Authors: Lynsay Sands
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Warrior, #Scotland, #Highlander, #Love Story, #Scottish Higlander, #Romance, #Knights
AM HEARD THE
TROUBLE ON THE TRAIL
before he saw it. The screams made him instinctively slow his horse as he rounded the bend, but when he saw a young boy being held by the scruff of his shirt and beaten by a big bull of a man, Cam reached for his sword and spurred his horse to move faster. A heartbeat later he’d reached the pair.
The thud of his boots hitting the ground made the assailant glance around, just in time to see Cam’s sword hilt before it slammed into the big oaf’s head. The fellow went down like a stone, unfortunately falling on the boy and landing with enough weight to bring a grunt of pain from the almost senseless lad.
Wincing in sympathy, Campbell used his booted foot to roll the villain off the boy. The moment the man’s weight was removed, the lad opened his swollen and blackening eyes and squinted up uncertainly.
“Ye’re safe,” Cam said and bent to offer him a hand up.
Instead of taking it, though, the lad glanced past him, swollen eyes widening slightly with horror. Cam instinctively started to straighten, but a blow to his lower back made him stagger. He managed to avoid trampling the lad and regained his footing after a couple of steps, then whirled to confront his assailant.
, Cam corrected himself grimly as he took note of the three men he now faced. They all had dirty faces and wore ragged clothes. None were as big as the man he’d knocked out, but they were not small either, and each had a different weapon. The bald man on the left held a club, the one with long dark hair on the right held a rusty old sword, and the ginger-haired one in the middle held a knife that was presently dripping with blood.
His blood, Cam realized even as he felt warm liquid begin to trickle down his lower back and leg. He hadn’t been punched in the back, he’d been stabbed. Mouth tightening, he raised his sword, pulled a small blade from his waist with his left hand and started forward, knowing he wouldn’t have long before the loss of blood weakened him. He had to take care of the men before that happened or he and the boy would no doubt be found dead here on the side of the road by the next traveler to come by.
Cam sent his knife flying at the man with the bloody blade first, waited just long enough to see it find a home in his chest, then swung his sword at the man on the right.
Despite his ragged clothes and filthy condition, the man handled his rusty old sword better than Cam would have expected. Or perhaps he was already weakening, and that—combined with the worry that he would be clubbed from behind by the third man at any moment—affected his abilities. Whatever the case, it took Cam half a dozen swings of his sword to finally fall his combatant.
Amazed that he hadn’t already received half a dozen blows to his head and back, Cam whirled to confront the other man, only to find him on the ground. The boy stood over him, the ginger-haired man’s bloody blade in hand.
“He was going to hit you,” the lad said defensively, dropping the blade when he glanced up to see Cam staring at him.
Mouth opening to thank the lad, Cam took a step forward, but his mouth closed when he found himself suddenly on his knees. He peered down with confusion as his sword then slid from his fingers, and turned bewildered eyes to the boy. But in the next moment he found himself planted flat on the ground and losing consciousness.
Joan stared at the Scot with amazement. One minute he’d been seemingly strong and well and battling her assailants, and the next he was facedown in the road. Stooping to pick up the knife again, she quickly wiped it on the dead man’s back to remove the blood, and then slipped it into the belt at her waist and stepped over him to move to her savior’s side.
Her gaze immediately found the dark patch on the back of his plaid. She didn’t need to touch it to know it was blood. He’d been stabbed, Joan realized, surprised at how serious the wound was. She’d seen the ginger-haired man approach him from behind with the knife raised and had assumed he’d stabbed him, but when her savior had battled so capably, she’d thought perhaps it had only been a paltry wound. The amount of blood on his back and soaking through his plaid from the buttocks down, though, suggested it had been a rather nasty one after all. In fact, she was now amazed that he’d managed to fight at all.
Sighing, Joan sat back on her heels and glanced around. She was pretty sure that three of the men were dead. But the man who had been beating her when her savior had arrived was merely unconscious. She briefly considered rectifying that situation, but Joan was a healer. Killing an unconscious man, even one who had been beating her but moments ago, went against everything she believed in.
Her gaze slid back to her savior and Joan raised his plaid to see the wound. She got an eyeful of his arse first, but this was not the first time she’d tended an injured man and her training kicked in, allowing her to ignore his naked behind and instead turn her attention to his lower back.
“Damn,” she muttered, noting the jagged wound. It looked deep and nasty. The knife hadn’t plunged right in and out, but Ginger had twisted it, leaving a hole rather than a slice in the skin. Cursing, Joan pushed herself to her feet and rushed to grab her bag from where she’d dropped it while the toothless giant had been assaulting her. She was rummaging inside when he moaned and shifted next to her.
Joan stiffened, her eyes shooting to the man. Toothless was waking, which was the last thing she needed. Mouth tightening, she glanced wildly around until her gaze settled on a good-sized rock nearby. Grabbing it up, she turned to Toothless as he started to push to his feet and slammed it into his head with a good deal of force. He collapsed to the ground with a grunt of pain and lay still.
Joan eyed him briefly, prepared to thump him again if he stirred. Killing a helpless man might go against her nature, but she had absolutely no problem knocking him out, and hopefully with enough force that it would leave him with a grand headache later. Certainly, Joan was going to suffer from his attack for some time. She was already suffering. Toothless had been furious when she’d refused to give up her bag and had taken out that fury on her, pummeling her face and chest with his big, ham sized fists. As a result, Joan’s face felt as if it was on fire and hurt everywhere. She had no doubt it was swelling and bruising by the moment. She was also pretty sure she had more than a couple of cracked ribs. If she were standing rather than kneeling, she’d kick Toothless a couple times to ensure he suffered as much as she did when he woke up. However, she had to tend to her savior, so Joan dropped the rock and continued searching her bag until she found the items she needed and then moved back to the Scot’s side.
Despite the need to rush, she was careful to clean the wound thoroughly before sewing him up. The moment Joan had finished bandaging him, she checked on Toothless again. The man appeared to still be deep in unconsciousness. She considered giving him another good blow to the head to ensure he stayed that way for a bit, but then turned her attention to the Scot instead. Getting him on his horse and getting them both out of there, and far away from Toothless seemed a good idea. She started out trying to lift him, but the man was huge. After a moment to inventory what she had at hand, Joan then moved to her savior’s horse. The mount was a beauty. Only nobility would own a beast as fine. She murmured and cooed to the horse as she approached, caressed his nose when he let her near, and then caught his reins and urged him back to stand beside his owner.
Joan next moved to each of the dead attackers and quickly removed their clothes. They weren’t in the best of shape, threadbare in some places, torn in others. It made it easy for her to rip them into strips and quickly tie them into a cloth rope. She only hoped the cloth would hold the Scot’s weight.
Toothless was stirring again by that point, so Joan took a moment to hit him over the head again. Satisfied that he was again unconscious, she then tied the makeshift rope around the Scot’s chest, under his arms. She threw the free end over his mount’s saddle before rushing around to grab it up. Bracing her legs, she then began to pull.
The man was heavy. Joan had to literally bend her knees and curl into a ball and hang all her weight from the cloth rope to accomplish her task, but eventually she managed to get the Scot over his horse, arms dangling down one side, legs on the other.
Sighing with relief, Joan dropped the rope, then ran around to the other side of the horse, reached under its belly to catch the dangling cloth and quickly tied it to the Scot’s ankles. It was the only way she could think to make sure he didn’t fall off and she didn’t have to go through this again. The man might shift and hang under the beast’s belly, but he would remain on the horse. And hopefully, with her mounted behind him, she could prevent him from shifting. Rushing to her bag, Joan scooped it up, closed it and then collected the weapons the men had used.
Getting on the beast’s back was a trial in itself, but she eventually managed the task. Joan immediately took up the mount’s reins, but then paused. She was hot and sweaty, her face and head ached and she was even a little lightheaded now. Rather than risk fainting and falling off the beast, Joan paused to allow her heartbeat to slow down and her head to clear. She watched Toothless the entire time, though, afraid he’d rise up like some nightmare monster and stop them just on the verge of escaping. He didn’t, however, and still lay motionless in the road when she kicked her heels and urged the horse to move. Joan tried that three times before acknowledging that there was something wrong with the beast . . . or she wasn’t doing it right. She’d never ridden a horse before and had no idea what she was doing. Sighing, she slid off the horse again, moved around in front, and took the reins to lead it away along the path.
She had no idea where they would go, but it seemed a good idea to put some distance between this spot and them. She would walk for an hour or so and then try to find somewhere to stop, somewhere safe, where they could rest while they both healed, and where Toothless wouldn’t find them when he woke. After that . . . well, she’d stay with the Scot until he was well enough to take care of himself again, Joan decided. She owed him that much for saving her life.
T LIKE HELL.
S HIS FIRST AWARENESS
. His back hurt, his mouth was as dry as dust, and—he suddenly realized—he was lying on his stomach with his bare arse in the air. What the hell? He started to shift, intending to roll over, but a hand pressed down on his back, stopping him.
Cam glanced warily over his shoulder and let his breath out when he recognized the boy he’d saved on the road. Actually, he didn’t recognize him so much as guess it was the lad by his bruised face. The poor boy had really taken a waling. His face was almost deformed, it was so swollen under the wool cap he wore. Cam would guess that the lad was probably in as much, if not more, pain than he was presently suffering. Wincing in sympathy, Cam turned and lay flat, only to wince again, this time in pain from whatever the boy was doing to his back.
“What the devil are ye doin’ lad?”
“Cleaning your wound again before I put a clean bandage on.” The answer was a bit slurred, no doubt from the swelling around the boy’s mouth. “It stings like the devil, I know, but has to be done.”
Cam grunted in response, and then stuck his fist in his mouth to keep from screaming as something was poured over his wound that made it feel like the area had been set on fire.
“Breathe,” the boy suggested. “You’re holding your breath and ’tis easier do you breathe through the pain.”
Cam let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and sucked in another deep draught that he immediately released. Oddly enough it did help. It didn’t exactly relieve the pain, but somehow made it more bearable. He breathed deeply in and out until the burning agony lessened to a nagging ache.
“You’ll need to sit up for me to bind you.”
Cam removed his fist from his mouth and eased carefully to his hands and knees, and then sat back on his haunches and raised his arms, ignoring the fact that he was completely naked. The boy rubbed something soothing on his wound, then began winding cloth around his lower waist, reaching around his stomach to pass the strip of cloth from one hand to the other and draw it back to wrap around him again. He made three passes before tucking the end of the cloth in to the binding at Cam’s side.
Cam glanced back to see the lad packing his medicinals and tools back into a cloth satchel.
“You should dress,” the boy suggested, nodding past him. “ ’Tis chilly today.”
Cam glanced forward and noted that he’d actually been lying on his plaid. Grabbing it up, he quickly shook it out and then laid it on the ground and began to fold pleats into it. His gaze flickered upward as he worked. The sun was high in the sky, making it about the nooning hour. It had been late afternoon the last he recalled. He’d obviously been unconscious for at least almost a day. He glanced around his surroundings next, taking note that he didn’t recognize the area.
“How long since the attack?” Cam asked as he finished pleating the cloth. Straightening, he spotted his belt and grabbed it to slip beneath the pleated cloth. He then laid on it. Before this, Cam had never noticed how much movement there was to donning his plaid, but with every shift in position causing a shaft of pain to shoot through his back, he was aware now. Lying on the wound was the worst though.
Cam was pulling one side of the plaid around his body when he realized the boy hadn’t answered him. Glancing over he noted that the lad was staring at his groin with a wide-eyed fascination that almost verged on horror. A smile pulling at his mouth, Cam shook his head. “Do no’ worry, ye’re just a stripling. Yers’ll get bigger in time.”
The boy blinked. “What’ll get big—” The words died in his throat as his gaze shot down to Cam’s groin with understanding. The boy then flushed and turned away, focusing firmly on the task of repacking his bag.