Highlander’s Poisoned Heart (Preview)
Kyle MacDonnell looked down at the MacFarlane lands stretching out before him. For the last year and a half, he’d avoided people for fear of being discovered and forced to meet justice for a crime he did not commit. Now, as the wind swept over the glen, he watched people from all over scurrying in and out of McFarlane lands, gathering for the Highland Games.
A year and a half had passed since his exile from McDonnell lands. He knew the risk—to be found would mean death for him. Kyle studied the throngs of people setting up camps and carting their wagons in from the outlying roads. Kyle stood up, brushing the dust from the palms of his hands. No amount of lingering would conceal him. If there was any chance of him clearing his name, this was it. He was relying on the crowds to keep himself from being noticed.
Kyle’s heart raced as he walked his horse towards the settlement stretching out from the main keep. He pulled his hood further down over his eyes. A man bumped into him, and a jolt of fear raced through Kyle. He instinctively grasped the hilt of his sword. He could hardly process the man’s apologies over the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. He straightened himself and pushed further along the road, trying to get his bearings amongst the chaos of celebration.
Rich aromas filled the air as vendors and homes alike cooked to welcome the arrival of clans from all over Scotland, in hopes of uniting the people following the failed Jacobite revolution. An energy existed, a charge in the air, full of both excitement and stress as the people hurried to prepare for the event.
Kyle made his way towards the grounds marked out for the games. In addition to lodgings, there was someone he needed to find. His best hope for finding both was to make it to the heart of the gathering. Kyle could see the greens in the distance. He was ready to break from the packed road into open pasture.
“Watch it, wench!”
Kyle’s path was blocked when a woman fell back in front of him. He watched her face crease in pain, her arms scraping against the rough stones beneath her as she caught herself on her elbows. Rolls fell around her, speckling the mud with their light brown crusts.
The warrior’s eyes took in the scene. A thick man with a dark red face barreled out from the shadows, approaching her in a hurry. He could see the poor serving woman’s eyes widen with fear. She tried to back up in the mud, further soiling her gown as she scrambled away.
“Ye think ye can jus’ waste all this food an’ get away without a scrape?” The man towered over her.
The wiser man would have stepped away, not wanting to risk discovery. No part in Kyle’s brain alarmed him of the risks. Before he could think of the consequences, he was between the scared woman and her employer.
Kyle stood between the two, staring the man down. He knew this type of man. He would not have hesitated to batter the woman, no matter how many people bore witness. He was the kind of man who felt powerful preying on the weak—in Kyle’s eyes, a coward. All his life, he’d stood against men such as this. They were an intolerable blight on mankind.
“Get outta my way, boy, ye’ve got no part in this!” The man shook with his anger. A crooked vein throbbed in his neck, dark and purple with rage.
Kyle looked down at the woman for a brief moment. It pained him to see her afraid and helpless. Her eyes darted between the two in fear. She hurried to her feet, trying her best to pick up the soggy bread melting into the mud beneath her.
“I can’t do that,” Kyle said.
“I’m warnin’ ye, boy! This ain’t yer fight. This is between me an’ my,” he jabbed one of his sausage fingers into his chest, “charges.”
“I’m not standin’ back an’ watchin’ ye beat that woman.” Kyle stood his ground.
The woman stepped back from them, terrified and speechless. The man raised his fist. Kyle squared off his stance, preparing for the blow. Before anything happened, a voice cut through.
Kyle was blinded as his vision blurred with a wild flame of hair. He took a half step back as a woman at least a foot shorter than him intercepted the argument. The man’s fist shook before falling to his side, still clenched and trembling.
“Get outta me way, Neilina!”
“How dare ye talk to me like that,” she stiffened. “Ye have no right, jus’ like ye have no right hittin’ my charges—nae yers, Angus, mine,” Neilina commanded.
Kyle looked at her in awe, still gasping at what had just taken place. She stood up to the man, her eyes fierce and cold as ice. Kyle watched as Angus blubbered, the steam seeming to rise from his skin as if Neilina had poured water on the fire burning in him.
“That wench los’ me my mornin’s work with her clumsiness!”
“I don’t care how much she lost ye, I won’t stand fer violence in me household. D’ya understand me, Angus?” She looked the man hard in the eyes. “Or do I need tae bring ma faither into this, huh?”
Kyle felt invisible, eclipsed by this woman’s strength and poise. He pulled his hood up and stepped back, hoping to slip away before anymore onlookers gathered around the scene. He gave the serving woman a brief nod. She mouthed the words, “thank you,” before Kyle continued on towards the Highland Game grounds.
“Wait!” called Neilina’s voice from behind him.
Kyle stopped for a moment before deciding it was not wise. He pretended not to hear her and continued forward, hoping she would let him go, but never quickening his pace. There was no such luck. Within moments, her quick step caught up with him. He could hear her panting for breath.
“Wait,” she said.
Kyle obeyed. He did not turn around, still uncertain what he should do. Neilina stepped in front of him and looked up at him with her bright, intelligent eyes. She was a beauty to behold, with prominent cheekbones, fair skin kissed by a light blush, and a wild mane of red curls contrasting with her blue eyes.
“Thank ye fer what ye did back there,” she said.
He could see the earnestness in her gaze as she regarded him. “It was no trouble, m’lady.”
“Aye,” she nodded, her curls bouncing on the breeze. Both hands braced her hips. “But t’were. Ye picked a fight with Angus. Ye must be mad!” She smiled, and Kyle felt his stomach tighten at the sight of her white teeth between her perfect formed lips.
Kyle did not have a smile to return. There was too many other things clouding his mind to find pleasure. He gave her a courteous nod and tried to continue. She did not let him go. Her footsteps squished in the mud alongside him.
“Yer nae from around here,” she said.
“Ye come fer the games, then?” Neilina asked.
Kyle eyed her, trying to assess her angle. After a moment’s thought, he replied, “Not tae participate, if that’s what yer askin’.”
Neilina nodded, chewing on this a minute, trying to find another way to connect with the mysterious warrior. She nodded in understanding before meeting his eyes. “My name is Neilina, daughter o’ the Laird o’ these lands. Will ye walk an’ talk with me a moment?” she finally asked.
Kyle looked around. There were less people in the area, and the ones around were absorbed in their tasks. He looked down at Neilina. From what he knew, she was a lady and an important one at that. There was risk in talking with her at all. He already made himself more visible than planned. Yet, something in the way he looked at her made him curious and unable to protest. He nodded.
Neilina’s face broke into an ear to ear smile. “What should I call ye?”
Kyle’s tongue froze to the roof of his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was to lie to her. Using his first name, though, was dangerous. There was no telling who she knew or would talk to about the incident with the serving girl. With the pressure of her fixated eyes oppressing him, he blurted out the name that haunted the forefront of his mind.
“Robert.” The name of his best friend.
“Where’re ye from, Robert?”
Kyle sighed and looked down at the soft ground. The rain drizzled in a light mist around them. There were few answers that could hold up to investigation. After a moment, he looked at her again, trying to judge her character and intent.
“I’ve jus’ returned from Rome, an’ have come to look fer work.” He looked around. “The games seemed like a good place tae start.”
Neilina followed his gaze, sweeping over the people and festivities, “Aye,” she agreed. “On pilgrimage?” She looked up at him, eyes brimming with wonder.
Kyle nodded. “Aye.”
Neilina’s eyes regarded him with amazement. Kyle felt vulnerable beneath her gaze and the weight of his lie. It was a good one, but still, he knew the journey was one for the devout. He tried his best to remember the names of the seven churches often visited by people heading to the Pope’s seat in Rome, completing the Via Francigena in search of deliverance from England.
“What an adventure,” she gawked, wagging her curly head. “I’d love tae hear all ‘bout it. What kind o’ work are ye lookin’ for? I’m sure I can help find somethin’ suitable.”
Kyle cleared his throat. “I’m a tutor.” His words seemed to stick to his cheek, and when they came out, they seemed to run into each other in a hurry to get out. “French, Italian—” he coughed, trying to clear the dry tightness closing his throat. Although he could learn just about anything and often labored whenever hands were needed, he was a man of the sword. If he claimed a specific trade, it would not be long until the men who made their livelihoods caught onto his novice skills.
“French!” Neilina started with excitement. “I’ve always wanted to speak French.”
“Nous le voulons toy—” Kyle said dryly.
Neilina opened her mouth to question what the phrase meant before snapping her lips shut abruptly. Her smile faded and her brow creased with deep thought. Kyle watched as she pulled a red wind-swept curl from her lips. He started to walk forward. She snapped from her reverie and continued after him.
“Have ye found a place tae stay yet?”
“Nay,” he said.
“If ye’ll teach me, I can pay fer yer lodgings an’ a small salary, if,” she grinned mischievously, “I’m satisfied with yer services that is.” Her smile faded into a look of consternation once more. Kyle looked at her and witnessed nervousness wash over her features. “But ye have tae promise me somethin’.” He said nothing, captivated and curious by the beautiful young woman. “I don’t want anyone tae ken. Me father,” she wagged her head, her curls flying around her shoulders, “wouldn’t approve.”
Kyle could not believe his luck—secrecy, lodgings, and a salary. He swallowed the lump in his throat and said, “Aye, I can do that.”
Neilina beamed up at him with excitement, “Are ye busy now?” she asked.
Kyle looked around him. Nowhere did he see his friend—the man he’d stolen the name of. He turned back to Neilina.
“Nay, can’t say that I am.”
“Good,” she smiled, “I ken jus’ the place fer ye.”
A smile threatened to form at the corners of Kyle’s face as he watched her swivel on her heel and start leading the way. He was amused, and could not help but follow. She came in out of nowhere like the wind, and now, he found his livelihood tied to her. There was nothing for him to do except see how it all played out.
The young man could not have chosen better lodgings. It took them nearly an hour to walk to the small farm. Neilina handled everything while Kyle waited outside. When she returned, she waved for him to follow and led him to a small croft at the back of the property.
“This is it,” she said. “I hope it’s tae yer satisfaction.”
He could see the way her cheeks tightened with concern as she waited for his judgment. “It’ll suit me jus’ fine.”
She let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m glad tae hear that.” She cocked her head to one side, staring at him intently, “Ye don’t much tae say, d’ya?” She smiled as if teasing him.
This time, he could not help but smile in return. Her carefree glee seemed to infect him, lightening the darkness that overcast his light. She met his eyes before looking around her.
“I suppose I should be goin’. There’re,” she paused, “many preparations tae make, an’ I doubt Angus’ll be qualmed long without me presence. May I return tomorrow?”
Kyle nodded. They stood there for a moment in awkward silence before Neilina gave him a nod and turned. Kyle watched as she walked away, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she traipsed over a hill out of sight. The last thing he saw was her fire-red hair glimmering beneath the small rays of sun breaking through the clouds.
As pleasant as Neilina’s encounter was, Kyle was relieved to find himself alone with his thoughts. Making it through the crowds was stressful enough without the stress of knowing his presence was noticed. For the first time since entering MacFarlane lands, Kyle felt like he could breathe.
The croft was small, a single room with a hearth, bed, and small table tucked into one corner. The rain picked up the moment Kyle stepped foot inside, as if the sky was waiting for him to enter before cracking open. To his relief, there was a small amount of kindling still piled next to the fireplace. He could hear the rain pelting the roof, and was relieved to find there were no leaks to worry about. Once the fire was lit, the croft warmed into a cozy hovel for him to hide until he found what he was looking for.
Once changed into dry clothes, Kyle unpacked his small bag. There was not much in there—the clothes on his back, a small portion of stale food, and a journal rolled up into a strip of leather. The windowless croft was dark except for the crackling flames in the hearth and the dying nub of a candlestick.
He traced his fingers over the worn leather protecting the loose-leaf pages of his account. Part of him wondered if there was any point to cataloguing everything. Not even his parents believed he was innocent. As he pondered what to write, Neilina’s smile distracted him.
He never met anyone quite like her, and with her, there came another challenge—maintaining this new identity he’d created in the moment. He never anticipated being interrogated like that, especially immediately upon arriving. He tapped the feathered quill to his chin as he replayed the encounter. Despite how beautiful and kind the woman was, she filled his heart with fear. There was much that could go wrong.
It was true that he spoke French, but only enough. On the morrow, he would be expected to tutor her in the language. He was confident he could keep a beginner learning until he had a chance to seek out and talk to his dear friend and only hope, Robert. If she discovered he was lying, though, it was all over. All it would take is one of his lies to be discovered before the little lady would traipse back to the Laird she called “father.” On the walk to the croft, he was reveling in his good fortune.
Now, with time to think, dread clutched at his insides. Neilina was dangerous. No matter how charming and innocent she seemed, he knew she had the power to end his life.
Neilina found it hard to concentrate as she went about her duties. She was relieved to find Angus had not stirred up too much trouble in the time she spent hunting out lodgings for her new, mysterious instructor.
It was her duty to oversee the preparations for the games. Normally, she took pride and joy in such occasions. This stranger, Robert, captivated her thoughts, and she was left in a daze. By nightfall, when she sat in her chambers combing out her tangled tresses, she surprised herself as she realized she hardly remembered what she had done for the hours since they parted.
When she saw him step in between Angus and the serving woman, she was already charging across the street to put a stop to it. The fearless way he stood in front of Angus had burned into her mind. He was like a slab of unmovable stone, silent and determined to prevent injustice to the stranger in his path. There was a pained look in his eyes, one that tore at her heartstrings and left her with a desire to heal him—to make the somber stranger smile, despite whatever troubled his soul.
That night, she found it hard to sleep as fear and excitement gripped her. Despite the minimal education she was allowed, she’d always loved to learn. The idea of learning French elicited visions of travel and adventure far beyond the confining walls of her keep and the expectations laid out by her family. Despite this hunger to see one of her dreams realized, as she stared up at her ceiling, she realized now that the decision was an impulsive one.
She knew nothing about the stranger she just housed and promised to pay. Neilina’s mind riled with the possible dangers she could be walking into. After all, he said he just returned from pilgrimage. Her immediate judgments were that this strange man was a pious man treading the world to become closer to God—a noble course. However, it occurred to her now that he might have walked the Via Francigena in penance in hopes of receiving a pardon from the Pope. Neilina rolled over and tried to guess what kind of crimes a man such as he might be guilty of until her heart raced. She forced the thoughts from her mind. No matter what, she knew she would go. She waited too long to pass up an opportunity such as this.
The next morning the sun fell through thin gray clouds. She could smell spring in the air—a mixture of moist soil and rain. Enthusiasm pulsed through her. Neilina completed her chores as fast as she could. It was all she could do to keep from running to the small croft.
She pulled her hair over her shoulders and took a deep breath to calm her excitement before rapping on the door. For a moment, as she waited, she feared he was not there or worse, her darker imaginations might be the truth. She looked around. There was only a small pocket of time before she was expected back down at the grounds where the games were to be held. Relief washed over her as she heard footsteps.
“Mornin’,” she smiled.
Kyle’s features were unreadable. There was a warmth in his green eyes that kept her smile from fading. She could see past his hard exterior. There was more to him than what met a first glance. He nodded to her in greeting and stood aside for her to enter.
Neilina looked about the small room and felt self-conscious. The entire croft was the same size, if not smaller, than her personal chambers. She looked at him, trying to judge if he was uncomfortable, hoping he might say something first to break the silence.
“I hope yer accommodations are tae yer likin’.”
Kyle sat down at the small table and gestured for her to sit across from him. “Aye, thank ye again.”
Neilina smiled at the reassurance. In truth, the place was warm and comfortable. Somehow the secret of their meeting added a layer of adventure to the place. She felt as if she was hiding away from the world. In that moment, it was just the two of them. Without the roar of their commotion to distract her, the games seemed distant. She could hear the rain pattering and the fire crackling, and felt both safe and at ease in the stranger’s presence.
Kyle did not waste time with pleasantries. He woke up that morning determined to use Neilina’s position to learn as much as he could to help himself. Lying to her and knowing that she served a purpose did not sit well with his conscience. Despite her friendly attempts, he tried to ice out her smile and focus their conversation on the lessons, overridden by guilt that her excited banter was playing naively into his calculated motives.
“I cannae express me gratitude,” Neilina confided. “If me Father had it his way, I’d never’ve learned tae read or write in the first place. He’d ne’er approve. Says it’s a waste o’ time fer a woman.”
Kyle watched the downcast of her features. She rubbed a rough scar on her left hand as she thought about her troubles a moment. He dared not ask about the scar, and tried his best not to stare at where her delicate fingers brushed back and forth over the uneven pink tissue.
Neilina looked up at Kyle. She was surprised he responded. They had sat across from one another at the table and the only words he spoke until that moment were about the basics of French. Even those were curt and to the point.
“Ye say so?” she pushed for more.
“I do.” He looked down at his hands a moment, his lips pressed into a firm line. Then he looked up, “I believe everyone should learn as much as they can, even a lassie as yerself. It’s in my experience those that keep people from learnin’ are usually the ones tryin’ tae keep ‘em from livin’ as well.”
Neilina was awe struck by the conviction she saw oscillating in his bright green eyes. It was a relief to meet someone open minded. Too often she had met her grievances regarding her education with solemn reprimands regarding respect and her father’s best interests.
“I wish more people thought like ye, Robert,” she stared off, through the walls of the croft, “I envy ye, y’know. Kyle chortled at this. It brought Neilina back into the room, back into her body. A smirk curled her lips up, “Ye think that’s funny, d’ya? Ye have no idea what I’d do tae see Rome,” she said with a heavy, dreamy sigh, and ruffled her curls. “I bet ye’ve been on all kinds o’ adventures.”
A smile stretched across her tutor’s face. Neilina could not help but feel a deep satisfaction at having put it there. “Aye, I ‘spose I have.”
Neilina wrapped her arms around herself. She looked at him nervously, wondering what he was thinking about her behind his unreadable features. “I want that.” She turned her gaze away from him, fearing that she might see judgment. When she finally looked up, there was nothing of the sort. His green eyes sparkled with admiration. A grin lifted his lips into a slight smile.
“My words are runnin’ away with me, an’ ye must think I’m foolish fer talkin’ so much about this nonsense.”
All at once, his face became cross. “I think nothin’ o’ the sort. Ye can talk as much as I can listen.” He nodded.
The seriousness with which he said this touched her heart. Neilina’s laughter filled the croft, and soon, his tension melted from his shoulders. She watched in gratitude as he relaxed into his seat.
“An’ it’s not nonsense—tae have dreams,” the tutor added. “I respect that about ye.”
This lit a flame in Neilina, encouraging her to unload her troubles to this willing and accepting ear. “I wish more people understood. Normally, I’m more content than this. It’s jus’, as o’ late, I….” her voice lowered as if she was talking more to herself, as if her mind was elsewhere, “have responsibilities as the Laird’s daughter than I cannae escape. The life o’ me youth is at an end.”
“Och, that’s nonsense,” Kyle said. “What have ye, twenty years?”
Neilina laughed at this, feeling a blush burn her pale cheeks, “Twenty and four. An’ ye don’t understand. It is endin’, at least how I ken it.” She paused, feeling her body weigh down with the uncertainty of her future, “Graham McDonnell,” she said, more to herself than to the stranger before her.
The name had a startling effect on the man. He snapped straight up in his seat, every muscle re-tightening. Neilina looked at him for a moment, a bit shocked by the way his attention refocused. He was a handsome man. Her eyes ran over the strength in his arms—their muscles defined, doubtless from the mastery of the blade slung over the back of his seat. She could see the intelligence in his green eyes. His hair curled, a dark brown with the slightest touch of red shining through. Although his features remained stoic for the most part, when he did smile, dimples touched his cheeks in a way that melted her with his charm.
Most of all, he left her curious and longing to know more about him. Everything about his posture and nature sang of mystery and adventure. There was an air to him that made him seem like a character from one of the fables that enraptured her throughout his youth. A pilgrim with a haunted past—an intellect and a warrior. Even though, he said nothing of it, she knew he was a warrior. She could see the look in his eyes, as if he’d witnessed more than scrolls and sanctuaries. What else was he keeping secret?
“D’ya ken him?” she asked, eying him suspiciously.
“Nay—I mean, o’ course I’ve heard o’ him.” His nerves started to settle. “How’re ye connected with the McDonnell’s?” He glowered at her.
The casual conversation tilted. She felt as if she was now on the stand. The truth was, she was longing for someone to confide in. All of her fears seemed to boil beneath the surface, begging to be released.
Neilina shook her head, wishing she could retract the name, “The McDonnells arrive tomorrow morn.” She ruffled her tresses, avoiding the stranger’s gaze, and added, “I have many duties tae keep.”
When she looked back at him, he was in deep thought. His index finger curled over his lips. His brows knitted together over his deep, green eyes. He said nothing in response, and Neilina was left questioning whether sh’d said too much. She was about to speak when the man suddenly looked up at her.
“I think it’s time we focus.” He gave her a smile that did not touch his eyes.
Neilina felt insecure, feeling as if she’d blundered and humiliated herself with her loose tongue. She swallowed and nodded, eager to get onto business. Determination to be a good pupil awakened within her. Something about the man’s stoic nature stirred a desire within her to impress him—to be a good student and earn his respect.
“I see ye brought yerself a quill. Are ye good with it?” he asked.
Neilina shrugged, diving her hands into her basket to bring out what tools she could find without rousing her mother’s suspicions.
“Let me ken if I need tae slow down, but ye should keep notes. I wrote this oot fer ye already.” Kyle slipped a half sheet of rag paper across the table. “It’s tha alphabet. I suggest practicin’ them morn and nigh’ if ye want tae move forward.”
Neilina glanced at the sheet before looking up at him perplexed, “’Tis English.”
Kyle shook his head and grinned, this time genuinely. “Nay, ‘tis French. It jus’ looks English. I want yeh tae repeat after me: a, beh, seh, deh, eh—”
Neilina tried her best to copy the way he pronounced each syllable. She struggled with how he pronounced “y” as “ee-grek” with a single roll of the “r.” Her face scrunched up in dismay as she mouthed the letters again to herself. Kyle gave her a moment before continuing.
“Ye’ll see I left ye space tae write on yer sheet,” he pointed to the blank margins above and below each letter. “Repeat after me again. This time, write how it sounds tae ye underneath the letter, so ye can practice on yer own.”
Seriousness washed over Neilina. The smile and good cheer faded from her features, replaced by a steely will to master her lessons. Kyle waited until her quill was full and in the ready position, hovering over the pages. Again, she repeated after him out loud. This time, it took longer to make it through, as they paused after each letter long enough for Neilina to write out the sounds, repeating them as necessary to ensure her accuracy. At one point, she let out a small growl.
“Give me a moment.” she withdrew a small knife from her basket and worked to remove the top layers of the rag paper, where she’d made a mistake. Kyle watched her with amusement, her full attention immersed in the task at hand.
They repeated this exercise until Neilina was able to say them without Kyle’s aid. She smiled the first time she made it through on her own, delight filling her eyes. She repeated them again, as fast as her tongue would allow only faltering when it would not roll the way Kyle’s did. There was a moment of silence as she stared at the parchment in thought. Kyle watched until she pushed her chair away from the table. The man nearly knocked his over as he scrambled to stand.
“I think it’s time I take me leave,” she pushed a curl from her face. “I fear I’ve stayed too long as t’is.”
“O’ course,” he said.
Neilina smiled at how seriously he spoke. “It’s been a pleasure. May I return on the morrow?”
“Aye,” he gave her a weak smile before opening the door.
Neilina paused at the threshold, not wanting to say goodbye. There was great comfort in being there with him. She felt as if she could unload every secret in her heart and never see a flicker of judgment cross his face.
Neilina forced herself to walk away. She only made it a few paces before she peeked back over her shoulder. He was staring at her. She could see those bright green eyes framed by chestnut curls watching her every move. It sent a thrill through her heart and lit a fire in her cheeks. Her day passed slowly, and everything she experienced, everything she saw, felt like something she wished to share with her new friend and instructor. She tucked it all away, longing to talk to him once again.
Back in the croft, Neilina’s words gave Kyle much to think about. Graham McDonnell was a man Kyle knew well. Up until the mention of his name, Kyle had been thinking of ways he might put off another tutoring session. This changed everything.
Graham McDonnell was the son of Laird MacDonnell. Until the moment Kyle was accused of treachery and forced into exile, Laird MacDonnell had planned to appoint Kyle as heir over Graham. This was not merely about that. Graham would know if Robert was there, and Robert was the only man Kyle could trust enough to help him. Although he was not proud of it, he knew Neilina was the perfect way to track the movements of the MacDonnells and gain the information he needed.
He did not think it would be hard—all he had to do was keep her talking, which she seemed willing enough to do. An involuntary smile crossed his face as he thought of her. She was spirited, and in truth, he loved listening to her talk. The conviction behind her words made her stand out as an unusual person. It sickened him to think of how he was using her. There was no other way that he could see to get around it. This was just another burden he had to bear if he ever wanted to return to his home.
That night, as the spring winds battered the walls of the croft, Kyle found himself thinking of ways he might make up for betraying Neilina. He hoped she never discovered his intentions behind staying on as her tutor, but he felt guilt and a debt to her nonetheless. Learning what he did with just their first lesson, he knew enough about her to know she was starving for adventure—a reprieve from the day-to-day mundane life carved out for her by her family. It was clear from how her eyes shone at the mention of his travels. She was helping him in more ways that she knew. He felt obligated to give her something in return.
Kyle thought furiously aobut ways he might delight her and add something to her life in exchange for all that he planned to take. It comforted his conscience enough for him to rest. By the time sleep found him, he discovered he was excited to see her again. He smiled as he tried to imagine what her reaction might be on the morrow.
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