had blown in. The idea of her sister having a secret romance and not telling her about it was not at all likely; they had shared everything, all their lives.
“I cannot imagine what it could be,” she shrugged, smoothing her hair and shaking out her dress in preparation for making their way to the great hall. “Come, sister, let’s go and find out. We mustn’t keep Father waiting.”
They left the chamber and made their way down the gloomy corridors of the castle, lit by torches on the walls. To a stranger, it might have seemed an eerie, unwelcoming place, with dark corners and secret passageways, but to Nairna and Aileen, it was the only home they had ever known, as daughters of the laird. They walked arm-in-arm down the grand central staircase and entered the great hall, then approached their father, Laird Edward MacEwan, who was standing by the fireplace, gazing into the flames. The main room of the castle was grand, with servants scurrying about and the bright sunshine outside streaming in through the large arched windows all around. This was the scene of so many important moments in their lives: great celebrations, meetings with other members of the clan, and most lately, their mother’s funeral feast. Nairna winced at the memory as they crossed the room together. Her sister tightened her grip on her arm as they went, perhaps intending to be reassuring, but it just made Nairna feel even more ill at ease to know that her sister was nervous too.
At the sound of their footsteps echoing across the hall, he turned and gave them a wan smile. “My lasses,” he said, kissing them each in turn. “Join me in a drink of wine?”
Nairna raised an eyebrow but agreed to his request, taking a goblet of wine from a servant who approached. Her sister did the same, meeting her eye with a quizzical glance as she did so. It was unusual for their father to partake of wine or ale before dinner. Something strange was going on.
“So, my daughters, what have ye been doing today?” Laird MacEwan said after a long pause.
Nairna looked up at him, her green eyes wide. “Why, Father, we have been doing what we always do these days. We have been feeling sad and thinking of Mother.”
“We were just about to go for a walk in the woods, Father, before coming back for dinner,” Aileen added softly. “Ye remember how Mother used tae love the bluebells?”
“Aye, lass, I do remember,” the Laird replied. He took another sip of his wine.
Why will he not say what is on his mind? Nairna thought, beginning to feel frustrated. Her father was always kind and gentle with his daughters, but he was a man of few words. She could tell that he had something he wished to say, but he was holding back.
“And Father, where have ye been this morning, and yesterday too?” Her father had been absent from the castle the day before; although that was not unusual, perhaps therein lay the truth of his strange behavior today.
“I have been tae the MacBaine castle,” Laird MacEwan said slowly. “I did not return home until very late last night.”
Nairna nodded, waiting for him to continue. Philip MacBaine was their father’s oldest friend, brother of the MacBaine laird, and a highly respected man in his own right. It was not at all unusual for their father to go visiting him, to discuss matters of business, and to hunt and socialize together. But she could tell from the look on her father’s face that there had been something different about this visit.
“And I must tell ye, my daughters, that my best friend is dead,” he announced gravely.
“Oh, Father!” Aileen moved closer, ready to comfort him. “I am so sorry tae hear of it!”
“Aye, I am sorry too,” Nairna said earnestly. How hard for her father to go through the grief of the loss of his wife, then to suffer another loss so soon afterward! It was a terrible chain of events, and her heart ached for him. She sensed, though, that there was something more that her father needed to say.
“How did he die?” she asked, trying to lead her father into telling them what was really going on.
“It was a hunting accident,” Laird MacEwan said, his brow furrowed. “He leaves behind him a son, Magnus. Do ye remember meeting him when ye were wee bairns? ‘Twas a long time ago now. I think ye may have been too young tae recall it?” He smiled as if transported to a memory of happier times when he and his friend stood and watched their toddling children playing together.
“Nay, Father, I dinnae remember it,” she replied honestly. She had no memory of meeting this boy called Magnus.
There was another long pause as the Laird drained his glass and set it down on a stone table next to him. “Now, I must tell ye something else, girls,” he said.
Nairna was almost fit to burst with frustration now. “Yes, Father, tell us!” she urged him.
“I had an agreement with Philip, one that we made many years ago. If one of us were to die, and the other remained alive, then we promised that we would look after each other’s families. It was a most solemn vow. I never thought that either of us would have to act on it, not in this way, any way, and not so soon.” He gave a deep sigh and ran a hand through his mane of hair, which in his youth had been a fine russet color but was now turning white with age. “He leaves behind him a wife, Joanne. And of course, my wife, your mother, is gone too.”
Nairna frowned and turned to Aileen, who looked just as confused as she felt herself.
“What is it ye are trying tae say, Father?” she asked, unable to hold back any longer.
“I am tae be wed again, lass,” he replied flatly. “ ‘Tis what I promised, and now I must honor that promise that I made all those years ago. I never thought to have done it like this, but I’ve come to realize ‘tis the best way.”
Nairna felt her stomach lurch. “Wed, Father? You?”
“Aye, lass, she is tae come to th’ castle and live wi’ us here, wi’ her son Magnus too, and he shall be the laird when I’m gone.” He paused, took a sip of wine, and continued, “Ye ken, ‘tis a problem that I have no son. And I dinnae want ye tae be wed too young either. I was always wi’ yer mother on that. So, this is a good way to bring a man into th’ family, tae help me wi’ the duties o’ the Lairdship. And ‘tis tae keep ye safe too, my lasses! I’m gettin’ old, and we dinnae want anyone tae think the clan and th’ castle are no’ protected!”
“But – Father, how can ye say this?” Nairna demanded, her disbelief turning to anger as she listened to him talk. “How can ye even think tae be married again when our mother is only just buried!”
Next to her, Aileen was beginning to sob quietly.
“Lass, ye must be calm!” Edward begged her, casting an eye about the hall, where there were several servants busying themselves with various tasks. Clearly, he did not wish for there to be a scene. “I know ‘tis a shock. Let me explain it to ye some more.” He took both her hands in his and looked at her intently. “I promised him, Nairna, and he promised me that if either of us were to die suddenly, we would take care of the other’s wife and child. And now that Elaine is gone –” His voice became thick as he spoke her name. “Now that she is gone, the best way tae achieve it is fer me to take Joanne as my wife.”
“But how? How can ye be so heartless as to forget our mother so quickly?” Nairna demanded. “How can ye just replace her like this?” She could not believe what she was hearing. It seemed impossible that he could be so cynical to be off arranging his next marriage before his wife was even cold in her grave. “I thought ye loved her,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Aileen, unable to speak, took her hand and looked at her pleadingly. Dealing with Nairna’s anger on top of her own grief seemed to be almost more than she could bear.
“Now, Nairna,” Edward said firmly. “I loved yer mother, truly. She was the great love o’ my life, and I will never forget her, never, not until the day I’m in th’ ground myself. But a great man needs a wife, ye know that, lass. I cannae dae it all on my own!”
“But ye have us, Father!” Aileen said, breaking her silence at last. “We can help ye and support ye!”
“’Tis not the same, Aileen. Ye must see that?” he said.
She sniffed and said nothing more, but Nairna could not stop herself from continuing, “Father, I just cannae believe it,” she said again, her anger unabated.
“There’s the other thing too, though, Nairna, that ye must understand. I have no sons! I need a strong man tae pass on the lairdship to. And Magnus, well, his reputation as a fighter and a fine warrior is second tae none. He’s just the right sort o’ man to take over the clan from me when I’m gone. I have tae plan for these things, Nairna, don’t ye see? God could take me just as quick as he took yer poor mother!” His face was etched with pain as he spoke, but he seemed resolute, despite her protestations.
Nairna glowered into the fire as he spoke, remembering that old resentment, the greatest of her life: that she’d not been born a boy and could not lead the clan herself. She knew that her parents had been disappointed that they had never been blessed with a son. And now this stranger was to come instead and take over! And this woman would try to replace her mother! Well, she would not sit by and allow it to happen.
“I won’t accept them, Father,” she said firmly. “Ye cannae expect us tae love them as family, tae welcome them here when we are still raw wi’ pain from the loss o’ our mother!”
“Aye, lass, I do expect it,” he replied, a hint of anger creeping into his voice at her continued defiance. “I expect ye tae behave as befits the daughter of a laird and welcome them! And they are tae come soon, the plans for the wedding have already begun!”
She flinched. A wedding, so soon after a funeral! It was grotesque, and she could not bear the thought of it.
“Nay, Father, ye cannae make me!” she said hotly, feeling her rage begin to surge again. “I willnae accept them, never!”
She turned on her heel and fled from the room, the sobs of her sister ringing in her ears as she went.
Nairna ran up the stairs and rushed into her chamber, throwing herself on the bed and allowing herself to succumb to her tears for the first time that day. Unlike Aileen, she did not cry easily, but she could not hold it in any longer.
A new wife! How could her father even think of it? It was just too much to take on board after the shock of her mother’s death. And now this! To think that she had been worried that her father was to announce her betrothal when all the while he had been arranging his own nuptials. Surely her father could not really expect her to love these people as family and to accept them graciously?
She sighed as the thoughts crowded her head. Her sister was much more sweet-tempered than her, and she was sure that Aileen would try much harder to be nice and welcoming towards them when they did arrive at the castle. But she knew that she could not do it. She would not be able to put on a show for them. It simply wasn’t in her nature to dissemble and pretend to feel something that she did not.
She felt guilty for leaving her sister behind just now in the hall, but she knew that Aileen would come up to her room soon to check on her. Neither of them could allow the other to suffer alone for long
It was a mixture of fury and disbelief that she felt as she lay there on her bed, sobbing her heart out in the silent room. Her mother and father’s marriage had been a love match. She had always known that. And they had been content for many years together. But now her father was to marry another woman, out of convenience, because he did not wish to be alone! It was such a betrayal to the memory of her mother.
She knew that it had always been a source of sadness to her parents that no sons had come, but it had not been enough to mar their happiness. And now her father was getting a ready-made son too! His announcement about the lairdship had stung Nairna to the core, realizing that this woman, this lady – Joanne, came with an heir too! A stranger taking over the clan! She could scarcely believe that her father would even think of it. And yet, she knew that he was right. The clan had to be led by a strong man. It was ridiculous to think that a woman could hold power over the clan and fight off their enemies.
She groaned in frustration, burying her face into her pillow. She knew that she was powerless to stop it. But if her father thought that she would play the role of the dutiful daughter, smiling sweetly when their interlopers arrived at their door, then he was mistaken. Perhaps Aileen would go along with it, but not her. And she would not help with plans for the wedding either; he could not expect that of her.
Her reverie was broken by a tap at the door, and Aileen came in, just as she had expected. Her face was blotchy from crying.
“Nairna, ye must go down and apologize to Father!” she said, sitting down on the bed next to her.
“Is he very angry?”
“He’s unhappy that ye willnae accept what’s to happen,” Aileen said. “ ‘Tis a shock; I know it is, but we cannae expect him to be alone forever, and he’s right too that there must be a man tae take over the clan when he’s gone.” Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. “I cannae bear to think of him being gone as well! Must we lose everything?”
Nairna wrapped her arms around her sister as she sobbed. It seemed as if they were to lose everything, after all. Life would never be the same again in the castle after these strangers arrived and became part of their family. She did not know, truly, how she was going to bear it.
Nairna looked around quickly to check that the coast was clear before making her way across the courtyard to the stables. This part of the castle was deserted today; all the servants were indoors, focusing their attentions on cleaning and polishing everything in sight in preparation for the arrival of the honored guests later on that day.
She had refused to have any part of it. Her father had tried to involve her in the planning and preparations for the welcome feast, seeking her opinion on various menu options and asking her advice on how to decorate the great hall for the occasion. But she had steadfastly declined to enter into any discussion about it. She knew that her father was struggling, having never planned such an occasion by himself, and that as his eldest daughter, she should have been heavily involved in the plans, supporting him in the domestic arrangements. But it just made the whole thing smart even more; her mother had always been the one planning the festivities when they had visitors before. And now she was gone and would never plan another celebration at the castle again! Her grief was still raw, and she found that she did not care much about which vegetables would accompany each course and whether there would be enough venison to go round.
Nairna entered the stables and found her favorite horse there, a chestnut mare named Nessa that her father had given her for her birthday. She was a fine horse, steady and biddable, and with a love for galloping across the moor, whatever the weather.
The stable boy was nowhere to be seen – even he had probably been dragged inside and made to polish something. So she saddled up the horse herself, whispering soothingly to her as she did so. Her mother had taught her from a young age how important it was to know how to prepare and saddle a horse for riding without help. She always said that you never knew what could happen when you were out riding and that you must be able to look after yourself.
Nairna knew that she was being cowardly and childish stealing away like this, avoiding having to be there to greet her new stepmother and stepbrother. But she just could not bring herself to stand there, acting the part of the fine lady. She could not put on a show of welcoming them to the castle and pretending that she did not resent them with every fiber of her being. Nay – it was better to make herself scarce and ride away as far as possible so that she didn’t have to face any of them.
A stepmother! What a thought! She smiled ruefully to herself as she mounted the horse and took off down the lane leading to the castle gates at a trot. Joanna MacBaine probably was not like the wicked stepmothers of fairytales; no doubt she would not bring an enchanted mirror to the castle or try to murder Nairna and Aileen with apples laced with poison. And yet, Nairna felt that she knew why children – even fully grown ones like herself and her sister – found it hard to love their stepparents. The pain of the loss of her own mother was so great, and the wound in her heart so deep that another woman appearing to replace her was just too much to bear. And her feelings of anger towards her father for such a hasty betrayal of her mother’s memory had not abated; in fact, they had only strengthened as the days passed since the announcement of his impending marriage.
She thought of her sister, who she had left behind in the castle without a word. Aileen would be worried about her, no doubt, but would soon realize that she had absented herself to avoid having to meet Joanne and Magnus and welcoming them to the clan. Aileen would do a better job of it anyway, standing by their father and putting on a polite show for these interlopers. Her sister was far sweeter-natured than she; Nairna knew that.
She left the castle grounds and took off at a canter across the open moorland, Nessa only needing the slightest encouragement. She had been cooped up in her stable for too long and was glad of the opportunity to stretch her legs. Nairna had barely ridden out at all since her mother’s death, and now, as she felt the wind in her hair as they sped along, she felt something like happiness for the first time in many days. Temporary happiness, at least, and an escape from reality.
She rode on, along her favorite paths and through dense woodland, until she reached a track running along the hillside with a steep incline to one side and thick undergrowth to the other. The track was stony and uneven, so she slowed down to a walk and allowed Nessa to pick her way along at her own pace. She slipped into a daydream as they traversed the track, remembering all the times she had ridden with her mother in these woods and the stories she used to tell them when they were small, about fairies and goblins and all the other magical tree-dwelling creatures of legend.
She was just smiling softly to herself, her hands barely even gripping the reins, when Nessa let out a whinny and skittered to one side of the track with a sudden jolt. Nairna grabbed onto the front of the saddle and looked around, trying to work out what had caused the horse to react like that. Her eyes scoured the track ahead and all around. In the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of silver grey moving along the edge of the track. A snake! No wonder Nessa had been startled. Snakes were a rare sight in these woods but were well known to be a source of fear among horses.
Nessa scrambled about frantically, her hooves slipping and sliding on the loose stones of the track. Trying to keep calm even though her heart was pounding, Nairna spoke soothingly to the horse, reaching forward to pat her neck, but she was scarcely able to keep her balance. “Yer alright, Nessa. ‘Tis just a silly old snake. Look – he’s gone now!” The snake had slithered back into the undergrowth, but the damage had been done, and the horse was panicked and struggling to keep her footing on the path. She began to buck and rear, and Nairna was fighting to hold on. She felt her own panic begin to rise, knowing that this would make the situation worse but barely able to control her feelings. She gave a yelp as she felt herself beginning to slide from the saddle as Nessa reared up again.
All of a sudden, she heard a thunder of hooves approaching, and a horse appeared in a cloud of dust on the track in front of her, ridden by a man who she had never seen before. Nessa was still bucking and rearing, and Nairna was still struggling to hang on to the reins as the unknown rider drew up next to her.
“Woah!” he said commandingly, reaching out to grip the reins of her horse, his fingertips brushing Nairna’s as he did so. “Woah, now,” he said again more softly, as Nessa dropped back onto four hooves and shook out her mane with a splutter, looking about her as if she couldn’t remember what all the fuss was about. “There now, lass,” he said, still focused on the horse, patting her neck as she settled down.
Nairna dropped back into the saddle, still hanging on tightly to the reins in case the horse should take fright again. Her heart was still racing, and she found that she was breathing fast. She’d had a lucky escape, she knew; if she’d fallen off the horse and been badly injured out here alone in the woods, she’d have been in real trouble, far away from home with no one knowing where she was.
“Are ye alright, My Lady?”
The man’s voice broke through her thoughts, and she looked up at him properly for the first time. Tall, with a shock of dark curls, he sat bolt upright astride his horse, wrapped in his riding cloak. He was looking at her with concern on his face.
“Aye,” she said, suddenly feeling tongue-tied. “ ‘Twas – ‘twas a snake in the hedge. It spooked her. Normally, she’s a steady horse…” She trailed off, unable to find any more words.
She found that she could not stop looking at him, even though she knew that she should not be gazing upon a strange man in such an immodest way. It was undeniable that he was handsome, despite his slightly weather-beaten skin and the deep groove of a scar above his eyebrow. But there was something about him, and she struggled to tear her eyes away.
“Well, I am glad she’s a steady horse,” he said, with a hint of amusement in his eyes. “I wouldnae like tae think of ye riding a wobbly horse, especially on a path like this!”
She let out a giggle, despite herself. She was finding it hard to keep her composure in the presence of this man.
“Is it usual to see snakes in these woods?” he went on.
“Nay, ‘tis very rare. I’ve only seen one once before, when…” She was about to say when she had been out walking with her mother, but she stopped herself. She did not want to tell this stranger anything too personal about herself or where she came from. She had no idea who he was, and a little voice in her head reminded her to be careful. And yet, there was something trustworthy about his face, battle-scarred though it may be. And those eyes! She had never seen eyes like his, the color of honey with an intense ring of black around the iris. She found herself staring into them once again, and he met her eyes boldly. She colored under the intensity of his gaze, blinked, and tried to shake herself free of these unfamiliar feelings that were building inside her.
She looked at him curiously. “I dinnae think I’ve seen ye about these parts before?” She knew almost everyone who resided in the area around the castle, having lived here all her life and due to the position of her family. It was unusual to see a stranger at all, let alone one whose arrival was not known of in advance by the laird and his family.
He smiled, and her stomach flipped as he held her gaze once more. “Aye, I’m new in these parts, ‘tis true,” he said enigmatically. “But I very much like what I have seen so far, o’ the countryside and the people too.” He looked at her meaningfully, clearly as reluctant as she was to give too much away about himself. But Nairna sensed by the way he was gazing at her that he found her as intriguing as she found him. So few words had passed between them, but she had a feeling that they had exchanged something deeper than words in those few moments they had spent together.
“Well, Sir, I am most glad that ye like what ye see,” she said, meeting his gaze and waiting to see what he said next.
Nessa was happily munching on a shrub next to the path, and the strange Highlander’s horse was similarly engaged on the other side of the path. Nairna looked at him and found herself once again unable to pull her gaze away from those hypnotic eyes.
He seemed to be about to speak when the haunting sound of a horn sounded from a distance, and he looked up, half in alarm and half in irritation.
“Alas, I must leave ye,” he said, meeting her eye again with an intensity which thrilled her to her very core. “I would love tae meet ye again one day, and I pray that it may happen soon,” he added.
He reached over, took her hand, and lifted it to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers for a second. The feel of his soft kiss on her skin was like an electric shock, sending unfamiliar sensations all through her body. She felt a blush rising across her cheeks as she returned his gaze, but she was yet again unable to find the words to reply to him.
He quickly turned his horse around and trotted off along the path in the direction of the horn, which was still sounding intermittently. Nairna vaguely wondered why a horn was blasting and who he was going to join, but her thoughts soon returned to the look in his eyes as he had kissed her hand. It was attraction, pure and simple – that much she knew, even though she was a respectable and virtuous noblewoman. She flushed again at the thought of it and the feelings it had caused inside her, feelings that she had never felt before in the presence of any man. She was fascinated by him.
She reflected for a moment that what had begun as a miserable day, was in fact, turning out to be a little brighter than she expected. She felt elated and unable to stop smiling, and the woods around her seemed even more beautiful than usual. But who was he, this mysterious Highlander? Her thoughts full of him, she persuaded a reluctant Nessa, who had been enjoying her roadside snack, into a walk along the track, back the way they had come before the drama of the day had unfolded.
She glanced up at the sky to see the position of the sun. It must be past midday now. She decided to ride on a little further before returning to the castle, which she knew inevitably she must. She couldn’t run away forever, much as she would like to. She would have to return and face the new additions to her family before long. But she would allow herself another few hours alone first, with the pleasurable memory of the Highlander with the honey-colored eyes to fill her thoughts.
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