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Ravished by a Highlander
By Quinn, Paula
Forever Copyright © 2010 Quinn, Paula
All right reserved.
SOUTHERN SCOTTISH BORDER SPRING 1685
High atop Saint Christopher’s Abbey, Davina Montgomery stood alone in the bell tower, cloaked in the silence of a world she did not know. Darkness had fallen hours ago and below her the sisters slept peacefully in their beds, thanks to the men who had been sent here to guard them. But there was little peace for Davina. The vast, indigo sky filling her vision was littered with stars that seemed close enough to touch should she reach out her hand. What would she wish for? Her haunted gaze slipped southward toward England, and then with a longing just as powerful, toward the moonlit mountain peaks of the north. Which life would she choose if the choice were hers to make? A world where she’d been forgotten, or one where no one knew her? She smiled sadly against the wind that whipped her woolen novice robes around her. What good was it to ponder when her future had already been decreed? She knew what was to come. There were no variations. That is, if she lived beyond the next year. She looked away from the place she could never go and the person she could never be.
She heard the soft fall of footsteps behind her but did not turn. She knew who it was.
“Poor Edward. I imagine your heart must have failed you when you did not find me in my bed.”
When he remained quiet she felt sorry for teasing him about the seriousness of his duty. Captain Edward Asher had been sent here to protect her four years ago, after Captain Geoffries had taken ill and was relieved of his command. Edward had become more than her guardian. He was her dearest friend, someone she could confide in here within the thick walls that sheltered her from the schemes of her enemies. Edward knew her fears and accepted her faults.
“I knew where to find you,” he finally said, his voice just above a whisper.
He always did know. Not that there were many places to look. Davina was not allowed to venture outside the Abbey gates so she came to the bell tower often to let her thoughts roam free.
She turned at his soft call, putting away her dreams and desires behind a tender smile. Those she kept to herself and did not share, even with him.
“Please, I…” he began, meeting her gaze and then stumbling through the rest as if the face he looked upon every day still struck him as hard as it had the first time he’d seen her. He was in love with her, and though he’d never spoken his heart openly, he did not conceal how he felt. Everything was there in his eyes, his deeds, his devotion; and a deep regret that Davina suspected had more to do with her than he would ever have the boldness to admit. Her path had been charted for another course and she could never be his. “Lady Montgomery, come away from here, I beg you. It is not good to be alone.”
He worried for her so and she wished he wouldn’t. “I’m not alone, Edward,” she reassured. If her life remained as it was now, she would find a way to be happy. She always did. “I have been given much.”
“It’s true,” he agreed, moving closer to her and then stopping himself, knowing what she knew. “You have been taught to fear the Lord and love your king. The sisters love you, as do my men. It will always be so. We are your family. But it is not enough.” He knew she would never admit it, so he said it for her.
It had to be enough. It was safer this way, cloistered away from those who would harm her if ever they discovered her after the appointed time.
That time had come.
Davina knew that Edward would do anything to save her. He told her often, each time he warned her of her peril. Diligently, he taught her to trust no one, not even those who claimed to love her. His lessons often left her feeling a bit hopeless, though she never told him that, either.
“Would that I could slay your enemies,” he swore to her now, “and your fears along with them.”
He meant to comfort her, but good heavens, she didn’t want to discuss the future on such a breathtaking night. “Thanks to you and God,” she said, leaving the wall to go to him and tossing him a playful smile, “I can slay them myself.”
“I agree,” he surrendered, his good mood restored by the time she reached him. “You’ve learned your lessons in defense well.”
She rested her hand on his arm and gave it a soft pat. “How could I disappoint you when you risked the Abbess’s consternation to teach me?”
He laughed with her, both of them comfortable in their familiarity. But too soon he grew serious again.
“James is to be crowned in less than a se’nnight.”
“I know.” Davina nodded and turned toward England again. She refused to let her fears control her. “Mayhap,” she said with a bit of defiance sparking her doleful gaze, “we should attend the coronation, Edward. Who would think to look for me at Westminster?”
“My lady…” He reached for her. “We cannot. You know—”
“I jest, dear friend.” She angled her head to speak to him over her shoulder, carefully cloaking the struggle that weighed heaviest upon her heart, a struggle that had nothing to do with fear. “Really, Edward, must we speak of this?”
“Yes, I think we should,” he answered earnestly, then went on swiftly, before she could argue, “I’ve asked the Abbess if we can move you to Courlochcraig Abbey in Ayr. I’ve already sent word to—”
“Absolutely not,” she stopped him. “I will not leave my home. Besides, we have no reason to believe that my enemies know of me at all.”
“Just for a year or two. Until we’re certain—”
“No,” she told him again, this time turning to face him fully. “Edward, would you have us leave the sisters here alone to face our enemies should they come seeking me? What defense would they have without the strong arms of you and your men? They will not leave St. Christopher’s, nor will I.”
He sighed and shook his head at her. “I cannot argue when you prove yourself more courageous than I. I pray I do not live to regret it. Very well, then.” The lines of his handsome face relaxed. “I shall do as you ask. For now though,” he added, offering her his arm, “allow me to escort you to your chamber. The hour is late and the Reverend Mother will show you no mercy when the cock crows.”
Davina rested one hand in the crook of his arm and waved away his concern with the other. “I don’t mind waking with the sun.”
“Why would you,” he replied, his voice as light now as hers as he led her out of the belfry, “when you can just fall back to sleep in the Study Hall.”
“It was only the one time that I actually slept,” she defended, slapping his arm softly. “And don’t you have more important things to do with your day than follow me around?”
“Three times,” he corrected, ignoring the frown he knew was false. “Once, you even snored.”
Her eyes, as they descended the stairs, were as wide as her mouth. “I have never snored in my life!”
“Save for that one time, then?”
She looked about to deny his charge again, but bit her curling lip instead. “And once during Sister Bernadette’s piano recital. I had penance for a week. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” he laughed. “My men did no chores the entire time, preferring to listen at your door while you spoke aloud to God about everything but your transgression.”
“God already knew why I fell asleep,” she explained, smiling at his grin. “I did not wish to speak poorly of Sister Bernadette’s talent, or lack of it, even in my own defense.”
His laughter faded, leaving only a smile that looked to be painful as their walk ended and they stood at her door. When he reached out to take her hand, Davina did her best not to let the surprise in her eyes dissuade him from touching her. “Forgive my boldness, but there is something I must tell you. Something I should have told you long ago.”
“Of course, Edward,” she said softly, keeping her hand in his. “You know you may always speak freely to me.”
“First, I would have you know that you have come to mean—”
Davina leaned over the stairwell to see Harry Barns, Edward’s second in command, plunge through the Abbey doors. “Captain!” Harry shouted up at them, his face pale and his breath heavy from running. “They are coming!”
For one paralyzing moment, Davina doubted the good of her ears. She’d been warned of this day for four years, but had always prayed it would not come. “Edward,” she asked hollowly, on the verge of sheer panic, “how did they find us so soon after King Charles’s death?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head back and forth as if he too refused to believe what he was hearing. But there was no time for doubt. Spinning on his heel, he gripped her arm and hauled her into her room. “Stay here! Lock your door!”
“What good will that do us?” She sprang for her quiver and bow and headed back to the door, and to Edward blocking it. “Please, dear friend. I do not want to cower alone in my room. I will fire from the bell tower until it is no longer safe to do so.”
“Captain!” Barns raced up the stairs, taking three at a time. “We need to prepare. Now!”
“Edward”—Davina’s voice pulled him back to her—“you trained me for this. We need every arm available. You will not stop me from fighting for my home.”
“Orders, Captain, please!”
Davina looked back once as she raced toward the narrow steps leading back to the tower.
“Harry!” She heard Edward shout behind her. “Prepare the vats and boil the tar. I want every man alert and ready at my command. And Harry…”
“Wake the sisters and tell them to pray.”
In the early morning hours that passed after the massacre at St. Christopher’s, Edward’s men had managed to kill half of the enemy’s army. But the Abbey’s losses were greater. Far greater.
Alone in the bell tower, Davina stared down at the bodies strewn across the large courtyard. The stench of burning tar and seared flesh stung her nostrils and burned her eyes as she set them beyond the gates to the meadow where men on horseback still hacked away at each other as if their hatred could never be satisfied. But there was no hatred. They fought because of her, though none of them knew her. But she knew them. Her dreams had been plagued with her faceless assassins since the day Edward had first told her of them.
Tears brought on by the pungent air slipped down her cheeks, falling far below to where her friends… her family lay dead or dying. Dragging her palm across her eyes, she searched the bodies for Edward. He’d returned to her an hour after the fighting had begun and ordered her into the chapel with the sisters. When she’d refused, he’d tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and brought her there himself. But she did not remain hidden. She couldn’t, so she’d returned to the tower and her bow and sent more than a dozen of her enemies to meet their Maker. But there were too many—or mayhap God didn’t want the rest, for they slew the men she ate with, laughed with, before her eyes.
She had feared this day for so long that it had become a part of her. She thought she had prepared. At least, for her own death. But not for the Abbess’s. Not for Edward’s. How could anyone prepare to lose those they loved?
Despair ravaged her and for a moment she considered stepping over the wall. If she was dead they would stop. But she had prayed for courage too many times to let God or Edward down now. Reaching into the quiver on her back, she plucked out an arrow, cocked her bow, and closed one eye to aim.
Below her and out of her line of vision, a soldier garbed in military regalia not belonging to England crept along the chapel wall with a torch clutched in one fist and a sword in the other.
Excerpted from Ravished by a Highlander by Quinn, Paula Copyright © 2010 by Quinn, Paula. Excerpted by permission.
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