Rescued by a Highlander(2)By: Keira Montclair
Alex checked his annoyance before he spoke. “Laird MacDonald, we don’t mean to be a bother. We will be on our way as soon as we discuss our concerns with you. We have come to see if you are having the same problems we are having. We are dealing with more and more small attacks and thievery on our lands. There must be new reivers. Have you seen the same here?”
“Nay, we have no new problems. No one dares to bother us. My guards are too strong. Reivers, you say?” Kenneth turned his head away as he spoke.
Alex caught the subtle triumph in his host’s eyes. He assessed his neighboring laird carefully before he spoke. “We have not caught up with them, but we will. Late summer is the time to call on neighbors, to keep up with changes. It was time for us to visit.”
“I cannot help you with your problem. You are welcome to stay the night before you are on your way,” Kenneth said.
Brodie spoke quickly, “Nay, we have no need. A drink will be much appreciated before we take our leave. We have much ground to cover before we return to our lands.”
Alex’s vision wandered around the dirty hall. There were no beautiful tapestries, no chairs with cushions as in his hall. The stench of sour food permeated his nostrils. His sister, Brenna, kept everything spotless in his keep. His hall spoke of the rich Grant clan history. He was proud of the weapons on display, of the craftsmanship evident in the high-back chairs and tables. After seeing this disaster, he would be sure and thank Brenna for her hard work more often. He believed in treating all his clan well, unlike this laird. Even his dogs stayed far away from him.
Instinct took over as he turned back to his host. “Nay, Brodie, I will accept the laird’s offer. I would like a good night’s rest before we continue. Tell the guards we stay one night.”
Brodie glared at his brother with a questioning look. Alex knew he wasn’t making sense, but something was not right here. He could hear his father’s words clearly in his mind, follow your instincts, son, they will never let you down.
His instincts told him to stay.
Madeline attempted to open her eyes. One must be swollen shut as it didn’t move. She could see enough to realize she was in her chamber. It was not the beautiful chamber she had when her mother was still alive, but the bare, cold chamber her stepbrother allowed her. Attempting to roll, she groaned as sharp pain seared through her midsection as her bruises hit hard wood. The pallet was no longer filled with the soft feather covering her parents had given her. Instantly, her maid, Alice, filled her line of vision.
“Maddie, oh Maddie, are you all right, my dear?” Alice asked.
Her feeble attempt to follow Alice’s nervous movements failed. “Alice, please stay still, my head is pounding enough.”
“Oh, but Mac and I thought Kenneth had gone too far this time. You may have at least one broken rib, and your eye looks horrid. Can you see? Tell me he did not blind you. Please, Maddie.”
“Alice,” Maddie croaked, “I am fine. Mayhap some water, please?”
“Oh, of course.” Alice brought a cup to her lips to help her swallow. “What shall we do? He will kill you eventually. Just agree, would you not be better with Niles Comming? He cannot be as bad as Kenneth. Say yes, please! Agree to the wedding. I cannot bear to lose you. I promised your dear mother I would take care of you.”
Painful memories of the large, cruel body of Niles Comming forced their way into her mind. “Nay, I will not marry him. I must find my way to a convent. I will never be able to bear any man’s touch.” Maddie’s eyes closed as she finished the last of the water.
Brodie followed Alex through the corridor to the two chambers they had been given for the night.
“Alex, you must be out of your mind. Why stay in this filthy place? I would rather sleep under the stars with our men.”
“I don’t know why, but something is no’ right. We stay. Get some sleep.”Alex nodded toward Brodie’s door down the corridor before stepping into his own chamber.
After spying the thin straw mattress on the pallet, he sighed. Why was he here? He peered around the chamber. Dust covered most every surface. Removing his claymore, he set it next to his bed, clearly not trusting his host. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of the stale rushes on the floor. A small knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and a dark haired woman crept in when he bade her to enter.