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Rescued by a Highlander

By´╝ÜKeira Montclair

Rescued by a Highlander - , Keira Montclair

CHAPTER ONE




Scotland, the late 1200’s





Warm fluid meandered down her cheek into the cracked corner of her mouth. Madeline MacDonald caught her blood by her tongue, the saltiness invading her senses. She forced herself to stand tall as she watched her stepbrother’s hand swing in a wide arc before it connected with her other cheek. Steeling herself not to cry out at the pain he inflicted, she stared into his eyes, trying to gauge his mood. Experience told her if she cried out, he enjoyed it more, and the beating would last longer.

The chamber was silent except for the distant sound of a slow, piercing drip. Blood pounded through her heart in fear. Her instinct was to run, but she knew there was no escaping Kenneth. Her fingers trembled as she reached up to wipe the blood from her face. Pain rippled through her body at the soft touch, but she made no sound. Her breathing became faster, more frantic. She needed to stay in control. Closing her eyes, she willed her heart to slow, but to no avail. How long would this one last? Each time she toughened a bit. He wouldn’t be able to defeat her so easily today.

A perverse pleasure washed across her stepbrother’s face. She wanted to watch before her eyes swelled enough to impede her vision. Remembering his cruelty was important to her. She had learned to hate her stepbrother ever since her parents’ death two years ago.

He leaned in close to her, grabbing her by the throat. “You will marry him. Do you hear me, bitch? You will not ruin all my plans. You will marry Niles Comming in less than a fortnight. Agreed, Madeline?” Kenneth MacDonald’s spittle just missed her face.

In a quick turnabout, he released her, pacing the chamber instead. “I could force you, I don’t need your approval. I know just the priest to bring here. He would never deny me.” Kenneth’s head bobbed as he swung his gait back and forth in front of her. “But you have the following of half the clan. I cannot afford any revolt from my guards or the servants. You will do my bidding so as not to upset your clan. Understood?”

Madeline reached to her core for the effort she needed to shake her head. She would never marry the Comming. He had raped her, and she would never agree to wed the cruel man.

“You dare to refuse me again?” Kenneth bellowed.

Yes, just as I have before. I will endure the beatings. They could never be as bad as the humiliation and pain she had been forced to experience at the hands of their neighboring laird.

Madeline willed her body to relax. Bones were less likely to break if she was calm. But Kenneth’s fist aimed straight for her belly. Visceral pain exploded through her. She lost her footing and slammed into the cold stone floor. As her stepbrother’s foot shot out toward her middle, she attempted to curl into a ball, but her reflexes were too slow. The pain that shot through her body after she landed finally beckoned her to bliss, her conscious world darkening.

***

Sitting down at the dais of the MacDonald keep, Laird Alexander Grant stared at the filth in the rushes on the floor of the great hall. Things had definitely deteriorated since his last visit. He glanced at his brother, Brodie, as their host, Kenneth MacDonald, barked orders.

“Get us ale, you lazy wench,” Kenneth bellowed as he swatted her behind to motivate her.

“Aye, my laird,” the maid mumbled, hurrying toward the kitchen.

“My apologies, Laird Grant. My stepsister usually handles everything in the kitchens, but she is ill presently. See how lazy the wenches are when she is no’ around? My servants are not worth the food I give them.” Kenneth fell onto the bench at his table, sweeping crumbs and debris onto the floor around them.

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.”

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