Highland Brides book #9Highland Brides series book #9
January 26, 2021
ISBN-10: 0062855409
ISBN-13: 978-0062855404

A Buchanan brother finds a love to treasure in this scintillating historical romance from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands…

After escaping from the English soldiers who attacked her home and imprisoned her in a dungeon, Lady Elysande de Valance is grateful for the rugged Scots who are escorting her to safety in the Highlands. Even with danger dogging their every step, she hadn’t expected to welcome the strong comforting embrace of their leader, Rory Buchanan. They say he’s a healer, but she finds the heat of his touch does so much more…

Let his brothers get married—Rory is too busy tending to the sick to be bothered with wooing a bride. But when he is tasked with accompanying a family friend’s “treasure” to the Highlands, he is surprised to learn the treasure is a beautiful woman on the run—and even more surprised to discover bruises hidden by her veil. Rory makes it his mission to tend to her injuries and protect her, but the thought of losing her makes him realize that perhaps it is his heart that is most in need of healing…

In the beginning of Highland Treasure, Rory and his brothers must first find the treasure that they've been tasked with transporting safely to Scotland.
Your job is to find the treasure in this image. Look for the Highland Treasure cover OR parts of the cover in this pic! (Select the image below to take you to a larger pic.)

Rory's story was a hoot to write. I think this story has the most characters I've written into a story... an entire town!

Goodreads reviewers rated it over 4 out of 5 stars!

Check out my interview on Harlequin Junkies about Highland Treasure detailing what inspired Rory's story, my characters, my favourite scenes and the most difficult parts of the story to write and an exclusive excerpt.

In a genre filled with gruff alpha males, Highland Treasure stands out. The ninth book in Lynsay Sands’ bingeable Highland Brides series follows Lady Elysande de Valance, who is on the run from the man who murdered her parents and nearly killed her. Elysande turns to family friend Rory Buchanan, a gentle healer, to transport her to safety in Scotland. Even as they are pursued by the tenacious villain, Rory’s first priority is tending to Elysande’s wounds and mending her broken heart. We loved the breathless action-adventure parts of the story almost as much as we adored reading about a hero unafraid to show his tender side. Sands’ romance will delight her fans, but it can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone if you’re new to her writing. Reviewed by Apple Books.

HIGHLAND TREASURE is Sands at her best. Whether it's her trademark belly rolling humour, the edge of your seat danger or the sweet romance, you'll be thoroughly entertained, start to finish. Review by Fresh Fiction. Review by Fresh Fiction.

I’ve been waiting for the day that healer Rory Buchanan finally got his own book. And Highland Treasure definitely did not disappoint. I can honestly say that I didn’t want to put my kindle down for a minute, I was so wrapped up in the story. Reviewed by Harlequin Junkies.

The inimitable Lynsay Sands has just delivered another exciting Highland tale filled with wit, cross country chases, love, honor, and betrayal. It is unusual for me to love both of the main characters equally, but, this time, I loved both of them. I normally love one of the leads and will, at best, like the other. Of course, I’ve loved Rory throughout the series and have really looked forward to him finding his special lady – and I am so happy that she really was special. While this is the ninth book in the series, you can totally read this as a standalone without being the least bit lost. That said, it is a wonderful series and I highly recommend all of the books. 5 star review by Barbara @ Flippin' Pages Book Reviews.

Talk about a heroine being tested by fire. A reader meets Elysande while she’s in the middle of a life and death situation. Right away, this reader wanted the heroine to be safe, to find justice for her family, and I wanted her to stop hurting, both physically and emotionally. The author wanted to make sure that I was vested in the fate of Elysande, and Ms. Sands was 100% effective in creating that link.
Highland Treasure ended with a truly surprising and broad-scoped happy ever after that was over-the-top wonderful and satisfying. I enjoyed it so much and was left with a happy glow. There was so much joy it was almost perfect. 4.5 star review by Xeranthemum @ Long & Short Reviews.

This is a great addition to the Highland Brides series. It’s a well-paced and exciting story with dynamic characters and an interesting mystery. Plus, there’s the lovely romance! Rory and Elysande have a great romance built on respect and admiration. Their love story is slow-building and not based solely on attraction.
The minor characters in the story are also quite interesting. The citizens of Carlisle are fantastic! The other men traveling with Rory and Elysande are also well-developed, and I loved the witty banter they share throughout their journey.
The story exposes some of the more complicated realities of the time as well. The animosity between the English and Scottish is evident as Rory and his Highland companions travel with Elysande and her English knights. Judgment, fear, and a lack of trust abound and pose problems for Elysande and her fellow travelers while enhancing the setting and suspense and progressing the plot.
Lynsay Sands never fails to entertain and captivate readers with wonderful stories and swoon-worthy romances, and Highland Treasure is no exception. I loved it, as I loved all of the book is this series! 5 star review by One More Book.

It has been a long time since I last read a Lynsay Sands book, and honestly, after reading this one, I'm wondering why the heck I waited so long! The dark nature of the story's beginnings was lightened by humorous moments, and the interactions between the characters as they made their way to safety.
I really enjoyed every character, from the healer hero, who makes his money through saving others rather than waging war, to the battered lady, whose strength makes you forget the hurt she must feel inside at all the horrors she has seen. They were definitely one of my favorite couples of the books I have read this year, and this will certainly be on my Favorite Books of 2021 list, once the new year starts! This couple was so easy to fall in love with. Rory was the type of hero that we all want more of - strong and protective, gentle and nurturing, and best of all, humble and possessing a sense of humor. Elysande was a great partner to him, as she was strong, gentle, and humble as well. Despite all that she went through, her spirit remained unbroken, which was evident when seeing her have such faith in the people around her. She could find the humor in life still, and I'm not sure I would have the same strength in that situation. Overall, this couple made the story amazing, and I kept thinking about them long after the book ended.
I am certainly adding Lynsay Sands to my list of authors I watch, and I'll need to go back and read what I have missed of course. This was a book to remember and one I'm sure will not be forgotten in my mind for a long time. Reviewed by Lady With A Quill.

In her imaginative, quirky, and witty style, Lynsay Sands delivers the next installment in her ‘Highland brides’ series with a tale of true love and belonging.
This suspenseful and charming story which will take you to medieval Scotland, conveying the courage, perseverance, and chivalry of the handsome warriors will delight all fans of this genre.
Complete standalone, yet part of a series, this book is full of richly developed characters, detailed descriptions, complex and clever plot. The transition from the calm and logical Rory into this jealous and possessive man is a real boon to read. His new way of reasoning will make you laugh, while you will sigh from his emotionality and possessiveness. And her perseverance and sacrifice will delight you. A woman who manages to show mercy after so much pain and suffering, who manages to smile when hope slowly disappears is the perfect choice for our hero. And the chemistry between them is simply electrified and simply can not be ignored Moreover it contains the perfect blend of mystery and romance to keep you hooked and on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. The author firmly adheres to all those details that run through all the books in this series, at the same time adding enough novelty and freshness for each work to be similar and yet so different from the previous ones. And each story fits perfectly into the overall series.
However, this book is really interesting and contains enough elements to keep your attention until the very end. If you are interested in an unforgettable trip with a sexy Highlander and a brave heroine, you must not miss this book. Reviewed by The Magical World Of Reading.

The romance is template Sands but a slightly bloody read for those who are forever plaid. Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews.




The soft jingle of keys stirred Elysande from a fitful sleep. Curled up on the damp, dirt floor, and facing the stone wall, she couldn’t see who was approaching, but didn’t particularly care. It would either be de Buci or one of his men, come to drag her up into the great hall to beat her again. Or perhaps to do something worse this time, since the beating hadn’t worked to get the information he was looking for.
Thoughts of those worse things made her fingers tighten around the corners of the smelly, ragged blanket she’d dragged around herself to ward off the chill in the cold dungeon. De Buci had threatened several tortures for their next meeting as he’d had his men drag her away: rape, cutting off a hand or a foot, marking her face with a hot iron so none would look upon her without horror. He’d listed other threats but she hadn’t heard them since his voice had become a muted growl from behind her as she was dragged down into the bowels of hell that was the dungeon of Kynardersley.
Elysande had never much considered whether she was a brave woman or not, but this experience had taught her that she wasn’t. Because had she the answer the man was looking for, she would have given it to him about halfway through the earlier beatings. But she didn’t know the answer to his repeated and insistent roar of “Where is it?”
“What?” she’d cried just as often, desperate to end the abuse, only to be told, “You know what! Where is it?”
But Elysande hadn’t known. That morning, she’d woken happy and cheerful in her bed, in the home she’d grown up in, with loving parents and a castle full of servants and soldiers who she considered as family. Now . . .
The sound of the key in the lock finally had her lifting her head off the floor to look over her shoulder. Elysande stared blankly at her mother’s maid, who now stood at the door to her cell, and then she sat up with surprise. The abrupt movement immediately sent pain rushing through her body, but she ignored it and rasped out a confused, “Betty?”
The maid’s eyes widened with alarm. She put a finger to her mouth in the sign to hush, then peered anxiously to the sleeping guard slumped in the chair by the table outside Elysande’s cell. When the man continued to snore loudly, Betty turned her attention back to the keys she held. Pulling out the one presently in the lock, she tried the next on the ring of half a dozen large keys.
Elysande watched silently, half-afraid she was dreaming. Then the third key worked and Betty eased the door open. They both winced at the squeal of the hinges, their gazes moving to the guard. But he continued snoring loudly.
“Can ye get up?” Betty whispered.
Elysande shifted her gaze back to the maid, a little startled to find the woman now standing right in front of her. She hadn’t seen her move. Rather than answer, Elysande released her hold on one corner of the ratty blanket to reach out to the girl. She wanted to touch her, to be sure she was real, but the maid must have thought it a silent request for help, because she immediately took her arm and began to pull upward.
Steeling herself against the pain, Elysande managed to stagger to her feet with the maid’s help, but it was an effort that left her sweaty and swaying as she fought the pain and dizziness that assailed her.
“Can ye walk, m’lady?” Betty whispered anxiously, looking close to tears as she clutched her arm to steady her.
Elysande swallowed the bile rising in her throat and nodded grimly. She would walk if it killed her.
Betty pulled Elysande’s arm over her shoulders and helped her shuffle out of the cell. It was a slow, laborious effort, but once she had her out of the cell, Betty urged her to grasp the smooth bars to help her stay upright, then rushed to the end of the small hall and snatched up a bag by the wall. Elysande frowned slightly, but didn’t ask questions; she merely watched her pull a gown from the bag and quickly begin to stuff it with the fetid straw that covered the hall floor. The maid filled the bag itself last and then hurried into the cell, and arranged her creation under the ratty blanket. Only when Betty straightened to examine her handiwork did Elysande understand what she was doing. She’d managed to make it look like a huddled figure curled against the back wall of the cell. Like she was still there, Elysande realized as the maid rushed back and closed the cell door.
They both stiffened and glanced warily to the guard when the action set up another protesting squeal. But the man remained asleep.
Elysande released a relieved breath, and drew in another, only to hold that one when Betty moved cautiously over to the man to set the keys carefully on the table in front of him, where she’d apparently got them. Despite the maid’s caution, they made the faintest clanking noises as she set them down. Still, the man didn’t stir.
Releasing a shaky little sigh, Betty moved quickly back to her side and took her arm over her shoulders again.
“This way,” she whispered, and led her to the end of the hall where the bag had been.
“Mother?” Elysande asked in a soft voice when the girl pushed and turned the correct stone to open the secret passage.
“Aye. She told me how to open it,” Betty admitted.
It wasn’t what Elysande had been asking. She wanted to know how her mother was, but as the wall swung open to reveal what seemed like a million stairs stretching upward, she decided that her mother must be all right to have given the girl directions. So she saved her breath and moved into the hidden passage.
Hewn into the stone and disappearing up into darkness, the stairs were too narrow for them to move side by side. Betty couldn’t help her here. She would have to manage them on her own. And she would, Elysande told herself firmly, even if she had to drag herself up them on her belly. And she very nearly did. Elysande was on her hands and knees by the time they reached the top of the stairwell.
Gasping with relief as she made it off the last step, Elysande collapsed to the cold stone passage, every muscle in her body trembling with exhaustion.
Elysande sighed at that whisper from Betty. She wanted to just lie there and die, but she couldn’t. Her mother . . .
The brush of cool cloth across her arm and cheek made her open her eyes. She couldn’t see in this stygian darkness, but guessed that Betty was stepping carefully over her to stand by her head in the narrow passage and it was the maid’s skirts she’d felt.
“M’lady? It isn’t much farther now.” The girl’s whisper was accompanied by her hands clasping Elysande’s shoulders. The maid was going to try to help her to her feet.
Ignoring her aches and pains, Elysande ground her teeth together and pushed herself up onto her knees. She then braced one hand against the stone wall, grabbed the girl’s arm with the other and managed to drag herself to her feet.
“Are you all right?” Betty whispered with concern.
“I am fine,” Elysande said, panting, and then took a deep breath to steady herself. “Let us go. I would see Mother.”
She sensed rather than saw the girl move away. Elysande took another deep breath and then braced her hands against the cool stone walls on either side of her and shuffled forward, following. She didn’t realize how far behind she’d fallen until Betty opened the secret entrance to her mother’s room and light spilled into the passage from a good ten feet ahead.
Straightening her shoulders, Elysande tried to move more quickly. It still seemed like forever before she reached the opening and then she was blinded by the light in the room. There were only two small candles there to chase away the night’s gloom, but after her time in the dark dungeon, those candles were like staring directly into the sun. Elysande had to close her eyes to protect them. Fortunately, Betty recognized the problem at once and took her arm to lead her across the room to her mother’s bed.
Much to her relief, Elysande had adjusted enough by then that she could at least see, though she was still squinting against the light when she dropped to her knees next to the bed. Her strained eyes slid over her mother’s frail form and swollen face and Elysande could have wept at the bruises covering every inch of Mairghread de Valance that wasn’t covered by the furs on the bed.
“Mother?” she breathed, clasping the hand closest to her and then quickly releasing it when she felt how swollen they were. Only then did she recall  that they had been broken.
“Oh, Mama,” she moaned, resting her forehead on the bed with despair.
That broken whisper made her lift her head at once. “Yes, I am here.”
“The Buchanans,” she managed, her voice so faint Elysande wasn’t sure she’d heard her right.
“The Buchanans?” she asked with confusion. Elysande was tired and achy, her mind such a clutter with worry, pain and fear that she couldn’t imagine why her mother would bring up the clan.
“The Buchanan healer is in England. You must go to him. He can take you to my sister.”
“Nay. I will not leave you,” Elysande said at once, and her mother’s eyes shot open full of fire and determination.
“You must,” her mother ordered, and then spoke quickly, telling her what to do.

Chapter 1

“Damn me, Buchanan,” Ralph FitzBaderon, Baron of Monmouth, said cheerfully as he reached for his ale. “I thought I was done for, but you worked a miracle and saved my life. I still cannot fathom it. Are you sure you are not part-English?”
“Nay,” Rory answered distractedly, his gaze flying over the message his brother Alick had just handed him.
“Well,” the baron said with a shake of the head. “I think you must have some English in you somewhere.”
“Why is that?” Alick asked beside him, and Rory almost sighed to himself, knowing his brother wouldn’t like the answer any more than he had the hundred or so times he’d heard it over the last two weeks.
“Because Scots are ignorant heathens,” Baron Monmouth informed him. “Hardly capable of a mastery over healing such as your brother has. Nay. There must be English in your family history somewhere.”
“And yet, there is no’,” Rory said easily as he felt Alick stiffen beside him. Rerolling the message he’d finished reading, he tucked it inside his plaid and stood to leave the trestle table. “Time to go, Alick.”
“Aye,” the younger man growled, rising at once and falling into step beside him. “And thank God fer that.”
“Here now!” Baron Monmouth protested, scurrying to his feet to chase after them as Rory led Alick toward the large keep doors. “What of FitzAlan? I told you he had a complaint he wanted you to look at.”
“I had no agreement with FitzAlan,” Rory said with unconcern as he yanked the keep door open and strode out into the biting wind. It felt more like January or February than late November and he could smell the promise of snow in the air. It seemed winter was coming early this year.
“But I paid you a small fortune!” Baron Monmouth charged after him down the stairs. “The least you can do is see the man. He should be along soon. He—”
“Ye paid me to get ye well and I did that,” Rory pointed out mildly, drawing the top of his plaid around his shoulders as he crossed the bailey in long, quick strides. “Ye’re well, the deal is complete and we’re leaving.”
“Praise God,” Alick muttered beside him with a combination of relief and disgust that Rory understood fully. This had not been his first visit to England, but he was determined it would be his last. He hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place, but Monmouth had offered him a king’s ransom to travel down into this godforsaken land and heal him. However two weeks in England was two weeks too many, and even the fortune he’d just made wasn’t worth putting up with the constant sneering insults to his homeland and countrymen that he, Alick and their men had been served.
Monmouth’s words just now had been kind in comparison to those of his soldiers over the last weeks. After two days of that nonsense, and the three fights it had caused between the English soldiers and the Scottish warriors who had accompanied them on this journey, Rory had told Alick to take their men and camp in the woods outside the walls of Monmouth. They’d been waiting patiently there for him to finish his work and leave.
“FitzAlan will pay you to tend him!” Monmouth cried. The man was still trailing behind them, but couldn’t keep up and was beginning to huff and puff for air as he fell behind.
“Go back inside, m’lord,” Rory said firmly without bothering to glance around. “Ye’re on the mend, but no’ yet strong enough to be running about, especially in this cold.”
“FitzAlan will pay you whatever you want,” Monmouth insisted, gasping for breath now.
Rory stopped.
“God, no, brother,” Alick hissed beside him, alarm in his voice. Rory ignored him and turned back to face the baron.
“Whatever you want,” Monmouth repeated in a raspy voice, bending to brace his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
“Baron, there is no’ enough coin in all o’ Christendom to make me stay in England another night,” he said quietly. “Now get ye back inside before ye make yerself ill again. Fer I’ll no’ be staying to mend ye anew.”
Alick’s relief was plain to see when Rory swung back to continue to the stables where their horses were even now being led out.
Baron Monmouth didn’t try to follow them further.
“I was afraid the coin would tempt ye and ye’d agree to stay to see this FitzAlan.”
Rory shook his head at Alick’s words. “Never. I’m ready to be heading home. I’ve had enough o’ this godforsaken country.”
“Aye,” Alick muttered, scowling around the bailey at the people coming and going.
Thanking the boy who had saddled and led out his horse, Rory quickly mounted and then waited for Alick to gain his saddle before saying, “Besides, we have something else we must do.”
Alick gathered his reins and glanced to him with surprise. “What’s that?”
“Collect a treasure and take it to Sinclair.”
“The message?” Alick asked, his eyes narrowing.
Nodding, Rory clucked his tongue, and urged his horse to move.
“What is this treasure?” Alick called.
When Rory ignored the question and urged his horse to put on speed, Alick cursed and rode after him. Not wanting to speak of it until they were well away from Monmouth, Rory rode at a fast trot until he’d crossed the drawbridge, and then set his beast to gallop across the frost-tipped grass of the open area outside the castle walls.
He heard Alick whistle behind him, and saw the four warriors their brother Aulay had sent with them appear ahead at the edge of the woods on their mounts. Rory immediately turned in their direction at once and rode to meet them.
“Ye’ve broken camp and are ready to head home?” he asked, reining in before them, and wasn’t surprised by their silent nods. Since they carried little when traveling and slept rolled up in their plaids, there wasn’t much to breaking up camp besides putting out whatever fire had remained by morning.
“What were ye talking about back there? What treasure?” Alick asked as he drew his mount to a halt beside him. “And who was that message from that ye received this morn?”
Rory raised an eyebrow in surprise at the second question. “Did the messenger no’ tell ye when he gave it to ye?”
“Nay,” Alick said grimly. “And he did no’ stay long enough to be questioned either. Just rode up, tossed it at Conn, said to get it to Rory Buchanan and rode off ere anyone could even move. Since I was coming to check and be sure we were still leaving today, I brought it in to ye fer him.”
Rory grunted at this news, but before he could comment, Conn suddenly tilted his head to the side and stiffened.
“Riders,” Alick muttered after a moment.
[no ornament]
They all looked toward the opposite side of the clearing, but no one was yet visible through the trees. Even so, Rory urged his horse farther along the trail so that they would be hidden from view. The others followed suit and they sat their mounts, silent and still in the cover of the woods, to see who was approaching. It wasn’t long before a large contingent of soldiers charged out of the trees on the other end of the clearing, riding for Monmouth’s gates.
“Think you ’tis FitzAlan?” Alick asked.
“Nay,” Rory said with a frown. “There are no nobles among that rabble. They are soldiers every one.” He watched silently as half a dozen men broke off from the group and crossed the drawbridge, leaving the remaining men waiting outside. Rory then turned his horse and spurred him into a gallop again. He had a feeling the men had something to do with the message he’d received and that it would be a good idea to find the treasure mentioned in it and head north as quickly as possible. With that thought in mind, he kept up the pace for the half hour it took before they reached the point of the trail where the river ran over it. Rory crossed the shallow flow of water and then stopped and glanced around, searching the trees on either side of the path.
He wasn’t surprised when Alick immediately moved up beside him again. To forestall the questions he knew were on the tip of his brother’s tongue, he said, “The message ye brought me was from Lady Mairghread de Valance, Baroness of Kynardersley. She is Lady Sinclair’s sister.”
“Jo’s sister?” Alick asked with surprise.
Lady Jo Sinclair was their sister Saidh’s dear friend, wife to Laird Campbell Sinclair and the only Lady Sinclair they’d met.
“Nay. Lady Bearnas Sinclair. Cam’s mother,” Rory answered, his tone distracted as he scanned the woods around them, searching for the sign the message had mentioned.
“Oh,” Alick muttered. “So the message was from Cam’s aunt, and she wants you to collect a treasure and take it to Sinclair,” Alick reasoned out, and when Rory didn’t comment, he asked, “What are ye looking fer?”
“There is supposed to be—” Rory paused and smiled “—a ribbon.”
“A ribbon?” Alick asked, moving up beside him. “I do no’ see—”
His words died when Rory pointed out the thin, white ribbon tied around the trunk of a tree on their left. There was a narrow trail next to it, leading deeper into the woods that would have been easily missed without the ribbon to mark the way.
“I do no’ recall Cam mentioning an aunt, but even so, what would she be doing in England?” Alick asked, shifting uncomfortably on his mount. “Mayhap ’tis a trick or a trap.”
“Mayhap,” Rory agreed, aware of the way the suggestion made the other warriors all now sit up in their saddles, eyes alert as they searched the surrounding area for signs of trouble.
They were all silent for a minute, listening to the bitter wind whistling through the trees, and then Rory turned in his seat to eye the four men with them. “Fearghas and Donnghail, you two stay here and keep an eye out. Fetch us if ye catch wind o’ trouble.”
He waited long enough to see the men nod, and then added, “The rest with me.”
Rory urged his horse down the new path, but his hand moved to his sword, ready to draw it at the first sign of trouble. The narrow trail, if it even could be called that, forced them to ride single file. They took it at a walk, Rory leading the way, Alick behind him and Conn and Inan following to guard their backs. No one spoke and they all eyed the surrounding forest warily until Rory came to the edge of a small clearing where a cart sat unattended. The moment he stopped, Alick moved up on his right to get a better look.
“Where’s the horse?” Conn asked in a rumble. The warrior had urged his mount up on Rory’s left, leaving Inan to guard their back.
Rory’s narrowed gaze swept the area. A horse must have been used to bring the cart here, but there was no sign of one now.
“What exactly did Sinclair’s aunt say in her message?” Alick asked, his voice grim and eyes sharp as he awaited the answer.
“That she had heard we were in the area, and knew from her sister’s correspondence that the Buchanans were dear friends to the Sinclairs. As such, she begged our help. A great treasure waited at the end of a trail we would find by a white ribbon tied around the trunk of a tree just past the river in the woods outside Monmouth, and she would be forever grateful if we saw that treasure safely delivered to Sinclair.”
“Forever grateful, eh?” Alick muttered, twisting his head to check the trail behind them. “No mention of a reward?”
“Well, if ’twas a trap, they’d probably mention a reward as a lure,” Alick pointed out.
“Aye,” Rory murmured, and then gesturing for Conn and Inan to wait in the cover of the trees, he urged his mount cautiously out of the woods and crossed the small clearing until he could look down into the cart. There was something in the bottom, a lumpy bundle covered by a large fur. Rory hesitated, and then took another look around the woods before leaning down to snatch up a corner of the fur and tug it aside.
“What is it?” Alick asked, urging his own mount up next to the cart.
Rory didn’t bother to answer. His brother was already close enough to see. He grabbed one of the four lumpy bags that had been hidden by the fur. His eyebrows rose slightly at the lack of weight to the item. It wasn’t light as a feather, but not heavy enough to carry any kind of jewels or gold. Cloth of some sort was his guess, proved true when he opened the bag and peered inside. Blue velvet lay at the top, concealing the cloth beneath it. Rory took a moment to feel the bottom of the bag to see if there was anything solid inside, but all he felt was more cloth.
Pulling the strings to close the sack, Rory hung it from his saddle to keep it out of the way as he swiped up another bag. Like the first, it was light, carrying mostly cloth and something he would guess was a brush by the shape of it when he squeezed the bottom.
“Clothing?” Alick guessed, eyeing the bag he held, and when Rory grunted in the affirmative, he asked, “Then where is the treasure we are to transport?”
Rory opened his mouth about to admit he had no idea when movement drew his gaze to the opposite edge of the clearing. They watched in silence as two men on horseback moved out of the woods. They were English soldiers and moving at a snail’s pace so that a full minute seemed to pass before they were fully out of the trees and a third horse appeared behind them. This one carried a woman, though they could see none of her beyond the fur-lined silver blue cloak and matching coif and veil she wore.
Rory’s eyebrows rose at the sight. While he’d seen many a woman in a headdress and veil, the veil usually hung below the face. This one completely covered the face so that she must be having trouble seeing them. He certainly couldn’t make out any of her features.
“Lady de Valance?” he guessed, thinking the woman had come herself to deliver the treasure into their hands.
Her voice was a soft whisper and he found himself leaning forward over his horse’s neck to better hear her if she spoke again.
“I am Rory Buchanan and this is me brother Alick,” he announced when she said nothing more. “Ye requested our aid in getting a treasure to Sinclair?”
“Nay.” Despite his leaning, Rory barely heard the word, but then she cleared her throat and said with a little more volume, “’Twas my mother, Lady Mairghread de Valance, who wrote to you. I am Elysande de Valance. ’Tis me she wanted you to see to Sinclair.”
Rory sat back as her words rushed over him. Lady Mairghread de Valance’s greatest treasure was her daughter and she wanted him to escort Elysande north to Sinclair.
A glance at Alick showed that he was not the only one stunned by this news. While he was still digesting this information, she added, “I felt sure that Tom and Simon here would be enough to escort me north. We could ride fast as a small party. However, Mother seemed to think it would be better to have Scots with us. She said the English are not well liked in the Highlands and ’twould be safer to have Scots for escort as well.”
When Rory was slow to respond, she shifted slightly and added, “Mother also said, as a friend to our kin the Sinclairs, you may be willing to aid us. Howbeit, I understand if you do not wish the trouble. We will do fine on our own.”
“Nay,” Rory said abruptly when she began to gather her reins as if to leave at once. “The Sinclairs are good friends. We would be pleased to see ye to them.”
Rory noted the way her shoulders seemed to ease a bit at his agreement, but she offered no gratitude, merely gave a stiff nod and said, “Then shall we?”
Rory hesitated the briefest moment, pondering the fact that it apparently hadn’t even occurred to her that there might be some reason he could not leave at once. For surely there was no way she could know that he’d planned to leave this morning anyway. But more important to him was the fact that she offered no explanation for this journey and he knew there must be an interesting one. Usually a simple trip to visit relatives would have included a large retinue of soldiers and servants, along with wagons to carry tents and such for the lady’s comfort. It definitely would have included other women to accompany her. But she was alone with two soldiers.
Before he could ask any of the questions now rushing through his mind, a sharp whistle drew his attention to where he’d left Conn and Inan at the edge of the woods. Their number had doubled. Fearghas and Donnghail were now with them and the foursome was moving into the clearing to approach.
Eyebrows rising, Rory rode to meet them, knowing that only trouble would have made Donnghail and Fearghas follow them when they had been ordered to stand guard.
“Riders,” Fearghas announced once Rory was close enough to hear. “A large group. At least twenty riders, but I’d guess more from the noise they’re making. I’m thinking ’tis the soldiers we saw approach Monmouth as we left.”
Rory frowned and then glanced back to the woman and her two men to see that one of the soldiers was grabbing up the last two bags and the fur from the cart. He passed the fur to the other man to roll up and tie to his saddle, while he hung the bags from his own. It made Rory realize that he still held the second bag he’d picked up. Hooking the tie to his own saddle with the first, Rory considered the situation. He had no idea if the contingent of soldiers they’d seen approach Monmouth were looking for the lass, but it didn’t matter. He’d rather avoid them either way. Soldiers en masse could be trouble on the road and something he’d like to avoid when they had a lady in their midst.
“We’ll stay away from the main road and travel as fast as we dare through the woods,” he decided as he straightened in the saddle. He didn’t wait for agreement, but led them to the English trio to tell them of his decision. The grim expressions of the soldiers and the way the woman stiffened at the news of a troop of soldiers approaching told him they were expecting trouble, but he didn’t question them. There was no time now. He could get the answers he needed later, Rory decided, and got them moving at once.



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