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Rescued by a Highlander

By: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."

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.

She curtsied to Alex. "My laird sent me to be at your service this  night." She leaned toward him, offering him a view of her ample bosom.

Alex stared at the woman. She had soft curves and a kind face. He hadn't  been with a woman in a sennight. He probably should accept the gift.

But he couldn't. The fear in her eyes was too much for him. What a cruel man her laird must be.

"Lass, I will tell your laird that you served me well, but I find I am too tired to see to it."

"Please, I will do anything you ask, but do no' send me back now."         

     



 

Alex searched her face and found it to be truthful. The lass had drawn blood where she chewed her lip.

"See to my brother, lass. I will not send you back to your laird."

"Thank you, thank you." She spun on her heel and rushed out the door.

Alex sat on the pallet, stirring up a cloud of dust. What was wrong with  him lately? He often visited certain women in his village, but he had  no serious interest in any of them. He wanted a relationship like his  parents had enjoyed. They had adored each other. He had yet to meet any  woman that sparked much in him. Oh, he knew what lust could do to a man.  But lust was easily sated.

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