Highland Hellcat(3)

By: Mary Wine



“Who’s that riding out?” Bran climbed a tree, but he only gained a view of the back of the horse and rider.

Who would be headed out from the castle at this time of day?

“Is she riding out to meet a lover?” Brina spoke the moment the thought crossed her mind.

Bran pulled in a quick breath. She’d shocked the man with her question, but she didn’t lower her gaze in shame.

Bran grunted.

“There are things that no nun should be knowing about, because it will leave ye discontented in your maiden’s bed.”

Brina snorted. “What nonsense. I am not to know about lovers and their meetings, but as mother superior, I’ll be expected to shelter those women sent to me when their husbands discover that they have fallen from grace.”

Bran shook his head and refused her any further comment. Brina turned back to look at the path the rider had traveled.

So she was riding out to seek a lover…

The night was a perilous place filled with men who did not behave according to the rules that surrounded them during the day. Once you left the fortress behind, you submitted yourself to the mercy of whomever you met, and sometimes that was an ill fate.

“Enough hunting.”

Brina frowned. “But we only have two rabbits.”

Bran’s expression was hard as he stared into the night, his bow hanging forgotten by one hand. “Aye, it will have to do. I need to return to the castle.”

Suspicion filled her thoughts, but Bran didn’t give her time to ask him any more questions. He was off to gather their horses before she reached the ground.

The woman must be insane.

Brina shook her head because she couldn’t see how taking a lover might bring any true happiness. Lust was a deadly sin after all.

Insane, and no doubt about it.

***

Brina returned to Chattan Castle with only the two rabbits, and the cook raised an eyebrow at her small offering.

“Are ye ailing?” The woman reached out to feel her forehead and frowned when she discovered that Brina was fit and solid with no hint of fever at all.

“My attention wandered.”

The cook glowered at her. “And look what you have to show for all that lack of discipline. Only two rabbits, which will not go far.”

The cook turned her back on Brina and mumbled while she took the game toward the long trestle tables that were used to prepare food. Even in the darkness, several women were standing at the table, using the flickering light from the great hearth to cut vegetables. Now that it was turning to autumn, the last of the harvest was being brought in, and there was an abundance of work for everyone if they did not want to suffer empty bellies once the snow buried the hillsides and streams.

“Do not worry, Sister. I believe it is the first time I have seen you return with so little to offer to the cook. She is simply surprised.” Kaie Chattan, her sister, stood near the wall, while Brina hung up a cloak.

The cook heard and spun around with a snap from her fingers. “What’s this bit of argument for ye? Did ye bring me anything for the table, Miss? Or do ye have blisters on yer hands to prove that ye have been of some use this day?”

“I brought ye some fish that I caught in a net while tending to the wash.”

The cook made a scoffing sound beneath her breath. “Well, I still have no liking for yer tone, miss; ’twas full of pride, it was. I am yer elder, and my strict nature keeps every belly full during the winter. Recall that wisdom before questioning my methods of how I make sure there is plenty for all.”

Kaie offered the cook a nod of respect. “Yes, I know, and I meant no disrespect but only sought to soothe my sister.”

“She’s to be a nun, and it is best she learns to make do without compliments.” The cook came and took the basket of fish from Kaie. “I mean that kindly, young Brina, for I wish ye no hardship in yer future. It will bring good things to the Chattans to have one of the laird’s daughters serving the church. I thank ye for doing yer duty to us all.”

There were mutters of agreement from the women working at the table. Their knives never stopped moving, and the snap and pop of crisp vegetables filled the kitchen for a long moment while Brina felt the weight of too many stares on her. They were depending on her to take her place and please God so that blessings might continue to flow to the Chattans. She felt the weight of the responsibility pushing down on her while she suddenly thought of how it must feel to ride off into the night to please no one except herself.

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