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Nineteen-year-old Lady Isobel Macleod, having escaped the confines of Castle Chalamine and her father's carping criticism, rode her pony bareback and with abandon along the tree-and-shrubbery-lined river path through Glen Mèr toward the steep track that led down into Glen Shiel. The day was glorious, and the cool salty breeze blowing from the sea caressed her face as she rode. Wildflowers bloomed in vast, colorful splashes, and not another human being was in sight.
She had not yet found the lone isle of her dreams, with the solitary tower to which she had often told her sisters she intended to remove as soon as she had means to do so, but her morning ride would provide solitude for an hour or two.
She had a sennight more to endure at Chalamine before she could return to Castle Lochbuie on the Isle of Mull, her home for the past seven years. She missed the Laird of Lochbuie and his wife, her sister Cristina, and she missed their three bairns and her two favorite cats, Ashes and Soot, as well.
Although she had lived at Chalamine until she was twelve, it no longer felt homelike with only three of her six sisters remaining there. The eldest of the three, Adela, burdened at twenty with household responsibilities,was rapidly turning into a bitter woman, while Sidony and Sorcha, at sixteen and seventeen, were champing at the bit to find husbands and marry so they, too, could leave. Isobel, however, intended never to marry.
She could be grateful at least that her father, Murdoch Macleod of Glenelg, had given up making each sister wait until her elder ones had married. That superstition had died years before, along with her sister Mariota and Macleod's dreams of a grand future for them all.
Firmly banishing further thought of Mariota or Macleod, Isobel considered her options for the next few hours. She could continue to Glen Shiel and Loch Duich or she could stay off her usual tracks and seek someplace new. As she pondered the possibilities, movement above on a hillside to the north caught her eye. Thanks to Glen Mèr's steep slopes and narrow floor-no wider in most places than the swift, tumbling river that flowed through its center and the narrow track beside it-the distance was not great, and she easily discerned two horsemen. When they disappeared into the dense shrubbery, she decided they might be following a track she had not known was there.
Curious to know if that was the case, she touched her pony with her whip, guiding it toward the nearest place where she could safely ford the river. Once across, she urged her horse up the hillside. Although she was no longer certain she would be able to find the exact place where the two had vanished, even a search for the track they followed gave more purpose to her outing than mere escape.
Ten minutes later, she entered a dense grove of aspens, oaks, and chestnuts that she believed was the one the men had entered, with a narrow burn wending its way downhill through the trees to the river. Riding into the shady woods, she drew rein and listened. She did not want to meet anyone, and it had occurred to her that the two men, having vanished nearby, might reappear at any moment.
Certain that anyone from a neighboring glen would know her, and that she need tell any stranger only that she was Macleod's daughter, she felt no fear. Her sisters or father would have mentioned any feud that had erupted in her absence.
Hearing no sound but gurgling water and normal forest chirps and chatters, she urged her pony on and soon found the track she sought. That she had not come upon it before was no wonder, because it began at a narrow cleft between two huge boulders on the far side of the burn, led up and away from the water, and dipped into a ravine where it looked as if it might end. Instead, the passage widened, and shortly afterward, she came to a grassy clearing surrounded by more woods. Just beyond, a high, sheer, solid backdrop of granite rose forbiddingly toward the sky.
Seeing no sign of the riders she had followed, she rode across the nearly dry streambed that divided the clearing to see if the path continued on the other side. Entering woodland again, she savored its silence until a man's scream shattered it.
The scream had come from a short distance ahead and did not repeat itself, so although she urged her pony forward, she did so with care, listening for any other sounds that might tell her more. The woodland darkness lessened, and hearing male voices, one speaking sternly, she drew rein. She could not make out his words.
"Doubtless we should leave," she murmured to her pony. "Whatever is going on here is probably no concern of ours, but curiosity has always been my besetting sin, and I suppose it always will be." With that, she slipped off, landed lightly on soft ground, and looped the reins over a nearby tree branch.
Patting the pony's nose, she said softly, "No noise now, if you please."
Knowing she could not depend on its silence, and recalling the many times her parents or foster parents had punished her for letting curiosity get the better of her, she sent a prayer aloft that this time no one would catch her. Then, carrying her riding whip, she gathered her long, darkgray cloak closer around her so that it would not catch on any shrubbery and moved swiftly but quietly through the trees toward the voices.
Stopping behind a large chestnut tree near the edge of the woods, she peeked cautiously around it into the small clearing beyond and gaped at what she saw.
Six men had gathered around a seventh, who hung by tautly outstretched arms, roped to branches of two ancient, entangled oak trees. He was dark haired and wore only his breeks and boots. His muscular back and arms were bare, and blood oozed from four vicious stripes across his broad shoulders. As she realized what she was witnessing, one of the six raised a heavy whip and said grimly, "You'll tell us soon enough, you know. It might as well be now whilst you can still talk sensibly."
"Demons will roast you in hell first," his victim said in a deep, vibrant voice that easily carried to Isobel's ears. She did not recognize it or him, however, nor did she recognize any of the men watching. Under the circumstances, the hanging man's calm demeanor astonished her, as did his educated diction.
"You know my skill," the one with the whip said. "Faith, man, you screamed at only the fourth stripe. Do you dare to test me further?"
When his victim remained silent, he raised the whip again.
The victim's muscles clenched, and Isobel's did likewise as the lash descended. His scream of agony ripped through the air again.
"Well now, what ha' we here?" Startled, she whirled, raising her riding whip, but a large hand clamped hard on her forearm, and the black-bearded man whose hand it was growled, "Nay, lassie. Drop it, and be glad ye didna strike me. Lads, hold your whisst now," he called out to the others. "We've an inquisitive lass here, come to amuse us all!"
Isobel sighed, but it certainly was not the first time God had failed to heed her prayers. Nor could she blame Him, since she was not always conscientious about honoring the promises she made when she hoped that one might sway Him.
She made no protest as her burly captor hustled her across the clearing to the others, but when he jerked her to a halt in front of the one with the whip, she said, "I don't know who you are, but I am Macleod of Glenelg's daughter, and you have no business here, certainly not to be doing what you are doing. If this man has broken a law, you should hail him before the laird's court for a fair trial."
"Aye, sure," the man with the whip said, "but that depends on whose laws he's broken, does it not?"
"The only ones that matter here are Macleod laws and mayhap those of the Lord of the Isles," she said, but as she did, she realized she had misjudged the group. She had assumed that a band of local ruffians had attacked a gentleman, but hearing the chief tormentor speak as his victim did told her the assumption was wrong. Likewise, the tormentors' clothing and weapons were not those of common folk.
Two of the henchmen wore swords that any of her father's men-at-arms or those at Lochbuie or Ardtornish would have cherished, and the man with the whip wore a black velvet doublet and silk trunk hose of excellent cut and styling. A chill tickled her spine, but she ignored it, glared at him, and said, "Cut that poor man down at once."
"Faith, lass, but you're full of orders for one with no army behind her," he said, adding as an aside to the others, "I warrant she'll provide rare sport in bed."
"Let her go," his victim snapped. "She knows naught of what passes here, but she is clearly of noble birth, and if she goes missing, many will come searching for her. She may even have an escort nearby. Heaven knows, she ought to have one."
Isobel could see his face now and thought it handsome despite his scowl. But when his gaze met hers, a wary tingle shot up her spine. He was tied up, helpless, and in pain, but the look he gave her reminded her powerfully of those she received from the formidable Laird of Lochbuie when he was displeased with her.
The leader jerked his head toward the trees where Isobel had been standing, and said to the man who had captured her, "Have a look, Fin."
"But I saw no one with her," the other said. "She were alone."
"Look anyway, because he's right. A lass like this is bound to have keepers." Motioning to two of the others, he said, "Cut him down for now, and stow them both in the cave until we sort this out. I don't want any more surprises."
Despite her fierce struggles, the two men forced her toward the sheer granite wall and soon came to a high, narrow opening. Beyond lay the pitch blackness of an underground cavern. Isobel shut her eyes at the sight, gathering courage, telling herself that it merely led to another adventure and was not a gateway to Hell.
They paused long enough for one of the two to light a torch before entering. Fascinated despite her fear of such darkness, and wondering how such a cave could lie so near Chalamine without her ever hearing so much as a whisper about its presence, she soon saw that although the passage was narrow, the rough granite ceiling rose far above them. Clearly Nature, rather than man, had carved both.
Hearing footsteps behind them, she glanced back and saw by the light of a second torch that two others were dragging their bare-chested victim in her wake. Soon the two captives found themselves stretched out on the hard floor, securely bound hand and foot.
"I wish that horrid man had not pulled off my cloak to tie my hands behind me, because it's cold in here," she grumbled when the men had gone, taking the torches and thus all the light with them. "But I suppose I should be grateful that they did not gag us."
"No one would hear us from here even if we shouted," he said, his rich voice coming calmly to her through the dense blackness.
Although his voice was a comfort, she was testing her bonds and did not reply. She could not see a thing now that the light was gone, not even shadows.
"You're mighty cool for a lass in such a dire predicament," he said. "Do you have keepers nearby?"
She sighed. "Unfortunately, no. I came alone, and no one will look for me for hours. When they realize that I'm missing, however, many will search for me."
"Is your father so powerful then?" "Powerful enough," she said, grimacing when the rope around her wrists pinched in protest of her squirming. "He is a member of the Council of the Isles. But my sister's husband is even more powerful, and I have fostered with them these past seven years. He'll soon join the search if my father's men don't find us straightaway, and he'll find us, too, if those evil men haven't murdered us first."
"How is it that your foster father is more powerful than a Councilor of the Isles?" he asked, and she thought she detected amusement in his voice.
"He is Hector the Ferocious," she said simply. Silence greeted that information, and the amusement was gone when he said, "I think you will survive longer if you do not mention that detail to our hosts."
"But why not? Hector terrifies most men." "Just so," he said.
She thought about that. "You fear they might kill me rather than let him discover that they have done this to me. But they'd have to kill you, too, would they not, lest you tell him."
He did not reply. "Who are you that you've drawn their interest in such a way?" she demanded.
"You may call me Michael," he said. "I'll call you anything you like, but your speech tells me you are educated and doubtless a man of more extensive identity than just Michael. Why have they done this to you?"
"Their reasons can be of no import to you," he said.
"If they mean to kill us, I certainly want to know why!" "They will not kill me-not yet-not intentionally, at all events."
"It may surprise you to know that your fate interests me far less than my own," she said tartly. "Am I more dangerous to them than you are?"
"Only if they learn about Hector Reaganach," he said. "They do not fear me, you see, for I have taken care to give them little cause."
"That man wanted you to tell him something," she said, remembering.
He sighed. "You heard that, did you? If you are wise, you will not reveal that bit of information to them either." Others had said of her that she was wise beyond her years, but somehow that did not seem to be what he meant. In any event, she rarely took those words as a compliment, for too often the same people questioned her judgment and scolded her for trusting it. "Why don't you just tell him what he wants to know?" she asked.
"Because I cannot." "Then we had better find a way to escape." Her companion's chuckle reverberated from the cavern walls.
"I do not know why you laugh," she said. "When one recognizes that a necessity has arisen, one should greet it with resolution and make a plan."
"You'd better plan quickly then, mistress, because they'll soon be back."
She was still testing her bindings, seeking loose ends, but her sharp ears had caught no sound of footsteps or voices yet, and she could discern no light, so she still had time if she could just untie herself.
Thoughts whirled and danced through her head as her fertile imagination sought possible avenues of escape. Her wrists, tied behind her, felt raw from her struggles against the rough binding. If only she could reach ...
Memory shifted to a time in her childhood when her sister Kate had tied her hands behind her and threatened to tickle her witless if she did not stop chattering and let Kate finish some chore or other. The minute Kate had turned her back, a younger, smaller, and doubtless much more agile Isobel had slipped her bound wrists beneath her bottom, up her legs, and over her feet. Then, loosening the binding with her teeth, she had run up behind her sister on silent, bare feet, poked her sides, and startled Kate nearly out of her skin.
Wondering if she could still do such a thing, she gave it a try. Her hips were broader now, but her arms were longer, too, and with only a slight hitch when a seam in her heavy skirt snagged against the rope, she managed by pulling, scooting, and at last rolling backward over her bound hands and lifting her backside as she forced them underneath her, wincing when they scraped rock.
She was glad now that the villain had taken off her cloak and cast it to the floor, because had it still covered her, it would have been very much in her way.
"What are you doing?" Michael asked. Grateful that he could not see her, and knowing she would sound breathless if she tried to talk, she said nothing, hoping to show him her success instead.
"Answer me, lass. Are you all right?" "Aye," she muttered. "Just listen hard for them, will you?"
Rolling to a sitting position, she tried to reach under her skirt, but the dirk Hector had given her when she turned thirteen sat in its snug leather sheath on the outside of her right leg above the knee, and she could not reach it. Nor, in that earlier incident, had Kate tied her ankles. No matter how she twisted, she could not seem to stretch far enough to force both feet at once through the small opening. She had to try harder. Their captors would not stay away much longer.
Rolling backward again, she exhaled as much air as she could and lifted her legs and backside as if she were attempting a backward somersault, using her bound hands to pull her hips and then her legs as close as possible to her torso. She was still flexible enough to bend double at the waist, but whether she would be able to slide her hands far enough to do the trick remained to be seen. In any case, she was glad her companion could not see her. Her position lacked dignity, to say the least.
Excerpted from Prince of Danger by Amanda Scott Copyright ©2005 by Lynne Scott-Drennan . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 9, 2008
In 1379, in the Scottish Highlands, Lady Isobel Macleod is riding by herself as she does every morning to escape the confines of her dad¿s home, which she is visiting, when she comes across several thugs whipping a man. She tells them to cease or face the wrath of her father. Instead they bind her and Michael leaving them temporarily in a cave while searching for the rest of the lady¿s party. Isobel frees them and takes Michael to her home, that of her oldest sister Christina and brother in law Hector ¿The Ferocious¿ Maclean (see LORD OF THE ISLES)......... Hector informs Michael St. Clair, brother to Henry about to be named Prince of the Isles, that he will wed Isobel. Michael agrees only if Isobel says yes. Isobel initially refuses, but changes her mind and they wed. They go to his castle where his mother does not accept his new bride. While falling in love, the newlyweds search for the treasure his father mentioned before dying, a treasure that the Kirk of Rome, Pope Urban wants.............. PRINCE OF DANGER is an exhilarating medieval romance that stars a fabulous lead female who takes charge in a crisis and a male who knows when to let her lead. The story line is action-packed as the duet struggle to elude his odious cousin Waldron and never slows down when they seek the hidden treasure. Fans of fast-paced historical tales starring an intrepid heroine and a courageous champion will want to read Amanda Scott¿s latest fourteenth century Highland thriller............. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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