Crispin left his mount with Davis and started up the hill. His mistress had told him she was afraid of Raen, and Crispin was going to stay close to her side until Connor's stepbrother left again.

The closer he got to the keep, the quicker he moved. He couldn't explain why he suddenly felt as though his mistress was in danger, but the feeling intensified until he was running to get to her.

And then he heard her scream. His heart slammed inside his chest as he reached for his sword. "Son of a bitch." He whispered the curse the first time, shouted it the second.

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Everyone was running to the courtyard. The silence after such an anguished scream terrified all of them.

Crispin reached the top of the path when he heard a man's shout. Jarred, he looked up. There in the window was Raen clutching at his shoulder, teetering and swaying like a tree giving way to the ax, then plunging backward into the air. He twisted in a useless attempt to land on his feet, screaming in horror, and then crashed, face first, into the ground with a soft thud.

And on Crispin ran. Dear God, let her be alive, he prayed. He leapt over Raen, raced up to the door, and pulled it open as Brenna came charging outside.

He stopped dead in his tracks. The look on her face was more terrifying than her cry for help. Her eyes were glazed over, her face was stark white, and there was blood everywhere. Her left arm was covered in it, for the skin was splayed open from the top of her shoulder to the bottom of her wrist. More blood covered her shoulders and neck, and her clothing looked as though an animal had shredded it with its claws.

He didn't know how she was able to stand. He reached for her, but she evaded him and ran down the steps.

"Hurry, Crispin, Hurry. You have to help me," she sobbed. "We have to hide him."

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A crowd of soldiers surrounded the body. They stepped back when she ran closer. Their expressions showed their shock and their outrage.

"I didn't push him out the window… No, no, I didn't… His feet got caught in his plaid when I thrust my knee into his groin… yes. I meant to hurt him so he wouldn't… He was holding me down, but the dagger was in my hand then… When he rolled over… it went… and he jumped, Crispin. He did, he jumped…

and then he fell."

She grabbed hold of Crispin's hand and tried to pull him forward. "Don't you understand? We have to hide him… She can't see her son like this. Oh, God, I have to tell Connor… I couldn't let him… He touched me, his mouth was on my skin, Crispin… I couldn't let him… She told me I should, but I couldn't… No, I wouldn't," she screamed.

"Euphemia told you to submit to her son?" Crispin demanded in outrage.

"Yes, but I couldn't… He tried, but he fell before he could…"

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She stopped rambling, let go of his hand, bent down to take hold of one of Raen's feet, and tried to drag him away.

"Mi'lady, let go of him. Let me help you," Crispin said.

"Yes, help me. We'll hide him before she knows he came back. All right?"

"Yes," he promised, his voice calm, his goal to reassure her. "We'll hide him."

"Mi'lady, your dagger is in his back," Owen whispered. "Do you want me to get it for you?"

"No, no," she cried out.

Crispin shook his head at Owen, telling him without words to keep his mouth closed.

"Connor will never forgive me. Oh, God, what have I done? I've killed his brother… No, she can't see him. Help me, Crispin. Please. I want Connor."

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He slowly put his hand out to her. She frantically shook her head at him. "No, I'm not clean. He touched me with his hands and his mouth…"

And then she threw herself into his arms. "Take me to the lake. All right?"

"Yes, mi'lady," he lied. "I'll take you to the lake."

She patted his arm. "Thank you. I've gone and done it, haven't I?"

"Done what?"

"I killed him."

"No, he destroyed himself. He deserved to die. Connor would have killed him for you."

"Will he hate me?"

She fainted in his arms before he could answer her.

Donald moved forward, his dagger in his hand, pulled his plaid from his shoulder and sliced it into two long strips to his waist.

Crispin held Brenna in his arms and turned so that Donald could bind the injury with the material. He spoke in a low whisper when he gave his orders. "You're taking the watch for as long as I'm away. I'm taking her to Lady Kincaid. She'll need stitches," he added. "Giric, you take others, surround the three soldiers waiting for the bastard in the meadow. Bring them inside the keep and make them stay by the stables."

"What about Connor's stepmother?"

"Donald, you tell her what happened. If she wants to take his body home, let her, but not one of Connor's soldiers escorts her. Understand?"

"Yes," Donald answered.

"Aeden, find Connor and tell him what happened. Assure him his wife will be all right. Don't paint it any darker than it already is."

"Will she die?" Owen whispered, terrified by the possibility.

"No, she won't die. Donald, no one but our own comes inside the fortress until Connor, Alec, Quinlan, or I come back."

"Will you leave her with the Kincaids?" Owen asked.

"No. I'm staying with her until Connor gets to her."

"Do the three soldiers with Raen stay even if Euphemia leaves?"

"They leave with her."

Donald finished binding her injury, nodded to Crispin, and went to the stables to get his commander's horse. He called orders as he ran. He wanted a full contingent riding with his mistress, and everyone was ready to leave immediately.

"Leave the dagger in his shoulder," Crispin ordered. He was so furious now, his voice shook with rage.

"She told Connor's wife to submit to her son. God help her when our laird finds out."

"Do you want me to tell him?" Aeden asked.

"Tell him everything, but make sure he understands she won't die. He has grown extremely fond of his wife."

Crispin started across the courtyard, stopped, and then turned back toward Raen and spit on him.

Blessedly, Brenna didn't awaken until they were dismounting in Kincaid's courtyard. Alec and Jamie stood in the doorway. Alec blanched when he saw Brenna's condition. Jamie began to weep. She put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from crying out.

Brenna asked Crispin to let her walk. She took hold of his arm and slowly made her way toward the steps. Crispin noticed the glazed look was still in her eyes and knew it was going to take her a long while to recover from the horror she'd endured.

Brenna stopped in front of Alec. "I killed Connor's stepbrother."

And then she turned to Jamie. In a bewildered voice, she said, "Now she's never going to like me."

Alec lifted her into his arms and carried her inside. "It's all right, Brenna. Your husband likes you, and so do we."

"Alec?"

"Yes?"

"I'm so sorry."

Chapter 17

Quinlan returned from England empty-handed. Thoroughly frustrated and bewildered, he gave his accounting to his laird.

"MacNare had already dispatched troops to England. We followed their tracks from the Lowlands on, knew their number, and exactly that many returned from Baron Haynesworth's fortress."

"How many were they?"

"Twenty-six soldiers, all fully armed."

"But they didn't have Faith with them."

"No."

"You're certain."

"We watched them leave, Connor. Yes, I'm certain."

"And what did you do to them?"

"What do you think we did?"

Connor nodded approval. "How many of my men engaged in this battle?"

"There were eleven of us."

"A fair fight then. Were any of my men injured?"

"Donovan's thigh was cut through, but his was the most serious of the injuries. The others suffered only paltry cuts. To be honest, I don't think Donovan would have made it back if it weren't for…"

"Weren't for what?"

"This is where it becomes a little bizarre," he said. "The baron's soldiers watched the fight from their tower, and I had only just decided to go inside the fortress to find out where Faith was when the drawbridge was lowered and a procession came out. Your wife's mother was leading the soldiers."

Quinlan paused to smile before he continued. "Her Gaelic is worse than Lady Brenna's," he said. "Her soldiers were armed, of course, but it didn't take long for me to realize they meant only to protect their mistress. I understand where your wife gets her courage. Her mother dismounted, demanded to know who was in charge, but before I could tell her, she spotted Donovan and went over to him. Needless to say, your soldier didn't want her to touch him. It didn't matter to her though. She had her supplies with her and cleaned and stitched his injury for him."

"And what were you doing?"

"Answering her questions about your wife. I assumed she was worried about her, but she insisted she wasn't worried at all. She explained that if Brenna had been in serious trouble, she would have sent her medallion to one of her sisters or brothers. Because she didn't, her mother knew she was safe. She was worried about you, though, and sent a message to you."

"What is it?"

"Treat her well or answer to her family. They had all heard what happened to Lady Brenna's escort, of course, and she assured me the baron hadn't realized what a monster the laird was. Oh, and you're going to love this. You have his gratitude for rescuing his daughter."

Connor shook his head. An Englishman's gratitude? What in thunder was he supposed to make of that?

"What about Faith?"

"She has vanished. Her mother was worried until MacNare's soldiers showed up. They had no advance warning, she explained, and they searched every corner of the keep looking for her. The mother believes someone came to her assistance. She thinks she knows who the savior is too."

"Who is he?"

"You."

"Didn't she wonder then why you were there instead of me?"

"She didn't seem to."

"What am I going to tell my wife, Quinlan? I can't continue to keep her in the dark about her sister.

Eventually she'll find out from someone else. Gossip travels like the wind in the Highlands."

"You'd be right about that. In fact, it sounds as if someone heard about this situation and got to Faith before we did. I doubt it was one of her brothers. He wouldn't let his mother worry so. He'd tell her, wouldn't he?"

"I would assume so. There's only one other man I can think of who would go to such trouble on Brenna's behalf."

"Who?"

"My brother. This sounds like something he would do, doesn't it?"

"He hates England."

"But he's fond of my wife," Connor said. "I must talk to him before I tell Brenna anything. God willing, Alec has her sister tucked away somewhere. Did you have anything else to report?"

He shrugged. "Mi'lady's mother sent gifts for her daughter, and she…"

"And she what?" he asked, wondering over his hesitation.

"She kissed me on the cheek. I didn't want to shove her away. She's mi'lady's mother, after all, but I…

This isn't funny, Connor. It was awkward. She told me the kiss was for her daughter and she expects me to… give it to her."

"She wants you to kiss my wife?" Connor wasn't laughing now.

"Yes."

"You're not going to."

"No, of course not."

The conversation ended then and there. The two warriors rode to the southwestern tip of the border where the latest attack had occurred.

Aeden arrived an hour later. Shouting at his laird, he dismounted and came running.

"Your wife is fine, Laird," he blurted out. "But there was trouble."

Connor stood perfectly still and didn't say a word until Aeden had recounted everything that had happened. The soldier also repeated every word Brenna had said, and by the time he finished, Connor was in such a rage, he was shaking with it.

"Where is my wife now?"

"With the Kincaids. Crispin's with her. He put Donald in charge of the keep."

"Is Brenna all right?"

"Yes, she is."

"You're certain?"

"I'm certain."

Connor tried to push his fear aside so he could concentrate. "And Euphemia?" he asked, his manner deadly calm now, for on the surface, he appeared to be in complete control.

"Crispin expects her to take her son's body back north for burial."

"Is Brenna…"

"She's fine," Aeden told him once again. "I wouldn't lie to you. She's needing stitches, and she was badly beaten, but she's going to survive. The women wanted to go with her. Donald had his hands full making them stay inside the fortress."

It took all of Connor's strength not to double over and let out a roar of anguish. He should have been with her. He should have known what was happening. The bastard. He dared to touch her.

"Laird, what would you like me to do?" Aeden asked.

Connor made himself think about the problems at hand. Aeden had to repeat his question a second time before his laird could answer him.

He called to Douglas, the senior of the soldiers guarding the border and told him he was in charge.

"Move the last of Hugh's clan tonight. As soon as you're finished, all of the MacAlisters are to return home. Aeden will assist you."

"And you, Laird?" the soldier asked.

"I'm going to my wife. Quinlan, take over the watch at home until I get back."

Quinlan stayed by Connor's side while the other soldier ran to do his laird's bidding.

Connor suddenly called out to Aeden. "She told my wife to submit to him?" he roared. He didn't wait for a second confirmation but caught hold of his horse's reins, swung up on his back, and took off at a full gallop.

Quinlan followed him. His plan was to protect his laird's back until they reached the point where he would have to turn north for home, while Connor continued on to the Kincaids.

Connor took the fastest route, cutting up along the border, and when he was well away from his other soldiers, he let out a cry that sounded like a wounded animal.

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