Authors: Stephanie Marks
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance, #Fiction, #Adult, #Erotic, #Short Storys, #Series, #Clan MacGregor, #Daughter, #Love Match, #Highlands, #Myth, #Whispers, #Wolves, #Shifters, #Legend, #Betrayed, #Battling, #Emotions, #Highland Chief, #Challenge, #Blood Of Wolf, #Treachery, #Murder, #Exposed, #Curse, #Safety, #Commitment, #Secret, #Historical
THE CLAN MACGREGOR
TAKEN BY THE HIGHLAND WOLF
2015 by Stephanie Marks
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my editor, Carol, thank you for all of your hard work. I couldn't have done this without you.
A NOTE TO THE READER
I hope that you enjoy this book. If you are interested in finding out about my latest releases, be sure to visit my website to sign up for my newsletter.
There was a flurry of activity in the lower hall the next morning as I made my way through the castle. I hurried toward the sounds of shouting to see three of Alastair's clansmen carrying a fourth, unconscious, man between them.
"What's happened?" I asked them as they lowered the man to the stone floor. "Who is he?"
"We don't know, miss," said one. "We found him on the road like this."
My mind raced as I tried to think of what to do. "Bring him with me," I told them. "He must be seen to."
The man was picked up and brought with me to one of the guest chambers, where I directed them to lay him on the bed.
"Fetch me a bowl of hot water and another of cold. I will also need some fresh cloths. And see if Mrs. Fletcher has any willow bark for when he awakens."
"Right away, miss. Should we bring Mrs. Fletcher to see to him?" one of the men asked.
"No, there is no need. I'm sure she is busy enough already. I'll see to him myself."
The clansman nodded and hurried out the door with the others.
I put my hands on my hips and looked down at the bed, studying the unconscious man before me. His face and clothes were torn and covered with dust and dirt. It had mingled with the blood and sweat on his face, forming thick, cakey patches.
After the men came back with the items I had requested, I wasted no time in carefully cleaning away the blood and grime from the injured man's face.
By the time I was finished, the bowl of hot water was dark brown and the extent of the injuries on his face was exposed for my examination. I could see clearly that he had a black eye and a split lip, with some bruising along his upper cheek, but not much more damage had been done to his face. I bit my lip and wondered about the extent of the injuries to the rest of his body.
I could not strip him. But maybe, if I were to simply lift his shirt to see if there were any major injuries that needed to be seen to?
I moved hesitantly at first but then with more determination. Moving the top part of his plaid aside, I tugged his shirt from his kilt and raised it over his stomach to expose his chest, revealing a smooth expanse of muscle.
I could feel the warmth rising in my cheeks as I examined him, but tried to ignore it as I took in the extent of his injuries. Large patches of bruises covered his chest, as if he had been badly beaten. I prayed that nothing was broken.
Table of Contents
The rough, worn wood of the raised platform scraped at the soles of my bare feet. I was not bound, but I found that I could not run. My legs felt as though they were trapped in tar and were able to move only by the will of the mob. Standing in the middle of the village square in naught but my shift, I looked out at the angry faces surrounding me. Neither the voices of the shouting humans nor the howls of the giant wolves could be heard as the group surged forward, pressing me back. I was somehow deaf to their cries but I could see the contorted rage on their faces all too clearly as their mouths formed words that I could not make out.
The smell of smoke filled my nose even as the heat of a nearby flame could be felt at my back. They continued to press forward, their eyes filled with hatred, every face so indescribably angry as they called for my death...
I stood in the darkness of my bedchamber and wrapped my shawl tightly around my shoulders. Though the days were getting warmer, the night air still held a refreshing chill that banished the lingering memory of the flames. The window shutters were thrown wide and I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, enjoying the cool breeze on my face.
I had awakened from my nightmare to find myself alone, with neither the angry mob nor Alastair's sleeping form to be found. He must have left me sometime in the night to go back to his own room. Though I missed the nearness of him, I had to admit to myself that a part of me was glad to be alone. He would only worry over me until he compelled me to tell him what I had dreamt of, and the truth of it would cause him nothing but added stress and heartache.
He knew that although I was happy to stay here with him at the castle in Glen Lyon, there was a sadness that, no matter how hard I tried every day to banish it, had come to settle within me. But the deepest places of my heart knew the truth of my fears whether I voiced them or not. It was the root of these new fears that continued to haunt my dreams at night. It was the fear that his people would never accept me, and that I would be forced to leave this place, and him.
The next morning I rode down to the small village of Fortingall. It was nice to get out of the keep for a while, and visiting my friend Iona was the perfect excuse to put some distance between myself and the castle walls.
I pulled the kettle off the heat and poured the water for our tea. Iona leaned heavily on her cane, moving slowly around her small kitchen, and placed a few sweet cakes on a plate before setting it on the small table between us.
"Oh, Iona, you didn't have to go through such trouble for me," I told the old woman, touched by the kindness of the gesture.
"Nonsense, dear. You're kind to take the time to spend such a beautiful day with an old woman like me. Ye know that I've no one left to spoil. You've become the closest thing that I have to a granddaughter."
I smiled at her, moved by the generosity she showed me, even though she had so little. I had come to be very fond of the widow, and in the short time that we had known each other I had come to think of her as family as well. My own grandparents were dead and gone, and it was nice to have someone older and wiser whom I felt free to go to for guidance. Especially now that I was so far from home.
"I love coming to spend time with you," I told her. "And besides, without these visits to the village, what would there be to keep me out of trouble at the castle?"
"Not finding much for ye to do up there to fill your days?" she asked.
"Sadly, no. Though it pains me to say, I'm not actually very skilled at anything other than riding. But that's not much of a help to anyone, now is it? It's not as if I can go work with the grooms all day."
"No, I can see how ye might be feeling at loose ends." She nodded. "And the rest? How have ye been sleeping since your last visit? You look as though you've had a rough night of it." Iona leaned in to examine my face closely. The corner of her mouth turned down in a disapproving frown at the dark circles I knew to be beneath my eyes, betraying my troubled night's sleep.
Taking a sip of tea, I shrugged my shoulders slightly and avoided her eye.
"Don't worry, it will get easier," she said, nodding with certainty.
"I try to not dwell on it once I'm awake. I know that nothing will make it easier but time. Almost everyone at the keep and in the village has been perfectly nice to me, but I can't help feeling like an outsider. I was hoping that bringing food to those in need in Fortingall would help. That the people would see that I want to be a part of their lives and this clan, but I still feel very much the intruder," I confided in her. "I can feel their resistance to my being here. It has been three months now, and I swear to you I can feel people's eyes traveling to my waistline, waiting to see if I carry the MacGregor's child. What makes it worse is that I know they would never forgive me if I did."
"Can you blame them, child, for being afraid?" she asked gently.
"No." I shook my head." Of course not. They need to know that there will be an heir who carries the wolf within him. And I want that for Alastair—I mean the MacGregor. But I have no wolf, and I cannot give him a wolf son. He says that it makes no difference to him so long as we are together, but how can that be?"
"He loves you, Glenna, and love is a powerful thing. Before I lost my Liam, it felt like our love for one another had the power to move the very mountains themselves. That's probably why it was such a shock to me when he was taken over by the fever. I never believed that a mere sickness would have the power to take him from me. It was too common, too mortal a way for him to die. It sounds to me, child, like the MacGregor has the same kind of faith in your love as my sweet Liam and I had in ours. You must cherish that, Glenna."
"I do," I told her, quickly wiping away a tear. The way she spoke of her late husband always touched my heart. I prayed that Alastair and I would have as many years together as Iona and her husband had.
"Then you must trust in him. He is a strong man, our MacGregor, in heart as well as body. He has protected this clan as his father did before him and he will protect you."
"He must have the support of the people. He doesn't like to talk about it, but I know that he is becoming disheartened by how hard it has been to sway the clan to the prospect of his taking a human wife. I do not want to do anything that will drive him and his people farther apart. I am willing to wait. I want our marriage to be a joyous occasion. I do not want him to have any regrets."
"You're a sweet lass, Glenna, and no matter what resistance the MacGregor may be facing, I'll tell you here and now that he made a fine choice in choosing you."
I reached across the table and took the old woman's soft hand, squeezing it gently.
"Thank you, Iona. It warms my heart to hear you say so, it truly does."
A scream tore through the air, shattering our soft moment, and we both jumped in our seats and looked to the window. A moment later the door to the house banged open and one of Alastair's men stuck his head inside.
"There's been trouble, miss. I have to go check it out. Will you be safe here for a while?" he asked.
"Of course she will," said Iona.
"I'm coming with you," I told him, then put down my teacup and hurried to the door.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, miss," he said as I shoved past him.
"Don't be absurd, Gregory. If there is trouble I'm not about to hide inside. I want to help if I can. Now, which way did the scream come from? We're wasting time."
"This way," he said, apparently deciding that arguing with me on the matter was not a battle worth fighting.
"Thank you, Iona," I said, kissing the old woman quickly on the cheek before I hurried out the door.
Gregory and I rushed toward the town center where a large group of people had gathered and were talking in hushed voices. My step faltered as I flashed back to my nightmare from the night before, but I quickly shook it off.
"Excuse me," I said as I pushed my way through the crowd. "Please let us through. We need to see what's happened."
We broke through the front of the group to see what it was that had drawn everyone's attention, and I gasped at the grisly sight. I turned my face away for a moment while I steadied myself in order to turn back and face the scene.
The body was propped up against the low garden wall. The young man's face was bloated and discolored, and his blank eyes stared right through us.
Gregory looked around at the crowd.
"Who saw what happened here?" he asked. "Did any of you see this happen?" He was met with silence as the people continued to mutter amongst themselves.
"Do any of you know him?" Gregory asked more urgently. I searched the faces for a glimmer of recognition, but no one seemed to know who the dead man was.
Gregory stepped closer to examine the body, looking it over for any signs or marks. There was no blood anywhere that I could see, so I didn't think that he had been stabbed.
"What's this, then?" he mumbled to himself, examining the face more closely. "There looks to be something in his mouth."
"Good Lord in Heaven," came a stunned voice from behind me, and I turned around to see Father James MacGregor crossing himself as he stared wide-eyed at the body.
Standing next to him was the magistrate, making his own half-hearted attempt at the sign of the cross while he blinked slowly, looking for all the world like a very confused, very bloated owl.
"It looks like he's been with our Lord for a while now, Father," said the magistrate.
"Mr. MacAlpin, what would you have us do with the body?" I asked the magistrate as he mopped his brow. His round face was flushed red with exertion from his rush over and his large chest rose up and down as he tried to catch his breath.
"Ah, Miss Gordon, I did not see you there," he said to me, his mouth turning down in a slight frown.
I tried to hide my annoyance. I knew that he had been one of the most vocal at expressing his thoughts about my marrying Alastair, and that he was very much against it. I tried not to let that color my actions toward the man, but it was hard to smile and defer to him when I knew he was set on squashing my happiness. Even if I did understand why.
"It's nice to see you, Mr. MacAlpin," I said to him politely. "But if you would, the body?"
"Of course, of course. A grisly bit of business this. Well, we had best be getting him out of the square." He came forward and turned to face the crowd. "If everyone would please step back and clear a path. Yes, that's right, clear a path, please. And maybe if we could have a few volunteers. Yes, the two of ye." He pointed at two strong-looking young men. "If ye wouldn't mind giving us a hand moving him to my offices? Very good."
Mr.MacAlpin, Father MacGregor, Gregory and I made our way to the magistrate's office with the other two men following closely behind, carrying the body between them.
"There, put him down there," Mr. MacAlpin told them, gesturing to a long, rectangular table in one of his back rooms. "Now, let's examine him and see what we might find."
"There looks to be something in his mouth," said Gregory.
The magistrate looked around the room and grabbed a quill from the sideboard. Coming back over, he handed it to Gregory and urged him toward the body.
Gregory took the quill and used the tip to carefully fold back the dead man's bottom lip, revealing a large tuft of hair. Taking hold of it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, he gave it a tug, and pulled a large strip of fur from the man's mouth.
"Good God," I whispered. "Was the poor man strangled with that?" I lifted my hand to my lips, remembering the night just a few months ago when I had a gag shoved into my own mouth. I could still recall the dirty, sweaty taste of it, and the fear. So much fear.
I looked away from the body, overwhelmed, while I took a steadying breath before facing it again.
"This is most certainly murder," I whispered.
"I would say you're right about that, miss," said Gregory.
"Murder, in Fortingall?" blustered Mr. MacAlpin. "But how can that be? We don't have murders in Fortingall."
"Well, you have now, Mr. MacAlpin. And until you find out who did it and why, I doubt that any of us will be feeling very safe in our beds tonight."
"Are you trying to tell me how to do my job Miss Gordon?" the large man bristled. He puffed out his wide chest, and his double chins jiggled as he turned on me.
"Of course not, Mr. MacAlpin," I said soothingly, while internally I rolled my eyes. "I'm simply commenting on the fact that I will feel very relieved once the culprit is caught. I have no doubt that you have the matter well in hand. Why, I'm sure that your clever mind has already begun working on a way to trap the monster that did this."
Mr. MacAlpin grunted, then turned his back on me once more, and I stuck my tongue out at him, giving in to a moment of childishness. There was a soft cough and out of the corner of my eye I could see Gregory trying to smother a smile. I had been caught out. I straightened my face quickly and tried to look as innocent as possible. No matter my dislike of the man; murder was a serious matter and Alastair would need him to dispense justice once the culprit was found. It was no time for me to allow my emotions to get the best of me.