Fraser 02 - Highland Quest

Table of Contents

HIGHLAND QUEST

B.J. SCOTT

SOUL MATE PUBLISHING

New York

HIGHLAND QUEST

Copyright©2012

B.J. SCOTT

Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24

Macedon, New York, 14502

ISBN-13: 978-1-61935-166-0

www.SoulMatePublishing.com
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

To my husband Steve,

for your continued support and faith in my dream.

To my family

for their continued love and encouragement.

Acknowledgements

As always there are so many people who touch our lives and influence our success. People who with their acts of kindness or support make our lives a little easier and lot more pleasant.

My husband and soul mate, Steve, who has put up with my hectic schedule, a messy house, less one on one time when I need to write and for buying me take out so I could get this book finished.

To my three fab critique partners. Marie, Jennifer, and Colleen aka (Ann, Meggan and Callie) Without your excellent input, eyes for details and encouragement, this book would never have been written. I cherish your friendships more than words can express. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As always a huge thank you to the readers who supported my first book and asked for a second. The Fraser saga continues because of you.

To the staff at Soul Mate Publishing for helping to make the book shine.

Finally, kudos to my fellow authors who have enriched my life and dazzle the world with their words and wonderful stories.

Chapter 1

Loch Ryan Scotland, 1307

“Wa . . . water,” Bryce mumbled, but there was no one there to listen.

His throat was parched and he ran his tongue over dry, cracked lips, but his action offered no relief. An entire loch lay only a few feet away, but he couldn’t muster the strength to drag himself to the bank and quench his thirst.

“Cold . . . so cold.”

Despite the sun beating down on him, he’d swear he was encased in ice. His life’s blood seeped from his wounds, soaking the ground beneath him. He tried to raise his head, but the excruciating pain radiating across his chest stole his breath away.

Was this what it felt like to die? If so, he prayed the Almighty would be merciful and take him now.

Bryce moaned, a shift in his position bringing on another nauseating wave of agony. He
sucked in a short, sharp, gulp of air and stretched his arm out as far as he could, his fingers grappling in the dirt.

If only I could reach my sword.

Beads of perspiration dampened his brow. As the strength slowly drained from his body, drawing a simple breath became more difficult. The end grew near. No time to make amends for sins of the past, and he had committed his share.

Regrets? He had those, too. “Fallon.” He whispered her name then heaved a ragged sigh. He could see her beautiful face, her soft, porcelain-like skin with just a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Raven tresses hanging loose in a riot of curls down her back. Her petite, slender body had just the right curves to drive a man wild with desire. Mysterious sapphire eyes that held him captive and a heart-shaped mouth he’d never tire of kissing. If he had one wish before he died, it would be to hold her in his arms one more time, to find himself nestled between her thighs, making love until neither of them could take anymore.

But he’d missed his chance when she left Fraser Castle after his brother’s wedding, returning with her clan to their home in the borderlands. Determined not to allow Fallon, or any woman, to breach the protective wall he’d built around his heart, he’d let her go.

A restless spirit, he longed for adventure. While he admired his two older brothers, he was tired of living in their shadows. Alasdair had turned down the position of Laird when their father and older brother were killed at Berwick on Tweed. Connor, the next in line, had accepted the responsibility and did the Clan proud. He was happily married and Bryce was certain his wee son, Andrew, would be raised to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Bryce held no land or title. Until he had made a name for himself and earned these things, he had nothing to offer a wife. But marriage and family were not part of his immediate plans. He loved women, all women. Be they large, small, short, tall, fair, or plain, it made no difference as long as they were willing to warm his bed, and expected no long-term commitment in return.

A rogue many would say, but he made no secret of his intentions. So far, this way of life had served him well, and should he die in battle, he’d leave no one behind to mourn his loss.

When he was a lad of sixteen, he’d made the mistake of falling for the daughter of the village smithy. Totally enamored with each other, they’d vowed their eternal love and he believed they’d marry some day.

He swallowed hard at the ball of emotion rising in his throat, and clenched his teeth against the sudden ache gripping his heart. He’d heard when a man is about to die, his life experiences flash before his eyes. But some memories were far too painful to revisit.

He balled his fists at his sides, his nails digging into his palms. He didn’t want to think about the past and didn’t want a woman in his life. While Fallon was the only lass who had tempted him to stray from his chosen path, she was better off without him. Or so he’d told himself when he returned from a morning ride to learn she’d left Fraser Castle without saying goodbye.

Clinging to the memory of their brief time together, Bryce closed his eyes and waited for death to take him. But distant voices and the sound of approaching footfall alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone.

“Over here,” a man shouted. “I think this one is still breathing.”

“Aye, he’s alive, but for how long? The lad has lost a lot of blood,” another man commented and clucked his tongue.

Hovering on the edge of consciousness, Bryce heard the conversation going on between two men, maybe more. He tried to open his eyes, but the lids proved too heavy.

Judging by the familiar burr, these men were Scottish, but so were the traitorous bastards who had attacked them.

For a sennight, he’d ridden day and night. However in the end, he was too late to warn the Bruce’s brothers and their small group of Irish and Scottish islanders of the impending threat.
Rushing headlong into an ambush and outnumbered four to one, their fate was sealed.

This wasn’t the first time the MacDougall Clan sided with the English. Staunch supporters of John Comyn’s bid for the Scottish crown, they’d turned their swords and their loyalty against their countrymen when Comyn was murdered at Grey Fryer’s Abbey and Robert the Bruce was accused of the deed.

After the massacre at Methven—the last major battle fought between the English and the Bruce before he went into hiding—the buggers lay in wait, attacking the Scottish survivors as they tried to make their way to the Argyle Mountains to regroup. The battle of
Dail Righ
would forever be a stain on the MacDougall clan’s name, and a battle Bryce would long remember.

Nor would he forget their leader. Today he’d had the long-awaited chance to make good on his oath to see the blackguard pay for his treasonous acts, but he’d failed. Instead, he’d found himself on the receiving end of Dungal’s sword.

“I canna believe Scots would kill Scots. These poor fellows dinna have a prayer of making it to shore unharmed,” the first man said.

“Aye, the ship was run aground and there must be at least fifty dead men on the bank of the loch. There appears to be a mix of Irish and Scots, but nary an English soldier or a MacDougall plaid among them.” The man speaking nudged Bryce’s shoulder with the toe of his boot. “This appears to be the only one alive.”

A dizzying wave of excruciating pain shot through Bryce’s chest as he was rolled onto to his side.

“What do you plan to do with this fellow, Donald?” the second man asked. “We canna just leave him here to bleed to death.”

“We’ll take him with us. My niece has some knowledge of healing. She cared for my wife when she had the pox . . . rest her soul.” Donald paused for a moment before he continued. “After Mairi died, the lass decided to stay on for a while. Mayhap there is something she can do for him. Best we make haste. I dinna want to be here if the bastards return.”

“I’ll be surprised if he survives the journey. But we can always bury him along the way if need be,” the second man responded.

Strong hands slid beneath Bryce’s shoulders, raising him to a sitting position, then someone grabbed his legs. A few garbled words of protest were all he could manage before darkness closed around him.

“Fallon! Are you here, lass?” her Uncle Donald shouted. “I need your help. Where are you hiding?”

“I’m here, Uncle,” she called, unnerved by his anxious tone. “I was out back tending to the herb garden.” She came into the shadow of the doorway, wiping the dirt from her hands on her apron. “What’s all the
palver
about?”

“We came across a group of men on the bank of Loch Ryan. They were ambushed by traitors.”

Fallon wrapped her arms around her waist and shuddered at his words. “The attack happened as I predicted?”

Donald nodded. “Aye. Exactly the way you saw it in your vision.”

“Where is the man who survived? Take me to him.”

Donald blinked several times and his mouth dropped open at her question. “He’s outside in the cart. How did you—”

“Please, take me to him at once.” She lifted her skirt and headed for the door. “We must hurry, his time grows short.”

Her uncle led the way to where his two friends waited by the cart.

“Let me through.” She pushed past the two burly men, but stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the wounded man.

Bryce!

“He’s hurt verra badly. We dinna think he’d survive the trip.” Angus shook his head and crossed himself.

Her pulse racing, Fallon struggled to maintain her composure. It had been several months since she’d seen Bryce. To be honest, she believed the day she left Fraser Castle and returned to the borderlands would be their last encounter. Leaving without saying goodbye had to have been one of the most difficult things she had ever done. Purging him from her mind proved a challenge, but getting him out of her heart completely was impossible.

Bryce’s home was in the Highlands. What was he doing in Galloway? Was he alone, or were Connor and Alasdair with him and lost in the battle? Her heart sank at the thought. Despite their constant banter and bickering, Bryce was close to his two older brothers. If they’d perished in the raid, he’d be devastated by their loss.

While their so-called lawless deeds against the English crown were justified, she knew the Fraser brothers were wanted by Longshanks for murder and treason. Her uncle, a supporter of Robert the Bruce’s efforts to regain his royal position of power in Scotland, would not hesitate to help Bryce, but she didn’t know if his friends could be trusted to do the same. Would they betray him and turn him in if they knew there was a price on his head?

Erring on the side of caution, she decided it best to keep his identity a secret until she could speak to him.

She moved to Bryce’s side. Her heart twisted in her chest as she surveyed his injuries. There was so much blood. If not for his slow uneven breathing, she would have believed he was dead.

Squaring her shoulders, she faced Angus. “Bring him inside so I can tend to his wounds. Please be gentle.” Turning on her heel, she hurried back to the croft.

Angus, a strapping man at least six-foot-four, lifted Bryce from the cart and carried him into the wattle and daub hut as if he weighed no more than a bairn. “Where do you want him?”

“Put him on the raised pallet near the hearth. Once he’s settled, could you fetch me a bucket of water from the well?” As she doled out orders, her eyes never left her patient. She still could not believe he was here and feared if she turned away, even for a second, he’d disappear. “I’ll also need some more wood and peat for the fire.”

“Aye.” Angus rushed out the door to do her bidding.

After gathering the supplies needed to tend Bryce’s wounds, she removed his bloody, dirt-encrusted tunic and tossed it on the floor.

Donald leaned over her shoulder and exhaled sharply. “It’s just as I thought. The sword went clear through. The lad is lucky to be alive.”

“Aye, but if I tarry any longer, he’ll bleed to death.” Without hesitation, she took two dirks from her basket of herbs, placed them amidst the hot coals in the hearth, and waited until the blades glowed red.

“I’ll need you and Ian to hold him down.” She plucked a dirk from the fire and approached the pallet.

“What are you planning to do?” her uncle asked.

“There is no time to try and staunch the bleeding or to stitch the wound. I’ll have to seal it.” Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them away. Adding to Bryce’s pain was the last thing she wanted, but she pushed her emotions aside and prepared do what was necessary to save his life.

Donald and Ian looked at each other, the color draining from their faces as they moved into position—one holding Bryce’s feet, the other his shoulders.

“Are you sure there is no other way?” Donald asked and then turned his head when she brought the hot steel closer to Bryce’s chest.

“If I dinna do this, he will die.” She wiped the perspiration from her brow with the back of her hand and said a quick prayer before plunging the dirk into the wound.

Bryce’s eyes flew open, his body jerking and bucking the instant the molten metal made contact. He thrashed about wildly, lashing out with his fists, and shouted in pain.

“We canna hold him much longer!” Ian widened his stance and tightened his grip on Bryce’s shoulders.

“You must keep him still. I’m almost through.” The acrid odor of burning chest hair and charred flesh stung her nostrils and sickened her stomach, but this had to be done.

“He’s too strong.” Donald sprawled across Bryce’s legs, using his body weight to keep them on the pallet.

Satisfied that the wound was sealed, Fallon motioned for her uncle to stand up. “Please turn him to his side while I retrieve the other dirk.” Once Bryce was positioned to her satisfaction, she repeated the process. But this time he offered no resistance.

The ordeal over, she stepped away from the pallet, drew in a slow, deep breath, and choked down the bile rising from her stomach. Her hands trembled as she repeatedly slid them down the front of her apron. Once her heart had settled and the strength retuned to her wobbly legs, she moved to Bryce’s side.

“Are you all right, lass?” Donald inquired. “You were looking so pale I thought you might faint.”

“I’m fine. Best you worry about Ian.” She pointed to the man as he rushed outside with his hand cupped over his mouth. “Once Angus returns with the water and I’ve washed away the blood, I’ll apply some salve to his burns.” She lifted Bryce’s hand and absently stroked her fingers across the back of it. “I’ll also need some whiskey to dull the pain when he awakens.”

“Do you honestly think that’s going to happen?” Angus crossed the room carrying a wooden bucket, water sloshing over the rim and onto the rush-covered dirt floor. “I just saw Ian outside. He was pretty green about the gills, and I’m guessing he lost his last meal while bending over a rock.”

“I’ve done all I can for him. It’s up to the Almighty to decide if he lives or dies.” Fallon swept her fingertips across Bryce’s sweat-soaked brow and released a shuddering breath. “I will pray that he lives.”

“He’s a strapping lad. Judging by the scars on his chest and arms, this isn’t his first battle.” Donald placed his hand on her shoulder. “It is going to be a long night. Mayhap you should have a wee bite to eat and try to get some rest. I can sit with him for a while.”

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