to avenge her highland warrior (highland fae chronicles book 3)

To Avenge Her Highland Warrior

Samantha Holt

Copyright 2014 ©Samantha Holt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Excerpt

Logan clenched his jaw and the roar of the storm sounded closer. He had to leave yet his feet refused to move. Why stay? Why torture himself further? His heart pounded against his chest. In the next flash, he was close once more. Within touching distance. He saw her features more clearly now. The distress in her eyes, the golden strands of hair curling around her pointed chin. The fan of her lashes lowered and lifted in one slow sweep until her gaze locked onto his. 

“Logan,” she whispered, voice tremulous, but he did not know if that was a plea for him to leave or come closer.

“Logan,” she tried again.

The shaky quality of her voice pulled at his gut. His gaze traced the curl that flowed over one shoulder and down, caressing her gentle curves like a lover—like he once had apparently. His palms tingled with the need to feel the soft give of her flesh beneath him.

The next flash highlighted her trembling form. The fragile hollow of her neck fluttered with her pulse and his mouth grew dry with the need to press his lips to it. 

Damn her. Like a siren, she lured him in.

He almost backed away. How long they had been standing like that he knew not. It may have been moments—a mere few flashes of lightening—but the thickening of the air between them seemed to slow time.

The tremble of her lips gripped his heart, squeezed it hard and painfully. An aggravating need to take care of her ate into him, softened him to her.

Logan closed the gap. The next rumble lined up with him gripping her upper arms and pushing her back against the wall. She gasped, the sound clear to him even as the skies crashed about them. Hot anger mingled with need. It burned through him and set his nerve endings alight. How dare she have such a hold over him, how dare she make him want her?

Soft, delicate breasts pressed against him. Slim thighs quaked against his. With a hiss of breath, he lowered his mouth to hers as she stared up at him. Before his lips met hers, her eyes flashed with a plea, but was she begging him to kiss her or leave her be? He couldn’t decide what he wanted either, but she left him with little choice.

The first touch made him wonder if he had not indeed been struck by lightning. Frissons shot through him, curled into his blood and fired his fury and lust. Lorna released a tiny sound and he pressed his lips hard to hers this time. She whimpered. Her lips felt hot beneath his. Her taste threatened to drown him.

Satisfaction settled in his gut when she arched into him. He kept hold of her arms, allowing little movement but that up thrust of breasts and hips into him made him hiss and press harder. He coaxed her lips apart, and she gasped when he invaded the heated recesses of her mouth. Logan kissed her deeply, with little apology. He needed this, needed her.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter One

A dribble of cold water trailed down Lorna’s spine and she shuddered. Wrinkling her nose, she fought to ignore the odour of damp rock and death. The metallic scent might have had more to do with the iron currently clamped around her wrists but its similarity to the smell of blood wasn’t lost on her.

She closed her eyes and leaned back against the hard rock. How many days had she been down here? Two? Three? More? When this had been her castle, the lower donjon had never been used. How many people had Laird Gillean held down here since she’d escaped his clutches after he tried to kill her? How many people had
died
down here? Knowing the man who was once a brother by marriage—many.

Would she be one? Lorna kicked a rat as it scurried over her foot and cringed when it squeaked. The men-at-arms who had captured her had said Gillean would not return for a sennight. Hopefully that would give her time to escape before his homecoming. Though from the way she was shackled and dumped in the almost pitch black room, it seemed unlikely anyone would give her any respite from her confines. Kilcree had changed much since she had been lady of the keep.

The groan of hinges rattled her head, and she squinted into the darkness as a flash of daylight dribbled down the stairs. Hope burst in her chest but vanished with the sunlight as the door slammed shut. Footsteps sounded and she forced herself to breathe slowly while her heart echoed each thud.

Those footsteps came to a stop a few paces from her. In the gloom, she could make out the vaguest outline. A man. Tall, wide-shouldered. The smell of soap broke the stifling air. Lorna straightened as best as she could with her hands bound in front of her by the heavy, rusting iron. Her wrists panged in protest. No doubt the skin would be raw underneath the metal.

“Why are ye here?”

His voice made her jump. Rough and low—almost a growl—it grated her senses.

She raised her chin and peered at the outline of his head. “Why are ye holding me? I havenae done anything wrong.”

The man let out a gruff laugh. “Ye were found sneaking around the laird’s chambers.”

“I wasnae
sneaking
. And I hardly think visiting the castle which used to be my home is punishable by imprisonment.” She perfected her most authoritative voice—one that had worked for many years on the men under her command. “Ye know I am Lady Lorna, do ye not?”

“I do.”

“Then release me.”

He crouched, startling her. Why give up an imposing stance? She never would have done so had the roles been reversed, but knowing he was that bit closer sent a shiver through her. Who was this man? She’d known most of Gillean’s men. He had to be new. Since Gillean’s men had killed Logan, Kilcree had no one in command. A mercenary perhaps. A grizzled, scarred image of a man sprang to mind.

“I cannae release ye. Ye were trespassing where ye were no’ welcome. The laird shall want to deal with ye when he returns.”

“The laird shall likely kill me, but I suppose ye care not.”

The silence that hung between them made her heart thud. Something about his voice teased her memories but she would remember such a voice, surely? His breaths whispered harshly in the air, as if he struggled to draw them in.

“I suppose ye dinnae care that ye work for an ungodly man,” she continued. Would it even be possible to guilt this stranger into releasing her?

“God has no place in these walls.” She heard his smirk.

“When they were my walls, He did.”

“Much has changed this past year, Lady Lorna. Ye were much mistaken coming here. Ye should have stayed at Glencolum. Kilcree is no place for a lady.”

Lorna narrowed her eyes into the darkness. “Ye seem to know much about me.”

“Many know of ye, my lady. Yer men were responsible for killing many of Gillean’s. The laird has kept a close eye on ye since.”

She snorted. And she had been doing the same to him. Watching and waiting for the moment to strike. Her son was old enough to be left with the nursemaid, and Gillean had scaled down his defences when the clan at Glencolum showed no signs of retaliation for attempting to kill one of their kin and her brother’s wife. Foolishly, she’d thought it would be easy enough to slip into Kilcree and kill Gillean in his sleep. Lorna clenched a hand around the iron holding her captive.

She would have saved Scotland from the plotting of Gillean. She did not know what he had planned, but he had used the past year to garner more land and loyalty. It left her in no doubt he would eventually strike Glencolum and the rest of her kin. The man she had once called brother was as ambitious as he was deadly.

But more importantly she would have avenged Logan’s death—her one time lover.

And the man she loved. She gulped and fought the memories of how she’d treated him. If she hadn’t constantly refused him, would things have been different? Would he still be alive today? She had said goodbye to many men—her father, her first husband—but she grieved little for any of them. Her marriage had been by arrangement and she barely knew her father. Logan’s death, however, had left an ache in her heart that would never be filled. Even her darling son only eased it somewhat.

Revenge. That would make her whole again.

“Ye have nothing to say, my lady?” the man pressed.

“Not to ye,” she spat.

Whoever this man was had clearly taken on the role of her imprisoner and he would feel the full force of her hate. She consoled herself that her brother, Finn, would seek revenge for her should anything happen. Once he got over his anger, that was. She dreaded to think how furious he would be when he found out she’d put her son, Ewan, in the care of the nursemaid and snuck away on such a rash mission.

But Gillean should have been here. Rumour was, he was holed up in Kilcree, preparing for something. He spent his time between his two castles but he
should
have been here. And she should have had her revenge. Lorna allowed herself a bitter smile and shuddered as a howl of wind swirled through the slit of a window and wrapped her in an icy blanket.

“Cold?”

That smirk lingered in his tone again. Could he see her? She glanced up at the sliver of light and concluded it must highlight her. Her imprisoner was at another advantage. He saw her while she could barely make out his stance. Still, she would not show her despair. While she remained in the walls of Kilcree, her mission was not a complete failure. Gillean had tried to kill her once before but the stakes had been high. A rich bride—now Finn’s wife—had been the prize, but surely Gillean would not risk the wrath of Glencolum for the satisfaction of spilling her blood.

She prayed not. Lorna had little intention of involving her brother. For many years she had looked after herself and survived a man almost as evil as Gillean—her husband. She did not need Finn’s aid and, with his first child on the way, she wanted it even less. Finn deserved some happiness in his life.

Twisting her wrists in a bid to lessen the increasing ache, she fixed her gaze on the outline of his head. “Nay, I am no’ cold.” She tensed to fight another oncoming shudder.

In truth, until this man had entered the room, the temperature had been far from her mind. Was it him or the gusts of wind swirling through the dark, dank prison causing her body to feel as though she had been submerged into icy waters? Her thin woollen gown did little to warm her, and the men who had caught her in Gillean’s room had taken away her mantle—an act of cruelty she suspected. Anyone working for Gillean would have little compassion.

A warm, rough fingertip swept across the back of her hand and she squeaked while her pulse kicked. She hadn’t even seen him move. The tingles in her arm increased but they didn’t feel as though they were caused by cold—or by the constriction of the iron on her wrists. It had to be fear that caused it. Why else would this mysterious man have such an effect?

“Ye are cold,” he stated, wry amusement tingeing his gruff voice as he stood.

Damp rushes squelched under his boots when he took a step back—the same rushes that soaked through her skirts. 

Lorna thrust her chin higher, refusing to be a source of enjoyment for him. What sort of man took pleasure in imprisoning a woman in such squalid surroundings? Yet part of her longed for him to stay—a thought she dearly wished to quash. She had already spent two days alone in the dark confines. The thought of being left once more with no clue as to her fate made her chest constrict.

“What will ye do with me?” she asked, desperate to prolong their interaction. She needed some hint of what was to happen.

“That isnae up to me. Ye can wait until Gillean returns.”

He moved and looked to be folding his arms. A prickle on her skin told her he was studying her, but why? If he truly intended to leave her until Gillean returned, he had no need to be speaking with her.

“Do ye like what ye see, mercenary?” Why was she baiting him?

He released a low, raw chuckle. “Mercenary? Is that what ye think I am?”

“A man who offers up his honour to the highest bidder? Aye, I think yer a mercenary. Ye clearly cannae make decisions for yerself.”

A hand clamped around her arm like a hot vice and the hiss of his breath washed over her face. She cried out involuntarily and clamped her mouth shut while he dragged her to her feet. She near hung from his grip, her body stretched so she had to come onto her tiptoes. The chains that attached the irons to the ground clanged and squeaked in protest.

“Let me assure ye, Lady Lorna,” her captor hissed, “that no man commands me, laird or no’. And no woman commands me either. Ye may think ye are capable of bringing a man to his knees, but ye are mistaken.”

Her chin trembled. He had proved her right. This man was nothing but a mercenary with no honour or morals. Such men cared little whether you were a woman or an innocent. In all likelihood, she would not escape him or sway him in any way. Would she see her son again—the child who bore such resemblance to his father, it made her heart ache every time she looked upon him?

Several moments passed. The mercenary’s harsh breaths and her own seemed to grow louder. The heat of his palm continued to burn its way through the sleeve of her gown. Chances were he would leave a bruise. It wouldn’t be the first time a man had marked her, but she had hoped when her first husband had died it was to be the last. But men struck out. Gillean had reminded her of that and now this man.

The grip on her arm softened, just enough to allow her to relax. Lorna again questioned how she had become so careless. Years running a keep had taught her to be careful. She had become adept at negotiating and reading a situation. Her need for revenge had clouded her judgement and Ewan would likely pay for her carelessness. Would her son grow up hating her for putting herself in such a situation and leaving him motherless?

Finally the steely grip released and the man stood back once more. She failed to suppress a relieved sob. His responding exhale of breath surprised her. It sounded almost as if her moment of distress had affected him. Or perhaps she was simply looking for salvation where there was none.

“Ye shall remain until Laird Gillean returns,” he said decisively, his voice splitting the silence.

With that, he turned and stepped out of the door. It swung shut heavily, causing drips of water to shake from the walls and splatter on her chilled body.

Lorna dropped to the ground and drew her knees up as tremors wracked her. Tears singed her eyes and she closed them, refusing to give in. The need to avenge Logan’s death had blinded her and now those who loved her would pay for her mistake.

Filling her lungs, she curled her hands. Nay, they would not. She would not die here at the hands of a mercenary or Laird Gillean. She would kill Gillean somehow and return to Ewan. She would not have him growing up with the knowledge that the man who killed his father still lived.

Chapter Two

Logan paused outside the door and heard the rattle of chains as Lorna dropped to the ground. He put a hand to his throat and touched the raised welt. It felt tight. Not uncommon. But the churning in his gut was.

She was beautiful. Cold, wet, dirty and pale, her beauty shone under the meagre light of the donjon window. He shook his head and stomped up the stairs into the Great Hall. Something struck him as familiar about her, but he supposed he might have met her whilst in the service of Gillean. He put a hand to his head and paused in the stairwell. Why could he not remember? Why had none of his memories returned yet? The laird had told him of his life before he awoke in the very same donjon with no recollection as to his life before that moment, and it had been eventless up until the battle of Kilcree.

He was a peasant boy, it seemed, who had risen through the ranks. After Gillean had informed him he had gone into a fit after nearly dying at the hands of Lorna’s men and they had confined him for his own safety, Logan had been determined to prove himself to the laird. Thankfully he still had his wits about him and had managed to become indispensible to the laird.

He put a hand to the cold stone. Why she had returned, he couldn’t fathom. To get back her dowry probably. When Lorna had been forced from her home, she had left behind everything. But it mattered little to him. Once Gillean returned from the coast with the Norse in tow, it would be up to the laird what happened to the woman.

Logan paused in front of the table at the rear of the hall and snatched a goblet of wine. He drained it and studied the hall. The elaborate tapestry on one wall and intricate carving of the wooden stairs and banister that spanned the floor above did nothing to warm the place. A cold silence always hung in the air, even as servants scurried to clear away the morning meal. Gillean tolerated little joviality from his household and demanded nothing but hard work.

Logan smirked. That was fine by him. Hard work, he could do and laughter had no place in his life. Being Gillean’s chieftain reaped plenty of rewards and he was far from a simple peasant boy now.

Hand to his mouth, he swiped away the wine and set down the goblet. He shooed away the two hounds who sniffed around him for food and watched them slink back to their corner of the hall. His thoughts turned to Lorna again. Mayhap he had seen her during the battle, when Gillean led his men to take back his keep from the conniving woman, but something about being in her presence stabbed him like a knife in the gut—
or to the throat
. He touched his neck again.

One of the serving maids scurried past, and he grabbed her arm. Her eyes widened and she glanced up at him from under her lashes. The staff often regarded him like that. As though he were some disfigured beast, he thought bitterly.

“Have some food taken down to the prisoner,” he barked and released her arm when he felt her tremble.

“Aye, sir.” Anne dipped.

Perhaps he should have left the prisoner to starve a little longer. She’d only missed a few meals. It wouldn’t harm her to go hungry. Logan had no intention of letting the woman starve, however. Gillean would want to deal with her. From what little he knew of the woman, Gillean felt her to be a threat and as they were planning to make a move on Glencolum within the month, it would not hurt to have one of their kin in their grasp.

Logan helped himself to another goblet of wine, took a sip and savoured the tangy bite of the drink on his tongue. He paused in front of the tapestry. It depicted a battle—bodies and blood spilled across the hanging. He sighed. What Gillean had planned meant potential death for most of them. It could also reap huge rewards. Turning traitor to his country was not the most honourable way to make a living, but what other choice did he have? It was not as though Scotland had done anything for him. His life had been insignificant until Gillean had helped him.

If all went well, he’d have more than he’d ever dreamed of. With a chuckle, he tossed the rest of his wine onto the unlit fire pit in the centre of the room and abandoned the beaker on a table before adjusting the sword on his belt. How ironic people like Lady Lorna would end up with nothing while he—who according to Gillean had arrived on his doorstep with nothing but the clothes on his back—might end up in command of an island.

He pushed open the heavy carved doors and paused at the top of the steps into the bailey. The days were turning cold as they headed into autumn. The steps were damp and grey clouds hung low over the hills, as if weighted by rain. Logan inhaled the scent of soggy grass and mud. Not only rain hung in the air. Anticipation stirred. All at Kilcree knew they were on the verge of war. The men pacing along the wall did so with increased energy. Their chatter was hushed, as if fearful of giving away secrets. They would all be placing themselves on the line for Gillean’s greed, but greed drove them too.

Logan couldn’t help taking a moment to revel in it. After many months recovering from his injury and memory loss, the chance to take charge of his life appealed greatly. He might not remember his past but determination drove him to forge a future none would forget. Soon, everyone would know his name.

***

Lorna dragged open her eyes when the door squeaked open. She must have fallen asleep, but it had been fitful. Images of the last time she had seen Logan flitted through her mind. It was almost as if he’d known he’d never see her again. He had stayed behind to fight while she ran to safety when Gillean had taken command of Kilcree and tried to imprison her. The longing in his gaze never left her. If only she had told him how much she loved him.

Tears—ones she had held back for so long—dripped down her cheeks. She’d been strong for her son, strong for herself. Crying never helped. When her first husband, Walter, had beaten her, her tears never had any effect. In fact, she suspected he’d taken pleasure in them. Gillean’s brother might not have had the same ambition as him but was certainly born with a black heart.

Light footsteps sounded and she sniffed. At least it was not the mercenary. A figure approached, but Lorna was unable to make out much in the gloom.

“Milady?”

Lorna straightened and regretted it when her muscles panged in protest. Her arms were stiff and her back tense from leaning against the cold wall. “Who is that?”

The figure came to her side, and Lorna heard something clatter as it was placed on the ground. Warm fingers wrapped around her own. “My name is Anne. I’ve brought ye some food and drink.” A beaker was pushed into her hands.

“Thank ye,” Lorna croaked, her voice taken up with grief and a sudden realisation of how thirsty she was. With shaky hands, she brought the beaker to her lips. The shackles weighed her down and stole her strength so that she spilled much of it down her gown, but the ale brought relief to her dry mouth.

Exhaustion weighted her arms and the beaker slipped from her hands, clattering against the stone.

“Ye must try to eat,” the servant urged.

“I dinnae...” Shivers wracked her. Her stomach grumbled but the cold conditions and lack of food had drained her. Unable to lift her hands again, she could not take the offered bowl.

“Shall I...?”

Lorna swallowed her pride. “If ye will, I thank ye.”

Anne carefully spooned the warm broth into her mouth. Much dribbled down her chin and humiliation burned her cheeks. The last time she had been fed like this was after a particularly severe beating from her husband. Only her servant—and of course her husband—had known of his treatment of her. They had kept it quiet from the rest of the household somehow. Perhaps rumours followed her, but pride would not let her reveal the barbarity of his behaviour. His death had indeed been a blessing.

Lorna did her best to swallow what she could. The broth filled her stomach but could not defeat the chill that lingered in her bones. She shook her head when offered another spoon—unable to summon the energy to continue.

“Ye should eat more, milady. Ye shall ail.”

“Does it matter?”

A huff sounded from the woman as she gathered the bowl and beaker. “A lady should not be kept in these conditions,” she murmured before coming to her feet.

Lorna lifted her head and peered at the woman. In the gloom, she only made out the curve of a youthful cheek and a tight wimple. A thread of hope spun through her. Perhaps this servant girl would be her saviour. “Will ye help me?”

Silence hollowed the air, with only a whistle of the breeze through the thin slit shattering it.

“Gillean shall kill me if ye dinnae.” Lorna hated to put the serving girl in such a position, but these were desperate times.

“I shall see what I can do,” Anne replied softly. “I make no promises though. I depend on this job. My parents are old and frail and have no other income.”

“Forgive me, I dinnae mean to put ye in such a position. Pray dinnae place yerself in danger. But if ye can help me in any small way, I swear I shall repay ye.” Lorna clenched her jaw when a tremble shook her. They were coming more frequently now and even she heard the frail quality of her voice. “Ye think the laird will harm ye?”

More silence and a long intake of breath. “Laird Gillean is no kindly leader. He rules with a strong hand. Ye should know that well enough, milady. He killed many of yer men, did he not?”

“He did. Though some escaped to Glencolum, I have yet to find out the fates of many.”

“I fear their tales shall be pitiful. Some were captured, tortured and killed. I was brought here after such a time but the men will tell ye much of the horrors.”

Tears burned Lorna’s eyes. She had tried not to consider what had happened to the men who had tried to defend her when she had been ejected from the keep. But when Gillean had tried to kill her and her brother, they had little choice but to escape. She had left behind many friends.

“He hasnae hurt ye?” she asked through a clogged throat.

“Nay, milady, not so long as I work hard.” Anne sounded as though she were trying her best to convince her.

Lorna shook her head to herself. Gillean had to die—he had to. She’d been so consumed in her own grief, she had barely given thought to what others were suffering at his hand. Perhaps she should have demanded her brother and cousin, the acting laird of Glencolum, gather an army, but she had no wish to bring more death to them. Why should many men die when only one needed to?

“I must leave ye, milady, but I shall come back with more food and drink as soon as I can.”

Lorna nodded, not sure if Anne saw her response. Her throat was too clogged, too dry and her voice to weak to respond. She dropped her head back against the stone and waited for the door to shut.

Chapter Three

Logan had finished checking the perimeter of the keep when one of the serving girls approached. He eyed the girl and recalled she was the one he’d sent down to check on their prisoner.

In spite of a busy morning organising the men and overseeing weapon’s practice, his thoughts forever turned to the fair-haired vixen. Was it that she was an attractive woman? Or something else? Curses, if only he remembered more. Why had his neck injury stolen his memories? It made no sense. He could only guess mayhap he had knocked his head during the battle for Kilcree, but in the chaos of battle, none could tell him for certain and few would tell him much of those events. Even the men feared him and kept their distance. The ugly scar across his neck did not help matters.

Anne dipped briefly and kept her gaze to the ground. “Sir.”

“What is it?” He winced at his snappish tone. Logan relied little on civilities but something about having that woman under his care had put him on edge.

Or mayhap it was simply the knowledge of the impending battle. Gillean joining forces with the Norse to attempt to take the Western isles again and increase their reach into the mainland had everyone feeling apprehensive. To go against their king could have dire consequences.

“It’s Lady Lorna, sir. She is ailing.”

“And?”

“I fear she may die before Laird Gillean returns.” The girl lifted her head and met his gaze head on. Uneasiness haunted her gaze but he saw no lie.

Logan scrubbed a hand across his rough jawline. Was it an act? He had considered the lady intelligent from their brief encounter. The problem was could he take such a risk? The laird would likely wish to deal with her himself. Logan remembered nothing of the woman Laird Gillean had once called sister, but her escape over a year ago still angered Gillean.

“Ye’ve given her food?”

“Aye, sir. But she could eat little. ‘Tis the cold, I fear. She has spent too long in the donjon.” She dropped her gaze and clasped her hands. “Forgive me for saying, but ye shouldnae let her die. She is of an important family.”

He nodded. The MacRae clan were one of the more powerful clans in Moray. Gillean fully intended to turn his attention to their lands soon enough, but it would not do to rile them unnecessarily. And mayhap the lady could be used for negotiations. Logan might have much authority but he did not have enough to decide her fate.

Hands to his hips, he released a resigned sigh. Few things made him apprehensive. After all, what could disconcert a man with no memory? But having to deal with that woman again did.

“Very well. Have a guest chamber made up.”

“Aye, sir.” Anne snatched her skirts and scurried across the bailey. He did not miss the look of relief washing over her expression.

Before he returned to the keep, he stopped at the gatehouse and arranged two men to guard the guest quarters. If this was indeed some trick, he would not fall foul to it.

Logan took the spiral stairs down to the donjon. The rotten smell and the damp clinging to his skin reminded him of his time in the donjon. Awakening to find himself chained to a table, his body aching and damaged, even now made him shudder. When Gillean had visited with him, it had been clear he remembered nothing of the events leading up to his confinement. The physician put it down to trauma. Almost having your head severed from your body likely did that to a man, Logan concluded, but it did not stop him from curling a fist with frustration. Sometimes, at night, he squeezed his eyes shut and willed his mind to remember, but nothing came.

He could only act on what he knew. He worked for Laird Gillean and if he continued on this path, his circumstances looked set to improve. Soon, he too could be in command of a keep and many men. The prospect certainly enticed.

The rusting door groaned in protest as he pushed it open. With the sun now high in the sky, he had a better view of the prisoner and saw she was slumped to one side. He approached cautiously. A trap, or had she swooned?

When he touched a finger to her neck to feel her pulse, his skin pricked. He had touched her hand before, and been disturbed by the way her soft skin made him tingle, but her neck and the delicate, faint throb of her life’s blood caused a tumult of sensations. All of them unwelcome. While he should be preparing for war, he did not need such a distraction.

He tugged the key out of the folds of his plaid and unlocked the irons on her wrist. Red welts marred her pale skin, and an unusual sensation weighted his stomach. Sorrow? Pity? He shook his head and kept hold of her arms until he had her shifted into his hold. He scooped her up and found her boneless and light. If this was a trick, she was a fine actress indeed.

Grip tight, he carried her out of the donjon and up the stairs to the hall. If anyone thought the sight of their chieftain carrying a lifeless woman strange, none had the courage to say as much. Servants moved aside and the two men-at-arms he had stationed at the top of the wooden staircase watched silently as he ascended the stairs and strolled along the balcony.

When he stepped inside the guest chamber, he found Anne preparing the bed. She pivoted and her mouth fell open.

“She is dead?”

“Nay.”

He dropped his gaze to the woman and acknowledged she did not look alive, in spite of the gentle rise and fall of her breasts. Covered in filth, her pale skin did not look delicate as a noblewoman’s should. The grey cast to it spoke of her ailment, and a hollow look to her eyes forced that uncomfortable pang into his stomach again.

Dragging his gaze away, he eyed the serving girl. “Bring some food and have some warm water brought up. I shall try to rouse her.”

“Aye, sir.” Anne bobbed and left, flinging one last sympathetic look at the woman in his arms.

Jaw tight, Logan lowered the woman to the plush red bed. Her limp figure in a dirty green wool gown made his heart squeeze. He flexed his hands and scowled. Something about the woman’s slender body made his body tighten in remembrance. But why would he remember touching a noblewoman? Gillean had already said Logan had come from nothing. A woman of Lady Lorna’s birth would not deem to consider a man like himself.

He swept a golden strand from her face and forced himself to study her features with great attention. If she knew something of his past, if they had known each other at all, he needed to know. Logan surmised himself to be nearing thirty, which meant he had lost more than two decades of his life. The empty darkness that comprised his memories never failed to aggravate him.

Lorna’s delicate features—her snubbed nose painted with pale freckles, a pointed chin and fair lashes stirred his interest again. He had seen few women as fine as she. Though he could not know that for sure. When nothing came—when the dark abyss of his mind refused to abate—he gave up his study and shook her shoulder. She mumbled, which made him release the breath he had been holding. He pushed again and wondered if this woman had ever been handled so. No doubt she was used to men treating her with the upmost respect. He let his lips thin. She likely knew little of hardship. It would do her no harm to learn.

One eye flicked open, then the other. Her pale blue gaze took a while to fix on his face. Her eyes narrowed and widened. His appearance probably did little to comfort her. He’d let his dark hair grow long over the seasons so that it almost brushed his shoulders. He rarely trimmed his beard. Lorna blinked and her gaze fell to the unsightly welt on his neck. Unfortunately the dark hair on his jawline didn’t cover all of it.

Then her gaze met his and his heart jolted.

Her eyes rounded. “Logan?”

Her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell into a swoon once more. She knew him? He reached out to touch her but jerked back when the door swung open with a thud. Anne skipped her gaze between them and hastened to place the bowl on the coffer.

Eyeing Logan, the maid touched Lorna’s head and concern flashed across her face. “She is cold as snow.”

He cursed inwardly. He had been so concerned with the touch of her gentle body against his, he had not considered how cold she had been. Now he had an additional reason not to let her die. She knew something of him and he had to know what.

“I dare not wash her like this, sir. She shall chill further. I shall have to have a bath brought up, though I fear she willnae stir.” Anne nibbled on the end of a finger. “I dinnae know how to get her in it. Perhaps some of the men...”

Logan shook his head. He would not have them touching her. He scowled. Why he felt so strongly about that, he knew not, but the thought of any other man’s hands on her caused his chest to tighten.

“Have a bath sent up and filled and we shall see if she doesnae rouse before then.”

“Aye, sir.”

Anne went to fetch more servants to help. A brawny lad from the kitchens hefted up the large wooden tub while another woman stoked the fire to set it blazing. Wood crackled and the orange glow warmed the room. Logan tugged at his plaid. The woman might still be cold, but he was in danger of bursting into flames. Sweat trickled down his back, feeling too much like a nervous sweat for his liking.

He paced as the servants filled the bath until swirls of steam drifted lazily into the air and he grimaced inwardly when he turned his attention to the still senseless woman. He had little choice. He ordered the servants away.

“Anne, stay,” he barked. “Shut the door.”

Closing the door, she clasped her hands in front of her. She eyed him warily. What he was to do could cause great scandal but he did not have any other choice. And Lorna was no innocent and these were times of war. Sacrifices had to be made, even if it was the woman’s virtue.

“Help me undress her down to her shift. We can bathe her that way.”

“Perhaps I should get one of the other women,” Anne offered.

“To lift her? Ye might manage to get her in but ye’ll never have the strength to pull her out again.”

With a sigh, Anne moved to Lorna’s side, and between them they divested her of her filthy gown. He flung it to one side and kept his gaze averted as the maid peeled down Lorna’s torn stockings. Once those were cast aside, he hefted her into his arms and lowered her into the water. The white linen of her chemise immediately clung to her skin, like a child to its mother, and became translucent.

Unwelcome heat stirred in Logan’s veins and the site struck him as familiar. Her nipples grew visible and there was no hiding the curves that he did not realise she had. The woman was small in stature yet admirably endowed. He gritted his jaw and pushed up his sleeves to slide an arm around her shoulders and hold her in place.

Lorna showed no sign of life as the warm water sloshed around her. Were it not for the faint rise and fall of her chest, he would think her dead. Anne worked quickly to clean the grime from Lorna, a blush staining her cheeks. The lass’s skin warmed beneath his hands and the faint pounding of his heart slowed.

He helped Anne rinse her hair and rub in some tonic with one hand. Again, flickers of remembrance tore briefly through his mind, but when would he ever have washed a woman’s hair?

While he concentrated on drawing long breaths in through his nostrils, Anne blotted her hair with a towel and Logan lifted her out. Water dripped on the floorboards and down his legs. His garments were near soaked, but the realisation they still needed to strip her damp chemise from her made him forget the discomfort.

He nodded to the bed. “Place the towel there and put one over her.”

The maid did as he bid and he lowered the woman to the linen towel. Anne flung the other towel over her and Logan spun on his heel to turn his back to the appealing sight. Who knew the woman’s beauty would increase when encased in damp fabric and with wet curls framing her face? A less honourable man would be hard pressed to resist.

Less honourable? He had never considered himself honourable. Where had these thoughts come from? Yet he felt the inappropriateness of their situation strongly. Had he once been a man of principle? To come from nothing and to be Laird Gillean’s chieftain, he must have sacrificed many principles, and he had hardly spent the past seasons working to prove his honour. The need to prove himself drove him. Not honour.

Nevertheless, he kept his back turned as wet fabric slopped to the ground and the sound of linen being rubbed over skin made him clench his fists.

“Sir,” Anne said quietly, causing him to turn.

The woman lay safely tucked into the bed though her naked shoulders forced his imagination to places he did not wish it to go again.

“Have ye some spare garments?” he asked.

“Aye. I believe some of her gowns are still in storage from when the keep was hers.”

“Fetch one, will ye?”

“Aye, sir.”

Anne left.

Left him with this beautiful, naked woman. He pressed his fingers to his temples. What had he been thinking? He should have kept her in the donjon until Gillean returned. If she died, it would only serve her right for sneaking into the castle. Though he knew well her death could bring more trouble than she was worth.

Not to mention she knew of him.

He edged closer and hovered over her. Was it simply him remembering a time he had met her? Perhaps he had been attracted to her then too. Her nose, slightly too snubbed to be considered beautiful, made him want to skim his fingers across it and touch each of those freckles. Each part of her belied the fiery countenance he had encountered in the donjon, from the fair, angel-like hair to the sweet point of her chin.