Authors: Sharon Cullen
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept Ebook Original
Copyright © 2016 by Sharon Cullen
by Sharon Cullen copyright © 2016 by Sharon Cullen
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Sharon Cullen. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
ebook ISBN 9781101964897
Cover design: Carrie Divine/Seductive Designs
FORT AUGUSTUS, SCOTLAND
If his brothers could see him now, they would say, “I told you so.”
Of course, even his brothers would have been surprised to see him imprisoned in the Duke of Cumberland’s dungeon.
Or maybe they wouldn’t have been.
It really didn’t matter at this point.
Because right now Colin MacLean, reluctant and ill-equipped chief of clan MacLean, had far bigger problems than his dead brothers’ opinions of him.
He was stretched tight, his hands above his head and tied at the wrists, toes pointed to find purchase on the hard-packed ground. He was naked from the waist up, and there were far more people than he would have liked to see gathered to watch his whipping.
This wasn’t his first time in this position, but he was pretty certain it would be his last. He’d heard the guards talking. He was to be hanged the next morning. In a way, it would be a relief. He was fairly certain he didn’t have much longer on this earth. If the whippings didn’t kill him soon, the lung sickness he’d been fighting would.
Someone broke from the eager crowd and made his way toward Colin. Captain Richard Abbott. The bloody,
English bastard who’d made it his personal quest to destroy Colin.
Abbott and Colin had a history that went further back than a few weeks ago, when Abbott had the great fortune (which was Colin’s misfortune) to arrest him. Colin had been playing mouse to Abbott’s cat ever since Abbott had been assigned to the west coast, right in the middle of Colin’s smuggling business. It had been Abbott’s personal mission to catch Colin, and it had been Colin’s personal mission to avoid capture and wreak as much havoc in Abbott’s life as possible. And he’d succeeded admirably. Until Abbott finally caught up with him.
Colin had gotten himself arrested on purpose when he realized that his friend and brother-in-arms Brice Sutherland was in imminent danger of that very fate. Colin knew that Sutherland was covertly working against the English, and if his missions were discovered, many Scotsmen would die. But Colin had not been aware that Abbott would be the one to arrest him and that hell would ensue. Abbott had a mean streak in him that nearly paled in comparison to the Bloody Butcher, otherwise known as the Duke of Cumberland. The beatings fed that meanness.
Abbott stopped in front of Colin, his narrowed gaze taking in the way Colin was stretched tight, his toes barely touching the ground, his hands tied high above his head. What pride Colin had left, he pulled around himself as a shield. Abbott had not been able to crack Colin like the nut he’d expected, and that clearly infuriated him, while it gave Colin some small satisfaction.
“You haven’t learned, have you, boy?”
Colin gritted his teeth at the term “boy.” He schooled his expression to remain impassive, not allowing Abbott’s words to affect him.
Abbott leaned close, sniffed, and wrinkled his nose. “Have you heard?” he asked conversationally.
Colin refused to answer. There was so much he wanted to say to this man, but he kept it all inside.
“You are scheduled to hang tomorrow,” Abbott said with a look of feigned pity. The man took extreme delight in delivering this news, though he appeared sorry to be losing his whipping boy on the morrow.
Abbott leaned back and eyed Colin thoughtfully. “Did you really believe you would leave here alive? Did you honestly think I would let you live?” He chuckled while Colin ground his teeth together. At this point he didn’t care if he lived or died, though he really wanted to live just to irritate Abbott.
Lips pursed, Abbott finally stepped back and nodded to the soldier wielding the whip.
Colin heard the sound of the whip hitting his back, and not surprisingly, the pain took a few more moments to arrive. It was those seconds that Colin hated the most, when the expectation of pain was almost worse than the pain itself. Almost. But not quite.
He refused to break his gaze with Captain Abbott.
The whip whizzed through the air again, and Colin tensed. He wished he hadn’t, when he saw Abbott’s small smile, but how could a body not wince through this torture?
The whip split open the skin of his upper right shoulder. Blood dripped down his side and soaked into his breeches.
With each strike of the whip, Abbott’s face drained of a little more color, and at last he looked away. Colin wanted to smile, but the pain was too great. It was the first time he had won against Abbott, and while it was a small victory, it was enough.
Abbott turned and walked away. The crowd parted for him and swallowed him back up.
Someone untied Colin’s hands, and it took everything inside him not to drop to his knees. He would remain upright even if Abbott weren’t here to see it.
Colin concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other until he reached his cell, which reeked of raw sewage, mildew, and bodies that hadn’t been washed in ages. He shared it with a boy who spent most of his time slouched in the dark corner, never speaking, always observing.
When Colin heard the lock turn on his cell door, he breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly, grimacing, he pulled his tattered shirt on over his seeping wounds, then lowered himself carefully to the ground. He leaned against the cold stone wall, wincing only a wee bit at the pain in his back and shoulders. He’d endured worse beatings. What hurt more were his lungs and his head; he feared he was developing a fever. Whether by the hangman’s noose or a raging fever, he had no doubt he would be dead by morning.
Somehow that thought wasn’t as depressing as it should have been.
His cellmate stared at him from his corner through a mop of black hair that covered his eyes. Colin ignored him and closed his eyes. He shifted his legs on the hard floor and bit back a groan.
He wasn’t certain how much time had passed when he heard footsteps down the corridor and was instantly alert. It was too early for dinner. Footsteps at this hour: not a good omen.
Colin slowly raised his gaze to the barred door, then cursed silently. “Come to gloat, have ye?” he asked through a thick throat.
On the other side of the door Iain Campbell, chief of the very powerful clan Campbell, stared at Colin with emotionless eyes. “You’re well and truly in a bind, lad.”
Colin snorted and turned his head away. He despised the Scottish clan leader, who had sided with the English.
“Come here,” Campbell commanded.
“Go to hell.”
“Come here,” Campbell said again, more softly this time.
“I’m being hanged tomorrow,” Colin said. He raised his knee with some effort and put his elbow on it. It took everything in him to look like he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Pardon me for being rude, but I have naught to say to ye on the eve of my demise.”
“I think you do.”
Colin raised a brow. Damnation, but even his brows hurt. “Ye think I do?”
Campbell hesitated. “Sutherland sent me.”
Colin stilled. Brice Sutherland, Colin’s best friend, didn’t carry the hatred for Campbell that Colin did, but neither was he especially close to the man. Why the hell would Sutherland send Campbell?
Slowly, Colin pushed himself up until he was standing on unsteady legs. Gritting his teeth, he shuffled to the barred door, hating that Campbell was seeing him in such a weakened state.
He stopped just short of the door and glared at Campbell. “I’m sure it smarts that ye’re Sutherland’s message boy.”
Campbell’s lips turned up in a smirk. “Sutherland can’t get into Cumberland’s camp the way I can.”
“What ye mean to say is that Sutherland is no’ a traitor.”
Ah, a flicker of emotion. Just a slight tightening of the lips, but it was enough. Colin thought that tormenting Campbell was an admirable way to spend his last night here on earth.
“Strong words, coming from someone who is about to die at the hands of the English,” Campbell said.
Colin wouldn’t show Campbell that his words had hit him square in the stomach. He wasn’t afraid to die, but he couldn’t bear to be brought down by an English hand.
“Tonight,” Campbell said softly so no one could overhear. “Your cell door will remain unlocked. Turn left. At the end of the corridor is a window that will also be unlocked. Climb through and run straight for the trees. My men will be waiting.”
Colin swayed. His head swam, and a fire burned inside him. He shook his head to clear his vision, but that only caused a sharp pain to pierce his skull. “Ye’re helping me escape?” he asked in disbelief. A Campbell would never help a MacLean. Campbells were firmly on the side of the English, and MacLeans firmly were not.
“Aye,” Campbell said.
Campbell cocked his head to the side. “Be ready to run, MacLean.” He turned and walked off.
For a long time Colin stood staring at the bars, his mind curiously blank. He turned around and found his cellmate staring at him from his slumped position.
Colin returned to the wall he’d been sitting against.
Time passed. He dozed. His head throbbed. His limbs became heavy, and the tight feeling in his chest intensified. Occasionally, his cellmate shifted positions.
Just another day in the hands of the damn redcoats.
Possibly his last day on earth.
Definitely his last day as a prisoner.
He didn’t know whether he should believe Campbell. He wanted to. But he knew he shouldn’t get his hopes up.
Why would Campbell agree to help him? They didn’t like each other. The MacLeans were a small clan. The Campbells were one of the largest in Scotland. Likely the MacLeans didn’t even register in Campbell’s world.
He’d said he was doing Sutherland a favor. That made sense. Sutherland could have asked Campbell for the favor, although Colin hated that his friend would be beholden on his behalf.
The last meal of the day arrived. Another bowl of slop, barely edible. Colin didn’t even spare it a glance. The thought of ingesting any sort of food turned his stomach. He pushed the bowl toward his cellmate, and the lad nearly inhaled Colin’s bowl as well as his own.
Darkness fell, and the only light came from the torches lining the outer corridor. Colin’s eyelids began to droop, and he had to continually force them to remain open.
It was late when he heard the footsteps. Normally, the guards didn’t pass through after the evening meal, apparently secure in the knowledge that their prisoners would remain where they were put.
A key turned in the lock and the footsteps hurried away.
Colin still wasn’t convinced this was happening. Was Campbell setting him up? To what end? Colin was already going to die. Getting caught while trying to escape would only speed up the process by a few hours, but oh, how delicious it would be to escape Abbott. The man would surely be hell-bent on revenge once he discovered Colin was gone.
Slowly, Colin stood, but he had to lean against the wall for a bit to gather his strength. Damn, but this sickness was making him weak.
He made his way to the door and pushed until it swung open soundlessly. The corridor was still except for the flickering shadows cast by the wall torches and the sounds coming from the other cells.
He stepped out of the cell, but something made him look back.
His cellmate was watching him. He was a small thing, too young to be condemned to death in an English prison.
A burst of laughter from the guards upstairs startled Colin.
“Come,” he said softly.
The lad didn’t move.
Colin motioned to him. “Hurry. We do no’ have much time.”
The lad scrambled to his feet with the nimbleness that only the young possessed.
“Make no sound,” Colin said, second-guessing his impulsive decision. It must be the sickness addling his mind, but he knew he couldn’t leave the lad there to fend for himself. Although they’d spoken hardly at all, they’d experienced one hell of a nightmare together, and Colin couldn’t turn his back on him.
The boy followed Colin down the corridor, his feet silent on the concrete floor. He climbed through the window quick and nimble as a cat. Less than five minutes after stepping outside of their cell, they were racing across the wide-open expanse of dirt and gravel toward the trees.
Colin’s heart was pounding, so certain he was of a pistol ball to his back. His feet felt heavy. His lungs struggled to pull in the breaths needed to run. His back and shoulders hurt like the devil, and he felt blood running down his side.
The lad easily kept up, checking his strides to keep pace with Colin, barely out of breath.
They reached the trees just as a shout went up and the dogs started barking.