A Fire Within (These Highland Hills, Book 3)

BOOK: A Fire Within (These Highland Hills, Book 3)
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A Fire
Within
 
A Fire
Within

Kathleen Morgan

These Highland Hills
Book 3

Your heart was proud ... you corrupted your wisdom
... you profaned your sanctuaries. So I brought out
fire from within you; it consumed you, and I turned
you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw
you.

Ezekiel 28:17-18 NRSV

 
I
PER1"HSHiRE, SCO1IISH HiGHLAnDS, MAY, 1568

Since she had grown from girlhood into a woman, many men
had looked at Caitlin Campbell. None, though, had ever looked
at her quite the way this man did. Yet, unlike the rest, his gaze
wasn't filled with lust. His look went far deeper than that. Far
deeper. As deep as her soul.

"He's a bold one, and no mistake," her cousin Janet Campbell
muttered beside her as they walked that afternoon among the
stalls of colorful wares and tantalizing foodstuffs on display at
Dalmally's thrice weekly market. "Ye should find Jamie and set
him on that cur. Jamie would soon have him on his knees, begging yet pardon."

For a fleeting instant, Caitlin considered then discarded that
suggestion. From the looks of the dark-haired stranger, Jamie
might well have his hands full attempting to bring that one to
his knees.

He looked to be in his late twenties and was tall, broad of
chest and shoulders. The bulk of his nondescript belted plaid
did little to hide the fact he was powerfully built. His glittering
blue eyes, as his gaze yet again boldly met hers, were alight with a dispassionate intelligence. An intelligence that was both chilling
and, conversely, compelling.

Aye, Caitlin thought with a most unnerving thrill, Jamie would
indeed have his hands full with that one. Besides, there was
nothing served in starting a fight with a man solely because he
chose to stare overlong at her. It wasn't the first time, after all,
nor would it likely be the last.

With a final, derisive look in the tall Highlander's direction, she
turned back to her cousin. "It matters not. He's hardly worth our
concern. Why, he's likely just some broken man, if his threadbare
plaid's any indication. And any man without a clan to call his
own has problems enough."

"Aye, problems enough," Janet said, "that mayhap he shouldn't
seek more by casting disrespectful glances at the local lasses. And,
in the bargain, especially not at the clan chief's sister."

Caitlin laughed. "Well, he might not know that, might he?"

She drew up before a long table filled with fine woolen shawls,
embroidered handkerchiefs, and sashes. "Now, let's get back to
the task at hand, shall we? I've a birthing day gift to buy. And
we promised Jamie we'd not be at this all afternoon, like we were
last time we came to market."

Janet nodded. "Aye, I suppose ye're right. Still, for all his dark,
braw looks, I think that boorish stranger oversteps himself. . ."

Almost of its own volition, Caitlin's gaze strayed in the direction the man had been. He was no longer staring at her but
had turned his attention to another man who now stood beside
him. Though tall himself, his compatriot was still half a head
shorter. Red-blond of hair, he was slighter of build, with narrow
shoulders and long, almost delicate fingers, and looked to be
several years younger than his dark companion. Slung over one
shoulder was a large, leather bag that appeared to contain some
triangle-shaped object.

Just then, the dark Highlander glanced her way. A piercing, steel blue gaze locked with hers. Somehow, she had once again
attracted the increasingly insufferable man's notice.

She nearly looked away but knew it would be cowardly. It
would also lead the chestnut-haired Highlander to imagine she
had been intrigued by his earlier appraisal.

Instead, as if in warning, she scowled fiercely. He grinned in
return.

Hot blood filled her cheeks. Why, the arrogant boor! How
dare he! He was so far beneath her as to be a mere spider scuttling across the ground.

With a haughty flounce of her long, black hair, Caitlin wheeled
around, grabbed the first colorful shawl that caught her eye, and
pressed sufficient coin into the startled shopkeeper's hand. "Wrap
this if ye will," she said. "It's past time we were on our way."

Five minutes later, the package tucked beneath her arm, Caitlin, with a bemused Janet scrambling behind her, made her way
through the bustling throng of shoppers. They soon found Jamie
snoring softly in the back of the small pony cart, one end of his
dark blue, yellow, and green plaid slung over his face to shade
his eyes. Janet shot Caitlin a mischievous glance, then grabbed
the young man's foot and gave it a tug.

"Wake up, ye lazy lad," she cried. "M'lady Caitlin wishes to
depart."

With a snort, the robustly built Scotsman sat up and began
trying to untangle his considerable bulk from the plaid that had
somehow become twisted about him. Janet laughed, and even
Caitlin couldn't help a giggle. Finally, nearly as red in the face as
the auburn locks that tumbled to his shoulders, the young Highlander managed to extricate himself, tuck the remaining plaid left
over from his kilt across his shoulder, and pin it in place.

"Ye could've given me some warning of yet return," he groused.
"I'd imagined ye'd be another hour or two, after all."

"Och, dinna fash yerself," Caitlin said by way of reassurance as she tossed her parcel beneath the pony cart's seat. "We just
finished early for a change. And, because of it, ye're soon to be a
free man, just as soon as we get ..."

From around the village kirk, where Jamie had parked the
cart, two tall men strode out, headed in their direction. Caitlin
went still. It was the dark-haired man and his blond companion.
What could they possibly want?

She looked to Janet, met her gaze. Her cousin opened her
mouth to speak, but Caitlin gave her head a quick, warning
shake. Janet's mouth snapped shut.

Jamie returned from untying the pony from the tree where he
had tethered it. When he finally caught sight of the two men bearing down on them, his kind, open expression didn't change.

"Good day to ye," the dark stranger said as he and his companion at last drew up before them. "I was told ye're from Kilchurn.
Are ye mayhap heading back that way?"

"Aye, that we are." Jamie paused, too polite to prod with further questions.

"My friend and I wish to gain an audience with the Campbell.
Might we accompany ye on the way?" Briefly, his gaze swept once
again over Caitlin. "It's a good hour's journey, from what I've
heard, and two more men along would offer additional protection from any outlaws or robbers."

"As if any would dare attack the Campbell's-"

A quick hand on the arm immediately silenced Janet.

Caitlin managed a smile as she then surreptitiously let her hand
fall back to her side. "And what would be yer business with the
Campbell? If ye don't mind me asking, that is."

Glittering eyes the color of blue silver captured hers. "Nay,
I don't mind ye asking. My friend here is a traveling bard. He
thought yer chief might enjoy some song and story this night.
Unless he already has a bard of his own."

"Alas, he no longer does. Arthur Mackenzies died barely a year ago, and the Campbell has yet to find a suitable replacement.
He'd likely be verra pleased to offer yer friend the hospitality of
his home." Caitlin paused and cocked her head. "But what of
ye? Yet friend's worth is apparent. What do ye have to offer the
Campbell?"

Something hard and cold flashed in the tall Highlander's eyes,
then just as quickly disappeared. He chuckled and gestured to
the claymore, a sword as long as a man was tall, that he wore
fastened to his back.

"Naught, save that I go where my friend does, providing companionship as well as protection. Bards aren't generally given to
swordplay, whereas I am. Besides, the harp he carries is verra
finely wrought and, hence, verra valuable."

Caitlin eyed the claymore. In times such as these, his claim
to serving as an armed escort rang true. Still, there was something about him that didn't set well with her. Indeed, there was
something about the dark-haired man that both attracted and
repelled her.

BOOK: A Fire Within (These Highland Hills, Book 3)
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