About the book
The Highlander challenged destiny, but destiny brought him an English gamble...
Suffering under the iron hand of her obsessive father, Joan Hale spends her entire life in the Hale Mansion, isolated from the rest of the world. Desperate to take control of her destiny, she decides to escape.
Aidan McCabe, son of the Laird of Leitan, is known to be a man of honour with a generous heart. While on a secret mission to spy on the English at his father’s commands, he gets mesmerized by a pair of the most beautiful green eyes he has ever seen…
In a world full of war and hate, their love becomes a beacon of hope...
But when Joan's father appears determined to bring her back at all costs, she is forced to make a heart-breaking decision. With a well-kept secret buried for years, she finally comes face to face with the shocking truth that there is a reason her father has been keeping her locked up all those years.
It was the year 1604; England had emerged victorious over Ireland in war. The war was triggered by the assassination of the old king of England. His successor, King Henry VII, had been livid and appointed a war lord, Matthew Hale, to lead the Englishmen to war with the Irishmen, knowing full well that the Irish would not be able to withstand any attack launched.
Matthew Hale, the Viscount of Tyrill, had won just as King Henry predicted. A few months into the war, the Irish raised a white flag indicating their surrender. The King was overjoyed on hearing the news of their victory and ordered a feast to be set up in his castle for the surviving men as well as a hefty reward to Lord Tyrill.
It was hours into the feast when Lord Tyrill felt his eyes droop as he brought another goblet of wine to his lips. The newly-crowned king, Henry VII, lifted his cup to the men seated before him and they cheered wildly. “We feast,” the King screamed and they raised their glasses. The Lord mumbled drunkenly to himself and shook his head to clear his eyes, but it only made him drowsier. His groin ached against his breeches. He wanted a release, but none of the women here interested him.
Lord Tyrill threw his head back and swallowed the contents of his cup in one gulp. He pushed himself to his feet, staggering a little. He avoided falling by leaning on a man who was seated beside him. He belched as he snatched a wine bottle from the man and staggered away from his table, often bumping into people until he got to the entrance of the castle yard where he collapsed to his knees.
The sounds of retching filled the air, followed by his heavy pants. His clothes and hands were splattered with vomit but he didn't seem to notice. He got back on his feet using a nearby wall for support. Ηe shook his head, running a hand down his face as the smell of wine and sick filled his nostrils. His vision was less blurry but he still latched on to the walls, making his way out of the castle into the streets.
He made his way down the empty roads; the street lanterns were the only guide he had to get himself home. The night was quiet; he could hear the stray cats in a corner and the hooting of an owl. The cold air wrapped around him and he shivered.
Sudden laughter from drunken men spiked his curiosity. Diverting away from the path to his home, he dragged himself to the source of the laughter. It was an inn, a small, battered inn. It looked more like a tavern to him. He shrugged at its unkempt state and pushed open the door. The smell of barley, tobacco, sweat, and sex hit him but he brushed it off.
It is an inn, after all.
He staggered to a nearby booth where a woman was seated with a big mug of steaming liquid in her hands. Lord Tyrill noticed her deathly-pale skin and long dark hair, which fell over her shoulders in curls, complementing her small face and sharp angles. Her attention was on the steamy hot liquid until her eyes flickered over to him. Her thin lips pulled up into a sneer and her coal eyes fixed a mean glare on him.
“Never seen a woman before?” she spat at him but in his drunken mind, he didn't hear the annoyance laced in her words.
“You are a pretty little thing, are you not?” he slurred as he shifted closer to her and her frown deepened. He draped a heavy arm over her shoulders and forced her hand to his groin. “How much do I have to pay to have you for the night?”
She let out a strangled sound and pushed him back. She picked up her mug and tossed the contents on him, earning a hiss of pain from the Lord as the hot liquid scalded him.
“I am no whore!” she spat, gathering her dress as she left. He was stunned.
He grinned drunkenly and wiped the tea off his face and headed after the raven-haired woman as she marched up the staircase with her curls bouncing with every step she took. He followed her to her door and he shoved her in the room, making her fall to the floor.
“You can't be in here!” she cried as she scrambled away from him. He grabbed her by her curly locks and slammed her into the wall.
“Unhand me this instant!” she shouted and he placed a hand over her mouth to muffle her cries. She struggled in his arms as he started to raise her dress, but he easily overpowered her and held both her hands above her head.
“Don't be so fussy. It will be over before you even know it,” he chuckled as he undid his breeches. “I shall try to make it pleasurable for you.” He ignored her pleas and cries as he had his way with her. The woman mustered up her strength and fought him off her, shoving him into a nearby stool. He let out a painful screech as he hit his head. She dashed for her bed and pulled out an extravagantly-designed dagger from under her pillow. She raised it to him as he slowly got to his feet. Livid, she launched herself at him with a cry.
He raised his hands to his face to defend himself but the woman was not trying to kill him. As quickly as she could, she sliced him three times on his left wrist and stepped back. She looked out the window at the full moon in the sky with a satisfying look in her eyes.
“Your arrogance has made you blind! You are not in control of anyone other than your own life, Matthew Hale! You cannot change what is destined to be! These wounds will heal soon but they will open again and black blood will come pouring through! I have suffered in your hands and you will suffer in mine! You will meet three great despairs in your life and this is my curse!”
She gave him one last glare before rolling his weak body out of her room. The sound of the slamming door almost deafened him. The Lord was still slightly drunk as he took a look at his left wrist where she had cut him and his eyes widened in surprise. The wounds were gone leaving just three straight scars.
“Wake up, Father. The sun is already high in the sky,” Joan chirped as she flung the curtains open, allowing the sunlight to illuminate the room. “You promised to get up ages ago, father, but you have not even opened your eyes yet.” She dragged the bed cover off the man in the bed. "Wake up now, father!”
“Oh, child, leave me be. Old bones need rest.”
“Father!” Joan shook her father by the shoulders, earning a tired grunt from the man. “Lord Tyrill! Wake up! Your duties await!”
“All right! All right! I am awake now!”
She beamed at him as he sat up from the bed.
“Stay awake, Father. I will go get your tea.” She tucked her brown hair behind her ear and turned to leave the room when she caught her father's reflection through the mirror. He was dozing off with his back resting on the headboard. “Father!”
“Yes! I wasn't asleep child,” the man mumbled to himself as Joan stifled a giggle and went to get her father's tea.
“Good morning, Miss Hale,” a maidservant greeted Joan as she entered her father's study.
“Good morning, Sophia,” she replied with a smile.
Her father was always waist deep in a book by the time the sun was high in the sky. Only a few hours had passed since she woke him up.
“I will be leaving now,” Joan said to her busy father. The man nodded, not looking away from his book. “Do I have to take the escorts with me?”
“Yes, Joan. We have talked about this.” Her face fell when her father didn't look up from the book.
“I will only be out for a few hours, father.” Her father shook his head at her and she scoffed. “Fine. I will take the guards but as it is already midday, can I stay out until sunset?”
“You have a curfew, child. You only have two hours, and you know I am being generous. I do not want to have to send Sebastian after you,” Lord Tyrill warned.
Joan clenched her hands together and bit her lip to avoid talking back at her father. Her head dropped upon realizing there was no need to argue, she was lucky to be allowed outside that day. She turned on her heels and left his study, slamming the door behind her.
Lord Tyrill let out a sigh of frustration as his daughter left. He knew she dreamed of exploration and he only wished he could grant her such freedom. But due to his past mistakes, he could not. His thoughts drifted into his painful past.
He had hoped it was all a figment of his imagination or the alcohol playing with his memory.
“I must have hit my head too hard. The scars must have been from the war. No scar can heal up within minutes.” He had tried to convince himself for so many years now, but he was not certain, as it felt too real.
He had been paranoid since that night. His wife noticed and always questioned him about his scars but he always dismissed the topic. He wished he had shared his worries with his wife before she died from childbirth, which was the first curse.
Could this be the first curse?
As he began to mourn his wife again, he felt a strange pain in his left wrist. One of the scars was bleeding for no reason. In that moment, he knew.
What have I done now?
As his situation became clearer to him, he had tried to muster a plan to avert the other curses. His first course of action was to find the witch, he had his soldiers on the lookout for any woman fitting the witch's description. When all efforts to locate her failed to produce any useful results, he resorted to confiding in his friend, Sebastian, and being more careful to prevent any harm from happening to his family.
Despite his caution, he lost his fighting arm in an unfortunate fight with a troop of Scotts, marking the second curse. After losing his fighting arm, he became furious.
What is a warrior if he cannot fight? I am useless now!
He had concluded that he was worthless without his arms since he couldn’t defend himself nor his country.
If I found her now, I won’t ask her for forgiveness, I will end her without mercy.
In his anger, he had realized that the only valuable thing to him was his young daughter, he feared the last curse might take her away from him and permanently destroy him.
No harm will come to her. I’ll protect her even if it kills me.
He had concluded that she would not be safe outside the walls of his estate so he tried to keep her inside as much as he could but, alas, he had a very stubborn daughter. She was very obedient when it came to other things, but an argument always ensued between them when she wanted to go outside. He only wanted her to be safe, but she always made it difficult for him.
The chair beneath him creaked and he jerked back to the present. Even now, she still sneaks away from her guards and wanders around the unfamiliar town. She is still his only worry, her age did not change that.
She needs my protection, even if she doesn't know it.
His worry had gotten the better of him. He closed his book and got to his feet.
I wonder what she is doing now.
Joan had a hand over her mouth to stop her laughter as she watched her escorts run around trying to find her from the window of the doctor's office.
“You should not worry them so much child,” the town doctor said. He was hunched over his table filled with books, papers, and colored glass bottles. “If they report back to your father, the old man may go mad.”
“It is just for a little while, Doctor. I do not wish to go back now. I might not be allowed into town for another three months,” she said as she unlocked the door that led to his garden.
“At least tell me where you are headed to.” The doctor didn't look back at her, still concentrated on his work.
“I do not know for now. Anywhere but the prison I call home,” Joan's face fell when the doctor finally glanced up from his work at her. He had a disapproving and worried look in his tired eyes.
“You do not know the town so well, child.”
“That is only because my father never lets me leave the estate!” she quickly defended herself but the doctor still was not pleased.
“There is a war coming. It is not safe for a lady to be out alone at any time of the day.” This spiked Joan's interest.
“A war is brewing between the Duke of Haerton and the Earl of Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Their fathers hated each other bitterly and the hatred is still present in the sons. The Duke of Haerton has imprisoned every Scot he can find, and the barbarians have sent more spies into Haerton. A few have been caught, a few died in the hands of towners, but some are still out there. A trio of soldiers was attacked just last night. Everyone thinks it must be the Scots that ambushed them on their way home from the field.” He pushed his spectacles to sit on the bridge of his nose. “None of them survived, unfortunately. They were found this morning, sickly pale, cold.” He paused as he turned back to his work and said, “Imagine what they would do to the daughter of a lord.”
“What do the Scots have to do with me, doctor? I can protect myself.”
“Unfortunately, you cannot. You are a lady of eighteen summers. A boy younger than you could easily overpower you, not to speak of fully-grown men almost identical in size to the oxen.”
“I am not weak, Doctor! You come to the castle often, you have taught me to help wounded soldiers, but the soldiers would rather suffer than let me come near them after you leave. How is that protecting me?” Joan snapped, her hands on her hips.
“Women are fragile beings, my dear. We do not wish for any harm to befall you. Your father and everyone around you care deeply for you. I believe the least you can do is try to be a proper lady.”
Joan balled her hands into fists as she walked out and slammed the door shut. She felt the cool evening air on her face, she looked up at the sun setting and thought about what the doctor had said about her.
If being a lady means I have to just read books, drink tea, look pretty, and not follow my dreams then I do not want to be a lady. Why can't I live like the heroes in stories? I've read all about towns and cultures that I might never see or experience. All I see every day is the four walls of this old castle. All I want is to travel the world, to see what I have read about. I just want to be free.
She flipped her straight brown hair over her shoulders and set out toward where she recalled the lake was but after a few turns, she got lost.
Joan was frustrated. She stood in the middle of the road trying to figure out where she was when she heard shouting. At first, she thought her escorts had found her, so she dashed behind a building. She noticed that the shouting was coming from inside the building so she took a peek through the window to see what was going on.
Joan noticed a bunch of men were arguing with one other man.
“How dare you? You cannot just owe us money and think you can leave town! Take the Scottish scum to the station!”
One man took the debtor by the collar and the rest of them cheered. The debtor tried to protect himself as the man holding his shirt tried to attack him. Joan felt the need to interfere but she had no idea what to do.
“Wait!” she suddenly cried from behind the window and all heads turned to her. She saw the debtor's face clearly. His brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, brown eyes stared back at her in curiosity. He looked big, but not as big as the man holding him.
“Just hold on a moment,” she said as she hurried into the tavern. She ran toward the big man who had now lifted the debtor off the ground. She hit him repeatedly from behind until he turned to her. “How much does he owe?”
“What is a lady like you doing in here?” one of the men sneered. “I have never seen you before. She must be one of these Scottish spies! Get her!”
“No! I am not a spy!” she yelled back at them. “I am Miss Joan Hale, daughter of Lord Tyrill.” The men exchanged confused looks.
“The Lord has a daughter?” one of the men asked. “I always thought he had a son that died in the war.”
“What? No! I am his daughter!”
“You are the Lord's daughter and none of us knows you? Liar! She must be a Scot like him! Catch her!” one of them hollered and they shoved the debtor away and advanced toward her. Joan took a few steps backward before breaking into a sprint.
She knew she was in trouble now. Her town was like a maze to her and she had no idea where she was headed but she knew she had to find one of her guards and she prayed she found one quickly. Her dress was slowing her down with its weight, her corset was preventing her from breathing properly, and her shoes were not built for running.
From afar, she heard someone call out to her and she turned in his direction. “There she is! The lady is over here!” She was elated to have found her escorts and tried to run to them but one of the men at the tavern caught her hand.
Leave me alone!
“Got you!” he had a sinister smirk on his face that frightened Joan. “You will be imprisoned for life. That ought to teach you barbarians.”
“No! Let me go! Unhand me!” She struggled to get away from him but his grip only became tighter as he dragged her along with him. "Please, I beg of you to let me go!"
“Hey! Hey you! Unhand her right away!” Sir James shouted at the man holding her.
Joan breathed a sigh of relief as her guards finally reached her.
“She is a spy! A spy sent by the Scots! We have her accomplice.”
“No, you imbecile! She is Lord Tyrill’s daughter, Miss Hale!” one of the guards declared.
The debtor she rushed to save took a quick look at her from atop his horse before he fled as soon as the guards rescued her.
Her attacker was pushed away from her and pinned to the ground while she massaged the hand that had been in the man's grip. She winced at the pain that shot up her arm when she touched it.
“Are you all right, miss?” the head guard asked when he saw her pained expression. “If you had stayed with us, none of this would have happened.”
The head guard walked toward the man on the ground, unsheathing his sword as he strolled. He towered over her attacker and everyone in the tavern stared in fear. The helpless man began to murmur an apology to the knight. Sir James brought the tip of his sword dangerously close to the agitated man’s right eye.
“The next time you lay your eyes on her, you better run very far, very fast,” Sir James said, still towering over him.
“Yes, Sir,” the man agreed.
“My apologies, Sir James,” Joan whispered as she came up behind him. “My father is not to hear about any of this.”
“I am sorry, Miss Hale, but that will not be possible. You have gone against his orders and I cannot keep this away from him. The sun is setting, we should have returned hours ago."
"Your safety is my top priority, Miss Hale, and if I cannot keep you in check then your father might do the unimaginable to me."
Joan rubbed her sore wrist as she was escorted back to the Hale Estate. Her heart was beating fast in her chest in fear if what her father would say to her.
“You do not understand anything, child,” Lord Tyrill said to his daughter when she arrived back to the castle.
“You always say this, father! Why? I do not want to be caged up like a bird. I want to meet people. I don't even have friends. I’ve never been to a ball. I want a life. Let me make my own decisions for once!” Joan complained to her father.
And risk you losing your life?
“I am only doing what is the best for you, child. There are people that will cause you harm out there. You were mistaken for a spy and who knows what may have become of you if you were not found,” Lord Tyrill said as he stubbornly looked out the window.
“Father!” He turned to his daughter and shook his head. “Please, father. I promise I will be more careful next time.”
“There will not be a next time. You are to stay in the castle for the rest of the year, maybe then you will learn your lesson.”
Maybe that will give you enough time to think, he thought.
His heart raced at the thought of the last curse as he snuck a peek at his left hand where the scars were. That one curse he dreaded meant losing his daughter. He wanted to keep her alive at least until he passed, but she was making it difficult for him.
“But, Father, the town festival is tomorrow night. I always go.”
“You cannot go and that is final!”
“Father!” she cried out in protest, her hazel eyes glistening with defiance. “I just want to go to the festival! There is only one a year and I have prepared for it for months!”
“People cannot be trusted and I cannot allow anything happen to you that I will regret.” The Lord shook his head and turned back to the window, his back facing his angry daughter.
He heard her receding footsteps and he turned to look at her. Her straight brown hair swayed from one side to another in frenzy from her walking pace. She reached the door and gave her father a defiant look before stomping off, slamming the door in her wake.
The Lord let out a deep breath as he went back to looking out the window. His eyes went toward the church where his wife was buried and he clenched his fist.
I do apologize, Irene. Your death was my fault. Our family is not as we wished it to be, but I will preserve what is left of it no matter the cost.
It was a new day. The sun was high in the sky, hidden behind a cloud, and the lady of the estate was throwing a fit and no one wanted to get in her way as she stomped to her wing of the estate. “Sebastian!” she yelled out, startling the maidservants around her.
“You called, Miss?” the older man asked in a playful manner as he walked toward her. “Let us talk in the study?” he said, leading her toward the large study on her side of the estate.
“He won't let me go out for the rest of the year!” she complained to Sebastian.
Sebastian Morley was the Lord's closest friend. He had fought alongside her father in many wars and now resided with him in his estate. Sebastian was much closer to the lady than her father was, mostly because he chose to listen to her. The lady had found a second paternal figure in the blue-eyed man.
“Lord Tyrill is only worried about your wellbeing, Miss Hale.”
Does that give him the right to take away my freedom?
“You say he cares about my wellbeing, but he has taken away my life. I just want to go to the annual festival. It is not as if I would be executed at a festival, Sebastian.” She scoffed as she picked up a dusty book from a shelf and sneezed when she slapped the book against her palm to remove the dust.
“I know you want to see the world, but you know your father's fears. Those fears are why he tries to keep you protected and guarded at all times.”
She took notice of the globe on the desk and tucked the book under her arm as she twirled the globe and placed a finger on it to make it stop. With a grin on her face, she tucked her hair behind her ear and faced the man.
“Oh, Sebastian. If I had a chance to leave this place unguarded, I doubt I would ever return.” Sebastian hummed in reply as she flipped open the book. “How I long to be free of this cage. To feel the grass under my feet, to watch the sunrise and sunset in an open field.” She giggled as she dropped the book onto the dusty shelf. She raised her head and shut her eyes as she imagined a better life. “To do what I want! To…to…" her smile fell as she opened her eyes, “to be happy, for once.”
She felt Sebastian's eyes on her as she fell back into the plush cushions of the armchair. “Miss Hale?”
“Is that too much to ask for, Sebastian?”
“Not at all, Miss. But your father cares deeply about you and your safety.” She let out an irritated sigh at what he had said. “The world is a very evil place. I believe all his efforts, however extreme, are for your safety.”
“We don't even know if I am a target. Who are his enemies? He assumes that I am weak. What am I being kept away from?” She shot out of the armchair and yelled at the man. “What are you hiding me from? I am not a rabbit who shivers at the slightest feel of the cold evening wind! I want to be free!” She met his eyes and she could see that he pitied her. “Do not look at me with your pity-filled eyes, Sebastian. It makes me feel helpless.”
“My apologies, Miss Hale.” Joan fell back into the armchair with an unladylike squeal. “If I may, I think there is a way for you to go to the festival tonight, but we can only do this once.” Joan felt hope rise up in her again and she shot out of the armchair again.
“What do you have in mind?”
“The winter cloaks for the guards just arrived, Miss Hale. Some are ill-fitting so they must be sent back to the seamstress. If we wait until the sun goes down, we may have a chance of leaving the estate. I can reassign the maids that are supposed to return the cloaks and we can go in their place. Once we are outside, we can use the cloaks to disguise ourselves and spend some time in the town.”
Joan was excited as well as hesitant. She had never snuck out before in fear of what her father would say if he ever came to know of it. She did not want to see him as scared as he was when she came home with a bruised wrist the day before, neither did she want to see the disappointment in his eyes after he learnt she had escaped her guards.
“I know you must be nervous. It is fine if you do not want to attempt it. I do not advise you to.”
“If my father comes to know of it, he would be so disappointed.”
“All the more reason why I do not advise you do it. I only thought of it because I sympathize with you.” Joan wanted to go to the festival but she was afraid of her father finding out. She took a deep breath and quickly made her decision.
This might be my last chance to see anything beyond this castle for many moons.
“When can we leave?”
“The twenty-second hour of the day. Wait in this study and I will come back here for you.”
True to his word, a knock sounded on her door just as the hour reached. She hurriedly opened the door and Sebastian tossed a cloak at her. “Put that on and quickly and grab this bag.” He handed her a bag full of cloaks.
Joan hurriedly pulled on the cloak and picked up a bag, not knowing what was inside, and followed Sebastian. His plan seemed to be working as no one questioned them until they reached the gates. Then they bumped into Sir James, the head guard.
“Where are you two off to?” Sir James questioned. Joan could feel his gaze on her. She felt Sebastian tug at her cloak and she turned to Sebastian who winked at her and motioned at her bag. She opened the bag and dipped her hand inside and pulled out a cloak identical to the one she wore.
“Oh, you are the one going to get the cloaks mended? Fine, hurry up and go,” Sir James said as he moved out of their way and they both hurried out of the estate.
Joan was beyond elated. She was finally outside the estate, going to the festival and she didn't have an army behind her to scare everyone away. She lifted the hood of her cloak so she could take in the sights and sounds of the festival.
“We have to return before midnight, Miss.”
“Why? Can we not stay the entire night?”
“If your father found out I snuck you out, his wrath—”
“Yes, I know of his wrath,” Joan interrupted Sebastian as she turned away from him and walked into the crowd, creating some distance between them.
She twirled joyfully in the cramped space, closing her eyes as the evening breeze cooled her body.
Even the air outside the castle feels different.
“It all looks so beautiful, Sebastian,” she said when the man reached her side. “I doubt anything could ruin this.”
She was about to take another turn when she hit a hard body. Instinctively, she reached out for something to keep her from falling but found nothing. Unable to find a suitable support, she widened her eyes and braced herself for impact with the hard ground. Out of nowhere, she felt a set of strong arms pull her back to her feet. She couldn't see her rescuer as she rose but she could hear him grunt with the effort of catching her.
"Miss Hale! Are you all right?" she heard Sebastian cry as she opened her eyes to look at her savior and was stunned. The man in front of her looked like he was sculpted by the Gods. His blue eyes twinkled like the stars in the sky, lending a softer tone to his sharp facial features. Blond curly hair sat on his head in a messy manner and his slightly-tanned skin seemed to radiate a golden glow.
What a beautiful man!
“Are ye all right?” He spoke a distinct dialect.
Could he be one of the Scots?
Joan nodded as he helped her balance back on her feet.
“I haven'ae hurt you, now?” he asked again with obvious concern.
Yes, he is. No Englishman I have heard speaks like that.
“I am fine.” She looked down, pretending to brush her cloak to hide her red face. “I am fine, Sebastian,” she said as she turned to assure her worried chaperone.
“I apologize, lass. I seem to be a wee bit intoxicated,” the Scot apologized.
It was entirely my fault.
Joan nodded at the man and gave him a small curtsey.
“I am Joan. You do not seem to be from these parts judging by the way you speak,” Joan blurted out as Sebastian tried to caution her about talking to strangers with a stern look. I didn't tell him my full name!
“Yeah.” He grinned at her with his hand in his hair. “I am Aidan Wilson, a humble Scottish traveler who has come to see the famous festival. I have seen many faces from me travels, but I must say, I haven'ae seen a lass as beautiful as ye.”
Oh, a gentleman! I thought all Scots were savages.
“Oh, you flatter me,” Joan giggled as Aidan slowly stretched out his hand to grab hers. “I hear Scots aren't very welcome in Haerton. Did you come alone?”
“Nay. I came with a frien’ from Rattray, a town under the great province of Aberdeenshire. He is somewhere around, probably surrounded by women.”
“Let us look for him then.”
“I cannot leave you here,”" Sebastian said as he pulled her away from the Scot.
Joan narrowed her eyes at him, silently begging him to leave her be.
“You have to be within my sight at all times,” Sebastian insisted.
For once, please leave.
“I am able to take care of myself!” Joan retorted.
Sebastian pulled her farther away from the stranger and whispered to her. “You are still a child, Miss. I cannot let you be alone with a stranger who is not from these parts. If I cannot go with you, I will have to take you back to the estate. You will throw a tantrum, as usual, and your father will come to know of our adventure and we will both be punished. You will be locked in an iron cage if he finds out.”
Joan hated how right the man was about her father. She weighed her options and she finally allowed him to come along with them. The Scot was the most interesting man she had met in years, she wasn't going to lose the chance to talk to him, even if it was just for a night.
On the way, she let her curiosity take over and she questioned Aidan about the places he had traveled to. She latched on to his muscular arm as he described every place in detail. Every answer he gave made her only more curious.
“I tell ye Joan, you cannae be satisfied with my descriptions unless you visit these places.”
I imagine you are right.
She quickly hid her disappointment when he pointed out his friend. Joan recognized him to be the debtor at the tavern. He looked average to Joan and he had an air of positivity around him.
“Where did ye run off to?” Aidan asked as he pulled his friend up from his seat.
“Nevermind me, but dae tell me who this is,” Aidan's friend inquired. He looked sober until he opened his mouth. It was obvious he was drunk by the way he spoke. He took a closer look at Joan and his eyes widened. “Miss Hale, daughter of Lord Tyrill?”
“Joan. My name is Joan,” Joan corrected him and he tapped his head in remembrance. She could see the shocked look on Aidan's face as he realized who she was.
“Yea. Joan. I ne'er got a chance to thank ye for saving me at the tavern. Such a heroic thing to dae for a lad like me. She distracted the men at the tavern saw I could flee.”
”Please, do not mention it. I was going to help pay your debt but I was thought to be a spy.”
“Ach, ye are so kind. But it was a lot. Twelve pounds and a couple of shillings.”
“I can afford it.”
“Well since ye've met me friend before,” Aidan paused to slap his friend's hand away from Joan. "I should formally introduce him. This is me friend, Ian McAllister. He is nae like this under normal circumstances. I apologize on his behalf.”
Ian bowed deeply with one hand on his chest and the other sprawled out and Joan laughed. "I must excuse you now," Ian said, looking up from his position and moving away.
“He does seem like a heavy drinker and from what you said, the ladies love him.” Joan said and looked around. “It is awfully late. I wish I did not have to go so you could tell me more about different places,” she said as she took her hand off Aidan’s arm so she could cover her head with the cloak. “Maybe we might run into each other some other time or I could come see you.” Sebastian coughed as if to remind her she couldn't.
“That would be wonderful,” Aidan said. Joan felt her heart melt at the smile in his face when he replied. “I could escort ye home.”
“No need for that, Aidan. I do not wish to bother you.”
“It really is nae a problem for me. It is nae everyday one sees a bonnie lass like ye.”
“If you insist,” Joan said as she tugged at his arm as Sebastian led them toward the Hale mansion. “Rattray sounds wonderful. How many years did you say you worked there?”
“I was around ten summers when I was taken to Rattray. I worked for different masters, mostly lords. It was pleasant in some homes while it wasnae in some others but I stopped working late last summer. I packed me bags and headed out to travel the world.”
“Oh, how I would love to travel to far places and see new faces,” she said, almost in a trance as she imagined a freedom she always wanted.
“Surely ye have taken a trip or two, at least to neighborin' towns.”
“No, I haven't. I mostly just stay in my home. I do not even know the people that live in this town. Everyone I know either lives or works in my father's castle.”
“You seem like you have a spirit of adventure, why dae ye nae come oot more often?”
“Well, my father is extremely protective. He thinks some harm might befall me if I leave the castle. I am lucky to be outside today. Unlike you, I don't have the opportunity to wander freely, which is why I could not tell you who I was when we met,” she said with her head hanging dejectedly.
“I understand. I feel for you, Miss. It must feel so lonely there.”
You cannot imagine.
“It is, Aidan. All I do all day is read. Novels have become my best friends. Everything I know is from the dusty pages of some book or another.”
“On the brighter side, that is a privilege in itself. I am impressed that ye are well read, Miss,” Aidan said with a smile, trying to lift her spirits.
“I guess it is. We are almost at my father's estate. We can take it from here. He shouldn’t see you anywhere near here,” she said, changing the subject. “I do hope to see you tomorrow if I am lucky enough to leave the castle again, Aidan.”
“That quickly, Miss?” Aidan teased her.
“Do you not want to see me?” Joan turned to ask him.
“Of course I dae. I was only teasin’ yer, I wid love to see ye again. If ye are chanced, meet me at the inn at the center of the town morra night.” Joan beamed at him and nodded. She stole a glance at Sebastian to make sure he couldn't hear them.
“I will see you once the sun sets then.”
“I will hold on to that promise, Miss Hale. I dae hope to see ye again. It wis a pleasure meeting ya.” He bowed slightly as he kissed her hand.
“The pleasure is all mine, Aidan.” Her face flushed with pleasure.
The silence of the night was occasionally broken by the croaking of frogs at the bank of the river. Joan sat with her head resting on Aidan's shoulder watching as the fireflies fluttered around them. She was happy to be alone with Aidan at last. Aidan had his cloak around her to block out the cold breeze of the night. Her hand, which had been tightened around his cloak, came up to his face, trying to snatch the piece of straw he had been chewing on but he moved his face away playfully. With her legs dangling below her, she sat on top of a stone bridge that provided a way over the river.
The streets were empty now so there was no one to bother them. The buildings seemed like lonely figures gazing at the river. Joan had her own cloak on so she could walk the streets unnoticed. A breeze blew toward the east, raising Joan's hair over her shoulders. Aidan noticed Joan leaning forward to see the rippling reflection of the moon in the river and she jumped a little as a stone hit the surface of the water. She looked at Aidan who gave a small smile, another stone in hand ready to shoot it into the river.
“How dae ye feel about all of this?” Aidan asked her. “What if ye father find out about yer nightly visits.”
“He won't,” she replied hastily.
Aidan was not satisfied with her answer. He feared what might become of him if they were caught.
Should I have told her that I lied to her about who I was when we met?
Even after he had spun a web of lies and had her wrapped in it, he badly wanted to tell her who he was but he feared what might happen if he got caught, he might become another scapegoat in the hands of the English.
If I tell her that I am the son of the Laird and a warrior, then she'll want to know my business in Haerton. If she knows that I am here to gather information about Haerton's defenses in order to plan an attack, she will have no choice but to expose me. After all, she is the daughter of a lord.
He did not want to let go of his prize. Her eagerness to know all about the world outside the walls she grew up surrounded by, her curiosity, her lust for life, and her desire for adventure greatly excited him. He had wanted to know more about her from the night he laid eyes on her, but time was unfortunately not in his favor.
He was elated when he saw her wandering around the town inn in hopes of finding him. This was the third time she sneaked out for him and he wished he could see her more often.
When I am around her, I feel a peace that I dinnae ken I lacked. How can a person be so pure and full of life?
He came back to feeling her hands on his bicep. His hand was around her waist, pulling her closer to him; they sat silently under the stars that night. Not much was said and it awakened something in him. He could not put a finger on it but he knew he was smitten with his hazel-eyed beauty.
Aidan did not know how she would feel when he finally had to leave. He did not know how he would feel when he had to leave her.
I don't want to leave her but I have no choice. The English are beginning to suspect the reason for my elongated presence amidst them. I have done my duty; I have the information I need. I should have no other business here.
But what about her? My people will attack Haerton and she will be helpless. How will she fare in a war?
“Ye ken, I have to leave in a coupla days.”
“I am a Scottish traveler, Joan. Yer people are not very fond of us Scots. I cannae stay 'ere any longer.” She sat up, peering down at him with her hazel eyes, the moonlight accentuating her pale skin. Aidan was not so happy to see the tears well up in her eyes.
“You cannot go”
“I do not want you to go!” she crossed her arms over her chest, and frowned.
“I daenae want to leave ye either, Miss, but I cannae stay here. I am but a lad who disnae know where he came from or where he will go. I will be taken for a spy, and the Englishmen will happily hang me if anything were to happen between both countries. I speak an’ act like I am a Highlander for I have lived amongst them for all my life, and all that will matter when the war begins.”
“I have only known you for six days and you already want to leave.”
“I fear for me life, Joan,” Aidan said as he played with her hair.
"Is there nothing we can do?" Joan assured him.
He saw the frown embedded on her face and he felt sad that he was the cause of her being upset. “I am sure we will figure something oot. It is getting quite late, I should take ye back to yer home.”
Joan hummed as she got to her feet and Aidan joined her. They walked slowly back to the Hale Estate.
“Where will you go next?”
Back home. The next time I come here will be to destroy it.
“Back to Rattray.”
“I have some matters to attend to before I find somewhere else to go.”
“I daenae know. I go where I am taken.” Aidan pulled her closer to his side.
“What if you come work for my father?”
He suppressed his laughter when he saw her serious face. He saw how desperate she was not to let him go.
She continued, “He will pay you handsomely. You would not have to travel around anymore. He would give you lodgings and money. Then you would not have to leave me.” He chuckled at her rambling. “What have I said that you find funny?”
“Even if I work for yer father, I will still have to leave ye.”
“Look. We are almost at yer home. I shall leave ye here for today,” he said as he stopped. She pulled her cloak over her head. Her hazel eyes were now burning with angry tears and she glared at him. “Please daenae cry.”
“Why do you have to leave!” she sobbed
“Joan, I was a traveler before ye met me, I cannae stop now. I want to ken me roots. I have no memory of my childhood, if I continue with my traveling, surely someone will ken me.” This seemed to calm her down. “I will see ye the day after morra. Take care of yerself,” Aidan said as he brushed stray strands of hair from her face and pressed his lips to her forehead.
I hate to lie, but the truth is not an option.
Her eyes fluttered shut, savoring the moment. She caught a whiff of his smell and smiled when he pulled back. “Goodnight, Miss.”
Joan waved at him as he started to walk back into the town. “Goodnight!” she whispered to him and he raised his hand and gave her a single wave without looking back.
She turned on her heel and happily skipped to where she had tied her curtains and bed covers to make a rope. She climbed back up with much difficulty. She fell into her room and quickly drew in the makeshift rope and pulled it apart. As she was so fatigued, she only removed and hid the cloak and fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, her dreams filled with images of a blond man.
The dark room was slightly illuminated by the full moon and the occasional flash of lightning. The sounds of moaning came from the distance. There were people on a bed. The couple was moving in sync with each other.
The woman let out a loud gasp as the man kept up his quick pace. He lifted himself carefully as their rhythm began to slow down, saving the big moment for later. He rested both his arms on the side of her head as he looked down at where their bodies met. She bit her bottom lip as she wrapped her hands behind his head and pulled him down so she could have access to his soft lips.
He groaned when she let go of his lips and she responded with a loud moan. He was hitting all the right spots and she felt out of control. He pulled her into his arms as he whispered promises in her ear.
She threw her head back and arched her back as he met every thrust while his hands roamed over every curve on her body.
He rested his forehead against hers and pressed his lips to hers in a soft kiss. He pulled back and placed another kiss on her cheek all the way to her collarbone, leaving love bites as he passed. Her hands gripped his biceps as he bit down on her chest and his tongue darted out to soothe the pain.
“Stay with me,” she whispered, scared to raise her voice. The sounds of their moans and groans increased as his climax came closer. There was absolutely no way they could get any closer than they were at this moment. “Please!” She was almost crying from the euphoria.
His response sounded so distant. She had to strain to hear him. “I cannae.” Suddenly a flash of lightning blinded her and he disappeared.
It was like he had never been there in the first place.
Joan shot up from her bed, her clothes sticking to her body from the sweat as she looked around frantically, looking for any trace of Aidan.
Was it all a dream?
What kind of dream was this? In all of her life, she had never had a cause to think of a man in that way but she didn't feel ashamed of herself because of the dream.
All the sleep was gone from her eyes. She stepped out of her bed to slip out of her dress. Naked as day, she flung open the curtain and the sun's rays penetrated the room. She saw it was past noon and when she turned back to look at her room, she noticed that water had been brought for her bath. As she stepped into the cold water, she shivered and she thought of her dream again.
A wide smile spread across her face, knowing she would see him the next night.
Aidan's eyes shot open as he jerked out of his seat. His breath was heavy and he was drenched in sweat. His manhood was painfully tight against his breeches as he shuddered from the dream he had just had.
“What’s got ye breeches in a twist?” Aidan looked at Ian, who was sharpening his sword.
“It was a dream,” he panted as he ran a hand through his blond hair which was wet with sweat. “I had a dream.”
“About what?” He saw Ian eye his breeches. “Never mind. I can take a guess.”
“It isnae what ye think. I daenae think of her in such a way.” He saw the smirk in his friend's face grow wider. “Daenae give me that look.”
“Yet ye think of beddin' her in yer sleep,” Ian mocked and Aidan yawned, stretching his arms over his head. He grabbed his shirt and slipped it on. “Where are ye going?”
“I am gonnae take a quick walk,” Aidan said.
“Are ye off to see the lass?” He turned back to Ian whose smirk had grown bigger. Ian wiggled his eyebrows and Aidan threw a buttering knife at Ian. Ian dodged the knife and Ian went back to teasing Aidan.
“Dobber,” Aidan muttered and shut the door behind him. He left the inn and started to walk, not minding his surroundings.
Why do I want her so much? Am I a child who cannot control himself around a woman? Why would I dream about bedding the daughter of the enemy?
He could not deny that he was attracted to her despite the danger. If he got too close to her, he would be burnt. His lies would begin to unravel and he would certainly be killed by the Englishmen.
Even if I stayed away from her, I still cannae ignore the passion she ignites within me when I think of her. I am done for either way. How have I grown attached to her in such little time?
Perhaps it is her calming face and her soothing voice. I am a man of war, I kill my enemies, I dinnae fall for them. Yet here I am, hoping to see her so I can feel some peace.
He suddenly noticed a freesia flower and he looked around to see he had walked into a freesia field. The only place he knew that had a freesia field close to it was the Hale Estate.
Her estate will probably be raided when we finish the battle. What is the point of all this if I cannae protect her?
He shook his head and turned on his heels and started to walk back to the inn. He knew he should not be getting attached to her. He knew the consequences but he still wanted to try his luck.
His walk back to the inn was interrupted when he stopped in front of a whore house. He could hear the sounds of intercourse from every window. He saw a young woman in expensive clothes and heavy makeup by the door. When she noticed him, she picked up her dress and came over to him.
“I could be worth your time,”" she proposed.
Maybe this is it. This might be what I need to shake this feeling and restore order in my mind. I have enough money to bed ten of this women and cleanse myself, but do I want to?
A lump formed in his throat when she held onto his bicep, trying to coax him into bedding her.
Why do I feel like I am trespassing? Why do I feel watched?
He turned his head to look around but didn't see anyone around but guilt clouded his conscience. He shook his head at the harlot, brushed her hand gently off his arm and continued his walk back to the inn.
It had been eight days since she had first met Aidan and she had never been so happy. She sat in the garden with her father, her cup of tea untouched. Her mind was so filled with thoughts of Aidan that she didn't hear her father speak.
He is my first and only true friend. It feels good to be around other people for a change.
“Child!” She jumped, frightened by her father’s voice. “Do you mind sharing what has been making you smile all day?”
“Smile? I have not been smiling,” she said as she picked up her tea and took a sip.
“You just seemed so happy this past week.” Her father raised a brow at her.
“Oh, I found a new book,” she said and he hummed.
“What is it about?”
“A traveler.” She smiled again as she leaned back into her seat. “A traveler who has walked the earth, trying to find his roots.”
“Really? May I have it when you finish it?” her father asked and she coughed as she choked on her tea.
“Are you all right?” He father rushed to her side as she placed the teacup on the table and covered her face with her handkerchief. When her coughing fit finally subsided, she sat back trying to avoid her father's gaze.
“What was that?” her father said.
“I choked on my tea.”
“Are you all right”
“I do not know. May I be excused?” she said, looking at the ground. She didn't wait for a reply before leaving for her room.
She did not think her father would ask for the book after a few hours but he did.
“I misplaced it,” she muttered.
“How?” She shrugged her shoulders, ignoring the suspicious look her father gave her. “Tell me about it then?”
“Like I said father, it is about a traveler who travels the world to find his roots.”
“Does he find his roots in the end?”
“Yes,” she said with a small smile. “He does find his roots and even more.”
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