Authors: Julianne MacLean
Tags: #historical romance, #short story, #Historical, #Scottish
By Julianne MacLean
Copyright © 2011 by Julianne MacLean
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form. This ebook may not be resold or uploaded for
distribution to others.
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used
fictitiously. Other names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination,
and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
November 13, 1715
On the field of Sherrifmuir, six miles northeast of Stirling Castle
At the sound of the bagpipes and the roaring command of his chief, Alex MacLean drew his sword and broke into a run, charging up the north face of the hill.
A wild frenzy of bloodlust exploded in his veins and fuelled his body with savage strength and determination, as he and his fellow Jacobite clansmen advanced upon Argyll’s left flank.
Their lines collided in a heavy clash of bodies and weaponry, and suddenly he was thrashing about in a red sea of chaos. Men shouted and lunged, shot each other at close range, they severed limbs and hacked each other to pieces. Blood splattered onto his face as he spun around and swung his sword at one soldier, then another. Adrenaline fired his instincts. The fury was blinding. His muscles strained with every controlled thrust and strike.
Keenly aware of all that was happening around him, he raised his targe to encumber the piercing point of a bayonet. Dropping to one knee, he dirked the offending redcoat in the belly.
Eventually, in the distance, beyond the delirium of combat, the Government Dragoons began to fall back, retreating through their own infantry. The fury was too much for them. Alex raised his sword.
!” he shouted, in a deep thunderous brogue. “
For the Scottish Crown
He and his fellow clansmen cried out in triumphant resolve and rushed headlong at the breaking enemy ranks, while the Jacobite cavalry thundered past, galloping hard to pursue the Hanoverians into the steep-sided Glen of Pendreich.
Moments flashed by like brilliant bursts of lightning. The battle was nearly won. The redcoats were fleeing….
Before long, Alex slowed to a jog and looked about to get a better sense of his bearings. He and dozens of other clansmen were now spread out across the glen with precious space between them and clean air to breathe.
It was over. Argyll’s opposing left flank was crushed. They were retreating to Dunblane.
Stabbing the point of his weapon into the frosty ground, Alex dropped to his knees in exhaustion and rested his forehead on the hilt. He’d fought hard, and with honor. His father would be proud.
Just then, a fresh-looking young redcoat leapt out from behind a granite boulder and charged at him. “
He was naught but a boy, but his bayonet was sharp as any other.
Rolling across the ground, Alex shifted his targe to the other hand to deflect the thrust of the blade. The weapon flew from the soldier’s hands and landed on the grass, but before Alex could regain his footing, a saber was scraping out of its scabbard, and he suddenly found himself backing away defensively, evaluating his opponent’s potential skill and intentions.
Blue eyes locked on his, and the courage he saw in those depths sharpened his wits.
Carefully, meticulously, they stepped around each other.
“Are you sure you want to do this, lad?” Alex asked, giving the boy one last chance to retreat with the others in his regiment. “I’ve done enough killing this morning. I don’t need more blood on my hands. Just go.”
But why was he hesitating? The dark fury of battle still smoldered within him. What difference would it make if he killed one more? All he had to do was take one step forward and swing. The boy was no match for him. He could slay him in an instant.
“I’m sure,” the lad replied, but his saber began to tremble in his hands.
Alex wet his lips. “Just drop your weapon, boy, and run.”
Alex paused. “You’re a brave one, aren’t you? Or maybe you’re just stupid.”
All at once, the young soldier let out a vicious battle cry and attacked with a left-handed maneuver that cut Alex swiftly across the thigh.
He gaped down at the wound in bewilderment.
Musket fire rang out in the distance. The morning chill penetrated his senses, steeled his warrior instincts.
The next thing he knew, he was whirling around with a fierce cry of aggression. He swung his targe and struck lad in the head. The young redcoat stumbled backward. His saber dropped from his grasp.
Then, as if it were all happening in a dream, the soldier’s hat flew through the air, and long black tresses unfurled and swung about. The boy hit the ground and rolled unconscious onto his back.
Alex’s eyes fell immediately upon a soft complexion and lips like red cherries. All thoughts of war and the Jacobite triumph fled from his mind as he realized with dismay that he had just struck a woman.
Twelve hours later…
Elizabeth’s eyes slowly fluttered open. Groggy and disoriented, she blinked up at the thatched ceiling above her, while an explosion of pain erupted inside her skull and drummed against the side of her face.
Laying a hand on her swollen cheek, she attempted to wiggle her jaw back and forth. It did not appear to be broken, but her cheekbone was surely cracked.
Moaning with agony, she sat up on the cot and looked around the small room. Where the devil was she? A single candle blazed on a table by the bed. A grey woolen curtain covered the door to the rest of the cottage – if this was in fact someone’s home. She had no idea. The floors were made of dirt, the walls built of stone. It could just as easily be a stable or a prison.
Again, she cupped her cheek with her hand and winced at the pain, but she would endure it, for she must leave this place immediately and return to Argyll’s camp. She could not remain here in Scotland. She’d rather die than linger here.
Rising awkwardly to her feet, she inhaled deeply. She limped toward the curtain and dug deep for the strength and fortitude she would require to walk out of here and travel God knows how far on foot.
Oh, sweet Lord
! Her entire body felt bruised and beaten. What had happened on the battlefield? The last thing she remembered was slicing that Highlander’s leg open with her saber.
What had happened since then? How in the world did she get here?
Sweeping the curtain aside, doubting if she would ever know the answers to those questions, she suddenly found herself staring up at him directly.
“Going somewhere, lassie?”
Elizabeth sucked in a breath. Heaven help her, it was him. The raven-haired warrior Scotsman, standing before her like a monstrous guardian.
He was taller than she remembered. Bigger and broader through the chest, and his eyes burned with savage, dangerous intensity.
“That I am, sir,” she firmly replied. “Step aside. I mean to leave here and return to my countrymen.”
She glanced down at the heavy claymore belted around his waist, and made a mental note of the dagger in his boot, as well as the pistol and powder horn he carried, which was strapped across his chest.
His green eyes flashed with a strange mixture of amusement and irritation, while he took in her soldier’s uniform from head to foot. “If you are referring to the pathetic flock of red-coated sheep that follows a German king - a king who can barely speak a word of English - then I’m afraid I cannot let you go anywhere, lass.”
Her heart began to pound, and her mouth went dry. Quickly she looked down at his leg, curious to know how much damage she had inflicted with her sword, but his kilt cloaked any sign of injury. As far as she could ascertain, he was in perfect fighting condition, while she was ready to drop to the floor in a dead faint, on account of the pain in her head and the sheer fright induced by his intimidating presence.
“What is it that you plan to do with me?” she boldly asked. “Do you mean to keep me as your prisoner?”
He chuckled at that. She glared at him with bitter rancour, but the passion of her grimace caused her great pain. She groaned and covered the side of her face with a hand. “God in heaven, what did you do me? My face feels like it’s been smashed up against a rock.”
The Highlander glanced over his shoulder, as if to check the door for prying eyes and ears, then ducked under the top of the curtain to enter the small room. Elizabeth had no choice but to back out of his way.
She suddenly found herself trapped up against the wall, while he blocked the only exit. The curtain fell closed behind him.
“I apologize for that,” he said. “I didn’t know you were a woman.”
She raised her chin. “What difference should that make? I was trying to kill you.”
His arresting green eyes narrowed slightly, as if he was intrigued by her reply, and it was not until that moment that she realized he was impossibly handsome. He had a face that could only be shaped by an artist, with finely carved cheekbones and a rugged, square jaw. The lips were moist and full – she would almost call them beautiful – and those long lashed green eyes… They possessed a mysterious gleaming power that rendered her speechless. She couldn’t think. All she could do was stand before him like a bumbling fool and attempt to contemplate the origins of such divine physical perfection. Bestowed upon a Highlander, no less. Was there no justice in the world?
“Aye, and you fought bravely,” he said. “But what were you doing on the battlefield, lass? It’s no place for a woman. And I don’t know why you’re in such a hurry to return. I know of no British officer who would take kindly to the fact that you’re wearing a stolen uniform.”
Elizabeth frowned. “First you bash me in the side of the head, and now you call me a thief?”
He inclined his head at her. “Aye, and a damned foolhardy one at that.”
Moving further away from him along the wall, she crossed to the bed and sat down. “All right, so I stole it, but I was fighting for my country.”
He palmed the hilt of his sword. “I think you were fighting for more than that, unless you know King George personally.”
“Of course I do not.”
“Then I reckon it’s something else that got prickly under your corset, because I don’t believe it’s as simple as that. Your regiment was ordered to retreat, but there you were, leaping out from behind a rock, coming at me with vengeance in your eyes.”
Her gaze lifted. “Is that how it looked to you?”
Nodding her head, feeling almost sick from the violent impulses that had plagued her on that battlefield, she curled her hands around the edge of the mattress. “I don’t suppose you have anything to numb this pain?”
He was quiet for a moment, then disappeared through the curtain and returned with a bottle of something, which he uncorked with his teeth. “Moncrieffe Whisky, the best in the Highlands.”
He held it out to her.
“Do you not have a glass to offer a lady?”
He chuckled softly. “Is that what you are now?”
Their gazes locked, and all the blood in her body seemed to rush to her head.
She swiped the bottle from his grasp, tipped it up and guzzled a few deep swigs. The spirit sizzled and burned down her throat, left her gasping for air.
“That ought to numb at least
,” the Highlander said under his breath, as he took the bottle away from her.
Elizabeth waited a moment for the spirit to flow through her body, then worked hard to relax her mind. “Thank you.”
The Highlander gave no reply. For the longest time, he simply stood patiently before her.
“Feelin’ any better?” he asked.
“Yes.” Cautiously, Elizabeth lifted her eyes again and took in the finer details of his clothing
– the colors and textures of his kilt, his brown leather sporran, the loose-fitting linen shirt and the plaid that was draped across his shoulder and pinned with a pewter brooch.
“Where am I exactly?” she asked. “And what time of day is it?”
There was no window in the room, so she had no idea if it was morning or night.
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “You’re safe here. This house belongs to a friend. And it’s nearly ten.”
“Ten at night?” Her heart began to race. “I’ve been unconscious all day?”
“Aye. To be honest, I wasn’t sure you were going to survive.”
“No thanks to you.” She laid her hand on her cheek again.
“You had it coming, lass. You said so yourself.”
Massaging her neck to squeeze out some tension, she had no choice but to surrender to the truth in his words. “I suppose I did.”
She was keenly aware of the Highlander’s movements as he approached the bed and sat down beside her. His nearness caused her senses to quiver and hum.
“Are you going to tell me what you were doing out there on the battlefield,” he asked, “and how you came into possession of that uniform?”