Authors: Keira Montclair
The Highland Clan
Twin lads-James (Jamie) and John (Jake)
Table of Contents
Lily Ramsay froze, afraid to move. She’d heard a sound that had crept up her spine and run through every golden hair attached to her head. Someone or something was watching her.
She should have known better than to wander this far into the forest. Her sire and stepmother had warned her multiple times against going off on her own. She was the Ramsay chieftain’s sister, which made her a likely target, but she’d chosen to ignore her parents’ advice.
How she wished she’d listened. Closing her eyes, she stood tall and swung both arms up over her head, reaching toward the sky, and then brought them down in a slow, calming movement. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out.
Once she felt better, Lily glanced to her left, in the direction the sound had come from, but neither a single pine needle nor blade of grass moved. Moving in the opposite direction, she placed one foot in front of the other, singing her stepmama’s favorite song in her head.
Thankfully, this was also the way back toward the safety of the castle. She’d ridden farther than she’d intended while chasing after that wounded fox. Of course, he had disappeared the moment he entered the forest. Lily had lost him in the time it took to dismount her beloved horse, Sunshine. How many times had she been chastised for her wandering mind, her forgetfulness, and her free spirit? No matter how hard she tried, she could not help but be distracted by all the beauty of nature and God’s wondrous creatures, especially those in need of help. Alas, the fox was nowhere to be seen, so it was time to return home.
She counted her steps just as her stepmama had taught her to do to keep her mind focused on the task at hand.
The sound of a twig snapping behind her hit her like the hilt of a sword, warning her. Was it an animal or a person? She increased her pace to a run as she peered over her shoulder, but there was nothing there.
The sound and sensation of brush and tree branches hitting her face and arms reminded her to slow down. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t hear the approach of whatever or whoever was tracking her.
Why had she wandered so far away from safety? She recalled the trickery she’d used to get past the guards at the gate—how she’d promised to go for a short ride, within their eyesight, and be right back. How could she have known a fox would distract her? Mounting her horse, she’d flicked the reins and smiled sweetly at the three guards, knowing they’d do that foolish thing all the lads did when she smiled at them. They’d stared at her, mouths smiling widely, unable to tear their gazes from her as she flew across the meadow on her beloved horse, Sunshine. They must have discovered her ruse, of course, but by then she was too far gone for them to catch her.
But none of that mattered now—all that mattered was this headlong flight. Finally breaking out of the thick copse of trees into the clearing, she almost breathed a sigh of relief, knowing her horse was just ahead. And then her stomach dropped to her toes in an instant.
Her horse was gone.
“Sunshine? Sunshine?” She searched the area, hoping her beloved friend was hiding, but the mare was nowhere to be found. Lily swung around in a circle, but saw nothing to aid her. And the rustling in the bushes had returned.
Stop! You’re overset with all your worry. There is naught there.
Much as she tried to convince herself, she failed, because
something was there
. Her senses did not oft steer her wrong. Spinning around, she flew off into the distance toward the keep, hiking up her skirts and running as fast as she could.
Why had she been so foolish? Aye, Lily felt abandoned by her brother, Torrian, now that he spent all his leisure time with his sweet wife, Heather, and aye, she feared she was no longer of value to the clan now that Heather had taken over her duties. But that was no reason to ignore all the teachings her sire had instilled in her for years.
Lily tore through the forest as fast as she could, gasping for air. “Help! Someone please help!”
The sounds behind her continued to get louder and closer. She glanced over her shoulder to see a man in chain mail. Blood raced through her body, urging her onward—faster, faster.
“Stop!” His voice carried a long distance because it was so deep and menacing.
Lily screamed louder and louder and louder.
Afraid to look back again, but forcing herself, she closed her eyes and rotated her head, peeking just for an instant.
There was no questioning it—he was following her. The helm on his head showed only a fringe of brown hair sticking out of the bottom, concealing his identity completely. The heavy chain mail on his trunk slowed him, but not enough. Tears slid down her cheeks, dripping over her chin as she ran. She would never make it to the keep, and there was nowhere else to go. The open meadow in front of her offered no hiding places, no warriors to save her, no guardsmen to ride their horses toward her.
It was hopeless. He’d catch her for sure and…and…
Her arms windmilled around her as her fear made every hair on her skin stand at attention.
She squeaked at the sound of her name. “Leave me be. Go away.”
Nothing could have encouraged her to run faster than a stranger in armor yelling at her. She did not know him for certes; she would have recognized his voice. He was not of the Ramsay clan. He wore nothing to identify him as most Scots did.
She could just make out the large sword sheathed over his shoulder.
“Lily, please. I want to take care of you.”
He must be getting closer because she could feel the ground vibrating beneath her from his heavy footfalls.
“Save me, please. Someone help me.” Her terror caught her next scream in her throat and she gagged, coughing and spitting at the same time, causing her to trip and almost lose her footing. But she caught herself and continued onward, her lungs screaming for mercy as they fought for every bit of air she could get.
Her stomach spasmed with fear.
Please, God. Save me. Please Mama, help me.
Glancing back at her pursuer again, she allowed herself to feel a moment of gratitude for his armor. If he had not been wearing it, he would have caught her by now. That same muffled voice reached her ears.
“Stop, I say. Stop!”
Her legs twisted in her skirts and she stumbled, catching herself with her hand before she sprawled across the ground. As soon as she picked herself back up, she started running once more, screaming and yelling as she went, her entire being frantic.
She rounded a group of trees and blinked twice in relief when she saw the Ramsay castle in the distance. Mayhap there was now hope for her. She had to outrun him, she just had to.
“Stop. I love you. Just stop!”
Lily’s eyes widened at the lad’s crazed declaration. In love with her? Who would yell such a thing while in frantic pursuit of her? The sound of boots crunching on the stones of the Highlands grew louder and louder. What would he do when he caught her? If he fell on her in his present clothing, he’d crush her for sure.
Please God, I’ll never be foolish again. I’ll do as my sire advised. I’ll not run off on my own. Please save me from this unknown monster.
“Help me, please! Someone help me!” she screamed. He was almost upon her. “Nay, nay, save me!” A quick glance over her shoulder was all she needed to confirm he was bearing down on her.
In the distance, a lone horseman appeared from the castle. She wished to stop to catch her breath, but could not. She swung her arms wildly over her head, hoping that the person saw her, hoping she was the reason they were in full gallop.
As she ran toward the horseman, she dared another quick glance behind her. Tears of relief streamed down her face. The man in armor was retreating, disappearing into the trees. Moments later, she saw him riding off into the distance.
It did not change the fear that held an iron grip on her. She raced toward the horseman in the blue Ramsay plaid, not knowing who it was, not caring either.
Once the warrior drew near, she recognized him, his long dark hair waving behind him as he rode. “Kyle, thank the heavens above, Kyle. You saved me.” She held her arms up to him, but not before she swiped all the tears off her face.
“Where the devil is your horse, Lily? You came out this far alone, walking? What has possessed you to be so careless?”
“Sunshine is gone. I know not where she went. Please, Kyle, do not yell at me. Can you not see how upset I am? Just help me.” Lily’s breath hitched as she stared up into his deep blue eyes.
Kyle grabbed her by the waist and lifted her onto the horse in front of him so she faced him. Once she was situated, he dropped the reins to wrap his arms around her and she threw herself at him, clinging to him and sobbing into his shoulder. “Oh, Kyle, I was so frightened.” She played with the threads in his sleeve, sniffing more than she needed to so she could take in Kyle’s comforting scent.
“What has possessed you of late? Your brother will probably whip the guards for allowing you out on your own. You need to stop talking sweet to our lads. They make poor decisions when you are about. ‘Tis about the tenth lad you’ve used your trickery on this week. ‘Tis a good thing I keep watch for you. As soon as I came out of your brother’s solar, I noticed you were missing. Who knows where you’d be now if I had not searched you out?”
Lily sobbed even harder, realizing every word Kyle spoke was true. She could use her trickery to get past any of the guards, and she oft did. It was wrong, and she knew it, but now that Heather had control over the stores and the kitchens, she worried she was no longer needed. Though she loved Heather with all her heart, and it was undeniable that her new sister was much better at numbers, losing her duties—and her brother’s attention—had left a void in her.
No one cared about her anymore. Why, she’d just proved it, had she not? She’d left the castle unescorted and no one had cared.
Only Kyle. She hitched her breath three more times and sobbed into his shoulder even harder, drenching his plaid for sure.
Kyle Maule would wring the lass’s wee neck. She was beautiful, aye, but he was not fool enough to allow Lily the chance to do as she liked. He had vowed to Torrian Ramsay, his friend and laird, that he would protect her, and at present, he would wager he’d probably lose his life doing it, lovely trickster that she was.
Ever since Torrian had married and taken over as chieftain of the Ramsay clan, Lily had been unsettled. Kyle was also in a new position as second to the chieftain of the Ramsay clan, so he had many new responsibilities. It heartened him to know that if his sire could see him now, he’d be proud of him. Kyle could not risk losing this position. He’d worked too hard to get it, and he would do anything for his clan.
He turned his horse around and headed back to the castle, still holding Lily as she cried. “Lily, you must exercise more caution.”
She continued to blubber on, bits and pieces of sentences catching his ear…
no use…no value, no one cares, almost kidnapped
. His tunic was drenched through from her tears, and he was grateful it was autumn and not mid-winter. Memories of Lily planting a kiss on his lips surfaced in the forefront of his mind. She’d run out of Torrian’s chieftain ceremony a few moons ago, and he’d followed her to see what ailed her.
He’d had no idea that she would kiss him, and worse yet, that she would taste so good. He’d kissed many lasses, but Lily? He’d lost his head completely and kissed her back, parting her lips with his tongue so he could really taste her.
And that delicious taste had never left him. It tormented him day and night. Aye, every bit of Lily Ramsay was sweet, but would his laird accept a warrior’s suit for his sister? He doubted it. At any rate, he was too busy with his new job to offer for the sweet lass, though she was making it more and more difficult for him to ignore her.
She leaned back to stare into his eyes as he managed to get his horse turned around and trotting back toward the castle. “Who could it have been? Who would wish to hurt me?”
“I have no idea, Lily. I saw someone on horseback, but he was not near you, and by the time I reached you, he was gone. But must I remind you how many times you’ve been advised not to wander alone? You put yourself in danger.”
“But I’m not the chieftain’s daughter any more, I’m just his sister. No one cares. And please do not tell my sire or brother about this. I promise not to use trickery again.”
“Lily, if the man was after you, I must tell them both. We must send guards out to patrol the area. I will not keep this from them.”
His words finally managed to sink into her brain. “Kyle, you must have gotten a good look, did you not? I did not see him in the forest, I just heard the rustling. But as soon as I started running, he followed me. He was a man dressed all in armor…and…and he said he
me. He almost caught me. Then he saw you and jumped on his horse and left. Who could it have been?” She ran her hands up and down his forearms as she spoke.
Must she continue to touch him so? He could not concentrate on her words when her hands were on him. He let out a low growl, then stopped himself, scowling because he’d let her hear his reaction to her. “I did not notice he was in chain mail, but he was a good distance away.” True, when Lily was within range, he usually could see naught but Lily. He had tried to stop this foolish attraction since it was unlikely anything could come of it, but the more he tried to stop it, the more distracted he became. Had he been so distracted that he had missed something important? Had the horseman threatened Lily? He growled again.