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Meghan was so immersed in her discussion with the lamb that she heard the voices too late.
Without warning, the foliage parted and the path before her was suddenly barred by a most fearsome sight. She froze in mid-stride and shrieked.
For an instant, she couldn't speak, so stunned was she by the horseman's sudden appearance. She could merely stare at the devil. By Jacob's bloody stone, she swore silently, no man had ever stood so tall in his stirrups! As it was, she had to crane her neck up at a painful angle in order to see his face. And sweet Mary, Joseph, and Jesus! What a face it was! In truth, he looked more like an angel than a devil.
Though swarthy, his skin appeared to be as soft as the skin of her arse. And his flaxen hair was the richest of gold, though she couldn't tell its length for it was bound at the back of his neck. His cheekbones were high and well hewn, but it was his eyes that held her transfixed: uncanny blue, they bore into her very soul. He wore blue, but a blue so dark it was almost blackblue tunic, blue breeches, black boots. The tunic upon his chest was emblazoned with a blood-red lion rearing back upon its beastly little legsno mail as the English were wont to wear, but he certainly had no need of mail to look invulnerable.
God's truth, were her legs not so entangled within the rope she held so firmly within her fist, she would have turned and fled.
She swallowed convulsively, and stammered, "Who . . . who are ye?"
"Who are you? The question might be better asked," he countered, his tone furious. "And what the bloody hell are you doing upon my land?"
Meghan gulped back a welling of panic. "Yer land?" she asked, tryingto sound as calm as she might while her heart seemed bent upon pummeling its way out from her breast.
He leaned forward over the horse's withers, and enunciated slowly and more clearly, lest she mistake him, "My land."
Meghan swallowed the knot of apprehension that appeared in her throat. It was Montgomerie himself. Henry's Lyon in the fleshKing David's accursed Sassenach mercenary baron!
Sweet Jesu, it suddenly occurred to herhad he left her a trap with the lamb?
Nay, why would he do such a thing? she reasoned. He had nothing to gain.
Och, because he was a greedy, deceiving Englishman. That was why!
"What business have you upon my land, wench? And what are you doing with that lamb?"
Meghan tried to remain composed, but fidgeted under his scrutiny. Her heart hammering fiercely, she searched about for some means of escape, and her heart lurched as she spied a second man emerging from the thicket. This man was dark-haired and burly, with eyes that assessed her quite rudely. Her panic increased tenfold.
"Well," she said, fumbling for an answer, "II was walkin', ye see. . ."
"Walking?" he repeated.
"Aye, walkin'," Meghan lied, blinking. "II was taking a blessed walk."
"A blessed walk?"
The other man laughed. "Is that like taking a holy shit?" he asked, and chortled at his own childish humor.
Meghan cast him a withering glance.
"So you were taking a walk?" Montgomerie inquired much too pleasantly, but with an unmistakable note of suspicion in his voice.
"I believe 'tis what I said," she snapped, becoming vexed with his annoying echo of her answers. Nor did she bloody well appreciate his tone any more than she did his companion's humor. He spoke as though he thought her an idiot or a liar, neither of which was acceptable to Meghan.
"Did you really?" he asked, with that same unmistakable air of suspicion.
"Och! Do ye no' ha' eyes tae see wi?" she asked him, losing her temper, jerking up the lead rope the display the evidence. But jerking up the lead rope turned out to be the wrong thing to do. Tangled as it was between her limbs, she tripped herself and promptly fell upon her rear.
"Bluidy rotten rope!" she railed, tossing it down in a fit of fury. "See what ye did!" she hissed at the animal knowing even so wasn't the poor lammie's fault. And still she couldn't quite help herself. Taking comfort in the fact that the poor beast couldn't possibly comprehend what she was spouting in anger, she railed, "Och, but I should ha' left ye there upon the meadow!"
It was all Montgomerie's fault, she assured her self, and glowered up at him, her cheeks burning with chagrin and no small amount of ire.
"So you found the lamb upon the meadow?" Montgomerie persisted, mocking her still with his tone.
"Will ye stop, please!"
"Stop what?" he asked, arching a brow, as though he thought her completely witless. Meghan bristled.
Och, but his gaze unsettled her. Those blue eyes focused upon her too intensely. "Repeating everything I say, ye ill-bred oaf! I'm no bluidy half-wit! Nor am I deaf!"
"Not mute either-more's the pity," his friend answered blithely.
"Nay!" Meghan agreed, her face heating with indignation, "no' mute, either, ye contemptible boor!" That he'd professed no more than her brothers had long since lamented was of little consequence. He was an ill-bred churl to have said such an insulting thing to her!
Montgomerie smiled darkly. "Now that we've established as much . . . tell me, do you make it a habit to walk and talk with animals?" he asked her.
Meghan blinked, a thought suddenly occur ring to her. Sweet Mary, had he overheard her talking to herself? Did he realize who she was? She bit down upon her lip, and fretted. That's what she got for being so like her grandminnie-walking about talking to herself like a bloody loon!
Copyright ) 1997 by Tanya Anne Crosby