About the book
She never thought that sin would feel so good…
Fleeing the monastery she was forced to live in since a very young age, Laura Stewart has nowhere to go. With her pursuers hot on her tail, all hope seems lost. Until she finds herself at the right place at the right time: in the arms of a Highlander.
Fergus MacCarthy does not do emotions. He has been training to become Laird his whole life, and as opposed to hunting, sentiments were never his sport of choice. But meeting an English lass might be just the spark of color in his life of grey: red of passion.
Life for Laura will never be the same way again, with Fergus by her side. But this union will never be blessed. Having never known her family, Laura searches for an answer. An answer buried with her mother two decades ago…
Laura clamped a hand over her mouth, holding her breath as she hid under the bed. She didn’t make a single sound, nor did she move a muscle, her eyes widened as she gazed through the small gap between the floor and the valance.
She couldn’t see anything, not even a shadow, but she could hear footsteps, echoing around the room.
Daenae look under the bed. Daenae look under the bed.
Two feet stopped right by the bed, then, and Laura curled up in herself when she saw them. For a few moments, there was silence in the room, and Laura was almost certain that she wouldn’t be found, that her hiding spot was so good that it would never be discovered.
Then, with a whoosh, the valance was pulled back.
“I got ye!”
Laura screamed, but her screams soon turned into a delighted giggle when her mother pulled her out from under the bed and lifted her high up in the air. She wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck, and then tried her best to suppress a yawn, knowing that if her mother saw it, then it would be time for bed.
She didn’t want to go to bed. She wanted to stay awake all night, one of the few nights that she got to spend with her mother, as her father was away from the Castle on business.
What kind of business that was, she didn’t know and didn’t care, as whatever business adults seemed to have was much less exciting to her than playing. She never understood why no one but her nanny had time for her. What could be more important than playing?
Still, she had her mother to herself for a few nights, and Laura was determined to make the most out of it, even if it meant that she wouldn’t get any sleep. They would be the best few days of her life, she knew.
Then, her mother said the one thing that Laura didn’t want to hear from her lips.
“I think it’s time ye go to bed, a bhobain,” she said, as she placed her on the bed, and immediately, Laura began to pout.
“Nay, Mamaidh!” Laura protested, her arms crossing over her chest petulantly. “I nay want to sleep!”
“I daenae want to sleep,” her mother corrected her with a soft smile, before she pressed a kiss on Laura’s forehead and pulled the covers over her, effectively putting an end to any other protests she had.
Before Laura could say anything else, there was a knock on the door, and her mother frowned as she walked to the other end of the room. When she opened it, Laura saw a man that she didn’t recognize, one that she was certain she had never seen before.
He’s so big, even bigger than Dadaidh! Like a giant!
The man took a few steps into the room, his heavy boots stomping the floor as he walked. He remained silent for a long time, simply looking at Laura and her mother, who began to take a few steps backwards, away from him.
Then, he smiled, revealing a set of yellow teeth. Laura had seen many people smile before, and none of them looked like that; none of them looked so mean.
“Can I help ye?” her mother said, her voice smaller than she had ever heard it before.
“Me apologies, me lady, I dinnae mean to scare ye,” the man said. “The Laird sent me to ensure that the two of ye are all right. Ye’re always on his mind, ye see.”
Laura saw her mother narrow her eyes at the man, her lips turning into a thin line as she stared him down. Even at her young age, she could tell that something was wrong. If there was anything that she had learnt in her three years in the world, it was that when her mother pursed her lips like that, it meant trouble.
“I havenae seen ye in the Castle before,” her mother said. “What’s yer name?”
“Sean Brauderfor, me lady,” the man said. “I havenae been in the Glefer Castle for too long, perhaps ye havenae had the chance to see me yet.”
Laura watched the exchange between the man and her mother carefully, though she couldn’t understand why her mother seemed so upset at the man’s presence. She knew that her father’s men would do anything that he told them, and so she doubted that Mr. Brauderfor had any choice but to pay them a visit.
“Me husband never sends his men to see if we’re all right,” her mother said, her words vicious, dripping with venom. “And certainly nay so late at night. Leave me chambers at once.”
Her tone was one that Laura had been unfortunate enough to hear only once or twice, and it was a tone that made her shrivel and curl up in the bed, even though it wasn’t directed at her. The man didn’t seem to be affected by it, though. In fact, not only did he not move, but the grin on his face remained just as bright and cheery as it was before.
Then, he began to walk towards her mother once more, who continued to step backwards, her skin pale and her lips trembling as she did. Laura couldn’t help but sit up on the bed, her eyes wide as she looked at her mother.
Something was wrong, and she could tell.
“Mamaidh…” Laura said, her voice soft and uncertain. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and her lips trembled just like her mother’s own, her fingers gripping onto the sheets with such force that her knuckles turned white.
“Hush, a bhobain,” her mother said. “Hush now…everythin’ will be all right.”
Before Laura knew what was happening, her mother had drawn in a deep breath, ready to scream, and once she did, the man pounced on her, a hand clamping her mouth shut while the other wrapped around her throat, squeezing. The two of them fell on the floor, and her mother began to kick her legs out, trying to push the man off her, but her efforts were to no avail.
He’s too big, Mamaidh…I wish Dadaidh was here.
But her father wasn’t there. It was only the two of them, and Laura didn’t know what to do to help her mother.
As the two of them struggled on the floor, her mother using every last ounce of her strength to save herself from the man, she managed to push his hands off, even though it was only for a moment.
That moment was enough to turn to Laura, eyes wide and full of tears.
“Run, Laura!” she said. Her voice was hoarse, too unlike her, and Laura couldn’t help but think that it sounded nothing like her mother. “Cover yer eyes and yer ears and run!”
Then, the man had his hands on her mother once more, and this time, she couldn’t stop him. She was too tired, having fought him for so long, and her arms were shaking with the effort it took to even attempt to push him away.
Laura tried to move; she really did. She tried her best, whispering to her own legs over and over, begging them to take her away from the room, just like her mother had told her to do. She couldn’t, though; she couldn’t move a muscle, her body frozen in place.
She couldn’t quite understand what was happening. What she did know, though, was that something was wrong, and that her mother was in pain. Laura had never seen her cry before, she didn’t even know that she could, that any adult could.
But her mother was crying, which could only mean that she was in pain.
“Daenae look, a bhobain,” her mother said, her voice choked off, but pleading, and Laura couldn’t deny her that request. She closed her eyes, the tears still streaming down her face, and plugged her ears with her hands, eager to do as her mother told her.
She didn’t want to hurt her any further.
Laura even shuffled down the bed, retreating under the covers. In the darkness, she allowed herself to open her eyes once more, but she never once pulled her hands away from her ears. She trusted her mother; all she had to do was what she told her, and then everything would be alright.
“Mamaidh…Mamaidh…” Laura mumbled to herself, repeating the word over and over through her sobs. She wanted nothing more than to run to her, to be in her arms, but she had told her to stay away.
She had told her to run.
Laura took a deep breath and decided that she would try to run once more. Perhaps she could run to one of the guards, and he would know what to do to stop her from being in pain.
So, she pushed the covers off herself gingerly, hesitantly, and then blinked a few times, her gaze searching for her mother and the man. She was right there, where she had been before, but she wasn’t moving anymore. Her body was still, her limbs arranged strangely on the floor, as though they hardly belonged to her own torso, and Laura simply couldn’t take her eyes away from her.
“Mamaidh,” she said softly, her voice barely audible, as her hands dropped to her sides, eager to see if she would respond to her. “Mamaidh, get up.”
The man looked at Laura and sighed, a hand coming up to scratch at his forehead. Laura looked at him, eyes wide as she shuffled backwards on the bed, trying to get as far away from him as she could.
“Close yer eyes, bairn,” he told her.
Laura hesitated. She didn’t close her eyes, nor did she look away from the man. She tried to be brave, because she knew that it was what her mother would have wanted.
“Close yer eyes,” the man repeated. “Do as yer Mamaidh told ye.”
It was that which made Laura close her eyes once more, as well as plug her ears with her hands. She didn’t see or hear what followed, and she didn’t open her eyes again until she felt a hand on her shoulder.
The man was standing right above her, while her mother hanged from the top bedpost of the canopy with a rope.
It was all that Laura needed for tears to begin to fall down her cheeks once more, hot and desperate. She was confused, not quite understanding what she was seeing, but knowing that something was wrong, and her hand reached for her mother, but she couldn’t quite get to her from where she sat.
“Nay…nay!” Laura said, her voice becoming louder and louder. “Nay! Mamaidh! Mamaidh, wake up!”
Brauderfor sighed, shaking his head as though Laura was more work than he had signed up for. Before she could run out of the room, he grabbed her right out of her mother’s bed, and then made his way to the window, looking down to judge the distance.
Laura fought him with all her might, just as her mother had, but she was only a child. Her fists did nothing to hurt Brauderfor as she slammed them against his chest, and her feet barely reached him as he held her.
“Let me go!” she shouted, her voice shrill and panicked, thrashing in the man’s arms. “Let me go! I nay want to go with ye!”
“Stop screamin’, lass,” Brauderfor told her, giving her a shake that made her bones rattle in her body. “Stop screamin’ before ye regret it.”
Laura stared at the man for a few moments, eyes narrowed and indignant.
Then, she screamed, but only for a moment. She screamed, until there was a dull thud in her ears, and all she could see was darkness.
She remembered her mother, hanging from a noose.
Laura looked around her as panic began to settle in her stomach. She was in a room, a small room, with just the bed where she was lying, a tiny dresser, and a wooden cross that hanged on the wall. The window across from the bed was small, and she could see that there were bars on the outside, peeking through the stained glass.
There weren’t even any toys in the room, nothing with which she could play.
When Laura sat up on the bed, swinging her legs over the edge, a woman quickly approached her and pushed her back down with a hand on her shoulder. She wore all black, save for the white fabric around her neck and chest, and her head was covered, which made Laura frown to herself.
She had never seen such garments before, or another woman like her.
“Who are ye?” Laura asked, not resisting when the woman pushed her down on the bed. She didn’t think she could if she tried.
“You can call me Sister Anne,” the woman said. Laura couldn’t help but notice that she had a kind face, with dark eyes that reminded her of her own mother.
Her mother, whose name she couldn’t remember.
Laura had so many questions, so many things that she needed to know and remember, but she couldn’t articulate any of them. She couldn’t ask what she wanted to ask, and she couldn’t understand why she didn’t remember anything other than her mother’s face, the way she seemed to look at her while she hanged from that noose.
Her breath began to come in small puffs, labored and rushed, and Laura’s gaze searched the room for her mother and father. They weren’t there, though. Laura was all alone, in a strange place, with a woman that spoke in a strange way.
She didn’t even notice when tears began to stream down her cheeks once more, terrified that she had lost her parents forever. She opened her mouth to ask about them, but then she realized that she couldn’t remember her father’s name either, and all that was left was a faint memory of them.
Could she even recognize them in a crowd? She didn’t know.
“Calm down, now, girl,” Sister Anne said then, her voice a low whisper. “It’s all right. Everything will be all right.”
Laura looked at Sister Anne, finding a small, almost sad smile on her lips, and she couldn’t help but believe her.
Twenty-one Years Later
“You have gone mad.”
Laura looked at Mary, who was kneeling next to her as the two tended to the roses in the garden, the ones that lined the periphery of their part of the English countryside. Mary was staring at her with a furrowed brow, clearly disapproving of her decision. She could only shrug at her friend, though, as she had made up her mind a long time ago.
“You tried once before, and you saw what happened,” Mary reminded her, her hands nervously fidgeting with the fabric of her habit, something that was certain to wrinkle it and get her in trouble with Sister Anne once she finds out.
Laura had never liked Mary in the habit. She was as devoted to God as any decent man or woman, but she simply couldn’t stand being in the monastery, and she certainly didn’t want to see her best friend locked up in there, either. She would have loved nothing else than to take Mary with her when she would escape, but she knew that Mary would never leave.
“I may be mad,” Laura admitted. After all, the last time she had tried to escape, she had been hunted down by the guards who kept a constant eye on her, with the aid of some other nuns who seemed to hate her in a way that the Bible certainly did not endorse. “But that won’t stop me from trying again.”
She didn’t know why she was the only nun in the monastery to have guards around her at all times, nor did she know why so many of the nuns despised her. Those were the exact reasons why she wanted to leave, though, to escape the constant scrutiny and the lack of freedom that came with living in that place.
“What if they harm you this time?” Mary asked, her hands resting on her hips in a way that reminded Laura of a nanny. “What if they kill you?”
“Twenty-one years and more attempts to escape than I can count, and they still haven’t killed me,” Laura pointed out. “If they wanted to kill me, they would have done so. I don’t fear them, not anymore, Mary…all I ever wanted was to leave this place.”
“Where will you go?”
Mary’s questioning was relentless, as always, and Laura didn’t have any answers, as always. It didn’t matter to her where she would go or what she would do, as long as she would be far away from the monastery.
“I don’t know,” Laura admitted. “I might go back to my family.”
“You don’t know your family!” Mary reminded her. “You don’t know who they are, you don’t even know if they’re still alive! And if they are, how will you find them?”
Mary’s words weren’t exactly true. Laura had known for a long time that the one thing she remembered, the image that festered in her mind and that dominated her dreams, was her mother’s death. She knew that her mother wasn’t alive, but she still had hope that her father was. She had hope that he was still looking for her, and that one day, he would find her.
“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t,” Laura said. “But not knowing where they are or if they are even alive won’t stop me from leaving.”
Mary threw her hands in the air, then, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips. She seemed to be at a loss for words, not having any other arguments to convince Laura to stay.
Laura had already heard them all, anyways. It wasn’t the first time that Mary had tried to talk some sense into her regarding her decision to leave, but Laura stubbornly refused to listen to her. She would rather perish out there, in the world, than have to live one more day in that monastery.
It was always so stifling there. Laura didn’t miss any luxuries, as she never remembered having any, and she had spent her entire life with only the necessities. It wasn’t the luxuries of a life outside those walls that called to her, but rather the thought that she wouldn’t be followed and observed at all times of the day.
I’ll do anything to get away from here. Anything.
Laura glanced at the guards, who were standing a little to the side, oblivious to the conversation that they were having. The two of them were immersed in a conversation of their own, and that was what gave Laura the courage to say what she said.
“Will you…will you help me?” Laura asked Mary, and Mary gave her the sort of look that would have Laura swallowing her words if they had been talking about any other subject. As it was, it did nothing to discourage her from asking again.
“Please, Mary, I’m begging you…I know you don’t want to come with me, and I know that you don’t agree with what I’m doing, but this is your life, not mine. You chose this. You want to be here, you want to be with God, and…and I do, too, but not in here. I want to be out there, I want to live among the crowds, I want to see what I haven’t seen my whole life.”
“I’ve been here for many years, too, you know,” Mary reminded her. “I’ve been here since I was a young girl. I haven’t seen the world any more than you have.”
“Yes, but you want to be here,” Laura reminded her. “And if you don’t, you are free to come with me. I’ve told you before, I want you to come with me.”
“I will do no such thing.”
Mary’s tone had a finality to it that Laura had heard from her before, and so she didn’t press the issue. That didn’t mean, though, that she wouldn’t continue to convince her to help.
“Well, then you are free to stay,” Laura said, her hands gripping tightly on a weed that she found in the rose bed, tugging viciously at it until its roots gave, and she managed to pull it out of the soil. “But you know I can’t stay here, Mary…you know it.”
Laura would understand if Mary decided to not help her that time, of course. She had already put her under enough scrutiny because of her antics, and even she worried that the guards could pose a danger to Mary. Even if Laura managed to escape, Mary would stay there, in the monastery, surrounded by people that would hate her for her actions.
I don’t want her to be hurt. I don’t want her to do anything that would put her in danger, but I need the help so desperately.
“I know it,” Mary finally admitted with a sigh. “Oh, I know it well, Laura. I see you every day, staring in the distance. I know that look on your face, and…and I suppose it would be cruel of me to force you to stay.”
“No, not cruel,” Laura said, shaking her head. “You could never be cruel.”
“Well…selfish, then,” Mary said. “It would be selfish and wrong, because I want you to stay, Laura. I want you to stay, but I know that you can’t.”
Laura turned to look at Mary, then, but she wouldn’t meet her gaze, focusing on the rosebushes instead as she trimmed them carefully. She didn’t know what to say to her, and the silence hung heavy between them, until Mary spoke once more.
“I suppose I will help you,” she said. “You can’t escape on your own, and if you’re willing to risk another escape, then…then I’ll risk it with you.”
Laura couldn’t even describe the joy that spread inside her when Mary decided that she would help her. There was finally hope for her, tangible hope that she would manage to leave the monastery once and for all, and she smiled, a warm, grateful smile that had Mary smiling right back at her.
“So…when will you leave?” Mary asked.
Laura had been thinking about it for a long time, ever since the last time she had attempted to escape. It had been months since then, and she had had the time to think about it, to perfect it, and to realize that there was no better time than the present.
“Tonight,” she said, and her heart jumped a beat at that word. “I’ll leave tonight.”
The night came soon, much too soon for Laura’s liking. Even though she was eager to escape, to start a new life outside of the nunnery, she couldn’t ignore the frantic beating of her heart and the nausea that came with the anticipation.
The guards, who always had their eyes on her, were talking to the prioress in the hallway outside the dining room, the only other person in the monastery apart from those two men who knew a little more than anyone else did about Laura, including herself.
It had always surprised her that the guards were allowed in the monastery, the two men changing every few years so that they would never stay there for too long, but the few times she had asked the prioress about it, she had simply told her to be quiet. It didn’t matter to her, though. She only cared about the guards when it came to escaping, even though some of the other young nuns were often fascinated by the two men, almost forgetting their own vows.
The prioress was always there to remind them of their vows, though.
“Mother Superior,” Laura said, her head bowed as she approached her and the guards. She had been faking symptoms of the flu all day, ever since Mary had agreed to help her, and she did her best to seem weak and fragile as she spoke to the prioress. “I feel ill. May I be excused to my chambers?”
The prioress, along with the two guards, took a good look at Laura, and she kept her head bowed, her hand clutching her stomach as though she were in pain. Eventually, the prioress nodded, and though she was far from a kind woman, she looked at Laura with concern.
“I shall send the guards with you,” she told her, and with a nod of her head, the guards followed.
Laura had expected nothing less. It didn’t surprise her that the guards were glued to her sides once more, but she knew that it would soon change.
She had Mary’s help, after all.
When she went to her chambers, Laura began to pack what few belongings she had quietly, so that the two men standing outside her door wouldn’t hear her. She packed a change of clothes, even though all she had were those two habits, along with some food that she had managed to smuggle from the kitchen, and then she lay down on her bed, waiting.
The minutes passed slowly, seeming more like eons to Laura. The more she waited, the more agitated she became, her fists clenching and unclenching, her foot tapping repeatedly onto the mattress.
Then, she heard it.
There was a scream, a loud, terrified scream that reached the other side of the monastery, followed by several footsteps as everyone ran to see what was happening.
Laura knew what was happening. Mary had accidentally dropped a candle and had set fire to her entire bedroom—or at least that was what she would tell everyone once they would get there.
It was Laura’s cue to grab her things and run out of her room. She kept glancing behind her shoulder, her heart beating hard and fast in her chest as she tried to keep as quiet as possible while making her way to the front door of the building. She could see several shadows from the corners of her eyes, but when she turned to look, there was no one there; it was all in her head, her mind playing tricks on her.
Laura had to cross three corridors to get to the main door, while having no clue whether they would be empty. She could only hope, though, and so she kept walking, her steps quick and quiet on the floor.
She made it to the front door. She placed her hand on the doorknob, and then she looked behind her shoulder one last time.
There was no one there.
As she opened the door, her heart almost leapt out of her chest. She was finally free, and there was no stopping her from escaping.
Laura began to run towards the woods that stretched to the left of the nunnery, towards the nearby town. She didn’t want to take the main path, knowing that it would be the first place where the guards would look for her, and so she kept to the shadows of the trees, remaining hidden as she ran.
It won’t be more than a few hours until they realize that I am gone. I must get as far away from here as I can…they have horses and I only have my legs.
Laura ran and ran, until her legs couldn’t carry her anymore. She wasn’t as far from the monastery as she would have liked, but she was tired, too tired to continue without a break. So, she decided to sit down, just for a while, just so that she could catch her breath.
Laura leaned against a tree, her head falling back against the tree trunk as she closed her eyes with a sigh. She could feel her clothes sticking to her back, the sweat dripping down her skin in droplets and making her shiver as the cold wind made it through her garments. She began to nod off, her head falling forward, but she woke up every time, reminding herself that she couldn’t fall asleep.
It didn’t matter how tired she was. She had to remain awake, and she had to keep moving before the guards could catch up to her and drag her right back to the monastery.
Her stomach churned at the thought of going back there once more. When she had last tried to escape, the punishment that she had received from the prioress—kneeling on grains of rice for hours on end—was nothing compared to the sneers and the gossip that followed, which spread like wildfire among the other nuns.
She simply couldn’t stay in a place where everyone but Mary and Sister Anne hated her.
Sister Anne…I didn’t even say goodbye to her.
That was her last thought before her eyelids became too heavy for her to keep them open, and she fell asleep.
When she awoke, it was morning, the sun shining brightly over the thick canopy of the woods.
It was morning, and there were horses approaching.
“We both ken that ye need the protection more than ye need the cattle,” Fergus told the Laird of Clinterforth with the kind of smirk that he knew would infuriate the man. A little bit of hostility wasn’t always a bad thing in his experience, and some confidence that bordered on cockiness could only help.
They were both sitting at the Laird’s study, the Laird on a grand armchair and Fergus on an impressive, yet not as grand leather chair, the two of them facing each other in the incandescence of the fire that burned bright in the fireplace. The room was cluttered, overly so, with papers, decorative items, and furniture taking up every inch of the room.
The man seemed to have an appetite for material possessions, one that Fergus couldn’t quite share.
“Ye’re askin’ for too much,” the Laird said, shaking his head as he sipped from a golden cup, reserved just for him. “This’ll hurt me clan more than ye ken. I cannae give ye anythin’ that ye ask for.”
“Of course ye can,” Fergus said. “Ye’re drinkin’ from a golden cup, me Laird. If yer people go hungry because ye’ll give me some cattle, then ye can sell the cup.”
It was a joke, but not one that was well-received. The Laird glared at him through narrow eyes, clearly not amused, and then slammed his cup on the desk, spilling wine all around him.
“Ye’re lucky that I respect yer faither,” the Laird said. “What would he say if he heard ye speak to a Laird in such a manner?”
“Well…me faither is a Laird, too, ye ken,” Fergus reminded him. “And he’s the one who sent me here for the cattle.”
“Of course he is.”
There was a stretch of silence between the two men, one that Fergus didn’t want to break. The more time they spent in silence, the more uncomfortable he knew the Laird would become, perhaps even to the point of agreeing just to rid himself of him.
I can do this all day, old man. I can stay here all day.
He could, and he would if he had to. His father had been very clear with his instructions, and he was not to return to the castle without that cattle, no matter what he had to do to convince the Laird. So, Fergus would be rude, he would be demanding, and he would not rest until he had that herd.
He wasn’t afraid of his father or his reaction if he returned empty-handed. No, his father wasn’t the kind of man to deal harsh punishments, but he was a man who had trained him to be nothing less than ruthless. Fergus would be damned if he ended up disappointing him because of some cattle.
“What do ye want me to do, lad?” the Laird asked then, after several minutes of silence. “I cannae give ye what ye’re askin’ for.”
“Aye, ye can,” Fergus insisted. “Me faither would never ask for somethin’ that is unfair to ye and yer clan. He kens how much wealth ye have, and he kens how much he can ask from ye for our protection. It’s isnae a big price to pay for the protection of the MacCarthy clan.”
“How do I ken that ye and yer faither will keep yer word?” the Laird asked. “How do I ken that if I give ye me cattle, ye’ll be there for us when we need ye?”
“Do we look like men who daenae keep their word to ye, me Laird?” Fergus asked, and a part of him was genuinely offended. If there was something that the MacCarthys were known for, it was that they always kept their word. “Me faither has come to the aid of many other clans when they needed him. Ye can write to the other Lairds, ye can ask them if Laird MacCarthy kept his word and if the payment was worth it. I ken that they will all say the same thing.”
There was yet another stretch of silence between them, but this time, it was much shorter. This time, the Laird shook his head once more, but then he sighed, slamming a hand on the table.
“It is settled, then,” he said. “Ye shall have yer cattle, but if ye daenae come to our aid when we need ye, ken that our clans will be enemies.”
“I would expect nay different thing,” Fergus said, his smile stretching from ear to ear. “Ye have me word, and the word of me faither.”
“Aye, aye,” the Laird said, waving his hand dismissively. “Go now…I daenae wish to think about this, about ye, or about yer faither any longer.”
“As ye wish, me Laird.”
With that, Fergus was gone, all but skipping down the corridors of the castle as he walked back to his men, who were waiting for him in the main hall, eating and drinking everything and anything that the servants offered them.
His father would be proud, he knew. He would be proud of him and of everything that he had achieved that day.
Of course, he would never tell Fergus that, but it was nice to think that perhaps it was something that he felt. Fergus wanted him to be proud of him. He wanted it more than anything, even though it was something that his father had never told him.
For the rest of the night, Fergus allowed himself to celebrate with his men. He drank ale after ale as his men placed more and more cups in front of him, and by the end of the night, he had trouble finding the room that had been assigned to him, until a very helpful servant dragged him all the way to his door.
The following morning, though, Fergus was the first to awaken, and then he went to the three other rooms, which were occupied by his men, waking all three of them up.
It was time to head back to their castle. It was time to tell his father the news.
Fergus and his men had been traveling for a long time, and they were all desperate to stretch their legs. So, when Fergus spotted a pond a little further from the main road, they made their way there, eager to relax for a while before continuing their long journey.
The moment they jumped off the horses, his three men scattered; one searching for food, the other searching for firewood, and the third desperate to relieve himself. Fergus found himself all alone, sitting by the pond, his hand dipping in and out of the water as he looked around.
He had never been so close to the Lowlands before, but he had to admit that the area had a charm of its own, despite how much he adored the Highlands, his home. He was eager to return to his castle, though; he was eager to see some more familiar faces, other than the ones of his companions.
Just as Fergus relaxed, lying down on the grass and closing his eyes, he heard a piercing scream. His eyes shot open, and he stood immediately, his hand reaching for his sword before he could even identify any threat, and his gaze flitted from one place to the next as he tried to find the source of the scream.
Then, he saw her. It was a woman, dressed in black, and she was running frantically towards him as two men on horses chased her.
“Help me!” the woman shouted, and once she was closer, Fergus could see that she was, in fact, a nun. “Please, help me! They’re after me!”
She didn’t sound local, and Fergus couldn’t help but frown to himself.
What is a Sassenach nun doin’ here? And why is a nun bein’ chased? What could a nun ever do to someone?
“Please!” the nun screamed once more. “Save me, please! I’m begging you!”
Fergus glanced behind his shoulder, searching for his men. He didn’t even know the woman, and he didn’t like the thought of getting involved in something that didn’t concern him.
How can I ken why they’re chasin’ her? Perhaps she killed someone.
It seemed unlikely, though. The woman was a nun, a woman of God, and he doubted that she would do such a thing. Besides, she seemed terrified, tears streaming down her face as she ran, her hair sticking to her forehead as the sweat dripped down her skin, as though she had been running for a long time.
How could Fergus stay away from such a situation? How could he leave a nun to fend for herself when two guards were chasing her?
Perhaps he was being foolish, but he pulled his sword out of its sheath, and as soon as the woman was close enough to him, he pushed her behind him, using his own body as a shield.
From up close, he could see that she was young, perhaps even younger than him.
Her two pursuers jumped off their horses, and lunged at Fergus at the same time, swinging their swords wildly at him. They were good, that much Fergus could see as he parried their blows, some of which left him unsteady on his feet.
They were good, but he was better.
He was better than them, and he was well aware of that. So, Fergus stopped parrying the men’s blows, and instead moved to the offensive, striking again and again, without giving them any time to fight back. They could only defend themselves as Fergus danced around them, but even that tired them out soon, until they couldn’t defend themselves anymore.
The blows that Fergus dealt to them were fatal. He struck one man in the gut and the other in the chest, and the two of them stumbled backwards until they fell onto the ground, their swords dropping from their hands with two dull thuds. The latter, the man that Fergus had stabbed in the chest, was dead within moments, while the other laid there, right in front of him, gasping for breath and clutching onto his gut as he desperately tried to stop the bleeding.
Fergus couldn’t leave him there, lying on the ground in agony. A coup de grace was the least he could do, and so he pierced the man’s neck with his blade, sending him to his grave faster.
Then, he turned to look at the woman, who was standing behind him, frozen in place, her eyes wide in horror as she looked at the bodies of the two men.
Before Fergus could say anything, though, one of his men, Dougal, returned, appearing behind the woman as he adjusted his trews.
“Cannae a lad take a shite in peace here?” Dougal asked, stomping his way towards Fergus. Then, he seemed to notice the woman, and he went red in the face, sputtering as he tried to find the words. “Forgive me, me lady, I dinnae ken that there was anyone else but Fergus here. I wouldnae have used such vulgar language if I kent that ye were here.”
Fergus couldn’t help but sigh, rubbing his eyes with the pads of his fingers. The woman seemed to be speechless, though Fergus couldn’t tell whether that was because she didn’t know what to say to Dougal or because she didn’t want to speak to a man like him at all.
“Well…who is she, then?” Dougal asked, right before his gaze fell on the two bodies. “And who are they?”
The three of them stared at each other in silence for several moments, Dougal and Fergus both waiting for an answer from the woman. Eventually, Dougal glanced at Fergus, but Fergus could only shrug.
Me guess is as good as yers, lad.
“I…forgive me,” the woman said, as she began to wipe the tears off her face with the back of her hand. “I didn’t mean to scare or disturb you, but I…I needed the help. I can only thank you for what you have done for me.”
“A Sassenach?” Dougal asked, humming to himself as he stroked his beard with his fingers. “A Sassenach nun here? In the Highlands?”
“I’m in the Highlands?” the woman asked, her eyes widening as she looked around her. “How far from England are we?”
“Far,” Fergus said.
He couldn’t help but notice the woman’s eyes, then, so dark that they were almost black, like coal; almost black, like a witch’s eyes. Her face, though, even with the white coif and the veil that surrounded it, was sweet, sweeter than any other woman Fergus had seen before. She was also beautiful, so much so that he could only imagine what she would look like if she wore something other than the habit.
“So…who are ye?” Fergus asked, eager to know how an English nun had made her way to the Highlands without even knowing.
“I’m Sister Laura,” she said. “I…well, you have to know that I don’t know much about myself other than that I grew up in a monastery and it’s all I’ve known my entire life. Everything before that is a blur, I’m afraid.”
Fergus frowned at her, wondering what kind of person she was that she didn’t remember anything else. She hadn’t said that she was an orphan, and she hadn’t mentioned anything else about not having a family, so Fergus could only assume that she simply didn’t know.
“And who are they?” Dougal asked, before Fergus could ask her anything else.
“They are my guards,” Laura said. “I’ve had guards watching over me ever since I can remember, but I never knew why. All I know is that they were holding me in that nunnery against my will, the guards and the prioress, and I simply had to escape. I don’t know why they wanted to take me back, I don’t know why they chased me all the way here. The nunnery is on the border, you see, just at the edge of England, and I’ve been trying to outrun them ever since I left.”
Fergus glanced at Dougal, and the look on his face was all he needed to know that he was thinking the same thing as him; Laura was lying, or perhaps she was hiding something.
Despite that, he knew that she wasn’t dangerous. How dangerous could a nun be, after all, especially when she wasn’t able to harm the two men who were trying to harm her?
“I’m Fergus MacCarthy, and this is Dougal,” Fergus said. “And I think that we both find everythin’ that ye’re sayin’ verra curious, lass.”
“Yes, I know,” Laura said. “I find it very curious, too.”
Fergus sighed, a long, tired sigh that pushed all the air out of his lungs. He knew that he should have never gotten involved, but he just had to fight those two men, even though he knew it would be trouble for him.
What am I supposed to do with ye, lass?
Laura had seen a few men in her life. Even living in a monastery didn’t stop one from meeting people of the opposite gender, and every now and then, she would see men other than her guards in the nunnery grounds.
She had never seen a man like Fergus MacCarthy before, though, with his honey brown eyes and the mop of blond hair that framed his face, and if Dougal was anything to go by, then Laura was rather certain that there weren’t many men like Fergus in the world. It wasn’t just his handsome features that drew Laura to him, though, but also her gratefulness that he had saved her from those vile men.
She didn’t know what she would have done had he not been there to kill them. Perhaps they would have captured her and dragged her back to the monastery, or perhaps they would have killed her right on the spot. Either way, Fergus had saved her from them.
Romance was the last thing on her mind, though. She had somehow managed to make it all the way to the Highlands after almost a week of traveling hiding and running from her guards as she did her best to traverse the rough terrain of the countryside. She was so far away from the only home that she had ever known, even though there was something about the Highlanders that she found familiar.
I must find my family. I must find my real family, and find out who I was…who I am.
Before Laura could say anything else to the two men, though, two more men appeared behind Fergus, and she immediately froze, not knowing who they were. A part of her feared that her guards had somehow managed to recruit more men on their way, and that they were there to take her back, but then she saw the familiarity with which Fergus addressed them.
Then, he turned to look at her, as one of the men put some firewood by the pond, while the other held up two rabbits, triumph written on his face.
“Well, lass…have ye eaten?” Fergus asked. “I suppose ye havenae had the chance to have any food lately, but we’d be happy to share these rabbits with ye.”
As if on cue, Laura’s stomach began to grumble, and so she nodded enthusiastically, suddenly desperate for some food. She hadn’t realized just how hungry she was, the adrenaline in her veins keeping her going even after she had depleted most of her energy.
Laura learnt that the other two men were Ellar and Fingal, and that the four of them had been traveling for days, just like she had. The five of them sat around the fire, eating the rabbits, the men talking more than Laura did, simply because she didn’t know what to say to them. When they decided that they would set up camp there for the night, though, the other three decided that they wanted a good night’s sleep, leaving her alone with Fergus.
The two of them sat by the fire in silence for a while, but it was Fergus who broke it first.
“What will ye do now?” he asked her. “Where will ye go?”
Laura hesitated. She didn’t even know what she was going to do herself, but she knew one thing for certain.
“Well, I don’t want to go back to the monastery,” she said. “I will never go back there. This is one of many attempts to escape, you see, and I’ll be damned if I go back.”
It took several moments of Fergus staring at her for Laura to realize what she had said, and then she gasped, her hand coming up to clamp over her mouth. Then, she remembered that she wasn’t in the monastery anymore, and that she could say whatever she pleased.
She still couldn’t bring herself to curse much, though; she didn’t think she ever could, and besides, it wasn’t very ladylike of her.
Fergus laughed then, and she frowned at him, her brows furrowing. “Don’t laugh,” she said. “It doesn’t become a nun to speak in such a way.”
“But ye’re nay a nun anymore,” Fergus pointed out. “Ye left, and ye daenae wish to go back, so ye’re nay a nun.”
Laura supposed that Fergus had a point. It would take her a long time to leave that role behind her, though, that much she knew. It wasn’t easy to go back into the world after being a nun for years, especially when all she knew was the monastery.
“How did ye end up in that nunnery anyway?” Fergus asked her, and it was the question that Laura had been dreading. She was certain that even if she told him the whole truth, he wouldn’t believe her.
What kind of sane person would believe such a story?
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I told you, I don’t remember anything before the monastery. Well…I was young when I went there, I must have been of only three or four years, but I don’t remember anything other than my name.”
She didn’t tell Fergus about the death of her mother, the only other thing that Laura remembered. It was still a raw memory of hers, and one that she refused to share with people that she didn’t trust.
The only ones who knew about it were Sister Anne and Mary, the only two people she could bring herself to trust enough. She hadn’t even told Sister Charlotte, the only other woman in the monastery that had been kind to her.
“How can ye nay remember?” Fergus asked, and it was something that Laura had been expecting. She didn’t blame him for not understanding; she could hardly understand anything about her own life herself.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to me. All I remember is waking up in a bed in a monastery, and…and that’s why I want you to help me find my family. My real family.”
Laura had been thinking about it ever since she and the four men had been having their dinner. She had no one else but them, and Fergus seemed like a kind man to her, like a man who would help her. He had helped her once, after all, and he had taken the lives of not one, but two men. Helping her find her family seemed like something much easier to Laura.
He may not agree with that, though. Still, it’s worth it to ask.
“How will ye find them if ye daenae remember anythin’ about them?” Fergus asked her. “If ye remembered somethin’, anythin’, then perhaps I could help ye, but ye daenae ken anythin’, lass. I daenae think that it’s verra wise to try and find yer family. Ye’ll only end up disappointed.”
Perhaps Fergus was right, and perhaps it would all be a waste of time, but Laura couldn’t simply pretend that all there ever was in her life was the nunnery. She knew it in her gut that there was someone out there, someone who was part of her family, and she wanted to find that person.
“I need to try,” she insisted. “I need to. I must. If there is even a small chance that I have some family out there, then I must find them. Wouldn’t you do the same? Wouldn’t you try and search for your family if you hadn’t seen them in so many years?”
Fergus fell silent then, and Laura knew that she had persuaded him. He seemed like the kind of man who loved his family to her, and she knew that he couldn’t possibly disagree with her.
“I suppose I would,” Fergus admitted. “But how will ye find them?”
“I’m hoping that someone remembers me,” Laura said. “I…I don’t know. I’ll try anything, but I won’t know until I try.”
“And there is something else,” Laura admitted then, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. “I think someone is trying to kill me.”
That seemed to be quite a shock to Fergus, who looked at her with wide eyes, his hand reaching for her, before he stopped himself and pulled it right back.
“What do ye mean?” he asked. “Who is tryin’ to kill ye? Who would want to kill a nun?”
“I don’t know,” Laura said, shaking her head. It was a frustrating answer, she knew, but it was the only one that she had. “I really don’t know. All I know is that those guards didn’t simply appear in my life one day. Someone sent them to that nunnery for me, to watch over me. And whoever that is…I can only think that they want to harm me.”
Fergus looked at her for several moments, head tilted to the side as he scratched his beard, deep in thought. She wished that she could tell what he was thinking, what was going on in his head, but she couldn’t read his expression at all.
“I daenae ken what to tell ye, lass,” Fergus said in the end. “It all sounds verra strange, indeed.”
With that, their conversation seemed to be over, but Laura didn’t know whether or not Fergus had agreed to help her. It seemed rude to ask, and yet she couldn’t stop herself from doing so.
“Well?” she said. “Will you help me?”
Fergus looked at her, and he laughed.
How can I nay help her when she asks so nicely?
“Aye, I’ll help ye, lass,” Fergus told Laura, and it was worth it just to see that smile that she gave him, warm and happy. He didn’t have the heart to tell her no, and he doubted that he could have refused anyone if they had asked him to help them find their family.
He didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have his father. Ever since he had lost his mother, when he had been a young boy, his father was all that he had, and he knew that he couldn’t bear to lose a second parent.
He couldn’t possibly imagine what Laura was going through, not knowing, not remembering anything about her own folk. She didn’t even know who she was, she didn’t know what her place was in the world.
“I’ll help ye,” he said. “But first, we must return to the castle. I must give me faither me report regardin’ the dealings with the neighboring Lairds.”
Laura blinked at him a few times, and her confusion made her look even more adorable than before. Fergus couldn’t help but be reminded, though, that she was a nun, and he was probably committing a number of sins simply by being attracted to her.
“Your father is an important man, then?” she asked him.
“Me faither is the Laird, lass,” Fergus said, laughing softly. His laugh turned into a boisterous roar, though, when he saw Laura’s face turn red with embarrassment, to the point where he woke up his companions.
“Fergus! Shut yer mouth, lad!” Dougal groaned, rolling around so that he was facing away from the two of them. “Some of us are tryin’ to sleep!”
“Forgive me, Dougal,” Fergus said, but his words were lost to Dougal’s ears, as he was already asleep once more, snoring loudly.
“You’re the son of a Laird?” Laura asked, gasping even as she spoke. “I…I’m so very sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken to you in such a way, I have been terribly, terribly rude.”
“Och, daenae ye fret, lass,” Fergus said, waving a hand dismissively at her. “There isnae anythin’ wrong with the way ye spoke to me, and ye ken that those bampots daenae deserve any respect from ye,” he joked, but the joke seemed to go right over Laura’s head, who was too embarrassed to even listen to what he was saying.
“Well, you see, in England—”
“Aye, in England ye spend half yer day bowing to each other,” Fergus said, distaste lacing his words. “Nay offense, me lady, but yer Sassenach ways have nay place here.”
Laura remained silent after that, and Fergus could only hope that he hadn’t offended her. The way that she looked at him, though, didn’t betray any hostility.
Ye never ken with them…they’ll say they’re yer friend and then stab ye in the back.
Of course, Fergus had yet to meet an Englishman who seemed inclined to stab him in the back, but he could only hope that he would one day, just so that he could justify his distrust of them.
If anything, the only man who had, in fact, stabbed him in the back, was a Scotsman.
“Well…as I said, it’s all right,” Fergus assured Laura once more. “Ye daenae need to treat me any differently than ye treat the three of them.”
Laura smiled a little at him, then, and Fergus found himself smiling right back. The last thing that he needed, of course, was to become infatuated with an English nun, regardless of whether she would remain a nun or not.
I doubt that a lass like her would want anythin’ to do with a lad…any lad.
Fergus reminded himself that he was simply helping her, and that was all there was between the two of them. Besides, he knew that his father had big plans for him, and those plans didn’t only include sending him to other Lairds to gather cattle. No, he would want him to marry a noble girl one day, someone who could make their clan even more powerful than it already was.
He doubted it could be much more powerful, though, regardless of any arranged marriages. The MacCarthy clan was one of the most powerful clans in the Highlands, if not the most powerful one.
“Thank you for helping me,” Laura said, bringing Fergus out of his thoughts. “It means a lot to me. Thank you…thank you for everything.”
There was such sincerity in Laura’s tone, such genuine gratefulness, that Fergus could only nod at her. It was the only response he could give her, as any words he could say didn’t seem like they were enough to him.
“Ye should get some rest, lass,” Fergus said after a short pause. “Our travels will be long and there willnae be anythin’ easy about them. It’s better to rest whenever ye can.”
It was Laura’s turn to nod, then, and she stood from the fallen log that they were using as a seat, before she settled down by the fire. Fergus did the same, lying down onto the perfect spot to look at her as he waited for his eyes to become heavy enough for him to be lulled to sleep by the gentle crackling of the fire.
Och, lad…what are ye doin’?
Fergus rolled over, so that he was facing the other way, and so he couldn’t look at Laura anymore. There were plenty of women out there, and if he wanted one, then they were all a much better choice than an English nun with a crazy story.
Fergus decided to push Laura out of his mind. It would do him no good, thinking about her.
Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!
Want to see how this story ends?
Highlander Ready for Sin is live on Amazon now!