Highlander Series book #4
January 31, 2017
New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands welcomes readers back to the Scottish Highlands, where a gallant warrior vows to protect a beautiful runaway . . .
Lady Murine Carmichael has known her share of bad luck. But when her debt-ridden half brother tries to sell her off in exchange for a few Scottish horses, it's the final straw. If keeping her freedom means escaping through harsh countryside alone, so be it. She has barely begun her journey when she lands an unlikely escort—the brawny Highlander who just refused to buy her virtue.
Dougall Buchanan was disgusted by Lord Danvries' shameful offer, but Murine tempts him beyond measure. Even bedraggled and dusty, the lass glows with beauty and bravery. Dougall wants to do more than just help her flee. He wants to protect her—with his life and his heart—if she'll only let him. For Murine may be pursued by a powerful foe, but nothing compares to the fiery courage of a Highlander in love.
The fourth book in my latest Scottish Highlanders series concerns Murine Carmichael, another friend of Jo and Saidh's whom we met in To Marry A Scottish Highlander. Murine is in trouble. Her brother has wagered away her dowry and now he's on the brink of using her as a commodity to stave off his creditors. She has to find a way to escape him before his plans for her come to fruition only transportation is an issue because he also wagered away their horses. Hmm...
Readers with a weakness for gallant Scottish lairds will be delighted by the simplicity and purity of Murine and Dougall's romance—especially the few wild and erotic scenes out in the elements. A love story as bighearted and exciting as the highlander at its heart. This review will be published in the December issue 15th edition of Kirkus Reviews.
Falling for the Highlander is a totally and completely wonderful romantic adventure. I like a strong heroine and Murine proves herself time and time again. There’s so many parts of this novel that are enjoyable it was hard to pick just a few to share. Ms. Sands always makes me feel good about her characters and they’re usually easy to fall in love with. She has once again succeeded in delivering an exciting and well written journey as Murine escapes a dire fate only to discover a love she’d given up hoping for. I’m so happy I read this book and I have no doubt many readers are going to snap up this novel too. It’s great fun. Given 5 stars by Xeranthemum at Long and Short Reviews.
To readers’ delight, Sands relies on a classic Scots romance plotline filled with her hallmark style, where mayhem and madness merge with passion and a colorful historical backdrop. As always, her characters are pitch-perfect for the time and place, and readers will relish this enjoyable tale. Reviewed by RT Book Reviews.
When feisty but fainting-prone Murine hears her guardian half-brother crassly offer her body to Highlander Dougall in exchange for horses, she knows that only Dougall’s honor has spared her virtue. Escaping that night on her pet bull, Henry, Murine meets up with Dougall and his brothers. Soon they realize she is the woman who recently saved their sister, Saidh, and they vow to escort her to safety. The kindhearted, bantering brothers seem as anxious to protect Murine’s virtue from the obvious passion building between her and Dougall as to discover the cause of mysterious attacks on their small band. The lovers’ courage and passion match the mounting dangers, cementing the bond between them in this enjoyable romp. Publishers Weekly.
I loved this book! Falling for the Highlander is the fourth book Lynsay Sands’ Scottish Highlander Series, but each book is a standalone so you do not need to read the previous books before picking this one up. Falling for the Highlander was a fun and sexy historical romance that kept me flipping the pages. I loved it! Lynsay Sands is one of my go to authors for great historical romances because she always delivers a great story with plenty of hot romance and some humor. Whether she is writing about Highlanders or Vampires I always fall in love with her heroes and get swept up in the worlds she creates. I highly recommend this series for historical romance lovers looking for some hot Highlander heroes. Go grab the series! Given 4.5 stars by Reading In Pajamas.
I have a lot of fun with Lynsay Sands' historical romances. The characters are engaging and likable, and she throws in enough laugh-out-loud moments to keep me amused, without being over-the-top or trying too hard. The Highlanders series has followed four friends, marriageable young ladies who are a bit unconventional and unique. While you can likely read these books out of order without much problem, you will have more fun following the characters from the first book, An English Bride in Scotland. Given 4 stars by Bambi Unbridled.
Falling for the Highlander was a historical romance that kept me thoroughly entertained. Written with Lynsay Sands’ lighthearted humor, we watched as two kind but strong-willed individuals fell in love and solved a family conspiracy/mystery to boot. If you’ve read anything Lynsay Sands has written then you know you’re in for a fun, lively time when you pick up one of her books. And although this may not have had the dark, deeply emotional storyline some historicals contain, it was still exciting and certainly held my interest. The brothers Buchanan–all SEVEN of them–kept me chuckling throughout the book. They each had their own personality of course but they shared a sense of loyalty and had that Scottish charm that never fails to make me smile. Dougall was our hero and what a great guy he was. Honorable to the core, I loved that he was put off by Murine’s half-brother’s attempt at selling her off to a willing party. But what had me falling for the Highlander myself was watching Dougall realize his feelings for Murine were strong and true. It took a while for him to admit it but when he did he was all in. This is a recommended read by Sara @ Harlequin Junkies.
I really enjoyed the story (and I’ll admit I crushed on Dougall and his brooding ways). It’s well worth the read! Given 1/2 cup o' coffee by Gwyn Plum.
I'm so glad we finally have Murine's story. I liked how the author handled her fainting. Now you can find all about why she faints in Falling for the Highlander but you'll get more impact from it if you start at the beginning of the series. I really love Dougall and his brothers. They cracked me up more then once. But what drew me to Dougall is the fact that not only was he there when Murine needed him he's a real caring man. There love story might have started out bumpy but soon you'll see just why they are meant for each other. Like with all of Sands books Falling for the Highlander has a great mystery in it and a wonderful love story. Reviewed by Romancing The Readers Blog.
Whilst the romance is of the slow burning kind, there plenty there otherwise to keep us occupied until everything comes to breaking point. The author wrote a sound novel and it was worth the wait. I loved how she tied everything together and whilst the ending felt flat on certain areas. It was enjoyable and what I expected from Sands. Now I wonder where next as there still one friend unmarried and this series has become revolved around these woman. Given 5 stars by Confessions From Romaholics.
This is the first book I’ve read by this author and won’t be the last. I loved the chemistry between the characters. Each was well developed and kept me reading. The plot had enough twist to keep me interested. I did find a couple spots with slower pacing, but they were short lived. Overall, this was a good read and I would love to read more by this author. Given 4 stars by Reily at Reily Garrett Blog.
This is my happy-go-lucky, light and sappy, happy place. Lynsay Sands is almost always good for a few laughs and a sappy romance, and I have been digging on this series for a while now. In fact, I moved this ahead on my queue after reading a truly angst inducing series, after which I was compelled to go back to the angst which prompted a reread of this whole series. They are that light, happy, and fluffy. The perfect counterpoint to angst. Given 4 stars by Erin @ Burning Through Her Bookshelf.
The first half of FALLING FOR THE HIGHLANDER is typical Lynsay Sands: wonderfully drawn characters, delightful banter, amusing sequences, such as the perils as relieving oneself in the wild, and Murine’s propensity to faint. In the second half, the mystery that had been slowly building concluded in quite exciting fashion. The romance, apart from my above-mentioned issue, was sweet and believable, the Buchanan brothers are all very engaging, and Ms. Sands’ writing is delightfully effortless; she is, as always, such a pleasure to read. Given 4 stars by Monique @ Buried Under Romance.
Falling for the Highlander is great fun, with excellent adventure and an amazing heroine who is capable and strong and who has the support of a man who admires her for those qualities and lets her shine. Reviewed by Polished Bookworm.
What an enjoyable read! This story tells the tale of Dougall and Murine. Murine is on the run and meets up with Dougall who decides to help and protect her. I really liked Murine. Throughout she had me chuckling as she certainly found herself in some predicaments. Dougall was a bit perplexed by her, which in turn, had me smiling at him as well...Overall, this is a fun and fairly light read that I enjoyed and would recommend if you enjoy Scottish historical romance. Given 4 stars by Reviews By Cat.
Murine glanced up sharply from the message she was writing as her maid entered the room. She waited until Beth closed the bedchamber door before asking, "Did ye find out who they are?"
"Nay." The brunette looked vexed. "None o' the maids or the lasses in the kitchen seem to ken, or if they do they're no' telling me."
"Oh," Murine said with disappointment, then shook her head and returned her gaze to the message she'd been writing. Mouth tightening, she signed her name to the bottom. "It matters not. They're Scots. Surely their trip home will take them past the Buchanans or the Drummonds and they will deliver this for me." Biting her lip, she began to wave the parchment about to dry it and added, "I ha'e a couple coins left I can give them fer their trouble."
"Most like they'll pocket the coins, say they'll deliver it and toss it away as soon as they've left Danvries," Beth said unhappily. "I do no' ken why ye just do no' send one o' yer brother's men with the message."
"I have sent three that way and got no response," Murine reminded her grimly. Mouth flattening with displeasure, she admitted, "I begin to suspect Montrose is not sending them at all."
"But why would he do that?"
"'Tis hard to say with my brother," Murine muttered unhappily. "He's a . . . difficult man."
Beth snorted. "He's a selfish, greedy cur, hell-bent on wagering his life away and yours with it. But I see no reason for him no' to send yer messages to yer friends."
"Neither do I," Murine admitted unhappily. "But if he did send them, then . . ." She bit her lip, unwilling to give voice to her biggest fear. If Montrose had sent her messages, then Saidh, Jo and Edith just weren't bothering to answer.
That thought was a troubling one and made her worry that she had said or done something when last they were together to upset them all. Murine had wracked her brain trying to sort out what that might be, but could think of nothing. She'd then switched to wondering if perhaps her brother wasn't sending them as he assured her he would. She couldn't imagine why, but was actually beginning to hope that was the case. It was certainly preferable to thinking her three best friends had turned their backs on her for some reason.
"It should be dry enough now," she muttered and quickly rolled, then sealed the parchment.
"How are ye going to get it to the Scots without yer brother seeing?" Beth asked worriedly as she stood up.
"I heard Montrose ordering Cook to be sure he has lots of food and drink on hand when the Scots get here," Murine explained as she slid the parchment up her sleeve and checked to be sure that it was concealed and wasn't being crushed. "I shall slip the message to one of the men when Montrose is distracted with eating."
"Yer brother is offering food and drink to someone?" Beth asked dryly. "I never thought to see the like. The bastard's so cheap I'd think he'd choke on the offer."
"I expect he's hoping to fill them with ale or whiskey to make them more amenable to accepting credit rather than demanding payment for the horses he wants," Murine said, satisfied that the parchment would be fine up her sleeve.
"Aye, well, Lord knows he has no' the coin to actually buy them. He's already gambled away all of his own money, and your dower to boot," Beth said bitterly.
"Aye," Murine agreed wearily. It was not a subject she cared to contemplate. She'd been horrified when she'd learned that bit of news. She'd thought her situation dire enough when she'd had a dower but no betrothed, but without dower, it would be impossible to find anyone willing to marry her. It now looked like she would live out her days here at Danvries as an old maid, dependent on her selfish brother, and that was only if he didn't tire of her presence and send her off to the Abbey to become a nun.
Pushing that depressing thought from her mind, she brushed the wrinkles out of her gown, straightened her shoulders and headed for the door. "Come. We will sit by the fire in the great hall until they come in. Then once the food arrives, we will use that as an excuse to join the table and slip my message to one of the men."
"I'd been told your animals were superior and they certainly are that."
Dougall waited patiently as Montrose Danvries ran a hand down the mare's side and then circled the horse, examining every inch of her.
Lord Danvries next moved on to the stallion and gave him the same attention, examining his withers and legs, sides and head just as thoroughly. His expression was a combination of wonder and appreciation when he paused at the beast's head. Rubbing one hand down the stallion's nose, he murmured, "Exactly what I was hoping for."
"If they meet yer expectations, perhaps we should discuss payment," Dougall suggested.
Danvries stiffened, several expressions flickering across his face. Settling on a wide, fake smile, the man turned away toward the keep. "Come. Let us go inside for beverages."
"I told ye," Conran muttered, stepping up beside Dougall. "The bastard has no' the coin. He lost it all in that last wager with his king."
Dougall sighed at his brother's words, recognizing satisfaction amidst the irritation in the younger man's tone. Conran had always liked saying I told ye so.
"Come along, gentlemen," Danvries said without looking back. "There is much to discuss."
Mouth tightening, Dougall glared at the man's retreating back. Danvries should have tossed him a bag of coins, and bid him on his way. The only time the buyer wanted to "discuss" matters was when he didn't have the coin, or wanted to talk down the price. Dougall was not one to be talked down. Despite knowing this was a great waste of time, though, he waved away his brother's further mutterings and trailed the Englishman out of the stables and toward the keep. He didn't need to look around to know that Conran, Geordie and Alick were following. It had been a long journey here and they were all thirsty. The least Danvries could do was see them fed and watered before they took their beasts and headed home to Scotland.
"He'll try to cheat ye," Conran warned, on Dougall's heels. "Bloody English bastards. Most o' them'd sell their mother for a coin."
"Nah," their younger brother, Geordie, put in behind them. "It's their daughters they sell. The old women wouldn't be worth a coin. They're too bitter from years living with the English bastards to be worth anything. The daughters, though, are usually sweet and pretty and have not yet grown bitter. Get 'em away young enough and they're almost as good as a Scottish lass. Almost," he repeated, stressing the point.
"Lord Danvries has neither a mother nor a daughter, so I'm sure that's no' a worry," Dougall muttered impatiently.
"He has a sister though," Conran pointed out. When Dougall glanced to him with surprise, he nodded. "An old maid left to whither on the vine thanks to Lord Danvries wagering away her dower."
"He wagered away her dower?" Geordie asked with surprise when Dougall didn't comment.
"Is that even allowed?" Alick added with a frown.
"From what I heard, he was named her guardian in the father's will so had control over it," Conran said with a shrug.
Dougall shook his head and they all fell silent as they trailed Danvries into the great hall and noted the people milling about.
There were soldiers at the table enjoying their noon repast, servants bustling about cleaning, and a lady seated by the fire. Dougall's gaze slid over the woman in passing, and then almost immediately moved back to her. She was young. Not in the first blush of youth, but perhaps twenty or so and still retaining some of its dew. Dougall guessed she must be Danvries's bride. If so, he was a damned lucky man, for she seemed to glow as brightly as the fire in that dim great hall. Her gown was a pale rose color with white trim on a shapely figure, and her hair was a halo of golden tresses that poured over her shoulders and down her back. She was peering down at some needlework she was stitching, but when Danvries called for ale, she glanced over briefly and Dougall's attention turned to her face. Heart-shaped lips, large doe eyes and a straight little nose all worked together in an oval face to make her one of the most striking women he'd ever seen. Danvries was definitely a lucky man.
Dougall dragged his eyes from the vision by the fire, suddenly aware that he'd stopped walking and the Englishman was now at the great hall table while he was still just inside the door with his brothers at his back. Danvries was eyeing him with a tinge of amusement that suggested he was used to men ogling his wife.
Forcing himself to move again, Dougall led the men to the table and settled on the bench where Danvries indicated, noting that it left him with a clear view of the woman by the fire. Women, he corrected himself, for a dark-haired maid accompanied the blonde, working diligently over her own stitching. But the lady's beauty seemed to cast the maid into shadow; he'd hardly noticed her ere this.
"My sister," Danvries said quietly.
Sister? The word echoed in Dougall's mind, and he felt a sense of relief he didn't really understand. She definitely wasn't the withered old maid Conran had described, but what did it matter to him if she was Danvries's wife or sister? It didn't, he assured himself, and turned determinedly to his host, pausing as he noted that the man was eyeing the woman with something like speculation in his eyes. He frowned over that and then said, "About payment fer the horses . . . ?"
"Ah, yes," Danvries offered a somewhat tight smile and said, "Your horses are, of course, every bit the quality animals I'd been led to expect. Lord Hainsworth did not oversell them when he told me about your abilities at breeding quality mares and stallions."
Dougall nodded, waiting for the but.
"Howbeit," Danvries began and Dougall just restrained himself from rolling his eyes. But, howbeit . . . However the man chose to phrase it, it was a but.
"Howbeit?" Dougall prodded when Danvries hesitated.
"Well, I had the money here ready for you, but a bit of bad luck came my way."
The wager with the king, Dougall thought dryly. That hadn't been bad luck, it had been stupidity. The English king always won at wagers, and had backed La Bête at jousting, a smart move. Danvries betting against La Bête when the warrior had never ever lost . . . well, that was sheer stupidity. It wasn't Dougall's problem, though, except that it meant he'd made this trip for naught.
Sighing, he stood with a nod. "So ye do no' want the horses now."
"Nay, nay, I want them," Danvries said quickly, catching his arm as the men rose to stand as well. When Dougall turned his eyes to the hand on his arm, Danvries immediately released him. "Sorry. Sit, sit. I do want the horses. Of course, I do."
"Ye just can no' pay fer them," Dougall suggested dryly, still standing.
"Nay. I mean, aye. Aye, I can," Danvries corrected himself quickly. "Of course I can."
When Dougall remained standing and merely waited, Danvries muttered a bit irritably, "Do sit down so we can discuss this. I am getting a crick in my neck looking up at you."
Dougall didn't think there was much to discuss. Either he could pay for the horses or he couldn't. However, a young maid had arrived with the ale, so he settled back on the bench. His brothers were quick to drop back in their seats as well. It had been a long dusty ride here. He'd give Danvries until he'd finished his ale, but unless the man could come up with the coin, he was leaving . . . and taking his horses with him.
Nodding his thanks to the young maid, Dougall took a drink of his ale, his eyes wandering back to the blonde by the fire. She and her maid were chattering quietly now and casting glances toward the table.
"I'm sure it will only take me a couple of weeks to get your coin," Danvries announced, drawing his attention again.
The man's words were abrupt and overloud, a sign of anxiety, Dougall thought and wasn't surprised. He nodded slowly. "I can hold them fer ye fer a couple weeks. Ye can come collect them when ye have the coin. But if the month ends and ye have no' arrived, I can no' promise—"
"Nay, nay, nay," Danvries interrupted. "You do not understand. I need them now. I cannot be without a horse. I—"
"What happened to yer horse?" Dougall interrupted.
Danvries dropped his gaze and looked away, a frown curving his lips. It was Conran who leaned close to Dougall and murmured, "Part o' the wager."
Dougall sighed. The man was gambling his life away. Shaking his head, he said, "Ye will no' be without a horse. I saw a good thirty in the stables, and—"
"They belong to my men, not me," Danvries said stiffly, and then added, "I need a horse. A lord without a horse is like a king without a country."
"A sale without payment is no' a sale at all," Dougall countered with little sympathy. It was hard to feel sorry for someone who had willfully and foolishly gambled away his horse and his wealth. Danvries had been one of the wealthiest estates in England under this man's grandfather, and then he had died and Danvries had inherited. Dougall had heard rumors the man was running through his inheritance with poor spending and worse bets, but had paid it little heed. His brother had apparently paid more attention.
"There will be payment. It will just take me a little bit of time to get the coin together," Danvries said pleadingly. "Surely you can extend me credit for a bit of time?"
Dougall eyed the man, and then glanced to his sister. She was staring down at her stitching, but unmoving. He suspected she was listening and briefly considered extending Danvries the credit he requested for her sake. The man wasn't just buying a stallion for himself. Dougall suspected the mare was for the sister. Obviously Danvries had also lost her horse in the wager and it seemed a shame that she would suffer for his bad habits. But in the end, Dougall shook his head. He never extended credit. He insisted on payment ere handing over any horseflesh and didn't like the idea of changing that now. Especially not with a man who had gambled himself so deep that Dougall suspected he wouldn't be able to pull himself back out.
"I do no' extend credit," he said calmly and stood.
"Wait." Danvries grabbed his arm again, desperation on his face. He then glanced wildly around, obviously seeking something to trade or to convince Dougall to give him credit. Dougall's stomach rolled over when the man's eyes landed on his sister and stayed there. Surely he wouldn't—
Dougall's eyes narrowed.
"Leave the horses and take her with you," Danvries said.
"I'm no' in the market fer a wife at the moment," Dougall said dryly.
"I did not say you had to marry her," Danvries countered at once.
Dougall glowered at the man and then deliberately misunderstood his offer in the hopes that he would rethink and recant it. "Are ye suggesting I keep her as a marker? A hostage until ye pay fer the horses?"
Danvries hesitated, his eyes on his sister, and then he turned back, determination on his face. "Or you could keep her in place of payment. Until you think you have got your value for the horses. Of course, you would have to return her eventually."
Dougall's gaze shifted to the women by the fire as a gasp slipped from the blonde. She had been looking over her shoulder toward them with horror, but quickly jerked her face away now. If he'd been tempted by Danvries's offer, and if Dougall was honest with himself, the idea of having this woman in his bed was a tempting one, the woman's reaction was enough to make him forget it. He had never forced a woman into his bed and didn't intend to start now.
He shifted his gaze back to Danvries, dislike rolling through him. The man cared so little for the lass that he'd sell her as a sexual slave in exchange for horses. It made it hard to believe that he was actually buying one of them for her. Now Dougall suspected it was for another woman, his betrothed perhaps, if he had one. All of which mattered little, he thought and said coldly, "Ye shame yer sister, yerself and me with the offer." Turning to his brothers, he added, "Our business here is done."
He needn't have bothered; Conran, Geordie and Alick were already getting to their feet.
When the Scots all stood to leave, Murine released a little shudder of relief, and then drew in a deep breath. It was only then she realized that she'd been holding her breath ever since her brother had offered her to the Scot in exchange for horses. Her mind was still reeling from that event. She couldn't believe he'd done it. She and Montrose had not grown up together and, in fact, had spent very little time in each other's company until her father's death had left her in his care, so there was little in the way of affection between them. Still, he was her brother and she was his sister and charge, and the idea that he would offer her out like some lightskirt . . .
Murine swallowed and got stiffly to her feet, eager to escape the great hall and the possibility of having to deal with her brother after his monstrous action. She glanced to Beth to see that the other woman was already on her feet and ready to follow. Relieved, Murine hurried toward the stairs. They'd managed to mount the first few steps when she heard Montrose cry, "Nay. Please wait! If you will not—I can get you the coin."
Murine didn't slow, but she did glance around to see the leader of the Scots shake his head in disgust as he reached the great hall doors.
"By tonight!" Montrose added, sounding desperate. "Ye can enjoy a nice meal and a rest and I'll ha'e the coin by tonight."
Murine noted that the Scot stopped at the door and turned to eye Montrose as if he were a bug scuttling out from under a rock. When his gaze then slid to where she and Beth had been seated, she hurried up the last few steps in case he glanced around in search of her. Murine didn't look again until she'd reached the safety of the shadowy upper landing, then she slowed and turned to have a good look at the men below. It was something she hadn't really been able to do until now. While seated by the fire in the great hall, she'd only dared cast quick, furtive glances at the visitors. Now, however, she examined each of the Scots in turn.
They were all tall and strong with dark hair, but Murine found her eye returning to the one who appeared to be their leader. She couldn't have said why. They were all good-looking men, but for some reason she found him the most compelling. He was obviously angry and disgusted by her brother's proposition, but then all of the men appeared to be. However, when he'd looked toward the fire for her just now, there had been something else in his eyes. Not pity, but simple concern and perhaps sympathy.
"I can get you the coin by tonight. Tomorrow morn at the latest," Montrose repeated, drawing Murine's reluctant gaze away from the leader of the Scots and back to her brother as he added, "My neighbor and friend, Muller, has always had an eye for my sister. He'll give me the coin for the chance to spend time with her."
Murine actually had to cover her mouth to stifle the cry that wanted to slip out. Offering her up to these men for horses was bad enough, but offering her to Muller for coin? Her stomach turned over violently at the suggestion. The Scot had been kind and chivalrous enough to refuse the offer. Muller would not. He would jump at the chance and would not care whether she was even willing. She would be no better than a—
"I'll no' be a party to yer turning yer lady sister into a whore."
Murine winced as he said the word she was thinking.
"Coin or no coin, the horses are no longer fer sale to ye," the Scot added coldly.
When he then turned on his heel and walked out of the keep with his men hard on his heels, Murine almost wished she could give chase and go with them. Instead, she whirled and caught Beth's arm to rush her down the hall to her room. She had to get out of there, and quickly. Montrose would waste no time setting his plan into action and she needed to be far away from here when Muller arrived to claim his prize.
Once in her room, Murine paused and glanced around wildly before turning to Beth and ordering, "Fetch me an empty sack from the kitchens, please. But do no' let anyone see ye take it."
Beth nodded and was gone almost before the last word was spoken. Murine immediately hurried to the chests against the bedchamber wall to begin sorting through her belongings, trying to decide what she should take and what she could not. Traveling light seemed the smartest option. A spare gown, a spare shift, coins . . .
Her mouth tightened at that thought. All she had were the few coins she'd intended to give to the Scots for taking her message. She would be delivering that message herself now, and would need those coins.
By the time Beth returned, Murine had chosen the few things she would take with her. She'd even rolled her gown and shift in preparation of packing them away.
The maid handed over the sack she'd gone to fetch. Her gaze then slid over the few belongings on the bed and she frowned. "Ye're fleeing?"
"Aye," Murine said grimly.
Beth hesitated and then asked worriedly, "Are ye sure this is the right thing to do, m'lady?"
Murine's lips tightened and she merely nodded as she stuffed the rolled-up gown into the sack the woman had pinched from the kitchens.
"But 'tis dangerous to travel at the best o' times, e'en with a large party. A woman alone . . ." Beth shook her head at the very thought. "Could we no' send a message to Lady Joan, or Lady Saidh instead? I'm sure one o' them would send an escort fer ye."
"Montrose is probably down there writing up his offer to Muller as we speak," Murine said grimly. "If I do no' leave now, I shall no doubt be ruined by nightfall."
"But, m'lady," Beth said, tears in her eyes. "Ye can no' travel alone. Ye could be killed by bandits . . . or worse."
Murine stilled briefly at the words, thinking of her brothers Colin and Peter who had been killed on a trip two years earlier, but then shook her head and shoved a linen shift into the bag. "There are some things worse than death, Beth. And staying here where I will be sold off by me own brother . . ." She shook her head bitterly. "Thank ye, I think I'll take me chances on the road."
Beth was silent for a moment, her expression conflicted, and then raised her shoulders and said stolidly, "Then I'll come with ye."
Murine hesitated, briefly tempted by the offer, but shook her head on a sigh. "Nay, ye'll not. Ye'll stay here."
"I need ye to stay here and help hide the fact I've left," Murine interrupted quickly.
Beth closed her mouth on her unfinished protest and asked uncertainly, "How am I to do that?"
"Stay here in me room. If Montrose comes looking for me, claim I am sleeping and send him away," Murine said as she finished packing and closed the bag. She didn't really think that ruse would work. Mostly she was using it as an excuse to keep from taking the maid with her. Murine had little hope of actually managing this escape attempt. She suspected she'd be hunted down and brought back ere the first night ended, but if she did manage to get away . . . well, as Beth had said, the road was dangerous. It was one thing to risk her own life to try to preserve her honor. It was another thing entirely to risk Beth's life as well.
"Where will ye go?" Beth asked worriedly, following her to the door.
"I'll slip down the back stairs to the kitchens and then sneak around to get Henry and—"
"Nay, I mean, where will ye go once ye leave Danvries?" Beth interrupted.
"Oh." Murine breathed and then shrugged helplessly. "To Saidh. Buchanan is closest, I think, and she did say if I ever needed assistance to not hesitate to call on her. I am in definite need of assistance now."
"Aye, ye are," Beth agreed solemnly, and then reached out quickly to hug her. "Be careful m'lady, and pray stay safe."
"I will," Murine whispered, then pulled back and forced a smile. "I'll send fer ye . . . if I can."
"Oh, do no' worry about me. I'll be fine. Ye just take good care o' yerself," she said bravely, dashing away a tear.
Murine squeezed her arm gently, then opened her bedchamber door and peered cautiously out. Finding the hall empty, she slid out and rushed for the stairs.
"I can't believe the bastard tried to sell his sister fer a couple horses."
Dougall grimaced and glanced at his brother Conran at those bewildered words. After the debacle at Danvries, they had ridden to the village inn for a meal ere starting the long trek home. The conversation there had been focused on who they might sell the mare and stallion to now, and to wonder how they would find things at home. Not wanting to shame the sister in her own village, no one had even got near the topic of Danvries and his offer . . . until now as they left Danvries's land.
"Aye," Dougall acknowledged quietly.
"Ye do no' seem surprised."
"People rarely surprise me anymore," Dougall said grimly, and then added in a lighter tone, "The only thing that surprises me is that ye were kind enough no' to discuss it in the village and waited so long to bring up the subject."
"'Twas no' kindness," Conran denied quickly. "I just did no' want to ruin me meal. Was like to give me indigestion."
"Oh, aye, o' course it was," Dougall agreed with amusement. He knew that wasn't true. Conran just didn't like to appear soft. Although, Dougall thought, talking about it now was making his own lunch roll in his stomach.
"Ye ken that now the idea's occurred to him, he's going to sell her off to his friend fer coin," Conran said heavily.
"Aye. He'll use her to make what money he can to make up fer his gambling," Dougall said with distaste, recalling the glowing woman.
"If she allows it," Conran said with a shrug. "Mayhap she'll refuse."
"Hmm." Dougall muttered, but thought she might not be given the choice. Danvries was obviously her guardian, although she was of marriageable age. "Why is she still unwed?"
Conran shrugged. "As I said, talk is he gambled away her dower."
"Aye, but how? It should have been protected," Dougall said with a frown. "And she should ha'e been betrothed as a child and collected long ere this."
"Mayhap her betrothed died," Conran suggested, and then added, "And I'm sure the king would have stepped in and no' allowed Danvries gambling away her dower . . . had he no' been the one who won the wager."
"So she'll ne'er marry," Dougall said thoughtfully.
"And be at the mercy of her brother all her days," Conran commented, shaking his own head.
"Dear God," Dougall breathed and almost felt bad that he'd turned down the man's offer. At least he would have been kind to her, and mayhap had things worked out . . . Well, he had grown quite wealthy through his horse breeding. The only reason he hadn't already purchased himself an estate was that their older brother, Aulay, had needed his aid raising their younger brothers and sister when their parents had died. A dower wasn't an absolute necessity in a wife for him. On the other hand, he didn't know the woman. She was pretty enough, but her brother was a weak man with a few bad habits, drinking and gambling among them. He also apparently had little in the way of moral fiber to him. For all Dougall knew, the same was true of her. But that gasp from her when her brother had offered her . . .
Dougall pushed away the memory. He had nothing to feel guilty about. He didn't even know the lass.
"'Tis a shame," Conran said quietly. "She's a lovely lass."
Dougall merely nodded. She was indeed lovely.
"She looked sweet and demure," Geordie commented from his other side when he remained silent.
"Aye, she did," Dougall said on a sigh. "Mayhap me refusal to sell him horses no matter whether he has the coin or no' will stop his plans."
"For now, maybe," Conran said dubiously. "Though I suspect he'll go ahead with it in hopes ye'll change yer mind when he presents the payment. On the other hand, he could buy horses elsewhere . . . were he to get the coin."
Not wanting to encourage this line of conversation, Dougall didn't comment. He had no desire to think the woman would still be sold off like a cheap lightskirt. Besides, he could see something on the path ahead and was distracted by trying to sort out what it was.
Noting his sudden stillness in the saddle, Conran glanced ahead and squinted. "It looks like someone on horseback, but . . ."
"But 'tis a very strange horse," Dougall murmured. It looked short and wide, a squat creature that moved with a somewhat awkward gait.
"Is that a cow he's riding?" Conran asked with amazement as they drew closer.
"A bull," Dougall corrected as the rider shifted and he spotted a horn poking up into view. "And if I'm no' mistaken, he is a she. That looks like a gown to me."
"Hmm," Alick murmured behind them. "A rose gown. Lady Danvries was wearing a rose gown."
"Aye, she was," Dougall agreed, and urged his horse to move more quickly.
"Damn," Murine breathed when she heard the approaching horse. She'd spotted the men on horseback behind her just moments ago and had recognized them as the Scots Montrose had been trying to buy horses from. It could have been worse. Montrose could have discovered that she'd fled and come after her, but this was bad enough. These were the men her brother had tried to sell her to and the embarrassment and shame of what he'd done was overwhelming. She'd really rather not have to face them again.
Murine kept her gaze straight ahead, hoping that if she pretended not to hear him, the man might just leave her be and travel on.
"Lady Danvries," he said, a little more loudly and when she again didn't respond, commented, "Yer brother did no' bother to mention ye were deaf when he offered ye to me. I should ha'e guessed as much, though. He's obviously a cheat and a louse, so o' course he'd try to pass off a defective lass in exchange fer me high-quality beasts."
Gasping in outrage, Murine gave up her pretense and turned to glare at the man as she snapped, "I'm no' defective! And ye'd ha'e been lucky to ha'e me, I'm worth a hundred o' yer horses."
When his mouth quirked up on one side and one eyebrow rose high on his forehead, she realized what she'd said and quickly added, "Not that I'd ha'e agreed to such a shameful bargain." Turning forward again, she muttered, "Me brother has obviously lost his mind to sink so low."
"And so ye're running away before he offers ye to someone who is no' as honorable as meself and might accept?"
Murine's mouth flattened with displeasure. That was exactly what she was doing . . . or trying to do. But now she was fretting over the possibility that this man might somehow interfere and prevent her escape.
Murine glanced around at that shout, her eyes widening when she saw that his men, who had been keeping back apace, were suddenly urging their mounts to catch them up.
"What is it, Conran?" Dougall asked with a frown.
"Riders," the man explained, glancing worriedly toward Murine. "And I'm thinking it's Danvries' men after the lady here, to take her back."
Cursing under her breath, Murine started to turn her bull toward the trees, intent on hiding, but found her way blocked by horses as the other men caught up and surrounded them.
"No time fer that, m'lady," Conran said sympathetically. "They're moving fast; ye would no' make cover."
"Then we shall have to be her cover," Dougall said grimly. "Surround her, and cover her hair and dress. I'll meet the riders."
Murine opened her mouth to protest, but then let out a startled gasp when a cap landed on her head.
"Tuck yer hair up, lass," someone said.
"And here, put this round ye to hide yer pretty gown," someone else said, dropping a plaid around her shoulders.
Murine didn't argue, but clumsily shoved her hair up in the cap, then clutched the plaid around herself and glanced about at the Scots and their horses. Her bull sat perhaps a hand lower than their mounts, which helped hide what the plaid didn't cover of her skirts, but there were only three of them now and the two riderless horses they'd hoped to sell to her brother.
"Mayhap we should . . ." Rather than finish the suggestion, someone suddenly tossed another plaid over her, this one covering her head as well. She then felt pressure on the back of her neck as someone silently urged her to press herself flat to the bull's back. Hoping it was enough, Murine ignored the fact that she found it difficult to breathe in this position with the heavy cloth over her, closed her eyes and began to pray.
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