Donal and Daimh played some game that served as entertainment for
many. They sat facing each other, legs crossed, holding strict eye contact.
Donal’s hands were raised, palms up, and Daimh set his hands onto them,
palms down. While not looking away, Donal would try to swipe his hands
out from under his brother’s and slap the top of them. Of course, it was
frivolous, and then more so when it escalated into a wrestling match, after
Donal moved his hand and slapped his brother’s face instead.
They tried a fire again, but to no avail. The cave swelled with smoke
and it was quickly extinguished. Another was built closer to the opening
and kept alive only so long as necessary to cook the fish. Maggie initially
declined her portion, sorry that she added an extra person to feed in their
ranks. Both the laird and Hew scoffed at this.
“It’s no’ one for each, and then we’re short a few,” Hew said. “Divided
equally, seven people, seven parts.” He nodded to accent this.
By early evening, having barely moved all day save for one span of
time in which she purposefully rose and walked around the circle, again and
again, to move the blood in her body, Maggie felt more sluggish than ever.
She’d changed positions so many times today, she didn’t know of another
that might give her some relief from the hard ground, and so lie on her
back, hoping sleep might come soon.
No sooner had she done this than Laird McEwen had come to tower
“One more time up to the next bothy, lass,” he said, “before you fall
“Likely by now, I can manage on my own.” Surely, the now thricetaken path must be worn down that she could traverse it herself.
“Aye, like as no’,” he agreed. “But it’s getting on dark now. C’mon.”
Maggie sat up as he reached for her hand and pulled her to her feet. In
the next minute, they had tightened up their outerwear and then Iain
McEwen, Laird of Berriedale, kin to Donald Mackay, defender of
Scotland’s freedom, once more conveyed Maggie Bryce out of the cave and
up the hill and into what she was now referring to inwardly as her own
private piddle hut.
She was deposited onto her feet in the bothy and Iain made himself
scarce while she took care of business, returning at her call as he had
yesterday, with rowan berries in hand. Maggie chewed slowly, savoring the
sour berries while they stood just inside the opening and stared out over the
landscape. Looking either left or right showed much the same, snow
covered hills and glens and hundreds of pine trees, beautifully painted with
the brush of God and snow, and now the gray evening.
“Will we be able to get out tomorrow?” She wondered.
“Mayhap,” he said. “Sun may have shrunk some of this today.”
“Daimh said he’d never seen so much snow, save for when he was out
on Skye,” she mused.
A few seconds passed, while they ate and stared out, away from the
bothy, before he said more.
“You got on well with Daimh, it seemed.”
Maggie jerked her gaze back to him. Did she detect some hesitation in
his tone? She considered his query, offered with purposeful indifference, it
“You must be very proud to call these men your own,” she said. “They
are, each and every one of them, very fine gentlemen.”
“Dinna think they’ve been called that too often,” he said, sending a
wry grin her way. He tossed the branch, now devoid of fruit, out into the
She finished off her own berries, assuming they would return now. But
Iain McEwen crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the edge of
the doorway, contemplating her. She lifted a brow to him, but he said
nothing, just pinned her with his piercing eyes.
When it continued, she gave him a nervous grin. “If it is your intent to
cause menace with that scowl, I must tell you it’s come a bit late.”
His eyes narrowed while one brow lifted.
“It’s just that you’ve been—as have all of your men—very kind to me,
very solicitous. So I’m not sure what this scowl is for now, but—”
“I’m only trying to figure you out, lass.”
She said nothing to this but swallowed hard.
“You still carry the bruise and I know well the mark of someone who’s
been struck. You’re off and running in a storm, bereft of the proper fear you
should possess, and would have me believe you’re destined for the convent.
It’s no’ making sense, lass.”
Boldly, Maggie responded with, “I suppose you’ll have to ask yourself
how essential are the answers to what only you suggest should be
questioned.” She gave further thought to his words—bereft of proper fear.
’Twas true, she considered herself quite safe right now. Well she might be
deeply entrenched with six soldiers of a warring clan, and on the run from
her own father and betrothed, but she had known little fear after her initial
waking next to this man.
He inclined his dark head, his lips pursed until he said, with more
threat than she’d perceived from him as of yet, “But if what you hide will
be a danger to my men, then I say to you, lass: aye, it is verra essential.”
This gave her pause, as she hadn’t given much thought to any possible
danger these McEwens might know simply because they’d happened upon
her. To him, she allowed, “The…mark on my cheek will see no danger
brought to you. And I am committed to making my way to St. Edmund’s—
by myself if needs must. That is truth.” She convinced herself she told no
lie, forcing away any remorse for the niggling shame that she wasn’t being
entirely honest with him. But as of two days ago, this was truth. Likewise,
she convinced herself that the possibility of him learning the actual truth
was so remote as to be non-existent; the storm would end, the snow would
melt, and they would part company. She saw no reason to reveal to him that
she was unhappily betrothed to a Sutherland, assuming it had no bearing on
their present circumstance.
He nodded now, content—if not with her answers, then at least with
his own patience. Maggie released her breath and removed her gaze from
“Aye, but there’s one more thing, lass,” he said, pushing away from the
Maggie turned back to him. He moved at the same time, surprising her
as he stood so close already and then more so when he lifted his hand and
gently took hold of her cloak, wrapped his fingers around the edge, just
under the closure near her neck. Her eyes widened as he pulled her near, at
the same time taking one more step toward her. Some bit of panic caught
her breath, sent her own hand to cover his and yank at it. How dastardly, to
have lulled her so expertly, all of them, and then present this peril to her,
whatever his objective now. And here, she’d thought him so gallant and
“It’s no’ to be helped, lass,” he murmured low. “I’ll be needing to kiss
His eyes were dark now, heated as he drew closer still, not entirely
frightening, even as he lowered his head and very softly touched his lips to
Maggie went completely still, squeezing her eyes tightly shut,
clamping her lips together.
It took her a moment more to understand she was not being assaulted
and was not a victim of this man’s evil ambition. His words finally
Good heavens, but she was being kissed!
Donal and Daimh played some game that served as entertainment for