The Prince Kidnaps a Bride
By Christina Dodd
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Christina Dodd
All right reserved. ISBN: 0060561181
On an island off the northwestern coast of Scotland
Sorcha didn't really know what she was watching for; she'd watched all summer and seen nothing except for the passing of the bright, brief warmth. She had seen the full moon at the end of October and then a fortnight later she'd observed Mr. MacLaren's arrival in the shallow harbor where, twice a year, he came from the mainland to off-load supplies of meat, wine, and cloth. She'd viewed the clouds of the first winter storm that had roiled on the horizon, then roared over the island like a greedy giant, thrashing at the sea, turning it green and wild.
All of those events had been nothing more than the normal cycle of life on the island.
Today she walked along the rocky beach and picked up driftwood cast up from the storm. The waves still raked the shore and the clouds raced across the thin blue of the sky. Ice settled in hollows that never saw the sun. The wind whistled in her ears and caught at her clothes. Her red hair escaped her scarf and tossed around her face, and she blew it out of her mouth in disgust. She ought to go back, but the convent needed fuel for their meager fires, and besides, she felt as wild and restless as the sea.
She combed the length of the beach and piled bare, salty branches on the ragged old length of cloth. Then she stood still. If she looked inone direction, she saw only the thin line of the horizon where the ocean met the sky, but if she looked the other direction, she saw the Scottish mainland, a hump of brown and green. She hadn't set foot on the mainland in seven years, yet she couldn't shake the sense that something needed to be done.
The annoying logic Grandmamma had insisted Sorcha learn poked at her conscience like a hot embroidery needle.
Poppa was dead. He'd died in battle regaining his kingdom from the revolutionaries.
According to the newspaper Mr. MacLaren had brought, Grandmamma was in charge of the government of Beaumontagne and governing wisely.
Therefore, Grandmamma's trusted servant should have appeared to demand the return of their crown princess.
So where was Godfrey? Why hadn't the big, bald, muscle-bound messenger yet come?
In the ten years of her exile in England, Sorcha had seen Godfrey one time, when he came in the middle of the night to secretly remove her from the home of the exiled Beaumontagnian loyalists who sheltered her. On her desperate, hurried trip north, he'd warned her over and over that the war was going badly and that assassins sought to kill her. He insisted she must stay at the abbey until he came to tell her it was safe.
Now she had to wonder--was Godfrey dead? Was that why he hadn't come for her? Should she take matters into her own hands and go to Beaumontagne?
As she stared out at the whitecapped waves and contemplated going out into the world, she shivered in fear.
Grandmamma had given Sorcha the best education, but she had never been able to teach her courage.
A patch of sunshine moved across the water, turning it to blue, and as Sorcha watched, a movement caught her attention. She shaded her eyes with her hand and looked. A small unmanned fishing vessel drifted along, bobbing on the waves, and she clambered over the rocks, keeping it in sight, wondering if someone had been caught on the ocean during the recent storm and needed help.
That was one of their primary objectives at the convent, to render help to the hapless, stranded sailors who washed up on the shore--and pray for and bury the dead.
A current caught the boat and tossed it toward shore.
She looked around for a long stick, anything to use as a hook, but found nothing. "Come on," she urged the little vessel. "Come closer." For she didn't want to plunge into the icy waves to retrieve it, and duty, her ubiquitous duty, would require the sacrifice.
The skiff seemed to hear her, coming closer and closer. She climbed higher on the rocks, trying to peer inside, to see if a body lay sprawled on the boards . . . then, like an unruly child, the boat stopped and hovered just beyond the breaking waves.
"Don't stop now!" she shouted.
The boat bobbed a few feet farther out.
Throwing off her cloak and boots, she used the length of cord around her waist to tie up her skirts and with a grimace, she plunged into the waves. The freezing water snatched the breath from her lungs, stung her bare legs, weighed down her skirt. She fought the draw of the undertow, the slap of the surf, dragging herself toward the bow of the little boat. It slid toward her on a cresting wave; she grabbed at it and missed. She eyed the surf, judging her moment, and grabbed again. She caught the side of the boat, pulled herself up for a brief glance inside.
Nothing. No body.
She released a sigh of relief and worked her way up to the bow. Using the strength developed from long hours of physical labor at the convent, she dragged the vessel in to shore. The crunch of the wooden bottom on the sand was the sweetest sound she'd ever heard, and she groaned as she pulled it up on the beach, placing it well away from the greedy waves. Wiping her hands against her bodice, she turned--and a man loomed over her.
He jumped back. He wore coarse, damp, wrinkled clothes. He had big, broad shoulders. His pungent odor reminded her of rotten fish and seawater. A dark, scraggly beard rimmed his chin and a mustache overhung his upper lip. He'd tied a rag over his head and half his face.
He looked like a monster.
She screamed again. Continues...
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