Once Upon a Highland Night (Preview)
Ayr, Scotland 1296
Emilie’s hands trembled as she combed her black hair behind her shoulders. Her maid, Isobel, had prepared her perfectly for her wedding night. She was dressed in a gossamer-thin white gown, cinched at the waist, falling delicately to the floor with a wide-open neck that revealed a hint of her shoulder. It was a beautiful gown indeed, but its revealing nature only made Emilie’s tremors worse. In the mirror before her, she could trace her body’s outline, especially the curve of her breasts. Her entire body was on show. More than anything, she wanted to grab the nearest cloak and wrap it tightly around her shoulders to hide herself from view.
She pushed away from the mirror and paced up and down the room for a minute, wringing the comb in her hands with fear. Each step across the wolf-skin rug plodded softly, much softer than the thud of her racing heartbeat in her chest.
This is what is expected of me. I know that.
Yet knowing it and going through with it were two entirely different things.
Walking down the aisle earlier that day, she had seen her future husband for the very first time. She had noticed that the Scottish Laird’s son was a handsome man, but, beyond that, he held no charm. On the contrary, his black eyes bored into her, making her think when she first saw him that she was looking at a demon rather than a human being.
Even if she had put up an objection to the match, she knew it would not have been listened to. Her father was making this connection between their families with a clear design in mind; he wanted an alliance and wealth. Her father was the aging Lord Bolingbroke, who had frittered away most of his money in supporting campaigns of the English King. With his estate bordering Scotland, Lord Bolingbroke had many connections with the Northern Clans, and when he had heard that Laird MacManus was looking for a wife for his eldest son and heir, he had jumped at the chance. With this connection, he would ensure the future of his estate and have a friend to help him with his financial affairs.
Initially, Emilie had been glad, hearing of the union. She had always had a fascination with the Scottish countryside that laid beyond her father’s estate in England, and she had no wish to stay with her father, for he was a cruel man indeed.
Yet, Stewart MacManus had proved on their wedding day alone that he may well be no kinder than her father.
Emilie tossed the comb onto the nearest table and wrapped her arms around her body, tormented by the thought that she would now have to give her body to that man.
The ceremony itself had been fine. They had gone through all the Scottish customs; they had done the wedding walk preceded to the church by a piper; and they had drunk from the quaich after the ceremony was finished. Emilie had watched with some disgust as Stewart gulped from the quaich, dribbling the whisky down his pale chin. After the first tot of whisky, Stewart’s manner had gone from hardened indifference to leering.
At the feast and celebrations, he had been polite and courteous, Emilie presumed for his father’s sake. At almost every opportunity when the Laird was turned away, Stewart had turned to Emilie, who sat uncomfortably beside him, and he had drawled disgusting things in her ear, just loud enough for a few friends around to hear. He had drunk so much that, by the time they stood to perform the grand march together to the sound of pipers, he could barely stand straight. Instead, he steadied himself by grabbing hold of her hips, the action hidden from the Laird’s view by the crowd of wedding guests.
In short… she was disgusted by him.
He was no gentleman, despite his noble position in the clan, and not a kind word had crossed his lips since the wedding, only promises of disgusting things she really did not want to do.
Emilie froze in her walk up and down the rug as she heard sounds in the corridor. They were footsteps, belonging to someone with a heavy build. It had to be him. Stewart had come to take exactly what he wanted from her. Emilie shivered at the recollection of all that he had said to her during the feast.
“I cannae wait to see what that bonnie wee face of yers is like pressed into the bed tonight.”
She had walked away from him after that one, truly horrified, but it was hardly the worst thing that he had said.
“Ye hardly look eager,” he had mused, placing a large meaty hand on her rear with a firm slap, “Aye, did that make ye jump? Perhaps ye will be one of those lasses that like a few strikes in bed.”
She had attempted to run that time too, and take solace with Isobel across the room, but he wouldn’t let her run. He had placed two hands on her hips, drawing her back to him in front of all of his friends, who merely laughed at the “nervous Sassenach bride.”
The footsteps stopping outside her door brought her back to the moment at hand. The sound brought her to a sharp realization as she looked around the castle chamber in panic. Ordinarily, she would have thought it a fine chamber, but tonight, the room seemed more like a prison. The cavernous ceiling was simply a taunt that she could not climb up to make her escape, the white stone walls barricaded her in with no other doors to be had, and the fireplace, that was twice the size of her, was roaring with flames so high that she could not step inside it to hide.
The door handle began to twist, creaking before the door opened, and Emilie stepped back, moving off the rug until her bare feet padded onto the cold stone floor. The door swung open slowly, revealing in the candlelight the face of Stewart MacManus. Her husband.
His face twisted into a devilish grin as his black eyes found her.
“I’m pleased to see ye dressed for the occasion,” the grin grew even more wicked as he stepped inside and closed the door, the loud thud making her flinch, “but ye willnae need to wear that for long.”
He walked toward her.
I can’t do this. I can’t do it!
She had made up her mind. She would refuse him. As her husband, he had just vowed to protect her, to honor her wishes and her body entirely, and therefore, she had a right to object if she wasn’t ready, and he would have to accept.
She jumped away as he got closer, quickly rounding one of the Savonarola chairs in the room. He stopped as she did this and tilted his head to the side, as though intrigued.
“Ye goin’ to make this difficult for me, Sassenach?”
“I do not wish to do this tonight,” she said quickly, wrapping her arms across her body, trying to hide the curve of her breasts that were visible through the dress.
“Oh?” Stewart stalked her again, stopping on the other side of the chair. He was not the tallest man in the world, but he was broad and thickly built. She was tall, but with her lithe figure, she felt dwarfed by him.
“Please, can we just…” she swallowed, struggling past the dryness in her mouth, “Wait… for a little time?”
“What for?” He was frowning now.
“I do not know you,” she shook her head, holding his black gaze, “I am not ready to give you…” she looked down at her own body, hoping it would give him enough explanation.
“Whether ye’re ready to give it or nae is beside the point.”
“I beg your pardon?” She looked up sharply in surprise.
“If ye willnae give it…” he paused, emphasizing his meaning as his meaty hands clenched the arms of the chair, “then I will take it.”
“You wouldn’t.” She backed away, but it was of no use. With his grasp on the chair, he toppled it over, giving him a free path to her. He stalked forward, until her back hit the stone wall beside her. Just before he reached her, she dived to the side, moving away across the room. “Please, Stewart, I told you, I do not want to do this!”
“It’s a while since I took a screamer,” he laughed to himself before slowly turning around to face her again.
The truth of these words hit her hard, as though the vaulted stone ceiling had collapsed on her head.
He’s forced himself on others before… and he intends to do the same with me.
He walked toward her again, clearly still drunk as he swayed with the movement. His inebriated state was the only thing that gave her an advantage. She dodged his grasp and ran across the room, jumping across the bed to make her escape before landing on the other side and sprinting for the door.
“Emilie!” he yelled after her as she reached for the door. She fumbled for the handle, desperate to be free, but he was too quick.
Her body was slammed against the door as he fell against her.
“No!” she screamed as he stood straight again. He began to drag her back across the room, pulling her away from the door by her waist. “Let go of me! Or I will scream this castle down and let everyone here know just what kind of man their future Laird is!”
“They willnae hear ye,” he scoffed, still tussling with her, “Why do ye think I asked them to put yer chamber in the west wing of the castle? Few people go here. Now, down.”
With this order, she was pushed to the floor on top of the wolf skin.
“No! Release me,” she tried to scramble away again, but to no avail. He struck her across her cheek.
She yelped and tried to cower away from him as she covered her cheek. He used the pause in her fight to pin her down to the ground. His knees were on either side of her hips, holding her in place as he began to undress her.
Emilie watched with horrified eyes as he pulled at his cotte, the long navy-blue tunic he wore. He pulled it over his head and followed it quickly with his linen shirt, tossing them to the side of the room. His chest was revealed to her, broad and scarred from battle. He leaned down toward her, bracing his hands on either side of her head.
“No!” Emilie cried again and renewed her struggle to be free.
She was determined not to be taken by him. She couldn’t live a life like this. That she had escaped one man’s cruelty just to be wedded to another man, who was now proving himself to be much worse, was unthinkable! If she let him take her, this would keep happening.
I will not live a life like that.
She tried to push him off her. With her hands against his chest, she shoved and tried to kick out, but he was much too strong for her, holding her down easily. He grabbed her neck, holding her still as she tried to scream for help. The sound died in her throat.
“Good,” he drawled, “I like a screamer.” His words alone made her want to be sick. His other hand went for her gown, trying to lift up the material.
She tried to change position in his hold, releasing one of her hands just enough to reach out toward his face – she scratched his cheek, not holding back from trying to cause pain.
He yelped, rearing back enough to give her time to scramble up. She moved to her knees and managed to get to her feet. Her eyes were on the door once again. She would run and sprint through the corridors as fast as she could. Yet, before she had even taken one step, he had recovered himself.
His hand was on her ankle, pulling her back down.
She screeched now, as loud as she possibly could, as she thudded back against the floor, face first on the wolf-skin rug. He flipped her over, his strength impossible to fight, and then he grabbed something from his boot.
“Enough!” he roared. The thing he had grabbed from his boot was a knife. He held it to her throat, and her screech died. She could feel the first tears slipping down her cheeks as the knife cut her skin.
She didn’t dare move, out of fear that he would garrot her completely.
She had never been so afraid, nor hated a man so much. He was not only going to force her but force her on pain of death.
“Ye are mine now, Emilie,” he leaned toward her, pressing the knife harder. The tip was against the curve of her neck just under her chin. She didn’t even dare swallow as it pierced her. A lonely bead of blood trickled down the center of her throat.
“You think because I am your wife you can force me to do this?” she whispered with rage and fear. The words were barely audible, as she was now too afraid to move.
“That is me right as yer husband,” he spat the words, as he reached down with his other hand and moved her legs.
She winced as he propped her legs up either side of his hips and began to gather the gown around her hips.
“It is not your right,” she defied him, but he barely seemed to notice, “You do this now, and I will never forgive you for it. You will have a wife for the rest of your life who will despise you every time she looks at you.”
“Good,” that wicked grin was back in place, “Then ye’ll squirm this much every time I take ye.”
Emilie’s skin burned with fury at his words.
No, I cannot let this happen! I would sooner die than live a life like this.
That gave her the confidence she needed to fight against the blade at her throat.
Stewart was distracted, looking down as he moved the last part of her gown aside. It allowed her to move in his grasp, angle her head just enough to clomp down with her teeth on his wrist. The gash was now so bad at her throat that it would undoubtedly scar, but she pushed through the pain.
He bellowed loudly, rearing backward in his attempt to get away from her. The knife fell to the floor by her head. For a moment, as his yell faded, they just stared at one another; her blue eyes on his dark ones. Then he went for her again.
She grabbed the dagger from beside her head and aimed it forward, just as he threw himself down over her again.
“Arrrhhh!” the cry that came was unearthly, as though some kind of mythical creature had made it rather than Stewart.
Emilie’s hand was shaking as she looked down at the dagger within her grasp. It was lodged in the center of Stewart’s chest, with blood pooling so quickly around the handle that it poured like a river onto her white gown.
Emilie wasn’t sure how long she sat there in shock, but much had changed.
She was now halfway across the room, still on her knees on the floor with her hands and her dress blood-stained. She was crying, the tears coming so fast that she couldn’t contain them, her body wracked with the gasps. She couldn’t believe what had happened, couldn’t bear what she had done… Stewart was dead. All at her hand.
There were footsteps passing the door followed by a soft knock.
“Yes?” Emilie said through the gasps of her tears.
“My Lady? Is something wrong?” Isobel’s voice came from the other side of the door; clearly, she could hear Emilie crying.
“Isobel! Don’t come in here!” She panicked, looking between the closed door and the body.
“What has happened?” The door handle turned, as though Isobel was about to walk in and see just what Emilie had done.
Emilie had never been so distraught.
“Please, Isobel. Don’t come in.”
“Then tell me what has happened, my Lady.”
“He… he…” she said between her gasping cries. She looked back, watching the last ounce of life in Stewart as it faded. He was on his side, crumpled with the dagger in his chest. His black eyes flickered shut once, opened again, and then they turned glacial. He would not ever move again.
She couldn’t keep this a secret. The realization of it struck her; and she bent forward, holding her blood-stained arms to her chest.
“You can come in.”
The door opened and Emilie looked back to see Isobel there. The young face of her only friend in the world shifted from panic to utter horror. The maid’s hazel eyes darted between the two of them before she leapt into action. She closed the door behind her and dropped to her knees beside Emilie.
“My Lady, what happened?”
“He tried to force me,” Emilie spoke quickly, so fast and with such panic that she was certain one syllable was not distinguishable from the next, “I told him, Isobel, I told him I didn’t want to do it, but he did not care. He just kept coming for me, then he pulled the knife. And I…” she closed her eyes, turning her head as far away as possible from Stewart’s lifeless form. “I did not mean to do it. He dropped the knife, and I picked it up, then; I’m not really sure how it happened. Whether I pushed it, or he fell on it,” she was panicking still, opening her eyes and shaking her head from side to side. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Very dead,” Isobel said, grasping Emilie’s hands.
“They’ll kill me for this,” Emilie’s mind was working quickly. Come morning, she would be executed for murder. “Oh my god… I’m dead, Isobel. I killed the Laird’s heir!”
“You’re not dead yet,” Isobel seemed to be thinking just as fast. “Come, to your feet.” Isobel helped her to stand. “We’ll just have to tell them someone else did it.”
“Someone else? They’re not going to believe that!” Emilie was trying to hold back her tears.
I’m dead… they’ll hang me.
“Maybe they will,” Isobel murmured, almost to herself, her voice calculating, “We are going to have to think of a story to tell.”
Isobel walked her across the room. Emilie’s eyes drifted back down to Stewart. It shocked her just how much blood there was on the wolf-skin rug.
“What am I going to do?” Emilie was barely aware of what was happening. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that Isobel had taken her to the basin of water at the side of the room. There was a cloth in the maid’s hand too, and she was pawing at Emilie’s hands, washing the blood off.
Emilie woke from her daze and helped her, but the more she tried to wash the blood off, the more the blood seemed to settle in the smallest lines of her palms.
“What can I say happened?” she said, more to herself than Isobel, but Isobel paused in her actions, and her heart-shaped face looked up at Emilie, her eyes wide.
“I have an idea,” she said quickly, “The clan is at war with the Balfour clan, yes?”
“Yes,” Emilie nodded.
“Then it’s hardly going to be much of a surprise if an enemy sent an assassin to kill the heir to the lairdship, is it?”
Emilie was too numb to follow Isobel’s words. She just stood there for a minute, shaking her head back and forth.
“Emilie, listen to me,” Isobel begged. Emilie flicked her head toward her. “You must be calm.”
“How can I be calm? He’s dead… it was an accident. But does that matter? They’ll hang me!”
“Stop saying that, my Lady,” Isobel pleaded again, pulling on her hands, “There is a way out of this, but you need to keep your wits about you.” Emilie didn’t believe her, didn’t think it was possible, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew she had to try. “So, I ask again, if we were to pretend an assassin from the Balfour clan attacked Stewart, would they believe it? The clans are at war, aren’t they?”
“It could be believed,” Emilie bit her lip as she thrust her hands completely into the water, washing up to her elbows.
“We’d need to stage it,” Isobel stepped away from her, back to the body, “To make it look convincing.”
“Isobel, wait,” Emilie moved to her side, her terror now taken over by a different fear. She took Isobel’s hand in her own. “Before you help me, think about this. If they see through my lies, I could be executed. If they know you helped me,” she swallowed, struggling to say the words, “they could kill you too.”
Isobel smiled up at her, and the petite girl pushed her short brown curls behind her ears.
“If you think I would abandon you now, you do not know me at all, my Lady,” Isobel shook her head, “He tried to force himself on you. No woman should suffer that. No one! And I will not let you be harmed because you were defending yourself. It is my job to look out for you.”
“Isobel,” Emilie felt the tears return to her eyes, “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Then leave that for now. First, we must be practical.” Isobel was one of the most capable people Emilie had ever met. She smiled as Isobel took charge. “First, we change you into a clean gown. I will get rid of that one. Next, there’s a window downstairs. I will smash it from the outside, making it appear as though there were an intruder. We’ll make the door to your chamber appear forced from the other side as well. Then we go to the Laird, causing as much uproar as possible on the way. We will make it appear as though the death has only just occurred, and we will tell the Laird there was an intruder.”
“An assassin,” Emilie stepped away from the body, wary that the blood still pooling might reach her bare toes.
“Exactly. You must tell the Laird that you and your new husband were enjoying your first night together.”
“Eww…” Emilie shivered.
“During which you heard a crash, shortly followed by the door being burst open. The attacker knocked you out and killed Stewart.”
“Do you think the Laird will believe me?” Emilie asked, feeling her voice break with fear.
“Believe me, my Lady,” Isobel nodded to her, “You look as though you have been in a fight. You have a cut on your neck and bruises on your face. Seeing you and your shock will be enough to persuade the Laird of the story.”
“This is madness,” Emilie looked away again, the pain of seeing Stewart slowly turning cold coursing through her, “I must be losing my mind to even think of trying this.”
“Would you give up now and not even try?” Isobel tugged on her hand, urging Emilie to look back to her.
“No,” Emilie accepted, biting her lip, “But I don’t think it will work.”
“Yet, you’re willing to try?”
“Yes, I have to try,” Emilie nodded as she returned her gaze back to the floor where Stewart was turning cold.
She had never intended to harm him, but she couldn’t help feeling a wash of relief, knowing he couldn’t harm her now. She wouldn’t have to put up such a fight again, and she would never again have to feel his dagger at her throat.
She reached a hand to her throat and felt the cut on her skin. It was still bleeding, and the mark would undoubtedly scar. She tried to find comfort in feeling the mark. It was either Stewart or her at that moment. She had done it only to protect herself.
Emilie raised her chin a little higher, trying to get a hold on her doubts.
I am safe. As long as I can persuade the Laird not to hang me.
1 Month Later, France
“Jax? There’s an urgent letter for ye.”
Jax MacManus turned in his place by the stables as Dante ran to his side.
“Aye? Thank ye,” Jax said, as he took the letter from his friend. He recognized the writing on the letter instantly, it belonged to his father. He sighed deeply for a minute, wary of opening it as he brushed his dark auburn hair back off his forehead. If this letter was anything like the others he had received, then he already knew its contents. His father, Laird MacManus, was desperate for him to return home.
The only problem was, Jax had no wish to go home. He was once told as a child by a wise woman in Scotland that all men are born with different spirits, and that he was born with a wanderer’s spirit. She had been right. Since childhood, Jax had always wanted to travel. Even now, he never stayed in one place for too long. He was always packing up his stuff and moving onto the next wondrous thing to see, much to his father’s disappointment.
The Laird had made it clear that, as Jax was the younger son, he would have to return home soon and take up his place on the Laird’s council and as a Highland soldier. Jax avoided this expectation at every opportunity. He had already served as a soldier and was a good fighter, but it was the thought of sitting in dull council meetings and advising his brother, the future Laird, that he dreaded so much.
“Are ye nae goin’ to open it?” Dante’s voice made Jax look up from his letter.
When Jax had first announced his intention to travel, his old friend had jumped to go with him. Dante was a trained soldier too, and loyal to the MacManus clan. He stood beside Jax now, his black hair curling around his ears and his grey eyes wide as he waited for an answer.
“It willnae be any different to the others,” Jax put the letter into his tunic and climbed onto his horse, “I will open it later. I have come to see the Notre Dame Cathedral, so we will do that first.”
“Ye cannae ever stay in one place, can ye?” Dante laughed as he mounted the horse beside him.
“Me? Never!” Jax smiled too. “I fear that if I stand still for too long, the wind will change, and I will turn to stone.”
“What nonsense,” Dante laughed at his jest.
“It’s true,” Jax nodded, “I heard a legend about it once. Besides, I have the proof of me own eyes. Have ye nae met me brother? He is a perfect example of it! Well, his heart is made of stone, anyway.”
“Bein’ serious for a moment, Jax,” Dante straightened his face, “The letter was delivered by an express messenger; it could be somethin’ important. Somethin’ serious.”
“Ergh,” Jax complained and looked to the sky, “Whoever wants to spend their life bein’ serious, anyway?”
“I daenae think I’ve ever seen ye be serious,” Dante agreed, as they turned their horses out of the stable and onto the dirt road, “and we met when we were only bairns.”
“That’s because I see bein’ serious as a waste of time,” Jax shrugged, turning his eyes to the River Seine up ahead and the way it curved through the town that was filled with stone houses. In the distance, he could see the spire of the famous cathedral, creeping into the clouds.
“It may be so, but ye must still read yer faither’s letter.”
“I have nay wish to.”
“All right, then I’ll make ye a deal,” Dante’s words had Jax intrigued. He looked up at him with a smile.
“Go on,” he encouraged with a wave of his hand.
“Read yer faither’s letter now; and I promise to play ye again at dice,” Dante’s simple promise had Jax roaring with laughter.
“I thought ye said that the next time ye would play me would be in the afterlife?”
“Aye, because ye cheat. I am sure of it.”
“Ye are confusin’ cheatin’ with bein’ excellent at the game!”
“Aye, very well,” Dante held up his hands in surrender, “I have seen how sullen ye have been, these last few nights, because I willnae play the game.”
“I have been. Very sullen indeed!” Jax mocked himself.
“So, I will play tonight. If ye read yer faither’s letter.”
“Hmm, that’s nae enough,” Jax screwed up his face, knowing he could get more out of Dante if he pushed.
“All right,” Dante turned his chin toward him, “I promise to bet with real money instead of just tokens.”
“It’s a deal,” Jax said, as he reached into his tunic and pulled the parchment out, pleased with the deal he had made. He ripped the letter open without paying much attention to the contents. Yet, when his eyes focused on the words, he brought his horse to a stop.
“Jax? What’s wrong?” Dante stopped too, but Jax was not ready to reply.
He had to read the letter again, for he thought that his eyes might have deceived him.
I write to ye bearin’ the gravest news. Two weeks ago, yer brother was murdered.
The night after he married the daughter of the English Lord Bolingbroke, the Balfour clan sent an assassin into the castle. They killed him and left his body beside his new wife.
I daenae need to tell ye the grief that has struck me and this castle after this tragedy. The war with the Balfours must be escalated because of this. The army needs leadership, and we need a plan for our clan.
I expect it will be a few weeks until ye receive this letter and me news, but please write back when ye can. The clan has been torn apart by Stewart’s death. Their expected heir has gone, and I daenae need to tell ye now of the weight that rests on yer shoulders.
Ye are the new heir.
I ken ye will wish to finish yer travellin’, but ye must cut it short. The clan and the people need reassurance. They need guidance. They need their new heir to return.
This is nae up for debate, Jax. You will return to Ayr and take yer place at me side. For without yer brother, this clan and our war with the Balfours could be condemned.
“Jax?” Dante asked again. Rather than replying, Jax leaned over and pushed the letter into Dante’s hand, allowing him to read it for himself.
Jax kept his horse standing still. He just sat there for a while, looking out to the horizon of Paris in thought.
He didn’t even realize his brother was to be married, let alone to an English lass. Why would an English woman marry Stewart?
The thought of Stewart marrying at all made Jax uncomfortable. He and Stewart had a grudging friendship at best, at worst it was hatred. They didn’t see eye to eye on many matters.
To learn that Stewart was dead though, left Jax numb.
Me brother is dead.
He should feel something more. He was upset, yes, but not as grief stricken as their father probably was.
No, there was a new emotion stirring inside of Jax now. He was the new heir to the Lairdship. It was a position he had never wanted, never envied, and now it was being thrust upon him. He was duty bound to return, despite his desire not to. He would finish some of his travels, but he knew he could not escape the clan now. Within a year, he would have to return and take up his place as heir to the Lairdship.
What an awful day this is.
Emilie and Isobel stood hand in hand as they watched Stewart’s coffin being taken out of the chapel and into the mausoleum. Emilie was quite certain she had never held anyone’s hand so tightly. Their palms were clasped together until their fingers were turning white.
She had played the part of a widow well and was now dressed in her widow’s weeds with a black veil Isobel had sourced for her. On her other side stood Laird MacManus, who clearly refused to let the tears fall, despite the trauma that lurked in his eyes. Such a sight made Emilie glad for her veil, for with it, no one could see that she had no tears to shed.
Isobel had been right in her plan. Laird MacManus had not hesitated in believing Emilie when she had told him her lies. On the contrary, the Laird even sent guards out to search Ayr for any sign of a Balfour assassin, but none could be found. It only made Laird MacManus more convinced of the tale. Emilie had watched him stamp about the castle the following day, cursing the Balfours and how well prepared they must have been. He said they had struck at a time that was good for the clan – they were getting a new Lady and making an alliance with the English. The Balfours must have seen it as a target and jumped into action, taking Stewart on his wedding night.
Emilie had been just as speechless then as she was now, watching the coffin disappear into the mausoleum as the priest finished the blessing over the body.
The Laird had told her, as Stewart’s widow, she had the right to stay in Ayr, and she had accepted that invitation, having no wish to return to the cruelty of her father, but looking around the gray church and feeling the cold breeze through the doorway that bristled her black veil, she saw the true result of her decision.
She had condemned herself to a dungeon. A gaol where every day she would have to look a man in the face and pretend that she was not the one who killed his son.
I am a murderer now. That guilt will never leave me.
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