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From her vantage point where she sat on the hillside, Fiona MacDonald watched as the young Highlander approached. She sighed as she took in the sheer wondrous physicality of the man. Braw is only half o' it, she thought. Duncan MacGregor was the epitome of masculine grace and beauty-a prize that any lass would be proud to call her own. But for as long as Fiona had known Duncan, she had also known it was unlikely that any lass would ever bed with him.
Duncan was different from the other men in his clan-and Fiona could only be glad of that, for some of them were rogues, guid-natured rogues perhaps, but lacking the substance that set Duncan apart from them. Not for one moment could Fiona ever imagine any of them stopping to admire the splendour that surrounded Glen Ardor. The forests of lush dark green, the silver rivers where the salmon leapt over rocks, the bluebell and heather-covered hills, the majesty of the mountain crags and the serenity to be found in the quiet of the glens.
No, Duncan's brothers and friends would no doubt laugh with scorn if they knew that one of them was inspired or even cared about what nature provided. They were far more interested in brawling with the MacAllisters, their neighbouring clansmen, or trying to get between some unsuspecting lassie's thighs. There was guid in them, Fiona would allow, in that they provided food and warmth for their families, but yearning for something more-something life-changing-was not ever in their minds, not even for a fleeting second.
Fiona knew that Duncan longed for another life. True, he loved the Highlands. He even loved his brothers and friends regardless of their uncouth ways and talk, but Fiona knew there was a secret longing deep in his heart for a different way of life-a life of adventure-and love. Fiona even knew, for that was the way of the witch, that Duncan himself did not fully realise the kind of love he craved. Time and again, she had tried to extract from him in their conversations just one tiny admission that what he felt in his heart and what he dreamed of while lying in his lonely bed was not what his father had planned for him.
Now, watching him climb the hill towards her, she could tell from the brooding look on his handsome face that all was not well with her friend. He raised his hand in greeting, and Fiona smiled, subtly shielding the light of admiration in her eyes for his tall, broad-shouldered figure.
"Fiona, I was hoping I'd find you here."
His deep voice never failed to send chills of secret delight through Fiona's blood. She had loved him since they had played together as children-a love that had not faded with time nor the knowledge that he could give her no more than his loving friendship.
"I would have come to you, if I had not been banished from the village by your faither and the elders," Fiona said. Her voice still held the bitterness she felt towards Duncan's clan, a clan that had been hers too until the accusations she could not deny. Whatever they might think of her, she would not lie about her 'gift'.
"Aye, I'm sorry about that, Fiona." Duncan shifted uneasily but didn't look away from her steady gaze. "I've argued about it 'til I'm blue in the face, but the auld scunners just willna' listen. If you had just denied the witchcraft charge-"
"And you know why I will not, Duncan! I told them my gift is for the benefit of a' the folk, but they're a bunch of dunderheids and canna' see beyond their own superstitions. Anyway..." She shrugged and shook her head in dismissal, "Enough of that. You look dour. What ails you, Duncan?"
"Och..." He flung himself down on the ground near her. "Faither has told me I'm to marry Margaret MacAllister. She's a bonnie lass, but..."</block>