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Highland Wolf Pact:Compromising Positions(2)

By:Selena Kitt

"Aye, 'tis jus' how I feel 'bout it." Donal made a face. "It'll likely take us months t'find all the traps an' take 'em down."

Kirstin yipped in surprise, a high pitched sound, when the rope holding  the net lengthened, but just for a moment. Then it went taut again.         



"Oh fer the love'a-" He struggled with the rope, his body swaying on the limb, and Kirstin prayed he wouldn't fall to his death.

Then she heard it. It wasn't far off, coming from deeper in the  woods-the sound of men. It wasn't just one, but several. She glanced at  Donal, but he was busy trying to finagle the trap and hadn't heard  anything. Of course, he was human-his sense of hearing and smell were  seriously impaired compared to hers.

She whined softly, looking at the man, Donal, wondering how to tell him.  Mayhaps they were his men, heading this way? She hoped so. The might be  able to help him get her out of this damnable trap, because she wasn't  sure he was going to be able to do it on his own.

"Easy, lass," he said again, softly, as he maneuvered the rope. "Almost there."

She whined louder, reaching out with her paw to touch his calf. He glanced down, frowning, lifting his gaze to meet hers.

"What is it?"

Kirstin turned her head in the direction of the men. She could hear them clearly now. Couldn't he?

Donal held his hand up, cocking his head. He'd heard them. Good! He  moved quickly and almost silently, easing his way up higher in the tree.  Using the leaves as cover, he nearly faded into the tree itself in the  greens and blues of his plaid.

Kirstin panicked. She was caught in a trap with men heading her way. The  howl rising in her throat was irrepressible. Twisting in the net, she  pawed and snapped at it, determined to free herself, even if it meant  falling to the forest floor below.

"Easy, lass, easy!" Donal soothed, his voice low and soft. "I'll not let 'em hurt ye. I promise ye!"

She whined, turning her head to look at him. She could see him through a  thick, Y-shaped branch, his head appearing above it. Did she dare trust  this man? Her instinct to escape was strong, almost overpowering.

"I promise ye," he said again, giving her a slow, firm nod. "No harm'll come to ye on m'watch."

Kirstin heard them coming closer, along the path. Not his men, then, or  he wouldn't be hiding. So who was it heading through the forest in the  early morning light? Hunters?

She whined again, thrashing in the net.

"Shh!" Donal put his finger to his lips, shaking his head as he stood behind the thick tree limb.

Kirstin tried. She stilled, smelling them now-five men, heading their  way. She made herself go limp in the net, turning her head so she could  see Donal, see his eyes. He wasn't afraid-but he had a concerned knit to  his brow. He didn't expect anyone coming through the woods on his land  then. She saw he had his bow in his hand and he stood there, frozen,  waiting.

Kirstin heard an arrow being nocked-and it wasn't Donal's. She wanted to  warn him, to give him a chance to defend himself, but there was no  need. He spoke before the other bow was drawn.

"If ye draw that arrow, I hope ye're a better archer than ye're a  hunter." Donal's own bow was aimed in the direction of the interloper.  "If I have t'drop from this tree a'fore I finish what I came up 'ere  t'do, one of us'll be dead a'fore supper-and I do'na plan to miss the  crispy skin of the swine I dragged in from t'woods t'mornin' a'fore  last."

Kirstin heard another bow draw, this one from a different spot on the  forest floor behind her, and she knew then that Donal was in trouble.  She glanced up at the laird, seeing him preparing to launch himself from  the tree, when a voice stopped him.

"Laird MacFalon, feel free to finish your task, free your quarry, and exit your perch."

Kirstin growled, feeling the hackles on the back of her neck rising. The  voice was smooth, confident, even slightly amused-but she didn't trust  the man it came from. She didn't know why-it was just instinct, but she  trusted her instincts. Maybe it was just because the accent was so  different from their own Scottish brogue. This man was English and spoke  in the clipped way she was used to hearing from the Englishwoman,  Sibyl, who had recently been living with them in the wulver den.

"I promise, this pair of mongrel poachers will hinder you no further,"  the Englishman assured them from below. "And, at your word, they'll  hinder this world no longer either."

Don't trust him. Kirstin wanted to tell Donal, but she had no voice.  Instead, she gave a low whine that turned into a growl in the back of  her throat.

"Aye, thank ye, stranger." Donal frowned at Kirstin, hearing her animal warning.         



The Scotsman was at a disadvantage, and he clearly knew it. He had to  trust the Englishman, given that he had not only one, but two, arrows  pointed in his direction, likely at very vital parts of his anatomy.  Kirstin had a feeling that, whoever was below-especially if they were  the poachers who had set the trap in which she was now ensnared-would  rather have Donal dead before he left the tree than face him on level  ground.

"Spare the curs, Lord Eldred," Donal called down. So he knew the man,  then? But he'd called him "stranger?" Kirstin wrinkled her nose in  confusion. "If they're honest poachers, they're hungry, and their wives  and bairns will be as well. An empty belly's an ailment that spread  quickly under m'late brother's watch-and t'will be cured under mine. As  England's good King Henry's shown, there's none more loyal than those  given mercy and a full belly-when warranted."

"You already have the makings of The MacFalon." The Englishman chuckled.  "And your instincts are correct-I am Lord Eldred Lothienne, at your  service."

So the laird had been guessing at the man's identity then, Kirstin realized, looking up at the Scot.

"Easy." Donal squatted, speaking low to Kirstin, keeping his balance as  he unhitched the rope and secured it, dropping a long end, presumably so  he could lower Kirstin down once he was on the ground. At least, she  hoped. "I know ye've got n'reason t'trust me, but I'll not harm ye-I'll  free ye, I promise."

She gave a conciliatory whine as Donal began climbing down the trunk of  the tree. Twisting in the net, she glimpsed the Englishman standing at  its base out of the corner of her eye. He spoke like an English lord,  but he was dressed in travelling clothes, a pack secured to his back. He  gave Donal a gloved hand down and the Scotsman gave a low whistle when  an arrow thunked into the tree trunk beside his head.

Lord Eldred shouldered Donal aside as two more loosed arrows hit the  tree across the way, answering the first, these from the man's captains,  still hidden somewhere in the wood.

"It appears the mongrels have given a parting shot before running off  into the forest." Lord Eldred frowned into the woods, where the poachers  had retreated. "Shall my captains and I pursue?"

"Nay, if they're local, they'll know these woods well-and they'll be as  invisible as the fey folk a'fore ye run 'em down." Donal looked at the  other man, head tilted, eyes narrowing slightly. "Ye marked 'em a'fore  they were even in position. And ye weren't due t'visit 'til the morrow,  but ye're in the MacFalon woods. Scouting, mayhaps? The tales of yer  skill in the wild haven't been overtold, Lord Eldred Lothienne."

"Nor have the tales of your courage and generosity been overtold, Donal  MacFalon," the Englishman replied with a smile, clapping the other man  on the back. "It would appear that King Henry was correct in his  assessment. You are as forthright as your brother was treacherous. It'll  be a burden lifted to carry that message back to the King. I'd wager my  finest bow that you won't be threatening the peace agreed upon with the  wulvers."

"Ye can wager yer life on that." Donal glanced up at Kirstin, still  stuck in the net. She was panting lightly, waiting patiently for the men  to free her, trusting Donal at his word. Not that she had much choice,  given the circumstances. The Scotsman grabbed the end of the rope he'd  left dangling, unhitching it with a sharp tug, and Kirstin felt the net  begin to move.

Her heart raced, and the closer she got to the ground, the more the fur  on the back of her neck stood up. Her instinct told her to run. Or  fight. And she had to force herself to stay still in the net.

"All of these wulver traps shoulda been disarmed." Donal frowned as he  slowly lowered Kirstin toward the forest floor. She tensed, seeing the  Englishman fully for the first time. He was an older man-a good ten,  maybe fifteen, years older than Donal, at least-with a thick, dark beard  shot with streaks of gray and salt and pepper hair. His dark eyes  missed nothing, and his gaze settled on her and stayed there, making her  hackles rise further. "I do'na know if they missed this one, or mayhaps  someone's re-arming them. 'T'will be quite a job for ye and yer  captains t'undertake, I'm afeared."