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The Angel and the Highlander
"I'm not going. She's a shrew, and from what I've heard an ugly one at that. There's not a man alive who can deal with her. Why do you think her father stuck her in a convent?" Lachlan shook his head adamantly all the while knowing that no matter how hard he protested, he would have no choice. He would have to go and escort Alyce, daughter of Angus of the clan Bunnock, the laird of the largest and most powerful clan in the whole north of Scotland.
"By now she'll have learned to behave," Cavan said bluntly.
Lachlan bit his tongue. It wasn't because Cavan was his oldest brother, but rather that Cavan was laird of the clan Sinclare and was due respect and obedience. Lachlan would have given it to his brother regardless. Cavan was a man of tremendous courage and conviction and he lead the clan with honor. He couldn't disrespect him just because he didn't like the task at hand.
Besides," Cavan said with a glint of a smile, "there isn't a woman I haven't seen you able to charm. I'm confident that you can handle a shrew."
Lachlan grinned and nodded. "You're right. There isn't a woman I can't handle, nor one who's impervious to my charm."
"Then the mission should prove simple and successful. Go retrieve Alyce Bunnock so that she may wed the man of her father's choosing."
Lachlan was about to ask the obvious question when Cavan held up his hand.
"It doesn't matter if she objects. She has a duty to her father and clan. Tie her to the horse if you have to, but get her here."
"That's all I wanted to know," Lachlan said, satisfied his hands weren'ttied if she should give him trouble.
"You leave tomorrow at first light. Take a strong contingent of warriors with you. Angus Bunnock informed me that the area is mostly pagan, the reason why the church sent the nuns to establish the convent five years ago. On top of that a band of mercenaries has been plundering the region. To what extent or how strong their group, I do not know."
"Ten Highlander warriors should do against a ragtag band of misfits."
"Don't ever underestimate your opponents. Some of those misfits have probably fought more battles than you."
"I will be sure to stay alert," Lachlan said.
"Be sure you stay alive," Cavan commanded.
Lachlan finished recalling the meeting he had with his brother Cavan prior to his departure three weeks ago. So far it had been an uneventful journey, but they weren't far now from the convent. They were deep in pagan territory and there were signs of another group inhabiting the area, probably the mercenaries he had been warned about.
The horses were skittish over unfamiliar sounds that followed them. The forest was the thickest Lachlan had ever seen, making it more difficult to find or blaze a sufficient trail. Then there was the strange mist that could be counted on to confound since there was no rhythm or reason to its arrival or departure.
The men voiced their concerns in whispers, afraid of insulting the forest spirits. Though new beliefs proliferated, old beliefs died hard and it didn't hurt to pay homage to the old ones now and again.
Lachlan led his men with confidence and caution. They were in unfamiliar territory and it wouldn't do to be careless. He had chosen good, experienced men, though Boyd and Andrew had volunteered. He shared much in common with the two. They craved adventure, women, and were close in age to his twenty-six years.
Boyd rode up alongside him. He sat tall in his saddle, though his height fell several inches short of Lachlan's not quite six feet. He was broad and thick with muscle and had long dark red hair and a boyish face the lassies loved.
"The few farms we've passed looked to be prosperous." Boyd shook his head. "I hadn't expected to see that with talk of mercenaries in the area."
"I thought the same myself," Lachlan said. "They usually take what they want in the way of food and women."
"Yet in the last two days it appears as if we've crossed a border of sorts where every farm and its people are flourishing and happy."
"We are not far from the convent; perhaps the nuns have had a beneficial affect on the land and its people."
"Not if Alyce Bunnock had anything to do with it," Boyd said.
Lachlan cringed. "Don't remind me. I've heard more horrid tales about the—" He stopped himself from referring to her as a lady, which gave Boyd time to throw in his own descriptions.
"Shrew, witch, ogre, hellion—"
"Come, she can't be that bad," Andrew said, joining them, his sharp smile, craggy features, and jet black, straight shoulder-length hair in sharp contrast to Boyd's boyish appeal, his height nearer to Lachlan's.
"Then you deal with her," Lachlan and Boyd said in unison.
Andrew laughed, though he grew silent when the shrill cry of a bird pierced the air.
Lachlan and Boyd did the same. Another cry followed as if in answer then a cacophony of cries and the men relaxed, the chorus letting them know it was no signal.
"I'll be glad to get our task done and be home," Boyd said, his eyes sharp on his surroundings.
Lachlan understood his men's concerns. The forest shadows and unpredictable mist added to the unease, and it didn't help that they were placing themselves in harm's way to retrieve a sharp-tongued woman. "We'll be gone from here fast enough."
Evan, the warrior sent to scout ahead emerged from the shadows of the trees. Sweat poured from his pale brow even though the start of spring retained a bite of winter.
"There's a cropping of buildings ahead with freshly turned ground. It doesn't look like any convent I've seen. It resembles more a farm, though a large cross at the entrance of one building catches the eye as do the women who tend the place." He shook his head. "There's not a man in sight."The Angel and the Highlander. Copyright © by Donna Fletcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.