She stared at the wooden disk a long minute without saying a word. Faith wanted a closer look at it and reached down to pick it up. Brenna snatched it up before her sister could touch it.

She stood up and stormed over to the window. She wanted to throw the medallion out because he dared to use it now when it was too late but stubbornly refused to wear it before.

Then she saw him. "He looks tired," she whispered.

"You have to go, mi'lady. A fight's inevitable unless you let your husband know you are either going to go back with him or go with Gillian."

She stepped away from the window and walked to the door. "My brother doesn't know I'm here."

"That doesn't matter," he countered. He followed her out the door and down the steps. "Your husband knows you're here. Gillian might think he wants to take your sister."

"I have a sure way to make him go back to his fortress," Brenna said.

"Tell me," Faith demanded, running to catch up with her sister.

"I'll simply ask him if he loves me. He won't be able to say he does, and he'll realize then I should return to England."

"What if he doesn't realize it?" her sister asked.

"He won't do anything I don't want him to do as long as I tell him no."

"Have you forgotten how big your husband is? He can get whatever he wants."

"No means no to him."

"You love him, don't you, lass," Father said.

"Yes. I love him, but it isn't enough."

The priest reached for the door, yet didn't pull it open. "Faith, please go outside first. Run to your brother and stay with him so he'll know the MacAlisters aren't a threat."

"Do you think Gillian's soldiers would harm the Highlanders?"

"No, but I'm certain the MacAlisters would kill all of them without breaking a sweat. They can be ruthless when they want to be, and Lord only knows, they'll easily overpower them."

"But there are twice as many…"

"Number means nothing to them. I've seen them fight, and I assure you, I know what I'm talking about."

"I'll do as you say," she promised. She hurried outside, ran to her brother, and hugged him. She spent several minutes listening to him tell her how Brenna's husband had sent men to their mother to protect her from MacNare. He also added that their mother had taken a fancy to the leader of the band and actually hoped he'd come back.

Faith gave him her full attention until Brenna walked outside.

"You can tell me more after I go inside and get my clothing," she said, and though she had every intention of doing just that, she ended up following Brenna instead. Her sister looked so vulnerable and alone.

Faith wanted only to protect her from further heartache, and Gillian would just have to be patient a little longer.

He could wait a few more minutes, couldn't he? "I'll be right there, Gillian," she called out. "I just want to meet Brenna's husband first."

Before her brother could deny her, she picked up the hem of her skirts and hurried toward the MacAlisters.

Father Sinclair was detained by the monks hanging out the windows on the first floor. He had to reassure each one that a battle wasn't about to be fought on sacred ground and it was perfectly all right for all of them to return to their duties.

"It's just a family reunion," he explained, and heaven help him, he told the half-truth without laughing once.

Faith didn't speak to any of the monks, but she did wave to all of them. Several, caught up in her enthusiasm, waved back. As she neared the end of the path, one of the MacAlisters caught her attention.

She had the peculiar feeling he expected her to do or say something, and though he didn't motion to her, or give her any other sign, she couldn't shrug off the feeling he wanted something from her.

All of the warriors kept her brother's soldiers under close scrutiny. Brenna, she noticed, had suddenly stopped. Faith thought she was having second thoughts about talking to her husband and decided to help her make up her mind. She caught up with her, took hold of her hand, and gave her a tug to get her moving again.

Brenna wasn't paying any attention to her sister. Her gaze was on her husband. It was sheer agony for her to be so close to the man she loved and know she could never be with him again. Didn't he realize he was tormenting her by coming here? Her heart felt as though it were being shredded apart.

She stopped once again before she reached the end of the path. Faith let go of her hand and stepped behind her sister.

A full minute passed without a word being spoken while husband and wife stared at one another. Once again, Faith decided to help. She gave her sister a little shove.

Brenna ignored her. She took a deep breath, held up the medallion, and said, "This used to belong to you, Connor."

"It still belongs to me, Brenna. And so do you. Now and forever."

She shook her head. "It's too hard," she cried out.

He removed his sword, handed it to Crispin before he dismounted, and walked forward.

"I'll make it easy for you. Please don't cry. I know I hurt you."

The priest rushed forward to offer a cloth to Brenna. One look from Connor made him change his mind.

He backed away, turned around, and strolled toward Gillian.

Brenna felt as though the world were intruding on her now. When he took hold of her hand and walked down the path toward the gardens, she didn't pull away from him. She kept her head down and thought to wait until they had some privacy before she said good-bye to him.

The lack of privacy didn't bother him at all. "I know I hurt you. I should have protected you from Raen. I will have to live with my mistake for the rest of my life. I don't expect you to forgive me, Brenna, but I…"

"You aren't responsible for what happened. I should have told you what he was doing. I meant to, but you left before I could get up the nerve. Then he left, and I thought he wouldn't come back. It doesn't matter now anyway. You made your choice when you went to Euphemia."

He looked astonished. "Will it make you feel any better to know she's dead?"

"Good Lord, no."

"All right then," he said. "Does knowing that I didn't banish her as I intended make you realize I was considerate of your feelings?"

She turned to look at him. Connor didn't know how much longer he was going to be able to keep himself from taking her into his arms. He was determined that she willingly come to him, and he knew, if he didn't move away from her now, he would lose his battle. He let go of her hand, sat down on the stone wall, and waited for her to join him.

She moved closer, until she stood between his outstretched legs. "What happened to Euphemia?"

"I'll have to tell you about my father's legacy so that you will understand, but it's a long story. Do you want to hear it?"

There was an overwhelming sadness about him now that tugged at her heart. The strength seemed to go out of him as well. His head was down, his shoulders sagged from the weight he had borne all these many years, and she could feel the ache of his melancholy.

"Do you want to tell me?"

"Yes," he answered in desperation.

She took a step closer. "Please tell me now," she whispered.

He looked relieved. "I know that Lothar told you about the ruins, and that they would be torn down after I had avenged my father. I want to tell you how he died and what he said to me."

"He told me you were there during the massacre, and that you were just a boy. I would like you to tell me what happened, but only if you want to. Do you?"

Connor nodded.

"He didn't die easy…"

The past poured out of him in halting, broken sentences. He remembered all of it, remembered the fear he had felt and the hopelessness. She pictured him as a young boy, crawling over burning embers, clutching his father's heavy sword to his heart, and she was in awe of him, for he had more courage and honor than a hundred noble knights. No wonder she loved him so much.

"My father's demand to avenge him became my obsession," he ended.

She nodded to let him know she understood. "I have a question to ask you."


"Would you demand from your son what your father demanded of you?"

He didn't hesitate in answering. "If there was a chance that the murderers would come back, I would warn my son to protect himself, and I would tell him to find out who they were so he would know his enemy's name. I would not want to die worrying that he and his family might one day be destroyed, but I would not ask him or demand that he avenge me, Brenna. No, I would never ask that of my son."

He didn't know that his answer had just reclaimed her future.

He put his hands out in front of him so she could see the scars on his fingers and palms. "This is my inheritance. I can't remove these marks from me, and I can't change what I am."

She took hold of his hands and kissed each palm. "Your hands are beautiful. Whenever you're overburdened or worried, you have only to look at your hands to remember that you are a man of honor and courage, for that is what these scars represent."

"A wife doesn't run away from an honorable man. I failed you."

She shook her head. "You didn't fail me. I thought you could never leave the past, and I was also afraid that you would give your son such a burden. I didn't give up hope until you went to Euphemia. I thought you chose her over me, and it became too much for me to accept. Why did you send her away?"

"Because she hurt you. Don't you have any idea how much you mean to me? When I was told what Raen did, I went into a rage. I wanted only to rid our home of the scum before you and I returned. I couldn't bear the thought of bringing such a pure heart into such a foul presence. That's why I wanted to send her away. I considered killing her."

"The MacAlisters don't kill women."

"No, we don't," he agreed. "I was going to banish her. I never wanted her to call herself a MacAlister again or dare to wear my colors. Euphemia had already left the holding, but only just barely. When I discovered her trail, I followed her so I could end it. Then I saw her embrace MacNare."

"She was the traitor," she gasped.


"What happened then?"

"I'll explain everything later. You told me I only had to open my heart. Do you remember?"

"I remember."

He put his hands on either side of her waist and pulled her closer. "You were asking me to love you, weren't you? I should have told you then."

"Tell me what?"

"That I love you."

She shook her head. "No, you only want…"

"I love you," he said again. Tears streamed down her face. He gently wiped them away for her and pulled her tight against him. "I know you love me. Why didn't you tell me? Were you afraid?"

"I didn't tell you how I felt because I knew you didn't love me. Yes, I was afraid, but you weren't afraid, were you?"

He leaned close to her. "Yes, I was. Brenna, you scared the hell out of me. If I loved you, I became vulnerable. What would happen to me if you died? And then it was too late. I couldn't protect myself from you, but once I realized I loved you, I felt reborn inside. One of us will surely die before the other, but the memories will sustain the one left behind. You know what?"

"What?" she whispered.

"I'm never going to let you go. I know you deserve far more than I can ever give you. It doesn't matter, though. You're mine."

She pushed against his chest. "You aren't going to kiss me yet. You're going to have to tell me you're sorry first."

"Because I failed to protect you." It wasn't a question but a statement of fact. He let go of her, looked into her eyes, and tried to find the words that would redeem him.

"No, you didn't fail me. You did break my heart though. How dare you tell me to give you a son and then go back to England. It was a cruel thing to say to me, and I still cannot understand why you would hurt me like that."

"You were mourning your family," he explained. "And I wanted to give you something to look forward to," he added. "And so I…"

"You what?" she demanded.

He had the audacity to grin while he admitted his sin to her. "I lied."

Her eyes widened in disbelief. "You lied to me?"

"You can't really believe I would let you go back to England."

"Don't you dare laugh at me. I did believe you. You shouldn't have lied. That was wrong." The sparkle in her eyes made a mockery of her attempt to make him feel guilty. "Have you lied about anything else?"

He shrugged. "Probably."

"You must stop it at once."

"I lied when I had Jamie tell you I was going to Euphemia. Actually, I guess I didn't lie. I did go to her, but only because she was with MacNare."

Her hand flew to her throat, so stunned was she by his casual remark. "You went to…"

"Later, sweetheart. Are you going to let me kiss you now?"

"No," she replied. "You're going to let me kiss you. Things are going to change. From this moment on, when you leave our home, you will have the good sense to tell me first. If I ever wake up again and find out you've left, I'll hunt you down, and God help you then."

"Ah, lass, you do love me, don't you?"

"You're going to wear your medallion too. I mean what I say."

"I can't wear it around my neck. It becomes a weapon then," he explained. "If you sew it into my plaid, I'll wear it. Will that satisfy you?"

His wife looked radiant. "I want you to change the doors inside our home. It's safe for you, but I have to go out the back way because I can't open them."

"All right, I'll change them."

"I want to ride the black."


She put her arms around his neck and leaned close to him. "Will you think about it?"


She was laughing when he finally helped her remember she was going to kiss him. His mouth took absolute possession, and for long minutes, he showed her how much he loved her. She was far more aggressive than he was, and it was only when he forced her to stop that she remembered where she was.

She wept against the side of his neck while he whispered tender, loving words to her, and when at last he insisted they go home, he had to wait until she finished crying before she gave him her agreement. Copyright 2016 - 2024