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In the year of our Lord 1536
Maybe humility wasn't Lachlan's best attribute. True, he was as strong as a bull, as crafty as a fox, and as silent as a serpent, but perhaps he was not quite as humble as he might be. Then again, what did he have to be humble about? He grinned as he pressed aside an elder branch.
Somewhere up ahead was his quarry. Lachlan had been following him for many hours now, and though he had inquired long and searched diligently, he'd learned little. The man traveled alone, he was reputedly a great fighter, and most called him naught but "the warrior." Lachlan snorted silently.
The warrior, indeed! If memory served, he was not tremendously impressive to look upon, being neither tall nor particularly brawny -- although the other had never stood near Lachlan for more than a pair of moments. Indeed, the warrior avoided him, had Red from Evermyst's great hall, if not from Scotland entirely. Why? If the man had been willing to save him in battle those long months ago, why did he refuse to converse with him?
Lachlan scowled into the deepening darkness. From somewhere up ahead he caught the faintest whiff of smoke on the cool autumn air. He turned his head ever so slightly, concentrating, for he'd finally found the warrior and was not about to lose him now.
The man had started a fire of ... elm wood, if Lachlan wasn't mistaken. So Hunter, as Gilmour had once called him, was preparing to dine, and had no idea that he was now the hunted. The great warrior's instincts were less than impressive, for despite the darkness that had settled in around him, Lachlan knew just where his quarry was. He knewjust where he had left his steed, still saddled in the wee dell not far away, and he knew ... Lachlan canted his head ever so slightly and closed his eyes.
Aye, he knew what the other would eat -- mutton and cheese -- crowdie, perhaps. He opened his eyes and smiled into the darkness. There was a reason Lachlan was called the fox and it certainly was not for his lithe form. Nay, he'd been blessed with the build of a bullock, but that did not mean he was unable to slip like a shadow through the heather.
Straightening silently, he did so, taking a pair of steps before stopping to listen again. No sound issued from the warrior's camp, but Lachlan knew just where his prey was.
'Twas lucky for this Hunter fellow that Lachlan meant him no harm. Indeed, he planned the very opposite, for even though his brothers had taunted him relentlessly about the battle of Evermyst, he hoped to finally repay the warrior, to even the score, so to speak.
True, the warrior had been less than appreciative of Lachlan's thanks, but that didn't lessen the debt. Hunter had attempted to help Lachlan; Lachlan would help Hunter. It was as simple as that. And perhaps in the meantime the other could learn a skill or two. After all, there was none in the Highlands who could match Lachlan's ability as a tracker. Barely a sound whispered up from beneath his feet as he stepped forward, and he smiled at the absence of noise. Aye, perhaps he would teach the warrior how to walk so silently. Perhaps he would teach him how to track. And perhaps, if he were an apt student --
Lachlan wasn't certain whether he felt the point of the blade at his neck, or the fingers in his hair first. But two facts were indisputable, there was a blade and there were fingers.
"Who are you?" The voice was unknown, deep and low and deadly. The knife was sharp enough to draw forth a droplet of blood with the slightest nudge.
Lachlan dare not swallow lest another drop follow the first. He raised his hands and swore in silence. "Put away the blade and I'll not harm you, friend. I've no quarrel with you." He had tried to learn diplomacy from Gilmour, but perhaps he'd not been the most gifted student, for the other seemed undeterred.
"Then why do you sneak into me camp like a fleabitten cur?"
Silence stole into the woods. "Your camp?" Lachlan asked.
No answer was forthcoming.
"You are the warrior called Hunter?"
Damnation! "Then you've naught to fear from me," Lachlan said.
There was a moment of quiet, then the other laughed and slipped his knife harmlessly away. "That much is pitiably apparent," he said, and turned back to his fire.
Lachlan watched him go. 'Twas said the man had carried him to Evermyst. 'Twas said the man had saved his life, but perhaps gratitude was not Lachlan's primary virtue for even now he could feel his temper rising.
"What say you?" Lachlan asked, and followed the other through the darkness.
Not a word was spoken for some time, but finally the warrior glanced up from his place on a log. From beneath the curved visor of his dark metal helm, his eyes were naught but a glimmer of light tossed up from the fire now and again. His nose guard shadowed his face, and the fine metal mesh attached to the bottom of his helmet did naught but continue the mystery.
"Why have you come, MacGowan?"
Lachlan scowled. So Hunter had recognized him. Perhaps this warrior was not so poorly trained as he had assumed. Indeed, perhaps he was somewhat adept. "In truth," Lachlan said, remembering his mission with some difficulty, "I have come to return your favor."
The fire crackled, and although it was difficult to see past the fine chain metal that hid the warrior's cheeks and neck, Lachlan thought he caught a hint of a smile. "Something amuses you?"
"Rarely," said Hunter, and carved a slice of mutton from a bone ...The Highland Rogues: Warrior Bride. Copyright © by Lois Greiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.