Possession of a Highlander

Chapter One

 

Angus, Scotland – June 1606

 

Brianna Lindsay’s time had run out.

Soil caked the undersides of her rounded fingernails and creased her palms like black sin. There was still much to do.

The sun burned high overhead, baring her deeds to all. Reminding her she could be discovered at any moment.

She plunged her hands into the cool, moist earth. But she mustn’t delve too far.

She didn’t know how deeply they’d buried him.

Her body clenched around another dry retch. There was nothing left for her stomach to give.

She could go no further. The gouged hole would have to do.

The rosebush at her side stretched away with twisted limbs, and its leaves quivered in the wind. Did it seek another way out as she did? Did it feel the looming threat?

“We all must make our sacrifices.” She spoke under her breath in a soothing tone that would fall deaf upon wicked thorns.

It mattered not.

She had no other options. None, except this or surrender.

And there were too many lives at stake.

A pearl of sweat tickled a path from her brow to her chin. She swiped it away with a dirty fist.

The moisture upon her cheeks should be tears.

Edzell Castle had lost its earl the day before. No one could find out, most especially her uncle. Not until she figured out an alternative.

 Bernard, her Captain of the Guard, had left hours before with a letter tucked safely in his vest.

This would all be over when he returned from Edinburgh. She hoped.

She grasped the hearty base of the rosebush and cradled its roots. With reverent care, she transplanted it into the freshly turned earth, beside the other three. Only two more remained to be sown into the ground.

Together, they would cover the makeshift grave in a tangle of fragrant blooms and barbed vines.

At least he lay in consecrated ground.

For the countless time, she willed the tears to come. For the countless time, still, they did not.

She winced beneath a slice of regret.

No matter how callous he had been, no matter how cruel a position he had left her in, surely Brianna should mourn the death of her own father.

•••

Colin MacKinnon quickened his pace through the maze of curling ferns. Sunlight cut through the trees overhead and flickered around him, hastening his sense of urgency. The rich scent of soil rose from underfoot and mingled with the copper odor of blood.

He locked his arms beneath the battered old man he carried. As it was, the man’s breath grew shallower by the moment. He would not last long.

“Do ye see the castle, Alec? Are we close?” Colin asked. He would run if necessary.

Alec strode several paces ahead, his large body clearing the forest’s heavy growth from their path. “Aye, I see it just ahead.”

“We’re almost there,” Colin said through gritted teeth. “Ye’re almost home.”

The man’s mouth moved, and a weak exhale gasped through thin, bloodied lips.

Colin ducked beneath a veil of thin branches and found himself bathed in the warmth of dazzling sunlight. Lush grass stretched before him, lining his path. Beckoning.

Edzell Castle rose at its center, nestled like a rare pearl behind walls tinged pink with precious sandstone.

Colin glanced over his shoulder to where a small white building sat against the forest. A servant knelt in the dirt beside a row of rosebushes, her long brown braid thrown over her shoulder.

Before either he or Alec could call out, her head snapped up. She tensed. The narrowed look on her comely face was not one of welcome.

“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice sharp. Suspicious.

Colin turned, and her gaze dropped to the man in his arms. “We seek Lady Lindsay.”

All hostility drained from her widened eyes. She lurched to her feet and staggered toward them in a frantic run.

“What have you done?” Accusation screamed from her wild gaze. Soil smudged one flushed cheek.

“I seek Lady Lindsay,” Colin said again.

The man stirred, and a low moan croaked from his throat.

“He’s alive,” she gasped. “What’s happened? Who has done this?”

His patience waned. The dying man did not have time for the servant’s lamentations. “Damn it, lass, listen to me. He is badly wounded and requests Lady Lindsay. All questions will be answered later. For now, I demand to see the lady of the castle.”

Her generous lips fell open, but no words emerged. She dropped her gaze to the man, and her brows knit together. “This way.” She motioned toward the white building and sprinted ahead, her thick braid bouncing against her back with each hastened step.

The structure was cool inside, a reprieve from the heat of the noonday sun. Costly stained glass windows lined either side of the walls and shot streaks of reds, yellows, and golds across the rows of wooden benches. A church. The location was fitting for a man soon dead.

Colin glanced down at the man, Bernard, in his arms, and found his face had gone white beneath the streaks of blood. A bad sign.

The lass pulled a length of embroidered white silk from the altar and spread it on the ground. “Lay him here,” she said.

Colin hesitated. The workmanship on the fabric was incredibly detailed in its depiction of the Garden of Eden, each leaf and flower crafted with obvious care. He glanced up at the servant. She would be whipped for using so costly a cloth for a dying man.

“Lay him here,” she repeated, her voice strained with desperation.

Colin sank to his knees. “He is bleeding heavily.”

“I understand.” Her tone had lost its edge and was soft, somber. “Please.” She motioned to the altar cloth once more with trembling fingers tinged black and dirty.

Colin eased Bernard to the silk-covered ground. The old man was finally home.

The furrows of pain on the man’s weathered face smoothed into a smile. “Thank you.” The words rasped from within his chest. He was still alive. There was still time.

The woman fell to the ground, her head bent over him. “What’s happened to you?” Her voice broke in a way that would tug at any man’s chest. Colin was no exception.

“Brianna?” The dying man squinted up at the servant.

“Yes,” she whispered. “I’m here.”

Colin cleared his throat, an inadvertently loud interruption in the silence of the church. “He needs Lady Lindsay,” he said one final time.

“What?” The woman looked up at him from where she sat with her rough skirts tucked under her legs. “You don’t understand.” She pressed her dirty hand to her chest. “I am Lady Lindsay.”

*

Possession of a Highlander releases August 11, 2015

Preorder here: Pre-Order Links

Add to your ‘Want to Read’ list with Goodreads: Goodreads

MadelineMartin_PossessionOfAHighlander2500