“I can. There is a far more likely outcome.”

She doubted him but felt far too disheartened to argue the point. “Why?”

“Why did I allow it?”

She nodded the tiniest bit.

“Your sister found happiness with her highland laird; perhaps you will, too.”

Abigail could not make all the words come. She finally managed to say, “Hates.”

“Your mother has heard he hates the English, but Emily said in her letters that he was now allied with her husband. He cannot be that filled with hatred, or he would not have allied himself with a man married to an Englishwoman.”

Abigail just stared at Sir Reuben, tears burning tracks down her temples.

“You have hidden your affliction from the keep, surely you will be able to do so in his castle.”

She shook her head vehemently, pain rolling through her at the movement. But it was impossible. She knew the keep and its people. It would be different somewhere else. Much, much too hard.

Sir Reuben caressed her cheek and smiled sadly. “Perhaps he will find out, but if he does, do you not think he will find it more convenient to return you to your closest family, rather than send you all the way back to England?”

For the first time since reading the king’s missive, a tiny glimmer of hope came to light in Abigail’s heart. Was it possible this situation would reunite her with Emily after all?

Sir Reuben must have read the hope in her eyes because he nodded. “I considered all the possibilities before I allowed your mother to petition the king for redress on what she saw as a grievous offense, that of her stepdaughter being married to the wrong laird.”

Abigail shook her head again, bringing on another wave of pain in her shoulders. But it was a lie. Her mother was full of them.

“Whatever her true reasons, this was the only way you could leave her influence forever. Had you gone as a guest to the Highlands, she could have called you home at any time. I love your mother, but I know she has a vindictive streak.”

Abigail’s tears had been drying, but at the reminder of the hatred her mother had for her, they spilled over her eyelids once again.

Sir Reuben brushed them away with his thumbs. “Here now. It will be all right. If you wish me to tell the laird the truth of your affliction, I will.”

She stared at him, her tears drying in her absolute shock.

“I give you my word.”

Her stepfather was a hard man, a man she had never gone to for comfort or solace, but one thing she knew: he kept his word.

Anna arrived at the door then, clucking and looking as upset as she had the time her own little granddaughter had fallen too close to the cooking fire and burned herself.

“Think about what I have said. We are to leave for the border tomorrow. You can give me your answer once you have looked in the eyes of the man you are intended to marry.”

The words stunned Abigail all over again. Only the most besotted parent took their child’s opinion into account when arranging marriage. It was a boon she could not have expected, for she was not cherished at all.

Sir Reuben’s offer was beyond a boon even; it might be enough to give her the courage to face what the journey tomorrow would bring.

“Thank you,” she whispered, forcing sound she could not hear, only feel in her throat.

His face twisted in a grimace. “I owe you far more, child.”

Then he left Abigail to Anna’s ministrations.

The trip to the MacDonald holding took two days.

Abigail had spent both days in pain and avoiding looking at or responding to her mother in any way.

Ever since her fall from grace, she had hoped to again earn her mother’s approval and love. She now knew that to be more a fairy tale than any of those Anna had told her and Emily about werewolves in the Scottish Highlands. It would never happen.

And she would not care.

Her mother did not love her, but Emily still did. Her stepsister had never stopped caring for her. Abigail intended to be reunited with the only family that mattered to her. Somehow. Some way. She would see Emily again, and Abigail would tell the other woman how important her devotion had been.

She now knew Emily had truly saved her life, in more ways than one.

It was easy to ignore her mother in the journey as fear and pain vied for Abigail’s attention. She could not think about her future without great trepidation mitigated only somewhat by her hope.

And while Anna had treated Abigail’s injuries with an herbal mixture better than anything the leech could have achieved, no herbs could remove all the discomfort from Abigail’s many bruises. The maid Sir Reuben had insisted travel with her had helped Abigail apply the concoction each night and morning, leaving her smelling strongly of rosemary and witch hazel. Not an unpleasant fragrance, she consoled herself.

It was late afternoon of the second day when they reached the MacDonald keep. It was nothing like her stepfather’s home. There was no moat, no tower, just a house about four times the size of the surrounding cottages and a timber fence that would burn all too easily in battle.

Nevertheless, the people seemed unworried by the presence of an English baron and his complement of soldiers.

The MacDonald plaid was a deep red-orange and forest green. Abigail searched for a different set of colors, trying to identify her intended husband or one of his people. Only there was no other clan present. No other plaid than the one they had first seen after coming onto MacDonald land.

An old man and two burly but young warriors approached their entourage as Sir Reuben pulled his horse to a halt outside the keep. “Welcome to MacDonald’s holding,” he said in careful English.

Abigail slipped into her well-practiced method of reading lips, watching first the Scotsman speak and then Sir Reuben.

Sir Reuben swung down off his horse, followed by the most senior soldier and two others. The rest remained mounted. “You are the laird?”

“Nay, he is out hunting with the Sinclair.”

Her stepfather was clearly taken aback. “My daughter’s intended is out hunting?”


“And your laird went with him?”

From the look on the old man’s face, something in the way Sir Reuben spoke alarmed him. “Ye dinna gainsay the Sinclair, my lord.”

“Perhaps he wanted to provide the meat for the wedding feast himself?” Sir Reuben asked.

The old man nodded his head quickly. “Aye, I’m sure that was it.”

“I see.” Sir Reuben looked around him. “Your laird has made arrangements for our comfort?”

The MacDonald man pointed to a cottage separate from the others and near another building. “Aye. The cottage yonder, near the chapel, is clean and ready for your occupation.”

“And my soldiers?”

“Are they not accustomed to sleeping outside like a Scottish warrior?” the old man asked, a wicked twinkle in his eye.

Abigail found herself almost smiling.

“We have tents for them to pitch around the cottage. I can provide for all my people in a civilized fashion,” her stepfather said with what she was sure was arrogance. It was in his eyes and the way he held himself.

Sir Reuben was a powerful lord, which was why his only sanction upon sending a miserly number of soldiers as tithe to his king when he had a bevy of them had been the loss of a daughter.

Abigail knew her mother was speaking as well because the old man’s eyes strayed in Sybil’s direction a couple of times, though he did not seem to ever speak directly to her as he and her stepfather worked out arrangements for where to pitch the soldier’s tents.

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