Highlander’s Winter Rose (Preview)
“I am leavin’ now, grandmother. I promise to come see ye down at the monastery later.” Her auburn curls bounced as Rosallyn Grant shook her head before packing her hair up with a ribbon to keep the strands off her shoulders and face. The hair acted as though it had a life of its own, and after several hair-related incidences during her frolics in the woods, she learned that it was better to restrain it. She picked up the basket she had put on the ground and glanced back into the house where her grandmother was shuffling out of her bedroom with sleepy eyes. She smiled fondly as the old woman rubbed her face tiredly.
“Ye are leavin’ already me darlin’? It isnae even sunrise yet,” her grandmother said, peeking outside through the windows. It had been a whole month since her grandmother had slept at the house, so she knew that she would have wanted to spend more time together before she left again. Her grandmother helped with the sick at the monastery, so she only came to stay at the house once every month now that Rosallyn was an adult.
“Ye ken that I prefer to be early, grandmother. I like the quiet in the woods when it has nae woken up yet.” She pointed out, turning to leave. “I made ye pottage for the day, so ye dinnae have to cook when ye get to the monastery. See ye soon!”
With those words she set off, making her way into the woods with a bounce in her step. She breathed in the slightly moist morning air. Winter was coming soon; she could tell from the coolness that made her hug her cloak to herself and the sparse whiteness on the ground from early snow.
Rosallyn was a winter child, born with the beauty of the season etched into her features: eyes the color of the evergreen trees, skin as white as snow, and her lips as red as holly berries. It was said that her mother took one look at her and whispered her name, Rosallyn, saying she was like a single red rose in winter.
She saw a deer dart off towards the stream as she approached and angled her head to one side to dodge a low-hanging branch.
Ah, I cannae wait for the first day of winter. I miss faither.
She ignored the slight pang of her heart at the thought and continued on the forest path that her feet had beaten into the ground over the years. She loved the winter because it was the only time that her family would be complete. Her mother had died when she was very young, and although to the villagers the only family Rosallyn had left was her grandmother, this was untrue. She was the illegitimate daughter of Robert Grant, the General of their clan who was still very much alive.
The product of a love affair, Rosallyn could not live with her father as a noble and needed to live with her grandmother in their isolated little village instead. Her father loved her dearly, despite her status as an illegitimate child, and visited her often. However, it was during winter that he truly was her father, living in their cottage with them and preparing to celebrate her birthday on the first day of winter. Usually, he would have arrived by now, when the chill was just beginning to permeate the air, but he was just running a little late, she told herself.
Her father spent as much time with her as he could, teaching her ethics, politics, and regaling her with stories of the castle and the battles he led. She hung on to his every word. He was like a shining beacon in her eyes. He had visited them briefly a couple of weeks ago when he came to bring them some of his things in preparation for his stay and supplies that would keep them living comfortably.
He did not stay long, only having time to hug her and talk briefly while the servants offloaded the things that he had brought with him, taking them into the house. He told her of a brewing war and mentioned that he had decided to bring his things over early because the battle might take his time, so he would be a bit late for her birthday.
Ye are only nervous because father told ye he was preparin’ for war. He told ye he would return, did he nae?
Her father had indeed promised to return, assuring her that although he might be late, he would be there at the beginning of winter and he would have more stories for her after defeating the enemy. He had also promised, with a grin, to return with Boyd Tod, the only person from her father’s life as a noble who cared that she existed. The nobles knew of her as her father did not hide her existence, but they did not know her. She blushed at the memory of her father’s teasing looks as he told her what a handsome man Boyd had grown up to be.
Boyd was the handsome soldier boy who had come to the village with her father when she was fourteen. His being fifteen at the time, the two had been instantly infatuated with each other, blushing through every conversation and doing their best not to do anything embarrassing in the presence of the other.
She remembered standing at the kitchen window with a pie cooling on the sill, watching her father train him, his blond hair sticking to his sweaty forehead and his wiry frame rolling across the garden to dodge her father’s attacks. To her, he was the best-looking boy she had ever met, but then again, she had not met many other boys.
He came to visit with her father for the two years that he was under her father’s tutelage, but by the time she turned sixteen, she did not see him again. He had become a soldier and was now making his way up the ranks, no longer under her father’s tutelage. It had been seven years since she last saw him, and he had faded out of her memory, her time with him becoming something that only came to her in flashes, whenever she considered romance. In fact, she could hardly remember his face.
Ever since her father had mentioned bringing him, however, she had thought about him a lot more. His blue eyes and blond hair were the clearest memories she had of him, along with his wiry, shirtless frame. He was not a boy anymore. What would he look like now that he was a man? Would she still find him interesting or attractive? What about her? She had changed quite a bit over the years, her hips filling out into round curves to complete her hourglass shape.
Her grandmother told her that she was beautiful, but who knew what kind of women he had seen in the town? They were nobles after all. She nervously pulled her cloak even tighter around herself. She was twenty-three now, and romance was something that she needed to think about seriously. Her father seemed to think the same as he was already making jokes about Boyd, and why else would he be bringing him?
Stop overthinkin’ everythin’, Rosallyn. Father is goin’ to return soon, and Boyd will come along with him. Whatever happens then, will happen; there is nay need to give yerself a headache thinkin’ of it.
Her thoughts calmed her some, and she pushed off her thoughts, focusing more on her environment. She usually enjoyed her morning walks, but being distracted by troubled thoughts had already taken away from her routine of admiring the forest on her way to find grandmother’s favorite berries for pie.
She refocused her thoughts to her surroundings: the light of the rising sun, which was just beginning to touch the tops of the tall trees around her, making their leaves a lighter green at the top than those at the bottom where she walked. The dew on a spider’s web caught her eye, and she bent to watch as the sunlight hit the delicate strings, turning them into sparkling jewels in an instant. A light dusting of snow settled on some of the branches, the first snow for the season in the more mountainous regions.
A smile spread across her face at the beautiful sight, and she was just about to straighten up and continue on her path when something caught her eye behind the spiderweb. She straightened up with a frown, squinting at the spot a few feet away from where she stood.
“What is that?” she murmured to herself. “Is that… blood?!”
Immediately concerned, she rushed forward to the spot, touching her hand to the snowy ground and finding that it was indeed blood. It was in splotches, and as she looked forward, she found that the blood left a trail, like someone had been dripping blood as they made their way through the forest. She thanked the heavens that the bears were already hibernating for the winter. Her heart pounding in her chest, she followed the trail. It was not the wisest decision to follow a trail of blood in the woods, especially since she was straying from her path, but the thought that someone could be hurt at the end of the trail propelled her forward.
Luckily for her, it did not take long to find the source of the blood. The first thing she saw was the horse, obviously distressed as it stood beside the still form on the ground at the base of a tree. It was a man! She gasped slightly. Noticing her from her slight gasp, the horse started, neighing and raising its forelegs threateningly. It did not trust her.
She approached in a crouch, dropping her basket and putting her hands up; one eye on the injured, and clearly unconscious, man, and the other on the rearing horse.
“It is alright, calm down now, I am nae goin’ to hurt ye. I just want to help,” she said softly as she approached them. The horse calmed down some as she did not show any hostility and turned to its master instead, nudging the body on the ground and turning to look at her as though asking for help.
She hurried over to the man on the ground, wincing when she saw how much blood had dried on his clothes. From the tartan of his kilt, he was a man of her clan, and he was going to need a lot of treatment. Three arrows were stuck in his back behind his shoulders, and he seemed to have injuries on one arm from a sword. She bit her lip, worried. He did not look very good. He was lying on his face as though he had fallen, and his light brown hair covered most of his face.
He could die if she did not do something. His body was still warm, but it was too warm. If he did not die from his injuries, he just might die from the cold. She brushed his hair out of his face, nearly gasping again when his chiseled jawline came into view. Even with the dirt and grime, he was easily the most handsome man she had ever seen. His lips were plump, although pale from the cold, and his lashes brushed the skin beneath his eyes, softening his otherwise rugged features. She felt butterflies begin to dance in her belly and chided herself.
Rosallyn the man is dyin’! Now is nay time to appreciate his looks!
She needed to save him, but how? She shook him lightly, wondering if she could wake him. The thought was quickly discarded as he did not wake in the slightest. She could not even turn him over. The arrows in his back, which were plugging his injuries, would shift and break, making his injuries worse.
She made a split-second decision then., taking her basket and tying it to the horse. She was going to take him home, no matter how difficult it was. She grabbed his arms, lifting him just enough for his face to hover inches from the ground, and then she began the slow and treacherous journey of dragging him back home with his horse trailing behind her.
It felt like forever, but she finally managed to bring him home. His horse neighed in concern when she left him on the ground outside the house. Would her grandmother approve of her actions? She had brought a strange man home. She opened the door slightly and peeked into the house. The food that she had made was gone from the table, so that meant that her grandma had left the house.
She would save the man first, and then she would tell her grandmother when she went to the monastery later. She worked quickly, taking a knife from the kitchen and a thick cloth from her bedroom. She took the cauldron to the tool shed and set a fire there, filling the cauldron with water and setting it to boil with a knife in the fire.
She then went back to the man on the ground outside the house, loading him unto a cart with much difficulty, especially with the arrows in his back. By the time she succeeded, the sun had reached its peak in the sky and her cauldron of water was boiling. She pushed the cart into the toolshed and led the horse to the stables.
The first thing she did was cut his clothes off his body and remove his ghillies. When he was naked save for his kilt, she wiped him down with some water mixed with whiskey, cleaning him from all the blood and dirt, despite the heat in her face at the sight of his lean-muscled frame and his hard, defined buttocks. The sight of him caused her jaw to drop slightly and her thighs instinctively pressed together, though she did not fully understand what the desire was that filled her. She had never seen the body of a man before.
She had a vague idea from seeing Boyd by accident when they were younger, but Boyd had not been this muscular. His body was ridged with the definition of his muscles. What kind of training was he doing to have such a strong body? Every inch of him she touched was solid like rock; the only difference was that he was warm. She cleaned him the best she could without turning him over, lifting him slightly to wipe his face, his chest and his belly, avoiding his crotch as though it was poison.
Ye are providin’ a healin’ service. Ye cannae be carried away with his looks as a man!
She worked quickly, ignoring her heated cheeks. Now that she had wiped him completely, she could clearly see his injuries. The only injuries he had were the three arrows protruding from his back, the slash in his arm, and his twisted ankle, which was swollen and purple. She got to work on making him warm first. She got water from the boiling cauldron and wet the cloth. She then placed the steaming cloth over his head.
The first injury she took care of was the slash in his arm. She cleaned it with pure whiskey again from the blood that had begun to flow, and seared it with the hot knife. Her father and grandmother had taught her how to do these things, but she still winced when the hot metal touched his flesh, sizzling and letting off the smell of burning meat. He moaned in pain beneath the hot cloth, but he did not wake. She quickly rubbed the seared flesh with her grandmother’s herbal balm and wrapped it up with clean cloth.
His back was trickier to handle where the arrows had gone in because the blood that had dried around them was keeping the injuries sealed. She doused his back in whiskey and wiped around each arrow carefully before she began the terrible task of yanking each arrow out. She quickly pressed a whiskey-soaked rag to the wound to suck up the blood that began spilling out, and then she seared the wound closed with the hot knife, She covered each burn with a generous amount of her grandma’s balm.
He continued to stir as she worked, but it was not until she was working on the wound made by the third arrow that he finally came to, the pain becoming too much to sleep through.
Maximus woke up to agonizing pain and the smell of burning flesh. His head was spinning, and he could not comprehend anything other than the fact that he was in pain. He felt hot, and something was burning. Was he in hell? Everything was dark. He struggled to make sense of things, yelling in pain and beginning to thrash about involuntarily, his body rejecting the current situation it was in.
“Calm down! Calm down! Ye are alright. Ye are alright, Mister. I am tryin’ to save ye, so please relax!” a female voice shouted, sounding panicked. He froze then, feeling cool fingers against his back where the pain was concentrated. A woman? Where did she come from? Did she say she was trying to save him?
“Hold on. Ye were runnin’ a fever, and I was tryin’ to help ye break it,” she said again, lifting a heavy cloth from his head that he had not even realized was there. “I soaked this in some boiled water and used it to keep ye warm.” He blinked in the sudden light, his eyes darting about. He was in an unfamiliar place. It looked like a tool shed. He could see the flames from a fire nearby, and there was a red-hot knife on a table beside him. There were no enemies in sight. He perked up at the instinctive thought.
Enemies? Why would I be worried about enemies?
“I am sorry for the pain; I was closing up yer wounds with the knife,” the female voice said again, distracting him from his thoughts. He wanted to raise his head and try looking at her, but he could not bring his head up, all the pain that he had been unable to feel before had now come upon him with a vengeance. His ankle was throbbing, and the pain in his back and his arm were searing. Every inch of him was hurting, and she was right. He did indeed have a fever, and he couldn’t stop shivering.
“Ye were out in the cold all night. I was worried that ye might nae make it. It is a miracle that I was strong enough to bring ye in.” He felt something cool press against his burning back and realized that she was soothing his injuries with a salve. She was indeed helping him as the pain from the burn subsided, but only just slightly. He felt stiff; his body refusing to move as if it knew that the slightest movement would result in pain.
“Are ye alright?” she asked, as he had not said a word to her yet. “All that is left now is yer ankle. It might get a little painful…”
“Thank… Thank ye,” he rasped out, realizing now that he spoke how dry his throat was. She was right. It was painful to treat his ankle. Her hands were small but firm as she massaged the injured ankle with icy water, pressing it back into place. He groaned in agony from the pain, gasping in relief when she was finally done and began to bandage it.
He was sweating, already tired when the day had only just begun. She draped a cloak over him, and only then did he notice that he was naked. It was like an exclamation in his head, the realization. What kind of woman was so calm with a naked man before her? Was he so dull that he did not affect her?
Nay, she is a healer, ye dobber. To a healer it doesnae matter if ye are man or woman. Ye are simply one in need of treatment
He answered his own questions the moment he asked them, but he still felt odd. She sounded quite young for a healer. She came to stand by his head then, bending so that she could feed him some water, and he was so surprised that he forgot to drink. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.
Everything about her had him entranced. Her curls looked as though they were aflame against the paleness of her skin, and he wanted nothing more than to hold his hand out to that flame. Her bright green eyes shone with kindness and stood out of her diamond-shaped face in such a way that they competed with her hair in terms of grabbing his attention. Her lips, as she smiled at him, were like ripe berries begging to be plucked, and it certainly did not help that when she leaned over like that, he could see the fullness of her cleavage in her bodice. He was stricken, his throat suddenly dry but from a different type of thirst.
“Dae ye nae want to drink?” she asked, holding the cup up again. Startled, he realized that he had been staring at her like an idiot. He drank quicky and almost gagged. What was in the cup was not water but a warm vegetable broth, something he would have noticed if he were not so distracted by her. She chuckled at his facial expression.
“Sorry, it does nae taste the best, but ye need it,” she said. He drank it gratefully despite the bitter taste. It was warm, and it not only soothed his throat, but made him feel better. He watched her as she tipped the cup to help him empty it. For some reason her eyes looked familiar. Had he met her before? He was sure that he had not, but he could not shake the feeling.
Satisfied that he had drank all of his medicine, she got up. He craned his neck to continue looking at her; her presence calmed him. It did not take long for her to return, however, as she only went to fill a bucket with hot water from the cauldron. She gave him a calming smile, sitting in front of him again.
“I am going to wipe through yer hair with this cloth now. Ye were on the ground in the forest, and I suspect ye might have an injury on yer head as well. The water is hot, so it might sting,” she said. He nodded; her voice made him relax. His mind was empty, and he could barely even feel the pain from his body anymore.
She was right. He did have a bump on his head, and he flinched when she touched it while she cleaned. Noticing his reaction, she focused on the spot, pressing down on it and making him grit his teeth. It was painful, but not as much as his ankle had been. It was probably after he fell from his horse that he got that injury.
When he fell from his horse? Right, that was correct; he had a horse.
“Me horse…?” he managed to say, his words posing as a question.
“Ah, yer horse is fine. I took him to the stables and gave him some food and water. He is very loyal. He stayed with ye and followed me home when I took ye. He is very well trained. We dae nae find such horses so easily. Ye must be someone important,” she said, smiling slightly.
Someone important… What?
He gasped as his memories of the day before returned to him in painful flashes, triggered from her words.
“Ye are too important to die here…”
The words came back to him, and he groaned in agony, grabbing his head. Since he woke up, he had not had reason to consider who he was, so it had not come to him. He had been distracted by the pain of his treatment, such that he could not even think of how he got those injuries.
Now it all came back to him. He was the second son of Robert Mackay, the Laird of the Mackay clan. He was a Commander in his father’s army and had been looking forward to when he would become a general to serve his older brother, Alexander Mackay, who was to be Laird after their father.
He was a happy young man who loved and was loved by his family, content with all that he had. Now everything had been taken from him. His anguish overtook him, and he wept, forcing himself into a sitting position, even as the young woman who had just treated him panicked.
“Wait, ye can nae move like that. Ye will hurt yerself! Mister! What is the matter? Please calm down!” she was saying. He could hear her, but she sounded far away as his emotions wreaked havoc inside him.
We should never have left the castle… We should never have left…
He sobbed like a child, not caring that he was in front of a woman, the bodies of his father and brother clear in his mind’s eye. He felt bile rise in his throat and lurched forward just in time to vomit everything in his belly.
“Oh, me God!” the young woman exclaimed as he threw up. She hurried to get the things to clean up after him, even as he dry-heaved, his body retching even though he had nothing else to throw up.
“It is an ambush! We have been betrayed!”
The General’s voice echoed in his mind. Betrayal. They had been betrayed by those they trusted. He wished he could go back in time, so he would never have trusted them. His chest ached with emptiness, and his mouth was bitter with the aftertaste of his vomit and the medicine that he had just drank.
He was full of loss, sadness and rage; someone needed to pay. He needed to make them pay. He forced himself to stand up, but he had greatly miscalculated his strength. Nausea hit him the moment he was upright, and for the second time, he collapsed to the ground, succumbing to the darkness of a faint.
His nightmare had started two weeks ago. He had been standing on the balcony in his chambers with his brother beside him.
“I am nae sayin’ that I dinnae like her. She is beautiful and intelligent, and by God, I am drawn to her. What I am sayin’ is that she terrifies me sometimes,” his brother Alexander had been saying, confiding in him the state of his romantic affairs with the daughter of the Laird of the Kellgan clan. As heir to the Lairdship, Alexander needed to get married soon, and he was betrothed to Elaise, the daughter of the Kellgan Laird, who was quite the woman from what Maximus had heard. Maximus had been laughing at his brother.
“Oh, please. Ye are just scared of her because she can best ye with a sword,” he had teased, causing Alexander to fix him with a sour look.
“Ye take that back right now!” his brother had demanded, making him guffaw. Elaise was known as the strongest woman in the Highlands, fighting as a warrior, just as though she were a man. She bested soldiers in battles for her own entertainment, and she was a brilliant strategist. Maximus did not blame his brother for being somewhat worried.
He had been in the middle of dodging his brother’s playful slaps when a guard interrupted them, bowing at the waist.
“I am sorry, Alexander Younger, Commander,” he said, greeting them first. “There is an emergency council meetin’, and ye two are urged to attend immediately.”
If Maximus had known that would be the last time he would laugh so freely with his brother, he would have tarried a while longer. Instead, he had exchanged a glance with his brother and hurried off towards the council room. Maximus still remembered the somber look on the faces of his father and General Grant as he walked in with Alexander.
The council had been called because their spies had brought them news that assassins were after Alexander’s life. An anonymous request for his death had been put out with a high reward, and so several assassins were gearing up to try their luck at taking his life. His expression had mirrored his brother’s surprised one at the news.
He had not understood why anyone would want to kill his brother. Their clan was successful, but they were also peaceful, having alliances with almost all the nearby clans. Alexander had also been one of the most unproblematic men in all the Highlands, so there was no way he could have culled anyone’s wrath.
Alexander could handle himself in a battle, but with the number of assassins who were reported to have taken interest, it was cause for great concern. Alexander was the Younger of the clan, and his security was a priority. The council had assigned soldiers who would be beside his brother at all times, and although Maximus had wanted to be the commander in charge of protecting him, his father and General Grant had refused.
He had instead been placed on General Grant’s team, and they were tasked with finding out the source of the request. He had been unhappy about it, having wanted to stay beside his brother and protect him, but he saw the sense in finding the source as that person was the main enemy.
Their first lead was the money. Who would have that much gold to put on Alexander’s head, and why? While the council was debating that, Maximus had watched his brother, who remained quiet while staring at the floor. Alexander was very intelligent, so he knew that he was trying to solve the problem with logic, looking over every possibility.
As such, it was Alexander who first pointed out that the source was one of the bordering clans, and narrowed it down to the small clan, Ross. He came to that conclusion after fighting off three attempts on his life in the space of a week. He had then come to the dungeons while Maximus interrogated the assassin he had caught. He had asked where the assassin would have gone to collect his reward, and the assassin confessed that they were directed to wait in the forest bordering the clan, and they would receive their pay that very day and be on their way.
The members of the council were skeptical when Alexander told them his suspicions as Ross did not have the forces nor the wealth to go against them. It made no sense because there was nowhere that Ross would get such gold. His brother had been adamant, however, trusting in his instincts.
He had been right, and Maximus wished that they all had taken his word for it. The council had refused to go after a clan with nothing but speculations, and Maximus and General Grant had been put in charge of investigating all the bordering clans, as they accepted, from the confession of the assassin, it was probably a bordering clan. He had seen the tired look on his brother’s face as they left the council room and followed to ask him why he thought it was Ross.
Alexander had confessed to him that at his betrothal feast to Elaise, the Laird Donald of clan Ross had been a bit strange, and that he had been unable to shake the feeling that the man was up to something foul. He had also compared all the other neighboring clans and their Lairds, knowing that none of them would want his life.
His brother had given him a tired smile then, and waved off his conviction, saying that Maximus did not have to take him too seriously and should focus on the investigation of the neighboring clans equally. Maximus had believed him, and he wished that he had told him that. He had gone against the council’s wishes after that, focusing on the Ross clan in his investigation. He finally was able to bribe a castle servant who told him that carts full of gold had been snuck into the castle every night in Ross. The servant who talked said that he had no idea where the gold came from, but any servant who caught sight of the smuggling and mentioned it was immediately killed.
He had hurried home to tell the council of this, pointing out that Alexander was most likely right. If Ross was smuggling gold, then it not only meant that they did indeed have the money to hire so many assassins, but they also were not up to anything good. Telling the council was the worst mistake he ever made. He had a moment of gratification as the council seemed to finally take Alexander seriously, and his brother had sent him a grateful look. However, it was that moment that led to their downfall.
If he had been more suspicious, he would have told only his father, brother, and General Grant. If he had been more willful, he would have gone after Ross himself. Anything would have been better than telling the council. They played their parts well, commending Alexander for being so smart and beginning the preparations for a battle with Ross if necessary.
He wished he had known that it was all a trap that day. They had prepared everything for battle, and General Grant had taken Maximus along with three other commanders and their soldiers. They had begun the march to Ross and were halfway there when a lone soldier had come riding from the castle, covered in blood. “The castle was under attack,” he said to Maximus and General Grant who were bringing up the rear with one of the other commanders.
Not long after they left, the enemies who had been disguised as members of the clan attacked. Some members of the council allowed them in, and they had led them straight to his father and brother. The guards and all the members of the council who were innocent and still stood for Mackay were slaughtered.
Maximus had seen red at those words, but he did not even have the time to react. In the next second, the commander beside him lopped off the head of the soldier who had brought the news. He had been unable to do more than blink in shock for a few seconds as blood splattered his clothes. It was not just the council who had rebelled, but the commanders too.
General Grant was quicker to react, and he had his sword out and swinging at the offending commander in a second. Suddenly, men who had been part of their army were attacking the soldiers under him and General Grant. Suddenly he was shedding the blood of his own clansmen who were trying to take his life.
All he had wanted was to break through them and return to his father and brother, but General Grant had told him to run away. Stubborn as he was, he refused to believe that Alexander and his father were dead. Maybe if he was able to fight and go back, he would get there in the nick of time to help them stay alive. It was a childish dream, and it was snatched away from him when Donald Ross appeared with the Ross soldiers, dragging the bodies of his father and brother behind his horse.
He should never have left the castle. He could not even remember what his brother’s face had looked like before he left. Had he even seen his face? He was so focused on going to fight the enemies that he had not paid attention to Alexander who was surrounded by guards and waving at him. He had waved back and given a confident salute, but he should have gone to him and hugged him, maybe made a joke that would make them both laugh, something so that their last moment together would have had more meaning.
How could things have gone so wrong? It was his tears that woke him from his slumber the second time, and the first face he saw was that of the maiden who had treated him. She looked so concerned, leaning over him with her hands cradling his face and wiping his eyes. He was sobbing like a baby, his pain pouring out from deep within him. He had lost everything, even General Grant.
Perhaps if he had stayed, he would have been able to save his brother. If he had left when General Grant told him to, then maybe General Grant could have escaped as well. Instead, his stubbornness had led to the death of the one man who was still on his side in the clan. What was he going to do now? What use was he to the clan in his state, all battered and broken?
“I dinnae ken what has happened or how to help ye, forgive me…” she said sorrowfully. Maximus could not have moved if he wanted to. His body was not responding to him, and all he could do was cry.
Ye are so pathetic, Maximus. Is this the face ye want to show yer father and brother? Where is yer strength?
Despite his harsh thoughts, he still could not bring himself to stop crying. He was too weak to pretend to be strong. He knew that it was only a matter of time before they would look for him. Now that the usurper had killed his father and brother, he was the only other person who could stake claim to the Lairdship. The only reason why they had not given chase immediately was probably because the usurper had more important tasks at hand.
He would need to solidify his position as the new Laird, asserting his place with the nobles and getting rid of all those who did not accept him. Besides, what good would Maximus’s return be if he could not find any supporters among the noblemen? Additionally, he would need to deal with the Lairds from the neighboring clans as well. Not everyone would be happy to have an alliance now that the Lairdship had changed hands, and if the usurper was not careful, he might have a war on his hands. It was a delicate situation, one certainly more important than finding Maximus.
Maximus was also as good as dead from the usurper’s point of view. He had been badly injured and running away into the freezing night with nothing but his horse. If not for the woman who had saved him, he would surely have died.
After the usurper finished setting thing up to his liking, he was going to look for Maximus’s body. If he did not find it, then he would know that Maximus was alive and come for him. All he could hope for was that the search took long enough for him to recover; otherwise, when they came, it would lead to his death and the death of the woman who had saved him.
His savior… She was still wiping his tears, cradling his head in her lap as though he were a child. She had begun to sing, her voice like the quiet laps of the loch against the shore. He closed his eyes, his sobs dying down as her voice comforted him. She knew nothing about him, or how he came to be so injured, yet her voice carried such warmth, and her hands were so tender.
I dinnae even ken her name, was his last thought before he drifted again into a deep sleep.
He had finally stopped crying, his soft breathing letting Rosallyn know that he had fallen asleep again. She breathed a sigh of relief, brushing his hair out of his face. Whatever had happened to him, it was obviously bad, soul-crushingly bad. It had woken him despite the medicine that she had fed him after his outburst and collapse.
She had been panicking, trying to remember what it was that she said that caused him to react that way. He had been dazed after he woke up, obviously in too much pain to think, but something she said had stirred his memories. Memories which obviously were way more painful than his physical injuries.
She was shocked when he began to thrash about, forcing himself to his feet despite her worried cries and his many injuries. He had lost so much blood she knew his body would be too weak to do anything. However, his anguish had propelled him. He looked so tortured that she could not even reach out to him in that moment. His eyes seemed to see something else beyond her.
When he collapsed, she had been expecting it, yet her hands flew to cover her mouth. She had only just treated his wounds, and his outburst had made them worse. He had opened the freshly closed injury on his arm and put his weight on his bad leg. He had managed not to open the injuries on his back but instead, had fallen on the dirty shed floor, and he was completely naked.
With her face as red as her hair and her eyes focused on his face so that they would not stray, she knelt beside him and fed him the medicine. It would help him recover his blood, but it would also weaken him and keep him asleep for a while. It seemed that being conscious was only going to make him hurt himself. She had then drawn a hot bath in the bath house and carried him there on a cart with his horse. She slid him into the hot water to help soothe his aches as well as wash him a second time now that his injuries were dealt with.
She massaged his leg again in the hot water, and when she was satisfied, she pulled him out and put him back on the cart, taking him inside the house by herself now. She had never been happier about the fact that their home had no stairs. She pushed the cart as far in as she could and transferred him to the bed where she dressed his wounds and bandaged them, pressing his ankle again with ice and bandaging it tighter.
It was already evening by the time she was finished, and her stomach growled violently, reminding her that she had not eaten anything since breakfast. She had taken the cart back outside first and swept the dirt out of the house before going to return his horse to the stables and feeding it again.
Content that everything was in order, she returned to the house to light the fire pit when the moon had already risen in the sky and crickets chirped. She ate her pottage lukewarm and took some broth to feed the injured man. She was hungry even when she had eaten breakfast, so she knew that he was probably ravenous. She could not feed him anything solid, but the meat broth she managed to make him drink would nourish him a bit. She had just finished feeding him when he began to cry in his sleep.
She removed his head from her lap tentatively, a worried frown etched on her face. What could be so bad that it would make a grown man cry that way? His anguish was so heavy that it filled the air, and she could feel it. Her worry grew as she once again thought of her father. He was kind and compassionate, just like her, so he would have taken in such a man as well. However, he might have been better at comforting him where all she could do was put him to sleep.
She had dressed him in her father’s clothes, which had been left in his room. She had never dressed a man before, nor had she bathed one. She was so embarrassed that simply thinking of it had her holding her hands to her red face. If he were less attractive, then perhaps it would have been easier on her, but the man was incredibly handsome, causing her heart to skip a beat every time she looked at him.
She had thought his back muscles were impressive, but looking at him from the front had her blessing the heavens that he existed. He was so impressive, every inch of him honed to near perfection. His stomach sported the proud muscles of a six pack beneath his muscled chest and his obliques stood out in lined ridges. He was beyond impressive.
She stretched tiredly; it was time to go to bed. Since she had put him in her room, it meant she would have to sleep in her grandmother’s bedroom. She stopped at the bedroom door and looked back at him. He was sound asleep now, but she wondered if he would be alright all through the night. What if he woke up and began to weep again? Even worse, what if he had another moment where he got up and injured himself?
She sighed and went to bring her grandmother’s blankets so that she could sleep on the floor. She set up her sleeping space and, after some deliberation, went to put out the fire pit, lighting a candle in the room instead. If he did wake up at night, he might be less inclined to panic if he found light instead of darkness. She dropped the candlestand on the table and yawned.
The hard work she did to rescue him was finally catching up with her. She was exhausted, and her body ached. She nestled into the blankets gratefully and hugged her pillow.
Ah, I am goin’ to ache for a while, but it certainly was worth it, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
If you liked the preview, you can get the whole book here
If you want to be always up to date with my new releases, click and...
Follow me on BookBub